Operation Barium too hard to swallow?

On 7th July, 2009 I wrote to Sir Norman Bettison, then Chief Constable of my local police force. He was offered intelligence over the misconduct of a number of his junior officers and a newspaperman’s instinct that all was not well within West Yorkshire Police.

Shortly afterwards, I received a telephone call from his staff officer at the time, Chief Inspector Christopher Rowley. Recently, and controversially, appointed to disgraced South Yorkshire Police as an assistant chief constable (read more here).

It matters little that CI Rowley’s call was a fob-off, delivered in an unattractive manner. It was to lead, indirectly, to a challenge never before faced by a police force: Scrutiny by investigators, not part of any official oversight body, who were to determined to show the true face of a police force that considered itself completely unaccountable to anyone.

At the time of my letter being sent to Bettison, one of his gilded protégés was Mark Gilmore. He was one of five assistant chief constables in a Command Team that was to become almost entirely  discredited: Bettison’s career ended in ignominy as he became engulfed in a number of scandals, with his role in the Hillsborough Disaster aftermath being much the highest profile.

Bettison’s deputy chief constable was none other than David Crompton. Also widely known as ‘Disaster Dave‘ and for whom Hillsborough was also to prove his nemesis (read more here).

Two other of the disgraced chief’s assistants, John Parkinson (later to succeed him as temp0rary chief constable) and Geoff Dodd, were to retire from the police service with clouds hanging over them. Dodd was connected to the framing and jailing of a promising young police constable and, after the Operation Lamp investigation into that miscarriage of justice was completed, but before the report was published, he sailed into the sunset clinging to his gold plated pension. Parkinson was also deeply involved in the PC Danny Major cover-up, amongst a significant number of other misdemeanours, about which more can be read here.

My first interaction with Parkinson was in May 2010, as he was portfolio holder for the notorious Professional Standards Department in West Yorkshire Police. Just under two years later I wrote to him and promised I would drive him out of the police service, based on the evidence I held. He probably laughed it off at the time, but a year later he was gone.

Mark Gilmore, having been recruited in 2008 by Bettison from a sinecure as staff officer to ACPO president Sir Hugh Orde, was given a special projects role in the procurement and delivery of profit for investment (PFI) schemes at WYP. Bettison was, at the time, vice president of the now-defunct ACPO.

A number of new divisional headquarters around the county and a massive project at the force’s operational support and training centre at Carr Gate, near Wakefield were built as a result of the PFI financing. The total sums involved have been reported in the local press as totalling £300 million, yet the company appointed to facilitate the financing appeared to be carrying a net current deficit of several million pounds.

There is a well-grounded suspicion that the PFI schemes are a ticking timebomb as far as future debt is concerned. As soon as time and funding allow, this is to form the subject a separate forensic investigation by me.

In July 2011, Gilmore was appointed as deputy chief constable to another big city force. He joined another Bettison protégé who was chief constable of Northumbria Police, Sue Sim. Recently in the news as a whistleblower exposing concerning practices amongst senior officers in her former force (read more here). Bettison and Sim worked together at Merseyside Police, during the former’s controversial reign in Liverpool.

It is not known, at this stage, whether Gilmore was intended to be one of the subjects of his former chief’s scathing and wide-ranging criticisms. Incredibly, it is West Yorkshire Police who have been sent to investigate Mrs Sims’ complaints.

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Less than two years later, Gilmore was back at West Yorkshire Police having been crowned as chief by the newly-elected Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Mark Burns-Williamson.

Sources close to the process suggested at the time that Gilmore had defeated John Parkinson, Mark Milsom, an ACC with WYP and most famous for running a BMW X5 police car through a red traffic light and into the side of a bus in Leeds city centre, and Phil Gormley, at the time chief constable of Norfolk Constabulary, a formet Metropolitan Police assistant commisssioner and, presently, chief constable at Police Scotland.

The largely invisible Gilmore was later to controversially refuse to prosecute Milsom over the ramming of the bus in City Square, saying after a lengthy investigation that “it was not in the public interest“. A decision that was to leave most West Yorkshire folk, and many of the front line officers in their police force, entirely bemused (read more here).

The very few policing commentators who were aware of the shortlist could only stand shocked at the decision to select Gilmore ahead of Gormley. Burns-Williamson, who prior to his appointment had been Chair of the police authority for ten years, appeared to place emphasis on the fact that Gilmore was a known entity – and his experience in the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) was particularly relevant.

Those in the know had an entirely different perception: Gilmore knew where a whole pile of WYP corruption bones were buried and it was felt that Burns-Williamson didn’t want anyone from ‘outside the circle’ poking around and asking questions.

I wrote an article that was first published on the uPSD website at the end of April 2013 that set out in some detail the extent of the alleged ‘cover-ups’ to which Gilmore was, at the very least, a passive party (read more here). It was a formidable list. For his part, Burns-Williamson was content to continue as though none of this corruption existed. Indeed, his oft-repeated mantra during the election campaign that brought him to power in 2012 was that “there is no corruption in West Yorkshire Police”. He didn’t repeat it in the campaign in May, 2016.

It took just fourteen months before his PCC, so effusive at the time of his appointment, had to remove his ‘chosen one’ from police HQ. Mark Gilmore was suspended from duty in June, 2014. This move was prompted by a PSNI investigation into the awarding of police vehicle contracts in Northern Ireland.

Seven men were arrested by detectives working on the case at the time and questioned on suspicion of offences including bribery, misconduct in public office and procuring misconduct in public office. Gilmore was not one of those detained. In a statement he insisted that “I have conducted myself with the honesty and integrity expected of someone in my position and have 31 years unblemished professional record”. He presented himself at a Belfast police station, voluntarily, for an interview under caution.

He added: “I have fully co-operated with the investigation and will continue to do so. I hope to work with the Police and Crime Commissioner to bring about a quick and positive resolution to this matter so I can return to serving the people of West Yorkshire as soon as possible.”

The criminal investigation was concluded a year later with no charges being laid against Gilmore. His suspension was lifted by Burns-Williamson, but he was immediately placed on gardening leave. The effect was, more or less, the same. Gilmore was barred from West Yorkshire Police premises and could have no contact with any of the officers over whom he, notionally, had command. The criminal investigation was replaced by a misconduct probe led by Assistant Chief Constable Tim Jacques of Lancashire Police. It was codenamed Operation Barium. The terms of reference and cost for that probe are currently the subject of a freedom of information request.

The cost at this point to the taxpayers of West Yorkshire of funding two chief constables was in the region of £200,000. Burns-Williamson sought to deflect criticism by concocting a role with the National Police Chiefs Council (formerly ACPO in all but name) whereby Gilmore was supposed to be occupied by the implementation of an intranet system for the chief officers involved with the Council.

Bradford councillor, Michael Walls, a member of the police scrutiny panel said at the time: “It seems improper that the West Yorkshire taxpayer is funding an officer on a very significant salary, to undertake work benefitting the residents of London”. Which wasn’t quite accurate, but the sentiment was well meant.

Burns-Williamson, meanwhile, was deaf to the criticism and appeared to be clinging grimly on to the hope that Gilmore would be cleared by the Barium probe and he could return to police HQ.

On 9th August 2016, almost 26 months since he was suspended, Gilmore announced he was retiring from the police service and would not be returning to the West Yorkshire force, irrespective of the outcome of Operation Barium.

As ever with Burns-Williamson, there is a troubling deceit about such matters and it now revealed that the report was delivered by Lancashire Police on 26th July, 2016 to the Commissioner’s office. A spokesman says that the PCC plans to publish the report ‘as soon as practicable’, but fails to clarify why that cannot be immediately. It also remains unclear, at present, as to whether Operation Barium’s remit covered Gilmore’s involvement in the highly lucrative PFI building contracts.

The Chair of the police scrutiny panel, Alison Lowe, a close Labour party ally of Burns-Williamson, says he is currently on holiday and that she didn’t expect to be briefed by him until the next panel meeting in September. She didn’t even know that the report had been in Burns-Williamson’s hands for the past two weeks. Which, given my own extensive experience of dealing with Cllr Lowe’s hapless panel, is entirely in character. She added that she felt that Gilmore’s retirement was a “good thing”. But made no mention of the huge burden placed on the taxpayer for the previous 26 months amounting to a sum in excess of £600,000.

The last words, at least until the Barium report is put under the x-ray, goes to Mark Polin, Chair of the Chief Police Officers Staff Association (CPOSA). He said in May, 2016: “Mark Gilmore remains committed to working alongside the police and crime commissioner to serve the communities of West Yorkshire”.

Mr Polin added “We are disappointed at the length of time the investigation has taken, which follows satisfactory resolution of the Northern Ireland and IPCC investigations, and Mr Gilmore looks forward to this matter being resolved as soon as possible.”

It is understood that CPOSA’s insurers have been underwriting Gilmore’s legal fees in defence of any contemplated actions against him. Mr Polin was not so forthcoming when contacted for comment this week.

 

Page last updated: Sunday 14th August, 2016 at 0855hrs

© 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: Huddersfield Examiner

 

Author: Neil Wilby

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

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