Commissioners in denial

Two high profile public figures suffered an embarassing defeat in Barnsley Law Courts this week.

Elizabeth Denham, a Canadian ‘expert’ brought in last year to head up the troubled Information Commissioner’s office (ICO) and Julia Mulligan, the disaster-prone Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire (NYPCC).

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Elizabeth Denham (left) and Julia Mulligan (right).

At a First Tier Tribunal hearing held in the iconic South Yorkshire town, an information rights appeal lodged by journalist Neil Wilby was upheld.

The Tribunal, chaired by Judge David Farrer QC, with experienced panellists, Jean Nelson and Henry Fitzhugh, alongside, found that both Commissioners were wrong to rely on a ‘neither confirm nor deny’ (NCND) response to an information request made to NYPCC, by Mr Wilby, in August, 2016.

The request principally concerned information regarding litigation costs associated with a civil court claim brought by Mr Wilby, against NYPCC, in June 2016.

The claim, citing Data Protection and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) breaches by NYPCC, succeeded at a final hearing in February, 2017. The journalist was awarded nominal damages and costs.

A complaint to the ICO, by Mr Wilby in October, 2016, eventually resulted in a Decision Notice (FS50652012) which upheld the NCND position, but on a different exemption under FOIA: Section 45(5)(a), instead of 45(5)(b) as relied upon by NYPCC.

The ‘investigation’ by the ICO’s caseworker, Carolyn Howes, has been the subject of withering criticism. As has the handling of a so-called internal review of the information request, and the conduct of the defence of the appeal, by NYPCC solicitor, Ashley Malone. The latter was also a witness for NYPCC in the civil claim successfully brought against her employer by Mr Wilby.

The Panel made its finding on the crucial NCND point during the Tribunal hearing, but the full judgment on the appeal has been reserved, pending written submissions from the ICO. Who sent a young, talented, but relatively inexperienced barrister to court, Elizabeth Kelsey, without instructions to deal with the matters that were plainly in issue. She was unable, therefore, to make oral submissions on other exemptions relied upon by NYPCC’s counsel, Alex Ustych, once the cloak of NCND had fallen away (sections 32, 40 and 42 of the Act for the FOIA ‘nerds’). The Panel found that section 32 could not apply, in any event.

Miss Kelsey was fortunate to be before an arbiter as benevolent (and worldly wise) as Judge Farrer. She will, no doubt, learn from the experience. In other jurisdictions she would have been sent away with a flea in her ear.

There was also learning to be had for Mr Ustych: Knowing where, and when, not to flog a dead horse. Whilst his persistence was admirable, trying to teach David Farrer QC ancient law was not.

It was not a good day for the two high profile public servants, in truth. Particularly, as it was revealed in open court that instructions given to both of their barristers was ‘to concede nothing’. Those instructing Miss Kelsey and Mr Ustych might also bear in mind that information rights tribunals are inquisitorial, rather than adversarial. Not a good look for either Commissioner, it must be said, as tens of thousands of pounds of public funds have been wasted. With more to follow, no doubt.

Not one word of apology has been given to Mr Wilby over the significant expense he has been put to and the enormous amount of unnecessary time he has spent dealing with a quite ludicrous, and entirely disproportionate, approach to this appeal by both Commissioners.

Both Ms Denham and Mrs Mulligan have been approached for comment on this article. Neither even acknowledged the email c arrying the invitation.

Which doesn’t sit well with this quote, reproduced from the Information Commissioner’s blog on her website: “And that’s where transparency comes in. People have a right to know how their services and communities are run. And in an era when people are increasingly looking for answers, protecting this right to Freedom of Information (FOI) is a crucial part of my job”.

Or with instructions to her barrister to ‘concede nothing’. It might also be connected to the fact that Ms Denham’s new deputy is James Dipple-Johnstone, a former leading light with another discredited regulator, the Independent Police Complaints Commission – and with whom Mr Wilby has had a number of running battles in his justice campaigner role.

As for Mrs Mulligan, who was a marketing strategist in a former life, she simply staggers from one crisis to another – and no amount of spin can conceal the ever widening cracks in her reputation as an effective elected representative.

 

Page last updated Saturday 14th October, 2017 at 1620hrs

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.

© Neil Wilby 2015-2017. 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.

 

 

Information rights regulator faces moment of truth

Investigative journalist, Neil Wilby, takes on the Information Commissioner (ICO) in court this week in the first of four First Tier Tribunal hearings. A fifth appeal is set to be determined on the papers.

The hearing is listed for 10am on Thursday 28th September, 2017 in Court 4 at Barnsley Law Courts. A concrete carbuncle that blights the landscape of this finest of South Yorkshire towns.

It is a public hearing and, as such, open to anyone to attend. The venue, and the associated arrangements, for this showdown has been changed no less than FIVE times in the last two months, before being finally settled upon less than a week before the listed date.

Each change has been as a result of repeated challenges to listing notices by Mr Wilby. There have been two attempts to have the appeal heard in London, for example. When parties to the appeal are based in Wakefield, Wilmslow and Northallerton.

“Plain daft” as they would say in Barnsley.

The composition of the three strong Panel has not yet been disclosed to Mr Wilby. It usually comprises of one tribunal judge and two lay members.

Julia Mulligan, the troubled Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire (PCC), has been joined as a party to the action on application by the ICO.

The appeal, lodged with the Tribunal in May, 2017 concerns a freedom of information (FOI) request made to the PCC on 8th August, 2016. The request sought disclosure of information connected to a civil court case involving the PCC and Mr Wilby. That claim was filed in June, 2016 and eventually settled in February, 2017.

Mr Wilby’s claim against the PCC, brought in his role as a journalist rather than a private individual, succeeded. He was awarded nominal damages, and costs, on that very basis.

It was a bitterly contested action and the PCC spent a five figure sum defending a claim that could – and should – have been disposed of for a fraction of the sum it cost the taxpayer in the end.

The PCC’s principal tactic was, not for the first time, to smear a journalist who had exposed yet more governance failings both in the running of her office – and her routine lack of oversight of the police force in her area.

Disclosure of the requested information was refused on the grounds that the PCC ‘could not confirm or deny‘ (often shortened to NCND) that she held any information on the civil court case.

For the FOI ‘nerds’ the exemption relied upon was section 40(5)(b). It would be ‘unfair’ to disclose the information sought because it was ‘personal data’.

The PCC didn’t state whether sub-section (i) or (ii) applied. A failing she was to repeat when asked to review the outcome of the request. Which strongly suggested that no meaningful review ever took place. It is alleged to have been undertaken by an information rights solicitor working for the PCC, Miss Ashley Malone, who sat next to Mr Wilby in court for two of the three hearing days.

There is other collateral evidence that supports that proposition that no proper review ever took place. No materials relating to it were disclosed in a data subject access request that was finalised in April, 2017.

Following Mr Wilby’s complaint to the ICO, the PCC changed her mind and decided that she would rely on section 40(5)(a). This moved the goalposts insofar as disclosing the information would breach data principles but still maintained ‘NCND’.

The ICO then upheld that revised view in a Decision Notice (FS50652012) published on her website. She completely ignored representations made to her by Mr Wilby three weeks before the decision was made.

The so called ‘investigation’ undertaken by the ICO was, on any independent view, a charade. As many others have found in their dealings with her, this is not a regulator at all minded to go looking for evidence, or test some of the wilder assertions of public authorities when refusing information requests.

In the course of his own interaction with the Information Commissioner, a level of laziness, incompetence and deceit has been uncovered by Mr Wilby that simply beggars belief. This is ‘public service’ at its very worse – and the regulator has become very uncomfortable with the level of scrutiny under which she is now placed.

The hearing on Thursday will reveal some of the defects within the organisation. It will take several more hearings for the entirety of the failings now uncovered to be made public.

Since the first appeal was launched there have been THREE other exemptions introduced by the ICO (s43, s32 and s45(5)(b)(i)), and FIVE more by the errant PCC (s32, s40(1) and (2), s42(1) and (2)). Only ONE is common to both.

The sharp eyed might note that the ICO are now looking to rely on an exemption they persuaded the PCC to abandon in January, 2017.

In all truth, you couldn’t make it up.

Yet, each of the two respondents is due to turn up in Barnsley with barristers hired in from London; Elizabeth Kelsey (Monckton Chambers) for the ICO and Alex Ustych (5 Essex Court) for NYPCC – and, of course, an in house solicitor each, Nicholas Martin and the aforementioned Miss Malone.

Another complete waste of a lumpy five figure sum from the public purse, plus an incalculable amount of time and expense incurred by a freelance journalist simply trying to follow his vocation as a ‘public watchdog’. In the process, being messed around from pillar to post – and not just by his opponents either: The Tribunal has also failed to case manage appropriately and gives such leeway to the ICO, and to a lesser extent public authorities, that leaves the strong impression of lay litigants, pursuing information rights appeals, not being at all welcomed.

Miss Malone was, of course, Mrs Mulligan’s star witness in the civil claim in which her employer was soundly defeated by Mr Wilby. Her evidence bordered on the comical, within those proceedings, and certainly did not assist the PCC’s cause: For example, a police solicitor couldn’t explain to the court whether a chief constable was a controller, or processor, of data entered onto or extracted from the Police National Computer (PNC).

A second round of civil proceedings against Mrs Mulligan is presently in the course of preparation by Mr Wilby. They are even more strongly grounded than the first, and seem certain to succeed. Notwithstanding, the power-crazy PCC has already indicated, via another of her in-house solicitors, Jane Wintermeyer, that she will waste tens of thousands more public money in defending the indefensible.

With two more information rights tribunal hearings yet to be arranged, involving Mrs Mulligan and Mr Wilby, this is a story that will run for some time yet. With a little luck, it will end with the resignation of the errant, and profligate, Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire.

Both the Information Commissioner and the PCC were approached for comment on this article. Neither even acknowledged the email carrying the request.

 

Page last updated Wednesday 26th September, 2017 at 1920hrs

 

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.

© Neil Wilby 2015-2017. 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.

 

Seaside shenanigans over ‘council corruption’ report

There can be few Borough Councils that have found themselves criticised so roundly and persistently, over the past few years, as Scarborough’s Town Hall incumbents.

Local, regional and national press stories abound over a string of democracy failings, and a BBC Inside Out programme also took them to task over trying to close down a local internet news website.

A well-named ‘Rotten Borough’, as Private Eye regularly describes them.

For journalists, the job of squeezing out information from Scarborough Borough Council (SBC) is one that would test the patience of Job. Press enquiries go largely unheeded, and freedom of information requests are non-compliant, more often than not. Disclosure, if given, can be months late, or provided in such a form as to be worthless.

The latest battle concerns a Council whistle blower scandal that has been doing the rounds for over four years. Despite desperate attempts by senior council officials, aided by a large sum of public money, to keep the lid on corruption allegations, an employment tribunal claim, heard in Hull in July last year, blew it clean off.

Former Council employee, Ben Marriott, succeeded, to a large extent, in a constructive dismissal claim against SBC and received a pay out of £95,000, plus costs. The (now retired) tribunal judge, Humphrey Forrest, described the council ‘investigation’ into Mr Marriott’s whistle blowing allegations as a ‘whitewash’.

Eventually, after much huffing and puffing, and a great deal of pressure applied by the local media, SBC agreed to an external investigation into corruption allegations made by Mr Marriott. To the surprise of most, the police did not investigate what were, taken at their face, serious allegations.

Instead, the Council instructed Mazars, a private company specialising in audit, accountancy, tax and consulting services, to undertake a ‘review’. The company has an existing commercial relationship with the Council as their financial auditors.

Mazars are better known as sponsors of Yorkshire’s county cricket team: But, most definitely, not as criminal investigators.

Mazars partner, Ian Wrightson (left), pictured at Headingley Stadium with Yorkshire County Cricket Club chief executive, Mark Arthur.       Picture credit: Mazars

Unusually, the scope of the ‘review’ was not made public and it was clear, from a leaked email sent by SBC’s head of legal services to Councillors in December, 2016, that the Town Hall was still in almost complete denial over the court’s findings.

A false claim was also made in the same email concerning a confidentiality agreement (NDA) allegedly sought by Mr Marriott: No such clause was ever considered by him. As a whistle blower it would have been unenforceable, in any event.

A local newspaper reported, after the remedy hearing in December, 2016, that the total cost of the Marriott claim, including legal fees and ancillary expenses, would be in the order of £250,000.

Mr Marriott also told the media that he was still waiting for an apology from SBC: “Not once has anyone said sorry to me. All I did was to raise some potentially serious issues with them and I was forced to leave my job and fight through the courts.

The Mazars review was delivered to the Council in June, 2017 and was quickly followed, in the same month, by a freedom of information (FOI) request seeking disclosure of the report; its terms of reference; the budgeted cost and the actual cost [1].

The review was months overdue: The Council Leader, Derek Bastiman, was quoted in the local press in December, 2016 as saying: ‘The external investigation we have instigated with our external auditors, Mazars, the investigation’s findings are expected shortly’.

As expected, the FOI request has developed into the usual blood out of a stone exercise. The finalisation of the request, on the very last day stipulated by law, produced no information at all. The Council relied on a section 22 exemption under the Freedom of Information Act (the Act). The officer dealing with the request did not put his (or her) name to it.

In layman’s terms, a section 22 exemption means the public authority (SBC) does not have to disclose the requested information, because they intend to publish it at a later date. The main problem with the Council’s response is that they did not say how, or when, that intention was made.

A challenge against the SBC decision (called an internal review request under the Act) was submitted shortly afterwards. It was an eleven point challenge, carefully set out and annotated with the relevant case law and recommended reading.

The key points of complaint were:

– By reference to local/regional media, social media and, more crucially,
council minutes, there appeared to be no settled intention to publish any,
or all, of the requested information. To rely on a s22 exemption, a
refusal to disclose is required to be accompanied by evidence.

– No timeframe is given for publication, other than ‘in the near future’.
Given the Council’s routine (and defensive) approach to disclosure that
could, readily, be interpreted months, or years. Previous
experiences with the Council concerning information requests, and press
enquiries, are relevant in this regard (answered very late or not at all).

– It is accepted that a definite date is not required to be given (or
indeed possible to give). However, the Information Commissioner takes the view that timing is a key factor when deciding whether withholding the information is “reasonable in all the circumstances”.

It was also contended that the refusal to disclose the information engaged the requester’s Article 10 convention rights:

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Magyar 
Helsinki Bizottság v Hungary [18030/11] stipulated four ‘threshold
criteria’ to better define the circumstances under which a denial of
access to information constitutes an interference (to a requester’s
Article 10 rights) in a given case:

The purpose of the information requested: contribution to a public
debate.

The nature of the information sought: public interest nature

The role of the applicant: social watchdogs and  the like.

Whether the information is ready and available to the public
authorities.

In the Mazars request there has already been considerable public debate:
(a) the Council has conceded the public interest argument (b) the
requester is an NUJ accredited journalist (c) it is known  (and conceded
by the Council) that all of the requested information is ready and
available.

The Council’s refusal to disclose the information, therefore, clearly
engages the requester’s Article 10 rights, by reference to Magyar.

The Council were urged to deal with the internal review request ‘promptly’.

In the event, it appears that the Council would not have dealt with the internal review at all, but for a threat of judicial review proceedings made on 21st August, 2017. After the deadline for response to the internal review request had passed.

Briefly, the Council were told: ‘The refusal to disclose the requested information arguably constitutes a breach of Article 10 convention rights.  Further, the refusal to undertake an internal review in accordance with section 45 of the Act and the Information Commissioner’s Guidance would tend to aggravate such a breach’.

This had the desired effect as a finalisation to the review request was received the following day. Again, it was anonymised.

The main thrust of the Council’s response was that they continued to rely on the section 22 exemption in order not to disclose three of the four parts of the information request.

They did, however, disclose that the budgeted cost of the Mazars review was £14,000. Which, at their rate of charging, buys you very little. The oily smell of ‘whitewash’ has again reached the nostrils.

Six of the eleven points of complaint were not addressed at all, including the breach of convention rights contention, but there were some interesting revelations amongst the narrative provided by the Council:

– The scope of the review is set out as part of the report itself.

– The intention to publish the report derives from the decision of a cross party panel of elected Members, who met privately to consider the report and next steps. They unanimously decided that the report should be disclosed.
– The Council say that there is already an amount of incomplete and incorrect information circulating in the public domain about this matter, releasing the scope in isolation from the remainder of the report would do nothing to assist public understanding, and would result in questions being raised that could be addressed by the content of the complete report.

– The actual cost of the investigation is not known at this time because the Council has not received a final bill.

– As stated in the Council’s initial response, there is clearly a public interest in this information being disclosed into the public domain. There is also a public interest in the information being published in a manner that aids understanding.

– The reliance on section 22 of the FOIA is nothing to do with political inconvenience as stated in the request for review. In fact quite the contrary is true, in that it would be more politically convenient for the information to be disclosed as soon as possible.

– There is a strong public interest in the Council operating in a lawful manner – to do otherwise would put the Council at risk of legal challenge. One relevant aspect of the requirement to operate lawfully is to ensure that the Council complies with its duty of care towards staff, and the common law duty of mutual trust and confidence. In this respect the Council must ensure that it meets such duties towards those staff who have been involved in and may be affected by the matter prior to releasing the report into the public domain.

– Another aspect of acting lawfully is that the Council has entered into a contractual agreement with the external auditor for the provision of an independent review. As part of that contractual agreement, the external auditor has stipulated that their written permission must be obtained prior to the report being disclosed more widely. To publish the report without obtaining written permission would likely be a breach of contract and put the Council and the public purse at risk, and it is entirely
reasonable from a public interest perspective to allow the Council opportunity to comply with this requirement.

As ever with SBC, when information is eventually prised from their grasp there are more questions than answers:

From the vague terminology it appeared that no tightly drawn terms of reference were set for the review. ‘Scope’ suggests a rather more loose narrative.

The public now know that a small group of councillors has met, on an unspecified date and without announcement, before or after, and decided to publish the Mazars report.

Without any preamble, it was published on 30th August, 2017 on the Council’s website [2]. Members received an email after the event. The Council leader made this accompanying announcement:

I have instructed officers to publish a copy of the Mazars report with the unanimous support of the cross party panel of councillors to whom the report was delivered”,

Unfortunately, Mazars was unwilling to grant the council permission to disclose the report publicly, however I have taken the decision that there is a significant overriding public interest in doing so. Indeed it has always been my intention that this report would be publicly available.”

The working hypothesis is that the furore over the freedom of information request, and the accompanying threat of legal action, forced the Council’s hand.

As suspected, there were no terms of reference, and, incredibly, Mazars were allowed to determine their own scope for the review.

The report is unattributed; no Mazars employee has put his, or her, name to it. The review simply adds gloss to the original whitewash applied by the Council to Mr Marriott’s allegations.

The report notes that a meeting between senior Council officials and senior North Yorkshire Police (NYP) officers took place in November, 2016. Based on information provided to them, NYP decided not to investigate the allegations.

The same police force that sent five officers, within minutes, to the Town Hall to prevent a section of the electorate from expressing their views from the public gallery at a recent Council ‘no confidence’ meeting which had devolved into a democracy shambles [3].

The Council leader boldly claims: “The report followed an independent and comprehensive investigation and I fully accept the outcome of this process”.

It is unclear as to how Cllr Bastiman has arrived at the conclusion that it was ‘comprehensive’. To say it was ‘independent’ is also a misnomer.

Mr Marriott is, understandably, upset at the outcome: “Like the judge said at the Tribunal, a complete ‘white wash’. It really is embarrassing to read, the total lack of professional standards and lack of respect for the whole country and its people”.

He added: “In court, the judge stated that Scarborough Borough Council had not done any investigations into my allegations for fear of upsetting people”.

More than three months after delivery of the report, the Council say Mazars haven’t sent in a bill for the work. Many people would take the view that, if an invoice does eventually materialise, it should be returned unpaid.

The Mazars report does not feature on the Agenda for the full Council meeting scheduled for Monday 4th September, 2017 at 2pm. A briefing of all Members on the Mazars report was scheduled for 11am on that day. It is unclear whether that will now proceed.

The complaint to the Information Commissioner proceeds – and appropriate action will be taken against the Council concerning any finding of Article 10 breach.

A second freedom of information request was made to the Council on 31st August, 2017 seeking disclosure of materials that will give context to the Mazars report and decisions taken within and around it [4].

Scarborough Borough Council’s press office has declined to comment.

 

 

Page last updated Friday 1st September, 2017 at 1930hrs

[1] Neil Wilby: What Do They Know FOIA request to Scarborough Borough Council 23rd June, 2017

[2] Mazars: Review of Scarborough Borough Council’s investigation of whistleblowing allegations received in October 2014

[3] Scarborough News: ‘Police called to no confidence meeting after public gallery clapped’ 26th June, 2017

[4] Neil Wilby: What Do They Know FOIA request to Scarborough Borough Council 31st August, 2017

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.

© Neil Wilby 2015-2017. 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.

Democracy dies another death

Just a few short weeks after publication of one of the most damning civil court judgments I’ve read in recent times, the council at the centre of that legal storm are in the news again: For all the wrong reasons.

North Yorkshire County Council, based in sleepy Northallerton , is the host Authority for the North Yorkshire Police and Crime Scrutiny Panel. It receives a substantial Home Office grant for its trouble.

jobs_workingforus
Constructed in the early 1900’s by architect Walter Brierley, the Grade 2 listed County Hall at Northallerton has, also, previously seen service as a Red Cross hospital and as a temporary wartime home for the local grammar school.

The senior officer in charge of the Panel Secretariat is Barry Khan, a qualified solicitor who also fulfils other roles within the county council: Assistant Chief Executive; Head of Legal and Democratic Services; and Monitoring Officer. He moved to North Yorkshire in 2014 after previously working for Stockport Council.

Khan’s short incumbency at Northallerton has not been without controversy. Apart from the desperately shocking Jeanine Blamires case [1], there has been an alleged ‘stonewalling’ over child safeguarding failures in at least one school in the quaint seaside town of Whitby.

His previous role as Solicitor and Monitoring Officer at Stockport Borough Council was not plain sailing, either. Most notably, over peaceful protester Michael Parnell, who died following a period where he had been repeatedly arrested, detained but was, eventually, cleared after a three day Crown court trial [2].

Khan’s role in the mistreatment of Parnell, particularly in securing a restraining order against Mr Parnell to prevent him protesting, has not been subject to complaint or application, as far as can be traced. But Mr Parnell’s supporters, including democracy campaigner, Sheila Oliver, continue to express disquiet over the council’s contribution to the illness that led to his death. On any view, it is a troubling case.

In my own sporadic, direct dealings with Khan there have been no notable communication issues. But, that is definitely not the case with the staff deployed beneath him in the Secretariat hierarchy:

I have been lied to by Ray Busby (for which I received an apology); addressed inappropriately by the same officer (for which I received another apology); had personal data released onto a public forum by Diane Parsons (a matter denied by the Secretariat and currently under investigation by the Information Commissioner) and treated to a display of ignorance and stubbornness over the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 2000, by the same officer, that simply beggars belief. To the extent that it would be a relatively easy step, given the history, to infer that the intention of the Secretariat was to vex, annoy and harass.

That history also includes a complaint that I made against Julia Mulligan, in July 2015, that concerned the failure of the Police Commissioner to hold the Chief Constable, Dave Jones, to account over a number of issues that included inter alia:

The £1 million funding of failed harassment prosecutions and a civil claim mounted by four very senior police officers and a political crony, Jane Kenyon [2a]; Poor communication/engagement: 101 service; Non-compliant Freedom of Information Act finalisations; Failure to publish Decision Notices:

The complaints were not upheld by the Panel, despite subsequent events proving, beyond doubt, that each one of those matters was, in fact, validly raised. In most cases, accompanied by seriously adverse publicity for the Commissioner, or the force. Or both.

The fact that I succeeded in a county court claim against the Police Commissioner, in February 2017, over data protection breach, has never appeared in Panel minutes either. Neither has reference to the £20,000 plus of public funds expended on defending that claim, and a parallel one against the Chief Constable.

More recent Panel failings include the chief executive farrago. Again, costing precept payers a fortune (latest estimates suggest a figure close to £80,000). Substantive post holder, Joanna Carter, is believed not to have been in post since very early in 2016. There have been two temporary ‘replacements’ variously imported from other PCC’s as acting, or interim, chief executive. Both Simon Dennis and Fraser Sampson, it is fair to say, arrived on the scene with ‘baggage’. Sampson and I clashed, repeatedly, during his tenure at, firstly, the disgraced West Yorkshire Police Authority and, later, the Office of the Police and Commissioner for West Yorkshire.

All questions to the North Yorkshire Commissioner’s office, concerning the absence of Ms Carter, are resolutely stonewalled: Even when they are legally obliged to provide answers, by way of an FOIA request [2b]. An insider has said that questions put by the Panel to the Commissioner, and Sampson, about Ms Carter’s unavailability have been fobbed off (unreported in the minutes it must be said). Another well-placed source says that Ms Carter signed off ill with stress, as a result of a series of disagreements with her ‘high-handed’ employer.

With Sampson now in post until 2019, the presumption is that Joanna Carter is not returning and, quite possibly, in legal dispute with Julia Mulligan. If this is the case, and absence of hard information only fuels speculation, then either a compromise agreement, or Tribunal proceedings, is going to cost the precept payer a mighty sum. Which would, of course, explain the wall of silence around the issue.

These are precisely the issues over which the Panel should be holding the PCC to account but, yet again, the meeting minutes (and Decision Notice) are silent on the fate of Ms Carter, a statutory appointment, and, as such, open to particular scrutiny.

It was a similar situation over the appointment of Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, Will Naylor. It is established, beyond doubt, that Naylor embroidered his employment history and had little, or no, relevant experience in taking on the role. Other than as a Conservative Party policy wonk [3].

There were also serious concerns about the recruitment process for the Deputy role, which had all the appearance of a well-orchestrated sham. The upshot was that, in a rare flexing of scrutiny muscle, the Panel decided that the confirmation of Naylor’s appointment was conditional of sight of a personal development plan, and a six month trial period, after which he would appear before the Panel. Which all sounded fine, until Mrs Mulligan unilaterally decided that the plan wouldn’t be produced after all – and Naylor didn’t appear before the Panel as scheduled to have his capabilities, qualifications, performance further examined [4].

Another scandal to surface very recently, unscrutinised, is the dramatic increase in office costs of the profligate PCC. In one year, ending March 2017, they have risen from £741,000 to £908,000. Over 20%. Which does not include the legal costs referred to above, which are tucked away elsewhere in the accounts. This flies in the face of what Mrs Mulligan told the Panel when the decision to have a Deputy was thrust upon them, unannounced, last September. There has been nothing, whatsoever, noted in the Panel meeting minutes, or any warning given by the PCC, that such a steep rise was on the cards.

NYPCC office costs 2016-17

But the most recent scrutiny fail concerns a remarkable refusal to accept a public question, from myself, at the Panel meeting which took place on 20th July, 2017. This was the question exactly as framed:

Freedom of Information Act compliance
 
(A) Statement
In July and September 2015, in response to a complaint and a public question made by me, these were amongst the submissions made by Joanna Carter, the chief executive at the time.
(i) At page 18 of the complaint response it was said:
“The Commissioner would agree that the FOI performance could improve, and that the quality of answers given on occasion could also improve….”
(ii) At page of the PQT response it was said:
“All FOIA’s, including any relating to this issue (Operations Rome and Hyson) are routinely published on the NYP/NYPCC website”.
Since those answers were provided,
(i) It is evident that not all requests relating to Operation Hyson and Rome were not published on the force disclosure log. Indeed, it is the regular practice of the force to conceal requests that may be perceived as causing reputational damage.
(iv) The force has refused an information request from me to establish the extent of the issue. A matter presently before the Information Commissioner (see attached WhatDoTheyKnow file).
(v) FOIA performance has worsened. To the extent that over 500 requests per annum are finalised unlawfully (See attached FOIA finalisation). That is a quantitative analysis, the figure would be much higher addressed qualitatively. Poor quality finalisations still feature regularly.
(vi) The Information Commissioner has indicated within Tribunal proceedings that the Civil Disclosure Unit are now under a monitoring regime as a result of poor performance (I have requested disclosure from them of more complete details).
(vii) If the oral and written submissions of the police lawyer running the CDU, to both the County Court and the First Tier Tibunal, are to be believed there are now less staff deployed in that Unit, than two years ago.
(viii) The Commissioner and the Chief Constable are both spending substantial amounts of public funds defending civil claims and Tribunal proceedings concerning FOIA where, on their face, the prime motivation is to avoid scrutiny and reputational harm, rather than the preservation of information rights. In the past year that figure, in my own knowledge exceeds £30,000 with the potential for that figure to double in the present financial year.
(B) Question
What steps has the Commissioner taken to:
(i)   Apprise herself of the extent of the non-compliance issues extant within the Civil Discloure Unit?
(ii)  Hold the Chief Constable to account over these long-term, repeated failings to comply with the law and use of public funds?
(iii) Keep the Panel informed?

Firstly, the email sending the question and supporting documents was intercepted and quarantined.

The Panel Secretariat, in the form of the aforementioned Diane Parsons, came back the following day and refused permission to ask the question. She said: “Having consulted the Panel Chair on your submission, I regret that the Panel are therefore unable to take your questions at the meeting this week.  However, I have passed your correspondence and attachments to the OPCC so that they are aware of the concerns you have raised“.

The rationale appeared to be that these were not matters with which the Scrutiny Panel need concern themselves: “To clarify, the purpose of PQT is to enable members of the public who live, work or study in North Yorkshire to engage directly with the Panel and pose questions on its remit and functions.  I have attached, if helpful, a copy of the Panel’s guidelines on PQT.  Any statements or concerns which you feel require the attention of the Commissioner would need to be directed through her office“.

The email from Ms Parsons, unusually, was comprised of three different fonts, and had obviously passed through a number of hands before she was elected as message bearer. The unseen hand of Barry Khan was, no doubt, part of the behind-the-scenes subterfuge.

As a card-carrying member of the press, the residency issue is a non-starter; I have previously posed a question to the same Panel: complaints against the PCC have also been considered by the same Panel; and on any reasonable, independent view the questions I posed met the Panels own guidelines or, even if the Panel felt they did not, modification was a very simple process.

But that, plainly, did not suit the Panel, or its Secretariat’s, purpose. To conceal their own failings as a scrutiny body, yet again, was clearly paramount. There was also what some might view as an unattractive element of childishness implicit within the response – and the intercepting of the email even before it reached the intended recipient. Which rather suggests that North Yorkshire County Council are interfering with my communications.

Following the re-direction of the public questions to the Police Commissioner’s office there has been a deathly silence. Which has also been the case from Deputy Chair of the Panel, Ashley Mason, who was passed full details of the questions prior to the Panel meeting taking place, by a well-known local democracy campaigner. Cllr Mason was rather more loquacious when, as if on cue, another unmitigated 101 disaster befell NYP during the first week of August, 2017 [4a].

This is a story that has some way to run yet as more information is passed to me by a source close to the Panel. This includes the claim, surprising to me at least, that the Panel chair, Cllr Carl Les, and the PCC do not see eye to eye, and that at least one conscripted Panel Member is very reluctant to take on her duties, having been pressed into service following the abrupt departure of another Member last year. A situation that chimes with a number of senior Conservative figures turning on Mrs Mulligan over her ‘crazy’ plans to take control of the North Yorkshire fire service [5].

There are also, it is said, serious frustrations at the PCC’s frequent refusal to provide requested documents, information to the Panel Secretariat. Again, a matter unreported in the minutes. There is also another controversy concerning the minutes as they are sometimes not, according to my source, a true record of what actually transpired at the Panel meetings. That would fit, certainly, with the known modus operandum of Fraser Sampson.

North Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel is, obviously, not a happy ship and needs an rapid overhaul, tip to stern.

The Police Commissioner’s office and the Panel Secretariat have both been approached for comment. Neither acknowledged the request.

Page last updated: Wednesday 2nd August, 2017 at 1745hrs

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.

[1] Leeds County Court, 21st June, 2017: Judgment of District Judge Joanna Geddes in Jeanine Blamires -v- Local Government Ombudsman

[2] Manchester Evening News, 19th September, 2013: ‘Protester who held three year vigil outside Stockport Town Hall dies

[3] Neil Wilby, 22nd October, 2016: ‘Where there’s a Will there’s a way

[4] Neil Wilby, 23rd November, 2016: ‘Pick of the crop’

[4a] York Press: 4th August, 2017: Police apologise after telling public NOT to call 101

[5] Harrogate Advertiser, 25th July, 2017: ‘Police tsar plan for fire service branded ‘crazy”

© Neil Wilby 2015-2016. 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.

When reputation management trumps safeguarding risk

If a citizen commits a crime then they can expect to face the full force of the law and an appropriately scaled punshment. Either by penalty notice at one end of the scale, or a lengthy prison sentence at the other. That is one of the foundation stones of a free, democratic society.

We are told, often, that police officers are citizens in uniform. But the reality is, they largely face a different set of rules, if they are found to break the law. Processing through the criminal justice system is seen, in many cases, by their force, as a last resort. Particularly, if the case is likely to cause harm to the reputation of the police service and there is an available compromise.

That may involve a ‘plea bargain‘ that amounts to a miscreant officer resigning from the force and no criminal charge. That, it must be said, saves money on misconduct and criminal proceedings – and also avoids the police’s dirty washing being aired in public.

Another exit route is the ‘not in the public interest‘ argument that forms part of the Crown Prosecution Service‘s Full Code Test [1]. The evidence may be there, but for reasons of proportionality, for example, the matter doesn’t proceed to court.

Other factors include the Police Federation’s input and the, mainly, benign approach of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) towards police wrongdoing.

The Fed are, of course, the police officer’s ‘union’ for all ranks up to chief inspector – and provide pastoral support, legal advice and, more crucially, funding for the latter. They are, beyond doubt, a powerful and very wealthy organisation (in West Yorkshire alone Fed has over £2 million in reserves). Their default position is that police forces (by definition, as appropriate authority, chief constables) should deal with miscreant officers ‘in-house’ and the Fed should be free to cut deals (or the ‘plea bargains’) with chief officers that suit them and their members – and, more likely than not, the force.

However cosy, and pragmatic, this arrangement may seem, the public, and in some cases, the press, are very often left perplexed by the system – and the unavoidable perception that a police officer has ‘got away with it‘. More crucially, victims in these cases can be left isolated, humiliated and with their confidence in the police shredded.

One small consolation is that police officers can no longer retire to avoid disciplinary proceedings. A route taken by thousands over the years, with gold-plated pensions intact.

Which brings us to two very recent West Yorkshire cases that, whilst not yet finalised, have ‘cover-up‘ written all over them. They have come to attention through whistleblowers brave, and public-spirited, enough to put their head above the parapet.

As criminal charges may follow in at least one of the two cases (probably as a result of this exposé), care has to be taken not to prejudice any contemplated proceedings and the names and ranks of the officers involved are, for the present time, not being revealed.

Curiously, both these officers have previously faced criminal proceedings for assault on members of the public. Neither was convicted:

The most senior of the two, of managerial rank, was cleared by a jury after a controversial trial concerning an incident that happened off-duty. The on-line report of those proceedings has, fairly recently, been wiped from the newspaper website that had carried it for some years. Presumably, after the officer came under increasing fire in a series of complaints made against him by members of the public who felt his conduct had fallen below the standards expected from a senior policeman.

The more junior officer, a police constable, was charged with assault, but the case did not proceed beyond the plea hearing due to witness issues. He resumed normal duties as a neighbourhood patrol officer in one of the many former mining communities in the county. He is said to be a likeable lad, but lacking in common sense. The assault charge was described as one of a number of disciplinary ‘near misses’.

On 21st July, 2017, the constable was arrested and detained over suspicion of improper contact with a young girl. She was a resident of a care home at the material time. It is said that there were inappropriate remarks made to the girl, by the constable, during a visit to the care home. This allegedly sparked further messages, and the sending of at least one photograph of an indecent nature. His locker was searched and police mobile phone siezed. Suspension from duty quickly followed, once the deputy chief constable’s sanction had been obtained.

The matter is further complicated by separate allegations that, when the first contact was flagged up to the constable’s supervision, no safeguarding measures were put in place to prevent an escalation. The suspicion persists that this management failing, and how to scrub around it, will be occupying the attention of the force’s decision makers.

Having received information about the incidents, and allegations, from three separate sources – which included being provided with the officer’s name, rank and collar number – the press office at West Yorkshire Police was contacted for comment, or a statement, early on 26th July, 2017. They were also asked to confirm if criminal charges were laid and, if so, when the officer would next appear before a court. For a variety of reasons, which will become clear as this matter unfolds, it is a case I would want to report upon. Preferably, exclusively.

Two and a half days later, the press office reverted with a refusal to comment, grounded in the fact that there were legal proceedings in process. They have been asked to clarify whether those proceedings are criminal, misconduct, or both. No response has, so far, been provided over three days later.

At the same time, the press office of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) was also contacted. The question put to them concerned a mandatory referral of the matter as an abuse of the police officer’s powers to procure a sexual relationship. A form of corruption that the police watchdog has emphasised as one of their priorities. There has been no response at all from the IPCC, despite being pressed to do so on social media. Which gives rise to the genuinely held, and well grounded, suspicion that no referral had taken place prior to the press enquiry and a scramble is now under way as to how best to present that failure without appearig critical of WYP or their own lack of oversight.

To journalists dealing with the press offices of policing bodies this will come as no surprise; they are routinely opaque. To the public, who may have young girls as part of their family, this will be alarming. The victim, and the care home staff, may also be in the dark and not receiving appropriate liasion. The constable himself may need welfare assistance and support; often this type of offending is part of a matrix of troubled circumstances. For example, a chaotic home, or professional, life.

We can only speculate, until the police and the IPCC emerge from their ‘hidey-hole’ and inform precept payers, and the press, with sufficient information to maintain public confidence, but without prejudice to any ongoing proceedings.

The situation with the senior officer, and safeguarding risks associated with him, whilst very different in its circumstance and context, is also not being managed in a way that maintains public confidence in West Yorkshire Police. Indeed, it could be said that this officer has also led a charmed existence for a number of years now, whilst enjoying the patronage of one very senior officer in particular, ACC Andy Battle. An officer whose career has not been one without its own controversies – and one with whom I have clashed, personally.

Beginning in 2011, their have been a number of well evidenced complaints against the officer at the centre of the safeguarding concerns. During which time, he has held two significant, high profile roles. One of which may surprise and shock many members of the public. Whilst I am familiar with this officer’s career, to specify those roles, or indeed his rank, may present a risk of jigsaw identification.

The complaints which are known about – and the presumption is that there are more that the force seeks to conceal – include those made by a highly-regarded former police officer.

Other complaints were made by two well-connected West Yorkshire businessmen whose cases, for different reasons, attracted widespread press and broadcast attention. Two of the complaints concerned anger management issues, which was a feature of the evidence heard against him at the criminal trial. One of the complaints involved three successive witness statements being given by the officer, each different – and all inconsistent with independent evidence.

Another concerned a covert surveillance operation on me, mounted by WYP, in 2013. In October of that year, a group of my justice campaigning friends and myself met, not for the first time, socially, at the White Horse public house in Emley. Unknown to us WYP had placed at least one officer in the bar to observe the group. As we left, an unmarked grey BMW 5 series estate car tailed one of my guests as he left the pub and drove towards home. After less than two miles the errant officer and a uniformed colleague stopped my friend’s car, an expensive and very distinctive vehicle. The two officers proceeded to invent reasons for the stop – and asked the driver to take a breath test. It blew negative, as my friend is a virtual tee-totaller. The police had followed him because he had been the ‘carrier’ in the pub for other guests’ drinks and, as a result, the police watcher inside the pub had fingered the ‘wrong’ man. Not that if they had fingered the ‘right’ man would it have made a difference. I had been picked up at my home, nearby, and driven to (and from) the pub by a teetotal, retired police officer with 31 years exemplary service.

The most extraordinary part of this episode is that the unmarked police vehicle had been ‘borrowed’ from the force’s Carr Gate operational services complex, for the purpose, when the errant officer was based elsewhere and his duties, at the time, would certainly not have included covert policing. Quite the opposite, in fact. When he was identified at the scene. he put his head in his hands, over the steering wheel, like a man who knew the game was up.

One of the two businessman has now issued a wide-ranging civil claim, being handled by one of the top police complaints solicitors in the country, Iain Gould [2]. A without prejudice offer made by the force, in an attempt to settle matters, was countered by a more realistic sum that the complainant would agree to. At first, the force solicitor, Mike Percival, claimed this counter-offer had never been received by him, but had to retract when West Yorkshire Police disclosed materials, by way of a data subject access request, that included the very letter that Mr Percival stated he had not received. A routine day at the office for those unfortunate enough to have to deal with the smoke and mirrors world of WYP on a regular basis.

The complaints made by the former police officer have also been a thorn in both the side of the force and the errant policing manager. They are very well articulated and properly evidenced. At first, the force attempted to deal with them ‘off-system’ by way of a ‘fob-off’ letter from a crony of the officer being complained about.

Subsequent attempts to deflect the complaints do not reflect well on the force, either. The consistent thread of the complaints is of flouting regulations, poor interpersonal skills and intemperate responses to any form of challenge. The risk he posed to others was set out in stark detail by a highly respected, hugely experienced individual by way of close observation.

During this process, it was also revealed that the officer in question had applied for a transfer, from his previous force, to both Humberside and Lincolnshire Police, and turned down, before joining WYP. Which raises another set of questions as to how low the latter force set the bar for in-service recruits. Particularly relevant, at the present time, as WYP embark on a drive to attract over 600 officers to their ranks.

For my own part, I wrote to Chief Inspector Michelle Martin on 30th March 2015, highlighting the risk her miscreant fellow manager posed. She obviously didn’t agree, as she never even acknowledged the email, let aone provided a substantive response. It was copied to ACC Battle (and two other recipients), so it is not open to either CI Martin or ACC Battle to say they were not warned, in very bleak terms, that here was an accident (or worse) waiting to happen.

As night follows day, happen it has. The troubled officer has, it seems, imploded and suffered what is described to me as a ‘mental breakdown’. Surrounding this trauma, there have been a series of unappealing incidents about which I cannot, at this time, go into detail. They, allegedly, involve three females, two of them young, one of whom has been removed from his home by a council-run agency. It is said that the local authority had also, previously, been contacted with concerns over the risks this officer posed.

The overwhelming feeling is that what has happened in the case could well have been prevented with a more enlightened approach to officer welfare, and safety of the public, by the force and, equally, investigating public complaints proportionately and heeding the clear safeguarding warnings that were being given to senior managers. Most notably, ACC Battle.

The reaction to this crisis from WYP is much the same as with the constable at the centre of the grooming scandal. Lock down on information, keep colleagues and affected members of the public in the dark – and hope their luck holds out with no further serious incidents.

The present chief constable of West Yorkshire Police, Dee Collins, has been in post now for over three years (the first two and a bit as temporary post holder, in the enforced absence of the errant Mark Gilmore). She certainly talks the on-message safeguarding and victim priority talk, but it is time to walk the walk when the misconduct, or criminality, is within her own force.

Ms Collins is nobody’s fool, as her track record shows. Lots of sharp-end operational policing experience and, more unusually, spells as a Fed rep, and a Superintendents’ Association rep, to boot. Which may be unprecedented in the history of the post of chief constable, but decidedly useful tools for a chief officer to have in her bag.

Chief Constable Dee Collins, pictured in the famous Oak Room at West Yorkshire Police HQ, has endeared herself to many with an easy communication style.

Reputations, both amongst the ranks as well as the public, can be made, or lost, by dealing with these cases in the prescribed manner – and with an appropriate level of openness and transparency.

It would be a major step forward if the force, finally, had a leader that could shed the decades-old perception of a policing organisation where ‘cover-up‘ is the reflex reaction to a management incompetence, or investigative failure.

Over to you, Ma’am.

 

Page last updated: Sunday 30th July, 2017 at 1825hrs

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.

© Neil Wilby 2015-2017. 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.

 

 

 

 

Will ‘sex in sauna’ officer slip off disciplinary hook again?

In April 2012, Chief Inspector Elizabeth Belton of West Yorkshire Police achieved national notoriety as the ‘Sex in the sauna’ cop.

The incident resulted in a punch-up between Chief Superintendent Ian Whitehouse and Ms Belton’s husband, Sergeant Chris Beddis and was splashed on the front page of the Yorkshire Post newspaper. National newspaper coverage soon followed [1].

This steamy tale was one of a number of exclusive pieces upon which I worked with the award-winning investigative journalist, Rob Waugh. Another major scoop was the outing of convicted paedophile, Mick Vause, who, at the time, was a long-serving detective constable in the force’s perenially disgraced Professional Standards Department [2].

Following the sauna debacle, Ms Belton, a graduate of Brigshaw Comprehensive School on the outskirts of Castleford, took on extra duties which included responsibility for the Standards Unit for North East Leeds, signing off investigations into complaints made by members of the public.

She also chaired misconduct meetings with officers whose fell foul of police regulations. West Yorkshire Police clearly didn’t see the irony in either of those two situations.

Mr Whitehouse retired in 2016 from his job as Director of the National Police Air Service (NPAS), having transferred out of his role as Divisional Commander of the North West Leeds Division, based at Weetwood, shortly after the sauna incident. NPAS are currently mired in their own sex scandal as lurid allegations emerge of South Yorkshire Police officers using an aircraft to film members of the public having sex, or sunbathing naked.

Screen Shot 2017-08-04 at 08.37.54

A Professional Standards Department (PSD) source has also revealed that the police helicopter has, allegedly, been used on covert surveillance of at least one fellow officer. It is also said that the necessary authorisation to do so was not lawfully obtained. This impropriety would involve criminal prosecutions of those responsible – and a bigger story than the ‘sex in the sky’ farrago. There is no suggestion that Whitehouse knew of the deployment of the aircraft for this purpose. The information to hand suggests that the helicopter crew were deployed on ‘pre-planned operations’ tasked by PSD. Many flights are involved.

Ms Belton has said on social media that Ian Whitehouse definitely did not know about this misuse of police resources.

At the time of the ‘sex in the sauna’ scandal, West Yorkshire Police and their Police Authority, after the damaging story reached the press, focused on trying to root out my ‘whistle blowers’ rather than imposing either criminal, or disciplinary sanctions upon either Whitehouse, Ms Belton or the unfortunately cuckolded Mr Beddis.

The decision not to pursue the three officers was taken by Deputy Chief Constable John Parkinson (who retired from the force shortly afterwards after a brief, but troubled, spell as chief constable) and nodded through by the current Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson.

Instead, an enquiry, believed to be headed up by another chief inspector, Jim Dunkerley, was later launched against me to try to uncover police whistle blowers – and stem the flow of information that was leading to damaging press, radio and TV coverage of misconduct within the force. There was also widespread opprobium brought about by the launch of the uPSD whistleblowers website [3] and, particularly, on social media as scandal after scandal surfaced.

Allegedly based in an outbuilding in the car park at HQ, and reporting to Deputy Chief Constable John Robins, the investigation is believed to have involved intrusive surveillance and RIPA authorisation. A matter always denied by the force when I have pressed them on this.

In a face-to-face encounter with his Command Team colleague, Assistant Chief Constable Andy Battle at police HQ in 2015, I was asked to leave the inner sanctum of the Laburnum Road, Wakefield building on the basis that I was a ‘security threat‘. Invited to add substance to his claim, Battle declined to do so.

The uPSD website has been subject of repeated denial of service attacks over the past two years. The perpetrators have a very high level of technical sophistication, according to the webmaster and a security specialist consulted over the issue (he provides services to police forces as a retired intelligence officer).

In March 2017, Liz Belton hit the headlines, again, for all the wrong reasons. It was revealed, in a series of national newspaper stories, that she had been placed on ‘restricted duties‘ following a complaint over an alleged racist remark made at a detectives’ three day Christmas celebration.

By this time, she was a senior investigating officer (SIO) in West Yorkshire Police’s elite Homicide and Major Enquiry Team (HMET) and was leading the cold case enquiry into the historic, and high profile, murder of Wakefield teenager Elsie Frost in 1965, as well as a probe into the murder of 27-year-old Nicholas Dean Williams, who was found murdered in his home in Stanley, near Wakefield.

It was a blow to the Frost family, who are known to have built a good, and fruitful, relationship with the SIO. It is also well known, locally, that this was regarded by DCI Belton as a seminal case in her career and she was very hopeful it could be solved.

Just a week later, it was revealed that the West Yorkshire Police press office had, not for the first time, misled both the media and the public: Ms Belton had, since a Regulation 15 notice was issued in January 2017, alleging gross misconduct, been arrested in a pre-dawn raid on her family home. She was detained on suspicion of two criminal offences: Misconduct in public office and police computer misuse. She was suspended whilst those criminal investigations continued.

According to a well placed source, a section 32 search was also carried out after the arrest, that included vehicles and outbuildings, as well as Ms Belton’s house. It is believed that she was taken to Huddersfield police station and held there all day.

Given what is at stake both for the force and, more particularly the officers concerned, it has to be assumed that officers with exemplary records, and the necessary investigative competency and rigour, have been deployed by the chief constable. Otherwise, the twin pillars of reassurance, and public confidence, would crumble.

In July, 2017 Chief Inspector Belton appeared in the dock at Leeds Magistrates Court along with two other police officers. PC Judith Mulligan and Sergeant Mohammed Gother. They are all charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Allegations relate to an investigation into a burglary at PC Mulligan’s home in 2013, in which it is claimed that the victim, an officer who began her service 27 years ago at Morley Police Station, was shown a photograph of suspects ahead of an identification procedure

Ms Belton is also accused of seven offences of breaching data laws. It is said that she misused police computers knowingly, or recklessly, obtaining personal data in relation to four named individuals.

A plea and case management hearing took place in August, 2016. Two subsequent hearings were listed in March and April 2017, and then vacated at short notice due to disclosure issues.

All three police officers deny the charges and a trial is set for 11th September, 2017 before the Recorder of Leeds, His Honour Judge Peter Collier. The accused are all on unconditional bail.

In the usual course of events, a pre-trial review (PTR) would be listed by the court around six weeks before the trial start date. As of 24th July, the court confirmed to me that no Order concerning a PTR had been made. This may well be connected to the long-running police/CPS disclosure issues that have, so far, dogged the process.

The September trial concerns only the perverting justice charges. No date has been set for the data breach hearing.

Mr Gother has now retired from the force, having completed 30 years service. A fourth officer, PC Chris Davey, a neighbourhood patrol officer based at Pudsey police station – and a subordinate of Sergeant Gother at the time – was also arrested in the early morning raids, and detained as part of the same investigation, but no charges were laid against him.

A source close to the gross misconduct investigation into Chief Inspector Belton, the subject of the first round of press coverage in March 2017 [4], claims that there was reluctance from a number of officers present at the Lake District Christmas junket to give evidence against a fellow officer. This included the well-liked junior detective at the centre of the ‘racism’ furore, PC Bud Wasti. 

It is understood that PC Warsi was not the complainant against Ms Belton, in any event. The officer mainly involved was the aforementioned DCI Dunkerley, together with another senior officer, Superintendent Mark Ridley (since promoted to chief super and Head of HMET).

After this article was first published an informant came forward and advanced the proposition that two senior officers (both of superintending rank) had ‘suggested strongly‘ to PC Wasti that he was to become ‘a victim‘. That does not give the impression that an investigation was being conducted at the necessary levels of independence and procedural rigour. If this allegation – and it is no higher than that at present – were found to be true, then the entire misconduct investigation would be tainted.

It has also been alleged that during a very lengthy drinking session, a female officer, not Ms Belton, lifted her dress in the public area of the hotel, and revealed a pair of very skimpy, designer brand (according to the exhibitionist) knickers. Whilst that might be considered perfectly normal  behaviour in some social circles, it could be construed unseemly when you are known to be part of a large group of West Yorkshire Police employees occupying a significant portion of an upmarket Lake District hotel?

This officer, it is said, was not the subject of any misconduct proceedings or even informal words of advice. Which, given the furore caused nationally by the Greater Manchester Police ‘Boobgate‘ scandal, might strike the reasonable minded, independent observer as concerning.

In any event, it certainly sounded as if the detectives’ party went with a swing, reminiscent of the Wakefield CID days of yore.

The Belton probe was downgraded to misconduct after the first round of witness statements had been taken. The racism allegations were not proven. The usual sanction in those circumstances is ‘words of advice‘ or, in the police vernacular, a ‘standards awareness meeting‘.

It is also also understood that the internal investigation fell short of the required standard on a number of other levels, including failure to sieze CCTV and other documentary evidence from the Red Lion in Grasmere; and interview independent, non-police witnesses who were on hotel premises at the time.

This ‘investigation’ was, according to another well placed source, carried out by Chief Inspector Simon Bottomley and Detective Sergeant Penny Morley. Both, to my certain knowledge, work in the force’s discredited Professional Standards Department, and have featured in a number of investigations of which I have close knowledge.

In 2010, Mrs Morley was found by a judge, His Honour Peter Benson, at Bradford Crown Court, to have lied in her evidence during a voir dire and, as a result, stopped a criminal trial concerning another West Yorkshire Police officer, PC Kashif Ahmed, as an abuse of process [5].

It is claimed by Mrs Morley, that no disciplinary proceeding, or criminal prosecution, was mounted against her following a three year investigation, involving many officers, and a collapsed trial that was reported to have cost the taxpayer over £500,000.

I recently had her removed from one investigation, where I act as complaint advocate. Her unwillingness to consider CCTV, Go-Pro Film evidence of alleged assault and criminal damage, led to an information being laid at Kirklees Magistrates Court by the victim and a warrant being issued against the perpetrator, Acting Inspector David Rogerson: Dealing with an officer, such as Mrs Morley, who lied in a a criminal trial is not something either the complainant, or myself, was willing to countenance.

Mrs Morley’s husband, Jon, is a retired police officer cum civilian investigator (by a curious twist of fate employed in HMET). A situation which must create certain tensions, both professionally and domestically, when one of them is a proven liar. Her close friendship with another well known PSD miscreant, Superintendent Steve Bennett, certainly caused tongues to wag at the time of the Ahmed case, especially after she escaped sanction for her perjured evidence. But allegations of any improper relationship came to nothing.

In 2013, Mr Bottomley had an adverse finding made against him, by his own PSD colleagues, concerning mis-handling of evidence and breach of a legal undertaking. Since then he has been at the forefront of an alleged force wide cover-up over the John Elam miscarriage of justice [6]. A matter presently being considered by the Criminal Case Review Commission.

Mr Bottomley has also been responsible, in a field of plenty, for one of the worst complaint investigations I have ever seen concerning a filmed assault on Huddersfield businessman, Stephen Bradbury, and, in yet another ‘cover-up’ farrago, attached himself, outwith the relevant statutory framework, to a ‘love triangle’ investigation into Police Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson.

In December 2015 I sought, but failed, to have Mr Bottomley removed from any involvement in Operation Lamp, the Greater Manchester Police investigation into the infamous PC Danny Major ‘cover-up’ by PSD [7]. His presence, in my entrenched view, taints the process and I recused myself from it a short time afterwards.

Simon Bottomley was also involved in beating off whistleblower submissions made by a management rank detective, with 30 years exemplary service, over well-rehearsed concerns about the provenance of the investigation into the a murder of a male in Headingley, Leeds and flaws in the investigation of the murder of another male, in the Leeds Road area of Bradford, that led to the conviction of three Asian men. The latter case is known by campaigners as the The Bradford Three [8].

The whistleblower’s identity is known to me. He claims he is in fear of his life after the disclosures made in meetings with Mr Bottomley and the SIO on the Bradford Three investigation, ex-Chief Superintendent Andy Brennan. The latter exited the force, under very strange circumstances, shortly afterwards and re-surfaced as Head of CEOP at the National Crime Agency.

The same whistleblower supported the miscarriage of justice campaign around the John Elam case. As part of his specialist role within the force, the whistleblower had been involved on that investigation in a significant role.

It is not known whether either Mrs Morley, or Mr Bottomley, was involved in the criminal investigation that followed the dramatic arrests and searches of homes, police premises and equipment that has led to the impending court case. That would, no doubt, be revealed at trial if it were the case.

So it seems, for a second time, at the very least, Ms Belton has escaped disciplinary sanction after high jinx involving other senior officers. It is believed that Ian Whitehouse was also present at the HMET party.

In a dramatic turn of events, news reached me, from a number of police sources, that on Friday 7th July, 2017 the force had circularised all officers with information to the effect that DCI Elizabeth Belton had ‘resigned’. Which, in all the circumstances, would be extraordinary under the new Police Conduct Regulations, specifically framed to prevent officers leaving the police force when facing gross misconduct disciplinary proceedings, or criminal investigation. There are special exemptions to those Regulations, but it is not known if these were engaged.

It is a move by the DCC Robins, as Command Team PSD portfolio holder, that is certain to attract a great deal of controversy. It also begs the question as to why a senior officer would ‘resign’ over misconduct matters that are largely unproven and likely to be disposed by way of words of advice?

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The Red Lion in Grasmere. Scene of a controversial 2016 West Yorkshire Police Christmas party.

A counter-allegation by Ms Belton of sexual assault, by a senior male detective (whose identity is known to me), at the same Christmas party, has been recorded as a crime but the present status of that investigation is not known. But, as actus reus was in Cumbria, it is assumed that the county police force there is handling the investigation.

There has also been a employment tribunal claim issued by Elizabeth Belton against West Yorkshire Police over alleged sexual discrimination. This pre-dates her arrest, or the misconduct investigation. It is believed that this action may be connected to a promotion board for a vacant Superintendent post. The aforementioned Jim Dunkerley was also an applicant. It appears that neither got the job.

Ms Belton could not be contacted for comment on the misconduct or tribunal matters.

The force press office issued a terse one line statement: “As proceedings are legally active  in this case, we are unable to comment further“. They refused to be drawn on the apparent contradiction in the Regulations concerning the ‘resignation’ (or retirement) of Ms Belton.

The Police Commissioner’s press officer, Dee Cowburn, did not respond to a request for comment.

The force’s chief constable, Dee Collins, has recently issued a press statement, along with Mark Burns-Williamson, saying some of her officers are ‘exhausted‘. A three day drinking and partying spree by her top detectives might add some context to those remarks.

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Page last updated 1950hrs on Monday 7th August, 2017

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.

© Neil Wilby 2015-2017. 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.

[1] Yorkshire Post: [Exclusive] ‘Probe after steam rises at police gym’ 19th April, 2012′

[2] Yorkshire Post: [Exclusive] ‘Ex-detective admits string of child porn offences 9th June 2012’

[3] uPSDWYP: Home page

[4] Daily Mail: ‘Murder detective placed on restricted duties after ‘making a racist comment at her force Christmas party’, 25th March, 2017

[5] Telegraph and Argus: ‘Bradford police officer tells of his relief’, 11th March, 2011

[6] Hansard: Adjournment debate – Gerry Sutcliffe MP, 28th January, 2014

[7] Neil Wilby: ‘Operation Lamp – A Major corruption scandal’, 29th April, 2016

[8] uPSDWYP: ‘The Bradford Three’, 12th March, 2014

Convicted York paedophile extradited to face further charges

Former York resident, Peter Hofschröer, who was convicted of child sex abuse offences last year, has been extradited to Austria after lengthy legal proceedings which concluded last month.

A jury at Teesside Crown Court found him guilty of 16 counts relating to the downloading over 36,000 images and videos.

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Peter Hofschröer, now in the hands of the Austian authorities awaiting trial.

Judge Tony Briggs QC, in his sentencing remarks, described Hofschröer’s defence, in which he tried to blame many others including his own family, a fellow military historian and the police for the illegal images, as “quite outrageous”. He was jailed for 30 months and placed on the sex offenders register for life.

It was, originally, understood that Hofschröer left the Highgate, North London address, to which he had been bailed, on July 6th, 2017, a short time before he was due to attend Kentish Town police station and went AWOL. He had been summoned to appear there as part of arrangements to transfer him to Austria later that day .

The owner of the property, Belinda McKenzie, a child abuse campaigner, has since deleted her Facebook post relating to the ‘disappearance’ and has subsequently posted that her house guest did, in fact, surrender to the authorities on the 6th July. That was, apparently, in response to a report of a 5 year old girl being assaulted within 200 yards of her home on 9th July, 2017.

Hofschröer failed last month, at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, to either stay, or overturn, an extradition Order over allegations relating to a raft of further sex abuse offences, slander, threatening a judge and firearm possession. Judgment was given against him at Westminster Magistrates Court in November, 2016 following proceedings brought by the Office of the State Attorney of Austria (the Staatsanwaltschaft).

A former associate of Hofschröer has claimed that the alleged firearm offences may concern a de-commissioned AK47 assault rifle and several Napoleonic muskets.

Another close associate of Hofschröer’s, Andy Peacher, posted on social media that none of his other friends were aware of his whereabouts – and neither were the Metropolitan Police. Nor the solicitors instructed in the matter of his extradition. But, as with Ms McKenzie, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction in this vexed case. She is, also, currently subject to attention from the Metropolitan Police having been the subject of a warrant that enabled the force to sieze her computer.

Other Hofschröer ‘campaigners’, including Norman Scarth, exiled in Ireland to frustrate arrest warrants in force against him, claim he is not a paedophile at all – and that downloading indecent images does not count as child sex abuse. He ended a series of tirades over this article with “You expose yourself as a lying Quisling – and ignorant with it“.

Hofschröer was wearing an electronic tag on his ankle when he allegedly absconded. An alarm would have sounded at a monitoring station once his absence exceeded the terms of his licence. He had, previously, been recalled to HMP Preston in February, 2017 following a licence breach of the sentence received at Teesside Crown Court.

Despite a ban on use of social media (and email), as part of his bail conditions (and a civil injunction), Hofschröer made a posting on Facebook the night before he disappeared. Within that posting he claimed that police were among the suspects who may have hacked his ‘Justice for Grandma B’ website.

His Twitter account is still active but there have been no tweets since January, 2017. His Facebook campaigning page has been removed from the public area of the website.

No statement was been issued by North Yorkshire Police, despite Hofschröer’s strong connections to York: His 89 year old mother, Barbara (widely known as Grandma B) is in Haxby Hall care home, he was formerly a resident in Rosedale Avenue, Acomb – and other members of his family, against whom he bears considerable ill-will, still live in the city.

The Grandma B case was one that occupied North Yorkshire Police for a number of years: Hofschröer’s fight for justice for his mother was bitterly fought, both amongst his own family, the local council and the police. It is reported to have cost taxpayers well over £1 million and centred on a dispute over who owned the property occupied latterly by Barbara.

Two police operations were ultimately mounted against Peter Hofschröer: Operation Rome, a criminal investigation that was a notable failure to criminalise him over harassment allegations and Hyson, a civil claim in which Hofschröer elected to take no part, claiming his Article 6 convention rights were engaged. There was also a dramatic moment in court (I was present on the press bench) when he asked, via the prison to court video link, for the presiding judge to be arrested. HHJ Mark Gosnell successfully resisted the challenge to his liberty.

There was no report of Hofschröer’s alleged disappearance in the local, regional or national press. The extradition and appeal proceedings also went unreported.

Replies to press enquiries made of the Metropolitan Police and the Bundespolizei in Austria are still awaited.

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Page last updated at 1835hrs on Tuesday 4th September, 2017

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.

© Neil Wilby 2015-2017. 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.