A Policeman’s Lot 21….The Smug Complainant.

When I first joined the police aged nineteen, one of the first things that we were told at training college was “No matter how good a police officer you are….You WILL be subject to complaints….They are an inescapable part of the job.”

People seem to be split into two separate camps….Those who think that police officers investigating complaints against other officers are biased in their favour….And those who think exactly the opposite….The truth (as is often the case) lies somewhere in the middle…..The fact of the matter is that if you are a serving police officer and someone launches a complaint against you….It will be thoroughly and vigorously investigated and if a complaint is upheld, an officer can expect to be punished….The other thing you must realise as a police officer is that IF you are found guilty of a serious infringement of the rules or, perhaps even a criminal offence, you can expect your punishment to be more severe than if you were an ordinary member of the public….Something else you must get used to is that that sometimes (fortunately, quite rarely) you may become the unwitting victim of a malicious complaint…..And police investigators must look carefully into EVERY complaint….The following story recalls such an incidence.

It was a sunny Summer’s afternoon and I was on a mobile van patrol with another officer in the area of Mayfair. We were turning out of Grosvenor Square and into South Audley Street when we were flagged down by a young lady. She explained that she was a waitress in a restaurant in Shepherds Market and her boss had sent her to see if she could find a police officer….It seemed that two men who were rather the worse for drink had sat at tables outside the restaurant, and were making a thorough nuisance of themselves.

The senior ranks of the Diplomatic Protection Group would rather their officers did not become involved in ordinary local policing matters as it it interfered with the work they were supposed to be doing….However, on this particular occasion, we had no further work to complete and we decided to deal with what sounded like a simple matter ourselves.

The waitress climbed into the van and directed us to the restaurant ….As we arrived, she pointed to a middle aged man seated outside the restaurant with a very smug smirk on his face….”That’s one of them,” she said…..Traffic in the area was always heavy so I told my partner that I would deal with the matter and he could resume his patrol….I would call him when the matter was resolved.

In such disputes as this one, the best and usual course of action was to find out exactly what had happened, then decide whether any offences have been committed and finally deal with the matter as simply as possible and most importantly of all….To prevent any further ‘Breaches of the Peace.’

First of all I spoke to the restaurant owner and he informed me that the man still seated outside had come to the restaurant with a younger male companion and ordered drinks….When the drinks arrived they began to behave rudely and abusively to other customers….When the manager asked them to moderate their behaviour they became abusive to him and his staff….He had asked them both to leave but they both became argumentative and refused to leave….The older man (the man with the smug smirk on his face) had then urinated against one of the tables…..Unsurprisingly other customers had decided to leave….At this point he had sent his waitress to look for a police officer.

The owner really wanted no trouble and told me….”The younger man disappeared as soon as I told my waitress to find a policeman….But the man outside just refuses to leave….All I want is for him to go…..I don’t care about the bill….I just want him gone.”

At this point I went outside and spoke to the man still sitting at a restaurant table and he still had a smug grin on his face. “The restaurant owner has told me what’s happened here….I think you’ve had your fun for today….And now it’s time for you to leave.”….. In most cases like this, the person being complained about would simply say “Fair Enough” and walk away…..But this chap had other ideas…..”Do you know who you are talking to?”

“I neither know nor care who you are….It’s time for you to leave.”

“Do you normally speak to senior police officers in this way, officer?”

“Are you telling me you are a police officer?”

“I’m not saying anything.” He said….Still with a grin on his face.

“If you are a police officer, show me your warrant card.”

He declined to move or show me any identification….and the smug grin had not left his face….”I really don’t believe a police officer would behave as stupidly as you….You have one last chance….You will leave right now….Or I will arrest you for being drunk and disorderly….Do you understand?”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

At which point I arrested and cautioned him and used my radio to call a local police van.

A few minutes later a local van arrived….By now the smirk had departed from his face….He began to struggle as we guided him towards the back of the van but we managed to get him inside without much trouble and we were taken to Vine Street Police Station….In the Charge Room I gave my evidence of arrest for being drunk and disorderly (including the bit about saying that he was a senior police officer)….And by now the smug smile had returned to my prisoner’s face….When the Custody Sergeant had heard my evidence he said “You’ve just heard what the officer has said….Do you have anything to say?”

Still the smug smile “You will all severely regret this, let me assure you of that!”

He then refused to give his name and address or any other details.

“Very well….Search him and then take him to the cells to sober up”….After he had been searched and his property listed the Custody Sergeant said to the prisoner. “Right, you will now go and sit in a cell until such time as you decide to give me your details…..As soon as you do that, we can start to think about releasing you.”

As soon as the jailer had taken him and his smirking grin to the cells, I spoke to the sergeant….”Sarge, I know that we no longer charge drunks and take them to court….But this has got “Complaint against Police” written all over it….If we DON’T charge him then it’s the sort of thing that we see all the time in the press….”The complainant was arrested by the police but later released without charge.”

“Yes, I know what you mean….But my hands are tied….The instructions are that people charged with drunkenness will be held until sober and then released….Being charged and taken to court is no longer an option.”

I left Vine Street and made my way back to Tottenham Court Road and eventually booked off duty knowing that this would probably not be the last time I would hear about my smug and smirking drunk.

It would have been about four months or so later that I had reason to visit my old station, West End Central and while there I bumped into an old friend and colleague. As we chatted we were joined by a sergeant and my friend introduced us to each other….When he heard my name he looked thoughtful for a second….”Are you on the DPG?” He enquired.

“Yes, that’s right….How do you know that?”

“Ah, I’m currently working in the Divisional Complaints Office and your name has cropped up in a complaint I’m dealing with.”

“Really? I wasn’t aware that I had any current complaints outstanding against me.”

“Yes….You do and I imagine you should get a call to be interviewed within the next few weeks.

So it was that about three weeks later I was summoned to the Divisional Complaints Office at West End Central where I was ushered into an office. Also present in the office were a uniformed chief inspector and a detective sergeant in plain clothes.

The ch. Inspector was smiling (a good start, I thought) and offered me a seat.

“I have been investigating a complaint made against you and a Vine Street sergeant by a member of the public following an incident at a restaurant in Shepherd’s Market.” At that point he handed me my form 163 (Official complaint form) Normally I would now ask the sergeant to caution you, switch on the tape recorder and start taking notes but before we do that there is something that you might want to be aware of….This investigation has been ongoing for some time now and a fortnight ago the sergeant and I both went to interview the complainant….An interview which did not go very well and as a result, both of US are now also facing complaints from the same man….It seems that the four persons now being investigated as a result of this complaint against you are the latest in a long line of officers who have been complained about by this one individual….. You may infer from that information whatever you choose…..The sergeant will now start the tape and formally caution you…. My questions will be centred around your original report and I have your report here if you wish to refer to it.

The tape was switched on, I was formerly cautioned and informed that the complaints against me were three allegations of:

Unlawful arrest.

Criminal assault.

Unlawful imprisonment and detention

We fully went over the details of that afternoon and at the end of the interview the ch. Inspector asked me if I had any questions….”Just one.” I replied….”This man has made a serious, malicious and unfounded complaint against me….He is wasting public money with his allegations against me….and even more money with the complaints against you…..All of his other complaints will be duly investigated, again at great public expense….Do I have any official redress against his lies and allegations?”

“Absolutely none, I’m afraid…..The Government fears that if genuine complainants fear that they themselves might face legal action against them if their allegations are not fully proved, then that might deter people from making far more valid and justified complaints…..I’m afraid that occasional malicious complaints are just something that we as police officers have to accept and put up with.

Some weeks later I received a form 163A (Notification that the complaint has been investigated and that no further action will be taken….I presume that most, if not ALL of this man’s complaints ended with a similar result and the fable of “The boy who cried Wolf” came to my mind….I also wondered what the cost of investigating these complaints was to the tax payer….At the time of those events I was annoyed to be the victim of a malicious complaint….However, looking back and with hindsight I can see that if Police really do eventually to hope to win over the majority of public support, it is essential that people who do have legitimate complaints against police officers must feel free to air their grievances and have confidence that their complaints will be fully and fairly investigated……It was all damned annoying at the time though!

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  1. An inevitable aspect to policing Rob, pleased that it all dissolved into nothing for you, but can fully appreciate your concerns about the the fruitless time wasting involved.

  2. In my dealings with the police in the UK, I have always found them to be courteous and professional. However I had a run-in with gendarmes in Strasbourg a few years ago where I was arrested at gunpoint and handcuffed by officers looking for a drink-driver. After a nervous 10 minutes while they were on the radio to their HQ, it transpired that the driver they wanted was driving a black Range Rover with British plates whereas I was driving a green Mazda hatchback with British plates (and the only reason I know this was because I speak enough French to understand their conversation). Realising the mistake they released me, got back into their car and drove off. No comment. No apology. Nothing.

    1. I’m pleased that your experiences with the British Police have been largely positive…….But I am also aware that not everybody’s experiences will be as positive…..In my own service I met officers whom I literally entrusted with my life….Sadly, there were (a very few) others whom I wouldn’t trust to take my dog for a walk….But I suspect that is the same in pretty much every line of work.

      I am still connected with policing in a voluntary capacity though I have been retired for fifteen years. I find the current crop of boys and girls to be mostly an honest and trustworthy bunch and to be frank….I would not maintain a connection unless I genuinely believed that to be the case.

      Thanks for your comment and I hope you continue to enjoy the series.

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