On 14th May HMIP published their report into SFO investigations. Whilst it won’t make comfortable reading for HMPPS, it does highlight the same concerns that Napo have been raising for some time. Napo has been supporting a number of members who have found themselves under investigation from the initial stage right through to the inquest in some cases. What is clear is that the approach to SFO investigations has taken a very punitive turn which has led to members being under extreme stress, going through disciplinary hearings and in some very sad cases, losing their jobs. As a result Napo has been in a position to regularly raise members fears and concerns with HMPPS. This report is further evidence that these were not unfounded and that there needs to be a significant review of the SFO process.
Some Key Findings:
For some time now HMIP have called for greater transparency of SFO’s for victims. Whilst the report acknowledges some headway in this area, HMIP clearly believe that more needs to be done. SFO’s can take years to complete and the although victims have access to the full review, this is often complicated, and written in jargon. Very few victims actually take up the offer and the reason for this needs to be researched further.
The purpose of an SFO investigation is to understand what went wrong, lessons that can be learnt and how this can improve practice and policy. However, HMIP found a very mixed picture. On a national level there is not enough analysis to identify themes which could inform policy and practice. On a local level it found that areas were much better at implementing lessons learnt. However, what was significant was that HMIP felt that this was overtaken by the fear the process invokes in staff, and this undermined the ability to learn. The findings in the report confirm what Napo has been saying for the last few years. Staff perception that SFO reviews focus on individuals and not on organisational responsibility were in fact true.
The central SFO unit takes too long to complete the review with staff and victims waiting on average 6 months.
There is a lack of multi-agency contributions with SFO reviews. They focus solely on probation. A multi-agency review would make it easier for victims to understand case management and provide a better context.
SFO reviews lack independent oversight, unlike domestic homicide reviews or MAPPA serious case reviews. Independent oversight ensures quality assurance, enable public reporting and allow the SFO teams to focus on the lessons to be learnt which in turn can then drive policy and practice. Napo has long argued that the review process should be in the hands of HMIP but we welcome the idea of a greater oversight by the Inspectorate.
Napo will be now pushing for HMPPS to acknowledge this and to seriously review how the SFO process is carried out. We will be calling for a meeting to specifically look at the reports findings and asking HMPPS what steps they will be taking to improve and to meet the HMIP recommendations.
A more in depth piece on the report will be published in the next Napo Magazine. A copy of the report in full can be found HERE