* guardian.co.uk, Friday 6 November 2009 21.47 GMT
* Article history
Scotland Yard faced calls for an "ethical audit" of all officers in its controversial riot squad tonight after figures revealed that they had received more than 5,000 complaint allegations, mostly for "oppressive behaviour".
Details of all allegations lodged against the Metropolitan police territorial support group (TSG) over the last four years reveal that only nine – less than 0.18% – were "substantiated" after an investigation by the force's complaints department.
The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, were described as evidence of a "culture of impunity" that makes it almost impossible for members of the public to lodge successful complaints against the Met's 730 TSG officers.
The TSG is a specialist squad that responds to outbreaks of disorder anywhere in the capital. It is under investigation for the most high-profile cases of alleged brutality at the G20 protests, including the death of Ian Tomlinson.
The unit came under renewed criticism this week after one of its officers was identified as a member of a team implicated in a "serious, gratuitous and prolonged" attack on a Muslim man.
PC Mark Jones, 42, was one of six officers involved in an attack on Babar Ahmad, 34, who was punched, kicked, stamped on and strangled during his arrest at his home in Tooting, south London. The Met paid Ahmad £60,000 in damages earlier this year and accepted its officers were responsible for the attack, during which Ahmad, a terror suspect, was forced into the Muslim prayer position and told: "Where is your God now? Pray to him."
A former Royal Marine, Jones has had 31 complaints lodged against him since 1993. Twenty-six were assault allegations, most of which had been lodged by black or Asian men, but none were substantiated.
They included a complaint from a man detained in a drug search in 2007 who, Ahmad's lawyers told the high court, accused Jones of forcing him into a TSG van, placing him on his knees, grabbing his neck and spraying CS gas into his face.
Despite being identified in court by Ahmad's lawyers as the officer who placed him in an "extremely dangerous" neck-hold, Jones faced no disciplinary action and returned to duty on Wednesday after being cleared in another case of alleged racially aggravated assault.
The TSG has been the subject of 5,241 allegations since August 2005. They include 376 allegations of discrimination and 977 complaints of "incivility". More than 1,100 of the allegations concerned what members of the public said were "failures in duty". However by far the largest number of complaints – 2,280 – were categorised as "oppressive behaviour".
Just over 2,000 (38%) were "unsubstantiated" by the Met's department for professional standards, while the rest were resolved at the police station, dismissed, discontinued or dealt with in other ways.
Senior Met officers say the TSG's work, involving drug raids and demonstrations, means they are more likely to face complaints than other officers.
Jenny Jones, a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA), the force's watchdog, said tonight the figures revealed TSG officers were "practically immune" from criticism in the force.
"The fact that less than 0.2% of complaints about the TSG succeed, suggest its officers are protected within the Met to the extent that there is a culture of impunity for their actions," she said. "It's time for an ethical audit and a thorough overhaul. They desperately need better training, rotation of personnel, and reduction of duties to make them fit for purpose."
Fiona Murphy, Ahmad's solicitor, said: "The figures either mean thousands of members of the public are taking the trouble to make fabricated complaints against the TSG, which seems unlikely, or there is a systemic problem with the complaints procedure that means it is virtually impossible for officers in the unit to be held to account for their actions."
A high court order prevented identification of Jones as an officer involved in the Ahmad assault until the end of his separate criminal trial. On Tuesday jurors at Kingston crown court cleared Jones of racially and physically attacking two 16-year-old boys in a police van in June 2007.
The teenagers said they were racially taunted in front a team of TSG officers who had stopped them near Edgware Road, west London. One of the teenagers said Jones punched him several times in the head and placed him in a neck-hold while calling him an "Arab cunt".
Five other TSG officers who were in the van at the time were also cleared of charges of misfeasance in public office. A seventh, PC Amechi Onwugbonu, acted as a whistleblower during the trial, saying he saw Jones attacking the boys.
The jurors were not told about Jones's involvement in the Ahmad assault in 2003, which his lawyers said bore "striking similarities" to the teenagers' allegations. An IT support worker, Ahmad was assaulted at his home and then in a TSG van, where Jones is alleged to have put him in the neck hold. One officer said: "You'll remember this day for the rest of your life."
Another officer grabbed his testicles and he was also deliberately wrenched by his handcuffs - a technique known to cause intense pain.