Met Police ‘ordered child abuse detectives to caution innocent people to hit targets’

Officer claims he was told to tamper with evidence at the scene of a baby’s death and was disciplined after he complained

Former detectives in the Metropolitan Police’s child abuse investigation team have alleged that they were ordered to caution innocent people to meet targets as one claims his boss told him to tamper with evidence.

A number of police officers who have since left the force have broken ranks to reveal to The Telegraph that one of Scotland Yard’s most sensitive units is “broken” and therefore children could be at risk.

The allegations include orders to arrest and caution innocent people over abuse offences that would have a long-term impact on their lives and officers “ticking boxes” to falsely claim work had been done, the whistleblowers claim.

Some made complaints about the actions of the superiors which they say were “covered up” or brushed under the carpet while some in the force acted as if it was an “old boys’ network”.

It comes amid growing pressure on Scotland Yard over the failings which allowed Wayne Couzens to remain in the force despite allegations of indecent exposure and concerns about his behaviour before he murdered Sarah Everard.

Officers have said that they are too afraid to raise concerns about their colleague because of a “culture of protection” in the police.

‘Bullying’ management

Tom Coling, a formers detective in the child abuse investigations team in south London, has now come forward to allege that the complaints process for officers is “broken”.

During his time in the force he alleges that the “ineffective” and “bullying” management asked him to carry out a series of “unlawful” acts including orders to unbag and replace evidence he had seized whilst investigating the suspicious death of a baby.

Mr Coling, now a family lawyer, left in 2014 and has spent the last six years fighting for the allegations about his superiors to be investigated both internally and by the police watchdog.

But under laws governing policing an officer cannot make a public complaint about their own force.

“How many people have tried to blow the whistle on police corruption but have simply given up because no one wants to listen?” he told The Telegraph.

Several of his former colleagues have told this newspaper that they were pressured to caution people they believed were innocent because the units were “target driven”.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said: “Allegations are investigated with high levels of professionalism and supervision and we continually strive to make improvements.”

They added that Mr Coling’s allegations had been “subject to significant scrutiny” and “the allegations are not supported by the evidence”.

Officer claims he was told to tamper with baby death crime scene and was disciplined after he complained

When DC Tom Coling heard that he had been ordered to tamper with the evidence that he had just collected at the scene of a baby’s suspicious death, he thought his colleague was mistaken.

He asked her to call their superior back to check, to make sure that they were being asked to unbag the exhibits and return them to their original locations as another unit was taking over.

That was the order. Mr Coling claims that he refused, but others did not.

In a later complaint to his bosses Mr Coling noted that this was an “unlawful order” and “contrary to every principle on crime-scene preservation”.

It is just one of the catalogue of failings he alleges occurred during his time in the Metropolitan Police’s child abuse investigation team.

Mr Coling and other detectives from the teams covering southeast London, have now come forward to blow the whistle on a unit they believe is “broken”.

As frontline officers suffered breakdowns investigating around 20 serious and harrowing allegations of child abuse and neglect at any one time, senior management were said to be putting pressure on them to arrest and to caution people they believed were innocent in order to keep up their clear-up rates.

‘Target culture’

The “target culture” saw a senior officer put up a board in this office to show how many cases and how many “detections” — solved cases — each officer had, it was said.

A detective inspector emailed staff to say he regularly boasted that his was the “top-performing” child sex abuse team for resolving allegations with charges or cautions and they should “defend our title” next year.

One former detective, who was with the force for more than two decades, said: “It’s not supposed to be like that, it’s meant to be about keeping children safe.”

Mr Coling joined the child abuse investigation team in 2010 and says that the desperate state of the unit became clear when he was left to investigate a “major child rape investigation without any form of supervision… contrary to all police regulations”.

At one point, he was expected to be investigating 24 cases at the same time.

‘Unlawful’ orders

He was repeatedly given “unlawful” orders, he alleges, and he believes that his refusal to comply led to disciplinary proceedings against him.

His allegations include that he was ordered to arrest two innocent men for serious child abuse accusations for which there was no evidence and on another to report a dog to the RSPCA despite no concerns about its wellbeing or behaviour.

Mr Coling said that he raised complaints with his superiors but was told that he needed to understand “firstly, that neither of them had to account to me for their actions and secondly, that I was to do whatever I was ordered to do”.

In January 2014, just weeks after he says he refused to tamper with evidence, he was subject to disciplinary proceedings because he was not keeping up with workload.

He lodged a complaint about his treatment and the orders that he was given.

He believes that they failed to address all his major concerns and he appealed but lost. In a response to his latest complaints earlier this year, the director of professional standards noted that at least five of his major concerns were not addressed during the process.

‘Institutional rot’

Feeling unable to continue, Mr Coling left the force to retrain as a solicitor but continued to fight the “institutional rot” he thinks has corrupted the Metropolitan Police.

In 2017 he repeated his allegations to the director of professional standards, but was told that they could not investigate it as under the Police Reform Act 2002

“You cannot make a complaint about ‘a person who at the time of the alleged conduct was under the direction and control of the same chief office as the person whose conduct it was’”.

The Independent Office of Police Conduct agreed that complaining about his own team was an “abuse of process”.

Mr Coling believes that internally the matters were “covered up” and says that the rules raise serious concerns about the ability of police officers to expose corruption in their force.

“The public needs to be confident that when an officer raises a complaint about the conduct of one of their own, it will be appropriately investigated. In my case, that simply didn’t happen,” he said.

Claims ‘thoroughly investigated’

Both the Met and IOPC said that they had whistleblowing lines where officers could complain about the conduct of their colleagues and each case would be judged on its merits.

Scotland Yard said they expect the “highest level of professional conduct” from all their staff and Mr Coling’s allegations had been “thoroughly investigated” and no evidence was found to support them.

In the alleged evidence tampering the “witness account did not support the complainant’s version of events” and there was “no indication that anyone may have committed a criminal offence, nor behaved in a manner that would justify disciplinary proceedings”, they added.

Mr Coling is not alone in his concerns about the unit, investigations by this newspaper have found.

‘Everyone feared reprisals’

DC Jan Pyle, who worked alongside him during her 20 years in the force before retiring in 2014, said that “everyone feared reprisals”.

“We are always told to arrest people if an allegation is made, even if there has been no crime,” she recalled. “They are trying to get their detection numbers up.”

Another detective, who left the force last year and wishes to remain anonymous, said: “There was one officer who used to do loads of cautions and I did think it was odd that she had all these clear-ups. I worked with her one day and she had this woman sit in her car and got her to sign the caution form, it was all very informal.”

She said that in one case there was no evidence but she had to ask her superior to take no further action (NFA).

“He’d throw the case back to me and say you can caution that, don’t NFA it,” she said. “A lot of the time where they accept a caution it’s because they don’t understand the impact.”

“If you get a caution for shoplifting or theft it doesn’t have much impact, but if it’s child related and you are working with children or vulnerable people you are screwed.”

‘Breaking point’

She said that officers were required to update victims on progress and she “was aware that with one team the sergeant got a person to go through every (crime) report and tick the boxes even though the updates had not been done.”

By 2019 the child abuse investigation units across the capital were “at breaking point” and “everyone was off sick with stress”, she said.

Other officers have told this newspaper of the “horrendous experience” of working in a “chronically understaffed” department and how they were targeted by their bosses because they complained about orders.

Scotland Yard vehemently denied that there was a target culture and said that they were “committed” to making sure their staff feel supported.

A spokesman noted a number of improvements that the force had made in tackling child abuse, including 70 additional posts within the child abuse investigation teams. A dedicated lead responsible officer will be appointed this autumn for “additional oversight”, they said.

“There is absolutely no truth in allegations that child abuse investigation teams are target-driven or that officers are under pressure to achieve certain outcomes,” a spokesman said.

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