Professionalism in Policing: In Pursuit of Justice

Today is a turning point for professionalism in policing. A landmark ruling has been made that preserves my faith in justice, and one that I hope will support our ongoing struggle, to restore the confidence of women in policing. A costly journey for many reasons, but for me, a reminder that humanity and common sense will prevail in the face of corruption. Today, we – or more formally, “The King on the application of the Chief Constable of the British Transport Police” – successfully brought a Judicial Review against a Police Misconduct Panel. In a nutshell, this means that there is now a judicial recognition of the power a warrant card holds and if it is abused, there can be only one suitable outcome: dismissal. We knew it, we fought for it and today we proved it.

You might remember in January this year I wrote about the perilous gaps within police misconduct practices, following the conviction of David Carrick – a criminal with a warrant card. I described where I felt the system and us as its leaders must do better to prevent people like him slipping under the radar. How difficult it is to identify and root out criminality from within the service. But also, on the importance of standing up for what we believe in when it’s in the public interest.

I’ll recap. In April 2020, one of my PCs approached a lone female jogger. He told her she was “too curvy to be Asian” and showed his warrant card to prove he was a police officer. She told him she was meeting someone and is “taken”; before messaging a friend saying “help me”. He stands close to show her photos of himself working out, asks for her number and immediately calls to check the number is correct. He asks her for a hug. When she walks away, he drives alongside her at a slow speed. That evening he messages, addressing her as “babe”. She reports it.  And following a full investigation, an independent Police Misconduct Panel found that his behaviour amounted to gross misconduct. Yet inexplicably he was given a final written warning and allowed to keep his job.

For me, this was totally unacceptable. How can someone who has abused their power for sexual gain, be free to hold a warrant card? After the panel’s decision I was left with the obligation to continue the employment of a police officer who I believed presented a danger to the public, more specifically to lone women. As the proceedings had run their course, he could not be suspended from duty pending further investigation, as there simply was nothing further to investigate. At that point, I had to rely on the fact that his warrant card was in fact my property. So I took it back. He has not set foot in BTP premises since. 

The comfort of knowing that officer could no longer pose a threat to women with his warrant card was marred by the inevitable cost of what was to come – paying him to sit at home while we initiated proceedings to legally challenge the final written warning. Something which I knew would not only be a lengthy process with no guarantee of success, but also would leave a gap on a shift and one fewer pair of boots on the ground. Ultimately, I believe it was the right thing to do for public safety. But I should never have been faced with that decision.

Judge Charles Bagot KC described the subsequent Judicial Review as capturing a real and present national concern about male police officers’ conduct towards lone women. He reflected that the officer’s own choice to approach a lone female and indulge in prejudiced racial stereotyping and sexualised language, amongst other troubling features of his conduct have been the undoing of his police career. The Judge ruled that the final written warning was irrational and would be overturned – meaning that today, PC Imran Aftab is now formally dismissed from the force.

I wholeheartedly agree with this decision and am grateful for the BTP Professional Standards team, the IOPC who supported us as an Interested Party, our fantastic KC and above all else – the victim. The following line of her complaint will stay with me: “I do not wish this situation upon any other girl.” For as long as I serve, I will do everything in my power to honour it, and protect women and girls from those who abuse the powers a warrant card gives them.

I am often asked if I believe women will ever trust the police again. What concerns me is not just the ongoing news carousel of horrendous cases, but how the threads of trauma are sewn into a permanent tapestry that becomes our history. Women today will discuss their fear with girlfriends, but also their children. As a society, we will pass that fear down to the next generations. Sarah Everard’s tragic murder was the spark that ignited a fire within us all. A source of inter-generational trauma and a pivotal moment in this growing divide between the police and the public. Her story and those that followed will shape the world our children will live in. But so will our response.

Will it get worse before it gets better? Both will happen together. I write this just days before Baroness Casey publishes her review, which I expect to be sobering. I don’t underestimate how hard these cases and reports are to hear when all you do is put your kit on and go out to do a good job – catch the bad people and protect the vulnerable. Nobody works in policing for the pay or the plaudits, but recently this relentless feeling of persecution makes each day tougher. I hope we can come together to push harder to root out those who are making what will always be a job like no other, seem impossible.

Today shows green shoots of change. There are brilliant people working tirelessly to earn the trust of communities, I know that because I see it all the time. From a single interaction on the beat, to national reform – it occupies our hearts and our minds like you wouldn’t believe. My last blog offered some practical suggestions to improve transparency and accountability, which I continue to push forward. And there are plenty more.

I recently shared with the Home Office Dismissals Review some other ideas. To name a few – obtaining swift justice through early CPS review and fast tracking police officers through the courts; central employment, coordination and ongoing professional development of Legally Qualified Chairs; mandate proper training and accreditation for professionalism investigators who should be our gold standard; diversifying panel experience by appointing both police staff as well as officers to represent the Force at panels; increase transparency through live streaming of the hearings held in public and the introduction of ‘police passports’ to ensure intra-Force transfers are fully informed. The fight against police corruption requires us to think beyond the basics, to challenge what we have always done and be relentless in closing the gaps to root out abuse within our ranks.

Most significantly, I have asked the Home Office to grant Chief Constables the power to decide whether to dismiss an officer where gross misconduct has been proven by an independent panel. I am ultimately accountable for the actions of every person I employ. We hear a lot about common sense policing these days and I’ve always been a big fan. What defies common sense more than a system that compels me to retain a police officer who I believe to be a danger to the public, and specifically to lone women? I can’t think of much.

So at the end of a long and winding road, I can now say that PC Imran Aftab has no place in the future of my Force. Whilst I am grateful for the Judge’s ruling, it should never have come to this. Nobody would want us to have to use public money in this way. We don’t want to work with corrupt officers, abusers or sexual predators. But the system has to help us. As police leaders, it is our responsibility to support our people by challenging it – through our words and our actions.

In pursuit of justice, we can’t hide behind the decisions of others. If we don’t agree we must stand up and make that clear. After all, we are here first and foremost to protect the public. When we do that with courage and tenacity, trust will follow. I know it will.