Scandal-hit police stonewall ‘sex ring’ allegations

A major sex scandal has been brewing at Cleveland Police for almost two years.

The lid was partially prized open by John Beggs QC at a disciplinary tribunal that attracted widespread media attention in late 2016. Sensationally, the troubled force abandoned proceedings against an officer, Sergeant Waseem Khan, who had been suspended for three and a half years, at the start of the second week of the hearing.

But, during the first week, Beggs had probed a personal relationship between Superintendent Beverley Gill and Chief Superintendent Jon Green which the ‘attack-dog’ barrister characterised as “exceptionally close“. Green had been moved sideways from his role as Head of Professional Standards Department (PSD) as scandal after scandal dogged him and his disgraced department. The replacement Head was his “personal friend“, Bev Gill. Her evidence at the hearing had troubled the Panel chairman.

On 7th November, 2018 Gill was suspended by the force, at the outset of an investigation codenamed Gosport, over allegations she subdued an investigation into former colleague and ‘dirty detective’, Simon Hurwood. The latter was officially outed, at another disciplinary hearing in October, 2018, at which Beggs QC was again heavily involved, as a manipulative sex fiend.

Cleveland Police is very clear that they are not naming the officer, and their head of communications confirmed this in response to a press enquiry in which Beverley Gill was named, and a request made for her length of police service with Cleveland to be provided. The force continues to rely on the press briefing given the previous day.

Hurwood was found guilty of eight allegations of gross misconduct, plus a number of other misconduct allegations, after the inquiry found he had groomed and pestered 21 female Cleveland Police colleagues, most of them of junior rank, for sex and other indecent acts, over a 14-year-period.

Leeds barrister, Simon Mallett, Chair of the police disciplinary panel which heard the complaints, said: ‘Simon Hurwood was treating the professional standards department as a personal recruitment centre for his own sexual gratification.’ Nevertheless, Hurwood was allowed to retire with a pension pot of £1.1 million, according to a report in the Sunday Times.

On Friday 2nd March 2018, Hurwood was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault offences,  interviewed, released under investigation and, subsequently, suspended from duty later the same day.

Following further enquiries, early consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) complex case unit in London took place. This was in relation to four victims. Subsequently, Detective Chief Inspector John Wrintmore made the decision that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with either the alleged sexual offences, or misconduct in public office. This left police disciplinary proceedings as the only course of action available.

Described as ‘creepy and sleazy’ by his victims, Hurwood abused his position as a management rank officer to have sex in police cars, and in his own office in PSD, the department charged with holding up the highest standards of conduct amongst all the force’s officers. He also persuaded female officers to send him sexually explicit pictures and videos of themselves. He was obsessed with the colour of females’ underwear, and having explicit photos and videos sent to him on his mobile phone.  One witness alleged Hurwood forced her into ‘non-consensual sexual intercourse’ and others complained of being coerced into performing sex acts.

There are also allegations surfacing that Hurwood threatened to blow the whistle on other senior officers if he was prosecuted. The name of an alleged ‘go-between’ that allegedly brokered a deal is circulating on social media. If true, this cover-up was conducted at a senior level in Cleveland Police.

There was no public appeal for witnesses, internally or externally, and some complainants were instructed to sign confidentiality agreements. Police have offered up the rationale that it was to prevent cross-contamination of evidence, but, to the more enquiring mind, it simply fuels belief in a senior management cover-up. Particularly in the light of the most recent revelations.

When approached by a Sunday Times reporter at Hurwood’s £400,000 home last week, his wife, Kimberly, said: “We are not answering any questions.” Her husband has completely denied any misconduct or sexual assaults. He has been married twice previously.

Force spokesperson, Xanthe Tait, a former Chief Crown Prosecutor for North Yorkshire, said the suspension of Bev Gill was a ‘neutral act’ and the presumption of innocence remains.

There are other allegations on social media, made by a regular and very well informed, critic of the force, Michael Carey, which, no doubt, Operation Gosport will explore, that Bev Gill was also “close” to Hurwood, in a similar way to her friendship with Jon Green. There are, it is said, other senior officers who enjoy similar relationships as part of a friends group.

After the Hurwood disciplinary hearing, and it may not necessarily be connected, it was said that Deputy Chief Constable Simon Nickless, who had portfolio responsibility for PSD at the material time, was leaving Cleveland Police to join the College of Policing as Senior Policing Adviser. Which has, one might say, the look and feel of the situation pertaining to ex-West Yorkshire Police chief constable, Mark Gilmore, who was sent off to do a ‘non-job’ at the National Police Chiefs Council, for over a year, in an attempt to disguise the fact that he was on gardening leave.

On 7th November, 2018 it was announced by Cleveland Police that a new deputy chief had been appointed for a temporary six month period. It was Helen McMillan, drafted in from Northumbria Police, who suspended Beverley Gill. Helen previously worked with Durham Constabulary, based in Hartlepool. She would be well advised to make a trawl of the public complaints made against Gill and re-visit them. There are at least two shocking cases that should be the subject, at the very least, of gross misconduct investigation. One made by the aforementioned Michael Carey and the other by Karim Allison, who succeeded in a substantial civil claim against Cleveland Police, and has been relentlessly persecuted by the force since. Including an unsuccessful prosecution against him. Carey has also been arrested and all his computer devices seized, but very recently informed by the police, after an eighteen month hiaitus, that the CPS will not prosecute.

On 17th September, 2018, six weeks before the Hurwood disciplinary hearing became public knowledge, a series of questions was put to Cleveland Police, and its Police Commissioner, Barry Coppinger:

“A statement is requested from PCC Coppinger regarding a report that is circulating on social media concerning an alleged ‘sex ring’ operating in the upper echelons of Cleveland Police.
The reports states, inter alia:
1. Insp Simon Hurwood, whose arrest was reported in the press earlier this year, may have assaulted, harassed up to 30 female officers, staff.
2. Insp Hurwood and Insp [name redacted] (whom it is said are involved in a physical relationship) are part of a police sex ring that may include five other named officers of managerial rank, including the present [name redacted] . It is also said that Insp Hurwood was present in the vehicle when Insp [name redacted]  was found to be OPL (subsequently convicted).
3. The sex-ring has operated for many years and those involved ‘cover-up’ for each other if misconduct or criminal matters are reported against them.
4. Insp [name redacted] has discussed publicly how ‘sex-corruption’ is rife in the force and institutional sexual assault is commonplace.
5. The chief constable and PCC are actively seeking to conceal these matters from public scrutiny.”

It took almost four weeks, and several reminders, for this response to be provided:

I take any allegations of misconduct within Cleveland Police very seriously and I have developed a small Complaints Triage team to assist the newly established Directorate of Standards and Ethics in investigating concerns raised by the public.

I will not, however, comment on unsolicited and unsubstantiated reports appearing on social media. An appropriate complaints process is in place, details of which can be found on the Cleveland Police website.

The statement glosses over the fact that since Mr Coppinger was elected as PCC in 2012, the force over which he has oversight has staggered from crisis to crisis, with scandals, across the misconduct spectrum, featuring routinely in the national press. He previously served on Cleveland Police Authority, under the chairmanship of David McLuckie, who was jailed in 2013 for perverting the course of justice.

In the light of the suspension of Bev Gill on 7th November, 2018, a request was made for an updated statement. The response was almost immediate:

Cleveland Police has informed the Police & Crime Commissioner of the suspension of an officer. This matter is within the remit of the Chief Constable and the PCC is assured that the necessary investigation will be carried out thoroughly, promptly and fairly.

It would not be appropriate for the PCC to comment further at this time.”

The statement carefully, and ironically, avoids the point that this routinely scandalised police force has proved almost entirely incapable of carrying out any thorough, prompt or fair investigation when its own PSD (now re-badged as Standards and Ethics) has been involved. There is also the collateral issue that Mr Coppinger employs a chief constable who is a proven liar, twice over. An  unsatisfactory situation, by any measure, and one that the PCC defends with extraordinary zeal.

If there are two officers already suspended, and the working hypothesis is that is the minimum number, it also suggests that the force may be drip-feeding information to Mr Coppinger, and his PCC team, to minimise the risk of ‘leaks, or for other operational reasons.

Operation Gosport is an investigation that should, quite properly, and on any independent view, have started out as a criminal investigation, not one of gross misconduct, and been referred by its chief constable, Mike Veale, to another police force for investigation.

Veale, unusually, and bizarrely, given his recent history, is the portfolio holder for Standards and Ethics. A role undertaken by the deputy chief constable in most other police forces. However, he is said by a well placed police source to be ‘furious’ over what is now being revealed and is ‘wielding the knife’ in an attempt to cut out deep-seated cancer of corruption in that department. Whatever his recent history in Wiltshire Police, this is an important, and most welcome, step in the right direction for Cleveland and its constituents.

But, until the Veale ‘surgery’ is complete and the integrity of the force recovered, Cleveland Police simply cannot be trusted to investigate itself. But, there is some light at the end of what must have been a very dark tunnel for Hurwood’s victims, as their press office provided me with this statement on 9th November, 2018.

Cleveland Police fully supports any victim’s right to review (VRR) such decisions and is currently supporting a review in this case by another police force. It is important that there is transparency in decision making and that any such decision is rigorously tested in the best interests of victims and the public.”

On 12th November, 2012, it was confirmed that Northumbria Police had been appointed to assist with the VRR. No timescale has been given.

That police force, however, could not have been West Yorkshire Police, headed by chief constable, Dee Collins. From the start of her police service in 1987 until the end of 2005 she served with Cleveland Police, including a spell in its ill-starred PSD. In the offices where Hurwood would later have illicit sex and be pleasured orally. She was also a Police Federation representative as an inspector.

She was a superintendent when she left the force to join Cumbria Police in December, 2005. Hurwood had begun his sex spree against female colleagues almost two years earlier.

Ms Collins was asked for a statement on 7th November, 2018 – the day Bev Gill was suspended –  and has ignored the request (a routine occurence, it must be said).

She has also been, subsequently, invited to comment on well sourced information that she is ‘very, very good friend‘ of 50 year old Bev Gill (a couple of years younger than Dee Collins).

The point to these questions is that the WYP chief was honoured recently by the Queen, and quite rightly, as a champion of women in policing. But that does not sit easily with any knowledge, at all, of what was happening to her junior ranked female colleagues, in what is a relatively small police force. Hurwood, Gill and Collins all have similar lengths of police service and would, at the very least, it is reasonable to infer, have been well known to one another as they progressed up the ranks.

Despite his predatory behaviour, after he became a sergeant in 2003, Hurwood was promoted and moved to the professional standards department, where most of the offences took place. Even after complaints were made against him, he was put on a recruitment panel where he could choose potential victims, implying to one woman that he could help her get a job.

Two detective inspectors were informed about Hurwood’s sexual encounters at the material time, and one victim was at a rank of chief inspector, or higher. Yet the misconduct continued, not just unabated, but even more blatantly.

It may well be that Dee Collins didn’t know, and there cannot be any presumption, at all, of wrongdoing by her, without probative evidence. But if she didn’t know, then serious questions need to be asked ‘why not‘ given her various, and highly relevant, roles in the Cleveland Police.

It’s the same question asked by many others about what she does, or doesn’t know, about alleged misconduct and criminality of her own West Yorkshire Police officers: Apart from the selfie-loving, teddy-bear hugging, gushing, heavily sentimental, fluffy, public relations role which she enthusiastically adopts, it is difficult to see, from an investigative journalist’s perspective, what contribution she makes to maintaining the requisite ethical and professional standards in the force.

In January, 2019, Dee Collins takes up a three month role at the College of Policing in Surrey. There is speculation, explored in an earlier article on this website (read here), that she will only return to WYP to say her goodbyes and then retire. That is denied by the force, but in terms sufficiently vague to leave that open as more than a possibility.

An approach has been made to the WYP press office for comment or a statement from the chief constable. In their routine, unethical, unprofessional manner, and taking their lead from the chief constable, who conducts herself in much the same way, it has not even been acknowledged, so far.

 

Page last updated on Saturday 10th November, 2018 at 2050hrs

Corrections: Please let me know if there is a mistake in this article. I will endeavour to correct it as soon as possible.

Right of reply: If you are mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let me have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory it will be added to the article.

© Neil Wilby 2015-2018. 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.

Author: Neil Wilby

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

2 thoughts on “Scandal-hit police stonewall ‘sex ring’ allegations”

  1. We must also analyse the role of PCC Barry Coppinger in all of this, Neil.

    When the idea of Police and Crime Commissioners was first mooted, both Coppinger and then-Mayor Ray Mallon (Disgraced Ex-Police Officer Mayor Ray Mallon, to give him his full title!) went to the local press denouncing the idea as “putting too much power in the hands of one person”.

    Mallon then went on to support Coppinger’s campaign to become our first Police and Crime Commissioner. Prior to the installation of PCC’s, Barry Coppinger was a senior figure on Cleveland Police Authority, the body replaced by the creation of PCC’s.

    Now, we must ask ourselves, “Why would a disgraced former Cleveland Police Senior Officer and former senior member of Cleveland Police Authority want to ensure that the role of PCC, a role which they both declared as a bad idea, was won by the former member of Cleveland Police Authority, Barry Coppinger, thus ensuring that no real change occurred in the most senior roles within Cleveland Police?”

    Was Coppinger aware of the allegations made against Simon Hurwood? And, if so, when was he first made aware of it? Was it when he was PCC, or back in the days of Cleveland Police Authority? The supposed remit of a PCC is to hold their respective forces to account on behalf of the public. It seems that Coppingers personal remit is to try to keep certain dark and dirty closets locked firmly shut for as long as possible.

    Maybe this is what the new Chief Constable Mike Veale (unemployable by the standards of any other police force in the country following his involvement in Operation Conifer – the official investigation into abuse allegations made against the late Sir Ted Heath – but handed a Golden Ticket at Cleveland Police after Wiltshire Police refused to renew his contract, potentially making him a compliant ‘whipping-boy’ for the PCC) meant when he said recently that the challenges in the Cleveland Police force are unlike any other?

    Like

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