Peering Into The Gloom

In an article published on this website on 11th November, 2018, ‘The mystery of the missing peer review’ (read in full here), the importance of freedom of information (FOI) requests as an aid to journalism was highlighted.

It investigated the background to an alleged ‘cover-up’ by the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police over well-publicised allegations of misconduct and criminality within his Counter Corruption Unit (CCU). The wider public might better recognise the CCU as the equivalent of the AC12 department in the hugely popular television drama, Line of Duty.

As that article explored, ‘The mystery’ centred on the silence that followed  a front page splash in the local newspaper trumpeting, what many believed, was to be a root and branch investigation that would settle, once and for all, whether his Professional Standards Board (PSB) was responsible for corrupt investigation outcomes. Read article in full here.

Within GMP, as with most other police forces, the secretive CCU operates under the overarching PSB umbrella. It also includes the departments that control disclosure under both the Freedom of Information Act and Data Protection Act. The newspaper described Manchester’s versions as “feared and loathed“.

The previous article posited three possible explanations for the ‘missing’ peer review report, and why the chief constable, or his deputy, who has portfolio responsibility for PSB, was refusing to be drawn into any statement, and stubbornly resisted publishing the findings of the review.

In summary, they were:-

– The peer review didn’t take place.

– The peer review did take place, but was a complete sham.

– The peer review did take place, but there was never any intention to produce a closing report.

Five days after the article appeared – and drew widespread attention on social media – a response to a FOI request made to GMP in August, 2018 was finally provided. All efforts, over the previous three months, to persuade the police force to even acknowledge the request had failed. They had broken the law, repeatedly, to prevent a journalist getting to the truth of this increasingly vexed matter.

The unlawful conduct of the Met is similarly grounded: Significant disclosure to a request first made in July, 2018 is still withheld, as excuse after excuse is given for the delay. None of them, taken at their face, appear remotely credible. It has spawned a separate, excoriating article on this website, ‘Your Cheque Is In The Post’ (read here).

A notice issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) expired on Wednesday 12th December, 2018. Which, potentially, places the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service in contempt of court once a Decision Notice is issued by the statutory regulator. On any view, a very serious matter indeed.

Over, and above, the Met’s precarious legal postion, even holding the country’s largest, and most important, police force to ridicule, on social media, has failed to squeeze out the requested peer review documents before the expiry of that ICO notice.

Without a doubt, something very important is at stake here and, when routinely dealing with the police, that usually amounts to only two things: Covering up their own wrongdoing, and protecting the reputations of senior officers whose fingerprints are on the misconduct.

The delays by both police forces to the requests for disclosure, very much in the public interest, give the impression that they are connected, and co-ordinated, at very senior officer level, whilst hard-pressed civilian disclosure officers, and lawyers, are placed in the firing line, to take the inevitable flak.

The partial disclosure of documents connected to the Peer Review, eventually made by GMP on 16th November, 2018, do not, readily, answer any of the three hypotheses expounded in the previous article. Indeed, they actually pose more questions about both the intent of the review – plainly not designed to be any sort of interrogative process, focused on alleged corruption, and the provenance of the documents provided.

The disclosure consists of, firstly, the Terms of Reference (ToR) for the Peer Review, a two page document, with an Appendix of the same length. It is headed ‘Transforming Professional Standards in Greater Manchester Police‘ and dated 31st March, 2016 (read in full here). Secondly, a report titled ‘MPS Peer Review of Greater Manchester Police Professional Standards Branch‘. The date on the cover sheet is 9th/10th May, 2016. There are thirteen pages, with four appendices, which include the ToR, totalling a further twenty pages.

The ToR’s are disclosed, almost in full, but, curiously, the names of Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling and Chief Superintendent Annette Anderson are redacted from the document. There is certainty that they are the officers involved, as their names were freely provided by GMP, in response to a separate FOI request made in September, 2016. It is a founding principle of the Freedom of Information Act that disclosure is ‘to the world’, not to an individual requester and, in those circumstances, one must question the motive of of Pilling and Anderson for not wanting to put names to their own work.

Information volunteered to the author of this piece, by Detective Constable Christopher Prince, himself attached to GMP’s PSB, that the same Annette Anderson is the directing mind behind the latest peer review freedom of information request to GMP, simply underscores the concern over the validity of the disclosure, the time it has taken to finalise, and the foreboding, and repeating, sense of yet another GMP ‘cover-up’.

The marked reluctance of the otherwise ineffective, inefficient DC Prince, presumably under the same senior officer direction, to conduct an appropriate investigation – or any investigation at all it seems – into the wrongdoings associated with this disclosure fiasco, is also seriously troubling. Particularly, as it is against every tenet of the applicable statutory framework, and regulatory guidance, that a lowly detective constable, with what appear to be seriously limited competencies, and a notably poor attitude, should be tasked with investigating the two most senior officers, a chief superintendent and a deputy chief constable, in the very same department.

A further concern is that in another freedom of information response made by Greater Manchester Police, in June 2017, they said, unequivocally, that the Terms of Reference were set by the Met, and NOT by GMP. Which, in the event, has now been proved to be yet another blatant lie in this increasingly troubled matter.

It is worth repeating here, from the previous article, that another GMP lie concerning the Peer Review was also uncovered by collateral freedom of information requests. In one made by Neil Wilby, finalised on 29th November, 2016 no disclosure was made regarding the existence of the Met’s Peer Review when the request specifically required them to do so. This goes directly to the heart of the deceit, and double-speak, that has been an ever-present feature of the Review, since its existence was first broadcast over three years ago.

Analysis of the ToR, which, the force want the public to believe, were finalised four months after the sensational newspaper article, reveals a very different framework to the process anticipated, deliberately or otherwise, from the narrative on the Manchester Evening News front page. The focus of which was the persistent corruption allegations made by police officers, past and present, against GMP’s PSB and, particularly, their CCU, and the sweeping derogation of those claims by their chief constable who, essentially, branded the complainants embittered troublecausers.

It was, very plainly, NOT planned to be an adversarial ‘go where the evidence takes us’ investigation that would unearth, and address, the persistent allegations of GMP wrongdoing, aired regularly in the media.

DCC Pilling, instead, wanted the peer review to be ‘neutral, inquisitorial and supportive‘.  Its guiding theme was to be ‘meaningful insight, common understanding and to value how GMP PSB was operating‘ at the time of the review.

Pilling develops that theme in the Appendix to the Terms of Reference, titled ‘Methodology’. In summary, he cites ‘consistency in [severity] assessments’; ‘supervisory oversight and scrutiny’; ‘detail and quality of [senior management] decision-making’ as the key points of focus of the review.

None of the words ‘phone-hacking’, ‘evidence-tampering’. ‘wrongdoing’, ‘malpractice’, ‘negligent’, ‘unlawful’, ‘unethical’, ‘unprofessional’, ‘abuse’, ‘subversion’, or ‘failure’ appear anywhere in the TOR, or the Appendix.

An independent commentator might well view the plenteous management-speak guff, together with a marked lack of cutting-edge to the process, as a conventional, behind closed doors, Greater Manchester Police box-ticking ‘whitewash‘. Mutually-aided, of course, by both the Metropolitan Police and the much-maligned College of Policing.

Crucially, Pilling allocated just two days for the on-site review, not the six week duration that the local press reported. Although, a closer reading, and a liberal interpretation of the agreed terms of the review, might, just might, persuade the public that the six weeks included post-review consultations and report writing. A far cry from the impression given by Hopkins in his newspaper interview, inadvertently or otherwise.

It was anticipated that the four review team officers, led by the Met’s Superintendent Gary Randall, under the overarching command of Deputy Assistant Commissioner Fiona Taylor, would have unfettered access to all case files, live or closed; PSB officers and staff, including shadowing investigators; and would be appropriately vetted and security cleared. The names of the other Met officers are redacted from the disclosures.

It is also worth noting that the ‘peer review’ was carried out by a detective superintendent from the Met, liaising with a chief superintendent and a deputy chief constable from the force under scrutiny. A ‘Subordinate Review‘ might, therefore, have been a more appropriate handle. DAC Taylor was not part of the ‘away’ team playing in North Manchester and is not mentioned anywhere in the report.

Also, whilst not directly applicable, under Statutory Guidance issued by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, the much-maligned police watchdog, officers investigating allegations against other police officers should be of at least equal rank. That is not to derogate Supt Randall’s ability, or experience, only his standing in the police hierarchy. He is a key player in Operation Winter Key, the Metropolitan Police investigation set up alongside the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse, and as a detective inspector led a robbery squad, with some notable successes, in North London.

Fiona Taylor, for her part, sensationally quit the Met after the announcement, earlier this year, that Sir Stephen House had been brought in over her head as assistant commissioner. ‘Bleak’ House, as he was known to colleagues (he was called much worse during his time as Divisional Commander in Bradford), reportedly retired from Police Scotland under a cloud, when other senior officers threatened to resign if he stayed. His reign as chief constable was never less than controversial.

Taylor thus returned to policing in Scotland in July, 2018, as deputy chief constable, days before the first information request was made about the Peer Review. She had previously served with both the Lothian and Strathclyde forces before they were merged into Police Scotland. She started her career with Lincolnshire Police 24 years ago and owes her meteoric rise in the police service, at least in part, to the accelerated fast track management programme introduced in 1998.

She will, again, have portfolio responsibility for professional standards in her new role, which may well concern some. Interestingly, she was also the Met’s lead on the discredited Public Inquiry into Undercover Policing (UCPI) in which the force remain utterly determined to conceal wrongdoing, and criminality, of their officers from both the victims and the public. Which concerns a great many more.

The Peer Review Final Report, as noted previously, amounts to just thirteen pages. It can be read, together with the four appendices, in full here.

The key points to be drawn from it are that the exercise was to be ‘non-threatening’ and the self-expressed role of the leader of the review was that of ‘critical friend’. That is to say, in police parlance, anything that can harm the reputation of the force, or the wider police service, is not to be exposed, or reported upon.

A vivid example of that is the approach to what was in the GMP PSB files, selected by a dip-sampling method. The only matters concerning the Met review team was the structure and formulation of a file, not the content, or how an investigation outcome had been reached. Whether that be lawfully, or unlawfully. Or, for example, by hacking an innocent bystander’s phone as happened in the infamous John Buttress case (read here). A second phone hack was carried out by the notorious CCU in 2014, but that remains covered up by GMP to this day.

The two day peer review, consisting mainly of informal focus group chats between the Met’s four officer team and low-ranking, and civilian, GMP professional standards officers, included a hot debrief, and peer review team debrief, that took up the afternoon of the second day. During which the review team also travelled back to London.

The report from that hot debrief forms part of the appendices to the final report. It amounts to very little. Unsurprising, given the actual reviewing amounted to less than a day’s discussions with junior officers.

Another appendix is an infographic, set out with the look of a school timetable. It is a stark, visual reminder of how pitiful this review was. A far cry from promises either made, or implied, in the Manchester Evening News.

It is clear from the ‘timetable’ that the Met Peer Review team spent almost as much time talking amongst themselves as they did with GMP officers. They did NOT shadow PSB investigators as the Terms of Reference indicated they would. There was no contact, at all, between the Met team and the CCU.

There also was no contact whatsoever, it seems, with any officer above the rank of chief inspector, after the brief introductions on the Monday morning, at which DCC Pilling and C/Supt Anderson may have been present. We do not know because GMP are not saying.

Remarkably, GMP claim that neither Pilling, nor Anderson, nor any other officer present, made any notes in their pocket, or day, books during the debrief. They are also refusing to reveal who was involved in that process.

One officer not involved was the Discipline Lead for Greater Manchester Police Federation, Aidan Kielty, whom, it might be argued, was crucial to any understanding, by the Met’s peer review team, of the inner workings of the force’s professional standards, and counter corruption, operations. Perhaps he knew too much?

Randall’s report was clearly set up to be a ‘whitewash’ and, unsurprisingly, amongst all the management-speak gobbledegook, that is exactly what it is. Not one single word of criticism of Greater Manchester Police’s Professional Standards Board is to be found in the Metropolitan Police final report. It is risible on any view, but, more particularly, in the context of the welter of criticism of GMP on network television and radio, and in regional and national newspapers.

It is also noteworthy, that such a report, containing little or nothing of substance, took seven and a half months to deliver to GMP – and raises the spectre of there having been, initially, no intention of producing one until questions were asked of GMP about its whereabouts in September, 2016. But even the date claimed by GMP, for delivery of the report, 22nd December, 2016 appears to be false. The sharp-eyed will notice that the report is dated 6th January, 2017. Perhaps it was delivered by a time machine similar to Dr Who’s Tardis.

GMP in response to a request to provide post-report correspondence with the Met have disclosed nothing. The inference being, that it was filed away in the ‘Boxes Ticked‘ drawer in DCC Pilling’s office and has never been seen since.

In that drawer, there will, undoubtedly, be a number of others where the police investigated the police and found nothing wrong.

Once the final Peer Review disclosures are eventually made by the Met, a further article will be published that looks in detail at case studies that highlight the shocking performance of both the Met and GMP professional standards units, since that report was written. This will add significant further context to the efficacy, or otherwise, of the Peer Review.

A request for a statement from the chief constable was made to the GMP press office on 11th November, 2018. It asked to address the disconnect between what appeared to be promised in the Manchester Evening News in 2015, and what was revealed by freedom of information disclosures three years later. A lengthy narrative was provided on the same day, attributed to a force spokesperson, that will require further analysis and questions.

The gist of the GMP response is that there has been a number of other scrutinies apart from the peer review, which was foreshortened due to a variety of factors, and the present day functionality of their PSB is, essentially, given the all-clear.

Further questions were put to GMP’s press office seeking substantiation of some of the assertions made in their statements. Several of which appeared, taken at their face, to be falsely grounded. Unsurprisingly, no reply has been, as yet, forthcoming.

A seperate article will cover the GMP statement and those subsequent questions. A further freedom of information request will also be necessary as GMP claim, without any supporting evidence, that other external, independent scrutinies took place before and after the Peer Review.

Police Scotland’s press office has also been approached with a request for a statement from DCC Fiona Taylor concerning her part in the alleged ‘whitewash’. As has the Met’s Gary Randall. No response has been forthcoming.

DC Prince was also offered right of reply. The email was not acknowledged.

* Since this article was first published, other important information has come to light. In a decision letter issued by the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC) on 18th April, 2018, following an investigation into the case of ex-GMP Inspector Mohammed Razaq, reference is made to the Peer Review at paragraph 27. The CCRC wrote to GMP asking for sight of the review. The police force said that it was not relevant as the review did not concern misconduct. *

 

Page last updated on Sunday 23rd December, 2018 at 0740hrs

Picture credit: World Productions

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.

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