High Court rules that police officer cannot be ordained

03 October 2014

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A POLICE officer, PC Andrew Birks, has lost his legal battle to leave the Metropolitan Police so that he can receive Holy Orders.

PC Birks was due to be made deacon last Sunday, but Scotland Yard has refused to accept his resignation while he is under investigation over the death of prisoner.

Last week, in the High Court, Mrs Justice Lang rejected his request to be allowed to leave. "The public interest requires that he should remain in the force to answer any charges of misconduct which may be brought against him," she said.

PC Birks was the senior officer present at Brixton Police Station, south London, when Sean Rigg was arrested for assault in 2008. Mr Rigg, a musician, suffered a heart attack, and an inquest jury found that the police had used "unsuitable" force after his detention.

Senior officers initially agreed to allow PC Birks to resign, but changed their decision after the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPPC) said that this would allow him to avoid potential disciplinary proceedings.

In August, PC Birks applied for a judicial review of the decision. The judge said: "If he is not ordained on that date, he will not be able to take up the office of curate in the parish of Portslade, Sussex, and will have to vacate the church accommodation which he and his partner are already occupying."

The court heard that PC Birks, who completed a three-year theology degree in June, decided to become a priest in 2001, but joined the police after he was advised to get experience to equip him for the demands of ministry.

The judge said that the case was "exceptional": the PC was required, against his wishes, to remain a serving police officer for an indeterminate period of time - which could be two or three years if the IPCC found that there was a case to answer. During that time, he would not be able to work as a police officer or in any other position.

After the judgment, the Metropolitan Police said that it recognised "the personal impact that this decision has had on PC Birks. There has been much speculation about what took place on the night that Mr Rigg died, but what is important now is that there is a full and thorough investigation based on evidence to finally establish the facts."

Mr Rigg's sister, Marcia Rigg-Samuel, said that his family hoped that the decision would set a precedent for others "who face the same dilemma as my family, following a death in custody". She also called for a change in the law to make it mandatory for officers to remain in post while misconduct investigations were ongoing.

Chichester diocese said that Mr Birks's ordination had been postponed "indefinitely", but declined to comment further.

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