Tainted murder investigation another stain on troubled force

Huddersfield PS

On 3rd May, 1997, a seven year old boy, Joe McCafferty, died in a horrific arson attack on his aunt’s home in Huddersfield. He was sleeping over, along with his brother, Nicky, at Debra McCafferty’s house in Heywood Avenue, Marsh, whilst his mother was working away from the area.

A murder investigation was launched immediately, after fire officers found accelerant and matches at the scene (read more here). Petrol had been poured through the front door letterbox and set alight.

The family were told by a force liaison officer, DC Karen Gillard, that her police colleagues believed the fire was started as ‘a racist attack’. Debra’s recent partner, and father of two of her children, was black. Trevor Cunningham was still a fairly frequent, and extrovert, visitor to the property.

The killer remains at large and the bereaved family, led by his mother, Tracey McCafferty, say they have been badly let down by West Yorkshire Police (WYP) in the intervening years and most particularly in recent times, when a string of sub-standard, and in some cases, dishonest officers have been handed the case file.

To the extent that a petition was launched to canvass for a new police force to be appointed and start the investigation afresh. The on-line and paper versions now have over 10,000 signatures.

The chronology of the case, detailing the officers involved in it, does not make good reading.

1997 May to August

The SIO mystery – why is WYP clouding the issue?

The local press say, multiple times in front page reports, that Detective Chief Inspector Chris Gregg was Senior Investigating Officer (SIO), by contrast and, as yet, without explanation, WYP Professional Standards Department (PSD) say in a complaint outcome letter, dated March 2020, that Superintendent Malcolm Mawson was SIO.

Mr Mawson was a well known Bradford and Regional Crime Squad detective who retired in 1998 and, most regrettably, died after a short illness later that year. He had investigated 40 murders in his career but, in the newspaper article paying tribute to his life, and 30 year police career, the murder of Joe McCafferty was not amongst the high profile cases listed.

In all the press reports from that era, providing intensive, if not always accurate, coverage of Joe’s murder investigation and appeals, painstakingly trawled through by the bereaved family, Malcolm Mawson is mentioned just once – and not as SIO.

Curiously, one of the fellow officers paying glowing tribute in the newspaper eulogy following Mr Mawson’s death, features adversely in another article published recently on this website chronicling one of WYP’s worst ever miscarriages of justice, the wrongful conviction of Anthony Steel (read in full here). Set to be featured in an ITV documentary later this month.

The officer in question is Ray Falconer, who is roundly blamed for incompetence, a series of improprieties, including breach of Judge’s Rules, and assaulting Mr Steel. The catalogue of allegations was set out concisely by the Rough Justice BBC TV documentary team, many years ago, and can be read here. D/Sgt Falconer, as he was then, a Bradford burglary squad officer making up the numbers on a high profile murder investigation, robustly denied any wrongdoing. He was promoted twice before he retired.

In 1997, when he fronted the Joe McCafferty murder probe in its immediate aftermath, Chris Gregg was another detective whose career was on an upward trajectory. Less than ten years later he was WYP’s top detective, heading up the ‘elite’ Homicide and Major Enquiry Team (HMET). He had joined the force in 1974 and, in January 1978, worked as a young constable on the grotesquely failed Yorkshire Ripper enquiry. His first posting on that case was in the Huddersfield incident room set up after the murder of Helen Rytka.

He retired in 2008, the same year as the now infamous ‘Angel of Death’ convictions. These saw a nurse at Leeds Teaching Hospitals, Colin Norris, given life sentences, with a minimum term of 30 years, over the murder of four elderly inpatients and the attempted murder of another by injecting them with insulin. The case against him was wholly circumstantial and heavily reliant on expert opinion evidence.

Colin Norris denied any wrongdoing and maintained that he had done nothing to induce hypoglycaemia in any of the patients.

He  appealed against his conviction, but was turned down by the Court of Appeal in December 2009. He applied to the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC) in October 2011, following very considerable assistance from journalists, Louise Shorter, former producer of the BBC’s Rough Justice programme and BBC Scotland’s Mark Daly, who says: “What began as a mother’s plea to investigate her son’s case in 2011, has led me to question not only whether a completely innocent man could be serving 30 years in prison, but also, whether anyone was murdered in this case at all”.

As part of its highly complex review, the CCRC considered new expert evidence presented by the Norris appeal team, led by solicitors Birnberg Peirce, and instructed its own expert to provide a number of reports. The experts agree that four patients may have died of natural causes.

As a result of this new evidence, the CCRC concluded that there is a real possibility that the Court of Appeal will decide that that Colin Norris’s conviction for the murder or attempted murder of one or more of the four patients is unsafe.

In the likely event that the Norris convictions are quashed it would be another hammer blow to public confidence in West Yorkshire Police.

There was also controversy, but to a much lesser degree, over the conviction of John Humble. Campaigners say that the man eventually prosecuted as the infamous Geordie-accented ‘Wearside Jack’, an impersonator of the Yorkshire Ripper, was ‘fitted-up’ by West Yorkshire Police in an investigation led by DC/Supt Gregg, as he was then. An allegation very strongly refuted and, in fact, the highly-rated detective succeeded in a defamation claim in 2007 against his main critic, a well known Irish businessman and book author, Noel O’Gara.

No wrongdoing by Mr Gregg is either asserted or implied in this article, the main concerns expressed by the doubters were the reliability of the scientific testing and the process by which the defendant changed his plea from not guilty to guilty between the pre-trial hearing and the day Crown Court proceedings were set to open. As such, there was no testing of the campaigner’s core claim. Humble, a chronic alcoholic, with serious mental health issues at the time of his arrest, died in 2019. He served four years out of an eight year sentence for perverting the course of justice.

Mr Gregg has gone on to carve out a very successful business career since retiring from the police service. He is married to recently retired Yorkshire Television ‘Calendar’ regional news presenter, Christine Talbot. Attempts to contact him have not, so far, been successful. The McCafferty family are, understandably, anxious to learn who was, in fact, the SIO on Joe’s murder investigation from its outset and why WYP appear to want to cloud the issue.

Concealing information over the inquests

WYP PSD also say that Acting DI Sam Cooke was Deputy SIO and prepared what WYP PSD say was ‘the closing report‘ for the Coroner sitting at that time in Huddersfield, Roger Whittaker. An inquest touching Joe’s death took place on 2nd July, 1997. None of Joe’s family were notified of it taking place, including his mother. Indeed, she was unaware of it until many years later and, only very recently, was Tracey McCafferty given sight of the 1997 Coroner’s report.

WYP’s Force Solicitor, Mike Percival, now says that the July, 1997 inquest ‘was opened and adjourned, then resumed and closed on 24th August, 2005’. That appears to be at odds with the documentation supplied, so far. Mr Percival has not provided any evidence to support his assertion. The bereaved family’s inalienable position, based on long and bitter experience, is not to take the word of any WYP officer, not helped by many people being critical of the long-serving WYP lawyer, elsewhere. He has, very politely, been asked to substantiate his claim.

Tracey was not notified about the ‘resumed’ inquest hearing and did not attend. She was living in Harrogate at the time.

Other enquiries have revealed that no-one in the Bradford Coroner’s Office can trace any record of an inquest touching the death of Joe McCafferty, either in their computer records or after a physical search of the paper archives for what are said to be the relevant years – 1997 and 2005. The office in Bradford now handles all deaths in the Kirklees (Huddersfield) area.

Detective prominent in aftermath of Joe’s murder later convicted in criminal court

DC Paul Whiteley was referred to in at least one front page press report, holding a replica of the Unipart oil container that was found at the scene of the fire and remains the key piece of evidence to this day. He convicted in 2014 of common assault after Scarborough Magistrates’ Court heard he had ‘terrorised a village pub near Whitby’. After appealing against his conviction, in October of the same year, the sentence was increased and the drunken detective he was given a suspended jail sentence for what a York Crown Court judge described as the disgraced officer’s “aggressive and bullying behaviour”.

His resignation was not accepted by WYP and he was dismissed without notice from the force less than two months later to prevent him obtaining a post elsewhere in the police service.

Of at least equal relevance to the Joe McCafferty murder was the fact that both courts found that Paul Whiteley was not a truthful witness. It is a pattern that threads through the investigation with too many other officers, and some of those in ancillary roles in the force, afflicted in the same way. His assertion at the outset of the pub altercation is also very revealing of the mindset of too many WYP officers: “I’m a copper, I’ll do what I like”.

Was there one note or two, naming the suspects?

A scene minder who took possession of a note about named suspect(s) was PC 2080 Rollinson. The IOPC say he gave a contemporaneous statement on 19th May, 1997. But there is doubt and confusion because C/Supt Nick Wallen said in 2016 that a note was handed over the cordon to an officer on the day of the murder. On that piece of paper was the name of at least one of the two persons arrested in connection with the murder in 2015. This is an assertion, by a very senior officer recently appointed as SIO on the case, made without pre-amble, from which now both the force and the police watchdog appear to wish to resile.

Investigation filed in unsolved cases

The murder investigation was ‘filed’ in August 1997, say West Yorkshire PSD in March 2020. That was the first time that the bereaved family had any notion of this. It is police parlance for an investigation no longer being active. Contrary to that written PSD finding, the Information Rights team at WYP say that is incorrect; a murder investigation is never inactive. Which does, of course, beg the question why ‘cold case’ reviews are necessary. But this short stanza is simply characteristic of everything else that is wrong with this investigation: Truth and facts, supported by documentary or other independent evidence, or honest accounts from those involved with the case, are very hard to come by from West Yorkshire Police.

The ties that bind

A rookie detective, DC Julie Sykes, who worked on the murder investigation back in 1997 is an officer whose career weaves through all that has happened since. here is no assertion or implication of wrongdoing by her. More a case of what she hasn’t done or, apparently been prepared to overlook, that is of concern to Tracey McCafferty and Justice for Joe campaigners. Now C/Supt Sykes is Divisional Commander in Kirklees, having previously been Head of PSD between 2015 and 2018 and, before that, a Superintendent in the same Division from 2012 until 2015. A curiosity is that, shortly after publication of another article on Neil Wilby Media on 25th November, 2021 (read here), announced her retirement from the police service on 1st January, 2022. She had served only 28 years, whereas 30 years is the threshold for full pension. The usual valediction from her chief constable, or any other very senior officer, appears to be absent and there is no indication as to what career path Ms Sykes is intending to follow in future. In her own parting comments, she mentioned three major investigations of which she was proud. They didn’t include the Joe McCafferty murder.

1997-8 The first Family Liaison Officer (FLO) appointed in the case was DC Karen Gillard. Described as likeable and helpful, she knew Tracey previously and that, presumably is why she was appointed. Contact was maintained until 2005 in an unofficial capacity. DC Gillard was well aware of Tracey McCafferty’s move to Harrogate.

1998 Detective Inspector Sukhbir Singh was involved with the case briefly, although in what role is unknown. He was liked and respected by the bereaved family.

2000-2003 The Divisional Commander for Kirklees was C/Supt John Holt whose prior involvement as SIO in two of the darkest stains on West Yorkshire Police history – Operation Douglas (read here) and the investigation into the death on a police station floor of Christopher Alder – should, very arguably, have seen him prosecuted not promoted. But, either way, the die is cast for a police force area where incompetence and dishonesty appears to thread through its much of its hierarchy and then cascade down through the ranks.

2004 By contrast to DI Singh, but entirely in keeping with the ethos of the police station boss, D/Sgt Mick Smith of Kirklees CID, was intensely disliked by the McCafferty family. He was rude, disrespectful and unco-operative. Not, say the bereaved family, expressing any interest in local intelligence taken to him at Huddersfield Police Station.

2005 D/Insp Ian Devey (Kirklees Drug Squad) appeared briefly as a spokesperson on the case at the time of the second (or resumed?) inquest touching Joe McCafferty’s death. The family are seriously troubled that no attempt was made to inform his mother of the inquest fixture. Also, in complete contrast to the recent, and concerning conduct of one of the sergeants in his own team, Mick Smith, he was quoted as saying: “”The file is never closed on murder cases and we will thoroughly investigate any new information that comes in.”

2006 until 2016 DC Julie Wilson became FLO. Mistrusted by Tracey McCafferty and described as ‘cold, lacking compassion’, she became part of ‘the family done it’ narrative which came to a head in 2014. At that time she was transporting Tracey to police premises in Leeds without any accompanying family member or other supporter.

2006 (when HMET took over the murder investigation upon its formation) until 2014. D/Insp Dave Pervin played a leading role in the investigation. Not least in 2009 with an airing of the case on BBC Crimewatch. In 2010, the first Cold Case Review took place on his watch as he was by then, a detective chief inspector and the SIO on Joe’s murder investigation. In 2014, D/Supt Pervin, as he became, was the driving force behind Tracey being taken unaccompanied to Leeds, questioned and then told that her sister Debra Pierre (neé McCafferty) and Trevor Cunningham were to be interviewed as suspects. Not unnaturally, causing a significant rift in the family. The police hypothesis was that it was ‘an insurance job gone wrong’. A theory quickly abandoned after the retirement of Dave Pervin later in the same year. Neither Debra nor Trevor were spoken to by police and, in fact, the family say that they have never been interviewed or provided a statement in the entire course of the investigation.

2007 Supt Paul Kennedy was named as Senior Investigating Officer in press report (he was probably appointed in 2006 with Pervin as Deputy SIO). Left WYP in April 2008 to join Cumbria Police and later North Yorkshire Police. At the latter force, he gained notoriety as Gold Commander of the ill-starred Operation Hyson (read more here).

2014 At the final bombshell meeting between Tracey McCafferty and D/Supt Pervin, DC Jonathon Garrod and Julie Wilson were also present. D/Sgt Steve Cousins became known to Tracey around this time. He is also in the ‘family did it’ camp. Garrod and Cousins remain involved in the investigation to this day. The latter as a post-retirement civilian investigator.

2014 – 2016 After the retirement of Dave Pervin, DCI Elizabeth Belton took over as SIO on the investigation and there was a second Cold Case Review. This led to the arrest of two suspects who lived locally, a 60 year old female and 65 year old male. DC Garrod prepared pre-arrest report in 2015. The male suspect was well known to Trevor Cunningham, but the nature of that relationship cannot be revealed publicly because of the risk of jigsaw identification of the suspects. They were eventually released without charge as there was no tangible evidence to tie them to the murder. Not one police officer involved with the murder investigation can explain, satisfactorily, why those two suspects were not arrested in May 1997, as a result of the note, or notes, handed to officer(s) at the scene. The forensic, and investigative, opportunities lost, as a result, are incalculable.

2016 In March of this fateful year Elizabeth Belton was suspended from duty, whilst misconduct and then criminal investigations were conducted. She never returned to duty as an officer with WYP and was convicted of perverting the course of justice at Leeds Crown Court in January, 2019. D/Supt Nick Wallen took over from her as SIO and was an unmitigated disaster. Relations between the police and the bereaved family In April 2016, he attended Tracey McCafferty’s home and because of his condescending, disrespectful attitude was asked to leave soon afterwards. But not before asserting that a deceased local man had started the fire and the investigation was effectively closed as a result, an allegation that he soon backed away from himself and one to which the force, in any communication with either the family, other interested parties or the press has never returned. It was, the family maintain, a crude attempt by Wallen to get a problem case off WYP’s books.

He remained as SIO until he retired, peremptorily, in November, 2019. Shortly after exclusive revelations elsewhere on this website that he should have also been prosecuted for perverting the course of justice. On the clearest of evidence (read more here). A matter, to this day, that WYP, local politicians, the Police and Crime Commissioner and the Home Office simply do not want address.

There are also serious question marks against this officer’s name over other investigations in which he has been involved. Most notably, the miscarriage of justice that saw Andrew Feather jailed, in seriously concerning circumstances, for acting as a ‘secondary getaway driver’ following a murder in Bradford in 2014.

2018 In November, a meeting took place between one of the family’s key campaigners and complaint advocate, Gail Morris, and the aforementioned two officers, DC Garrod and Steve Cousins. 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 now the sole focus of what was once a murder investigation.

2019 Following Nick Wallen’s retirement, DCI (or Supt) Tony Nicholson was appointed as a ‘stop-gap’ SIO.

The present situation -can it actually get any worse?

2020 May until present day: DCI Sharron Kaye is appointed SIO, DI Paul Conroy appears to be her bag carrier and spokesperson (with Cousins now as civilian investigator).

That latest appointment makes a total of nine different SIOs on the case, a list put together by the bereaved 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 family or their representatives.

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. Upon doing so, opening the conversation with the now headlined admission ‘My Head’s A Shed‘ (read more here). Beyond that, her contribution to catching Joe’s killer(s) appears to be zero, apart from antagonising justice campaigners.

DCI Kaye’s present boss, C/Supt Mark Swift, as Head of HMET, completes, more or less, this sorry timeline. He 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. No contact has been made by him with Tracey McCafferty since he was appointed.

The controversy over whether this murder investigation benefited from the deployment of the HOLMES data management system still rages. A former senior officer heavily involved on the murder investigation is absolutely adamant that the case fils are ‘paper only’. The force is equally forceful in asserting that HOLMES was deployed.

There have been eight chief constables in overall charge of the police force since the murder of Joe McCafferty. Not one has ever contacted any member of the bereaved family or made any statement in the press about the case.

Keith Hellawell (1993 to 1998)
Alan Charlesworth (1998 to 1999)
Graham Moore (1999 to 2002)
The late Colin Cramphorn (September 2002 to November 2006)
Sir Norman Bettison (January 2007 to October 2012)
Mark Gilmore (April 2013 to August 2016) Gardening leave,
Dee Collins (appointed November 2016 retired April 2019) [temporary chief constable between June 2014 and November 2016]
John Robins (appointed June 2019 to present)

Keith Hellawell is a locally born and bred man and still lives in the area. He was a renowned thief-taker in the town’s pre-amalgamation County Borough Police and, as a career-hardened CID officer, would have taken a keen interest in the McCafferty murder before he left WYP in 1998.

CC Robins is very adjacent to the case as he was Kirklees Divisional Commander from 2008 until 2012. He needs to look very seriously inward and draw on all of his Christian beliefs when deciding if it is at all appropriate for his police force to retain any further involvement in this murder case.

A peaceful protest by ‘Justice For Joe’ campaigners is set to take place in Huddersfield town centre on 2nd March, 2022. It will start at 9am at the Media Centre on Northumberland Street where their MP’s office is located.

Barry Sheerman was elected to Parliament the year before Joe was murdered and the bereaved family say he has done nothing, other than offer meaningless platitudes, to assist the campaign to have a different police force appointed. He is regarded as much too close to Mayor Tracy Brabin, John Robins and Julie Sykes and unwilling to stir the pot, as it were. He has announced that he is not standing for re-election in 2024.

Page last updated at 1115hrs on Thursday 24th February, 2022.

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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