Staring into the abyss

As an eight year old lad, I was hit by a car whilst crossing the main road near the tied colliery cottage in Whitwood, Castleford that was my family home at that time (number fifteen, the house with the unkempt gable in the picture).

The injuries were not life threatening, but I was detained in hospital for five days. I retain little, or no, memory of what was, most fortunately, a glancing blow impact.

When consciousness returned the next day, a policeman from the now defunct West Riding Constabulary was soon at my bedside, along with my parents. They were, of course, anxious to hear an account of what had happened. I told them about my errand to the newsagents, almost opposite the landmark Rising Sun public house, coming out of the shop, looking both ways before attempting to cross, seeing a car coming from my left, nothing from my right. Judging that I could beat the car, as a notably fast runner, I sped across the road.

It wasn’t possible to say whether the car, later identified as a Wolseley sedan used in a post office robbery in neighbouring Normanton, had hit me with its offside or nearside wing. It, very obviously, hadn’t struck me head on. The driver may have stopped, briefly, to ascertain my condition, but he didn’t remain at the scene and was never caught.

All I could usefully report was that it appeared grey in colour with a large chrome radiator grille and bumpers. My elder, much loved, and now sorely missed, sister found me in the road, nearer the centre than the far kerb. It was Jacqueline that had despatched me to the shop with the usual inducement of a penny for sweets. By the time she was at the scene, other cars had stopped and an ambulance, called for from the nearby pub, was on its way.

After the police officer left, my father robustly challenged my account and suggested I had been reading the evening newspaper, the purpose of my errand, or had my nose in my bag of Sports Mixtures, and not looked before crossing the A655.

It was my fault – according to my father – and I’ve never forgotten the words he said, thereafter: “If you tell one lie, you will end up telling five or six more to cover up the first one”. They are quoted by me, often, to this day.

To a young lad lying in hospital, with broken bones and crushed pride, when, in reality, he should have been on a mortuary slab, the accusation was deeply wounding. The pain is still felt over 50 years later. More excruciating because there was no apology from my father when, a couple of weeks later, our local bobby told my parents about the escaping villains in a stolen vehicle. Which appeared to support my account, in part, at the very least.

I had told the truth, and had been caught out by the speed of the car, but that flawed, and summary, parental guilty verdict was etched in the front of my mind. As was the fact, that I learned over the years, my father very rarely explained or apologised for anything, up to the day he died in 2014. But, in that regard, he was no different to most other men hewn from coal mining stock in the many surrounding pit villages.

Latterly, I’ve been drawn into another ‘car-crash’ investigation, this time in North Manchester, the site of the region’s police headquarters, rather than a quiet West Riding backwater, just off the M62. There has also been a second incident in Central London, at New Scotland Yard, as the country’s largest police force has failed to apply the brakes and prevent a slow-motion collision with a pedestrian, plodding investigative journalist unnaturally driven to uncover the truth.

Again, allegations of lying, lack of explanation or apology are the central themes. Its aftermath has already spawned three articles on this website.

Mystery of the missing peer review

Your cheque is in the post

Peering into the gloom

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) is a force that has attracted a lot of adverse media attention over the past few years and, in particular, its seeming ability not to come clean about its shortcomings, explain them, learn lessons, apologise and move on. Instead, it has a senior leadership team that is perenially mired in deceit and ‘cover-up’.

The present chief constable, Ian Hopkins, having joined GMP in 2008 as one of Sir Peter Fahy’s assistant chiefs, promoted to deputy in 2011, then taking over the top job, unopposed, in 2015, has been at the scene of much of the controversy.

This latest, and still expanding, investigation into alleged GMP impropriety started with a notion that the force was, once again, hiding the truth over internal failures. But, taken at its face, appeared relatively innocuous at the outset, compared to those by other newspaper, radio and TV journalists covering, for example, death or industrial scale rape and trafficking of children.

On any view, it is a quite extraordinary tale and GMP has now dragged the Metropolitan Police Service under the bus with them. It began, in November, 2015, with an entire front page of a newspaper taken up with a photograph of a newly invested chief constable, accompanying a hard-hitting story of a repeatedly called for, long-overdue corruption inquiry.

The once-mighty Met was, it was said, to spend six weeks in Manchester investigating GMP’s much-criticised internal affairs department, otherwise known as the Counter Corruption Unit (CCU). A root and branch process that would settle the ‘corruption’ argument one way or the other. Hopkins vigourously denies any wrongdoing of his police force and, by implication, himself.

Of some concern at the time, but not, apparently, to the newspaper’s reporter or editor, the Met invasion was designated to be a process known within policing as a ‘peer review’. A long way short of a misconduct or criminal investigation, by another police force, that many deemed essential.

The CCU, a secretive, undercover investigative unit, forms one limb of GMP’s Professional Standards Branch (PSB). Another is the PSBi, known as the Professional Standards Investigation Unit, which, ostensibly, deals with overt resolution of public complaints. A third is the Force Vetting Unit, and, lastly, Legal Services.

The role, and importance, of the latter is often misunderstood by the public, as the primary function of the PSBi is to prevent, at source, civil claims being successfully mounted by complainants. That applies to the professional standards departments of every police force in the country. If they came clean to the public, and properly explained the dynamics, it would save so much time and frustration to those wronged by the police.

An unseen, and too often unseemly, activity of the CCU is to target officers who become a problem to the reputation of the force by speaking out against wrongdoing by other officers. They are subject to intensive and, often, seriously intrusive scrutiny in order to discredit and ultimately drive them out of the police service.

Ex-Superintendent John Buttress is the highest profile example of this tactic as the CCU were, for example, permitted, without sanction, to seriously tamper with witness evidence and criminally hack the phone of his partner as part of a grotesque, highly-publicised witch-hunt. By contrast, Assistant Chief Constable Steve Heywood was allowed to retire after the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute him on the most compelling evidence. The working hypothesis is that the CCU attack dogs were not unleashed on Heywood to dig up other dirt, just in case the CPS ‘bottled it’ over his lying in oral evidence to a public inquiry, and forging a document disclosed to it.

The Met’s peer review team did not look at the Buttress file. Nor is their any suggestion in their final written report that any of the other controversial files were examined, either.

The three previous ‘peer review’ articles covered the genesis, execution and aftermath of the Met’s visit to Manchester, in forensic detail. A fifth article will follow this one, demonstrating that GMP’s professional standards function, post peer review, is as deplorable as ever.

The focus of this fourth article is the huge gap between expectation and delivery: What the local newspaper projected as a robust, thorough, warts and all investigation and the pale imitation, talking-shop that actually took place at Manchester police HQ.

After the third article, a highly critical take down of what can only be described as an inter-force ‘whitewash’, a statement from the GMP chief constable was sought, via his press office, in order to explain the difference. This is the lengthy response, attributed to a force spokesperson.

“In late 2015 a programme of work to transform Greater Manchester Police’s Professional Standards Branch was put in place. As part of this work a range of activities were undertaken including a full, in depth independent review, a peer review and oversight from an external group.

“The Peer Review by the Metropolitan Police originally planned for 6 weeks in late 2015 had been delayed due to operational matters. This was rescheduled to May 2016 by which time substantial work was already underway as part of the independent review. The peer review therefore was focused as an assessment of the progress that had been made and changes which were planned. This was reduced from the initial scope to two days as this was sufficient for its revised purpose – to support the independent review and transformational change programme which had started in Nov 2015. The Peer report was provided to GMP in December 2016.

“The external reference group was established in Feb 2016 with an independent chairperson. Representatives on the group included a wide range of individuals with expertise and views about the work around professional standards. They continued to provide support and advice until June 2017.

“The programme of work has led to changes being made to the way professional standards operates in GMP and we are continuing to review and develop this work. Since then there have been reviews by HMICFRS (Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Service) and the IOPC (Independent Office for Police Conduct) who have raised no issues of significant concern.”

There was no comment, as specifically requested, from the normally voluble chief constable.

A request for clarification of a press statement that, plainly and unexpectedly, introduced a tranche of what appears to be significant new information, regarding the alleged review of GMP’s PSB was, however, plainly necessary. There is no open source material available to support any of the assertions made by the press office about independent and external scrutiny, other than the Met’s peer review. A search of the two police watchdog websites was not immediately fruitful, either.

The second press request was thus formulated:

“There is no wish to be a burden to a busy press office but this is a matter directly affecting public confidence, not only in GMP, but in the wider police service.

Independent review: Who carried it out, when did it start and end, was there a closing report (the latter would be subject of an FOIA request, of course)?

External reference group: Please provide details of name of the group, and its constituent members, and, also, direct me to any publications made either by GMP, or the group, before, during or after the review. This is necessary to establish their credentials for carrying out the work. Only the Chair would be named in the article, unless the other Members raised no objection to being named, or their names are already in the public domain.

HMICFRS and IPCC (IOPC): Can you please direct me to the ‘watchdog’ reports referenced in your press statement?

“These require scrutiny, and further comment from them, as my own extensive experience of PSB (which is the subject of the next in the series of peer review articles) leaves me in no doubt, whatsoever, that the department is still quite shockingly run, with little or no discernible commitment to the requisite ethical or professional standards. A matter I have articulated, at some length, to DCC Pilling, over a lengthy period, including the email dated 24th March, 2018 which is attached as a pdf.”

 

The press office replied as follows:

“We have nothing further to add to the statement and report you have received on this. If you wish to seek further information then please put in an FOI request.

“With regards to where the reports are, you will need to speak to those respective organisations if you want to find/access their reports.”

This, from a police force that jumps on any ‘open and transparent’ bandwagon that rolls past. Even by press office standards, and GMP are one of the better ones it must be said, it is a woeful abdication of ethical and professional responsibilty.

Quite apart from which, it could safely be argued, the information sought, via the press office, should be part of a police force’s publication scheme on their own website, or that of the elected policing body that provides oversight. That is the effect of guidance given to public authorities by the Information Commissioner, a statutory regulator.

In any event, the questions, as framed, should have posed no difficulties at all if there is nothing to hide: Who undertook the reviews, when did they start and finish, where are the reports?

The irony is, also, completely lost on the press office that the peer review, and the transformational change programme within which it was embedded, was designed to improve the experience of those engaging directly with the force, and stakeholders who had lost confidence in GMP as a result of swathes of adverse publicity connected to corruption allegations.

A sub-optimal response, as this one can safely be characterised, is simply an open invitation to a journalist for the delivery of more stinging criticism. Kicking off with the wasting of substantial amounts of not only my time, but those dealing with freedom of information (FOI) requests within GMP, HMICFRS, IOPC, College of Policing, National Police Chiefs Council and the Greater Manchester Mayor’s office. All avoidable, with a minimal amount of effort from a GMP press officer and one GMP PSB administration assistant, or low ranking detective.

What follows, by way of further investigation, is a piece by piece dismantling of the GMP press office statement, with, almost inevitably, more deceit and double-speak exposed. It will be re-assembled after the disclosures from the various FOI requests are received, around the end of January, 2019. A delay which appears to be the only motivation for GMP providing a statement of such obviously poor quality.

The starting point has to be the introduction, by the press office, or the directing mind behind their statement, into the peer review ambit, of the “independent review” and the “external reference group”. In a five month, fairly intensive, journalistic investigation of the peer review, this is the first heard of this additional form of scrutiny.

I was alert to the possibility that they could be one and the same, but the press office would have made that clear, surely? So, this analysis proceeds taking the force spokesperson’s words at their ordinary meaning.

Returning to the genesis of this saga, there was no mention by Chief Constable Hopkins of anything other than a peer review on the now infamous Manchester Evening News front page. The Metropolitan Police were put up as the solution to the problem, and no-one else. It also begs the question that if GMP have the country’s largest, and much the most important, police force giving an organisational problem the ‘once over’ during a six-week review, why would anyone else be needed?

In an article published by the MEN in September, 2016, it was noted that the peer review by the Met had taken place, but attributes no source and, most certainly, does not mention either of the other two reviews. The working hypothesis being that the local newspaper was also blissfully unaware of their existence:

“The peer review by the Metropolitan Police was carried out at the request of Chief Constable Ian Hopkins, in a bid to draw a line under the [corruption] allegations which stretch back at least two years and which it vigorously denies.

“A separate investigation has been carried out by Kent Police into 17 allegations of corruption made by sacked former chief inspector John Buttress.”

The thrust of the MEN article was that a member of GMP’s counter-corruption team was under investigation for alleged fraud. The CCU officer, believed to be of managerial rank, is one of several being investigated after the force received information from a whistleblower concerning the alleged inappropriate disposal of £100,000 worth of vehicles.

* Since this article was first published on 18th December, 2018 information has come to light that the CCU officer, an inspector (whose name is known), was cleared of any wrongdoing. He was formerly a covert officer in GMP CID and the alleged fraud concerned members of his team selling vehicles previously used in undercover operations at below book value. *

The next stop in the search for the peer review truth was a trawl of the Manchester Mayor’s website. He, and his Deputy, are the de facto police commissioner for the region, with a statutory remit to appoint, dismiss and provide oversight of the chief constable. It did shed some light, but does not assist either Mr Hopkins, or his press office. Quite the opposite, in fact.

This is an extract from the Deputy Mayor’s Independent Ethics Committee meeting on 28th January, 2016 tucked away under Any Other Business:

“Ian Hopkins gave the Committee a brief update with regards to the general review of the Professional Standards Branch in GMP, and in relation to individual cases. Reports in relation to this are expected within the next few months.”

No questions relating to the ‘general review’ were raised by any Ethics Committee Member and, it appears, no advance notice of the Manchester Evening News article, loudly trumpeting the Metropolitan Police peer review, was given to the Committee by Mr Hopkins, at their previous meeting on 15th November, 2015. Even though it occupied the whole of the front page of that newspaper just four days later.

Neither the words ‘independent review’ or ‘external reference group’ were mentioned to the committee on either occasion. On that basis, the Ethics Committee, led by the Bishop of Manchester, Right Reverend David Walker is dismissed as having partaken in any meaningful ‘independent’, or ‘external’, review of GMP’s PSB or CCU. The Bishop has previously served as a human rights panel member at the College of Policing. Which would make for an interesting brainwashing competition.

The Ethics Committee was the brainchild of the previous Police and Crime Commissioner, Tony Lloyd, who instituted it in early 2015. In a letter to HMICFRS talking head, Zoe Billingham, Lloyd signalled that a process of reform in GMP was already under way, with particular focus on both PSB and CCU (read in full here). This, of course, differs from the press statement wherein it states the process began in November 2015.

In the months after the Met’s peer review was said to be delivered to GMP, there were two meetings of the Ethics Committee. Attended, respectively, by Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling and Ian Hopkins. The minutes of those meetings reveal that there is no mention of the peer review, or any other review of PSB.

After elimination of the Ethics Committee as a reviewing body for PSB transformation, the College of Policing and HMICFRC websites were the next locations searched for open source data connected to the various alleged reviews of GMP’s PSB and CCU. It was a short process. There is none. Freedom of information requests have, subsequently, been submitted to both.

Chief Superintendent Annette Anderson, who played a key liaison role with the Met, before and during the peer review, served for two years with HMIC, prior to its change of name, after they took over inspections of fire and rescue services. During her time with the inspectorate, a report was published that bears the title ‘Police Integrity and Corruption – Greater Manchester Police’ and is dated November 2014 (read here). It is a largely unimpressive piece of work, given the most serious of subject matter, that appears to be lacking in the necessary investigative rigour.

My own experience of dealing with HMIC, on disclosure and press issues, is memorable only for that organisation’s underwhelming mediocrity, led by a man with a chronic over-estimation of his own ability and judgement. Sir Thomas Winsor’s characterisation of the disgraced David Crompton, a former senior officer with GMP, and later chief constable of South Yorkshire Police (SYP), as ‘an exceptional police officer’, in civil proceedings fought out in the Royal Courts of Justice, defied comprehension. I sat in the press seats, a few feet away from both, quite simply agog.

HMICFRS has, also, fairly recently formed an External Reference Group to advise on policing protests (read here). Incredibly, its panel includes another disgraced ex-SYP chief, Meredydd Hughes, who gave, arguably, the worst evidence ever, to a Parliamentary Select Committee, when questioned over his knowledge of industrial scale rape and trafficking of children, over the entirety of his period in charge of that disgraced force (view video here). Hughes is also on the list of discredited ex-GMP senior officers, having served there as an assistant chief constable from 1999 until 2002.

The suspicion is now raised over the efficacy of such groups, if this is a sample of the selection of its constituents. It may well explain why the GMP press office were reluctant to reveal more details of their own?

A FOI request has also been submitted to the IOPC, seeking details of their alleged involvement in the subject reviews. Whilst not attributable to the IPCC (as they were then known) an undated, 22 page document did surface. It appears to have been produced internally by un-named officers in GMP’s professional standards team for the consumption of the police commissioner at the time, Tony Lloyd (read here). It is largely statistical, but in one interesting paragraph it reveals the appointment in 2014, by Lloyd, of a Greater Manchester Complaints Ombudsman, retired judge William Morris, to work alongside Lloyd’s deputy, Jim Battle, dip sampling PSB files. It appears that files were inspected, and reviewed, on this basis once, but there is no trace of further activity, records or minutes, via open source. Battle continued to sit on the Ethics Committee until recently.

Absent of substantive responses to the FOI requests, the preliminary view is that the ‘independendent review’ and ‘external oversight group’ activities, relied upon by the GMP press office, amount to much the same as the fabled Emperor’s New Clothes.

Attention is now turned to the other anomalies in the GMP statement:

Firstly, it is claimed that the peer review report was delivered by the Met to GMP on 22nd December, 2016. But the document is clearly dated on its front cover, 7th January, 2017.

Secondly, it is claimed that the peer review was delayed by ‘operational matters’. The reality is that, the terms of reference, a two page document, was not drafted by DCC Pilling until the end of March, 2016. The Met responded extraordinarily quickly after that. GMP had previously claimed, in writing, that the terms were drafted by the Met, not by Pilling. They have not responded to a request for an explanation of that anomaly.

Thirdly, the GMP claim that the work of the Met’s peer review team could be reduced from six weeks to two days, on the basis of the other claimed reviews, simply has no evidence base and appears fanciful, at best: The Met’s peer review report and appendices, within its 42 pages, make no mention at all of the work, or findings, of any other reviewer, or how their own task was related, or joined, to them.

Fourthly, as alluded to earlier in this piece, an informed insight into the inner workings of GMP’s PSB, post peer review, is that it is still in a desperate state. Not assisted in any way by its two principals, Anderson and Pilling, lacking the necessary grasp of the applicable statutory framework. Or, failing to adhere to it, if they do. Also, deploying a hopelessly incompetent Complaints Manager, Mike Thornton, whose very presence blights the whole department.

Thornton, unbelievably, is a delegate of the chief constable in a role known as Appropriate Authority. Which more than anything, informs on the importance, or lack of, that GMP attaches to ethics, professionalism and the effective, efficient resolution, or disposal, of public complaints.

Following the email sent to DCC Pilling in March, 2018 – a blistering, fully evidenced condemnation of the PSB under his leadership – and sent to the press office to assist their reply, I wrote again to Pilling, in early November, 2017, following the exposure of subsequent calamities. He was invited to reflect on the wisdom of having the key role of complaints manager filled by an officer plainly unsuited to the role. His reply, which, I believe, was drafted by Thornton, was both vacuous and peurile, and, as is usual in my dealings with him, fails to address the core issue.

Any implication of improvement in PSB following the various reviews, as alluded to in the press statement, is simply untrue. A matter put to them, with some force, in my follow up questions. To which, of course, they declined to answer, at all. On any independent view, a continuation of the organisational lack of truthfulness which has characterised this investigation from the very outset.

My father’s body was cremated in April, 2014 after a short, poignant, private service. When the coffin was touched in a last farewell, I wanted to believe he may have gone to a better place. The last few years of a life that lasted almost 86 years were blighted by the most terrible dementia, having previously survived bowel cancer, first diagnosed in 1980-81. At that time, he was given only 6 months to live, but he was a proud Yorkshireman, with the love of a wife, Vera, utterly devoted to him for all their adult lives, to cling to. He survived 33 more years, although his propensity for evidence-free, snap judgements did, thankfully, diminish over the years. It is also true to say that my own indulgence of them increased, correspondingly, with advancing maturity.

Alan Wilby may look down on his son, or up, who knows, and say to himself: ‘Might have been a bit hard on the lad, but he certainly learned the difference between right and wrong, truth and lies’.

My promise to the old man is that I will get to the bottom of this peer review farrago, and change for the better, for the taxpaying public in Manchester, will be brought about, one way or another.

As a footnote, my dear mother, who passed away in January, 2018, did not approve of anything that was critical of the police. Including my own investigative journalism. She had this unswerving, old-fashioned faith in their efficiency, effectiveness, fairness and honesty. As so many of her generation did. The liars and deceivers in the present day police service should deeply reflect upon where all that went wrong.

 

Page last updated on Sunday 23rd December, 2018 at 0720hrs

Picture credit: Roy Hampson and Shirley Schofield

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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