A WIDE-ranging investigation into allegations of racism and phone snooping at Cleveland Police has been launched by the police watchdog today.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) will channel more resources and bring together several ongoing investigations under one umbrella, including allegations of race discrimination, how an Equality Review was carried out by the force in 2011, and how journalists, serving police officers and a solicitor had their phones intercepted in 2012.

The IOPC investigation, Operation Forbes, will incorporate several inquiries, including a probe into the circumstances around the race discrimination of Nadeem Saddique, who won an employment tribunal in November 2015.

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An IOPC spokesman said: "This investigation is already underway and evidence has been gathered, but it will now receive extra resources to enable all lines of inquiry to be completed.

"We are independently investigating complaints linked to how Cleveland Police carried out an Equality Review in 2011. These complaints, which include allegations of discrimination, were initially investigated by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS). We will now investigate these complaints further and the scope of this investigation will be finalised soon."

He said a managed investigation, being carried out by West Midlands Police, was looking into the use of unlawful phone monitoring by the force - including on two journalists from The Northern Echo.

IOPC Operations Manager Lauren Collins said: “We have been dealing with a number of complaints and referrals concerning allegations of discrimination at Cleveland Police and have taken the decision to oversee these investigations under one strategic operation.

"Given the seriousness of these allegations and the potential links between them, we want to ensure that we have a co-ordinated approach that makes best use of the resources and skills we have available to us. "We will publish our findings following the conclusion of Operation Forbes.”

A spokesman for Cleveland Police said: “We note the increased resources and prioritisation as we recognise the importance to communities, complainants and our staff of reaching a timely conclusion.

“With regard to the three areas under investigation, the matters relating to the Equality Review were referred in 2014, the issues which came from the PC Saddique employment tribunal were referred in 2016 and the RIPA matters were referred in early 2017.

“We will continue to assist the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) as it is important that these investigations are resolved in as timely a manner as possible due to their continued impact on all of those involved.”

Barry Coppinger, Cleveland's Police and Crime Commissioner, said: "The complaints to which these appeal findings relate were referred to the then IPCC by Cleveland Police and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner in 2014 but sent back to the Force and my Office, to be investigated. Quite properly, my Office and the Force decided that these matters should be investigated by an experienced officer from an external force.

"After the investigation, an appeal was lodged with the then IPCC in September 2016. It has taken until December 2017 for that to be dealt with. My Office and the Force will consider the IPCC’s appeal findings in detail but I note that the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) – the new name for the IPCC – has now decided that they wish to look into some aspects of the complaints.

"I can easily imagine the frustration of complainants, officers and others at the length of time all this is taking. I have always recognised that complaints and conduct issues related to equality, diversity and human rights need to be examined carefully when they arise and I call upon the IOPC to now complete their work on these matters thoroughly and quickly."

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) became the Independent Office for Police Conduct on 8 January 2018, after the IPCC asked for changes to the organisation’s structure.