Watchdog has neither bark nor bite

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The perennial shortcomings of the so-called ‘police watchdog’, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), are very well rehearsed in the local regional and national media and, of course, elsewhere on this website, writes Neil Wilby.

Not least in an excoriating piece published just two days ago, and headlined ‘All for nothing’, the full text of which can be read here.

As a statutory regulator, with a core mission to maintain public confidence in the police complaints system, they fail at every level and belief in the IOPC to hold police officers, and police forces, to account, amongst those who have the misfortune to deal with them, particularly through bereavement, is almost non-existent.

The only countervailing factor being the deeply unsatisfactory statutory framework within which they are required to function and now favours the police so heavily that it is highly questionable whether victims, alleged or otherwise, should waste their time at all by complaining about officer conduct.

Since the formation of its previous incarnation, the notorious Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), in 2004, it would be difficult to find one family who could hold up their hand and say we are happy with the investigation conducted by the watchdog and the way they held the police force, and the officers involved in the death of their loved one, to account.

On the contrary, there are hundreds who are completely dissatisfied and, in some cases, utterly devastated at the way miscreant officers are, routinely, able to wriggle off the misconduct or criminality hook.

A very recent example is the mother of Joe McCafferty, a 7 year old boy murdered in a horrific arson attack on his aunt’s home in Huddersfield in May, 1997 (read more here).

Tracey McCafferty, her family, close friends and large group of ‘Team Joe’ justice campaigners, has suffered at the hands of West Yorkshire Police (WYP) almost since the day Joe was murdered.

An investigation that appeared to focus on the wrong suspects in the ‘golden hours’ after the incident; what the family say are elementary mistakes, including a failure to follow up crucial information given at the police cordon on the day of the incident; a peremptory closing of the incident room; an apparent reluctance, or failure, to follow-up up leads and local intelligence, obtained by Tracey and her family; and, most distressing and alarming of all, the bizarre notion that the family, or someone close to them, set fire to the house for an insurance reward.

It is still a live murder investigation, of course, so there are strict limits as to what can and can be reported in terms of these failures.

But what can be reported, with appropriate rigour, is the generally dismissive attitude of officers towards the family to the point of hostility. The only two notable exceptions to that have been Detective Inspector Sukhbir Singh, who had a brief spell on the case in 1998/9 and the first force liaison officer (FLO) appointed, Detective Constable Karen Gillard, who was chosen because she already knew Tracey prior to the murder – and was helpful and supportive through her tenure.

Karen was eventually removed by her superiors, without a plausible reason, and Tracey McCafferty holds the inalienable view that she was returned to uniform duties because she didn’t support some of the force’s bizarre hypotheses about Joe’s murder.

One of many low spots in the Joe McCafferty murder investigation was the appointment of Superintendent Nick Wallen as Senior Investigating Officer (SIO). He followed Detective Chief Inspector Chris Gregg, the aforementioned DI Singh, DI Ian Devey, Supt Paul Kennedy, DCI David Pervin and DCI Elizabeth Belton into the role, Since Wallen’s departure from the force, billed as a ‘retirement’, there has been two others, DCI Tony Nicholson and the present incumbent, DCI Sharron Kaye.

That makes a total of nine different SIOs on the case, a list put together by the family and Neil Wilby, using his extensive knowledge of the force and its personnel. There may have been yet more senior detectives involved between the tenures of Chris Gregg and Paul Kennedy. Neither of whom, incidentally, either met or spoke to any of the bereaved family.

Indeed, until very recently Tracey McCafferty had no idea that Supt Kennedy had ever been involved, a remark that also applies to DCI Nicholson. She only found out that DCI Kaye had been appointed by reading it in the press. It took a further eighteen months for that same detective to contact the bereaved mother.

Supt Nick Wallen took over what, by then, appears very much to have become a ‘fish file’ for WYP, following the arrest and suspension of his colleague, Miss Belton, in March 2016 over matters unconnected to Joe’s murder.

During her two years as SIO, Elizabeth Belton had effected the only arrests in the entire 24 year investigation: Two suspects, said by the force and reported in the local press to have been a 65 years old male and a 60 years old female, one of whom had been identified from a note handed to a officer on scene-minding duties shortly after the murder.

There is confusion, amongst the various police accounts, as to whether both of these two suspects, bailed and later released without charge, were also the subject of a verbal report at the police cordon on the day of the murder.

A short time after he took over the investigation, Supt Wallen visited Tracey McCafferty at her home. It is true to say that the meeting did not go well and, in fact, the police officer was ejected from the house as a result of what was viewed as unethical and unprofessional conduct. He was also requested not to contact her directly again.

During that meeting, Supt Wallen, quite extraordinarily, disclosed the names of the suspects that were arrested a year earlier and revealed that they had led the police to a third person whom, Wallen claimed, was responsible for starting the fire that killed Joe. No motive was given by the detective for that person committing murder other than an association of friendship with the arrested persons.

That suspect, whose name was also shared with Tracey, was deceased and therefore could neither be interviewed, nor defend himself. Enquiries with the family of the deceased man, by Tracey and not the police, revealed that the suspect had an alibi and they were also adamant, given the character of that individual that he could not have contained, or lived with, the secret of killing a seven year old boy by setting fire to the house where he was sleeping.

Supt Wallen appeared to backtrack completely from his finding against the deceased suspect as he proclaimed both on television and in the local press, less than a month later, that West Yorkshire Police remained committed to finding the perpetrator(s) of the arson attack and Joe’s murder. There was no mention, whatsoever, of the case being solved by him and the dead man being the murderer.

Indeed, in May 2017, Wallen, speaking to the press on behalf of the force’s Homicide and Major Enquiry Team, said he believed someone is out there and knows what happened on the night of Joe’s death and it remains “one of our most prominent unsolved crimes”.

“We always remain positive that we will get to the bottom of this incident; West Yorkshire Police would never close a case of this magnitude and this case remained one of the most prominent unsolved crimes for the Force and we are determined to get justice for Joe and his family.

“This is the type of case that detectives do take home with them,

“It’s the kind of case that you lie in bed at night and you’re wracking your brains, have you done absolutely everything you can to try and find the offender responsible?

“We’ve looked at whether there was somebody who had a specific grudge against Joe’s family, whether Joe’s aunt was in a dispute with any of her neighbours.

“There were a number of arson attacks in the area at the time, we were looking if it had been linked to that. Or was it a random attack?”

“I believe there is somebody out there who knows who is responsible and I would urge them to come forward to the police.

“I would like to give some comfort to the family and say that while this case remains an unsolved one, you have the promise of West Yorkshire Police that we will do absolutely everything in our power to find the person or persons responsible,” he concluded.

In that lengthy press statement, much of it unrecognisable to Tracey McCafferty, faithfully reproduced without challenge by the local media, there is no mention of the long periods of time during which West Yorkshire Police had the bereaved family and close friends under suspicion – and of all the missed opportunities that flowed from that.

Or the blame being put on a dead man in an attempt to silence the campaign for justice for Joe McCafferty and savings on cold case review budgets.

Nick Wallen’s generally erratic conduct towards Tracey McCafferty, and the bereaved family and campaigners, and his troubling and contradictory statements on issues that go to the very heart of the murder investigation, ultimately resulted not only in a complete loss of whatever small amount of faith that was left in WYP, but a written complaint to the most senior officer in the Kirklees Division, Tracey’s local area. Hand delivered and receipted at Huddersfield Police Station.

At the time, that was Chief Superintendent, Steve Cotter, but he moved on to Leeds Division just a few weeks afterwards. His replacement was C/Supt Julie Sykes whom, earlier in her career, and at about the time of Joe’s murder had worked in Kirklees as a detective constable. It is very likely she will have worked on the case and have knowledge of it.

She was a also superintendent in Kirklees, from around 2012, before taking over as Head of West Yorkshire Police’s nationally notorious Professional Standards Department in 2015.

Despite that background, or maybe because of it, it was Ms Sykes who chose to ignore the complaint letter for almost 5 months. It took a call to the IOPC,  for advice on what the police should be doing about the complaint, before WYP belatedly shook themselves into action with the appearance for the first time in this case of DC Jonathan Garrod, along with Steve Cousins, formerly a detective sergeant whom Tracey McCafferty had met previously, as part of ‘the family are involved in starting the fire’ police conspiracy theory, but now working as a post-retirement civilian officer and the force’s resident ‘expert’ on the case.

A meeting took place in early 2019 between one of the family’s key campaigners and complaint advocate, Gail Morris, and the aforementioned two officers. It was a lengthy and unattractive matrix of obfuscation and attempted covering up of the failings of more senior detectives which, to the bereaved family at least, appears to be the sole focus of the murder investigation.

In May, 2019 Tracey, unexpectedly and against her express instructions, received a a five page letter sent directly to her by Nick Wallen. In short, it was self-serving, clumsy, in parts inaccurate and caused serious distress over previously undisclosed details concerned with an autopsy performed on Joe shortly after his death. Given Wallen’s previous behaviour, the bereaved family maintain that was its deliberate intention.

Unsurprisingly, it resulted in a further complaint against the errant detective in June, 2019. This time the IOPC passed it onto WYP PSD. Who also appeared to ignore that complaint for at least 2 months in order, it seems, to give Nick Wallen the chance to retire and avoid scrutiny. He did not provide an account in response to the complaint and PSD have failed to give any explanation at all as to why that should be so, or whether he was even issued with a Regulation 15 notice notifying him that he was under investigation by PSD. It is almost certain he was not.

In March, 2020 a Decision Letter concerning the McCafferty complaints was provided by DCI David Shaw. Attached to it was an investigation outcome that was, according to DCI Shaw, essentially the work of Trainee Investigator (TI) Wesley John-Baptiste, whom, in all truth needs to go back to training school. Beginning with the lesson that a document or report has no legal standing unless it is dated, its author identified at its opening or closing and is signed by that same person with some form of attestation as to its provenance.

Also, if the report seeks to rely on documents then they should be enclosed with it or, alternatively, an explanation provided as to their absence. Similarly, if relying on unevidenced assertions the source of belief should be stated.

The fact that DCI Shaw, an officer of middle management rank, has accepted TI John-Baptiste’s work so uncritically speaks volumes about the deeply embedded performance issues evident throughout West Yorkshire Police. Mediocrity, across so many of its departments and units, is accepted as the norm.

That mind-numbing mediocrity extends to emails seen by Neil Wilby that reveal that in two separate monthly updates reports ‘accounts were being obtained and the investigation was ongoing’. But TI John-Baptiste did not manage to obtain one from the only officer complained about. Nick Wallen’s name is, in fact, never mentioned in those updates.

The genuinely held belief of Tracey McCafferty, and the rest of her family and campaigning team, is that WYP PSD never had any intention, whatsoever, of obtaining a statement from Wallen and no formal notice compelling him to do so was ever issued. Because of a number of other serious allegations against Wallen from elsewhere, notably one involving an alleged conspiracy to pervert the course of justice (read more here), PSD and Chief Constable John Robins needed to get him out of the door, sharpish.

The fact that the ‘investigation’ by PSD took seven months to complete, given the lack of detail, the absence of an account from the very officer complained about and a heavy reliance on assumption in favour of the police, rather than a proportionate, diligent search for the truth, is entirely consistent with all that has gone before in the actual search for Joe McCafferty’s murderer(s). There is little wonder that he/she/they are still at large.

A glaring example of that is, having been given the name of a police officer who was previously married to one of the two suspects arrested in 2015,  WYP PSD was unable to trace him. They searched only WYP records, yet subsequent efforts by the McCafferty team, having been confronted by that failure, saw the officer, who served with a neighbouring police force, not WYP, located in less than ten minutes using only resources available to most private individuals.

It also adds strongly to the family’s belief that this officer was, inexplicably, not interviewed when the two suspects were arrested, despite an assertion elsewhere in that same investigation outcome that ‘many of their [the arrested persons] friends, associates and rivals were traced and interviewed’.

There is also the mystery, yet to be unravelled, as to how TI John-Baptiste arrived at the conclusion that Supt Malcolm Mawson, now sadly deceased, was the first SIO on Joe’s murder investigation when DCI Chris Gregg is plainly accorded that role in no less than five local newspaper front page articles in the aftermath of the arson attack (read more here).

The John-Baptiste ‘investigation’ and it is, genuinely, a struggle to assign such a poor piece of detective work such a handle, did, however, lead to the conclusion that two of the nine complaints made by Tracey should be upheld and a further one partially upheld.

The remaining McCafferty complaints that were not upheld by WYP PSD are presently being dealt with by the IOPC. Whom, after delays caused by the virus epidemic, and illness of a different nature, accepted the appeal ‘out of time’ in January, 2021.

This appeal to the police watchdog has, regrettably, turned into another comedy of errors. In just under a year, and with a fourth caseworker now handling the case, they have achieved absolutely NOTHING except allow themselves to be continually led a merry dance over disclosure by WYP PSD, whose behaviour, yet again, has, on the evidence presented to the bereaved family by the IOPC, been beyond disgraceful.

Even with the belated involvement of the present head of HMET, C/Supt Mark Swift, whom, along with DCI Sharron Kaye, needs to look inward and ask themselves whether public facing roles, and particularly dealing with families bereaved in the most awful of circumstances, is the right vocation for them. Particularly Mr Swift (pictured below), who has already faced public opprobrium over failings into the death of a 3 year old boy in which it was said he ‘failed to take an investigative mindset’ (read more here). WYP has promoted him twice since.

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The IOPC is failing to give updates to Tracey McCafferty, as they are required to do statutorily, and cannot even give an approximate date for completing their assessment and publishing an appeal outcome.

In those circumstances, Tracey and ‘Team Joe’ has indicated that it may be better to withdraw the appeal altogether as a number of stakeholders in the case are hiding behind the IOPC assessment, in concert it seems, in order not to progress other matters and, most notably, the quest to have West Yorkshire Police replaced by another police force.

These include her Member of Parliament, Barry Sheerman, whom in 24 years has contributed nothing in terms of either measurable pastoral support or visible intervention on her behalf in an investigation that can most charitably be described as unsatisfactory. Thankfully, last night, he announced on social media that he won’t be standing again for Parliament. He gave no advance notice of that announcement to the McCafferty family and this has, yet again, left them shocked and dismayed.

Others hiding behind the IOPC are the Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, and her Police Commissioner, Alison Lowe, in whose gift it is to invite Her Majesty’s Inspector Of Constabulary to recommend a different police force and, of course, John Robins himself, who has directed, wrongly as it turns out, that his officers do not communicate with the bereaved family, or their representatives, until the IOPC make their decision on an appeal that has little, or nothing, to do with the murder investigation, rather the conduct of at least one officer involved in it.

One of those being Mike Percival, the Force Solicitor, whose knowledge of the applicable law appears deficient as he maintains that he cannot provide the documentation relating to a second inquest hearing touching the death of Joe before an IOPC decision on alleged officer misconduct that has absolutely no bearing on such matters. An inquistion, that should be said, WYP failed to inform the bereaved family about in 2005, when it is said to have taken place, and, of which, there is no absolutely trace in the Coroner’s office.

Yet again, leaving Tracey McCafferty distressed, and utterly perplexed, as to what is really going on behind the scenes in this murder investigation. She was also excluded from the first inquest hearing in July, 1997 by WYP. Again, unaware until recently that it had taken place.

But, as the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining and in this particular case it came in an email on 1st December, 2021 in which the IOPC say they cannot support the decision of the politicians, or the police force, to hide behind their appeal and delay matters connected to the murder investigation. A common sense finding, in any event, as the watchdog, under its statutory remit, must not concern itself in such matters.

A major step forward for the Justice for Joe McCafferty’ campaign and one that may help repair, temporarily at least, the relationship with the police watchdog.

On 6th December, 2021, the funeral of Joe McCafferty’s father took place: Dale Scandling, a hugely popular man in his home town of Huddersfield, went to meet his Maker without seeing justice for his beloved son for which and whom he campaigned so long and hard. The fiasco of the West Yorkshire Police investigation, the depressing antics of their Professional Standards Department in covering up for them, and the familiar ineptitude of the police watchdog were both persistent topics of conversation at the huge wake afterwards at The Dalton Hotel in Huddersfield.

Rest in Peace, ‘Scanny’ and be assured that justice will be served one day and your efforts, and determination, to see another police force take over the search for Joe’s killer will not be in vain. The petition supporting that cause can be signed here. It now stands at over 6,000 signatures. In addition there are paper versions of the petition taking the total number of signatures to over 11,000.

Since publication of this article it has been pointed out that, in a sub-optimal clickbait feature in an edition of the Yorkshire Post dated 27th February, 2019, headlined ‘Yorkshire’s Most Notorious Murders’ and with freelance journalist, Helen Johnson, on the byline, the death of 7 year old Joe McCafferty in a horrific arson attack did not feature.

Tracey McCafferty is going to give the editor the chance to put that right.

Page last updated: Thursday 9th December, 2021 at 1020 hours

Corrections: Please let me know if there is a mistake in this article. I will endeavour to correct it as soon as possible.

Picture credit: ITV News, PA

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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 Media, 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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