DOZENS of police officers - including six from a North-East force - have left the service in the past four years, avoiding inquiries into their conduct, figures show.

Data from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) shows six officers from Durham Police are among the 38 to have left while subject to potential disciplinary action.

The IPCC figures relate to death in custody cases and other serious allegations.

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Police officers who resign or retire while under investigation cannot be subject to any disciplinary action, although they may still face criminal proceedings.

Leaving early does not mean officers have to forego their pension.

The IPCC said the practice hampered investigations and damaged public confidence in policing.

A Durham Police spokeswoman said the IPCC findings were being examined by the force's professional standards unit.

Cleveland Police chief constable Jacqui Cheer is the national policing lead for professional standards.

Her predecessor Sean Price was the first chief constable in more than 35 years to be sacked for gross misconduct, following an investigation into his conduct and that of his deputy, Derek Bonnard.

Neither faced criminal proceedings and the pair maintained their innocence throughout.

Mrs Cheer said: "Where officers resign during the course of gross misconduct proceedings, they often do so as a result of the strength of the evidence against them and an acceptance that dismissal is inevitable.

"By resigning at this early stage, the expense to the service and taxpayers of carrying out an extended investigation is saved.

"Officers or staff who resign in the face of a gross misconduct investigation can then be placed on the College of Policing's Disapproved Register, which prevents them from re-entering the service."

An IPCC spokesman said: "As a general principle a police officer resigning or retiring when they are subject to investigation does not serve anyone's purpose and can frustrate our investigations leaving important questions unanswered."