Council say ‘conflicted’ Director will not stand down from police investigation.

Following exclusive revelations on this website last week, regarding family connections from which conflicts of interest may arise, an Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council spokeswoman has said that Strategic Director, Communities and Reform, Rebekah Sutcliffe, will not be standing down from a controversial Greater Manchester Police investigation, codenamed Operation Hexagon.

After details of the alleged conflicts were published, in an article headlined ‘Disgraced activist claims arrest was politically motivated‘, the Council’s press office was approached in the following terms:

“The below piece  was published this morning and the Raja Miah situation has now attracted the attention of [name of media organisation redacted], with whom I’m working.

“[link to ‘Disgraced activist claims arrest was politically motivated article’ provided to press office (read here)]

“There is a residual issue regarding undeclared interests of Rebekah Sutcliffe that may impact on her role in the Gold Group of Op Hexagon.

“The question, therefore, is:

“(i) Has Miss Sutcliffe declared those interests and (ii) are her Gold Group colleagues, nominated by the Council, and the Council’s Leader and [acting] chief executive satisfied that public confidence in the investigation will not be impacted adversely?

The response was relatively prompt, but the Council’s position proved to be a familiar conundrum. Those familiar with public authority and policing body press offices know the score when attempting to obtain answers to two questions in one enquiry:

“The Council can confirm that the family relationships noted are known and that the organisation has no concerns that those relationships have any impact or bearing on the officer in question’s involvement in Operation Hexagon”.

The sharp-eyed will, of course, note that the Council’s statement did not address whether the alleged conflicts had been declared – it seems obvious to most people that Miss Sutcliffe hadn’t exposed them, particularly in the light of a previous press enquiry to the GMP press office – or say whether any of the Council’s officers, or Leader, were party to the response. The very strong suspicion is that they were not. The Council’s statement had all the appearance of a hasty fob-off: Move along nothing to see here. Stop asking awkward questions.

A reply to the statement was sent to the Council. Politely expressed it, nevertheless, pulled no punches:

“Thank you for the prompt response.

“It does not, however, address the issue of whether she [Rebekah Sutcliffe] had declared those interests prior to my press enquiry.

“My information, and GMP is very well aware of the scope and extent of my [Neil Wilby’s] source network, is that she hadn’t – and the Gold Group led by ACC Bailey (and the Mayor’s Assurance Review) were not aware of those Sutcliffe family connections until I raised them.

“The Council should, in this light, be aware of the risks they are running in seriously undermining public confidence in the Operation Hexagon investigation: The overwhelming majority of taxpayers will say that, ethically and professionally, the position of Miss Sutcliffe is untenable in the prevailing circumstances, not least because of her history in not declaring conflicting interests previously whilst a serving police officer.

“As GMP officers, past and present, have repeatedly found over past four years, a whiff of ‘cover-up’ merely invites further journalistic attention.

“Those observations above, intended to positively assist senior officers and Party Leaders, do not necessarily require a response; unless the Council feels that it would be in the public interest to do so.

“Whichever way that falls, have a good weekend”.

The previous undeclared conflict of interest referred to in the above communication resulted in an investigation by the ‘watchdog’, the Independent Police Complaints Commission. In their familiar style, and perennially dominated by police narrative, they termed the conflict ‘a technical breach’ and imposed no meaningful sanction.

But for context in the present Operation Hexagon farrago, and to assist the independent observer as to whether public confidence is, or will be, adversely affected by Miss Sutcliffe’s continued presence on the Gold Group, it is worth reprising an edited version of what one of Manchester’s best known police whistleblower wrote about the GMP/Sutcliffe conflict in December, 2015. It has stood unchallenged by Rebekah and Greater Manchester Police ever since:

“In 2014, following an acquittal at Crown Court over a charge of common assault, it was decided that a panel of senior GMP officers would determine a police sergeant’s fate as a serving officer under internal discipline. Initially, the most senior officer to chair the panel was to be Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) Ian Wiggett. He was then allowed to indulge his passion for wrestling by officiating in the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Yes, Ian Wiggett’s private passion was deemed more important than the potential livelihood of a hard working and committed officer. However, all was not lost it seems, as a deputy was found to fill the void left by the Glasgow-bound Wiggett.

“The appointment of the nominated deputy was discussed between ACC Dawn Copley, the, then, Deputy Chief Constable Ian Hopkins and Chief Constable Peter Fahy. They knew the appointment was wrong in every sense. Nevertheless, they went ahead and allowed ACC Rebekah Sutcliffe to chair the misconduct hearing.

“Miss Sutcliffe, the former wife of ex-Chief Inspector Jonathan Lowe (whose conduct in the wider context of his PSB role is currently under review by retired judge, William Morris, in yet another alleged GMP scandal) is the current live-in lover of Chief Superintendent Paul Rumney.

“Sutcliffe was also romantically involved with Superintendent Dominic Scally, whose alleged gross misconduct and neglect was internally investigated by the PSB. He was cleared of wrongdoing over allowing, whilst under covert police observation, a paedophile, one of Manchester’s most notorious criminals, Dominic Noonan, to remain alone in his flat with a 13 year old boy for over two hours. Instead of sanction, Scally was promoted to Head of North West Counter-Terrorism Unit. A post that Rebekah Sutcliffe had previously held.

“Paul Rumney was, at the relevant time, and during the investigation itself, the Head of the serially complained about Professional Standards Branch. Copley, Hopkins and Fahy hoped no one would notice the link between Sutcliffe and Rumney – and the impact their relationship would have on the outcome of the judgment, the rule of law or natural justice itself.

“An easy mistake to make? Well, not really. The Copley, Hopkins and Fahy cabal were told of the conflict of interest (in advance) by GMP’s in-house barrister Jennie Ferrario, we are reliably informed by a former GMP Legal Services source. It is likely that Ms Ferrario’s ethical and professional standing was not the only reason she was concerned about ACC Sutcliffe’s appointment, the national uncertainty (at the time) of who was to chair the National Child Abuse Inquiry may well have pricked Ms Ferrario’s conscience and raised professional concerns.

“GMP’s official line of mitigation, in their submissions to the IPCC, was that ACC Sutcliffe chairing the disciplinary hearing was only a technical breach and that ‘everyone’ knew of the Sutcliffe/Rumney situation. Clearly, that was not the case as an independent QC ruled against them in all aspects of the sergeant’s appeal.

“Labour Police and Crime Commissioner, Tony Lloyd, assisted by PSB’s DCI Jane Little, allegedly tried hard to close this matter down when it became public knowledge [Jane Little, by then known as Mrs Jane Higham, later succeeded at Employment Tribunal against GMP]. Paul Rumney was also complained about, but he was protected by the force hierarchy. Albeit, he was removed from his post ‘as an embarrassment’ and is now occupying a non-job [12 months spent scribbling notes in the margins of a 506 page report following an extended investigation into the alleged ‘fit-up’ (and subsequent ‘cover-up’) of ex-PC Danny Major, by a group of West Yorkshire Police officers].

“Ex Chief Inspector Jonathan Lowe, mentioned above, was formerly in charge of the Assessment and Misconduct Unit. Lowe is a key figure in a 2009 Misconduct Hearing scandal involving the most senior members of GMP, namely retired Chief Constable Peter Fahy and temporary Deputy Chief Constable Garry Shewan, former husband of ACC Zöe Sheard, recently branded less than candid in an Employment Appeal Tribunal.

“Ms Sheard will not be investigated for her apparent lack of integrity, her ex husband has decided. Honesty and integrity: Weren’t they the same topics ACC Garry Shewan waxed lyrical about following the high profile dismissal of Supt John Buttress?

“It was not that long ago a senior GMP whistleblower, [Peter Jackson] claimed complaints in the force were not dealt with properly amidst reports of cronyism and corruption. The IPCC allowed GMP to investigate this themselves [Operation Poppy 1, 2 and 3]. The largest investigation undertaken in IPCC history and also one of their biggest ‘whitewashes’. Do the above matters sound like they were raised by ‘disgruntled’ people who should be ‘examining their own conduct’ as suggested by Chief Constable Ian Hopkins?”

The entirety of that whistleblower account is, on any view, a genuinely lurid, shocking account, that even Jed Mercurio would find hard to match with AC-12 and a season of Line of Duty. It was, of course, written five months before the infamous, drunken ‘Boobgate‘ incident in the Sky Bar of Manchester’s Hilton Hotel

It follows that there are five sets of key questions for Oldham Council that arise from both the press enquiries made of them and this quite astonishing whistleblower report – and to which taxpayers and the wider public will require cogent answers:

(i) How could Rebekah Sutcliffe, conceivably, come to be appointed to any role in the Council above clerical grade or in any public facing role? Who was responsible for due diligence (a Google search still brings up the whistleblower article above in second place? Who signed off her employment contract? Was it approved by the Council’s Leaders? Why are the ethical and professional standards that should be the foundation stones in any public authority so palpably derelict? Did the Council not know that GMP was permanently mired in scandal, had (and still has) the worst Command Team  and a lengthy line of other assistant chief constables have left the force after being discredited?

(ii) Given her track record, and having brought shame and disgrace to the entire police service, and angered almost every one of her former colleagues by her behaviour and the fact she was not sacked, on what possible basis could the Council even remotely consider appointing Miss Sutcliffe to sit on the Gold Group of a wide-ranging, far reaching criminal investigation that is probably the most important in their history and where the integrity of those involved in it has to be utterly unimpeachable? Which senior Council officer appointed her? Did the Leader sign it off?

(iii) Given what the Council now know about Miss Sutcliffe’s connections to two individuals who are at the heart of the Operation Hexagon investigation, Shabir ‘Daddy’ Ahmed (a notorious and convicted paedophile) and Raja Miah (as the person making the allegations of a police and council cover-up of child sex abuse), how can they reasonably and fairly conclude that public confidence will not be impacted by her remaining in a key role.

(iv) In the short time between the press enquiry being sent to the Council, and the consequent statement being provided, who was consulted? The acting chief executive and the Leader, Cllr Arooj Shah, as specifically requested? The Gold Group Commander, Nick Bailey? The Council’s other two nominees on the Gold Group, Gerard Jones (Managing director of Children and Young People) and Neil Consterdine (Assistant Director of Youth, Leisure and Communities). The chief constable? The Mayor? The investigators leading the Assurance Review, Malcolm Newsam and Gary Ridgeway? Three of those are publicly accountable (the Council Leader, the Mayor and the chief constable) and will face seriously awkward, further questions as a result. The working hypothesis is that not more than one of them even knew about the press request and, more likely, none of them.

(v) As the press office falls under her direct remit, did Rebekah Sutcliffe, and her Deputy and friend, Shelley Kipling, another with a mind-boggling salary and an apparent non-job in the Council, recuse themselves from any involvement in the process by which the press statement was prepared?

For GMP, the question for Chief Constable Stephen Watson, already floundering under the sheer weight of scandal, incompetence and low morale he inherited, and ACC Bailey of course, the question is quite simply: How could the force, conceivably, shrug its shoulders and say: ‘The conflict of interest on Operation Hexagon is not our problem, go and ask the Council’?

Most independent, reasonable, fair-minded people, having read the entirety of this article, and what preceded it, would say that Rebekah Sutcliffe, for myriad reasons, should NOT be sitting on the Gold Group of Operation Hexagon. A majority may say why is she even working at Oldham Council at all. They will also muse on why neither the Council, nor GMP, has not asked her to leave the Group. But, most crucially, they may shout loudly as to why Miss Sutcliffe has not done the decent, honourable, ethical, professional thing and stood herself down?

UPDATE: It appears as though Miss Sutcliffe is leaving Oldham Council after all, according to reports on Friday afternoon, 6th August. This is a developing story. More to follow.

Page last updated at 1615hrs on Friday 6th 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.

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.

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© 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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