May goes to war with the police

May presses forward her advantage against the police - but will law and order Tories be comfortable?
May presses forward her advantage against the police - but will law and order Tories be comfortable?
Ian Dunt By

The police will have their powers chipped away across multiple fronts, after Theresa May used the Queen's Speech to put forward a raft of tough measures against them.

Details of an upcoming policing and criminal justice bill revealed measures to:

  • tighten up measures over bail
  • subject the Police Federation to the Freedom of Information Act
  • give Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) powers to investigate the "effectiveness of policing as a whole"
  • reform the police complaints and disciplinary systems
  • change the rules around 17-year-olds being treated like adults
  • extend misconduct investigation powers so they apply to those who have left the force
  • and create a criminal offence for those who fail to take action against child abuse

The package of measures will be treated as a further escalation in May's war with the police, which started with a dramatic speech to the Police Federation last year in which the home secretary told officers repeated scandals against them had destroyed public confidence.

She said:

"If there is anybody in this hall who doubts that our model of policing is at risk, if there is anybody who underestimates the damage recent events and revelations have done to the relationship between the public and the police, if anybody here questions the need for the police to change, I am here to tell you that it's time to face up to reality."

The speech was greeted in silence at the time and launched a period of open warfare between the police force and the Home Office. Now May appears keen to press her advantage on the back of a Tory majority.

A loophole which allows police to treat 17-year-olds as adults in police stations was first reported by last year, following the case of Kesia Leatherbarrow.

The 17-year-old had been arrested for possessing a small amount of cannabis and kept at the police station all weekend, where she became increasingly distressed. She was found dead in a friend's garden four days later.

Under the new bill, 17-year-olds will have be treated as children in police stations, meaning they must give consent for a range of interventions and an appropriate adult will need to be present for drug tests.

In an unprecedented move, the government will apply the Freedom of Information Act to the Police Federation. It is very rare for a civil organisation to come under the remit of the Act.

HMIC will also have its powers over the police significantly boosted to look at policing "as a whole". Its remit will be expanded to cover contractors and police and crime commissioner staff, get access to information from third parties and give the chief inspector wide-ranging discretion over new investigations.

The programme for internal police investigations and disciplinary proceedings will also be radically overhauled, with hearings taking place nationally, as opposed to locally. Lay members will also be introduced in the place of a retired police officer.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) will now investigate all cases against chief officers and present its own cases to disciplinary panels.

Misconduct cases will still be able to reach a conclusion even if officers leave the force. There will also be further unspecified changes to the IPCC.

A new criminal offence of 'wilful neglect' will also be created in child abuse cases. It's thought this is intended to address situations such as the one in Rotherham, where authorities failed to get to grips with a ring of child abuse taking place in the town.


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