Tag Archives: chief constable sir peter fahy

A complex problem

A huge amount has been written and spoken about in reaction to the report about child sexual exploitation in Rotherham. I am not going to comment on the specifics of what happened there but would say that this is obviously not a new problem. The issue of young people out late at night on the street being targeted by men has been highlighted some years ago by other police forces and was the subject of news reports and documentaries. In Oldham there has been Operation Messenger for many years and in Manchester the Protect team both involving police and social workers focussing on this issue. In Rochdale successful prosecutions have been achieved and other cases are still being investigated.

It is inevitable and understandable that we seek simple answers to what are complex and emotive issues surrounding those in abusive relationships, the abusers themselves and the way the police and the wider criminal justice systems deals with sexual offences.
Those not involved with these issues find it hard to understand why the police and social services cannot protect vulnerable young people and arrest and convict abusers.

The first thing to say is that there have been advances in child protection across the country and many successful prosecutions and other cases where families and children are helped to put their lives back together. On the other hand there are a number of important policy issues for which there are no easy answers.

The cases in Rotherham, Rochdale and elsewhere involve young people who often have a number of different problems in their lives and get drawn into inappropriate relationships with men which then lead to serious sexual abuse. It is in the nature of an abusive relationship that the victim does not recognise the danger they are in and don’t want to leave the abuser.

When parents, teachers, social workers or police officers try to get them to end the relationship and stop meeting the abuser they often refuse and of course the abuser will still try and get to them. The answer seems obvious that if a child is in danger and refuses to protect themselves and other strategies fail then they should be placed in secure accommodation for their own protection. The problem is that this is obviously a drastic step which requires specialist facilities. More importantly we know that such a step can have a very damaging impact on that young person and often for the rest of their lives because they are removed from their family, their school and their friends. Of course the better course would be to try and remove the abuser but that takes a lot more time and is linked to the second major policy issue, how the court system deals with sexual offences.

Our experience of dealing with girls who are victims of child sexual exploitation is that it takes on average around nine months for us to build a relationship with that young person to the point where they are willing to complain about their abuser and support a prosecution. The problem is that in many cases without that prosecution it is often very difficult to control the activities of the abuser. The challenges don’t end there. As I have said many of those who are abused have serious problems in their lives, may have had drug or alcohol issues, may have told lies to protect their abusers and will have been involved in what some would call promiscuous behaviour. The problem is that these “weaknesses” will be ruthlessly exploited in the court process to try and damage the credibility of the victim.

It is the harrowing nature of this process for the victim with the chance that the abuser will be found not guilty which causes police officers, social workers and prosecutors to agonise as to whether a prosecution will be in the victim’s best interests or indeed whether a prosecution can succeed given the way the court system works. Included in this consideration will be the fact that cases take many, many months to get to court.

There have been some changes made to the court process to make it a bit easier for victims giving evidence. There are proposals to enable victims to give pre-recorded evidence and to be cross examined by only one defence barrister. This will help but will not prevent many questions being asked about the lifestyle of the victim some of which others would consider have nothing to do with the facts of the case but just seek to destroy the character of that witness. Sadly, as we know some victims have committed suicide after such an experience. There are many cases that do not get near the court process because they just cannot get to the threshold of “beyond all reasonable doubt.”

The conviction rate for rape overall is about 10 per cent of all reported cases and so the question should be not what are we doing for this 10 per cent but what are we doing for the 90 per cent of other victims.

This can sometimes be interpreted as police officers not believing victims of rape and abuse but the issue is often not whether an officer believes the victim but whether they think a jury will believe the victim against this standard of “beyond all reasonable doubt.”

In my view there has been too much focus in success being seen as getting cases to court. This creates a mind-set that if a case has little prospect of getting to court and certainly where a victim does not support a prosecution then interest is lost in the case overall. Many victims are put off from seeking support because they fear they will be “persuaded” to go to court when they feel that the court process will not solve the problem in their lives. There needs to be a far greater balance in favour of protection of the victim rather than prosecution of the offender.
Protection in these cases can only be provided if all the agencies involved work in a fundamentally different way. In Greater Manchester, all the public services recognise that most of the people who need our protection and care have a complex set of needs and are part of wider families who themselves have complex needs. Many of these families have many years of chronic dependency, constant interactions with the public services and the same patterns of behaviour repeating themselves. They take up a large proportion of the public spend but often this spend is not solving their problems. We are developing new ways of working which put teams of staff from the different agencies working in the same office sharing information on a daily basis to make sure there is a joined up strategy to protect vulnerable people and look at the issues for the whole family. This is the best way to try and ensure children have the best upbringing that problems are identified early and it is less likely we will young people vulnerable to abusers in the future.

The past week has been difficult for police officers and social workers and I am sure many have shouted at the radio or television as they feel that much of the coverage just does not recognise the complexities of the job they do and the real difficulties they face working in deprived communities often with families and individuals with chaotic lifestyles and long term histories of need. I can understand why many journalists and commentators do not appreciate this as often these communities are hidden and I myself only have an understanding of this because of the job I do and the opportunities I get to go out on the front line.

The problem with this atmosphere is that it will get more and more difficult to attract the best people into social work or to get police officers who want to get involved in child protection work. It also means that social workers and police officers “play safe” and don’t show the degree of innovation and imagination needed to succeed in this work and in particular what is needed to capture determined abusers. A siege mentality develops where public servants strive to do their best but feel unappreciated and undervalued by the society around them. It is not that social workers and police officers do not appreciate what life is like in deprived communities rather that they understand it too well.

And what about the race issue? Some have said that the reason this issue has not been confronted was because of fear of being labelled racist as many of the abusers in these cases are Asian men. I have never been convinced of this argument but rather feel it is easier to talk about the race issue than the more complex issues of the care system and the court system. I do think that there are some fundamental issues about the rights of women in our society that some minority cultures need to confront but on the other hand the levels of domestic violence in this country suggest that we all need to confront this issue. I also think there are some issues about the licensing of taxi drivers and take away premises which need to be reviewed as these have featured in a number of CSE cases. At the end of the day abuse is about criminality and we need to focus on the criminals and seek them out rather than label whole communities.
There is much more that I could say. The risk is that the current hiatus about Rotherham will fizzle out quickly to be replaced by another news story and while outrage will have been vented the fundamental policy issues involved will not have been confronted.

For me these fundamental issues are:

  • Clearer guidance and research on the whole issue of children in care and the criteria when secure accommodation is to be used
  • The creation of a network of “safe houses ” which young people at risk of abuse or who keep running away could use knowing their own welfare would be the primary concern
  • The creation of a legal process which police officers and other professionals could access which would provide immediate protection for a vulnerable child or immediate control of a suspected abuser without the need for a conviction or charge beforehand.
  • A clear statement that the prime duty of a police force is the protection of vulnerable people and long term measures to reduce the level of abuse and that this should take precedence over property crime.
  • A radical realignment of public services in line with the troubled families initiative to create local teams of professionals from the key caring agencies with a focus on reducing complex dependency and providing joined up strategies to protect vulnerable people.
  • The promotion of the concept of British values to generate a wider debate about the rights of women and children in our society and its relation to cultural norms in minority communities and the impact of the increasing sexualisation of young people

Sir Peter Fahy,
Chief Constable



Investigating crime

There has been a lot of press interest in the headline that GMP only investigates about 40 per cent of crime. As often the real story behind the headline is a lot more complex than that.

Chief Constable Sir Peter Fahy

The comment was taken from a public scrutiny meeting on the issue of fraud. Part of the concern raised by victims was that not all allegations of fraud are taken forward into investigation. I put this into the context that we actively investigate about 40 per cent of crime overall and it was this line which then created the headline. By the way this is a shame as there were a lot of important issues surrounding fraud and crime on the internet discussed at this meeting which were not covered by the media.

Our strategy for tackling crime is based on three key elements:

1. Investigating crimes reported to us

All crime that is reported to GMP is carefully examined as to whether there are reasonable lines of enquiry. Of course in many cases we will have attended the scene of the crime and officers will have carried out an initial investigation. The crime goes to a crime desk which looks at whether these basic enquiries have been completed properly. If there are further tasks to be completed and there are further reasonable lines of enquiry then the crime will be allocated to an investigating officer. In making this decision we also look at how serious the crime is and the threat harm and risk to the general public.

Our expe

rience and professional knowledge tells us what activities and police tactics are likely to produce results and this is part of the decision making process. On average somewhere around 40 per cent of crime has a reasonable line of enquiry although we will always pursue the most serious offences to see if further work will turn up any further evidence.

We have to be realistic that in many crimes there are no witnesses, no forensic evidence and no CCTV evidence. Criminals try to commit crime without anyone seeing them or being able to recognise them. Thankfully many are stupid or careless. As police officers we have to work within the powers the law gives us and respect the rules and safeguards that are there when interviewing suspects. Any evidence we gather has to meet the criminal standard of beyond all reasonable doubt.

2. Targeting that group of persistent offenders who commit most crime

The vast majority of crime is committed by a relatively small group of persistent prolific offenders. So a key part of our efforts to reduce crime and protect the public is to target this group;  just as important as investigating burglary, is investigating burglars. This g

3. Patrolling those areas where we think crime is likely to occur
roup of offenders go in and out of the criminal justice system and some are back committing crime within hours of being released from prison. Every police station has its cohort of current target offenders that officers are expected to gather information and intelligence by regularly visiting them and stopping them when they see them out and about. We work with the Probation Service and with other agencies to try and divert these people and help them with their drug or drink problem or for instance accommodation but if they refuse that help and continue their offending or breach their licence conditions then our aim is to get them back into custody.

We do this by analysing patterns of crime and using computer analysis and our knowledge of offending behaviour to predict where crime will occur next. We task our officers to patrol those areas sometimes in uniform, sometimes in plain clothes. We use satellite tracking of where our officers are to ensure they follow those plans. This is called predictive mapping and is being used by a number of forces around the world.

In order to continue to reduce crime it is important that we balance these three activities of investigating crimes reported to us, targeting persistent offenders and patrolling those areas where we believe crime is most likely to occur next. If we just spent all our time investigating crime after it happened we would not have the officers to carry out the proactive work of targeting offenders and being out on patrol.

There have been some dramatic headlines about what I said despite the fact that this story has been covered many times before and in particular was publicised by GMP three years ago. The police have never investigated one hundred per cent of crime and in reality we can only do something where there is a line of enquiry to follow. I don’t think the public want us to waste time pursuing crimes where there is a low chance of success unless these are particularly serious offences. They would expect to be using police officer time where it is most likely to have success.

This does not mean we don’t care about crime or that we have given up on crime. It does not mean we don’t care about more minor offences. Our way of dealing with crime has led to crime being reduced by half over the past ten years. A key part of this is the way we have improved our intelligence gathering and analysis and this has led to our prisons being full and over crowded.

Behind my comments is a frustration shared by most police officers about our ability to control those dedicated to a life of crime who cause most harm and misery to victims. I am not one of those who believe in locking criminals up and throwing away the key, I believe everyone deserves a second chance and we have to be committed to diverting criminals away from offending and helping them to start anew. On the other hand there are too many offenders who refuse the chances offered to them and blatantly disregard bail conditions, court orders and licence provisions and these are allowed to commit too many offences and damage too many victims before they are properly controlled. It makes me really angry to see offenders going back to where they committed crime before and burgling in areas they targeted before. I think we need a wider range of sanctions and control measures which apply to offenders until they show a real commitment to change their ways. We have registered sex offenders who have long years of conditions on where they can live, we have sex offender orders to put conditions on where they can go for instance to keep them away from young children and perhaps we need a registered burglar scheme to keep them away from areas which they have exploited in then past and to ensure they keep away from activities preparatory to offending.

We have a very planned targeted approach. In the last few weeks alone we have had colleagues from Sweden, Chile and Australia visiting GMP to see our approach. We have learnt that you have to control the number of crimes that are under active investigation so that officers are not overwhelmed and can concentrate on where there are the best chances if success. We know we not only have to give a good service to victims but we have to reduce the chances of others being victims in the future.

One of the journalists who interviewed me suggested that I should not have publicised this figure as it damages public confidence and I should have kept it secret. I cannot accept this. It is important that we are open with the public and that they understand the reality of policing and the tactics, powers and processes we use to keep them safe. If certain journalists choose to sensationalise this and write dramatic headlines then that is a matter for them it will not stop me being open and honest with the people of Greater Manchester and involving them in every way I can in the fight against crime.

Why do you have a police force?

Why do you have a police force? Well it’s obvious isn’t it; to keep law and order and arrest offenders. Sir Robert Peel back in 1829 created a police force because society was becoming more complex as a result of the industrial revolution but also to avoid having to use the military to deal with civil disorder.

Countries also have a police force to do things that other people don’t want to do. When others say it is too dangerous or too violent or when others say it is not in my job description or we’re going on strike it is the police force which is asked to intervene. In many countries in the world this has a very sinister side with police forces, many paramilitary in style, enforcing the will of a dictatorship against the majority.

In this country we pride ourselves on policing by consent that this is a democracy that the police are democratically accountable and answerable to the law. On the other hand policing often operates in a grey area where it enforces laws which many people disagree with and where certainly in the past society turned a blind eye to some of the methods used by officers as long as they were taking criminals off the street.

Policing is a disciplined service and officers and required to obey lawful orders. There has been limited room for officers to object to the methods being used or to object to what they are being asked to do. When you are dealing with a major disturbance on the street there isn’t time for a case conference about it.

This is an important issue in terms of the current debate about police integrity and transparency. There has been a string of negative stories including the Hillsborough revelations and the monitoring of those giving evidence at the Lawrence enquiry. This is not just about what happened in these cases but also what happened to those officers  who raised concerns at the time.

This debate is similar to the one in the Health Service about “whistleblowing”. The argument is clear, the best protection for patients is that staff feel able to raise concerns about a procedure or about the conduct or practise of a colleague which may endanger patient safety. In policing there is a call from some politicians for more transparency but I think it needs to go far wider than this.

Police officers carrying out their duties must be assured that when they are carrying out investigations or operations that the tactics and methods being used are understood and supported by legislation, politicians, the media and public opinion. So the police need to be more transparent about what they are doing but there also needs to be the legislation to cover police doing the things the public expect them to investigate crime and deal with disorder.

A desire for transparency does not sit well with too strong a thirst for personal accountability or the drive to find someone to blame. For staff to be open about mistakes they may have made or dilemmas they face they can’t feel that they will immediately be subject to discipline. This is a difficult balance. Deliberate wrongdoing, lack of honesty unreasonable use of force has to be investigated under misconduct procedures or the criminal law but many other issues are not so clear cut. The police like many public servants operate in a complex world working with other agencies, under the pressure of lack of resources and under the pressure of time. Often when things go wrong it is not one person’s fault but often a case of a person doing their best in difficult circumstances. Transparency cannot just be about publishing minutes of meetings or details of remuneration packages it has to be about that element of staff feeling that they can be open about the challenges they face and the methods they are being asked to use.

Police officers feel under a lot of pressure at the moment. There is no question that morale is affected by the current negative stories about policing but at the same time no evidence that they are letting this affect how they serve the public. It is hard to judge how the media coverage affects the confidence of the broader public. On Sunday I gave an interview to Sky News about police morale but then went on the Mega Mela music festival in Manchester talking to the organisers and to other members of the local community. They were very positive about all the help they had received from the force and the general relationship with local officers and PCSOs. They were not talking about these national issues.

How to take this forward? Well, we have to investigate those cases which have been raised and bring them to a successful conclusion. On the other hand we cannot ask officers to continue to work under this constant stream of negative stories and find a way of putting in systems which will give us the best chance of preventing this happening in the present and in the future. This requires a constant focus on high standards of professionalism and conduct and a performance regime which recognises good service and ethical behaviour. A system which allows staff to concentrate in the greatest threat harm and risk and those things most important to the public rather than hitting a target for its own sake. We are also proposing creating an independent ethics committee which will allow staff to raise issues of concern where they think that aspects of force policy or practise may conflict with the public interest or their own duty as public servants. 

While all this is going on we continue to do our best to serve the public of Greater Manchester. Particular concerns at the moment are an increase in the number of thefts involving iPhones, tablets and other devices. These are obviously expensive items but we are all now more likely to be openly using them in the street which gives the opportunity for them to be snatched by the thieves sometimes by offenders on pedal cycles. At the public forum with the Police and Crime Commissioner in Oldham last week we talked about the problem of anti-social behaviour and how such issues often need all the different agencies to work together to get a long term solution. This Saturday we will hold a conference for all our Homewatch coordinators and day to day we have a number of serious incidents we are investigating at the moment. While we look at events in the past it is just as important to concentrate on the protection of the public in the present.

Sir Peter Fahy

Chief Constable

Events in Woolwich

The awful event at Woolwich has caused much soul searching and debate but at the heart of it is a human tragedy of a family who have lost a loved one in a senseless act of violence. The whole nation has been able to see the grief of Lee Rigby’s family, while many other families undergo such pain few have to experience this weight of publicity and the knowledge that so many people saw Lee’s body at the murder scene due to the nature of the television coverage.

One of my national responsibilities is being the lead for what is called the Prevent Programme. The aim of this programme is to dissuade people from being drawn into violent extremism and was put in place after the July 7th bombings. It is not just a police programme but one which draws in all the public services to identify those who may be expressing extreme views and who may be vulnerable to the process of radicalisation leading to violent action.

I have given a number of interviews as the media tried to make sense of what happened in Woolwich and why some men are drawn into such violent acts. I then had to withdraw when the issue became a party political one.  

I had already planned to visit the North West Counter Terrorism Unit the day after Lee Rigby’s murder so it put a context to the conversations I had there. The fact is that the Counter Terrorist Units working with the Security Services have been successful in foiling a considerable number of bomb plots and conspiracies. Some of those were planned from abroad most were instigated in this country. The trials of those involved attract a lot of publicity but what goes largely unseen is the day-to-day work of analysing intelligence, investigating and monitoring individuals who have come to notice. This may be as a result of their activities arising suspicion or information from the public or from other countries.

There is now a parliamentary inquiry to see whether more could have been done to control those who went on to commit the Woolwich attack. However the inquiry will have to take into account the huge number of people and groups who come to notice and the reality of what can be achieved with the available resources and the powers and tactics allowed by law.

There is a constant process to review current investigations and prioritise the greatest risks to ensure that effort is targeted where it will have most impact in protecting the public.

In the many comments made by politicians and the media some have been unrealistic as to what can be achieved. For instance it is extremely expensive and practically very difficult to keep someone under surveillance for long periods of time. It is not like it is portrayed on the films where the detective follows a man down the street dodging behind lampposts. The gathering and analysis of intelligence is not an exact science. Much of the analysis involves subjective judgements and interpretations trying to put different bits together and not being able to confirm some crucial aspects for fear of alerting the suspect or revealing the source of the information. Those we investigate or monitor are careful to cover their tracks especially in terms of internet communications. They are careful who they speak to and who they associate with.

This work is not becoming any easier. The world is a more complex place with new areas of conflict and causes for people to be drawn into. One of the principle concerns is people who travel to war zones such as Syria, parts of Africa and Afghanistan. They have often been indoctrinated before they go and then undergo further radicalisation abroad. They will return to this country with military experience and having seen many traumatic scenes but without the training, discipline and ethos of serving in our own armed forces.

There is also serious concern about material on the internet. Again there is much work undertaken to monitor and where possible take down these sites but many are hosted overseas where different laws apply. They also proliferate very quickly. Again there has to be a sense of realism on what can be achieved and more investment into our technical ability to identify those who produce and disseminate this material.

The third area of concern is extremist speakers. We know a number of these people who tour venues to give speeches promoting extremist views and are often linked to groups who have advocated violent action in the past. Officers will visit these venues to ensure that the managers understand the nature of the event and the views of the speaker. Some cancel the event while others decline to do so.

The Prime Minister has announced that he is setting up a taskforce to review the Prevent Strategy in the light of the Woolwich attack. This will no doubt look at the issues I have outlined above. It is very difficult to judge the effectiveness of a programme such as Prevent precisely because it is impossible to assess what we have prevented. Some might argue that the steady stream of plots which have been foiled indicates that the programme has failed but this is not the case. The programme is trying to impact on a huge section of the population mainly young people but not exclusively so. It is not just about what might be called Muslim extremism or Jihad but other forms of extremism as well. You cannot compel people or institutions to take part you are working on persuasion.

This is not just about the police although we are major players in the programme. It involves a number of other agencies; in particular education and the local councils but also has to involve the whole of society. If we are to be successful it involves issues such as alienation and unemployment which can generate extremist views and this is true of all youths irrelevant of race or religion. It involves constantly countering extremist narratives and promoting alternative views. It involves all sections of society accepting the reality that we are now a more ethnically and religiously diverse country and making an effort to understand the real fundamentals of the Muslim faith. It involves minority communities making their own efforts to integrate, understanding the core values of British society and for instance our attitudes towards the rights of women, gay people and the importance of free speech.

There is a real tension here. Events such as the murder of Lee Rigby cause us to consider adopting harsher methods of restricting free speech and depriving people of their civil liberties eroding those values which we espouse – exactly what the terrorist wants. We have to be very careful of reacting too quickly to one event.

In my view the Prevent Programme has made significant progress. After the death of Lee Rigby there was a united voice from all sections of the Muslim community but particularly the Imams condemning in the strongest terms what had happened so that there could be no doubt. There is a much higher level of understanding between the various agencies involved in Prevent and the mosques and other sections of the Muslim community. There have been a number of successful individual programmes such as work with Muslim women and with the universities. There is a higher degree of awareness of how to identify those vulnerable to radicalisation. The work has expanded as the threat of right wing extremism has grown and this is very much included in the work. Overall when you look at what is happening in other countries, when you consider the complexities of the makeup of our country, when you see some of the difficult issues of foreign policy and history overall community relations are good in the UK  and there is an attitude of live and let live. On the other hand this is precisely why we should take the threat of extremism and particular violent extremism very seriously because it is a threat to the progress we have made.

There is one aspect of the Woolwich attack where it seems to me a line was crossed. The footage captured immediately afterwards, the filming of the body lying on the road, the blood stained hands and the justification by the attacker was material of a type not broadcast before. We are being led here by the development of technology rather than considered policy on what should be broadcast. It has always been the convention that a dead body is not shown before the relatives have been informed.  Extremists do what they do because they want to cause shock and horror and gain publicity for their cause. Unfortunately that piece of film gave them that publicity and created the danger that others may want to copy that to get their moment of notoriety and fame. I hope that broadcasters will reflect on whether this was the right thing to do.

Sir Peter Fahy
Chief Constable
Greater Manchester Police