It took a jury just 20 minutes to clear a police officer who had been under investigation and placed on restricted duties for 7 years.
Why did the investigation take so long? Why should people’s lives be placed on hold for so long?
A Met cop was forced behind desk for 5 years and spent seven years not knowing if he had a job at the end.
An investigation that took too long, an investigation that caused a great deal of pain and distress for the officer.
PC Joe Harrington’s life was ‘effectively put on hold’ while under investigation by the police watchdog, after restraining a teenager in custody during the 2011 London riots.
The 15-year-old then accused him of assault and the then Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) were called in.
His case was finally dismissed at a misconduct hearing in June, with the panel citing ‘Unreasonable Delay’ as the reason. The Police Federation have finally been able to break their silence after being legally bound until the judgement was made public on 20 September when the judgement was made public.
The panel also laid into the IPCC, its successor the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) and the Met for dragging their heels, saying the delays were ‘unacceptable’ and ‘excessive’ and they did not think justice could be served after such a lengthy period.
Its judgement said: “[PC Harrington’s counsel] has drawn our attention to the impact on the officer’s health through the stress of the matter being unresolved for seven years, and to the impact on his career by way of an extended period of restricted duties and subsequent de-skilling.
“In his words:’The personal and professional life of PC Harrington has been stilted and blighted by years of unresolved overhanging suspicion and his family life damaged to devastating effect, together with his health and wellbeing.’ ”
The Newham based officer’s nightmare began when he was suspended from work until the trial in March 2013. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) initially said there was no case to answer, but reversed its decision and charged him with assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
At his trial, the jury took less than 20 minutes to acquit him, but PC Harrington, now 34, was put on restricted duties and banned from leaving the police station.
On one occasion, when he popped out move his car, the complainant spotted him in the street and made a further complaint – which led to the IPCC launching an additional separate two-year investigation.
PC Harrington said:” I spent the five years since my acquittal in a seemingly endless cycle of being investigated and re-investigated, confined to a desk in the station. I was barred from any contact with the public at work, couldn’t be promoted, leave the service or move roles.
“The IPCC were unhappy with my acquittal and told the press that they would recommend to the Met that I be sacked. Twice they went to the High Court to overturn reports that they had written, so they could have another stab at it.
“The effect on my private life was horrendous because this investigation was always hanging over me. I have been with my partner Kelly for 14 years and we have a beautiful six-year-old daughter but we had no stability in our home life; Kelly was eight months’ pregnant when this originally happened but we felt we could not get married with this hanging over us.
“For a long time there was the fear that I might go to prison, then it was the fear that we might be left with a single income.”
Pc Harrington took strength from the support he received from his Met commanders and colleagues, even though he was still on restricted duties. He said: “I was lucky to be supported throughout by the Police Federation, who fought my corner every step of the way.”
And in August he and Kelly became proud parents to a baby son. He added: “It got to the point that Kelly and I decided we just had to get on with our lives, which effectively had been put on hold for the past seven years. Policing is all I ever wanted to do and I am thrilled I can now get on with my life and career and even get married without this constant worry hanging over us.”
Police Federation conduct lead Phill Matthews said: “Sadly, Joe’s story is not an isolated one. Although the IPCC has now been replaced by the IOPC, these lengthy, historic investigations are still going on and they wreak a devastating toll on officers and their families.
“Seven years is just not acceptable and puts officers under appalling pressure, during which they cannot move on or get on with their lives.
“The Federation has been working very hard to work with the IOPC to address those issues, not least to examine whether discipline matters could often be dealt with by way of performance management rather than going straight to misconduct as the default.
“We are calling for less of a blame culture to focus more on training or re-training, raising the performance not just of the individual, but forces as a whole. In Joe’s case, the glacial progress of the investigation – after which he was completely exonerated – is disappointing, and we are mindful of the toll this took on both himself and his young family.
“But we believe we are slowly making progress with the IOPC and other policing stakeholders and hope that these damaging over-long investigations will soon become a thing of the past.”
Last March it was announced that IPCC commissioner Jennifer Izekor, who was involved with PC Harrington’s case, had stood down after being accused of perverting the course of justice in a separate case. The Metropolitan Police have asked Police Scotland to investigate this case and that of another investigator.
And in November, one of the IPCC investigators assigned to PC Harrington’s case, Emma Yoxall, was singled out for her role in a separate investigation into officers involved in a fatal police pursuit. A gross misconduct panel threw out the charges against the officers on the grounds of the lengthy delays which ‘gravely concerned’ them. Ms Yoxall is now working as a Learning and Development Officer in the new watchdog organisation the IOPC.