The Independent Police Complaints Commission, or IPCC for short, is an organisation that has been extensively, and justifiably, criticised since it replaced the thoroughly discredited Police Complaints Authority in 2004.
In February 2008, over a hundred lawyers who specialise in handling police complaints resigned from its advisory body, citing various criticisms of the IPCC including a pattern of favouritism towards the police, indifference, rudeness towards complainants, and complaints and appeals being rejected in spite of apparently powerful evidence in their support.
In 2011, a falsely grounded press statement, authorised by Commissioner Rachel Cerfontyne (pictured below), concerning the shooting of Mark Duggan by armed police officers on a Tottenham street, was considered by some to have contributed to the confrontations with the police that ultimately led to what are now known as the London Riots. Looting and burning on an unprecendented scale also spread to other major cities in the UK soon afterwards. The IPCC publicly apologised for ‘misleading journalists’ six days after the violence erupted (read BBC report here).
On television, in national newspapers and in Parliamentary committees the conclusion today is still much the same: Slow, inadequate, poor decision-making and apparent bias. In 2013 the Home Affairs Select Committee said the IPCC was ‘not fit for purpose’ as the so-called police watchdog.
There are many other people, particularly justice campaigners all around the country, who have a negative view of the IPCC and its workforce.
Now I can exclusively reveal that there are other serious, and deep seated, problems within the IPCC which include alleged misuse of official funds. running into six figures.
From September 2014, until the matter was settled in December 2015, I was the subject of a High Court action, brought and funded by the IPCC, in which it was alleged that I harassed three of its employees.
The IPCC alleged that articles written and published by me on the uPSD police whistleblowers website – and messages broadcasted on the Twitter social media website referring to those articles – had caused their employees ‘distress and alarm’.
The legal proceedings against me were issued, on behalf of the IPCC, by a Leeds firm of solicitors, Cohen Cramer. An odd choice for a Home Office funded Commission, given a Solicitors Regulation Authority finding which condemned both the law firm and one of its senior partners, Mr Michael McDonnell, for unlawfully conducting litigation (read more here). The choice of lawyer within that firm to act for the IPCC was even more bizarre: Miss Emily Slater whom, it seems, had also been publicly pilloried by a Master at the Royal Courts of Justice for the manner in which she had conducted libel litigation. She acted for the claimant, who lost the case and had costs awarded against him (read more here).
Apart from Master Eastman’s criticisms, Miss Slater (pictured above) had attracted some shocking national newspaper headlines of her own (click here) which cannot have escaped the attention of either the IPCC, or their lay claimants. Simple enquiries about the capabilities in, and likely conduct of, a harassment claim by Miss Slater could also have been easily gleaned in the public domain. Such as this stinging criticism from HHJ Robert Owen QC in another case that Cohen Cramer ‘lost’ (read the approved judgment extract here). Another losing legal case for Miss Slater, and her firm, was a libel action against the Metropolitan Police in which two high court judges separately found the claim to be grounded more in hope than substance (read the full judgment here).
By way of balance, I have tried to identify cases in which Miss Slater may have enjoyed even partial success but, so far, I have found no such trace.
From the outset, the IPCC’s legal action against me attracted attention in the press, and amongst the legal profession, mainly as a result of some quite startling allegations made by the three claimants. One of whom, C1, appeared as a very late substitute only five days before the interim hearing, with their name scribbled over that of another IPCC caseworker, Mr Mohammed Ejaz, who abandoned his own claim without any explanation. No pre-action protocol was followed by Cohen Cramer, and the IPCC, in respect of the appearance of the new claimant in the claim, which set the tone for a number of later breaches of Civil Procedure Rules (CPR).
Given that I had only ever written positively about Mr Ejaz, it appears to be a reasonable deduction that his claim was withdrawn because it was completely without merit. He refused an opportunity to explain his abrupt departure from the case when approached by me, in writing, to provide a witness statement.
There was evidence which attempted to link me with improvised explosive devices and threats to kill made by a member of the public of whom I had never even heard, let alone interacted with. These unevidenced assertions were later withdrawn, once I had made contact with the alleged ‘bomber’ and taken an evidential witness statement from him. Suffice to say, such a device never existed.
The findings of HHJ Richard Parkes at the interim hearing did not make good reading for me, my family, friends and fellow justice campaigning supporters and the Huddersfield Examiner made a meal of it the following day by publishing a salacious, gratuitously damaging article to which I have never been offered a right of reply.
The sharp-eyed would also have noted, that I did not appear and was not legally represented at the interim hearing. This was because I had only been given 15 hours notice that the hearing was going ahead at the Royal Courts of Justice in London (180 miles from my home), two days after I believed I had come to a reasonable, provisional settlement with the IPCC. It had all the appearances of a legal ambush, seemingly orchestrated by Miss Slater and, presumably, given the green light by her IPCC paymasters.
I was, however, able to attend the judgment hearing at the same court two weeks later at which it was pronounced that an interim injunction had been ordered against me. The effect of which, I was to take down the articles about which the IPCC had complained and also remove the tweets that referred to their three employees. Before the judge handed down his findings, I was approached by counsel for the IPCC, Matthew Richardson (pictured below) outside Court 14, the historic and highly ornate Lord Chancellor’s Court. Matt is an affable chap, perhaps better known as the former General Secretary of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), and his opening remarks to me were surprising to say the least: ‘We need to make this go away‘. My response was similarly plain. I was prepared to have any articles in dispute put to the IPCC press office (or legal team) for comment, or objection, and amend them if they could show any of the facts underpinning the articles had no foundation. A stance I maintained, on a point of principle, until the matter was settled fifteen months later.
In the meantime, senior management of the IPCC allocated around £125,000 of public funds in their attempt to bring proceedings against me and, of course, Mr Hofschröer. A man I have never spoken to, but with whom I had a small amount of correspondence some years ago when I first became aware of what is now the well known ‘Grandma B’ scandal involving his mother, Mrs Barbara Hofschröer.
In Mr Hofschröer’s harassment case, brought against him by the IPCC , Cohen Cramer finally brought matters to a conclusion in February 2016 against a defendant who had no access to either his electronic or paper records since his arrest and detention – and had declined to take part in the proceedings since June 2015. The eventual finding against Mr Hofschröer followed a ‘failed’ summary judgment application, heard before HHJ Mark Gosnell at Leeds County Court in November last year. I was in court to hear this particular application in my capacity as a reporter. It was, by any measure, a comical exhibition of legal incompetence on the part of the troubled Leeds law firm: Trying to convince a circuit judge that sending notice of an Application to an inmate of HMP Hull, by first class post three days before the hearing was, in legal parlance, ‘good service’ never had a realistic hope of succeeding despite the valiant, and persistent efforts, of counsel. The argument advanced that the overriding objective of the litigation (CPR1.1) would be best served by circumventing notice of proceedings on the defendant was novel, to say the least
Having been referred to in generally unflattering terms in that same summary judgment application made by the IPCC against Mr Hofschröer, two other journalists, Timothy Hicks and Nigel Ward, along with myself, submitted witness statements and exhibits which directly challenge some evidence in that claim.
Following my appearance before HHJ Parkes at the Royal Courts of Justice there followed a stream of correspondence from Miss Slater, which became ever more bizarre as her IPCC lay clients sought removal of every reference to them ever written and published on the internet. However innocuous and whether, or not, I was author or publisher. This included tweets broadcasted by national newpaper journalists and justice campaigners. Such as this one from Sunday Times reporter, Tom Harper:
Or the many that had been tweeted by nationally known justice campaigner, Michael Doherty, a relentess critic of the IPCC. Indeed, it was submitted by my defence team, in evidence, that Mr Doherty had more recorded interactions with the IPCC – many of them in adverse terms – than myself, yet the IPCC had pursued me through the courts, and not him. Indeed, Mr Doherty’s principal criticisms of the IPCC: covering up child abuse and being the IPCC’s ‘hatchet woman’ are still there on the internet for all to see today. As are those of a number of other IPCC critics in a similar vein. Perhaps, I was perceived as the softer target given my precarious health. Or, Mr Doherty’s much greater public persona deterred them?
Even in full knowledge of those health issues, Cohen Cramer’s Miss Slater conducted an intimidatory, oppressive stance throughout – presumably on instructions from the IPCC – and even threatened to have me arrested and detained by the police for not removing the tweets highlighted above, and a number of other tweets and articles in a similar vein over which I had no control, whatsoever. Miss Slater also lied in correspondence between us in an attempt to withhold the source of the claimants’ funding. Incredibly, she denied that the IPCC was, in fact, footing the bill on behalf of their employees, despite the fact that her retained counsel, Mr Richardson, had openly confirmed to me before a witness, at the Royal Courts of Justice, that the police watchdog was financing the claim.
This was a low point for me. Having been rushed to hospital three times under blue lights in the preceding six months and, awaiting remedial surgery, I was not in good health. Furthermore, I did not have the financial resources to engage lawyers in an action in which the IPCC appeared to have given their three employees a blank cheque, in order to prevent me writing about them. I was defending myself as a litigant in person and it was, quite obviously, not a level playing field and the IPCC were kicking me all over the park.
But the rules of the game – over which the IPCC and Cohen Cramer thought they had complete control – were set to change dramatically. Galvanised by the unflinching support I received from those closest to me – and from others around the country – the task of unravelling the case constructed by the IPCC’s chosen ones began. In January 2015, I served my witness and defence statements on the IPCC, and their lay claimants, and also witness statements from seven other journalists and campaigners who had all been involved in close, and very unsatisfactory, dealings with the ineffective police watchdog. These included Mr Doherty, and other high profile figures such as Janet Alder and Bernadette Major.
It certainly appeared to be the tipping point for Emily Slater: She and Cohen Cramer parted company and, according to information given to me, she had moved abroad to Vienna. Miss Slater no longer shows up on a search of the Law Society’s solicitor database (see screenshot below) and, until she removed her LinkedIn profile a few months ago, was seemingly unemployed. Another high profile victim of Miss Slater’s unethical approach to her professional calling, Lincolnshire businessman Mr Stuart Brown, reported on his weblog that she had been dismissed by Cohen Cramer at the end of January 2015 (read more here), a claim the law firm denies.
Mr Brown, in a remarkable turnaround, has recently served harassment proceedings on Cohen Cramer which centre on the behaviour of Emily Slater during litigation which was, in the words of HHJ Owen “an oppressive use of the legal procedure” and “conducted with unnecessary aggression”. A case in which I will be providing witness evidence on his behalf.
At a case management hearing before Mr Justice Warby at the Royal Courts of Justice in March 2015, the IPCC, their lay claimants and their lawyers did not fare well. By this time, Miss Slater had been replaced by a Cohen Cramer partner, Mr David Hall. Their first-choice barrister, Matt Richardson, had also been replaced by Mr Guy Vassall-Adams, who appeared uncomfortable throughout the hearing about the case he was being asked to present. Through the generosity of my family I was able to engage lawyers to represent me on the day. My counsel, Mr Ian Brownhill, persuaded the judge to transfer the case to Leeds High Court – against the strong protest of the IPCC’s lawyers – which was much more local for myself, all three claimants, most of the other witnesses and Cohen Cramer. The only reason the IPCC wanted to have the matter heard in London was to cripple me financially and put off most of my witnesses from attending a final hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice on the grounds of time and cost.
During this hearing Mr Vassall-Adams’ complained to the judge that I had harassed the IPCC’s employees that very morning by tweeting this on the social media website:
This is a graphic illustration of not only legal bad faith, but the petulance and poor judgment with which I have been confronted in all my dealings with Cohen Cramer and the IPCC, both throughout their conduct of the case – and since. As a highly regarded media and information lawyer, regularly heard on The Strand defending the freedom of speech of large newspapers groups, Mr Vassall-Adams should have cause to reflect upon making a submission, albeit on instructions, to the effect that me saying to a friend “Thanks, Michael. En route to RCJ. Will call you later” constitutes harassment.
In any event, Mr Vassall-Adams subsequently returned the brief to the IPCC’s lawyers and was replaced by the third barrister to be acting in this increasingly vexed action, Mrs Sara Mansoori, who hails from the same Matrix International chambers.
At the case management hearing the judge gave Directions that, effectively, required the IPCC to start their claim again and that all their costs, up to and including the case management hearing could not be recovered by the IPCC, even if the claim ultimately succeeded against me. My lawyers calculated that ‘penalty’ to be at least £25,000 of public money wasted on protecting Crown servants, sanctioned at the very top of the IPCC by their Chief Executive, Lesley Longstone (pictured below).
Following partial release of information by the IPCC that I requested under the Freedom of Information Act at the conclusion of the case (click here), it is now apparent that the amount of money lost by the end of the March hearing was nearer to £50,000 than my lawyers’ estimate of £25,000. On the face of those figures, it would appear that Ms Longstone, and her senior IPCC cohorts, were already in deeper financial water than either my legal team, or I, realised at the time.
After the case management hearing, new particulars of claim were duly issued by the IPCC’s lawyers, but were met with a robust defence drafted by my own counsel. The allegations of harassment against me were systematically rebutted and the claim reduced to what, in my solicitor’s view, was nothing more than ‘a storm in a teacup’. The libel allegations that were an earlier feature of the IPCC’s pleadings – and also referenced in a letter openly published on the internet (click here) by their now departed Chief Operating Officer, Nick Hawkins (pictured below) – had now inexplicably disappeared. Some might infer from such a change of direction that the IPCC were avoiding a legal fight grounded in whether, or not, the articles published about their three lay claimants were true. It is assumed that Mr Hawkins, given both his working proximity to Ms Longstone and also the tone and content of the letter in his name, would have also been supporting the IPCC’s action against me and the funding of it. He left the IPCC, in September 2015, after just one year’s service.
At about the same time Cohen Cramer also confirmed, in writing, that the IPCC’s lay claimants were no longer relying on their first or second statements. Which was not at all unexpected, given the way they had been torn apart by the defence evidence. But my legal team and I waited, and waited, and waited, for the third statements to be filed at court and served on me. Eventually, the statements of two of the three claimants were emailed to my lawyers less than two weeks before the trial was listed to be heard (7th December 2015) and more than six months after they were directed to do so by Mr Justice Warby. The third claimant did not file a revised statement at any time.
As a result of this late service of evidence, Cohen Cramer were forced to go cap in hand to the court in Leeds and ask the judge, at the pre-trial review, to make a retrospective Order to allow the statements of their clients into the claim.
It should surprise no-one that, of the many slurs in their various witness statements against not only me, but also against some of those for whom I act as complaint advocate and others with whom I have had only passing acquaintance, not one single document was adduced by any of the three lay claimants to support the IPCC’s allegations. Anyone who could be linked with me, however tenuously, was fair game for the smear campaign being funded by the IPCC.
There were also a number of incredible claims about the impact of the alleged harassment, but not one shred of medical evidence to support it.
Similarly, for anyone who has had dealings of any length with the IPCC, there was the familiar ducking and diving over disclosure. They breached their obligations under Part 32 of the CPR Rules, and there was an unresolved Part 18 Request still pending at the time the matter reached a settlement. I simply asked for the materials that supported the fanciful assertions made by the claimants. I was entitled to see these, but they were not produced. Or, confirmation given to me that such documentary evidence did not actually exist, so that my lawyers could apply for the claim could be struck out. Any experienced litigator (or judge) knows that contemporaneous documents are the first port of call when assessing witness credibilty. The obvious conclusion to draw from that is Cohen Cramer and the IPCC’s lay claimants simply did not want to go there and have theirs tested.
The two teams of lawyers, respectively acting for the IPCC, and myself, eventually agreed on terms for settlement on the day the trial should have started, after a torturous few days of negotiation. I was determined to go to trial and have the matters raised in evidence fully ventilated in open court. It was like a bad smell hanging over me.
The prospect of having the IPCC’s lay claimants on the witness stand and subjected to cross examination by a formidable human rights barrister, not only having the organisation’s honesty and integrity questioned in public hearing, but also the reputation of the whole organisation they worked for coming under severe scrutiny was one that held significant attraction for me – and to the other witnesses who were prepared to travel far and wide to give evidence on my behalf.
The final settlement of the claim was in terms very favourable to me. The interim injunction was removed; there was no admission (or finding) of harassment and I gave an undertaking to the court and to the claimants; and the right to continue to publish articles about the IPCC and its employees was preserved. In respect of any articles that name the IPCC’s three lay claimants, I am required to give them sight of the articles first and invite each of those named to give their consent. Such consent to be not unreasonably withheld, if the articles are true and the evidence behind the articles stands up to legal scrutiny.
There was another part of the settlement that the IPCC were absolutely insistent did not reach the public domain, so I am unable to disclose that particular point at the present time. But I can say the ‘secret’ agreement was also very much to my advantage, without breaching the confidentiality clause. It is also noteworthy that enforcement proceedings had to be threatened against the IPCC, by my lawyers, before they complied with that particular term of the agreement.
On any independent view, the IPCC strategy to oppress and stifle my right to report on corrupt practices, using huge amounts of public funds, has failed. It is a situation that I will continue to address by whatever legal means are available, if the IPCC continue to shield dishonest employees and allow them to prosper from their misdemeanours: Those options include laying an information concerning a private prosecution at Wakefield Magistrates Court – a mere 100 yards from the IPCC’s own offices – if such a step becomes necessary
The grim exterior of Wakefield Magistrates Court -a short walk from the IPCC’s office
Mr Hall of Cohen Cramer and both the IPCC’s press office and their Chief Executive, Lesley Longstone, were all approached for comment on this article prior to publication. The IPCC press office said they would not be commenting. Ms Longstone did not acknowledge or respond to my email. A remark that also applies to Cohen Cramer’s Mr Hall.
Page last updated Saturday 16th April, 2016 at 1035hrs
© Neil Wilby 2015-2016. Unauthorised use or reproduction of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from and links to the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Photo credits: IPCC, Private Eye, Law Society