The oft-maligned police complaints system is well overdue for a complete overhaul. Much has been written on the topic, including by me. Particularly on the topic of the ludicrous and superfluous Code of Ethics propagated by the College of Policing (Read more here).
One of the noisiest champions of reform is Julia Mulligan, the newly re-elected Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire (pictured below). When we first met in August 2014, the topic dominated our conversation.
My viewpoint, as an experienced police complaints advocate, is that reform is urgently required to change the focus from findings of misconduct, under a complex labyrinth of legislation, to one of ‘did the incident complained of occur’ and the police providing a swift and appropriate remedy.
In many of the cases in which I become involved a simple apology, at the outset, would have sufficed. The most famous of those was the case of well-known Wakefield businessman Anthony Ramsden, assaulted by PSU officers at Elland Road football stadium. Anthony went to the now-defunct Holbeck police station the following day, seeking only an apology, and was told by a senior officer: ‘You are wasting your time. This f*****g complaint is going nowhere’. Five woeful and hugely expensive police investigations, five IPCC appeals (four of which were upheld) and a judicial review application occupied the ensuing four years. Some of the findings of Deputy High Court Judge, Stephen Morris QC, are now regularly used authorities by the legal profession in civil cases involving the IPCC or police forces (Read full judgment here).
But the police preoccupation with not attaching blame to individual or groups of officers, or protecting the force’s reputation (perceived or otherwise), very often gets in the way of that. Lies and cover-up become embedded in the DNA of police forces. More crucially, gilt edged opportunities to enhance the public standing of the police – by dealing with complaints quickly, courteously and efficiently – are lost.
This statement broadly represents Julia’s position: ‘As it stands the police complaints system is broken. It is bureaucratic, complex, slow and lacks independence. This can have profound consequences on individuals who may be in very difficult circumstances. Police officers, too, can wait months for complaints to be resolved, very often with a cloud hanging over their heads’.
But the truth of the matter is that her own office, based in a leafy Harrogate street, and the force’s Professional Standards Department are two of the worst offenders in abusing the police complaints system – and I have recent and damning evidence to prove that.
I have met Julia Mulligan twice over the past two years and find her likeable, charming and engaging. She is a Yorkshire hill farm girl made good, and no-one could doubt her commitment, and capacity for hard work, in her Commissioner role.
I also have boundless admiration for the caring and compassionate way in which she champions the cause of victims of crime and those with mental health issues in North Yorkshire. Victims of crime (and occasionally the mentally challenged) is the core focus of my work, too. But at the other end of the scale by opposing the police (and often the CPS) over miscarriages of justice. The most high profile of which is, of course, the soon to be heard appeal against the conviction of ex-PC Danny Major, following an outside police force investigation that I was instrumental in securing (read more on Operation Lamp here).
Our differences of opinion, usually expressed in cordial terms, concern how I view the discharging of Julia’s statutory function of holding the chief constable to account. She believes in the ‘partnership’ principle. I maintain that the chief constable ‘takes the mickey’ and keeps her in the dark on key issues, when it suits him.
For the past sixteen months my focus, as an investigative journalist, has been on police misconduct – and potential misfeasance – in the ranks of the North Yorkshire force. My attention was drawn away from the more familiar ground of West Yorkshire Police, and their across-the-Pennine neighbours in Greater Manchester, by a civil harassment claim mounted by NYP against two fellow journalists.
It has certainly been an eye opener, as my investigations into two NYP Operations, styled Rome and Hyson has uncovered a tangled web of lies, deceit and a grotesque misuse of public funds on the grand scale. Hyson is the codename given by NYP to the civil court action. Rome is the failed criminal investigation that preceded it.
I have written a number of forensic pieces on the topic which dig deep into the mire into which NYP have sunk over Rome and Hyson. Two of the most damning in the series can be read in full here and here.
North Yorkshire Police are, understandably, highly displeased at having their dirty washing aired in public in this way and, as a consequence, my work as a journalist is now obstructed at every turn – and I am smeared by senior officers whenever the opportunity arises. The police, more used to controlling a tame local and regional media, are simply not used to ‘push back’ from independent operators who refuse to be intimidated. I include fellow journalist and justice campaigner, Nigel Ward, in that group.
Nigel, incidentally, was the also the author of an informative North Yorkshire Enquirer ‘In My View’ piece on Julia Mulligan and the broken police complaints system. (Read in full here).
Formal misconduct complaints have been lodged, by both Nigel and myself, against a number of senior North Yorkshire officers as a result of their unethical and unprofessional conduct towards the two of us. These include outrageous, and entirely untrue, accusations by chief officers that we have conspired together to commit criminal offences and contempt of court. The formal complaint documents lodged by me can be viewed here. Nigel’s are in a similar vein.
Desperate not to have to refer the complaints to the IPCC, or face the prospect of an outside police force proportionately investigating the complaints and the wider shambles of Operations Rome and Hyson, the police and the PCC’s office have visited the Inn of Last Resort: Label the complaints as ‘vexatious’, ‘oppressive’ and an ‘abuse of the complaints system’. The outcome delivered by Simon Dennis, acting Chief Executive for PCC Julia Mulligan can be read in full here. A similar outcome was provided by DI Steve Fincham on behalf of the force.
In publishing documents this way, the public can decide for themselves the respective merits of the complaints, decisions not to record them and the appeals to the IPCC. Neither Nigel Ward, nor I, have anything to hide and it will be interesting to gauge the response of the police and PCC’s office to more dirty washing held up for public examination.
Most justice campaigners are familiar with the term ‘vexatious’ as at one time or another they, or complaints they have been made, will have been labelled as such. It is what public servants are trained to do. Particularly if they are Common Purpose graduates and they have run out of excuses as to why they will not deal with the complainant (or complaints) within the appropriate legislative or regulatory framework. The most spectacular example of this is Sir Dan Crompton labelling bereaved Hillsborough campaigners as ‘vindictive, vexatious and cruel’. Read my 2013 piece on this topic here.
Deeply disgusting and disgraceful though the unrepentant Crompton’s remarks were, they should be taken in the context that every day someone, somewhere, will be smeared by a public official as a ‘vexatious’ or ‘persistent’ complainant. Irrespective of the merits of their case. Inferring mental health issues is another favoured smear tactic.
This, sadly, is the society we live in today and it is only through the dignity and tenacity of the Hillsborough families and survivors that the landscape will now change – and those same smearing public officials brought more readily and efficiently to book.
Returning to the Ward and Wilby complaints, the police and PCC’s office were again not expecting a ‘push back’ from the two journalists, but robust appeals which make both Mr Dennis (pictured above), formerly Force Solicitor for North Yorkshire Police, and DI Fincham look foolish, grounded in their apparent lack of knowledge of applicable law, regulations and guidance have now been drafted and submitted to the IPCC.
My appeal to the IPCC against Mr Dennis’ decision not to record the complaints against Chief Constable Dave Jones can be read here.
The discovery that the two officers principally responsible for dealing with complaints for the force and the PCC’s office appear to be entirely unsuited to their respective roles might come as a shock to some. It shouldn’t to Julia Mulligan, as I’ve made my views publicly known to her via social media, and by way of two detailed letters.
My viewpoint is grounded in a number of other outcomes that not only disclose a prejudicial, discriminatory and harassing approach towards me at all times but, more alarmingly, show clearly that DI Fincham, in particular, doesn’t seemingly have much of a clue about what he is doing in the Professional Standards Department (PSD). Neither, it seems does T/Superintendent Maria Taylor who heads up NYP PSD – and appears to be out of her depth.
Or, alternatively, Fincham does – but is prepared to operate outside of regulations and guidelines to advance his career. A classic case in point was a serious complaint made against NYP’s Chief Financial Officer, Jane Palmer, that DI Fincham commandeered and then tried to dismiss as a local resolution matter, along with a half-hearted apology to me. The IPCC have now agreed with me that his actions were wholly inappropriate.
The latest attempt by Mr Dennis to dodge the recording of fully particularised, well evidenced complaints against NYP’s acting Force Solicitor, Jane Wintermeyer, includes the interesting proposition that an officer who is based at police HQ, has a collar number (3840), a NYP email address and, as far as I am able to discern, spends the entirety of her working days on NYP matters, does not fall under Police Regulations or the College of Policing’s Code of Ethics.
Mrs Wintermeyer is captured, in actual fact, by S12 (a) of the Police Reform Act, 2002. A fact of which Mr Dennis should have been aware as he was, himself, NYP Force Solicitor between 2004 and 2012. A period during which a number of scandals emerged concerning senior officers that led to NYP being described by a local MP as a “laughing stock”.
The ‘Mrs Wintermeyer doesn’t work for the police‘ argument was then supplemented with some other starkly threadbare reasoning concerning my reporting of the Operation Hyson fiasco, and other litigation that has not yet commenced. Mr Dennis contended, quite wrongly, that they could possibly be interpreted as grounds not to record and investigate what are very serious complaints.
Most telling of all was that this latest Simon Dennis correspondence was sent minus a URN (complaint reference). Which strongly suggests that this is another case where the decision not to record was made first, followed by a search for whatever reasons can be found to try to justify such a finding.
The fact that Mr Dennis did not disclose in the latest round of correspondence that he has direct oversight of Mrs Wintermeyer’s Force Solicitor role does not assist his own credibility, either.
The ‘vexatious’ argument was, of course, still a last resort option for Mr Dennis if all other reasoning failed. However, the deadline passed on 9th June, 2016 without him making any recording decision on the Wintermeyer complaint. This placed him outside the legislative framework, yet again.
It has also emerged, in correspondence with the IPCC’s lawyers, that Simon Dennis had no delegated power to be dealing with the complaint. Regulation 2 of IPCC (Complaints and Misconduct) (Contractors) Regulations 2015 (Contractor Regulations) requires the chief officer of the police force to do so.
So, yet another non-recording appeal has been submitted to the IPCC, wasting even more time and public money. It is certain to be upheld, much to the growing embarassment of both Mr Dennis and his employer, Julia Mulligan, who has described her Chief Executive’s efforts as ‘appropriate, professional and diligent’ in dealing with the complaints in issue.
Make no mistake: Those are words that will come back to haunt the PCC and her right hand man.
Both Nigel Ward and I have made separate, and well grounded, representations to the IPCC to have DI Fincham, a former Leeds Drug Squad officer, removed from his PSD post. Confidence in the police complaints system cannot be retained whilst he has a role in it.
If the IPCC uphold the appeals against the various outcomes delivered by Mr Dennis – plus the no decision farrago – then it is, also, hard to see how his position can remain tenable. The ‘doesn’t work for NYP’ shenanigans over the Wintermeyer complaints do not assist his prospects of a lengthy tenure, either.
Representations have also been made to the IPCC about the role of Mr Dennis in dealing with complaints. He has already admitted to the police watchdog that he has adopted an Appropriate Authority role in the Wintermeyer complaints for which he has no delegated powers.
Right of reply was offered to both Mr Dennis and DI Fincham when this article was first published on 22nd May, 2016. No comment has been forthcoming from either.
Mrs Mulligan was also approached for comment on 15th June, 2016 concerning her confidence in the ability of both her substantive and acting Chief Executive to operate within the appropriate legislative framework in dealing with complaints. None has been forthcoming, to date.
Page last updated: Friday 17th June, 2016 at 1841hrs
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Photo credits: NYPCC; LinkedIn