Police vetting improves but not all forces show acceptable progress – review

Inspectors examined 300 vetting files that forces handled between December 1 2022 and January 31 2023.

Officers with links to an organised crime group, a history of allegations of domestic abuse, or dishonesty, are being recruited to the police even though efforts are being made to tighten vetting procedures, inspectors have found.

These were among 13 “cases of concern” which were uncovered in an urgent review of the progress police forces in England and Wales are making after November’s damning report by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services  (HMICFRS) on vetting, misconduct and misogyny among staff.

On Thursday, the HMICFRS said these concerning cases included a man who applied for a police staff firearms licensing role but did not disclose he was associated with a member of an organised crime group. He was granted clearance.

In a letter to Home Secretary Suella Braverman, his majesty’s inspector of constabulary Matt Parr said: “My conclusion is that there have undoubtedly been some improvements since our inspection, but not all forces can demonstrate acceptable progress on some recommendations.

“Moreover, while vetting appears to have been tightened, there are still some cases likely to cause concern.”

Inspectors examined 300 vetting files that forces handled between December 1 2022 and January 31 2023.

Mr Parr said that “notable improvements” in vetting decision-making had been made but “nevertheless, while forces have become less likely to give clearance to unsuitable applicants, we still found 13 cases of concern”.

These included cases where the would-be officer had a connection with an organised crime group, or a history of allegations of domestic abuse against several partners, previous claims of dishonesty including a criminal charge, unexplained debts, or had deliberately omitted significant information from their vetting application form.

There was also a family member of an applicant who had been jailed for drug dealing and another case where the would-be recruit had a relative who had been imprisoned for serious sexual offences and was now a registered sex offender.

Mr Parr added: “In all 13 cases, we disagreed with the vetting decisions.

“We weren’t satisfied that the forces involved had adequately considered the risks associated with appointing the applicants.

“We were left with substantial questions about the wisdom of appointing them. We informed the forces of our concerns.

“We have since been made aware that in at least three cases, the force withdrew or suspended the vetting clearance.

“In a further 26 cases, we agreed with the vetting decisions but found that forces hadn’t adequately recorded their rationale for granting clearance.”

With regard to the applicant who was later found to have links to  an organised crime group member, the HMICFRS noted “the force said it conducted a vetting interview, but there was no record of this”.

It added: “The force granted clearance and employed him, but there was no evidence that the decision-maker had properly assessed the identified risks.

“The force didn’t use any risk mitigation. Following our findings, the force suspended his vetting clearance.”

In another case of a man who wanted to become a police officer, the HMICFRS noted: “The applicant’s brother had numerous criminal convictions from 2015 to 2016. These included supplying controlled drugs, for which he was imprisoned.

“Surprisingly, there was no vetting interview. In granting clearance, relevant risk factors were overlooked, particularly his brother’s involvement in serious and organised crime. Following our findings, the force withdrew vetting clearance.”

Mr Parr was responding to the Home Secretary’s request for a rapid review of the progress police forces have made to address the 43 recommendations and five areas for improvement in last year’s report.

He said they examined the self-assessments that forces provided to the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and considered whether they “accurately reflect the grading each force has given itself”.

He wrote: “Forces and the NPCC worked quickly to provide these self‑assessments. To varying degrees, they offer assurance that the recommendations are being acted upon.

“But some responses weren’t detailed enough, and a few forces appeared to have either downplayed or overstated their progress in some areas. In some of these cases, we made inquiries to verify or refute the information in their self‑assessments.

“This has helped us to establish a more accurate and informed picture of progress.”

Mr Parr said the Independent Office for Police Conduct, the College of Policing, Home Office and NPCC were also asked to report their progress in meeting the recommendations.

The HMICFRS said it had made nine vetting-related recommendations to each of the 43 police forces in England and Wales, a total of 387 recommendations.

It added that “cautiously, we estimate that 73% have been or are likely to be addressed by the deadline”.

It is thought that at least 90% of forces would achieve recommendations relating to vetting decision-making, vetting reviews after misconduct proceedings and routine use of the police national database to monitor the workforce.

Ms Braverman said:  “Good progress is being made, but there can be no excuses and I expect all forces to redouble their efforts to implement all of the inspectorate’s recommendations by the deadlines set.

“The Government is driving forward work to improve culture, standards and behaviour across policing, including reviewing the process to dismiss officers who fall far short, and I will continue to hold forces to account to restore public trust in the profession.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “This report shows that there are still far too many people serving in our police service who simply should not be.

“For people with histories of domestic abuse, sexual offences and links to criminal organisations to still be serving officers is appalling and it is shameful that this Conservative Government is still failing to introduce or enforce the highest standards across policing.”

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