A suspect who died in the back of a police van and waiting hours to help a suicidal woman – several Thames Valley Police officers have been found guilty of misconduct but managed to keep their jobs, even when people have died as a result.

Data from the Independent Office for Police Conduct shows that since 2018, 12 officers and three members of staff at Thames Valley Police (TVP) could have a case to answer for misconduct.

In tribunals held by the force, misconduct was proven against seven officers and one member of staff – yet TVP did not dismiss any individuals or even issue any written warnings for wrongdoing.

Instead, the force deemed that the officers or staff members would either face no further action, or were given management action – where a manager shows an individual how their conduct fell short of expectations or addresses underlying causes of misconduct.

Of all police forces in the UK, Thames Valley Police ranks as the fourth-highest for the total number of officers and staff with a misconduct case to answer since 2018, with 15. The only forces with more were the Metropolitan Police, West Midlands Police and West Yorkshire Police.

The data shows that 2 per 1,000 members of staff at Thames Valley Police has had a misconduct case to answer for.

Police Federation of England and Wales national vice chair Ché Donald said: “It is vital we have an independent, impartial body that has oversight over policing so officers are rightly held accountable for their actions, but the IOPC often inexplicably pursues vexatious allegations, which may be a reason why a significant proportion of cases have resulted in no further action.”

A spokeswoman for Thames Valley Police added: "Sanctions at misconduct hearings are a matter for the independent Legally Qualified Chair and our misconduct procedures are fit for purpose."

Case study – suspect who died in police van

Two officers received management action and a third was cleared of misconduct after a suspect became unresponsive in the back of a police van and died.

In November 2017, officers were called to a disturbance in Oxford and arrested a man for assault and possession of a bladed article. When he resisted arrest, they used force to restrain him and put him in the back of a police van.

On the way to the police station, the man became unresponsive and after pulling over and attempting first aid, officers called an ambulance, which took the man to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

IOPC investigators found evidence to suggest that two of the officers suspected the man had put something in his mouth while in the van. The IOPC felt that the officers should either have conducted a search of the man’s mouth or taken him straight to hospital at that point.

The investigation also found that a fifth officer in the van allowed another officer to turn off their body-worn camera after the incident.

An inquest later found that the man died as a result of cardiorespiratory arrest caused by intoxication from alcohol, cocaine and morphine.

Case study – suicidal woman left alone for hours

One officer received management action and another left the force before a misconduct hearing could be held after they left a suicidal woman alone for several hours.

In August 2017, concerns were raised about the welfare of a woman who had texted friends about wanting to commit suicide by overdosing on medication.

Two officers went to the woman’s flat, where they could hear and see a woman heavily asleep and snoring loudly through the window. They were not able to get into the flat or wake her by banging on the window.

After checking in with their supervisor, the officers left and did not return for three hours - at which point they could no longer hear the woman snoring.

At this stage, officers believed there was a risk to life and attempted to force entry into the flat, but did not have the appropriate equipment so had to return to the police station to get an enforcer, which took another 45 minutes.

When officers eventually got into the flat, they found the woman dead.

IOPC director of strategy and impact Kathie Cashell said: “The IOPC is one player in the police complaints system, and with better cooperation we can improve the timeliness of proceedings.

“I think cultural change within the complaint system itself and policing is needed so it is not so defensive when things go wrong. We need a police force that is really open to working to resolve those issues, to really listening and to taking the opportunity to learn. We want it to become the norm for people to call out behavior that does not meet professional standards and that happens from within.

“It is a really complex system and there is a power balance between the complainants and the complained about. There is a lot more the system can do to support that. There is a question as to whether there should be more support, more advocacy for people going through that complaints process.”