Another Durham debacle as chief constable snubs Manchester Mayor

Much has already been written about the Operation Mackan fiasco, over which the now-retired chief constable of Durham Constabulary, Michael Barton was Gold Commander (read more here).

The central theme has been the sub-optimal, one-eyed investigation carried out by his Silver Commander, civilian investigator Darren Ellis, into complaints raised against the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, Ian Hopkins. It is alleged that, not for the first time, he responded dishonestly to press criticism.

Durham were asked to investigate by the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, on his behalf, after a grotesquely failed ‘investigation’ carried out by his deputy, Beverley Hughes.

An appeal by the complainant, to the police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, against the outcome, signed off by Hughes, unsurprisingly succeeded. The so-called investigation amounted to nothing more than a single phone call to Hopkins, of which there was no note or record.

The complainant is Peter Jackson, a retired superintendent and now a nationally known police whistle blower, having been the source for a large number of regional and national newspaper stories, over the past two years, plus a regular round of TV appearances. Most recently on ITV Granada Reports where he broke a massive scandal concerning information technology failures at GMP from which, the Police Federation say, lives of police officers and members of the public are at risk.

It was also Jackson who was the source for The Times article at the heart of the complaints.

The Durham investigation outcome, accompanied by a 66 page report, littered with errors, is now also subject to appeal to the IOPC. Its receipt was ackowledged on 2nd August, 2019 and the Casework Manager, who gave his address as the Sale office of the police watchdog, anticipated being in a position to complete his assessment ‘within 15 working days, subject to any senior manager or lawyer input’.

‘Casework Manager’ is a very junior role in the IOPC, often held by inexperienced recruits, with little or no experience in police matters and no investigative experience or qualifications. The watchdog do themselves yet another disservice by not having this appeal, against a highly controversial investigation, analysed and assessed under the direct control of one of their Regional Directors.

It is hard to envisage the handling of a complaint, outside the realm of a death following police contact, that continues to drain confidence in the police complaints system as much as this Jackson, Hopkins, Burnham farrago.

In April 2019, Peter Jackson made a multi-faceted complaint to the Mayor’s office, via his Deputy Director for Policing, Clare Monaghan, regarding the conduct of Darren Ellis. It concerned both his questionable performance and competencies as a detective, and a series of alleged ethical breaches that included disrespect, discourtesy, neglect of duty, partiality and discreditable conduct. Jackson is well placed to assess the merits of a police investigation, particularly how it is framed and progressed, as he was Manchester’s leading murder detective before he retired. He had investigated serious crime for most of his 31-year police career.

The following month Andy Burnham wrote to the Durham chief constable, passing on the Jackson complaints against Ellis to him, as the appropriate authority, to make a decision whether to record them under the Police Reform Act, 2002. Bizarrely, Burnham did not support the whistle blower’s request for the removal of Ellis from the investigation. A decision likely to prove very costly; both in terms of public funds and further damage to his already failing reputation as an elected representative capable of holding a police force to account.

Jackson wrote to Barton, just before he retired in June, to enquire about the status of his complaints. His email was ignored. The Operation Mackan outcome was sent to Burnham a few days later. Jackson describes it as one of the worst he has ever seen, with, he says, a large catalogue of basic investigative errors and a highly partial approach virtually throughout. His appeal to the IOPC reflects those points.

Questions about the recording of the Jackson complaints, raised via the Durham press office in the course of researching this article, also drew a blank. Although separate enquiries to the Professional Standards Department did reveal that Ellis is still employed by the force. The clear inference at this point is that they have not been recorded. Strongly backed up by the fact that there has been no contact at all from Durham PSD to the complainant since the Burnham letter to Barton.

In the light of that information, Peter Jackson wrote to Barton’s successor as chief constable, Jo Farrell, to again enquire whether the complaints have been recorded. He has not even received an acknowledgement.

Even allowing for the apparent absence of ethical and professional standards in Durham Constabulary, cascading down from the top of the force, it is very poor conduct by Ms Farrell towards a retired police officer with an exemplary record across 31 years of service. This echoes dealings I had with her during her stint as deputy to Barton. Her portfolio responsibilities at that time included PSD. Our contact concerned an attempt to establish the directing mind in the response to a freedom of information request in which Durham gratuitously libelled me (read more here)

Members of the public, some with very serious issues indeed, have come forward to complain of the same disdainful culture within Durham. Typified in every way, it must be said, by Darren Ellis, as well as others across the ranks of this “grubby little police force”.

Alarming though it is, the protection of Ellis by Barton, and now, it seems, Farrell, does not just extend to the Jackson complaints. He is also under complaint over the most appalling conduct towards two Irish journalists, Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney in an operation codenamed Yurta that resulted in the two reporters being arrested and their properties searched over a TV documentary they filmed, and produced, about the infamous Loughinisland massacre. Barton, described by his own Durham colleagues as “a nutter”, resolutely defended Ellis in a televised broadcast from the Policing Board of Northern Ireland and continued to do so through other media, up to the day of his retirement.

The next step for Jackson is to appeal the non-recording of his complaints by Durham to the IOPC. Very determined that they will be appropriately and proportionately investigated, however long that takes, he is, of course, acutely aware that such an investigation, or local resolution, is unlikely to happen within the Durham force: Chief constables, past and present, are already implicated in a ‘cover-up’ and Darren Ellis, it seems, is still able to exert considerable influence within the very department that would deal with the complaints against him.

Peter Jackson’s merry-go-round predicament is another perfect example of why the police complaints system, and the statutory framework governing it, is in such urgent need of radical overhaul; a re-structure that should find no place for police officers, and forces, investigating themselves.

The seriously flawed IOPC should also be confined to the dustbin of history, alongside its three disgraced incarnations, the Police Complaints Board (1977-1985), the Police Complaints Authority (1985-2004) and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (2004 – 2018). Each one worse than its predecessor, which is, arguably, something only the UK Home Office could achieve.

Page last updated: Monday 12th August, 2019 at 0715 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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