Chief constable faces investigation over ‘false’ statement

Greater Manchester Police is the fourth largest force in the country. It has been the subject of a barrage of well aimed press criticism over the past year or so. Almost all of it by the leading ‘serious’ newspaper in the United Kingdom, The Times.

The ‘newspaper of record’ has also taken the unusual step of calling for a public inquiry into police corruption in Greater Manchester, by way of its hugely influential leader column. Read by every Prime Minister since William Pitt the Younger.

The source of most of the articles has been disclosures made by a retired Manchester detective, Peter Jackson. At the time of his retirement, he was a superintendent heading up GMP’s murder investigation team. Popular with both his peers and subordinates, he served the public in his home city with dedication, and distinction, for 31 years.

One of these articles made the front page of The Times on Saturday 23rd June, 2018 (read here). It exposed serious failings by senior officers who watched a thirteen year old boy enter the home of a suspected paedophile, and notorious career criminal, Dominic Noonan, and allowed the child to remain in the property with the villain, and an accomplice, for two hours. The covert surveillance was part of a wider investigation into Noonan (now known by the name of Domenyk Lattlay-Fottfoy) codenamed Operation Nixon. GMP has a long history of being given the runaround by Noonan and tried unsuccessfully, in 2006, to block the airing of a TV documentary featuring his gangster family (view here).

The officer in charge of the Noonan covert police operation, Dominic Scally, was promoted afterwards and now heads up the North West Counter Terrorism Unit. A role to which a significant number of serving, retired and ex-GMP officers, with hundreds of years service between them, feel he is entirely unsuited.

Following the article, and acting with unusual alacrity, GMP chief constable, Ian Hopkins, issued a controversial press statement on the very same day (read here). The central theme was that The Times splash, background spread and leader were “wholly misleading and unfair”. It was an unvarnished, and unattractive, attack on the widely respected journalist, Fiona Hamilton, her venerable newspaper, and Pete Jackson. It went far beyond the acceptable, and was, on any independent view, a clear abuse of his authority as a senior police officer. To the extent that it may amount to disreputable conduct, as referenced in Police Regulations. Equally crucially, there was no rebuttal of the core allegations of serious police force failings, highlighted by Miss Hamilton.

Central to the defence of his officers, and their actions, was the claim by Hopkins that the force had referred itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (now rebadged as Independent Office for Police Conduct) over the alleged Op Nixon failings and his confidence in the ‘completely independent’ police watchdog to provide effective oversight. In this particular case, the misconduct probes were codenamed Operation Poppy 1 and 2. (Read IPCC outcome reports here). As with so many IPCC investigations, indeed almost all that could be classified as high profile, Poppy took so long it went to seed and was condemned as a ‘whitewash’ by many of those close enough to the seat of the action.

Unfortunately for Hopkins, a whistleblower came forward with a tape recording of a meeting in police HQ, at which the chief was plainly heard to say that the IPCC were “abysmal” and incapable of carrying out “thorough investigations“. The timing was important as the chief constable’s comments were made the year before the first Poppy investigation was launched. These revelations, unsurprisingly, led to a follow-up article in The Times, three days later, in which the damning audio was embedded (read and listen here). Hopkins was, quite rightly, put to the sword by the tenacious crime and security editor, Fiona Hamilton.

The chief constable refused to provide a statement explaining his disparaging comments, but was reported at the time, by police insiders, to be in a rage over the article – and obsessed with hunting down the source of the leak to the newspaper.

In October, 2018 a third, and even more devastating, article on this same topic was published by The Times. Evidence showed that Hopkins’ central claim in his June 23rd statement was false. The force did NOT refer the investigation to the IPCC. They had, in fact, spent eighteen months doing everything they could to avoid any scrutiny of the Noonan failings. The fact is, Operation Poppy was brought about following disclosures made to the police watchdog by Peter Jackson. The defensiveness of the force, and its senior officers, together with the propensity to bury wrongdoing was exactly as Miss Hamilton had foretold in her preceding articles.

There has been no public response by Hopkins, or the GMP press office, to these latest revelations.

Unsurprisingly, and following the third newspaper article, Peter Jackson filed a formal misconduct complaint against his former colleague, Ian Hopkins. The core matter in issue is straightforward: The chief constable was not truthful in his 23rd June, 2018 press statement over the IPCC referral. He claims it was not deliberate, but, it must be noted, he took almost six months to come up with his defence. There is no mention of, or apology for, the highly damaging abuse meted out to whistleblower and reporter.

The policing body that has oversight responsibility for chief constables is the police and crime commissioner (PCC) for the area, or region. It is, in almost every case, a post elected by the public at the ballot box. Greater Manchester is one of the exceptions: It has an elected Mayor, Andy Burnham, whom, in turn, and in theory, selects a suitably experienced and capable official to the role of Deputy Mayor for Policing.

Unfortunately, in this particular case, the Mayor’s pick could scarcely have been worse. A 68 year old ex-MP crony, Dame Beverley Hughes, whose Parliamentary career was dogged by controversy. Including misleading the House in 2004, claiming she hadn’t seen a report when it was later proved that she had. An incident that has now come back to haunt her, in a number of ways.  Burnham and his Deputy worked together in the Home Office in the early 2,000’s and were both protégés of the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett.

The only career experience of Beverley Hughes, remotely connected to policing, was spending six years as a Merseyside probation officer, over forty years ago, whilst she continued her university studies in tandem.

Remarkably, this particular police commissioner, elected or otherwise, is what is known within the relevant statutory framework as the ‘Appropriate Authority’ for the disposal of complaints against a chief constable. The presumption is that she would know the applicable laws and regulations, maintain the necessary impartiality and have unimpeachable personal and professional integrity. Regrettably, Beverley Hughes, on all the evidence I have seen, does not tick any of those boxes.

It is uncontroversial to say that the Jackson complaint was dealt with entirely inappropriately by ‘Bev’, as she likes to be known, and, as is often the case with PCC’s, the ‘cover-up’ of alleged misconduct by chief constables becomes the story. Essentially, a phone call between Ian Hopkins, and the Deputy Mayor, was the entirety of what she claims was an ‘investigation’ that led to a ‘local resolution’ of the complaint. In which Hopkins was found, by Bev, to have done nothing wrong: In the unseemly rush to get the press statement out, he claims an inadvertent error was made over who made the IPCC referral.

Those familiar with the chief constable’s micro-management style, particularly in relation to the force’s PR output, will argue strongly against the likelihood of a genuine mistake. As will those with close knowledge of the acrimony, and controversy, amongst the key players in the lead up to the Op Poppy investigations. Hopkins as deputy chief constable at the material time was central in that drama.

Bev Hughes’ actions or, more accurately, inactions, drove a coach and horses through the relevant statutory framework and not one single legal, or ethical, requirement was followed throughout the process. Overlaid by misleading the complainant from start to finish over how the matter was being progressed.

Those shocking procedural failures could well have been connected to either Bev’s overly-cosy relationship with a chief constable, over whom she has a statutory duty to provide oversight, or the fact that she also issued a troubling, and plainly co-ordinated, statement attacking the The Times article. She described it as “deplorable, totally unjustified and completely wrong”. No attempt to issue a correction can be traced.

‘Bev’ also had the temerity to reference the deaths of two young female police officers in an attempt to slur Peter Jackson, when the reality is that both may well still be alive if his own warnings to fellow senior officers, regarding the deranged killer, had been heeded at the time.

It is understood that a second Jackson complaint, this time against the Deputy Mayor, is due to be lodged with the Greater Manchester Police and Crime Panel (PCP) over her handling of the complaint against the chief constable. The complaint will allege misconduct in public office, a criminal offence that will require a mandatory referral to the police watchdog (the IOPC), by the PCP, for a decision as to if, or how, the complaint is to be investigated.  They are the appointed body – packed tight with even more of Andy Burnham’s Labour Party cronies – designated to deal with such issues.

The Mayor’s original stance was, incredibly, that his Deputy had acted “with complete integrity” over the Jackson complaint. It is not known if he intends to maintain that entirely erroneous position.

Following a robust response from Pete Jackson to the outcome of his complaint against Hopkins, and a merciless shaming of Burnham, Hughes and their Deputy Director for Policing, Clare Monaghan, on social media, Burnham finally intervened, in spite of his apparent confidence in the Hughes ‘investigation’, and referred the matter to the IOPC for a method of investigation decision. As a result, Durham Constabulary was contacted substantively by Mrs Monaghan on 24th December, 2018, with an invitation to investigate the Jackson complaint on behalf of the Greater Manchester Mayor. The latter having taken over conduct of the matter from his hapless Deputy.

In a police operation now codenamed Mackan, Durham chief constable, Mike Barton, will have overall responsibility, and sign off the investigation into Ian Hopkins, as Gold Commander. Silver Commander is Durham’s former head of professional standards, Darren Ellis, now employed by the force as a civilian investigator

A Durham Constabulary spokesman said: “Whilst some information has been received [from the Manchester Mayor’s office] there is a need for more to be forwarded at this stage.

“As the ‘instruction’ to engage with us is in the very early stages we are not in receipt of any preliminary assessments from GMP, nor any specific terms of reference.

“Until Durham Constabulary are fully ‘read in’ to matters and fully understand what is expected we will not move forward. To assist with this, we have arrangements in place to speak to an involved party in the near future.

“Until matters progress we are unable to estimate how long this piece of work will take.”

Which, de-coded, appears to say that Durham stand ready, but neither GMP, nor the Mayor’s office, despite the passage of five weeks, have given them the tools necessary to do the job. Given all that has gone before, that should surprise no-one. It is assumed that the ‘involved party’ is Peter Jackson, as his consent would be needed to allow Durham to proceed with evidence gathering.

Mike Barton, whom Durham colleagues variously describe as a “nutter” and a “maverick” (read more hereand here) also undertook the ‘outside force’ investigation, in 2016, into the gross misconduct allegations against GMP’s Assistant Chief Constable, Rebekah Sutcliffe, over the notorious ‘Titgate’ scandal. It is not known, at this stage, if Mr Ellis was involved. Ms Sutcliffe received a final written warning before a disciplinary hearing, chaired by Rachel Crasnow QC (who also chaired the recently concluded hearing into bullying allegations against ex-Cheshire chief constable, and former GMP deputy chief, Simon Byrne). The repentent Ms Sutcliffe made full and frank admissions from the outset, so that particular investigation was, on any view, rather less taxing than the present renewal (read more here). The curious might enquire why, with 42 other police forces to choose from, Durham’s turn has come around again so quickly*.

[UPDATE* A plausible answer may be that Greater Manchester’s portfolio holder for professional standards, Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling, and Barton were colleagues at Lancashire Constabulary. Both started their careers in that force, in 1980 and 1990 respectively. They would have been closely involved in the Sutcliffe investigation, as Pilling led the mob baying for her dismissal from the police service. Pilling’s predecessor as GMP PSB portfolio holder was also a former long-serving Lancashire officer, Dawn Copley. She joined in 1987 and left to join GMP as an assistant chief constable in 2010. She was never far from controversy, it is fair to say, and became the shortest ever serving chief constable in police service history after joining South Yorkshire Police. The intervention of two journalists, both of whom I know well, led to her removal after less than 24 hours.]

Nevertheless, given my own interaction with Durham Constabulary, there are serious and well-grounded concerns over their capability, or willingness, to carry out robust, thorough and impartial investigations on behalf of other police forces, or policing bodies. Indeed, my views are well rehearsed both on this website, the What Do They Know website, and on social media: “A grubby little police force that does favours for other police forces.” Durham is very well aware of that stance – and the well evidenced reasons upon which it is grounded. Much of which is set out in forensic detail here. Those robust allegations stand unchallenged by their controversy-courting chief constable whom, it must be said, is not usually backward in coming forward, as we say in Yorkshire.

Durham Constabulary also seriously, gratuitously and repeatedly, libelled me. Aided and abetted, incredibly, by the National Police Chiefs Council and, less surprisingly, North Yorkshire Police, over a freedom of information request that, ultimately, revealed a badly organised and shamelessly poor fraud investigation, carried out by Durham, on behalf of the latter, that is still, to this present day, the subject of a multi-agency ‘cover-up’.

Over £2,500 was spent in legal fees preparing a defamation claim against Mike Barton and Durham, but that was abandoned on counsel’s advice which was, essentially: ‘They have plainly libelled you, but will bleed you white on costs’.

A prescient remark, given what has transpired subsequently in other legal proceedings between us: Mr Barton and I will face one another in county court later this year. A claim under section 13(2) of the Data Protection Act, 1998 rests, presently, with Durham County Court (the third court to have dealt with the matter). He has, already, tried to circumvent the court’s mediation process on *three* separate occasions, and, instead, spent around £5,000 on legal fees, with a large Sheffield law firm and a London barrister, in a hopelessly misconceived defence of the claim. Which he would be perfectly entitled to do, of course, if it was his own money he was squandering. But it isn’t. It belongs to the hard-working precept payers of County Durham and Mr Barton should, in all truth, take better care of it.

[UPDATE ** Five days after this article was published I received an email from Small Claims Mediation Service (SCMS) to say the chief constable had, yet again, rejected mediation, in spite of a judge’s Direction to seek resolution by those means.]

The final cost, if the matter goes to trial, and Barton being cross-examined, by me, is something to be relished if it does, is likely to be well in excess of £10,000. To settle the claim would require a fraction of that cost, together with an admission of the breach, and an apology.

But there we are, that is how money-no-object, don’t-blame-me policing operates at the highest levels in this country. I see it every day with the three Yorkshire police forces with whom I’m closely involved.

For all these reasons, and the fact that I propose to provide a relevant, and collateral, witness statement to Durham, regarding well-evidenced integrity concerns around Ian Hopkins’ stewardship of GMP, in which I am both a significant stakeholder and a target for harassment by GMP senior managers, an even more keen eye than usual will be kept on the investigation into this complaint against the under-siege Greater Manchester chief constable. Made by, arguably, the country’s best known police whistleblower.

[***UPDATE. Information has been passed to me, by a bereaved complainant, of another sub-optimal Durham PSD investigation where dishonesty and/or deception may well be a factor. The evidence includes covert tape recordings of telephone conversations and meetings. Taken at their face they are concerning, to say the least.]

[****UPDATE. More information has come to light from another complainant who has very strong evidence of alleged, and potentially very serious, breaches of Standards of Professional Behaviour by Durham PSD. Darren Ellis is well aware of these as he, personally, refused to meet with the complainant. A sensible, measured, reasonable, but doggedly persistent, individual.]

[*****I wrote to Silver Command, civilian investigator Darren Ellis, on 20th February, 2019, to express concerns over both his own conduct and Durham’s suitability to carry out this investigation. His response was controversial to say the least (read more here)]

Greater Manchester Police and the Mayor’s office have been approached for comment. It will be something akin to turning wine into water if the latter even acknowledge the request.

Peter Jackson has declined to do so, in order to preserve the integrity of the Durham investigation.

Page last updated on Friday 22nd February, 2019 at 0020hrs

Picture credit: Scottish Parliament TV

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

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2019. 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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