IPCC clears North Wales Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom over dead biker complaint

Published: 09 November 2007

The Independent Police Complaints Comission (IPCC) has cleared North Wales Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom of any wrongdoing in an investigation into the display of a decapitated motorcyclist at the launch of a road safety campaign - without the consent of the biker's family.

"The IPCC independent investigation has found no evidence that the Chief Constable contravened Criminal Law or breached the Police Code of Conduct."

Although the investigation has ruled out any legal complaint, it does go on to look at the situation in which the the complaint arose:

"The IPCC has recommended that the North Wales Police Force and its management, under the leadership of the Chief Constable, examine the issues arising from this incident and strengthen, where appropriate, the existing internal arrangements for events requiring the co-operation and involvement of the media. It has also recommended that the North Wales Police Authority, in line with its duties of public accountability, examine the issues arising from this incident and establish revised, robust arrangements between the Chief Constable and the Police Authority."

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The photos of Mark Gibney, 40, were shown in in April, 2007. The outcry led to criticism by the then Home Secretary, John Reid, and calls by MPs for the resignation of Richard Brunstrom. In May, we delivered just over 1600 emails petitioning for the dismissal of Richard Brunstrom to the IPCC. In June, around 300 riders took part in a peaceful protest organised by the Gibney family.

The full release by the IPCC is reproduced below:

"The Independent Police Complaints Commission has today published its report on a complaint by the parents of the late Mr Mark Gibney against North Wales Police Chief Constable, Richard Brunstrom.

The complaint alleged breach of Criminal Law and Police Codes of Conduct  against Mr Brunstrom over the placing in the public domain of details of their son’s death, which were devastating to them as a family and which should not have re-emerged.

The IPCC independent investigation has found no evidence that the Chief Constable contravened Criminal Law or breached the Police Code of Conduct. This report has been published on the IPCC website – www.ipcc.gov.uk/index/resources/evidence_reports/investigation_reports.htm

IPCC Commissioner for Wales Tom Davies has met with Mr Gibney’s family and solicitor to explain the outcome of its investigation and the two recommendations made to the Police Authority.

The IPCC has recommended that the North Wales Police Force and its management, under the leadership of the Chief Constable, examine the issues arising from this incident and strengthen, where appropriate, the existing internal arrangements for events requiring the co-operation and involvement of the media. It has also recommended that the North Wales Police Authority, in line with its duties of public accountability, examine the issues arising from this incident and establish revised, robust arrangements between the Chief Constable and the Police Authority.

With the report Mr Davies has also sent the following to Mr Ian Roberts, Chair, North Wales Police Authority.

The issues raised in this case and in our investigation report will not be easy to resolve; the IPCC report states, from the evidence available, what took place and what North Wales Police Authority and the Force might do to attempt to prevent a repeat occurrence, and to learn from the experience.

At its heart, however, are three issues, which I hope your Authority can tackle with the force, under the Chief Constable’s leadership, as part of the reviews the IPCC has suggested in this report.

Firstly, the investigation has found no evidence that the Chief Constable breached the Criminal Law or Police Code of Conduct in this unfortunate incident.  It spells out clearly the relevant codes considered and our reasons for the findings.  What it does find, however, is that this incident could, and possibly should, have been avoided.

Richard Brunstrom is a high-profile campaigner in the country against excessive speed by those who use our roads.  What he hoped would be a public celebration of the force’s success over recent years turned out to be a national public furore over the identification and re-publication of the details of one previous case.  The report speaks for itself on the lack of sufficient planning, risk assessments and damage limitation actions, together with the lack of involvement of wider counsel, all of which might have avoided this incident.  Hopefully, an honest self-appraisal of what went wrong will help create a culture of greater involvement between the Authority and the Force in such public activities without weakening the strong leadership culture that exists.

Secondly, in this case there is a need to reflect carefully on the relationship between the media and North Wales Police.   There is no doubt that police forces need a healthy relationship with their press, local policies are explained to the public, help is sought on cases, and criticism and debate provide genuine public interest and contribute to accountability.  Central to this is a mutual trust and, hopefully, understanding that each has a separate job to do, that at times they may have differences of opinion, but that their mutual interest in public good can override occasional difficulties.  Richard Brunstrom has strong views on policing issues, is forthright in expressing them and consequently attracts intense media interest. He therefore needs the highest quality advice and procedures when embarking on such matters.

Finally, and most importantly, we have the family’s distress caused by this incident.

From the evidence available, it would appear that Mr Mark Gibney’s father has always made every effort to shelter his family from detailed knowledge of the nature of his son’s death.  Despite the efforts of the Coroner, Mr John Hughes, that was not wholly successful in 2004 as the report indicates. The full details of this incident were already in the public domain but this incident resulted in them re-emerging.  Mr Gibney was entitled to think that, until this incident, those in his family who did not know by 2007 were not going to find out now.  The use of these images without any forewarning for whatever purposes and with whatever justification, has left him and his family deeply distressed.  In a similar vein, this whole case will have re-opened the wounds and grief of the other family and officers involved in the original incident, many of whom continue to suffer to this day serious physical and mental trauma.

An IPCC investigation can only find a complaint substantiated if a breach of the criminal law or the Police Code of Conduct is substantiated to an appropriate threshold and, in this incident, this is plainly not the case.  However, the IPCC hopes that Mr Mark Gibney’s family may gain some comfort from the lessons that have been learned from this incident and that the recommended improvements could lead to a basis being formed for some sort of resolution between the family and North Wales Police. To date, despite the apologies offered by Mr Brunstrom, who takes full responsibility for this incident, no such resolution has been possible.

The Chief Constable is best served by robust advice from his media and legal advisers in the planning of public statements and events.  Creating the right atmosphere in which he is given that advice is crucial.  The Police Authority has a large part to play in this process of bridge-building and improved working.  It is responsible for an effective and efficient police force and is required to hold the force to account.  Hopefully, this will enable all concerned to learn from this unfortunate incident."

You can read the official statement by the Gibney family on the verdict, here.

 

 

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  • The IPCC verdict on North Wales Cheif Constable Richard Brunstrom is due today