Will controversial report face further delays?

A meeting at which the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police was due to release a much-delayed and highly controversial report into the running of his force has been cancelled.

Greater Manchester Combined Authority say it is because of the death of Bolton Council Leader, David Greenhalgh, and as a mark of respect to him.

A report from CC Stephen Watson is listed on the Agenda at Item 9 (read here). A verbal update was to be given to on his much-vaunted ‘Improvement Plan’ which, on very recent evidence, seems to be having little effect (read here).

An announcement was made earlier this week that he had appointed a new Deputy Chief Constable (DCC). Terry Woods joins from Lancashire Police where he has held the same position since September, 2019, having joined the force in 1996. Watson also started his career with ‘Lancs’ in 1988. Woods will replace the disgraced Ian Pilling, whom, amongst a troubling number of other alleged and well-rehearsed misdemeanours, most recently admitted misleading the Kerslake Arena Attack Review into the 22 deaths at the hands of a terrorist at Manchester Arena in 2017. Pilling leaves the force at the end of this year.

The appointment of Woods also means that Assistant Chief Constable Maboob Hussain has been overlooked, having served as Temporary DCC following the sudden, if long overdue, departure of yet another disgraced GMP senior officer, Ian Hopkins. The recruitment of ‘Mabs’ from West Yorkshire Police was mired in controversy (read here) It is possible that those chickens have finally come home to roost and he is part of a ‘clear-out’ that will see other ineffective, inefficient, box-ticking, Hopkins-appointed sycophants leave the force, which remains in the ‘Special Measures’ imposed by the Home Office in December 2020.

A status to which one such officer, ACC Nick Bailey appears oblivious with his ‘great’, ‘amazing’, ‘fantastic’ output on social media. With not a single reference to the 100,000 plus victims of crime in the Region who struggled to even get the incidents reported, let alone investigated or detected. In addition, there are 70,000 crimes still open on the ill-fated £100 million iOPS system (read here) that CC Watson has admitted recently will, very likely, require to be replaced.

In January, 2021, Mayor Andy Burnham commissioned a review by consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) ‘to check on improvements after the force went into special measures over its poor service to crime victims’. The eight week process is said to have cost in the region of £250,000 and was completed on schedule. It was directed at ‘providing assurance that GMP’s plans for improvement were fit for purpose and that they would also lead to long term behavioural change’, together with the ‘long term cultural change that the organisation requires’. Burnham placed his trust in DCC Pilling to deliver those improvements, appointing him as Temporary Chief Constable, knowing what was to be revealed at the Arena Inquiry concerning that officer’s own integrity.

The commissioning of PwC was seen at the time, by many, as a highly political manoeuvre ahead of the May election, intended to deflect blame away from Burnham and his Deputy, Beverley Hughes, over their appalling and collective dereliction of oversight responsibilities. They had allowed themselves to be repeatedly, and grotesquely, misled by the force leadership team and simply avoided asking any difficult or searching questions – or crucial integrity issues raised, repeatedly, by journalists and whistleblowers with their office.

The Mayor’s spokesman said, ahead of the election in May, 2021, that it was commissioned to assure his office “that the immediate actions put in place by GMP were adequate, appropriate and progressing as they should”.

He added that it was “concluded and submitted earlier this month [May]” and had been shared with the incoming chief constable Stephen Watson, the Mayor but would not be made public until the new chief constable was in post. No amendments to the report were requested by the Mayor or his Deputy.

Watson commenced his new role on 27th May, 2021 with a round of press, TV and radio interviews in which he made a number of startling assertions. The most astonishing of which revealed his approach towards corruption in the police service in an interview with Radio 4. His essential position, as the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on the issue, is that there isn’t any. It doesn’t exist. Everything is good. 

Very many people might suggest that an independent observer would not have to look very far in his new force to contradict that view. In spades. 

Another bold statement was that, if he had not turned around ‘the sleeping giant’ that is Greater Manchester Police, he would resign. 

Conservative mayoral candidate and chief rival, Laura Evans, said during her campaigning that “the report should receive public scrutiny”. She called on Home Secretary, Priti Patel, to force the Mayor to publish the report, insisting, quite correctly, that “the public have a right to know” what is in the PwC report before the election as “it seems likely that it is a very damning report”. Laura was not wrong. Leaked sections of the report suggest that it is going to be very damaging indeed.

Other mayoral candidates standing also played into Andy Burnham for not releasing the report before the election.

Simon Lepori, for the Liberal Democrats said, the Mayor had got himself into “a ridiculous mess” over the report, which he said Burnham knew “wasn’t going to come back all rosy”.

He added, “We all know it is bad and waiting is just sitting on it, because he doesn’t want worse headlines than he has already had on the issue,”

Reform UK candidate, Nick Buckley, said: “You couldn’t make this stuff up. Let’s hide the report, paid for by the public, until after the election. We all know how bad this report will be.”

Independent candidate and former GMP inspector, David Sutcliffe, a late entrant into the election contest, said the Mayor was “fully aware of this issues occurring within GMP”. He was one of a number of whistleblowers who had taken serious and well evidenced issues to Burnham’s office during the previous year (read here).

Green Party candidate, Melanie Horrocks, a former solicitor with the Independent Police Complaints Commission, said: “We are all at a disadvantage when discussing what has gone wrong with Greater Manchester Police, and there is only one person that knows the answer. We can’t even campaign on a level playing field of knowledge.” 

In the event, and probably in part, at least, to not releasing the PwC report, Andy Burnham was returned as Mayor with an increased majority on May 6th. He committed to greater policing accountability in his manifesto, yet repeatedly insists that he has done his job in holding the force to account: ‘GMP has not deteriorated on my watch overall, it was a more mixed picture and that on the things that matter to the public, I can demonstrate significant progress, including falls in crime’.

Leaked sections of the review suggest that the consultants have uncovered years of woeful failures at Greater Manchester Police, say a local newspaper, and identified long-standing and serious weaknesses in a number of key areas including leadership, governance, financial management, crime recording, IT, officer deployment and culture.

There appears to be not a single policing competency that the force or any of its senior officers perform adequately.

Well placed sources say its conclusions are even more damning than the findings of Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) late last year, which led to the force being placed in Special Measures and the sudden, if belated, departure of Chief Constable Hopkins.

HMIC’s December, 2020 inspection was limited to GMP’s response to victims of crime, whereas the PwC January 2021 review had far wider terms of reference. Encompassing the force’s structure; its culture; understanding of demand and the root causes of why crime recording has been so palpably defective and offences repeatedly under-recorded over a number of years.

The report will also highlight long-standing failures to address recommendations by HMIC dating back to 2014. Chiming with its flagrant disregard of its lawful responsibilities under such as the Data Protection Act, Freedom of Information Act, Criminal Procedure and Investigation Act and Civil/Tribunal Procedure Rules.

The PwC review also checked out the force’s understanding of its current demand levels, the deployment of officers across the ten divisions, and whether the Peter Fahy omni-competency model, that led to the disbanding of specialist units and many highly trained officers re-deployed as ‘all rounders’, was still viable. Insiders say that the disastrous initiative of the much-derided former chief constable, who appointed, successively and collectively, the worst group of Command Team officers in the history of the police service, is already being reversed.

PwC were not tasked, however, with examining the effectiveness of political oversight, which would, of course, have exposed the abject, and very obvious, failings of the Mayor in this regard.

The Mayor’s press office has been contacted regarding a new release date for the report. They had not responded at the time of this update, two days later. But a Statement published on the GMCA website on Friday evening indicated that the PwC will be unveiled by CC Watson, together with his forward plans for improvement at the next full meeting of the Authority on 10th September, 2021.

Burnham also said about the postponed July meeting: “Alongside that, I was planning to provide more detail about how we intend to take the force into a new era of greater openness and strengthened accountability”. That, presumably, will be on the agenda for the reconvened meeting.

GMCA will hold their first Greater Manchester Police Public Accountability Meeting for elected members across the Region, in Oldham, on 26th November, 2021. The event will be live-streamed. Details of how elected members can apply to attend will be issued shortly. From now on, there will be two public accountability meetings every year.

UPDATE: Following publication of this article a recently retired police whistleblower came forward: “Chief Constable Watson is disliked already, and he’s not dealing with any issues. Shortage of staff is at all time high and it’s shocking. My friend [still a serving officer] was on ‘nights’ last night, and at one point, there were no vans/staff available for any prisoners in central Manchester for over an hour. There’s no comms staff either. Very dangerous and morale is rock bottom. The chief constable won’t do a night shift to see how bad it is. GMP is going to be under Special Measures for a long time to come because of the idiots they had/have at the top”.

Page last updated at 1205hrs on Sunday 1st August, 2021

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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Photo credit: Manchester Evening News

© Neil Wilby 2015-2021. 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.

Published by Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

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