Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Taxpayers fund Police retirements to avoid misconduct charges

Poor old taxpayers seem to have to fund everything these days, from politicians resigning to avoid inquiries or criminal charges, to even Police doing the same …

The Daily Record reports :

Exclusive: Taxpayers foot £500K a year bill for Scots cops who retire to avoid misconduct rap

By Jack Mathieson

TWENTY-SEVEN Scots cops in the last five years have avoided misconduct inquiries by retiring, a Daily Record investigation has revealed.

The officers all kept their pensions and it's believed they are pocketing at least £500,000 a year between them.

The taxpayer helps foot the bill for the police's generous pension scheme.

Angry politicians called yesterday for tougher laws to allow more cops who disgrace the uniform to be stripped of pension rights.

Those calls are backed by grieving families and crime victims who have seen internal police probes into their cases derailed when cops retire early.

Often, disciplinary inquiries are simply halted if the officers involved quit.

The Record used freedom of information law to obtain the retirement figures.

We found that 12 officers from Strathclyde, six from Fife, four from Lothian and Borders, two from Tayside and one each from Central Scotland Police and Northern Constabulary have retired since 2003 while the subject of disciplinary inquiries.

The officers could have faced pay cuts, demotion or the sack if found guilty.

If all the cops involved were constables with 30 years' service, they would be enjoying a combined pension payout of £432,000 a year.

But the true figure is likely to be more than £500,000. Some of them held much higher ranks and were entitled to far bigger pensions.

The most senior Scots officer to quit while under investigation in the last five years was Keith Cullen, the deputy chief constable of Northern Constabulary.

In 2003, Cullen was facing an inquiry into the way his force dealt with complaints about their handling of a young man's death.

But he retired prior to facing disciplinary action and walked away with a pension of around £45,000 a year and a six-figure lump sum.

Cullen was set to be quizzed over the case of Kevin McLeod, 27, whose body was found in Wick Harbour in 1997.

The police said Kevin's death was an accident. His family insisted he was attacked and dumped in the harbour.

An inquiry by an outside force found that Cullen had a case to answer over the way his officers handled the family's complaints. He refused to take part in a Police Board hearing and retired days before it was due to take place.

Kevin's family were outraged by the decision to halt the inquiry. And they were horrified yesterday when the Record told them how many other under-fire officers had followed Cullen's example by retiring.

The dead man's uncle, Allan McLeod, said our figures were "stunning". He called for the system which allows such retirements to be totally overhauled.

Allan, 49, of Alness, Ross-shire, said: "We believe that, should an officer retire or resign prior to disciplinary proceedings, any rights including their pension should be frozen pending the outcome."

The Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland, Jim Martin, has called for a rethink over whether misconduct cases should be halted when cops retire.

Ministers are looking into how such cases are handled, and Martin said: "I recommend that the Scottish government consider this point as part of its review."

In April this year, the Record revealed that a policeman had been allowed to retire on full pension despite being a convicted sex offender.

Creepy Constable Andrew Burt was found guilty in September last year of groping two women and slapping another on the bottom. His victims included a mother and daughter.

Married Burt, 50, attacked the women in a drunken rampage at Cockenzie and Port Seton Bowling Club in East Lothian.

He was convicted of indecent assault and given 150 hours' community service. The sheriff told him: "If community service did not exist, I would not have the slightest hesitation in sending you to jail."

Police chiefs have the power to strip criminal cops of their pension rights but a probe into Burt's conduct took so long that he retired before it was completed.

An officer with his length of service, 30 years, can expect a pension of £16,000 a year and an £80,000 lump sum.

One of Burt's victims, Lorna Higgins, 45, said yesterday: "I just can't understand why Lothian and Borders Police were unable to take any action against him. To my mind, he should have been sacked the day he was found guilty."

Labour MSP Paul Martin, the party's community safety spokesman, said the Burt case was "completely unacceptable".

He called on justice secretary Kenny MacAskill to speed up moves to stop disgraced cops retiring to avoid being fired.

Martin said the Record's inquiry proved the need for action on the issue of early retirement. He said the public expected the highest standards from the police and added: "If they don't live up to those levels, that should put at risk their access to their pension."

But the body that represents front-line officers, the Scottish Police Federation, pointed out that cops can only be stripped of pensions if found guilty of serious crimes.

General secretary Joe Grant said: "There must be very few professions where internal matters would be deemed so serious that an employee would be prevented from retiring."

Several other cases of police early retirement have made the news in Scotland.

In 2002, Superintendent Paul Hughes retired from Central Scotland Police on health grounds while being probed over claims that he helped "fix" entrance exams for six women recruits.

And in 1998, Grampian cops Gordon Thomson and Alex Nicoll were allowed to retire early with full pension rights on medical grounds after being accused of bringing the force into disrepute.

Thomson, an inspector, and Nicoll, a sergeant, had faced claims that they made "careless" allegations of corruption against the force's head of CID.

No action was taken against the pair after an eight-month investigation.

Talks are now going on to make sure inquiries into police misconduct continue even if accused officers retire.

A Scottish government spokesman said yesterday: "We are considering putting guidelines in place."

The issue will be considered by the Police Advisory Board next month. A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland said: "We have made our views known to the board and will engage in further debate in the coming weeks."

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