In May 2004 the Met completed its investigation into Babar Ahmad’s allegation that he had been assaulted by officers from the Metropolitan police’s TSG. The investigation had been supervised and signed off by the newly established Independent Police Complaints Commission(IPCC). The investigation – despite its abject failure to gather and test the necessary evidence – unearthed sufficient material to justify criminal and disciplinary charges. Nevertheless, first the Crown Prosecution Service and then the IPCC concluded that there was insufficient evidence to justify charges. In the recently concluded criminal proceedings against four of the TSG officers, those conclusions have been found to be flawed and irrational.
The police and IPCC, whose responsibility it is to ensure that police officers are held accountable to the rule of law failed to discharge their responsibilities, leaving to Mr Ahmad the burden of pursuing his grievance through the civil courts.
For six years the Met commissioner maintained a vitriolic denial of liability, but behind the scenes on a “without prejudice” basis offers ofcompensation of first £20,000, and then £60,000, were made. Why was the commissioner offering such substantial sums to stop this case heading to trial?
First, Mr Justice Eady had ordered him to disclose the appalling history of complaints by black and Asian men against certain of the officers involved in the raid on Babar Ahmad’s home. That order was never complied with – and several mail sacks of complaint dockets were mislaid within the Met. However, we did learn that the six officers in the Ahmad case had a total of more than 70 separate complaints against them – the majority concerning assault, and the majority of complainants black or Asian. One of the officers, PC Mark Jones, had personally amassed over 30 complaints and the majority of the complaints against him were of assaulting Black or Asian men.
Third, the evidence now disclosed by Ahmad – including the opinion of the eminent pathologist Professor Peter Vanezis – was such that the Met knew that they would lose the civil case.
And finally, as we now know, several officers were refusing to give evidence.
Ahmad faced a stark choice: accept the compensation or press on to trial in the hope that the truth of his allegations would be exposed – and risk losing the entirety of the compensation that he had been offered. His stance was brave and principled: he rejected the offer. He reiterated that this matter would not be resolved without a full acknowledgement of the wrong that had been done to him. On 18 March 2009 that full acknowledgement came with the Met commissioner’s admission of liability.
The criminal prosecution of PCs Roderick James-Bowen, Nigel Cowley and Jones, and of DC John Donohue, followed only because Ahmad presented the evidence to the CPS and challenged the CPS’s initial refusal to consider the material.
In January this year the officers attempted to have the prosecution stayed as an abuse of process. In essence, their argument was that it would be an affront to justice to allow a prosecution initiated by the complainant in this way to proceed. Mr Justice Rivlin QC refused the application, noting that the original decision not to prosecute had been accepted by the CPS to be irrational. “If anyone was entitled to say that there had been an affront to justice,” he said, “it was Mr Ahmad, and not the [police officers].”
From Mr Justice Rivlin’s judgment we also learn that in March 2010, when Jonathan Laidlaw QC advised that this prosecution should proceed, he also requested that the police interview the supervising officer, Inspector Paul Davis, as a suspect. At a Gold Group strategy meeting on 1 April 2010, attended by senior officers and the IPCC, the Met said that it “could not imagine a scenario in which the Metropolitan police service would decline to offer assistance” to the CPS. However, that is precisely what occurred. On 6 August 2010 Commander Simmons (head of the Met’s directorate of professional standards) declined to interview Inspector Davis.
As the jury members left Southwark crown court on Friday, they asked toshake the hands of these officers but there was a detail in the press reporting that may be of particular interest to them: PC Jones has been suspended in relation to another unrelated allegation. Is he to face a third jury charged with assault? Or has the Met commissioner now concluded that this officer is just too much of a liability and that evidence of the proverbial theft of bacon from the police canteen will suffice?
In pressing on for a criminal prosecution, Ahmad was not naive – he knew that a jury was unlikely to convict police officers given the delay in bringing this case, and his own circumstances. But the decision to test the evidence before a jury was the correct one. The focus will now shift to the misconduct aspects, and while the IPCC insisted on Friday that it had no role in this matter, we will be pressing it to fulfil its responsibility. “The IPCC’s job,” the IPCC website states, “is to make sure that complaints against the police are dealt with effectively” – and our message to the IPCC is that it is never too late.