In the light of the recent statements by some retired police officers in connection with material allegedly found on a computer in the parliamentary office of Mr Damien Green MP, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Thomas Winsor issued the following statement.
The special powers which citizens confer on police officers are inseparable from the obligations of special trust placed in police officers to enable them to do their duty.
That trust requires every police officer to respect and keep confidential information which they obtain in the course of their duties and which is irrelevant to their inquiries and discloses no criminal conduct.
If a police officer broke that trust whilst serving as a police officer, he or she would face disciplinary action and could be dismissed. In certain circumstances, such action could also constitute a criminal offence.
The obligation of confidentiality, and the duty not to break trust, is an enduring one. It does not end when a police officer retires.
The public need to know that when information about their private lives comes into the possession of the police, and that information is irrelevant to the work of the police, its confidential and private nature will be respected in perpetuity.
If public confidence in this respect is damaged, and people do not believe they can trust the police in such circumstances, great harm may be done to the relationship between the police and the citizen, and the efficiency and effectiveness of the police will be impaired. Such violations may have a chilling effect on the willingness of victims and witnesses to co-operate with the police, and that will be at the expense of public safety and justice. They should never occur.
Almost all police officers – serving and retired –would deprecate actions which flagrantly violate the trust which every citizen should have in the police.