‘This report will blow West Yorkshire Police apart’.
Sounds melodramatic, but these are the words to me of a well placed insider about an investigation into the fit-up of an up-and-coming young police officer, by his Leeds Bridewell colleagues, twelve years ago.
That bombshell revelation also fits into my own sphere of knowledge. Which is much more than most, as I was instrumental in setting the Terms of Reference for phase one of the investigation, in my role as complaint advocate to the family of ex-PC Danny Major.
Danny had only one dream as a boy. To follow in the footsteps of his devoted father, Eric, as a career policeman. On my frequent visits to the Major family home I watch Danny’s young nephew play with the toy police cars that have become family heirlooms. Soon Danny’s own bright-as-a-button little boy, Matthew, will be dreaming of driving those same police cars, as he plays with them.
It is a travesty that the conviction against Danny’s name is not yet quashed and relief brought to his inspirational, hard-campaigning mother, Bernadette Major, who has never once doubted, in over twelve years, that her son was innocent.
A trusted and well-liked bobby of the old school, Eric Major retired in 2011 after 31 years exemplary service with West Yorkshire Police. Danny’s own rise through the ranks ended abruptly in 2006 – after only six years – when he was convicted of assaulting a drunken, violent teenager he was attempting to arrest in the centre of Leeds three years earlier. He was subsequently jailed for fifteen months (released after only four) but Danny, a university graduate, feels he is still serving a life sentence as he waits for the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) to consider his case for a second time.
In November 2006, after three trials, Danny was convicted of actual bodily harm and common assault. He was acquitted of a second assault charge. It was alleged that on 6th September 2003, he arrested Sean Rimmington for being drunk and disorderly while on duty near Millgarth police station. The prosecution claimed that Danny kicked Rimmington twice in the ribs whilst the prisoner was handcuffed in a police van parked in the docking area outside Leeds Bridewell. It was further alleged that Danny removed Rimmington from the van by throwing him head first onto a concrete floor and punching him in the head on at least four occasions.
In the police cell within the Bridewell, the prosecution claimed that he assaulted Rimmington, by punching him five to six times in the face, causing injuries to his nose. Danny says he committed none of the alleged assaults, which either didn’t happen at all or were, instead, committed by other police officers.
Crucially, the police failed to disclose CCTV footage that could have helped Danny’s defence team. It was produced in the final days of third trial when it was too late to be used in court. The footage was subsequently presented to the CCRC, who refused to refer the Major case back to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that it did not materially enhance the defence case at trial and would not be seen as new evidence, or argument.
Danny’s imprisonment was a police trade-off for, what the court heard at the second trial, the concealment of the “shambolic” state of affairs in the Leeds Bridewell custody suite. Judge Linda Sutcliffe QC was not wrong: Amongst the many failings were the falsification of an entire night shift’s custody visiting records, right under one of the CCTV cameras (belatedly disclosed to the Major family) and with running, comedy-act, commentary provided by the officer involved, PC Richard Roberts. Better known to colleagues as ‘Ivan’. A senior PSD detective commented that “there was no proactive supervision” in the Bridewell, which resulted in prisoners not booked in, cell visits not made and others taken to wrong cells. Twelve years after Sean Rimmington received a series of injuries whilst in custody, West Yorkshire Police still have no explanation for concealing the missing 13 hours of CCTV footage that would have cleared Danny Major’s name at Court. Nor have they produced any film from the other five cameras they alleged were not working on that night.
In the hours after the incident, and whilst he was at the city’s St James’s Hospital receiving treatment for injuries inflicted by the prisoner, Danny was accused by another police officer of punching the comatose teenager thus causing his injuries. He was suspended from duty but, he says, was not overly concerned, initially. “The Bridewell has cameras everywhere,” he says. “Alarms go off if film is not in them. It is not somewhere you commit offences. When I heard the allegations I told them: ‘Just look at the CCTV cameras’. Then, my own force’s Professional Standards Department claimed that at least five cameras weren’t recording.”
It was, to say the least, an operational and mathematical improbability that so many cameras had failed on one night in and around the main custody cells in a city the size of Leeds.
The first Danny Major trial was stopped following an abuse of process submission by his defence counsel. There were a number of flaws connected to disclosure of evidential materials to the defence team by the police and CPS – and the Crown’s overall presentation of its case was criticised by the judge. At the second trial, at Bradford Crown Court, the jury heard that officers at Leeds Bridewell failed to follow even basic procedures, as outlined above. The jury was unable to reach a verdict and discharged by Judge Sutcliffe. The third and final trial also saw another circuit judge, the late Roger Scott QC again repeat the view that the custody suite was “a shambles”. He criticised senior police officers, including Detective Inspector Michael Green, and called the Rimmington custody record “a document of fiction”. Perjury, by any other name, once its contents were relied upon, by Green, under oath. Indeed, the judge went on to say further: ‘We saw an unorganised, unsupervised rabble. In my view, it requires further investigation and possible charges against a large number of officers”.
The Leeds Bridewell “Shambles”, as described by Judge Scott in court, was the headline that covered most of the front page of the Yorkshire Evening Post the following day.
Danny was acquitted of assaulting the teenager whilst putting him in the van on a jury count of 12-0. The jury simply did not believe his accuser, PC David Oldroyd. Danny was, however, convicted of assaulting him while taking him out of the van which, once the proximity of another police vehicle in the caged and CCTV’d Bridewell van dock is confirmed, that alleged attack becomes a physical impossibity. He was also convicted, by a majority of 10-2, of the cell assault.
The police’s key witness PC Kevin Liston has now left the force in disgrace, after committing a series of assault/drug/sex based offences before and after the trials. Liston was kept ‘clean’ by the Professional Standards Department (PSD) of West Yorkshire Police, racking up at least twelve serious crimes over a ten year period. That was the price the force had to pay for the lid not coming off the huge cover-up that was in play. Much more can be read about Liston here.
In January 2013, Greater Manchester Police was appointed to review the PSD investigation that led to Danny’s conviction. The codename is Operation Lamp and it began with Superintendent Peter Matthews as Senior Investigation Officer. From Matthews’ first visit to the Major’s home – a meeting at which I was present – the shock at what he and his fellow officer, DC Natalie Kershaw, were seeing, when viewing the evidence for the first time, was palpable.
It was an investigation that was expected to last six months, but the amount of previously undisclosed material, plus the lines of enquiry flowing from that, extended the time required for both the detective work and report writing.
Matthews retired at the end of 2013 and was replaced as SIO by an officer who had worked on the case from the outset, DCI Julian Flindle.
Both Matthews and Flindle – and indeed the rest of the Manchester detectives involved on Lamp – developed a very good rapport with the Major family from the outset, and have been impressed by the sheer scale and reach of Eric Major’s own detective work on the case, before their more formal investigation began.
There has also, clearly, been some behind-the-scenes political wrangling as phase one of the investigation was, to all intents and purposes completed in December 2014. It is expected to at the very least infer, if not expose directly, that the drive to convict, and then remove, Danny Major from the police service extended to the top management of West Yorkshire Police.
David Crompton, the recently suspended and thoroughly disgraced Chief Constable at South Yorkshire Police, was the officer who dismissed Danny at a misconduct hearing following what his mother, Bernadette, described as nothing more than a “kangaroo court”. At the time, Crompton was the infamous Sir Norman Bettison‘s Deputy and, in correspondence between the IPCC Commissioner at the time, Nicholas Long, and the IPCC’s current Senior Oversight Manager Rebecca Reed, it is clear that is was Bettison himself who made the decision to hold misconduct proceedings, before the outcome of Danny Major’s appeal against his conviction had been heard.
Crompton (pictured above) made an excruciating ‘gaffe’ at the opening of the disciplinary hearing that revealed his mind was already made up about dismissing PC Major and the hearing, thereafter, was a sham. It is also clear from the same batch of IPCC documents, to which I have exclusive access, that the hearing itself was potentially unlawful. No appropriate notice had been served on the IPCC by the police, who were yet to determine what disciplinary measures were to be recommended in Danny Major’s case. West Yorkshire Police later claimed – and the IPCC tamely accepted – the S75 notice was “lost in the post”. The two IPCC officers who made this discovery withheld this, and other, crucial information from the Major family for five years. This revelation would appear to seriously compromise the IPCC’s Chair, Anne Owers, who sits as a non-executive director of the CCRC.
One of the most damaging effects of that delay is that the Crown Prosecution Service disposed of their files relating to the three trials that ultimately led to conviction of PC Danny Major, prior to launching of the GMP outside force investigation.
The Operation Lamp report was presented to the Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire, and the Chief Constable, on 11th December, 2015. Mark Burns-Williamson, who for so long frustrated the family’s fight for justice, released this press release shortly afterwards (click here).
Ex DI Michael Green, Ex-PC Kevin Liston and former West Yorkshire Police Band leading light, David Oldroyd (promoted to sergeant immediately after Danny’s conviction at the third trial) are expected to face criminal proceedings, if the report is acted upon appropriately by the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police. Another Band member at the heart of the Major scandal is Force Solicitor, Mike Percival, who has been excluded from any further dealings with the case at the request of the Major family.
The Manchester detectives have also been liaising with the CCRC throughout the investigation and Lamp’s key findings are expected to be presented to them, shortly. The new evidence uncovered should be sufficiently persuasive for the CCRC to refer the matter back to the Court of Appeal for a second time.
Danny Major continues to be represented in his dealings with the CCRC by Maslen Merchant at Hadgkiss, Hughes and Beale, a Birmingham firm of solicitors.
In the meantime, battle is joined with the West Yorkshire PCC, and the force, over the provision to the Major family, as key stakeholders, of an unredacted report to Danny’s solicitor. Given the track record of Mark Burns-Williamson and his Chief Executive, Fraser Sampson, in repeatedly blocking this family’s fight for justice in the years prior to 2013, it is not expected to be easy. It is also noteworthy that Burns-Williamson did not contact any member of the Major family even once, in the period between the referral in January 2013 until the day the report was delivered to him almost three years later.
A redacted version of the Operation Lamp report was made available to the Major family on 29th January, 2016. Channel 4 covered the event with this loop broadcasted on their main evening news slot: click here to view. The interview with Danny Major revealed only what has been known for some years and what I have been publishing for over three years. Curiously, C4 made no comment over the concerns about the referral by Mark Burns-Williamson and the Chief Constable to the IPCC.
Burns-Williamson was expected to announce phase two of the Operation Lamp investigation early in the new year and Greater Manchester Police are keen to take on the task with the same team of detectives who completed phase one. This follow-up investigation should probe the WYP PSD and IPCC cover-up, from 2006 onwards, that prevented the Major family getting justice much earlier than 2016. Instead the referral has been made to the IPCC which will, inevitably, mean another long delay whilst the police watchdog decides how it can best step around the fact that they were an integral part of the problem ten years ago and, of course, ever since. There is also the deeply unhealthy relationship between the Wakefield office of the IPCC and West Yorkshire Police to factor in, which is not at all good news for the Major family.
In the event, the IPCC quickly washed their hands of Operation Lamp and referred it back for ‘local investigation’ and GMP have now been further tasked with investigating ‘whether, in their view, there are any criminal and/or misconduct matters to answer’ according to a statement issued by T/Chief Constable, Dee Collins. Who shares the Command Team table with two officers who must certainly have known of the sustained Danny Major ‘cover-up’ through their senior roles within Professional Standards over the years. They are ACC Andy Battle and ACC Angela Williams. The latter was involved from the outset, dealing with Mrs Major’s original complaints about the crude fit-up of her son by his own police colleagues. Battle was Head of PSD in 2011 to 2012 when PC Kevin Liston was still being ‘protected’ whilst commiting offences.
On a more positive note if, as now seems very likely, Danny Major’s conviction is quashed at the Court of Appeal he will be reinstated in the police service, by right. It his wish that he joins the Manchester force who will have done so much to help that cause.
My own view, and one, I must stress, not shared by the Major family, is that GMP should not have been given the second investigation into the shameful conduct of their West Yorkshire neighbours. They took far too long on the first investigation, without properly explaining why, and with ACC Garry Shewan in charge – a police officer in whom I have absolutely no trust or confidence – there is the ever-present risk of tainting (Shewan is pictured below). I also have good reason to believe that, whilst Shewan is keen to see the Danny Major conviction quashed at the Court of Appeal, he is not a police service boat-rocker and, in my informed view, lacks the stomach to see through a conviction of the perpetrator of the assault on Sean Rimmington in 2003. Unless and until that happens, Danny’s name will not be cleared.
My choice for phase two of Operation Lamp would be Devon and Cornwall Police, who conducted an investigation in 2013 which was codenamed Operation Garnett (read the redacted report here). This also concerned deep-seated corruption within WYP’s Professional Standards Department dating back to 2006 and was brought about following complaints by a retired Northumbria Police officer, Supt Trevor Fordy. All Mr Fordy’s complaints were upheld by the Devon force and some of the discredited officers were common to both the Garnett and Lamp investigations. Notably, ex-Supt Trevor Kerry. As an experienced major crimes SIO, Mr Fordy’s best collar was Curtis ‘Cocky’ Warren, the infamous Liverpool drug baron who was, reportedly at the time of his sentencing, the country’s biggest ever drug dealer.
There is also the spectre of two outside force investigations and a Metropolitan Police ‘peer review’ into alleged corruption within the Professional Standards department at Manchester which, on the face of documents I have seen, may involve both Shewan and DCI Flindle.
Aidan Kielty, a former GMP Police Federation official, now turned whistleblower, made some startling revelations to the BBC on this topic in September, 2015. Read more here. His views reinforce my own, insofar as the Major case would be best served well away from GMP, once all the implications from phase one of Operation Lamp have been dealt with. Mr Kielty was interviewed as a potential witness in a recent BBC File on 4 broadcast featuring the GMP scandal, but was edited out due to time constraints. There is a curious symmetry here as it was co-producer of the GMP programme, Sally Chesworth, whose views on the merits of the Danny Major case were one of the keys in forcing the Operation Lamp enquiry to be opened. The full GMP File on 4 podcast is available here.
However, the Danny Major scandal is a story that still has some way to run, and with the sensational collapse of the high profile Dennis Slade murder re-trial in November 2015, together with the Inspector Keith Boots alleged £1million drugs theft trial due to commence in January, 2016 it leaves the beleaguered West Yorkshire Police facing three more huge corruption scandals, to add to an already bulging tally.
With the next PCC elections due on 5th May, 2016, will beleagured Burns-Williamson be sticking to his 2012 election mantra? “There is no corruption in West Yorkshire Police”
Last update: Friday 29th April, 2016 at 0925hrs
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Photo credits: Greater Manchester Police; Parliament.uk