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.

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

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 the attention of 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 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 breach of his early release licence attached to 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.

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 judicial review 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 Thursday 3rd 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.

Cost of police chief’s exit set to rise further as court proceedings issued

Civil proceedings have been issued against the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for West Yorkshire concerning the outcome of a misconduct investigation that he ordered into his former chief constable, Mark Gilmore [1].

In response to a long running freedom of information request [2], made via the What Do They Know website on 21st September, 2016, a spokeswoman for PCC Mark Burns-Williamson says that details of the probe carried out by Lancashire Police cannot be released, as to do so would be prejudicial to the impending court case.

The same argument is applied to the refusal to release emails and meeting notes between Lancashire detectives and the PCC that formed part of the information request. It is further claimed by the PCC that some of the emails may be legally privileged.

A response to the information request was only given after a complaint was made to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on 10th January, 2017. After an inexplicable delay by the watchdog who, incredibly, wanted to close down the complaint, the PCC was eventually directed on 26th April, 2017 to comply with the Freedom of Information Act and provide a finalisation of the request within ten working days.

The reasons set out in that finalisation are not consistent with those given previously for failing to disclose the information. An detailed internal review request made on 10th November, 2016 was, more or less, ignored. This was the main ground for the complaint to the ICO.

In September, 2016 Burns-Williamson was quoted in a local newspaper as saying: “I have committed to publish as much of this report as I can,” he said. “I’m presently taking legal advice.”

Mark Gilmore pictured in his office at police HQ in Wakefield. He never returned there following his suspension in June 2014. Picture credit: BBC

Gilmore was appointed as chief constable of the country’s fourth largest force in April, 2013 following the controversial departure of the disgraced Sir Norman Bettison. Just over a year later he was suspended from duty whilst bribery allegations against him were investigated by the force where he started his career, the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

In May 2015 it was announced that there would be no criminal charges against Gilmore concerning the award of vehicle contracts. His suspension was lifted, but he was immediately placed on gardening leave, purportedly working remotely for the National Police Chiefs Council. A misconduct investigation, codenamed Operation Barium, was launched by Lancashire Police immediately after the conclusion of the criminal matters.

Retirement from the police service followed a short time after the Barium report was delivered to Burns-Williamson by Lancashire Police in July, 2016. Ten months later, the public are no wiser as to whether Mark Gilmore had a case to answer.

The civil proceedings filed at the Royal Courts of Justice are an application by Mark Gilmore for judicial review of the failure, by the PCC, to reach a decision on whether there was a case to answer for misconduct. The stipulated period is 15 days for making such a decision. Gilmore’s solicitors – Belfast based McCartan Turkington Breen – say that there is a ‘continuing failure by the PCC for West Yorkshire to comply with his statutory obligations’.

The claim is being handled by Ernie Waterworth, who now acts as a consultant to the law firm, having previously served as a partner. He specialises in civil litigation, public enquiries and criminal law matters.

Mark Burns-Williamson has issued a statement saying that ‘The claim is denied in full. We will be submitting a response to this effect to the court in accordance with the legal process“. The PCC did not elaborate on the reasons for defending the claim.

The cost of paying for two chief constables, Gilmore and the temporary incumbent Dee Collins, over a two year period is estimated to be close to £800,000.

The belatedly finalised information request is now the subject of further challenge.

A new request has also been made concerning the documents filed at court in the action against the PCC [3].

Page last updated: Tuesday 16th May, 2017 at 0955hrs

[1] Neil Wilby: Barium too hard to swallow

[2] WhatDoTheyKnow: Operation Barium – A Freedom of Information request

[3] WhatDoTheyKnow: Civil proceedings between Mark Gilmore and WYOPCC – A Freedom of Information request

© 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.

 

A cuckoo in the nest?

For the second time in just over a month, two days spent in the austere halls of Royal Courts of Justice gave further, and, at times, quite remarkable, insight into the inner workings of five different policing bodies: The Police Federation, a police force Misconduct Panel, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, a Police and Crime Commissioner’s (PCC’s) office and the Chief Police Officers Staff Association (CPOSA).

The two cases are both pathfinding judicial review claims, and the issues that fell to be determined by senior judges will have far reaching implications for both the police service and the wider public. One hearing was very much low key, the other attracted wide media coverage due, in the main, to the presence in court of three high profile policing figures, almost obsessive references to an even higher profile MP (Andy Burnham) and the backdrop of the scandal surrounding the Hillsborough Disaster cover-up by South Yorkshire Police.

Andy Burnham seen arriving at Birchwood Park, Warrington to hear evidence at the new Hillsborough inquests. Alongside is Steve Rotheram MP who has also campaigned tirelessly for bereaved families and survivors.

The first claim, heard on 8th February, 2017, before Mrs Justice McGowan, was listed as Thames Valley Police -v- Police Misconduct Panel (CO/2810/2016). The substantive issue was the challenge by the chief constable of that force to a finding of the Panel at the conclusion of a gross misconduct hearing. It was submitted on the chief’s behalf, via his counsel, Stephen Morley, that the Panel had got the decision ‘badly wrong‘.

The Panel’s finding was that the officer, PC White (named as an Interested Party in the proceedings), facing a breach of order and instructions charge, and multiple neglect of duty charges, should receive a final written warning. The charges against PC White concerned various items of property, to the combined value of £10,000, that he had kept and not actioned on police databases, in one case impacting adversely on a prosecution case. Other evidential materials were also found in his locker, and bag, during a subsequent search, that were not booked in, either.

The chief constable contended that the officer should have been dismissed as a result of ‘integrity failings‘, and the fact that ‘he knew he had done wrong’ and failed to correct his actions. It is the first time since police regulations were changed in 2015 – which affected the composition of Panels amongst other innovations – that such a challenge against a Panel finding has been mounted.

The Misconduct Panel, through its lawyer chairman, declined to take any part in the judicial review proceedings on the grounds that the claim form was improperly served and, in effect, the legal action was a nullity. The defence of the chief constable’s claim was taken up by the Police Federation, on behalf of their member officer, PC White. They were represented by the formidable Alexandra Felix, a specialist criminal and regulatory barrister.  Her submissions, made with some force, could be summarised thus

(i) Dealing with police misconduct matters, including criminal offences, is a management function. ‘It is about learning and development, not punishment’. In this sense, it is set apart from other professional bodies or services.

(ii) Discipline is an operational matter and the chief constable picks the Panel – ‘it’s his Panel‘ and ‘part of the internal process‘. As such, the chief constable did not have the legal capacity to bring these judicial review proceedings.

(iii) The filing and service of the proceedings, in their present form, was a ‘procedural failure’. Civil Procedure Rule 57.4 had not been complied with. As such, the proceedings should be struck out.

There was extended discussion and argument, in which the judge took full part, concerning the meaning of ‘integrity’ and where it falls, in a police misconduct sense, in relation to ‘honesty’. Both, of course, being fundamental requirements of being a police officer under the College of Policing’s Code of Ethics.

Judgment was reserved, pending further written submissions being made by all parties to the claim. It is awaited, with considerable interest, and is likely to become a cited authority whichever way the judge finds.

It was accepted by both counsel present in court that her findings would have far reaching consequences on police misconduct matters, and the role of disciplinary panels within it. Other than the judge, her clerk, three lawyers and the Police Federation representative, I was the only other person present in Court 5 for what had been a fascinating, and highly informative, hearing. Not least, the public airing of the proposition that the powerful, and extremely wealthy, Federation had an almost unshakeable grip on police misconduct matters, concerning all ranks between constable and chief inspector, and the consequent fate of their members accused of either serious misconduct, or criminal offences. If the Fed takes up an officer’s cause, removal from the police service is nigh impossible. But, if the rank and file ‘union’ withdraws support, then the officer concerned is, almost inevitably, cast to the dogs.

To those not so familar with the labyrynthine processes of the police misconduct regulations, it is worth pointing out that it is not within a chief constable’s very considerable powers to simply dismiss a police officer . All the necessary steps, within the statutory framework, have to be followed. Whether he (or she) agrees, or not.

The second judicial review application, a much higher profile case and played out before a packed Court 3, has already been the subject of two articles on this website [1] ‘Bad on their merits‘ (preview of the hearing based on disclosed pleadings) and [2] ‘Much ado about nothing’ (a report of proceedings in David Crompton -v- Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire). 

This article focuses on the specific roles of the South Yorkshire PCC, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary (HMCIC) and the Chief Police Officers’ Staff Association (CPOSA) in those proceedings, heard before Lady Justice Sharp and Mr Justice Garnham, and their approach to both evidential and misconduct matters.

The Chief Inspector, Sir Thomas Winsor, is one of the key links the joins the two cases, as he was a member of the Misconduct Panel that found ACC Rebekah Sutcliffe guilty of gross misconduct in the controversial ‘Boobgate‘ scandal, but deemed that a final written warning was the appropriate sanction. Most observers, including her own chief constable, felt she should have been dismissed from Greater Manchester Police. ACC Sutcliffe has been sent out on secondment to Oldham Borough Council and is unlikely to undertake an operational policing role again.

PCC Alan Billings was, of course, listed as defendant in the case and present in court throughout the hearing, alongside his chief executive, Michelle Buttery, and Communications Manager, Fiona Topliss. it was argued, on his behalf, before the court, that he had followed misconduct procedure (in this case Section 38 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibilty Act, 2011) to the letter. Albeit, ignoring the advice of HMCIC along the way (as he was lawfully entitled to do).

The court also heard that two press releases, issued after the Hillsborough inquest jury determinations, were not the catalyst for former chief constable’s suspension (the main limb of Crompton’s claim). But, rather, the straw that broke the camel’s back. There are many, including me, who believe Dr Billings, accepted on all hands as a decent, honourable man, should have stepped in sooner.

Since he was elected in October, 2013 there must have been deep concerns about the constant adverse publicity that Crompton brought to his force over such as his notably poor handling of the Rotherham abuse scandal, and the infamous Cliff Richard/BBC farrago, over which the pop star is now claiming in excess of £1 million damages [3]. For example, the embattled police chief suffered a series of severe maulings at the hands of the all-party Home Affairs Select Committee (see the 3rd September, 2014 session below, courtesy of The Needle Blog).

The chairman of that committee concluded, after hearing the evidence by David Crompton, that it was incompetence on a grand scale on the part of South Yorkshire Police.

The appearance of CPOSA in the Crompton claim comes by way of legal costs support for the former SYP chief constable. To the independent-minded observer this is a huge investment for, potentially, very little return. The claim was brought on the premise that if a decision to, firstly, suspend the disgraced chief constable then, ultimately, force his resignation, was quashed, it would ‘restore his damaged reputation‘. Which relies entirely on the premise that David Crompton’s reputation was not irreparably destroyed BEFORE he was suspended. On any reasonable view, it was in tatters, and ‘Disaster Dave‘ as he was dubbed in the national press in 2014, had, indisputably, been under constant media (and Parliamentary) attack from his very first week in office in April, 2012.

Very few people are aware that, at the time of his appointment to head up South Yorkshire Police, David Crompton was under investigation by the IPCC, who were managing an investigation by one of his former forces, Greater Manchester Police (GMP), into misconduct and racism allegations made by former West Yorkshire Police Legal Services Director, Ajaz Hussain. Crompton, as far as I can trace, has never spoken publicly about this. The officer investigating the Hussain complaints, David Whatton, had been a GMP senior officer colleague of Crompton’s between 2002 and 2004. Whatton, on any reasonable view a perverse choice of investigating officer, ultimately cleared Crompton of wrongdoing.

The proposition, therefore, appears to be that CPOSA will rally round a chief officer, however incompetent and discredited he (or she) appears to be. Given that it is an organisation that has, over the years received an extraordinary, and controversial, amount of public funding [3a] then such unconditional support is very troubling indeed.

Chief constables, and their deputies and assistants, are expected to set the highest possible standards and, to the man (or woman on the Clapham omnibus, it would seem entirely improper that they should they provide mutual aid to those that don’t cut the mustard. In this context, it was a suprise to me, at least, that a former chief constable I hold in high regard, Neil Rhodes, was alongside David Crompton for almost all of the two day hearing. In a curious twist of fate, Rhodes was also CPOSA friend to Hussain which had led to another high profile court drama in 2013 [3b].

Tom Winsor is, plainly, a busy man. He did, however, find time to spend the entire two days of the Crompton claim in court, following proceedings assiduously – as one would expect of a successful, and highly experienced, regulatory lawyer. Indeed, as claim and counter-thrust was made in submissions, by counsel for the various represented parties, it became clear that the Crompton case was not about the former SYP chief, at all. It was brought as a means for policing bodies to continue to police themselves, as they have done for almost two centuries. Sir Thomas is the cuckoo in the nest – and he is not at all content to eat scraps from any elected official’s table. Particularly, one who may be minded to remove a chief constable against his specific advice which, it was advanced on behalf, should be regarded as akin to statutory guidance. His criticism of the decision making, and capacity, of Dr Billings, the PCC in question, pulled no punches.

But is Sir Thomas, himself, above criticism in this matter? Definitely not, on the basis of submissions made to the court on his behalf: There are four key issues that invite scrutiny:

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Sir Thomas Winsor, who took over as Chief Inspector in September, 2012 had previously made his name as a highly regarded lawyer and reforming rail regulator

(i) His HMIC inspection of South Yorkshire Police in June 2015 rated the force as ‘good’. A peer review in May 2016, managed by the College of Policing and the interim chief constable, Dave Jones, and involving a number of experts in their specialist fields, found serious failings in the management and operational effectiveness of the force [4]. The disparity between HMIC’s findings and the peer review is, so far, unexplained. It was not directly tested in court, although it formed part of the written submissions made on behalf of the PCC. In another curious turn of events, just two weeks after the court hearing concluded another HMIC inspection saw SYP heavily criticised.

(ii) It was asserted, without any evidence, supporting information or details of source, that public confidence was NOT adversely affected by David Crompton’s running of the police force in South Yorkshire. Contrast that with ample, and highly informed, feedback from a large number of elected representatives (MP’s, MEP’s and councillors) in the locality, and the public who interacted either with DrBillings personally, or via his office. Plus an almost weekly round of stinging media criticism of the force, and one might take the view Dr Billings was in a much better position to take a stance on this issue.  Indeed, it was his emphatic view that confidence in his chief constable had almost ebbed away when the decision was taken to suspend him. Even the Home Secretary of the day, Theresa May, knew the game was up for Crompton and South Yorkshire Police. It was, therefore, nothing short of astonishing that, from his London office, Sir Thomas could deem otherwise. A fair-minded observer might take the view that his motivation for doing so ought to be examined independently.

(iii) The proposition was advanced, on his behalf, that Sir Thomas had a ‘bird’s eye view‘ of the performance of police forces and, therefore, by default, chief constables. There seemed no good reason to single out Crompton for opprobium. Which, given the beleagured South Yorkshire chief’s well chronicled list of failings, turns attention to how bad some of the other chief constables must be, if Crompton is not ranked below them. It may also explain why so many chief officers have left the police service, in disgrace, over the past five years. Often retiring to avoid disciplinary sanction.

(iv) Much was made in court of the fact that Crompton had broadcast an apology, on behalf of his disgraced force on 12th September, 2012, the day of the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report. Reinforced, it was said by another apology on the day of the jury determinations at the new inquests. It was claimed, in court, on behalf of both Crompton and HMCIC that he had not resiled from those apologies. That was, quite simply, incorrect. Crompton’s true feelings and views about the Hillsborough Disaster – and the role of the Liverpool fans in it – were exposed in the national press following disclosure of emails sent both internally to other South Yorkshire Police officers and, externally, to other senior policing figures, notably Sir Norman Bettison and Sir Hugh Orde. Crompton challenged the Panel Report as one sided, and wanted to set up a PR offensive to counteract the bereaved families fight for truth, then justice [5]. Sir Thomas Winsor, and his his legal team, were silent on this point. Did he not know, or was it just another Crompton flaw that he was, conveniently, prepared to overlook?

The sum of all these parts is that HMIC, and their Chief Inspector, are not all they crack up to be. Others have raised well evidenced doubts concerning the police force inspections they carry out and, particularly, their lack of rigour. But that is not the chief concern: As a watchdog, with a crucial role in maintaining confidence in those charged with the public’s safety and security, how can Sir Thomas sit there, stony faced, and allow unevidenced assertions, and in some parts, what may be considered as untruths, about the policing abilities of, and the public confidence in, David Crompton to be presented as fact?

Another unspoken factor may have been the career record of Sir Dan Crompton, David’s father, which ended with service as a leading light in none other than Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. Crompton senior’s own adverse views on Hillsborough, and those bereaved families campaigning for justice, are also well known and for which he has steadfastly refused to apologise since they were first made public in 2013 [5].

Running a protectorate for the incompetent is, presumably, not what Her Majesty the Queen would have had in mind when she touched Tom Winsor’s shoulder with her sword in September, 2013. The revelations on the Strand, on two sunny days at the end of March, 2017, may yet be scrutinised, a short distance away along London’s riverside, before an MP’s Select Committee.

Page last updated: Thursday 13th April, 2017 at 1405hrs

[1] Neil Wilby – ‘Bad on their merits‘  24th January, 2017

[2] Neil Wilby – ‘Much ado about nothing’  29th March, 2017

[3] Neil Wilby – ‘David Crompton – The South Yorkshire Years’ 27th April, 2016

[3a] Yorkshire Post – Payouts to legal fund of shamed top officers set for axe 22nd January, 2013

[4] Daily Star – ‘Hillsborough Email Smear‘ 24th February, 2013

[5] uPSD WYP – ‘Sir Dan Crompton’  16th June, 2017

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

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Copyright: 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.

Much ado about nothing?

An employment dispute that began in a glass fronted office block close to the Meadowhall Shopping Centre in Sheffield, was, eventually, played out in the hallowed halls of the Royal Courts of Justice on London’s Strand eleven months later.

It was no ordinary job, however, and the offices were those shared by the South Yorkshire Police (SYP) and its Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC). The Chief Constable of the beleaguered force was David Crompton and he was suspended from duty, by the PCC, Dr Alan Billings, on the afternoon of 27th April, 2016.

crompton-and-billings
South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, endorses his chief constable, David Crompton, within minutes of being elected to office in October, 2013.

Crompton ultimately resigned on 29th September, 2016 at the end of a process empowered by section 38 of the Police and Social Responsibility Act, 2011 (the Act).

At the time of his suspension, Crompton had already set his date for retirement from the force – which was planned to be 30th November, 2016.

A rolled-up permission and substantive judicial review hearing opened on 28th March, 2017 before Lady Justice Sharp and Mr Justice Garnham. David Crompton is the Claimant, the PCC, Dr Alan Billings, is Defendant and there are two interested parties: Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary (HMCIC), Sir Thomas Winsor, and the Police and Crime Scrutiny Panel for South Yorkshire (PCP).

Dr Billings was present throughout the hearing, as was Sir Thomas and David Crompton. The latter was accompanied by his wife and daughter, together with retired Lincolnshire Police chief constable, Neil Rhodes, who was there in his capacity as Chief Police Officers Staff Association (CPOSA) ‘friend’. CPOSA are funding the claim through a contributory insurance scheme.

Rhodes is no stranger to these type of proceedings and successfully overturned a controversial suspension by the then Lincolnshire PCC, Alan Hardwick, in 2013.

Submissions were heard, for most of the first day of the hearing, from counsel for the claimant and HMCIC (Hugh Davies QC and Clive Sheldon QC respectively) which amounted to much the same thing: The decision of the PCC was taken in haste, not properly thought through, was defective in process, failed to apply due weight to HMCIC’s findings and undertaken with a political, rather than a policing, agenda.

Further, the PCC chose to ignore the recommendation of HMCIC which, it was advanced, on his behalf, a considered, objective and expert review of the section 38 process that the PCC had set in train.

As such, the decision by the PCC to, effectively, dismiss the chief constable was born of ‘political imperative rather than objectivity’, ‘disproportionate‘ and ‘irrational’. He had also taken account of ‘irrelevant considerations‘ when later justifying the decision. It was further argued that the decision under challenge infringed on David Crompton’s Article 8 convention rights as it impacted on his family and future employability. Mr Davies had earlier described him as ‘a highly effective chief constable‘.

There were no allegations made by the PCC, against his chief constable, of breaches of Standards of Professional Behaviour which apply to all police officers.

A declaration by the court that the actions of the PCC were unlawful is sought by the claimant. Which, it is said, would go some way to restoring his ‘damaged reputation‘ [1].

In the submission of Mr Sheldon, the events that led to the suspension centred on the jury determinations at the new Hillsborough inquests – and two SYP press releases that followed. The second press release included the words ‘other contributory factors‘ as causes of blame for the stadium disaster. Much attention is focused on the meaning and intent behind those words. He said, with some force, that accountability – as called for by Andy Burnham – did not necessarily mean that ‘heads should roll‘.

When asked (not for the first time) by Lady Justice Sharp where – with a wide discretion of decision making – the boundaries were, Mr Sheldon submitted that ‘the correct test was the old-fashioned Wednesbury approach on reasonableness‘. There had, he said, been no damage to effectiveness and efficiency of the force as a result of the chief constable’s leadership, and common law recognises that the Wednesbury test is dependent in each case on the facts. Mr Sheldon also stated, with some emphasis, that ‘There was no loss of public confidence in South Yorkshire Police‘.

Although not a party to proceedings, the name of Andy Burnham, MP and Shadow Home Secretary, was mentioned more than any other by counsel. He had called for accountability from SYP following the findings of the new Hillsborough inquests. According to counsel, the chief constable was the main target of criticism. The significance of a telephone call from a male bereaved family member, and prominent Hillsborough campaigner, to Dr Billings, just ten minutes before the PCC suspended his chief constable, was also raised in court.

The advocate for the PCP, Adrian Phillips, made brief submissions to the effect that the Panel saw their role as peripheral to these proceedings, they were neutral on its outcome and, accordingly, their decision should not fall for scrutiny by this court. He also, helpfully, explained to the court the statutory composition of a scrutiny panel and how it came to be, in an area such as South Yorkshire, that the Labour Party would be almost entirely dominant. He rejected the proposition, advanced by the claimant, that the Panel’s decision was born of political bias.

Jonathan Swift QC spoke eloquently, and persuasively, on behalf the PCC. The main thrust of his submissions, which took up almost the entirety of the second day of the hearing, was that the decision taken by Dr Billings (to conclude the section 38 process by asking CC Crompton to resign) was one that was reasonably open to him to make, by way of his statutory responsibilty to hold the chief constable to account under section 1 of the Act. He also maintained that all necessary processes had been correctly followed, including the required consultations with HMCIC and the PCP.

In rejecting one of the claimant’s (and HMCIC’s) main thrusts of argument, Mr Swift said that their was no statutory requirement for the PCC to give special weight to the views of Sir Thomas. He had considered those carefully and, in his discretion, had rejected those views.

He also invited the court to view the decision to suspend the chief constable through a wider lens, that brought into view an increasing discontent with the running of the police force in South Yorkshire. Particularly, in the months prior to the announcement of the Hillsborough inquest verdicts. Most notably, with the ongoing controversy of the handling of the aftermath of the Jay Report.

It was not, Mr Swift advanced, a spur of the moment decision, triggered by events in Parliament during an exchange between Mr Burnham and the then Home Secretary, Theresa May.

There were also submissions from Mr Swift concerning both the timeliness and merits of three of the decisions challenged by the claimant:

(i) To suspend the chief constable

(ii) To reject the advice of HMCIC and continue with the section 38 process

(iii) To refer the matter to the PCP

In respect of the remaining decision – to finally ask the chief constable to resign –  Mr Swift agreed that permission for judicial review should be given to the claimant as the matter was, quite plainly, arguable. But, at the same time, invited the court to dismiss this fourth ground on its merits.

Mr Swift curtly also dismissed the alleged breach of Article 8 as being without merit.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Lady Justice Sharp told the court that judgment will be reserved on both the permission and substantive issues. The judgment is unlikely to be handed down before May 2017.

It is estimated that the two day hearing, with four legal teams representing the various parties, will end up costing either David Crompton’s insurers, or the South Yorkshire taxpayer, in the order of £150,000. And for what, the reader might legitimately ask? It seems, on the face of the submissions, that the claim was brought with two purposes in mind: To restore the reputation of David Crompton (there is no financial remedy either sought, or available, via this legal process) and to give HMCIC the final word in future section 38 processes as to whether a chief constable is dismissed, or not.

A preview of the court case, first published in January, 2017, in which the arguments of all parties is examined in some detail can be read on this website: ‘Bad on their merits‘ [2]

Page last updated Saturday 8th March, 2017 at 2055hrs

[1] Neil Wilby May 2015 – David Crompton: The South Yorkshire Years

 

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.

Copyright: 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.