‘My head’s a shed’

Joe and Tracey McCafferty

It is now more than twenty four years since a seven year old boy was murdered in a horrific arson attack in Marsh, Huddersfield. Believed to be the longest running unsolved child murder investigation in the country.

Joe McCafferty died whilst enjoying a sleepover at his aunt’s home in Haywood Avenue at the start of a Bank Holiday weekend. Petrol was poured through the letterbox of Debra Pierre’s neat stone-built terraced house and set alight (read much more about the case here).

The deep seated grief over losing her dearly loved child and seeing her other son, Nicky, badly injured has, understandably, never left Joe’s mother, Tracey McCafferty (pictured above with Joe).

A sub-optimal police investigation

That pain has most certainly been compounded by what she regards as a sub-optimal investigation, populated by too many officers from West Yorkshire Police who have shown her, and the rest of the bereaved family, scant regard or respect and, at times, open contempt.

It is astounding that two of those officers have faced criminal courts and been convicted. One criticised for lying in evidence before being found guilty of assault and another sent to jail for perverting the course of justice . Another two senior WYP officers should, very arguably, have been prosecuted for the same offence, on much firmer grounds, but the powers that be chose to cover that up and allowed them both to retire without sanction.

They, along with a lengthy cast of other officers with questionable antecedents, will be covered in much more detail in an article to be published next month (December, 2021). It makes very uncomfortable reading, not just for West Yorkshire Police, but the entire police service and criminal justice system, and will add considerable impetus to the McCafferty ‘Justice for Joe’ campaign.

Indeed, it is almost impossible the think that those charged with holding this force and its chief constable to account, notably the Region’s Mayor, Tracy Brabin and her Deputy, who holds the policing portfolio, Alison Lowe, will not support the campaign and take WYP out of the equation.

There is, quite simply, no faith or trust left in them to solve this murder or make any recognisable attempt to do so. The campaigners say, with ample justification, that the case needs fresh eyes, fresh legs and the necessary enthusiasm and impetus that such a change will bring, unimpeded by the stench of impropriety that surrounds this case.

The present chief, John Robins, served as Divisional Commander in Kirklees from 2008 until 2012 and is very familiar with the case, its shortcomings and the delinquent officers involved in it. He was the driving force behind the conviction of Detective Chief Inspector Elizabeth Belton who had taken over as senior investigating officer (SIO) in early 2014 and still held that position when she was arrested and suspended from duty in April, 2016. Miss Belton was jailed for two years in January, 2019.

He held the portfolio for the Professional Standards Department of West Yorkshire Police in December, 2014 when Detective Sergeant Paul Whiteley was dismissed from the force following a conviction for assault that carried a suspended jail sentence. Whiteley was the officer pictured on the front page of a local newspaper, in May 1997, holding a replica of the Unipart oil container used to carry the petrol to the door of the house where Joe was murdered.

Screenshot 2021-11-28 at 22.29.49

The fate of those two officers is a foretaste of what is yet to be revealed and they are far from being the most seriously concerning.

There is also the ancillary issue of the family being misled as to whom was the senior investigating officer at the outset of the murder probe. In the immediate aftermath, and on numerous occasions, Detective Chief Inspector Chis Gregg is named on the front pages of local newspapers as holding that role. WYP has said recently, in writing, that Superintendent Malcolm Mawson was SIO.

Huddersfield-born Mr Gregg went on to greater things in both the police and, after retirement in May 2008, in private enterprise,

Mr Mawson very sadly passed away the following year, just a few months after his retirement.

Attempts to contact Mr Gregg have not, so far, been successful.

There is one question mark hanging over him as the infamous case of Leeds nurse, Colin Norris, dubbed the ‘Angel of Death’ after his conviction, returns to the Court of Appeal in London in the near future.

If, as now seems likely, following a referral of his application by the Criminal Case Review Commission in February, 2012, the conviction of Mr Norris is quashed then, as SIO on that murder investigation, Chris Gregg will be put under the spotlight and asked what went wrong and, particularly, how an innocent man was charged and prosecuted. No misconduct on his part is either asserted or implied. The facts of the Norris appeal will tell their own story.

One of the curiosities of the alleged miscarriage of justice is that it is now contended by the Norris legal team, and medical experts, that none of the four elderly patients were actually murdered at all; they died of natural causes.

Chief Constable Robins, who held the same chief superintendent rank as Mr Gregg when the latter retired, was also in overall charge in Huddersfield when a BBC Crimewatch appeal was finally launched, following relentless pressure from Tracey McCafferty, fighting what she says was gut-wrenching inertia and apathy both from those leading the investigation and those in overall charge of WYP. The chief constable at that time was the highly controversial, Sir Norman Bettison.  He described Mr Gregg as ‘one of the best detectives ever to serve West Yorkshire Police’.

The TV programme, which featured Superintendent Dave Pervin as the SIO at that time, did produce some leads but they soon fizzled out. A previous leaflet appeal, organised and funded by Tracey McCafferty in 2006, had been taken over by WYP at Mr Pervin’s suggestion. It remains one of the very, very few high spots in relations between bereaved family and police force.

Screenshot 2021-11-01 at 16.42.06

‘Like drawing teeth’

One of the great difficulties faced by ‘Team Joe’, over the years, has been extracting information from West Yorkshire Police so that the parallel investigation, mainly gathering local intelligence, having to be conducted by campaigners because of the failings of the officer-led version, can be placed on a firm footing and a meaningful timeline plotted. ‘It is like drawing teeth’, they say.

WYP may be studiously disinterested, but Joe’s mother will never rest until the killer, or killers, thought by both police and campaigners to live in Huddersfield are caught, tried and prosecuted.

The bereaved family, and those working with them, understand well that this is an open police investigation involving the most serious of crimes, and the force, if it was still actively investigating the case, would be limited as to what information it can impart in order not to compromise future enquiries or breach data protection regulations.

But, given what has been shared in the past, including the most sensitive of details never revealed publicly by the family, or ever likely to be, the very strong impression is that the WYP focus is now on protecting its own reputation, covering up mistakes, or misdeeds, however one views them, rather than taking a murderer, or murderers, off the streets.

Several recent events underscore this, heavily, and put the present SIO, DCI Sharron Kaye, in the spotlight. She took over as lead investigator in March, 2020. Tracey McCafferty discovered that fact in the local press. Indeed, it took DCI Kaye over 18 months to speak to Tracey and that conversation, in October, 2021, was rapidly foreshortened when it was made clear that she, or those directing her at WYP HQ, was backtracking on a previous undertaking to answer reasonable, relevant questions that had been put to her by Tracey, in writing, several weeks earlier.

As reported previously, DCI Kaye’s opening remark of ‘my head’s a shed‘ is not what one can fairly and reasonably expect from a senior murder detective. Team Joe maintained that her position was untenable from that point onwards but, regrettably, matters have worsened considerably since then.

In June, 2021, the author of this article, Neil Wilby, was approached by Tracey McCafferty to assist with campaigning strategy and unearthing new facts about either the murder case or those WYP officers, past and present, involved in it. It has been a remarkable journey, on any view, even for an investigative journalist involved in a number of other very high profile justice campaigns over the years.

Culminating, just a few days before this article was published, in exposing the force in setting out to mislead Team Joe, yet again, in quite remarkable circumstances: The third of three access requests made via the Freedom of Information Act was finalised by WYP on 25th November, 2021. The first two requests, made in June and September, 2021 respectively, could, very fairly, be described as attritional and can be viewed on the What Do They Know public platform here and here. At their highest, officer misconduct is disclosed. Being charitable, obfuscation and incompetence are most certainly present. When the subject is unsolved murder, and the victim is a seven year old, it can be safely argued that such an unethical, unprofessional approach by a police force is entirely unacceptable.

Six uncontroversial questions were asked of them in the third access request. They managed to answer just the first one correctly, the date that the operational codename, ‘Platinum’, was allocated (2006), the year when the case was transferred from Kirklees CID to the Homicide and Major Enquiry Team (HMET)). This is the full text of Neil Wilby’s robust challenge to that FOIA response by WYP:

“Dear West Yorkshire Police (WYP),

“I am writing to request an internal review of West Yorkshire Police’s handling of my FOI request ‘Murder of Joe McCafferty’.

“For simplicity and continuity the same numbering as in the information request, and its finalisation by WYP, is used:

1. Disclosure [regarding the operational codename] is accepted as correct. Thank you.

2. Disclosure challenged as untrue: A senior WYP officer involved in this murder investigation is emphatic, in several conversations with the bereaved mother, Tracey McCafferty, that neither HOLMES nor HOLMES2 was deployed in this investigation, up to and including 2016. I am further informed that the IOPC confirmed this information verbally. Given all that has gone before that date, and since, it would seem, using the balance of probabilities as the appropriate test, unlikely that such a [data management] system would have been used subsequently. If this matter proceeds all the way to an Information Rights Tribunal, as seems likely, then you would, of course, be required to provide evidence to a judge, in a closed bundle, that your disclosure is true.

3. Disclosure challenged as opaque and/or incomplete: It is well known to Ms McCafferty, and the bereaved family, that there was an incident room situated in a mobile facility, on Haywood Avenue, close to the scene of the murder. It remained there for between two and three weeks. You are, therefore, required to clarify whether there were, in fact, two murder incident rooms during that period, or just the one.

4. Disclosure challenged as untrue: It is well known to the family that the investigation began to run down in mid/late June, 1997 – less than two months after the murder – and a closing report prepared for the Coroner by A/DI Sam Cooke. The inquest touching the death of Joe McCafferty was held on 2nd July, 1997 (without Tracey McCafferty being notified or given the opportunity to attend). Unequivocal written evidence is in the possession of the family that the murder was filed by WYP, as unsolved, by early August, 1997. Subsequent to that date, Ms McCafferty visited Huddersfield Police Station on a number of occasions to provide information and/or local intelligence to detectives. She was always told that the files were in storage and, regrettably, given the impression that it would be much too much trouble for officers to retrieve them. The proposition that a murder incident room would be maintained for over 24 years at that police station is, putting it bluntly, preposterous. Not least, that in 2006 the bereaved family are told, the case was transferred out of Kirklees CID to the Homicide and Major Enquiry Team, who are based elsewhere. Similarly, the proposition that a Joe McCafferty Murder Incident Room is maintained at any of the HMET facilities is, with all due respect, similarly absurd. It will, most certainly, not sustain at Information Rights Tribunal. Moreover, this WYP finalisation has, understandably, caused considerable distress to the bereaved family and it is respectfully submitted, that the causing of such distress is calculated and deliberate on the part of the WYP officers providing the response. It very much fits the pattern of previous behaviour of certain senior officers involved in this ill-starred investigation.

5. Disclosure challenged as untrue: The bereaved family have unequivocal written information from WYP that there have been just two cold case reviews. They know the dates of those two investigations, the officers who undertook them and the lines of enquiry they followed, also. [WYP now say there has been four reviews].

6. Disclosure refusal challenged as unlawful. There is simply no way that an Information Rights Tribunal would uphold section 30 (1) (a) (b) or (c) [of the Freedom of Information Act] as a valid exemption when the information sought is dates of cold case reviews starting and ending. The Panel would, also, very likely be aghast at the clumsily contrived public interest test, as the bereaved family quite rightly was. Not to say deeply upset at the totality of the questions and answers to points 5 and 6. It is, most respectfully, submitted that the absurd reliance on this exemption is to disguise the fact that there have been, in fact, only two cold case reviews, not four as stated in the finalisation.

“Finally, given that dishonesty and discreditable conduct is not just alleged, but can be proven beyond any doubt by simply comparing WYP-headed documents, that the force self-refers these matters to the IOPC for independent investigation of the officers responsible. Corruption, at a senior officer level, within the inner circle of those investigating the murder of a 7yo boy, or the failures surrounding it, comfortably meets the threshold. That should, also, be taken against the background that one former senior investigating officer (SIO) on the Joe McCafferty case was jailed for corruption in 2019 and in circumstances less concerning than these”.

Enquiries are ongoing as to the identity of the HMET officer(s) involved so that the appropriate conduct complaint(s) can be raised with the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). It is expected that the force will resist such questions and double down on this latest scandal. Tracey McCafferty’s MP, Barry Sheerman, is to be requested to write to the chief constable to deplore these latest actions and urge him to bring in another police force.

If that has not happened by early in 2022, peaceful demonstrations by the campaigners are planned to take place outside police force HQ, the Mayor’s office and the IOPC’s office. All within a short walk of each other in Wakefield city centre.

It should be an interesting next few weeks.

Appeal for information about the murder

If anyone has any information at all connected to the murder in 1997, or any other incidents of arson around that time in the Huddersfield area (the police report there were a number of them, including a burned out car on Haywood Avenue in December, 1996) then please contact either Crimestoppers or the present WYP Senior Investigating Officer, DCI Sharron Kaye, via 101 and quoting Occurrence 13100054076 or Operation Platinum, in complete confidence.

Even the smallest piece of information may be the missing piece in the jigsaw that will solve this murder, bring the perpetrators to justice and allow belated closure for a grieving family.

Please sign the petition

‘Team Joe’ are continuing to grow the petition which calls on the Prime Minister and Home Secretary to persuade the appropriate authorities to do the right thing and bring in another police force to help catch those responsible for Joe’s murder (please sign the petition at this link). The online petition is now edging closer to 6,000 signatures and the paper versions take the support overall to well over 10,000.

Rest In Peace Dale Scandling – father of Joe McCafferty

One close family member who will not see justice for his son is ‘Scanny’, a hugely popular figure in and around Huddersfield. He very sadly passed away after a short illness on 5th November, 2021 (read more here). His family, and a very large group of friends, will pay their last respects on 6th December, 2021 at Parkwood Crematorium in Elland.

Once his father is finally laid to rest, the campaigning for justice for Joe McCafferty will take on a new life with a series of events planned that will focus on replacing the West Yorkshire Police investigators with another team of detectives from another police force.

Page last updated at 0620hrs on Wednesday 1st December, 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.

Photo credit: Justice for Joe McCafferty Campaign.

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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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