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Police have record £12m legal fund for officers accused of crimes

Exclusive: The legal budget for the Police Federation of England and Wales has increased by 25% since 2018

Andrew Kersley
31 March 2023, 2.18pm

The Casey report found institutional misogyny, racism and homophobia persists within the Met Police


Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Police officers in England and Wales have access to a record £12m annual budget for legal support when accused of serious crimes or misconduct, openDemocracy can reveal.

The 2023 legal budget of the Police Federation, obtained under FOI, is roughly 25% more than the amount it spent on legal fees in 2018 (£9,403,200), and is the highest figure since it started tracking its legal spending in 2017.

While the federation did not provide a complete breakdown of how that money is spent, it can be used to deal with the hundreds of claims for legal support it receives from officers accused of crimes, including sexual offences. Last year the budget was £11.3m and there were 1,387 claims for assistance related to criminal allegations against officers.

The federation represents around 140,000 former and serving police officers. It is a statutory staff association, meaning all police officers become members by default when they join any force in England and Wales, and acts as a replacement for trade unions, which serving police officers are not allowed to join.

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“The sums of money being spent by the federation on officers' legal fees for misconduct cases is incredible,” said Holly Bird, research and policy officer at Stop Watch, which campaigns for accountable policing.

She added: “Police officers are empowered by the knowledge that they have the kind of institutional backing, funding, and access to the very best specialist legal support that many of their victims could only dream of.”

This is far from the only controversy to envelop the Police Federation. A previous investigation by The Observer suggested as many as one in 100 police officers in the UK faced a criminal charge and relied on Police Federation legal aid in 2022 alone.

In December 2021, Police Federation chair John Apter was suspended after two sexual assault allegations were made against him. He will not face prosecution, but will face an internal misconduct hearing.

An alleged £1m fraud at the organisation was also referred to prosecutors in 2017, though no charges were brought.

For context, the £12m legal fund is almost the same as the entire staffing budget of the civil service trade union PCS, which has a significantly bigger membership of 192,000.

“Officers appear to believe that with the backing of the federation, they are immune from accountability,” said Kevin Blowe, campaign coordinator for police reform campaign group NetPol. “It is this that has helped create a calamitous culture of impunity now laid bare before the public.”

While openDemocracy was not given a breakdown of how the Police Federation has previously allocated its funds nationally, the Metropolitan Police regularly logs the highest number of allegations of misconduct nationwide by a large margin.

The latest news comes as the Met faced “one of the darkest days” in its history after the release last week of the Casey report, which found the force guilty of institutional racism, misogyny and homophobia.

Among countless shocking revelations, the review found 12% of female officers in the Met said they had been harassed or attacked at work and suggested discrimination was “baked into the system”, while just 50% of the public expressed confidence in the force.

The review was commissioned in 2021 after serving Met officer Wayne Couzens used his police ID and handcuffs to kidnap, rape and murder 33-year-old Sarah Everard.

Since then, the force has come under fire for failing to deal with a string of warning signs and complaints made about serial rapist David Carrick, another Met officer, who was convicted of raping at least 12 women over the course of a 17-year reign of terror.

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Private law firms

openDemocracy analysed all 31 police misconduct cases listed on the Metropolitan Police’s website on 16 March – dating back to 1 December – and found that in every case where we could directly identify the lawyer representing an accused officer, they all came from one legal firm – Three Raymond Building (3RB).

Over 70% of the barristers at the firm list police misconduct as one of their specialisms, making it the biggest specific specialism listed at the firm outside of more general fields like “crime” or “financial crime”. 3RB even states on its website it has “unparalleled experience” in police misconduct cases.

The cases it has handled include acting on behalf of serial rapist Carrick during his criminal trial, as well as providing the legal defence for another Met officer who was cleared of rape in a misconduct hearing.

openDemocracy could not ascertain if the Metropolitan Police Federation had a formal financial relationship with 3RB or if its members were seeking out the firm of their own accord.

Neither 3RB or the Police Federation responded to openDemocracy’s request for comment.

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