After a pause lasting almost five years, the innocence claim of former West Yorkshire Police officer, Danny Major, is once again being considered by the Criminal Case Review Commission. He was convicted in November, 2006 of assaulting a prisoner and causing actual bodily harm following an incident that took place in Leeds Bridewell three years earlier. Concurrent sentences of 3 months and 15 months imprisonment were handed down.
The Major family has vehemently protested his innocence ever since (read more here).
Since 2013, there has been two investigations carried out by Greater Manchester Police into the handling of complaints made by Danny’s mother, Bernadette Major. There are wide-ranging allegations of corruption involving the notorious Professional Standards Department.
The first investigation, codenamed Operation Lamp, was launched in April, 2013 at the behest of the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner and concluded in December, 2014. But, for reasons GMP has never explained, the report was not released until 12 months later.
A second investigation, codenamed Operation Redhill, was instigated by the incumbent chief constable, Dionne Collins, in April, 2016. The first phase appears to have now also concluded in November, 2019, absent of any announcement from either the Major family, GMP or WYP.
The criminal justice watchdog confirmed earlier this week that their investigations have now resumed:
“A second application arrived on 14th December 2015. Maslen Merchant of Hadgkiss Hughes and Beale is the family’s legal representative. We started a review, but it became clear that we could not sensibly conduct our review while there were ongoing police investigations (Greater Manchester Police’s Operation Redhill) in relation to the case. In November 2017 we wrote to Mr Major and his lawyers to explain that we had essentially paused the case and that we would restart our review when we could. That is to say, if facts came light that required it, or when Greater Manchester Police (GMP) relevant enquiries were complete.
“This second review of Mr Major’s conviction resumed at the end of November last year when GMP supplied us with a summary of its investigation. We asked for more material from the investigation and, in January 2020, GMP supplied us with extensive material in relation to phase one of Operation Redhill. We are in the process of considering that material. The Covid-19 related closure of our office in March has caused some delay as it reduced our ability to securely access some of that material, but the case is being actively considered.
“The first CCRC application in relation to Danny Major was received in 26 September 2007 (Maslen Merchant/Hadgkiss Hughes and Beale were not the representatives at that stage, but they did take over shortly after in January 2008).
“We sent a Provisional Statement of Reasons in October 2010 (a PSOR is used when, after a review, we consider that we have not identified reasons to refer a case. It sets out the reasons for that view and invites a response from the applicant / their legal representative if they have one – nowadays 90% of applicants do not). We consider any response before making a final decision.
“The CCRC received substantial further submissions in response to the PSOR (over a period of almost six months) and further work was conducted before we eventually issued a final Statement of Reasons not to refer on 2nd August 2011. (The CCRC is prohibited from making its statements of reasons public. However CCRC applicants can share them if they wish)”.
The final SOR ran to 62 pages with a further 11 pages of annexed material. It was signed off by John Weeden, CB. The other two Commissioners who formed the committee considering the Danny Major were Ewen Smith, a Birmingham solicitor, and Jim England. All three served their full ten year term at the CCRC.
The Major family and their legal representative were criticised for both the repetitive nature of their lengthy submissions and for introducing issues that could not go to the consideration of a referral back to the appeal court.
This echoed criticism of two of the three grounds upon which the appeal to the Court of Appeal was made. One was characterised as ‘surprising’ and another has having no merit whatsoever (read in full here).
The Major family’s first application to the CCRC ran to almost 400 pages and the watchdog narrowed its focus to:
- The integrity of PC Kevin Liston, the key prosocution witness
- The integrity of other officers involved in the detention of the assaulted prisoner, Sean Rimmington, and those involved in the subsequent investigation
- The integrity of West Yorkshire Police
- The integrity of the Crown Prosecution Servive
- CCTV evidence at Leeds Bridewell
The CCRC enquiries, including interviews with Danny Major, his parents, officers from the Professional Standards Department at West Yorkshire Police; telephone conversations with prosecution counsel, Ben Crosland, and defence counsel, Simon Jackson QC (now a judge) and Sunny Bhalla, at the material time a casework manager at the now defunct Independent Police Complaints Commission appeared to be comprehensive. They were not challenged by way of judicial review.
This is yet another case where a notably poor police investigation, an unsatisfactory series of trials (three in all) with familiar disclosure issues, and a subsequent, sustained cover-up and closing of ranks by the investigating force to protect a corrupt police officer, may not be enough to see the conviction quashed. Particularly, if there is no confession by another officer, or officers, present in Leeds Bridewell that night.
Given the passage of time, seventeen years, and the high stakes that has to be considered unlikely. There has been no announcement of any arrests or press coverage of prosecutions during the currency of Operation Redhill, now in its fifth year. Taken together with its predecessor investigation, Operation Lamp, which took just under three years, it is believed to be the longest investigation ever into an assault in the history of the police service.
Both police forces and the Major family were approached for comment. There were no responses to those enquiries.
Page last updated: Monday 13th July, 2020 at 1730 hrs
Photo Credits: WYOPCC, CCRC
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