A police officer cleared of wrongdoing after a 16-month Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation has told how the stress cost him his marriage and he is now “bitter and angry” towards a job he used to love.
At a Gross Misconduct hearing this week Sgt Gary Lefort, of Surrey Police, was told he “no case to answer” for a use of force incident in Guildford Custody Suite in 2016.
While saying he feels “vindicated” at the result, for 16 months a cloud has been hanging over Sgt Lefort, who has been on restricted duties. And today he opens up about how the investigation has taken its toll.
“I knew all along I had done nothing wrong,” said Sgt Lefort. “I was carrying out my duties professionally and yet was still subjected to this investigation. I feel that the IPCC already had a conclusion in mind no matter what the evidence.
“The impact this has had on my life and career since 13 May 2016 when I was served notices and restricted from frontline duties has been huge.
“This investigation and subsequent hearing have left me bitter and angry towards the career I love. I did my job to the best of my ability and yet I have had to endure 16 months of stress and anxiety as a result of doing my job.
“My marriage has broken up in large part as a result of the stress of the investigation, with my family having moved to Devon and me having to remain in Surrey.
“I am grateful for the panel finding the correct and proper judgement but can't help feeling vulnerable to investigation by an organisation that in my view lacks independence and seems obsessed with trying to sanction officers and staff doing their best in trying circumstances.”
Mel Warnes, Chair of Surrey Police Federation, said the Staff Association had been supporting Sgt Lefort throughout the investigation.
She added: “This case is just one of many examples of the impact an IPCC investigation has on an officer when they did their job to the best of their ability, and within the boundaries of legislation and practice, with no intention of doing anything wrong.
“The impact of a 16-month long investigation on Gary is clear. An investigation doesn't just restrict a competent officer from their duties, it has an impact financially when pay and morale is already low, it restricts any career aspirations, it impacts on family life, and leaves officers feeling bitter about policing.
“This week it was found that there was no case to answer following a recommendation by the IPCC that Gary faced a Gross Misconduct hearing.
“Police forces have an option to Judicially Review an IPCC decision but this is costly and forces are unlikely to take this course of action with dwindling budgets. So it’s important that the IPCC gets these decisions right.
“Whilst it is of course appropriate that police actions should be independently scrutinised, I feel that often the IPCC appear to be politically motivated – and to be seen to be justifying their existence – in investigating officers working within their scope of practice.
“Too often the IPCC demonstrate a lack of understanding of what police officers have to do. This must end.”