Disgraced Durham detective to face further scrutiny

An appeal against the outcome of an investigation into alleged dishonesty of Greater Manchester Police chief constable was lodged with the Independent Office of Police Conduct on 16th July, 2019.

The allegations focus on the truthfulness and nature of a vitriolic, ad hominem public response by Ian Hopkins to an article written in the The Times by Crime Editor, Fiona Hamilton. It centred on GMP’s mishandling of surveillance of a known and active paedophile, Domenyk Noonan, who was also a key player in a serious and organised crime network in the Manchester area (read the background to the complaint and The Times story here).

The investigation report, running to 66 pages, plus a large number of appendices, was signed off by the now retired Durham Constabulary chief constable, Michael Barton. It has come in for withering criticism from the complainant, Peter Jackson, a nationally-known police whistleblower who retired at the rank of temporary superintendent. The core finding is that Hopkins has ‘no case to answer’.

Littered with grammar and spelling mistakes, it mirrors a previously published report authored and signed off by Barton. This was into another largely-failed Durham investigation concerning Police Scotland. It conveys an impression of amateurs doing a professional’s job.

Which begs the question: Why, over the past three years, has a small county force, with very limited resources, been involved in four very high profile ‘outside force’ investigations: Two for GMP, including this one. The other being the ‘Titgate’ scandal, in which the Durham investigation resulted in Rebekah Sutcliffe, controversially, NOT being sacked. The other is the highly vexed Operation Yurta.  An investigation  for the Police Service of Northern Ireland around the Loughinisland massacre, in which PSNI were conflicted over a previous outcome that was found to be corrupt.

Mr Jackson descibes the investigation into his former boss, codenamed Operation Mackan, in general terms, as ‘one of the worst investigations I have come across in a police career that spanned over 30 years, most of which were spent as a front line detective investigating serious crime‘.

His more specific grounds of appeal, as submitted to the IOPC, are reproduced here:

The investigation conducted by Durham Constabulary was not fair, not independent and not objective. The Senior Investigating Officer (SIO), Darren Ellis from Durham Constabulary, whom, despite his status as a civilian officer, conducted the investigation on behalf of the Mayor [of Manchester] refused to speak to or gather evidence from witnesses identified by myself, the complainant.

Mr Ellis was defensive, aggressive, belligerent, sarcastic and antagonistic in his dealings with both myself and those witnesses identified. My complaint had been initially dealt with by the Deputy Mayor Bev Hughes in a very defensive and dismissive manner and I felt that Mr Ellis exhibited confirmation bias from the outset.

The witnesses I identified could provide further evidence in relation to CC Hopkins making [allegedly] untruthful statements previously. Significant similar past behaviour of [allegedly] being misleading and dishonest. Throughout the investigation I have not been properly consulted or kept informed.

The SIO, Mr Ellis. agreed with me at the outset ‘to go where the evidence took him’, but then refused to do this. He has completely ignored the evidence contained within my witness statement. The final report produced is biased, the conclusion of ‘no case to answer’ completely at odds with the evidence provided. The SIO has cherry picked certain information to try to support his conclusions and ignored compelling evidence in doing so. It is essentially a ‘whitewash’ and as the complainant I signalled my concerns at an early stage with a vote of no confidence [in Ellis] to the Mayor Andy Burnham, who allowed the SIO to continue.

“There has been little transparency throughout, and transparency provides confidence and demonstrates integrity, of which there has been none. The Mayor has refused to provide copies of appendices referenced in the report, despite my repeated requests. I would like to see these to strengthen my appeal.

“I have other documentary evidence I wish to submit but cannot attach to this online folder. I will provide them if given a contact name and contact details“.

[The text of the Jackson appeal has been modified slightly to mitigate any complaint or application by Mr Hopkins, prior to final findings being made where dishonesty allegations are asserted, but unproven].

The further evidence referred to by Peter Jackson, in his on-line appeal form, was supplied to the North Casework team at the IOPC’s Sale Office a short time afterwards.

He has not, as yet, been notified of the name of the IOPC caseworker, or analyst, who will assess his appeal. In ordinary circumstances, that would be an officer very much in the lower echelons of the organisation.

The IOPC operates a triage system, but it is not known if the Jackson appeal has been graded as high priority. Given the potential for further reputational damage to the police service, it may be a case they wish to slow this case down rather than speed it up.

To be clear, the police watchdog does not carry out an investigation, or re-investigation, as part of the appeal process. It is largely an administrative, statistical, box-ticking process with an exercise of discretion available. For example, they have the power to order a new investigation, or part of an investigation.

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Given the type of appeal process to be undertaken by the IOPC, a re-incarnation as police watchdog of the highly discredited IPCC, the issue of prejudice does not arise by disclosing the Jackson appeal submissions. The same might not be said about GMP and/or the Mayor’s office leaking details of the Durham investigation to their ‘friendlies’ in the local media, prior to the expiry of the period for lodging an appeal. Which both must have been certain would follow. Or, by giving the chief constable a pat on the back and a new contract before the investigation process was exhausted.

Bizarrely, Hopkins was given the two-year extension to his contract, by Burnham, on the very same day the investigation report was sent to Jackson. In the face of proceedings that are still live and his alleged misdemeanours severity assessed by Barton as ‘gross misconduct’.

A summary of the investigation outcome was, it appears, also given to the Manchester Evening News on the same day. As one has come to expect, their coverage of the investigation, and contract extension, read like a glowing school report and lacked any sense of the appropriate rigour when reporting on a chief constable who staggers from one very serious confidence-sapping crisis to the next, on an almost weekly basis.

Although fronted by Mike Barton, whose recent ‘retirement’ from the police service, also poses more questions than answers (read more here), the Durham investigation, instigated at the invitation of the Mayor, was carried out by a team of three civilian detectives. Led by the now infamous Darren Ellis. The ‘whitewash’ outcome, and the allegedly erratic, partial, deficient, inadequate Ellis investigation that underpins it, was foretold in earlier articles published on this website (read more here). Neither Durham, nor Ellis, have challenged the validity of those articles, despite the latter referring to them frequently.

Since the articles appeared, the Ellis investigative frailties, and notably arrogant, unpleasant demeanour, were ruthlessly exposed at the High Court in Belfast, in a very high profile claim brought against Durham and the Police Service of Northern Ireland by two highly respected journalists, Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey. The case, which centred on their No Stone Unturned documentary about the infamous Loughinisland massacre, was covered widely in the national press on both sides of the Irish Sea.

The Irish Times reporting of the unlawful arrest scandal included these quotes, which resonate strongly with what is already known about the Hopkins investigation:

“During the hearing it emerged that Darren Ellis, the officer from Durham who led the investigation, did not appear to have a high opinion of journalism. Barry MacDonald QC, who represented McCaffrey, said the motivation for the arrests could be found in Ellis’s attitude. He said that earlier this year after McCaffrey and Birney held a meeting with Grahame Morris, a Labour MP in Durham, to discuss their case, Morris received a call from someone “purporting to be Darren Ellis”. The caller was “foul and abusive” to his staff and had “ranted” about the MP having met “terrorists and criminals” [referring to Messrs McCaffrey and Birney], MacDonald said.

“The court also heard that Ellis had noted he “had concerns that the obvious networks between the suspects [the two journalists], politicians, the legal community and the journalistic/media representatives [The NUJ] may be complex, challenging and obstructive and thus threaten justice”. [Mr McDonald] described Ellis’s stance as “a staggering proposition” and evidence of the “warped mindset” of the police officer driving the process”.

He went further and said: “Ellis, of Durham Constabulary, was “a man on a mission” against the Ombudsman and investigative journalists, who had “put words in the mouth of a suspect [of the Loughinisland murders]”. The court found Mr McDonald’s submissions, and those of Gavin Millar QC, representing Mr Birney, persuasive – and readily found in favour of the journalists (and a wider free press it must be said).

The warrants for arrests and property searches against the two journalists were quashed. The Durham chief constable was equally culpable as Gold Commander of this catastrophically failed, lop-sided Loughinisland investigation. He apologised publicly to the Policing Board of Northern Ireland (in a televised broadcast from which I live tweeted) but, incredibly, defended the behaviour of Darren Ellis. He also refused, point blank, the request of Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly to apologise to the journalists. The abrasive attitude of both Barton and PSNI’s chief, George Hamilton, also now retired, throughout that Policing Board meeting caused offence and upset to the families bereaved by the Loughinisland massacre. As did the fact that Ellis had, apparently, had a meeting with the named chief suspect of the murders and attempted to turn him into a victim of ‘oppression’ by the two journalists.

Chief constable Barton was, of course, also Gold Commander of the Hopkins investigation which was running in tandem with the Loughinisland probe from December, 2018 onwards.

A personal interest in this investigation, and subsequent appeal to the IOPC, is declared, as I was one of the witnesses of fact called upon by Peter Jackson, and named as such in his evidential witness statement. This was based on my extensive dealings with GMP, particularly since Ian Hopkins became chief constable, and the discovery of an apparent culture of dishonesty and cover-up that appears to cascade down from the senior leadership team. Read more articles here.

It is true to say that I was contemptuously dismissed by Ellis, in a manner that has given rise to a misconduct complaint. As were the only two other Jackson witnesses: Paul Bailey, a serving GMP detective, and a retired inspector from the same force, Scott Winters.

The chief constable’s repeated assertion, over which Ellis places great store, of ‘never intentionally lying’ would have been unsustainable in the face of evidence from the three Jackson witnesses.

In an investigation spanning six months, no witness statement was taken from Fiona Hamilton at The Times, either.  The same can be said about a senior BBC employee, closely involved in the Manchester: Night of the Bomb documentary, was also subjected to Hopkins’ particular brand of vitriol, by way of an attacking, and ill-founded, rebuttal of the film’s content and conclusions. He/she was prepared to give evidence to the Mackan investigation, on the condition of confidentiality, but Ellis chose to ignore him/her completely. Yet, one of the two IOPC press officers who gave an account was granted confidentiality. As was one of the GMP press officers.

Nick Hitchens, the duty IOPC press officer on the day, is named in the report. Part of the IOPC evidence included this: ‘The response made by GMP (to the Times article) was personalised and used emotive language from CC Hopkins‘. A nod to the unvarnished, unwarranted and highly offensive attacks on the integrity of Peter Jackson and Fiona Hamilton, by Hopkins. Mr Hitchens told investigators ‘that some of the bits weren’t strictly true, or an interesting interpretation of what happened’. He also complained strongly, and justifiably, that the IOPC had not been consulted on the issue of the press release by GMP, despite events concerning the watchdog being central to it.

Steve Noonan, Deputy Director of the IOPC’s Major Investigations Team, expressed similar concerns when giving his account to the Durham investigation. The claim by Hopkins, and others in GMP, that they were working to a deadline, has no basis in fact.

Evidence was taken, conversely and perversely, from a significant number of GMP officers supporting, and, indeed, shaping, the Hopkins narrative. Other witnesses, whose accounts did not fit, appeared to have their evidence tailored to suit, by Ellis, using only highly selective snippets and, even then, several seemed to have their context fully stretched. Two of those witnesses are actually employed in the IOPC press office, which presents an unusual dilemna as one of their own watchdog colleagues will be assessing the merits of their evidence. Some of which will most certainly impact on the outcome of the appeal.

There is no indication that GMP or Mayoral emails were scrutinised or diaries, day books seized concerning what the police force declared a ‘critical incident’ on the morning of the appearance of the damaging article in the The Times, with all the resource and scrutiny implications that follow. There is not even a simple chronology. Or an analysis of Hopkins’ phone calls or location (he had started the day with breakfast in a hotel in Gateshead). Unless, of course, they are contained within the, so far, undisclosed appendices. The movements of Chief Constable Hopkins are crucial in piecing together what happened on the day in question and either validitating, or undermining, the account he gave to the Durham investigators. Which, essentially, is that he delegated the matter to on-duty chief officer, Assistant Chief Constable Russ Jackson (no relation to Peter). That, perhaps unsurprisingly, differs from the Hopkins account given in the previous attempt to dispose of the complaint against the chief constable. No mention is made of delegation, or ACC Jackson, in the decision letter sent to Peter Jackson dated 21st September, 2018.

During the investigation, it emerged that the complaint history of Ian Hopkins does reveal that he received informal ‘words of advice’ from Tony Lloyd, previously the Police and Crime Commissioner and then Mayor of Greater Manchester, following a Radio 4 interview broadcast in February 2016. A complaint was made on the 8th February that year. As can be seen from his decision letter of 5th May 2017, PCC Lloyd came to the conclusion ‘that the Chief Constable did not deliberately lie on the programme and that he acted in good faith following briefings which he was given’. Lloyd concludes by saying In future, I have advised the Chief Constable to be more thorough in checking briefings provided to him prior to interviews’.

Controversially, Hopkins also misled the public in much more dramatic fashion in November, 2015 when an entire front page of the Manchester Evening News was devoted to a sham statement about an alleged investigation into his own discredited Professional Standards Branch by the Metropolitan Police Service. This was not covered by the LLoyd investigation and Hopkins has, subsequently, relied again on the ‘didn’t intentionally mislead‘ defence. The core of the evidence I will give to the IOPC, as part of their appeal assessment of the Durham investigation, will undermine the chief constable’s position. The Met’s purported robust six-week investigation shrunk to a critical friend peer review. The whole exercise was shrouded in deceit and cover-up.

A local newspaper reported on 20th June, 2019 that Amanda Coleman, the GMP Corporate Communications Director at the time the offending press release was broadcast, was placed under investigation and placed on restricted duties. That was within a week of the Op Mackan investigation report arriving at GMP HQ. It is not known if the two events are connected. A source very close to the force asserts that Ms Coleman has left GMP.

Earlier this year she said on her own well-populated blog: “Police communication has been my focus for 20 years and I remain as passionate about it today as I was when I eagerly arrived for my first day on the job in 1999.

Her Twitter account has been silent since March, 2019 and there has also been a pause in her blogging over a similar period. Which, on occasions, appeared at the rate of one publication per day.

Another huge scandal surfaced in the last days of July, 2019 which impacts directly on the Durham investigation. It is reported that GMP ‘chief officers’ (they are not named) misled the Deputy Mayor for Policing, Beverley Hughes over surveillance of disabled protesters and reports made to the Department of Work and Pensions, by the police, of their presence at rallies. The force press office also did an about turn on the same issue. Having first put out a denial, four months later they reverse that decision. The core point is that the only police officer with legal proximity to the Deputy Mayor is Ian Hopkins with whom she is obliged to hold regular policing oversight meetings. In some forces that happens weekly. It is not known how often these two meet. A more complete article on this topic will appear on this website, presently. But its importance as evidence supporting the Jackson complaint cannot be lightly dismissed.

The controversial Deputy Mayor, found to be untruthful both in her parliamentary days as an MP, and more recently, and relevantly, when the Hopkins complaint surfaced. She did, of course, claim, in writing, to have carried out an ‘investigation’ of her own when the reality was she had done no such thing. The Durham investigation into Hopkins’ alleged dishonesty came about after an earlier successful appeal to the IOPC by Peter Jackson. The watchdog directed Hughes to disclose her investigation report and it turned out there wasn’t one. Her ‘investigation’ had been an informal phone chat with Hopkins, about which there were no records at all.

If the watchdog fudges the appeal and matter reaches the next stage, Peter Jackson is confident that a pre-action application for disclosure, accompanying a judicial review claim form, would succeed. The sharply honed instincts of an effective and highly regarded murder detective also guide Jackson’s view that the annexes to the report will reveal further flaws in the investigation. Which is put forward as the reason why the Mayor, Andy Burnham, through the medium of Deputy Director of Policing, Clare Monaghan, is so keen to conceal them.

Burnham’s conduct throughout this process, which includes the proposterous assertion that his Deputy “acted with the utmost integrity” in the earlier stages of this particular complaint (there has been a number of others) has been utterly reprehensible. To the extent that this, Peter Jackson contends strongly, taken together with complete inaction over a very large number of other serious incompetence or corruption scandals (25 at the latest count), is a resignation issue for the Mayor.

Those reading the follow-up article to this one may well agree with that position.

Andy Burnham, the IOPC, Durham Constabulary and Greater Manchester Police have all been approached for press comment.

The Mayor’s office were asked to confirm if they stand by their decision not to release the full documentation relating to the report and also, if they are aware of GMP policy relating to restricting duties of officers under gross misconduct investigation. It will be a miracle, close to turning water into wine, if any response is received from Mrs Monaghan. With regard to knowledge of the subject policy, extensive dealings with the Mayor’s office has revealed a genuinely alarming lack of knowledge of process, and record-keeping, where GMP is concerned. Mrs Monaghan costs the taxpayer around £170,000 pa for that level of inefficiency and ineffectiveness. She it at the core of many of the oversight failures, including the legacy issues emanating from her time working for the Mayor’s policing predecessor, Tony Lloyd.

Durham press office were asked to confirm whether serious complaints against Darren Ellis, referred by Andy Burnham to chief constable Barton in May, 2019, have been recorded by Durham in accordance with the Police Reform Act, 2002 and severity assessed by way of Police (Conduct) Regulations, 2012. They responsed promptly and suggested that the press request might be better approached via a freedom of information application. In journalist parlance, that very likely means that the complaints have not been recorded, but the force is unwilling to admit that fact.

Darren Ellis has not taken up the offered right of reply. Remarkable for a man who has plenty to say on almost any topic. Most particularly, about himself.

A statement was requested from Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling, via the GMP force press office, concerning force policy and the evidence he and ex-head of their Professional Standards Branch, Chief Superintendent Annette Anderson, gave to a recently concluded employment tribunal. Since this article was first published, GMP’s press office has notified the absence from the force of DCC Pilling. It is said that he may provide a statement when he returns from holiday.

GMP has, so far, refused to provide a copy of the force disciplinary policy. They suggested making a freedom of information request. Presently, on the WhatDoTheyKnow website there are unfulfilled requests dating back to February, 2019.

The IOPC has confirmed that they are currently dealing with the appeal, but ‘do not give timescales for their assessment and subsequent publication of the outcome’.

Picture credit Getty Images, Liam McBurney, PA

Page last updated: Thursday 8h August, 2019 at 0625 hours

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 2015-2019. 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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