‘Open and transparent’ Police & Crime Commissioner stonewalls questions over public misconduct hearings

There are few words in the policing lexicon that crop up more often than ‘open’ and ‘transparent’. Some luminaries, such as North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Julia Mulligan, use it so often that they actually begin to believe in the myth.

There are few words in the policing lexicon that crop up more often than ‘open’ and ‘transparent’. Some luminaries, such as North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Julia Mulligan, use it so often that they actually begin to believe in the myth.

The latest example cropped up only yesterday with a story run by the usually police-friendly York Press [1]. The thrust of the piece is that a reporter from their sister newspaper, The Northern Echo, was denied entry to a police disciplinary hearing due to open at police HQ at Newby Wiske, near Northallerton.

Up pops Mrs Mulligan and immediately pledges to “put transparency at the heart of this process”. Conveniently forgetting that it is already a statutory requirement to do so under Police (Conduct) Regulations [2].

But that is only half the story. Misconduct hearings against North Yorkshire Police (NYP) officers alleged to be in breach of Standards of Professional Behaviour [3] fall under the remit of their Professional Standards Department (PSD). It is a part of NYP’s operations that has come under stinging criticism over the past few years. Not least from myself in other articles on this website.

insp-sarah-sanderson

Prior to the current proceedings, involving gross misconduct allegations against Inspector Sarah Sanderson (with whom I had a brief and uncontroversial professional interchange in August 2012, just before her promotion to T/Chief Inspector), there has only been one other misconduct meeting heard in public involving a NYP officer. This was the widely reported ‘I love weed‘ case involving ex-PC Simon Ryan [4].

Having accidentally discovered it was taking place whilst researching for another article, I actually registered via the NYP website for the Ryan hearing, although as a press card carrying journalist it galled me to do so.

A response came two days later from an unidentified PSD officer (no name, no collar number which is, of itself, a breach of the Code of Ethics) who informed me that ‘a seat had been allocated‘.

There were also other myriad conditions which were set out at this weblink [5]. The sum of it was, there were no facilities at all for reporters, and they were also being asked to leave the building every time the hearing adjourned. Which for proceedings of this type is usually frequently.

I asked PSD by email if a small room with just a table and some chairs could be provided, so that reporters could do their job. An anonymous responder (again) informed me: “I’m afraid that we do not have the available space in order to facilitate your request“.

No catering or drink facility was to be provided to attendees at the hearing – press or otherwise – and I didn’t get as far as asking about toilet facilities.

For my part, I decided that three 140 mile round trips, at my own expense, with no guarantee that my two battery powered devices would last the day without infusion of mains electricity, added to the prospect of flask and sandwiches in the car, and trying to work my laptop on my knee during the hearing, was not at all an appealing combination. I concentrated on other work and hoped one of the local or regional newspapers, who covered NYP matters, would report on the proceedings.

In the event, the hearing only lasted two days and only Tom Wilkinson from the Press Association was in attendance. As such, he still holds the distinction of being the one journalist ever to attend a NYP misconduct hearing.

Unless there is an entirely different approach taken towards the press, after Mrs Mulligan has spoken to the Chief Constable, then Tom might hold that record for some time yet. It is also interesting that he hasn’t ventured to Newby Wiske Hall for a second time.

The PCC and the chief could make a start by changing the venue from Newby Wiske Hall for a start. If it doesn’t have the requisite facilities then why hold hearings there? A question that has been put to both Mrs Mulligan and Dave Jones.

In the interests of ‘openness’ and ‘transparency’ neither even responded to the email seeking comment. Two questions were put to both police chiefs:

1. Why are card-carrying journalists required to register to attend disciplinary hearings?
2. Why is Newby Wiske Hall used as a venue when it is plainly unsuitable?
Readers are invited to draw their own conclusions as to whether they are in the public interest and it was reasonable of Mr Jones and Mulligan to stonewall them.

 

Page last updated: Wednesday 21st September, 2016 at 1750hrs

[1] York Press 19th September, 2016: ‘North Yorkshire PCC will speak to Chief Constable after reporter refused entry’.

[2] Police (Conduct) Regulations 2012.

[3] North Yorkshire Police: Ethics and Standards.

[4] BBC News 14th June, 2016: ‘I love weed hat PC Simon Ryan sacked from North Yorkshire Police’.

[5] North Yorkshire Police: Misconduct hearings.

 

Photo credit: Northern Echo

 

Author: Neil Wilby

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

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