In the Media

Senior police officers 'not being properly vetted'

PUBLISHED September 26, 2012

Wiltshire Police Authority said the process of looking into officers' backgrounds was "random" and accused the service's watchdog of recommending candidates "for decades" without checking they had been cleared for criminal records and potential vulnerabilities.

It made the claims after a report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary disclosed "apparent failures in the operation of the vetting system" in the case of David Ainsworth, for which it blamed 18 months of "inaction" by the officer and his force.

The 49-year-old hanged himself in his garage last year following 24 complaints of sexual harassment from women across two forces. An inquest heard he felt he was being treated like a "pariah" by Wiltshire Police.

A review of the way he was dealt with by the force and its governing authority, published by HMIC on Wednesday, said more needed to be done to look after chief officers' welfare and that communication should be improved when "distressing" cases are being handled.

It also recommended the development of a dedicated policy to protect whistle-blowers, along with a plan to improve equality and diversity.

HMIC said Wiltshire should review its vetting procedures, as should ACPO, which represents senior ranks across the country.

Mr Ainsworth is thought to have worked in Wiltshire for well over a year before it was realised that he had not undergone the required level of "developed vetting", which would include checks on his financial status as well as possible criminal links to family and friends and an in-depth interview to see if he had anything in his private life that could leave him open to blackmail.

He had started to go through the process when it was put on hold by the investigation into his conduct.

HMIC said: "The review team were surprised that both the Chief Constable and Police Authority had 'assumed' that vetting had been correctly conducted and completed. However, the review found that this is not an issue singular to Wiltshire Police. Senior officers across a number of forces believe that vetting processes occur automatically.

"Application forms for ACPO positions do not consistently include details of vetting levels. Vetting status was not a requirement in the application forms Mr Ainsworth completed for various chief officer positions."

This drew an angry response from Christopher Hoare, chairman of Wiltshire Police Authority, who accused the watchdog of having "glossed over" or ignored key problems such as "how officers can reach senior positions without appropriate vetting".

He claimed HMIC makes recommendations on senior appointments to police authorities and the Home Secretary and "has done so for decades without, it seems, routinely checking if these officers had received even the most basic vetting".

The watchdog should take the lead in "addressing the present random application of the vetting policy", it was claimed.

"I believe also that a majority of the public would assume that senior police officers could not be appointed without an automatic vetting process which assessed them at an appropriate level."