A PRIEST who is a former policeman accused of involvement in the death of a prisoner has blamed a flawed investigation process for serious delays in his desire to pursue his vocation.
The priest, the Revd Andrew Birks, who was cleared of all blame, is campaigning to have the system overhauled. He particularly wants changes to avoid unnecessary delays that cause mental strain on officers under scrutiny. He suffered PTSD and stress while under investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, now the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).
Mr Birks, who is 44 and the Assistant Curate of St Barnabas’s, Bexhill, and of All Saints’, Sidley, in East Sussex, was one of five officers investigated over the death in custody in 2008 of Sean Rigg, aged 40, a musician, who had schizophrenia and whose behaviour became erratic when he was arrested. It took 11 years for them to be vindicated.
In 2014, Mr Birks attempted to resign from the Metropolitan Police to begin ordination training, but learned through his bishop, the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, that he was being suspended from police duty. He was told that he could not be ordained as he was still on the police payroll. He started training, however, and was ordained deacon in December 2016.
“It was two-and-a-half years later than I planned,” he said. “I was ordained priest in June 2017, but could only work two-and-a-half days a week voluntarily, as I couldn’t receive a stipend while employed by the Met.” His suspension ended in March last year.
“The Met has to this day never told me I was suspended,” he said. “It was a nightmare. Everyone said I was trying to leave to avoid justice for causing someone’s death, which is a pretty damning thing to say, but the Met knew I always planned to leave as I had a long-term vocation to become a priest.
“It was pretty hard going. I have been damaged and scarred by the IOPC procedure, and my goal now is to make sure that what happened to me doesn’t happen again.
“Not being told what was happening was the most destructive part of the whole operation because you are just left in isolation. There should be a timeframe with limitations to make sure investigations are not put on the back burner.”
He believes that many officers under investigation suffer mental trauma because of the delays and lack of information. In his case, he was told in 2015 that he would not face criminal charges; but it was 2019 before he was told that he would not face misconduct charges.