The police watchdog has faced criticism over its investigation of two police officers who were accused of using a police dog weapon.
PC Paul Jackson, 39, and PS Paul Lockett, 40, were cleared of gross misconduct after the conclusion of a month-long disciplinary hearing.
The ruling brought an end to six years of failed criminal and disciplinary action against the officers, who serve with Greater Manchester Police (GMP).
It followed seven separate investigations by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) resulting from nine referrals by GMP.
All related to the use of force against male suspects, some of whom suffered serious dog bite injuries.
It was alleged PC Jackson used a German shepherd to attack five men, one who was later convicted of murder, after they abandoned cars during police pursuits.
PS Lockett – then a PC who appears to have been promoted whilst under investigation – had allegedly failed to challenge his colleague during one of these incidents, which all happened between August 2015 and September 2016, and failed to report it afterwards.
The IOPC, which has faced fierce criticism over its handling of the case, is now facing further questions over the length of time the officers spent under investigation.
An IOPC spokesperson said “By any measure, it has taken far too long to reach this stage and we recognize the impact this has had on the officers and others involved. The significant number of allegations and complainants contributed to the length of our investigations. That it has taken more than four years since we submitted our final reports to reach this point was largely beyond our control”
Since the IOPC was formed, we have made huge strides to improve our timeliness and now complete 91 percent of investigations in under 12 months. A third are completed in less than six months.
But a look at the timeline reveals there were numerous delays that weren’t of their doing. The time the CPS takes to make a charging decision is nothing to do with them nor is the scheduling of misconduct hearings, this was entirely down to GMP
The IOPC’s initial referral to the CPS was made in July 2017.
Both men were subsequently charged and appeared in court for the first time in May 2018.
They faced a six-week trial a Preston Crown Court in May 2019 with a jury subsequently clearing them of all charges the following month.
PC Jackson was acquitted of five counts of wounding with intent while PS Lockett was acquitted of one count of aiding and abetting one of the alleged assaults, and one count of misconduct in a public office.
Following the trial, GMP initially agreed with the IOPC’s findings that the officers had a case to answer for gross misconduct.
But GMP informed the IOPC in April 2020 that it no longer believed they should face disciplinary proceedings.
The IOPC then informed the force in December 2020 that it believed misconduct hearings should take place, and, following further representations in May 2021, it “directed” the force to hold the hearings
However, the hearings for both officers did not get underway until last month before concluding on June 10 2022 with an independent panel finding the case against them “not proved”.
The full judgment of the independent panel is expected to be released this week.
The Police Federation of England and Wales welcomed the outcome and said the case had had a “profound impact” on the officers and their families.
It said: “The Police Federation of England and Wales notes the recent exoneration of PC Paul Jackson and PS Paul Lockett, both GMP officers, at an IOPC-directed misconduct hearing, brought against the officers, contrary to the views of GMP, on Friday 10 June 2022.
“PFEW also notes this was a prolonged inquiry that lasted more than six years and had a profound impact on the officers and their families.
“The Police Federation of England and Wales awaits the full judgement from the panel and, on reviewing such, will take any appropriate action necessary in order to best represent the members’ interests.”
IOPC Director of Operations Amanda Rowe said: “This has been a complex case involving some very serious allegations and some of the men involved suffered significant dog bite injuries. As such, it was important for the matters to be independently and thoroughly investigated.
“Our work has ensured these officers’ actions have been scrutinized at public hearings, which provides the transparency that is vital for public confidence in policing and in the complaints system.
“We are grateful to the panel for their consideration of the matters brought before them.”
GMP said it didn’t wish to comment.
The Greater Manchester Police Federation said it didn’t wish to add to the statement from its national body.
But former chair Stu Berry was highly critical of the IOPC after both men were cleared by the jury at their trial, describing the case as a “witch-hunt”.
Speaking in June 2019, he said: “This whole case has been a farce from start to finish and an unnecessary waste of the public money in times of extreme austerity.
“This case has been nothing short of a witch hunt as the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) proactively sought evidence and built a flimsy case around evidence provided by convicted burglars and worse, a convicted murderer.
“Questions have to be asked about the standard of the IOPC investigation and their staggering levels of incompetence. How are these people accountable for their actions?
“The time for talk and half measures are over and we are calling for a full and independent review of this case by the Policing Minister and Home Secretary. The IOPC is clearly not fit for purpose in its current form.”