We are a very different force….

This is the mantra put out by South Yorkshire Police (SYP) since the days when Meredydd Hughes first spun the line during his reign as Chief Constable between 2004 and 2010.

The same Hughes who said that all relevant materials had been disclosed to the Hillsborough Independent Panel (HIP). They were not. Far from it.

Med, as he liked to be known, also infamously said that he saw nothing wrong with the statements that were altered by his force, and it’s solicitors, to eliminate criticism of senior police officers or smear Liverpool fans. Fortunately, both the HIP and the jury at the Hillsborough inquests saw things very differently.

To top all that off, Meredydd Hughes claims he was entirely unaware that hundreds of young girls were being raped on an industrial scale by Asian gangs in Rotherham throughout his reign as chief constable. He was humiliated and disgraced before the influential Home Affairs Select Committee and repeatedly cut down by scything – and scathing – questions from such as Michael Ellis MP and Chair, Keith Vaz. The inescapable conclusion was that either Hughes was not being entirely frank or he was hopelessly incompetent.

In any other organisation, it would be very difficult to comprehend that someone worse than Hughes could be appointed to lead. But this is South Yorkshire Police and they scraped the bottom of the barrel and came up with David Crompton. He was appointed in April 2012 from another force mired in corruption, the infamous West Yorkshire Police (WYP), and proceeded to live up to his soubriquet, ‘Disaster Dave’ (read more here and here).

But not without repeatedly telling the press, television and Parliament that ‘We are a very different force’.

Crompton is presently suspended from duty and facing section 38 proceedings to remove him from office. His police career, like that of Hughes before him, ends in complete ignominy.

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A new chief constable took office on Monday 25th July, 2016 and former Durham Police Deputy Chief Constable, Michael Watson, very much appears to have got off on the wrong foot: Watson’s first appointment to his Command Team is Christopher Rowley, who is another to make the short journey from WYP’s HQ in Wakefield, to Sheffield, with questions marks hanging over him.

Much has been written about the need to re-build trust and confidence in South Yorkshire Police and, also, the wider police service which, in the internet and social media age, is coming under scrutiny like never before, as scandal after scandal emerges.

One of the key factors in the number of corruption exposés, and the truly shocking scale of some of them, is the almost complete lack of effective oversight from policing bodies such as Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), the infamous Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and the former police authorities. The latter, of course, are now replaced by elected Police and Crime Comissioners. The current incumbent in South Yorkshire is Dr Alan Billings, who replaced the shambolic local Labour politician, Shaun Wright, who, eventually, resigned over the Rotherham child sex abuse scandal.

On Monday 25th July, 2016 an email was sent to the press office at South Yorkshire Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (SYOPCC). It contained the following:

Can you please answer the following questions?
1. Was Dr Billings aware that as a CI, Chris Rowley was staff officer to Sir Norman Bettison in 2009/2010? I am able to verify this as I spoke to him several times myself in that capacity in 2009. (For what it is worth, I found him rude, arrogant and dismissive).
2. Was Dr Billings aware that Chris Rowley was also closely aligned with David Crompton whilst at WYP? Mr Crompton was DCC at athe time Chris Rowley worked in the CC’s staff office.
3. Was Dr Billings aware that after leaving the staff office, Chris Rowley was posted as a DCI to WYP PSD which, at that time, was deeply involved in covering up the wrongful conviction of ex-PC Danny Major. I was acting as the complaint advocate for the Major family at that time and, eventually, forced an outside police force investigation into the case (Operation Lamp). Both Sir Norman and David Crompton were also, on the evidence, involved in that miscarriage of justice and it was, in fact, Mr Crompton who dismissed Danny Major from WYP in a process that was later discovered, by me, to have been unlawful.
4. Was Dr Billings aware that Chris Rowley is presently the subject of at least two unresolved conduct complaints? Both involve corrupt practice and are well evidenced. One is historic and involves the alleged hacking of my emails (the complaint was actually made by a former Notts police officer whose emails were also allegedly hacked). The other is current and involves the alleged covering up of persistent and very serious criminal behaviour by a police informant. I act as complaint advocate for the complainant in that case also and, as such, aware of all the circumstances and documentation supporting the complaint (WYP CO/952/13).
It should be clarified at para 4 that it was not CI Rowley (as he was then) whom was suspected of hacking my emails, but he was one of only three viable suspects who, seemingly, destroyed three letters of complaint sent to the Chief Constable’s office by the complainant. Two of them via fax and one via mail. It was, however, CI Rowley who made a phone call to the complainant on the morning the third letter was received in Norman Bettison’s office that can, at best, be described as irregular and oppressive. Rowley was trying to persuade the complainant to drop the issue, grounded in the belief that, as a former police officer, he  should be showing ‘solidarity’ and not exposing police wrongdoing.
Para 1 could also have been amplified by credible intelligence from a serving officer (at the time) who informed me that Sir Norman Bettison intervened in the placement of one of Chris Rowley’s children, at a school in which he would otherwise have been ineligible to attend. That allegation, it must be stressed, is both uncorroborated and untested. It should also be said that I would have done the same for my own son should those circumstances have arisen. But, it also has to be said that would not have been a senior police officer abusing trust and authority.
The response from SYOPCC Comms team was amicable, swift and persuasive and, as a result, I stayed the publishing of this article pending responses from Dr Billings, who was out of the office on that day.
The following day I received a message from Mr Billings’ office to the effect that Chief Constable Watson had contacted West Yorkshire Police about the allegations made in the email and the notorious WYP Professional Standards Department gave his new Assistant Chief Constable a clean bill.
To say Mr Watson’s enquiries lacked rigour would be one of the understatements of the year: Firstly, why would anyone in their right mind trust a word that anyone says in WYP’s PSD? Secondly, why did he not contact me and get first hand knowledge of the issues and sight of documents? Thirdly, the victim of the rapes and fraud has also been in contact with him and he has, so far, rebuffed her. She has provided him with a copy of a CJA statement submitted in connection with CO/952/13, in which misconduct allegations against Mr Rowley are graphically detailed.
A formal complaint has now been lodged with PCC Billings by the rape and fraud victim against CC Watson over the manner in which he has handled her issues over ACC Rowley. Receipt of the complaint has been acknowledged and a recording decision is awaited.
This is a story that has some way to run. My own view over Mr Watson’s appointment is very clear. A Deputy Chief from one of the smallest forces in the country is unlikely  to have the skillset, experience and gravitas to take on what is the biggest challenge in policing today. His first step in appointing Chris Rowley as part of his Command Team suggests that his tenure may be, mercifully, brief.
As for Dr Billings, my views are also well rehearsed: He is said to be, by all those who deal with him, a very decent and genuine man, and the way his staff conduct themselves support that proposition. But, the bottom line is, that he has made too many mistakes over David Crompton (suspended but not be sacked, apparently), Dawn Copley (now on long term sick leave), Dave Jones (returned early to North Yorkshire Police, where that force’s own brand of lawlessness still runs unabated) and now, it seems, Michael Watson, for anybody locally to have confidence in his abilities as a Police and Crime Commissioner with oversight of the country’s most notorious police force.

We await with great interest for the first sounding of ‘We are a very different force‘ from Chief Constable Watson.

 

Page last updated: Friday 12th August, 2016 at 0815hrs

© 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 credit: BBC

Author: Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

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