This is a piece first written by Neil Wilby for the police whistleblowers’ website, uPSDWYP, almost nine years ago. The log shows that it was last updated on 13th May, 2013 and carried the headline ‘Case Study – Vulnerable Asian Females’.
It is still highly relevant, given all that has happened since in the city of Bradford and in the wider county of West Yorkshire (read more here). It should also be of interest to a large number of Oldham’s small army of social media stalkers and trolls who constantly question this journalist’s qualifications or pedigree to report on such matters.
Philip Balmforth served with West Yorkshire Police for 46 years: A remarkable and rarely surpassed achievement of itself. The hugely respected inspector also become a nationally-known specialist in his field of operation and was employed by his force in the unique position of Vulnerable Persons Officer (Asian Females). He retired from that position, in January 2010, as a result of the job role being made ‘redundant’ by the Force.
Amongst his many achievements, Philip assisted in the compilation of practical guidelines, issued nationally to other policing and social work professionals, and was a member, since its inception, of an ACPO National Police Forced Marriage Group (ACPO is now NPCC – National Police Chiefs Council). He also appeared on national and international television – and was regularly, and widely, reported in the press on how he dealt with the problems particular to Asian females. He has spoken at many national and international conferences.
Philip’s police support role was originally drawn up in 1994, in conjunction with the City of Bradford Council Social Services Department, as a 50-50 funded post. But it appeared that no one from West Yorkshire Police billed the council for a penny (this was only discovered in around 2005/6) yet everyone in the police, and senior council officers, referred to Philip as being funded by both.
The role was ‘managed’, as such, by the police and Philip (pictured above centre with Jasvinder Sanghera Chief Executive of West Yorkshire-based charity Karma Nirvana) worked from a Bradford police station. He had retired as a warranted officer in 1995 and secured the post as a civilian member of police staff. The position (despite the council mistakenly thinking they were funding half) was never liked by the local authority: The messages that kept coming back to Philip were that ‘the Council are putting millions into city regeneration and speaking out against forced marriage was destroying the City’. They never wanted anyone to admit that there was a problem in Bradford with forced marriage – and Philip was dealing with ‘hundreds a year’. The words would come from the Executive of the Council (on one occasion from the elected Leader) via managers to Philip, who just carried on with his work.
With management approval, Philip was doing talks, conferences and training courses, mainly addressing people and organisations outside West Yorkshire, who seemed to appreciate his specialist input, contacts and knowledge far more than his own area. Another measure of his regard was the unequivocal praise he received in a House of Commons Early Day Motion tabled by Keighley MP, Ann Cryer, and signed by 56 MPs in March 2008 for being a ‘knight in shining armour’ who ‘does everything he can to protect people and give them time to assess the situation they are in’.
Yet, a week after he was praised in this way, he was facing a disciplinary hearing for ‘damaging the reputation’ of West Yorkshire Police. It arose from what was believed, by Philip, to be an ‘off the record’ comment made to The Times’ Lucy Bannerman being quoted in a piece published on 8th March 2008 (see here). Philip had been contacted by three newspapers, all on the same day, to ask about children being removed from school for the purposes of forced marriage in Bradford. Only The Times named him.
Neither the sublimely talented and hard-campaigning Lucy, or Philip, could have believed or understood, what followed: The matter of the press contact was raised by Philip, on the same day, in an email to a Social Services work partner, who did not respond but instead re-sent it to senior police management and added a formal complaint about his speaking to the press. The article appeared, on a Saturday, and Philip was immediately suspended on the same day from his role, pending disciplinary investigation.
At that time it was routine for Philip to be contacted on a weekly basis by TV stations, researchers, newspapers – all extremely interested in his work, and he did a number of TV and radio documentaries over the years – all with force approval at the time. The Times, to its credit, launched a stout defence of Philip, and his role, in an article by Andrew Norfolk on the 29th of the same month (see here).
At the disciplinary hearing convened in early 2009, the independent Chair of the Panel, having heard all the evidence, remarked that she would ‘just’ give Philip a written warning (in force for 18 months) and added that he be returned to his full operational role, immediately. The complaint had come from Social Services in Bradford whom, it was felt, were looking to dispose of the forced marriage role via a dismissal outcome. The minor sanction imposed would plainly not suit them. It still, however, came as a dreadful shock to Philip, and his UNISON representative that, within seven days of the conclusion of the hearing, to be told by a senior Department Manager that the specialist role was to be made redundant and that he was to be re-deployed to other work.
Within two days of returning to his post Philip was removed from the role and placed on other duties as, incredibly, the decision to re-deploy him had already been made before the disciplinary process was started. Bradford Council, it appeared, had got the result they were seeking, after all. The police, for their part, had seemingly acquiesced to the council on the altar of political correctness and the ever-present fear of reputational damage.
Guilty without trial was another way of putting it and it had a traumatic effect on Philip Balmforth’s life in general and his health, in particular.
In his last 12 months of his service, PhiIip did not do any work, as such. Declared in no fit state to attend for duties by his GP, he was placed on sick leave. Eventually returning to work, where he immediately gave notice to retire, took leave due, and left in January 2010. Thus ended a long, remarkable and distinguished police career by, in his own words, “just disappearing into the ether, without a word of thanks”
So, a highly remarkable individual working in a specialist and delicately skilled role rises to become the very best in his field. But this is not enough for West Yorkshire Police. As with the Bradford/Keighley child grooming scandal, that lingered on for years unchecked, WYP are happy to look the other way if they feel it is politically, financially or reputationally expedient to do so.
That is the action of morally-bankrupt Command Team and, once again, we ask:
Where was the Chair of the Police Authority positioned on this matter? That same individual is, of course, the current Police Commissioner. Neither Labour’s tame placeman, Mark Burns-Williamson, nor his Police Authority colleagues cannot claim that he knew nothing about the case as, apart from the publicity in The Times, a hard-hitting piece by campaigning journalist Heather Brooke appeared in March 2010. The Daily Mail story pasted West Yorkshire Police to the wall over the treatment of Philip Balmforth and where it left the forced marriages issue, subsequently. (Full story here).
Philip now runs his own consultancy specialising in Forced Marriage and Honour Abuse. Full details can be found by clicking here.
The last words of this piece belong to Shahien Taj, director of the Henna Foundation, which provides support for Muslim children and their families. She said that Mr Balmforth had done “an impeccable job in raising the issue of missing children”. Adding, “If we don’t raise awareness about this issue, then there are young people out there who will not realise that there is help available for them. They’ll carry on think that what’s happening to them is normal,”
She concluded with the most telling testimony. “Philip Balmforth is a one-off. He does everything in his power to make young people safe. We need more people like him in police forces.”
Page last updated at 1255hrs on Thursday 16th February, 2022
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