A misconduct hearing regarding the events surrounding the death of Leon Briggs in Luton in November 2013 has been discontinued, with the panel chairman requesting a review of the failed IOPC investigation.
Six officers were initially due to be subject to the hearing to decide matters relating to Use of Force and Duties & Responsibilities as directed by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).
However, following concerns raised by Bedfordshire Police, the IOPC removed its direction to the force to pursue these proceedings last night (Thursday) and the hearing concluded today (Friday) with the panel discontinuing all charges against the officers.
Legally Qualified Chair Peter Nicholls finalised proceedings by saying he felt public confidence in policing should not be affected by this case, but he hoped a review would be conducted of the IOPC investigation to ensure the delays, issues around disclosure and lack of transparency would be avoided in future.
Assistant Chief Constable Jackie Sebire said: “Firstly, our thoughts are with the family and friends of Leon Briggs who will understandably be upset and frustrated by this outcome.
“Our thoughts too are with the officers involved in this matter who have been living with uncertainty since Mr Briggs’ death on 4 November 2013.
“The force has always wanted a fair and transparent hearing to provide answers to the family of Mr Briggs and provide confidence to the public.
“However, we became aware during the initial legal arguments of failings in the independent investigation which called into question the proportionality, fairness and the public interest in continuing with this hearing. Those concerns, coupled with the likelihood of yet further delay to proceedings, which have already gone on for an unacceptable length of time, meant we were left with little option but to ask the IOPC to review its decision over directing the hearing.
“We must be mindful that there is still an inquest due to be held, however it is important to stress that none of the officers involved in this hearing were accused of causing or contributing towards Mr Briggs’ death.
“The welfare of people in our care is paramount and, irrespective of the outcome of this failed investigation, we have already brought in a raft of measures over recent years to improve our approach to mental health and other vulnerabilities. An example of this is the introduction of our Mental Health Street Triage which has prevented 588 police detentions of people under section 136 of the Mental Health Act in a 12-month period to March 2019.
“This is a regrettable and unfortunate situation which could, and should, have been resolved a long time ago."
Mr Briggs was detained in Luton on the afternoon of 4 November 2013 and taken to Luton Police Station where he fell ill. He was subsequently taken to Luton & Dunstable Hospital where he was pronounced dead a short while later.
An independent investigation was carried out by the IOPC and a file was submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service which decided against any criminal charges in 2018.
The misconduct hearing was due to start on 3 February, but has been subject to legal arguments. As a result, the case against one of the officers was discontinued last week. Then, earlier this week, Bedfordshire Police requested the IOPC review its direction over the hearing after raising a number of concerns about the IOPC investigation including disclosure of relevant material and the length of time it had taken.
The IOPC, while not agreeing with all of the points laid out by the force, yesterday (Thursday) decided to remove its direction to Bedfordshire Police to pursue these proceedings. Key points of its decision included the fact the hearing would now not realistically conclude until after the inquest in 2021, and the fact the allegations were not said to have caused Mr Briggs’ death and were unlikely to result in any officer being dismissed even if the allegations were proved.
Following removal of the directions, Bedfordshire Police today (Friday) offered no evidence and asked the panel to formally dismiss all charges against the officers.
Police and Crime Commissioner Kathryn Holloway said: “As a Police and Crime Commissioner I have no jurisdiction whatsoever over a misconduct hearing, or involvement in it. I can only begin to imagine the significant disappointment and additional anxiety for Leon Briggs’ family given today’s events. I am also frustrated that those involved in the hearing did not have the opportunity to give their explanation of what happened. This outcome is not at all what either Bedfordshire Police or I were seeking - or welcome.
“All parties in this unacceptably extended process deserve justice. I have been informed that, during the proceedings, it became clear that there had been failures to disclose all information to the subjects; these include an internal review within the IPCC (of 7 August 2014) which was heavily critical of failings within the original investigation. Cumulatively, this meant any findings against the officers were highly unlikely and continuing with the hearing could only put Mr Briggs’ family through even more anguish. I, therefore, support the police’s Chief Officer team in a position which had become unavoidable. The Chair of the hearing also made it absolutely clear today that the blame for the collapse of these proceedings lies with the Independent Office for Police Conduct, and not Bedfordshire Police.
“The coroner will now, finally, establish the exact cause of Mr Briggs’ death. I most sincerely hope this will bring some closure and comfort to his family.”