Your Cheque Is In The Post

Back in the day, when internet banking was still a pipe dream, and PPI was being mis-sold on an industrial scale, a cheque book was the essential financial accessory. It that golden era, television and radio comedians cheerily punted the world’s biggest lie as “your cheque is in the post“.

A nod to the unscrupulous businessman, or associate, who made repeated false promises to avoid settling debts.

There was competition for the number one slot, of a rather more crude genre, it must be said, but we will not dwell on that version here.

More recently, it has, arguably, been supplanted by this country’s biggest police force saying when they are going to finalise an information request. A stand-up comedian may not know that, but as an investigative journalist I certainly do.

The Metropolitan Police Service (“the Met”), in those same days that cheque books were ubiquitous, or Scotland Yard, as they were affectionately known, was synonymous with excellence and pride in the job. Renowed the world over.

Sadly, that no longer applies. Control of the streets of London has been given over to feral gangs [1] and the obsession with diversity, and political correctness, has led to almost 1,000 officers being deployed to deal, mostly, with hurt feelings, under the guise of ‘hate crime’ [2]. The force is also constantly beset by corruption and ‘cover-up’ scandals – and widespread negative press comment over multi-million pound, failed, largely pointless, publicity-rich, evidence-light investigations. Operations Elevedon and Midland being two that immediately spring to mind.

Meanwhile, their Freedom of Information Unit, who have a LEGAL [3], and ethical [4], obligation to respond to requests in a timely manner, according to information supplied by a member of that particular team, is starved of resources and coping with a doubled workload. Each disclosure officer is currently dealing with up to 30 requests, rather than the more usual 15.

On 23rd July, 2018 I made a request for information to the Met about a ‘peer review’ they had conducted into the internal affairs department of another police force [5]. It is a matter of significant public interest as there is well grounded suspicion that serious police wrongdoing may be uncovered by my journalistic investigation.

The first response to a request for disclosure, by the Met, was a lie. They said they had NO information about the peer review.

An appeal was submitted as I knew, by reference to other documents held from other sources, that I was being ‘put away’ by the police. A common occurence, regrettably, across the four police forces with which I am regularly involved (the three in Yorkshire and neighbouring Greater Manchester). They deeply resent journalists shining light into their dark corners.

The complaint was upheld by the Met, and within the decision narratrive it was claimed that the lie was ‘a mistake’. Human error. We agreed to disagree. A wise course, as events have unfolded.

Having, eventually, established that the Met DID hold disclosable information pertaining the vexed subject matter, a supplemental request was made shortly afterwards, on 23rd August, 2018.

This second request has produced a further series of lies that seriously undermine confidence in not just the Met, but the wider police service. In the ensuing three months, it has necessitated the involvement of the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC), the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

On 3rd September, 2018 a note was received from Peter Deja, a Support Officer in the Metropolitan Police Service’s Freedom of Information Triage Team, stating the second information request was being treated as an internal review request of the first. Corrected, it must be said, later that day by the same officer. But symptomatic of a mistake-riddled approach through every stage of this process. Right up to the present day.

No quality assurance, no supervision, no pride in the job. A disease that afflicts so much of the visible parts of the police service that is open to journalists (FOI requests, press requests, data subject requests, police complaints, misconduct hearings, civil and criminal court proceedings, to name the most obvious).

The next communication from the Met, on 20th September, 2018, carried a surprise to an experienced FOI practitioner. Now travelling with ‘case reference: 2018090000548’ as its handle, another Information Manager, Suzanne Mason, says the Met are seeking an extension of time for response to the request: “For your information we are considering the following exemption: Section 31 – Law Enforcement. I can now advise you that the amended date for a response is 20th October 2018”.

It drew this reply from me, by way of a complaint submitted to the Met on 25th September, 2018 (paras 1, 2, 3, 8 and 9 are omitted to spare the reader any further tedium, mostly concerning sections 10 and 17 of the Act):

“5. The exemption upon which MPS seeks to rely (section 31) appears to be a continuation of that propensity to deceive. Again, it is reference to the College of Policing’s Guidance that adds force to the point that this exemption is most unlikely to apply in this case: [Police] Forces frequently invite operational counterparts and specialists from neighbouring forces to evaluate their operational performance. Peer reviews support the principle of police interoperability, continuous improvement and information sharing. They do NOT relate to those matters set out in either subsection (1) and (2) of section 31 of the Act, relating to Law Enforcement.

6. It is further noted that the intended reliance on section 31 is completely absent of analysis, insofar as whether subsection(s) 1 and/or 2 may be engaged. It, further, does not analyse which parts of the request to which exemption from disclosure may be sought. On any reasonable, independent view it could not, conceivably, apply to questions 1, 2 and 4 [of the information request].

7. Taking paras 5 and 6 together, the inescapable conclusion is that MPS has taken a decision to engage in further deceit, obfuscation in order to frustrate this request for disclosure. It is also respectfully submitted that this is part of a course of conduct to vex, annoy and harass a journalist in legitimate pursuit of his vocation”.

Strong words. But entirely justified, in all the circumstances.

Tension between requester and public authority is now palpable.

The request is also, by now, attracting considerable attention, and comment, on the Twitter social media platform. The Times, meanwhile, contacted the author of this piece and said they wanted to run the story around my investigation, once complete.

This latest complaint to the Met drew a partial, and largely unsatisfactory, response, via a Mr or Ms S Stroud, on 8th October, 2018:

“For your information, I have made enquiries with the Information Manager (IM) with responsibility for your request.  She is hopeful that a response will be with you SHORTLY [emphasis added].  I have asked the IM to complete your request as a matter of URGENCY [emphasis added].”

“As a response to your request is currently outstanding, I am unable to complete a full internal review in relation to your request.  However, should you be dissatisfied with the MPS response to your request when you receive it, you may request an internal review in relation to that
decision”.

It did go on to say that the Section 31 exemption was still relied upon, despite not answering a single point raised in the complaint which set out, in plain terms, that such an exemption from releasing the information requested has no basis in fact, or law. It was, on all the evidence, a device being used by the Met simply to delay the inevitable disclosure, that is now almost certain, one way or another, to damage senior officer reputations in two very large police forces. This is apparent because of disclosures I have now obtained, after a battle with Greater Manchester Police, who were the subject of the Peer Review conducted by the Met.

A re-appearance is then made by the Met’s Suzanne Mason. On 20th October, 2018 she writes: “Please accept my sincere apologies for the lengthy delay in responding. I am still awaiting a response [she does not identify from whom], but I have sent a chaser and hope to be able to get back to you within the next few days. Thanking you for your patience in the matter”.

No mention is made, by Ms Mason, of the communication from the Met, on 8th October, saying the finalisation of the request, and the accompanying disclosure of the information, was being dealt with ‘urgently‘ and would be finalised ‘shortly‘. Her remark concerning patience was also highly assumptive, and not at all helpful, in the circumstances.

In a further response from the Met on 24th October, 2018, Ms Mason has subsequently ignored the plea to identify those officers – and failed to even address the status of the request. “Within a few days” was plainly more than 4 (it is now 36 and counting). “Urgently” and “Shortly” in Met-speak now extends, astonishingly, to 48 days and counting.

It was now clear that, without the intervention of third parties, the Met has no intention of complying with the law, and thus disclosing the requested information. In the meantime, the lies continue spewing out.

On 26th October, 2018 the matter was reported to the ICO. Apart from an auto-response, that has drawn no reaction, whatsoever, from the toothless ‘watchdog’.

Just four days later, came another lie from the Met. On this occasion, the information manager had, incredibly, redacted her name from the response:

“Enquiries in relation to your request are ongoing and a response will be
provided to you as soon as possible [Emphasis added]. The Information Manager with responsibility for your request will endeavour to provide you with a response on or before 13th November, 2018 [Emphasis added].

“As a response to your request is currently outstanding, I am unable to
complete a full internal review in relation to your request. However,
should you be dissatisfied with the MPS response to your request, you may
request an internal review in relation to the decision.

“I would like to take this opportunity to apologise on behalf of the MPS
for the delay in responding to your Freedom of Information Act request.
The progress of your request will continue to be monitored.”

It matters little in a wider context, apart from yet another small measure of institutional incompetence, but for the second time, and by two different information managers, my surname had been spelt ‘Wilbey‘, not Wilby.

A further complaint was made. Within it, I again asked for the names of the directing minds responsible for delaying the request. The chief suspects being Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Fiona Taylor and Superintendent, Gary Randall. Both officers being at the centre of the investigation of which this request forms part.

A response came from Yvette Taylor, again, on the same day upon which the finalisation was promised, 13th November, 2018. But there was more bad news and Metropolitan Police lies in the system.

“As advised to you in my email dated 30th October, 2018, your complaint with respect to timeliness of responding to you was upheld.

“You have questioned the reasons for the delay in responding to you.

“The delay cannot be attributed to one specific individual.  Unfortunately,
as advised by Ms Mason, the current level of FOIA requests is extremely
high.

“Due to the nature of FOIA requests, it is impossible to regulate the
number of requests that a public authority receives. For example, there
was a 42% increase in FOIA requests for October 2018. A manageable
caseload for a FOIA Information Manger is between 15 and 20 requests.

“Most Information Managers currently have a case load in the region of 30
requests. This is being managed by some Information Managers working
additional hours to clear overdue requests.”

Later the same day, a second communication was received from the Met, this time from Suzanne Mason:

“Please accept my sincere apologies once again for the continued delay in
responding to your request for information.

“I have today received some information which I need to review and seek
approval from the business unit before responding to you and I am hopeful
that we will be able to do so early next week”.

The business unit referred to is, believe it or not, the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards, for which the aforementioned DAC Fiona Taylor has, I am given to understand, senior command portfolio responsibilty. Supt Randall is also a security-cleared, key member of the special investigations team in that same unit.

No mention is made by Ms Mason of the latest failed deadline, and, of course, ‘early next week’ (19th or 20th November, 2018 one might assume) has been and gone. Another round of deceit, with no explanation, or apology for the missing finalisation of the request.

A new kid on the Met block emerged on 29th November, 2018 when disclosure lawyer, Damion Baird, sent a message to the effect that he had now taken over the file from Ms Mason and the finalisation would be sent ‘shortly’.

Two cordial, informative telephone calls between Mr Baird and Neil Wilby followed in which it was revealed that the lawyer had completed all his work on the request and sent it to the ‘business area’, the Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS), for quality assurance on 30th November, 2018.

Subsequently, he sent a reminder email on 6th December, 2018 and reminded himself that an enforcement notice from the information Commissioner expired on 11th December, 2018. He confidently anticipated a full response to the request before then.

At 6.30pm on 11th December Mr Baird sent an apology and a message saying there would be a further ‘short delay’. But with no date given for a substantive response.

So, is the world’s biggest lie now the Metropolitan Police Service saying “Your information request is in the post”? Judge for yourself, dear reader.

8th October, 2018       – Shortly, matter dealt with urgency.

20th October, 2018    – Chaser, within a few days

24th October, 2018     – Staff shortages

30th October, 2018     – Response on or before 13th November, 2018

13th November, 2018 – Early next week

29th November, 2018 – Shortly

12th November, 2018 – Short delay

The press office at the Metropolitan Police Service, when first approached for comment on 25th November, 2018 responded:

You seem to have requested a response from our FoI team and have referenced a response which suggests you will have it soon.

The FoI team are very busy, with a wide range of queries, so sometimes you have to wait“.

They later refused to answer the following two specific questions:

1. Why does MPS consider the law (Freedom of Information Act, 2000) does not apply to them. Parliament made no provision, within the Act, for policing bodies to do as they please.

2. Why has MPS consistently engaged itself in deceit over this request at a significant cost to public confidence in the wider police service?

To that was added: It would be highly preferable if DAC Fiona Taylor was apprised and a response provided that was attributable to her. With senior rank, comes ownership of issues.

The enquiries, perfectly reasonably presented, were not drawn to the attention of DAC Taylor, as specifically requested. Or any explanation provided as to why.
Indeed, it has now been learned that Ms Taylor sensationally quit the Met just days before this information request was submitted, in July, 2018. She has now taken a sideways move to troubled Police Scotland.
A fact that any of the Met’s disclosure, legal or press officers has omitted to mention in a significant number of communications.
In the light of this response, the press officer was informed that an approach will be made directly to her. That has now been done, via the Police Scotland press office.
The press officer email exchange in November was signed off thus: ‘It would be a kindness to describe your response as ‘sub-optimal’. They were approached again for comment on 11th December, 2018.
Page last updated Tuesday 11th December, 2018 at 2100hrs

 

[1] The Guardian: ‘Streets of Fear’

[2] The Mail on Sunday:  ‘Criminal that Met Police is giving up on burglars’

[3] Freedom of Information Act, 2000: Sections 1, 10 and 17

[4] College of Policing: Authorised Professional Practice

[5] What Do They Know: Information request made by Neil Wilby

Page last updated on Sunday 23rd November, 2018 at 0650hrs

Picture credit: The Guardian Media Group

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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© Neil Wilby 2015-2018. 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.

Mystery of the ‘missing’ peer review

An important part of an investigative journalist’s armoury is the Freedom of Information Act, 2000. The essential principle being that public authorities, unless they can provide a good, and lawful, reason not to do so, must disclose information, upon request, by a member of the public. Or, indeed, a reporter chasing down an ‘exclusive’.

‘Public authorities’ includes police forces and policing bodies. With only one or two notable exceptions, the Act is routinely abused by the latter two.

For emphasis that is repeated, in terms: Law enforcement agencies disregard the dictates of Parliament and gang together, under the auspices of the National Police Chiefs Council, no less, to do so.

Unchallenged, it has to be said, by the very MP’s who are the country’s legislators. Or, by Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC’s) who are elected at the ballot box to provide oversight to chief constables. The latter may be connected to the fact that some PCC’s are also serial, and serious, FOI offenders. Aided and abetted by a woefully weak statutory regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and an even less efficient ‘inn of last resort’, the General Regulatory Chamber, First Tier Tribunal.

In short, policing bodies know, all too well, that there is no easy remedy if they set out to frustrate a journalist in his, or her, quest for disclosure of documents that may underpin a vital public interest exposé, or search for the truth in, for example, the case of a miscarriage of justice.

One glaring, and increasingly high profile example of police forces abusing the Act, is the matter of a ‘peer review’ that was allegedly undertaken by the Metropolitan Police Service (the Met) on behalf of the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police (GMP).

A peer review is a process, guided by the College of Policing, by which police forces frequently invite counterparts, and specialists, from neighbouring constabularies to evaluate their operational performance. Peer reviews, it is said, completely absent of evidence, support the principle of police interoperability, continuous improvement and information sharing.

Management-speak aside, a peer review is also a soft alternative to a robust, thorough investigation of wrongdoing in which ‘bad apples’ in police forces are plucked from the barrel and cast aside.

Shortly after his appointment as chief of the Manchester force, Ian Hopkins, trumpeted loudly about his intention to invite the Met to look into his troubled Professional Standards Board (PSB), which had been dogged by scandal after scandal over the preceding three years, or so. Including, for example, unlawful hacking of phones belonging to members of public; alteration of witness statements; failure to disclose evidence in civil and criminal court proceedings. All very topical, and serious criminal offences, to boot.

He told the Manchester Evening News: “I have asked for a peer review, by another force, to look at how the Professional Standards Branch and Counter Corruption Unit operate – and to see if there is any learning from other parts of the country about the way we operate that maybe we can be doing differently.”

Both departments had been inspected by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) ‘about three times’ in the last few years and concluded they are ‘very good’, the chief added. It is relevant to point out that HMIC is another policing body that abuses the Act and, quite separately, there is considerable doubt, across a much wider spectrum, as to the effectiveness and efficiency of their inspections. The Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Thomas Winsor, is deeply disrespected, and subjected to childish ridicule, by very many serving, and retired, police officers across the country. If the general public was more widely aware of the concerns over the Queen’s representative, there would be a huge outcry.

Hopkins went on to defend the work of the department – feared and loathed by some inside GMP, it is said – and added: “What we are increasingly seeing is that, rather than people accounting for their own actions, they are attacking those people who are told to do that investigation.”

The chief constable pointed to ‘a number of individuals who are disgruntled and have raised issues’. He was, no doubt, referring to such as ex-Superintendent John Buttress, whom, on many independent views, was the subject of what amounted to a crudely executed, disproportionately pursued ‘witch-hunt’ by GMP – and Paul Bailey, the very well-respected former Chair of the National Black Police Association, who was a constant thorn in the side of the command team in GMP.

“We want to make sure, if we get things wrong, or if people have behaved badly, or broken the law, then they are held to account for it,” the chief constable concluded.

Fine words but the reality is very, very different, as anyone close to GMP knows.

So, put shortly, the view advanced by Hopkins was that GMP’s PSB was functioning well, there was not really a problem – and he would ask another police force to carry out a review to prove his point. Which is, in terms, that the issue is confined to disgruntled officers making a lot of white noise.

The peer review, Hopkins said, would last SIX WEEKS. Note that carefully. But, to some, that might have seemed short enough, given the nature and scale of the corruption allegations made against GMP’s troubled PSB.

That was the last public pronouncement made by Hopkins and there has been no visible follow up by the local newspaper, or its crime reporter, John Scheerhout. Whom a number of GMP’s critics perceive to be too close to the force to effectively perform the “social watchdog” role of a journalist. Underpinned, at least in part, by the appearance of a string of stories in The Times and Sunday Times, sourced by the country’s most visible, and effective, police whistleblower, ex-GMP Superintendent Pete Jackson.

This series of front page splashes, and double page spreads, led to a leader being run by the country’s ‘newspaper of record’, in February 2018, calling for a public inquiry into the many high profile failings of Greater Manchester Police. Since then, there has been another two pieces run by The Times, in June 2018, the second of which, effectively, calls out Hopkins for a dishonest response to the first. Times reporter, Fiona Hamilton, pulled no punches as she ripped into the cornered chief constable.

It is a quite extraordinary state of affairs. In both cases the source was, again, Pete Jackson. Manchester’s best detective, and head of the Major Enquiry Team, when he retired from the force.

GMP has also been under constant attack by the BBC, who have produced a number of radio and television programmes featuring alleged wrongdoing by the force. Inside Out producer, Neil Morrow, is a strong, articulate, well-reasoned critic of the running of the force, particularly on social media. ITV’s award-winning presenter, Matt O’Donoghue, is another. Having worked at close quarters with the bereaved families of Jordon Begley and Anthony Grainger, Matt knows a great deal more than most about the inner workings, and ‘cover-up’ mentality, of GMP.

A piece highlighting the shenanigans over this peer review was due to appear in Private Eye on Wednesday 7th November, 2018. That has been written by another highly respected journalist, presenter and producer, Mark Gregory. It may yet appear, of course. Even in a modified form, once the final piece of police disclosure fits into this increasingly complex jigsaw.

Returning to the peer review, the significance of which will unfold, there has been a good deal of activity via freedom of information requests: The first on this topic was made in August, 2016 by William Crow. The response was “GMP can confirm that a peer review was undertaken by the MPS and the report is currently being drafted by them, with the lead being Supt Gary Randall.  The report will include the terms of reference and findings, and will be presented to GMP when completed”. It was supplemented, following a complaint, by this explanation: “Apologies – I did not think we held this information. It has now been confirmed to me that the review took place on the 9th-10th May 2016”.

That disclosure was important. It revealed, taken at its face, that a six week review had taken just TWO DAYS. But as will become clear, the disclosure officer’s addendum will assume much greater significance “I did not think we held this information

A second request on this topic to GMP, made by the author of this piece, in August, 2016, and not finalised until the end of November, 2016 ran counter to that first request. A list of outside police force investigations, and peer reviews, belatedly provided by GMP in its response, did NOT include the Met peer review requested by chief constable Hopkins. It disclosed just two investigations: one each by Kent and Durham constabularies. The former almost certain to be the inquiry into corruption allegations made by John Buttress. That stated absence of data held, concerning the ill-starred Metropolitan Police peer review, also assumes importance as this story unfolds.

A similar request was made, simultaneously, to the three Yorkshire police forces, concerning outside force investigations, all of which can be characterised as troubled and time consuming. Including the perennially hopeless North Yorkshire Police being forced, by formal notice, to respond by the ICO, and, as such, amidst this maelstrom, the significance of the GMP misrepresentation was, regrettably, overlooked.

In June 2017, Mr Crow returned to the fray and the matter of the peer review was raised again via a FOI request. The GMP output was helpful to a degree, and disclosed that Supt Randall was part of a team of four; the GMP officers said to be involved were Head of PSB, Chief Superintendent Annette Anderson, Randall’s direct contact, and Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling. The terms of reference for the review had been drafted by the Met, and were part of the final report. GMP concluded by saying that “there is no intended date for publication of this document”. Which, may yet, prove to be a particularly clever choice of words.

At this point, there is still no intervention by the local newspaper, almost two years after their front page splash. Which now looked, increasingly, like a hollow GMP public relations exercise, in which Hopkins had tossed the local ‘social watchdogs’ (as journalists are sometimes dubbed) a tasty bone to keep them quiet.

After the furore over the Hopkins ‘lie’ about the first of the two The Times articles in June, 2018 it was decided, by the author of this piece and Pete Jackson, to re-visit the matter of the Hopkins/Met peer review. The lack of output by the force, and the local newspaper, was suspicious – and a quick assessment of the information available, via both open source and other documents sourced by each of the two, warranted a more in-depth investigation. This was to be assisted by drawing on the knowledge of a network of police and journalist sources – and another two FOI requests. One to the Met (in the event, it actually became two) and one to GMP.

The peer review ‘net’ was closing on Hopkins and GMP. It was not realised at the time that some big Metropolitan Police ‘fish’ might became snared, too.

The first request was made to the Met on 23rd July, 2018 and the second to GMP on 29th August, 2018. The latter is much the simpler to report upon: GMP have ignored the request completely. No acknowledgement, no finalisation, no explanation, no apology. NOTHING. The Independent Office for Police Conduct has, effectively, forced GMP to record a conduct complaint against their head of the information disclosure unit – and the ICO will shortly be issuing an enforcement notice compelling GMP to answer the request.

The inference being, of course, that to respond to the request is almost certain to disclose wrongdoing by very senior officers within GMP. Notably, the two Ians, Hopkins and Pilling.

This is the request in full:

“Dear Greater Manchester Police (GMP),

Please disclose, by way of the Freedom of Information Act, the following information:

1. Date of hot debrief given by Supt Gary Randall of Metropolitan Police (Met) and copies of notes taken at that meeting and/or reports made afterwards.

2. Pocket note book, or day book, entries of GMP officers present at debrief that relate to their attendance at/participation in the debrief.

3. Copy of Peer Review Terms of Reference (ToR) agreed between DCC Ian Pilling and DAC Fiona Taylor, together with email and/or letter correspondence between those two officers pertaining to the Peer Review ToR’s.

4. Copy of Peer Review report delivered by Met to GMP. If it is intended to rely on any exemptions under the Act then I request that the following information is disclosed pending appeal against such exemption(s).
a. Date of report
b. Date received by GMP
c. Copy of Met’s covering letter that accompanied the report.
d. Number of pages that comprise the report, excluding any annex, appendices.

5. Copy of any post-Peer Review report correspondence between DCC Pilling and/or DAC Taylor and Supt Randall.

Yours faithfully,

Neil Wilby
Investigative journalist”

The reader is invited to draw their own conclusions of the efficacy of that request and the likelihood of the dire consequences in responding.

The responses to information request to the Met, and its subsequent follow-up request, have also been, on any view, disappointing and frustrating. A sorry tale of deceit and subterfuge that exposes the country’s largest police force, once revered as ‘Scotland Yard‘, as a dishonest, incompetent shambles who will, it seems, go to any lengths, and put, often unsuspecting, junior officers in the firing line to avoid the exposure of senior officer misconduct.

This is the full text of the first request:

“Dear Metropolitan Police Service (MPS),

In November, 2015 there was widespread press, and broadcast, publicity concerning an announcement by the chief constable of GMP that he had invited the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) to conduct a review of the operations of his PSB.

https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/…

In this regard, please provide the following information:

1. Date the Peer Review commenced.

2. The name(s)/rank(s) of the Gold Commander or Gold Command Group.

3. Date the Peer Review ended.

4. Date the Peer Review report was delivered to the GMP chief constable.

5. The operational name given to the Peer Review.

Yours faithfully,

Neil Wilby
Investigative journalist”

The sharp-eyed will spot that the answers to questions 1 and 3 were already available as open source material. But they were asked again as a ‘test’ of the veracity of the police responses. It was allocated a Met Freedom of Information Request Reference Number of 2018070000913. The response from the Met was suspiciously speedy and an Information Manager, Ian Burgess, said they did NOT hold ANY information about the GMP Peer Review at all. NOTHING.

At the time, that was viewed, understandably, as an outrageous lie and challenged accordingly. After all, GMP had provided responses ‘to the world’ (as all FOI responses are) that confirmed the existence of the peer review; named the investigating officer, the size of his team and the date it had taken place. But, as already discovered, all is not as it seems with this peer review. Nevertheless, the willingness of the police to lie about it is deeply troubling.

After receiving the complaint, the Met upheld it, changed their position and disclosed that information about the peer review is, in fact, held. Or, so they say.

The name of the person dealing with the complaint was, quite extraordinarly, redacted from the response. However, the Met now aligned themselves with earlier GMP responses and said that the peer review took place on 9th/10th May, 2016. There was no Gold Commander (or Gold Group) nominated and, it follows, no operational codename given to the investigation. The peer review report, or outcome, or both, was delivered to GMP on 22nd December, 2016, they said.

The officer who dealt with the internal review was Yvette Taylor, another Information Manager. Not, in any way, independent from the officer finalising the request, which places the Met in breach of the College of Policing’s Authorised Professional Practice and the same organisation’s Code of Ethics. Ms Taylor mis-spelled the name of the requester and, apart from that fundamental error, her response can be safely characterised as overly bullish; saying it was all just a mistake and denying that the Met had lied about not having any information about the peer review. On any independent review of the two responses, it would be hard to conclude otherwise. The first says one thing, the second says the complete opposite.

Having eked out of the Met that information was admitted as held, the second, ‘killer’, information request was made on 23rd August, 2018:

“Dear Metropolitan Police Service (MPS),

Having now established that disclosable information concerning the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) Peer Review is held by MPS DPS, may I please make a further request? I accept and understand that this second request will carry a different reference number and may attract exemptions, redactions under the Act. However, given the nature of the materials requested to be disclosed, and my experience as an information rights practitioner dealing almost exclusively with policing bodies, it is anticipated that the effects of such exemptions would be very limited indeed.

1. a. Copy of all email and letter correspondence between DAC Fiona Taylor and DCC Ian Pilling where the communication contains reference to the Peer Review.
b. Copy of all email and letter correspondence between Supt Gary Randall and any GMP officer where the communication contains reference to the Peer Review.

NB: In response to journalistic enquiries made of GMP’s press office, it has been confirmed that DAC Taylor and DCC Pilling were the two senior officers whom, between them, agreed the Terms of Reference for the Peer Review. In a previous FOI request finalisation on the WhatDoTheyKnow website, GMP disclosed that Supt Randall was the officer who carried out the Peer Review.

2. Copy of Terms of Reference

3. Copy of Final Report delivered by MPS to GMP on 22nd December, 2016.

4. Copy of any response(s) received by MPS from GMP after the delivery of the Peer Review.

5. Copy of amended Peer Review, if any such amendments were made.

Yours faithfully,

Neil Wilby
Investigative journalist”

The drafting of the information request was greatly aided by the response to a query put to the GMP press office immediately prior to submission of the FOI request. That had informed that Deputy Assistant Commissioner Fiona Taylor was the Met officer who set the terms of reference for the peer review, and had corresponded with Ian Pilling in so doing.

The FOI request is tightly drawn and involves, one might believe, information readily retreivable and disclosable. A report concerning a peer review that lasted just two days, which may have included travel to London and back, and, they say, a ‘hot debrief’, cannot amount to a great deal in terms of either content, or substance.

A well-informed police source has posited that the hot debrief might well have been an Oldham Road curry, and a few pints of lager, to send the Londoners on their way. It has also been hypothesised, on a more serious note, that if there was a hot debrief then it is likely that there was no intention by the Met to put anything to paper, subsequently.

GMP are a force, as seen in the recent ‘body parts’ scandal, acutely aware of the dangers of holding documents that could be disclosed under freedom of information law. They are prepared to burn them, it seems, rather than damage reputations of senior officers.

But a two day jaunt up to Manchester, a bit of ‘lessons learned’ patter, a jolly on the second night, and there you go: Job done. Peer reviewed. No paper trail, if awkward questions asked later by prying journalists.

Since the 23rd August, 2018 FOI submission, the Met has made a variety of excuses that, like the parallel GMP request, has necessitated the involvement of the IOPC and the ICO. A separate article on this website, ‘Your cheque is in the post‘ covers, in detail, the chronology and full extent of the deceit engaged in, by the Metropolitan Police, to avoid disclosure of the requested peer review information (read here).

Tension between requester and public authority is now palpable. The request is also, by now, attracting considerable attention, and comment, on the Twitter social media platform. The Times, meanwhile, contacted the author of this piece, and Pete Jackson, and said they wanted to run the story. But still no interest from the supine Manchester Evening News.

It is now clear that, without the intervention of third parties, the Met has no intention of complying with the law, and thus disclosing the requested information. On 26th October, 2018 the matter was reported to the ICO. Apart from an auto-response, that has drawn no reaction, whatsoever, from the toothless ‘watchdog’.

So, at the date this article is first published, on Sunday 11th November, 2018,  and as the nation stands silent to honour our fallen, particularly those in the Great War that ended one hundred years ago, so too does the Metropolitan Police and Greater Manchester Police. Over disclosure of the materials that will reveal one of three things:

1. The peer review never took place at all. Previous responses by GMP to requests about it were deliberately false and, correspondingly, the first response by the Met was, in fact, correct: They did not hold any information about the peer review, as stated in their information request finalisation on 8th August, 2018. It should also be noted that GMP in one of their first finalisations also said they didn’t hold any information. The request finalised in November, 2016 also made no mention of a peer review supposedly undertaken by the Met five months earlier.

2. The peer review did take place, but was a complete sham. A six week investigation, promised very loudly by chief constable Hopkins, was cut down to just two days. It is said to have taken place in May 2016. Six months after the ‘all guns blazing’ press announcement. The report of that review then took over SEVEN months to deliver from the Met to GMP. It can amount to very little, or nothing. Apart from the usual, all pals at the Palais, police investigating themselves, ‘whitewash’.

3. The peer review did take place, but there was never any intention to produce a closing report. The hot debrief was all that was planned, and then executed on the second of the two days that the Met were said to be carrying out the review. Supt Randall may also never have left his New Scotland Yard office. It may have been a systems review that was conducted electronically, with a debrief via video conference. A tick-in-a-box exercise that is a long, long way short of what GMP’s chief splashed on the front page of the local evening newspaper in November, 2015.

Manchester’s finest have already said they have no intention of publishing the report, yet GMP’s PSB is now engulfed in far worse scandals than they were in 2015. The Metropolitan Police, and almost certainly by now, the National Police Chiefs Council, are very likely colluding with GMP as to how reputational damage can now be limited, and the jobs of Ian Hopkins, and potentially, Ian Pilling can be saved.

If the peer review didn’t take place at Manchester HQ, and a large number of police sources cannot find a single GMP officer that can say that it did, then the only feasible redress is resignation by at least one of the big two chief officers, plus at least one senior Met officer who has taken part with GMP in the charade over the past three months. The list of suspects is small.

If the peer review did take place, then it could still prove the straw that breaks the proverbial back of Hopkins. His standing as a public figure, and, more crucially, as a warranted police officer, has been seriously undermined by the series of stories in The Times. He stands accused of lying about the infamous Operation Poppy investigations. In the circumstances outlined in this piece, he would have conned the public of Greater Manchester over another promised investigation. Whilst all the time the dire situation in PSD – whatever spin he might try to put on it – just goes from very bad to even worse. The chief constable’s position would, on any view outside of the police service, be untenable. Within his own force, and on the fringes, the private view of a significant number officers, past and present, is that he does not have the requisite competencies, and unimpeachable integrity, to lead the Manchester police. The peer review debacle very much underscores that view.

But the real losers in this sorry saga are the taxpaying public, whose confidence in the country’s two largest police forces is certain to receive another knock and their belief in MP’s, and other elected officials, such as the Mayors of both Manchester and London, further undermined as they all stand idly by whilst Acts of Parliament are ransacked by those they are paid to hold to account.

This is a story that, quite obviously, has still some way to run.

 

Page last updated on Monday 26th November, 2018 at 0650hrs

Picture credit: The Guardian Media Group

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 2015-2018. 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 ‘watchdog’ vexed by recent Tribunal findings

However, very recently the tide may well have turned back in favour of requesters, and the information rights ‘watchdog’ put back on its leash.
Two First Tier Tribunal appeals, decided within two months of one another, both resulted in ICO Decision Notices, upholding section 14 exemptions, being overturned (the legal terminology is ‘disturbed’).
The first, Paul Arnold -v- ICO and Department of Business and Energy (EA/2018/0061) was heard before Judge Stephen Cragg QC [1] and two lay panel members in July 2018.
The second, Roger Good -v- ICO and Sedgemoor District Council (EA/2017/0228) was heard before Judge Brian Kennedy QC [2] and, by a quirk of fate, the same two lay panel members as heard the Arnold appeal.
In the Arnold appeal the key parts of the judgment are set out here:
[22] In this case we are of the view that the Commissioner has wrongly labelled the Appellant’s request of 22 June 2016 as vexatious. We should say first of all that it may well be that the Appellant has been overly persistent over the years, that it may well be that continuing to try to persuade the Department to take action is now futile, and it is certainly the case that there have been occasions when the Appellant has used aggressive and abusive language to which officials should not be subjected.
[23] Additionally, we accept that it is right to look at the current request in the context of the almost 20 years of correspondence and contact (including a number of FOIA requests) which the Appellant has generated.
[24] But we do remind ourselves that we have to take all the circumstances surrounding the request into account, and that having done so we have to find that it is the request (and not the requester) that is vexatious.
[27] We should emphasise that our decision is based on the particular nature and circumstances of this request. Our decision does not mean that the Department would be necessarily be unsuccessful in relying on s14 FOIA if further requests are made by the Appellant in pursuing the issues which are important to him. As the case-law set out above demonstrates, the decision on each FOIA request has to take all the circumstances in relation to that particular request into account, when considering whether it is vexatious.
In the Good appeal these are identified as the key passages in Judge Kennedy’s findings:

[27] The Tribunal was provided with correspondence sent to the Commissioner, in which the Council laid out it’s reasoning as to why it considered the request to be vexatious. In it the Council confirmed that it had not sought clarification about the scope of the request, nor conducted any investigations into whether it was a repeat request. It explained that the Appellant had previously been warned that further requests for information would be considered vexatious, and the request itself appeared to be a ‘fishing’ expedition designed to damage the Council.

[28] A letter from the public authority dated 7 July 2017 was effectively a pre-warning that any further request would be regarded as vexatious and pre-empted the necessary assessment of the request.

[29] The Tribunal notes that there was no attempt by the Council to establish whether this was actually a repeat request. Page 96 of the Bundle before us demonstrates there was no reasoning to establish this is a repeat request. In fact, on the evidence before us, the Tribunal believes that the subject request is a fresh request.

[30] We do not concur with the Commissioner’s assertion that this request has no value. In fact we find it is a request that has value and on a specific subject which, on the evidence before us, has not been the subject of a previous request.

[31] The Tribunal accepts the request has value because the subject is correspondence relating to a specific planning application. We have heard the Appellants personally explain the detail and we are persuaded there is value to this request. He refers to information provided by the LGO to the Appellant at page 581 of the Bundle before us, which appears to reveal that specific instructions to delay the process of investigating the breach of planning control leading ultimately to the grant of permission were given by a planning officer at the Council. It appears this information was not supplied by LGO with the letter that is at page 130 of the Bundle before us. The Council did not provide it to the Appellant. It may provide information that would support a complaint, justify litigation or even end the need for further requests from the Appellant, or others in the circumstances of this subject matter.

[32] It is in the public interest that any possible fault on the part of the public authority in dealing with this planning issue is fully explored. Even though the decision in Dransfield suggests that an authority does not need to consider every part of a request in certain circumstances, we find that this case is not such as would fall into that category. On the evidence before us we do not accept that the request was “manifestly unreasonable”.

It should be noted that First Tier Tribunal judgments are not binding authorities, but the fact that, in these particular cases, the two judges were widely experienced, very highly rated QC’s will, no doubt, raise eyebrows at the ICO, and in public authorities up and down the country.

Journalists, seen as very much ‘the enemy‘ in my own specialist field of challenging policing bodies, can also take heart from these judgments – and live in hope that a more balanced view will be taken by the watchdog when assessing complaints against public authorities that have simply resorted to a ‘vexatious‘ label as a means to avoid deeper scrutiny of malpractice and wasteful use of public funds.

The only public body to label me ‘vexatious‘ – the joint Civil Disclosure Unit of North Yorkshire Police and its Police Commissioner – face me at a Tribunal hearing early next next year. On advice from my barrister, I was quietly confident of overturning the ICO’s Decision Notice before these latest Tribunal findings. Now that confidence has grown further.

I defeated the same Civil Disclosure Unit at a Tribunal hearing in September, 2017 (EA/2017/0076). But that concerned a section 40 exemption, not section 14. Heard before David Farrer QC and two lay panel members at Barnsley Magistrates Court, Elizabeth Kelsey of counsel represented the ICO and Alex Ustych appeared for the North Yorkshire Police Commissioner (NYPCC).

I have also succeeded against NYPCC in a county court claim over data protection breaches.

Page last updated Wednesday 24th September, 2018 at 2120hrs

[1] Stephen Cragg QC. Doughty Street Chambers bio: https://www.doughtystreet.co.uk/barristers/profile/stephen-cragg-qc

[2] Brian Kennedy QC. 4 KBW Chambers bio: http://www.4kbw.co.uk/members/brian-kennedy-qc/

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 2015-2018. 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.

Police refuse to come clean over sexual risk order

Over the past two years it has been my considerable misfortune to have the job of holding North Yorkshire Police up to some sort of scrutiny. I have been hanging on to the baton, largely, for my North Yorks Enquirer colleague, Nigel Ward, who found himself shackled, until recently, by a grotesque and ultimately failed civil harassment claim launched against him by his local police force [1].

It is a thankless task, made doubly difficult by the complete absence of support from the more conventional oversight bodies such as the Police and Crime Commissioner, the Independent Police Complaints Commission and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.

Add in a tame, under-resourced local and regional press and it emphasises the uphill nature of the work the back-in-harness Nigel and myself carry out.

One of our stock-in-trade tools as journalists is the freedom of information (FOI) request. A device that used expediently can winkle out information to build an exclusive story.

One such request has been finalised recently by NYP and provides further insight into a force completely averse to any form of criticism – most especially from either Nigel or myself – and utterly obsessed with containing damage to its reputation.

The request, quite remarkably, was finalised within the statutory twenty working day period for information requests. But that may have more to do with me taking the chief constable to court over previous FOI failures [2] than a desire to please an investigative journalist. Particularly one who has already taken them severely to task over the subject matter of the request, which concerns a Sexual Risk Order handed out to York-based, John O’Neill. The questions put to the force sought to add flesh to this article I published on the topic in August, 2016 [3].

The response from NYP (and a full list of the questions) is now in the public domain and can be viewed in full here [4].  It is characterised, as ever, by defensiveness.

They refuse to name the solicitor(s) acting for the Chief Constable in this high profile matter that for days dominated national newspapers and was a lead story on network television. In the face of this, and the fact that there have been two public hearings in York Magistrates Court, a Section 40 (2) exemption is relied upon by the force (breach of personal data). Which is, of course, now being challenged by way of a review and then, very probably, a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The next question concerning the selection process received a vague answer that didn’t really go to the heart of the issue, except to confirm that the selection of barrister Oliver Thorne was not subject to any competitive element. It is true to say that, on any reasonable view, he has not covered himself in glory as counsel in this particular case.

After admitting in their response to the third question that the controversial – and heavily criticised – Sexual Risk Order was drafted by a North Yorkshire Police in-house solicitor, they refuse to name him (or her). It should be noted, however, that the NYP Force Solicitor and Head of Legal Services, Jane Wintermeyer, is also in charge of the Civil Disclosure Unit that is responsible for finalising FOI requests. There appears to be no recognition of the potential conflict of interest in NYP’s response to this particular information request.

The response to the first part of the fourth question takes us into the realms of the far-fetched. A familiar landing place for a number of FOI outcomes from this source. NYP claim that it would take in excess of 18 hours (around two and a half working days) to calculate the amount spent internally on the John O’Neill case. Which begs the question: what sort of financial systems/controls are in place at NYP? The response to the second part of the question also leaves me scratching my head as the total cost externally (presumably the value of Mr Thorne’s fees), up to and including the latest court hearing, was £2284.32. Which seems on the low side for the services of a barrister of thirteen years call from a leading Leeds-based set (KBW).

In their response to the fifth and last question NYP say that the John O’Neill case has never been given an operational name.

The internal review has now been filed with NYP and they have twenty working days to respond [5]. However, their record in this area of operation is not good. I have a number of reviews of information requests that are overdue. The golden rule for NYP plainly being: The more damaging the disclosure might be to the force, the longer finalisation of a request or a review will take.

imgid65571362-jpg-gallery

The next instalment of the saga played out at York Magistrates Court on 22nd September, 2016. An amended Order was handed down by the judge to John O’Neill that listed twelve restrictions. The ‘unpoliceable’ 24 hour notice before sex has gone, as has the restriction on electronic equipment and internet use. Albeit the latter can be monitored by police. However, District Judge Lower remained in no doubt about the risk that O’Neill posed to women.

O’Neill told ITV News, outside the court, that he was considering an appeal against the Order. He claims it breaches his human rights and that he has ‘no chance of forming a relationship’ with the SRO in place.

It has emerged that at least fifty others are presently the subject to a Sexual Risk Order in this country.

[1] Private Eye: Article published 31st August, 2016 ‘North Yorkshire Boors

[2] Neil Wilby: Article published 10th June, 2016 ‘Chief constable and PCC face court action

[3] Neil Wilby: Article published 22nd August, 2016 ‘Between a rock and a hard place

[4] North Yorkshire Police: FOI response to Neil Wilby (475.2016.17)

[5] What Do They Know: Audit trail for FOI request 353604-479ad2a5

Page last updated Friday 23rd September, 2016 at 0745hrs

© 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.

Picture credit: York Press

Deceit and subterfuge underpinned PCC’s decision to fund chief’s civil claim

Much has been written elsewhere, almost exclusively by me, concerning the North Yorkshire Police investigations codenamed Operations Rome and Hyson. The satirical magazine Private Eye did, however, break mainstream media ranks and publish an article in the last week of August, 2016 [1].

The Eye piece is a scathing condemnation of the failed criminal investigation (Rome), then the civil action (Hyson), mounted by Dave ‘Knacker’ Jones, North Yorkshire Police’s chief constable, against citizen journalists who were criticising his force.

This latest article of mine looks more closely at the deceit and subterfuge that surrounded the formal decision by Julia Mulligan, the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire, to use a huge amount of public funds to allow three high ranking police officers,  including Jones, one retired detective superintendent and a former Chair of North Yorkshire Police Authority in pursuit of harassment claims against two citizen journalists and a justice campaigner.

The civil court case, which is currently estimated to have cost the taxpayer £450,000 (Private Eye reckons it is higher than that), also featured four members of the Hofschröer family. Three as police funded claimants, Robert, Diane and Martin, and Peter (Robert’s brother) as defendant, with no funding.

It serves no useful purpose to rehearse here the infamous ‘Grandma B‘ campaign, mounted by Peter Hofschröer, over allegations that the other family members involved in the court case deprived his mother Barbara of the family home in Acomb, York with nefarious motive. My single contribution to this wholly unsatisfactory affair is to say that, on the face of the documents and evidence I have access to (which is not all of them, of course), the police picked the wrong side in the argument over the alleged property fraud.

The presence of Hofschröer family members on opposing sides of the claim gives the whole matter the bizarre feel of a family dispute gone terribly wrong. Whereas, the real motivation behind the civil claim was, say Private Eye, to silence the police force’s critics, once and for all. The Hofschröer family dispute just provided a convenient ‘cover story’ for that principal aim.

One of the many extraordinary aspects of the Hyson civil claim is that it was launched two months after Peter Hofschröer was arrested and held on remand, with no access to legal advice or his paper or electronic files. He has not been at liberty since and was convicted at Teesside Crown Court in July 2016 on indecent image charges [2].

Hofschröer now faces Part 1 extradition proceedings by the Austrian authorities at a Westminster Magistrates Court hearing listed for 15th September, 2016 on charges relating to stalking, child pornography and defamation under sections 107, 207 and 297 of the Austrian criminal code. It is also reported that he is appealing the paedophilia conviction, although how that could be grounded is not entirely clear, given that the trial was conducted by one of the North East Circuit’s longest serving judges, HHJ Tony Briggs QC.

The net effect of all this, as far as the police, and the rest of the Hofschröer family is concerned, is that none of the offensive articles about which they complained have yet been removed from the internet, nine months after an injunction prohibited their publication – and the likelihood of ever collecting the costs awarded against Peter Hofschröer are almost non-existant.

Put shortly, and given his continued incarceration over the criminal matters, the civil claim against him was a complete waste of time and money.

Which brings us to the decision to spend a vast amount of public money, made by the PCC and published on her website [3], some twelve months after she was required to do so, by law.

Despite being asked a number of times the PCC refuses to explain the delay between the first of the lawyers’ Hyson invoices pouring in (July 2015) and the Decision Note being put up, unannounced, on her website fifteen months later. What follows in this article will go a long way to unlocking that mystery.

To facilitate this analysis, the text of the formal Decision Note dated 29th September, 2015 is taken verbatim from the NYPCC website and highlighted below in blue. My comments, grounded mainly in responses to correspondence with the police and the PCC’s office, freedom of information request finalisations and public accounts access disclosures, are in black type beneath each section.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 13.50.10

Executive Summary and Recommendation

The Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) is ultimately responsible for representing the public in all matters, as well as overseeing  the policing budget to ensure good value for money for the taxpayer.

Many would submit, along with myself, that allocating around £50,000 each in free legal fees to the Chief Constable, Deputy Chief Constable and the Head of Uniformed Services (whose combined total salaries of around £340,000 per annum plus benefits totalling another £60,000pa ) would not pass any known Value For Money test.

It should also be said that, in my extensive investigative experience, the PCC in North Yorkshire puts her unquestioning support of the police – and particularly Dave Jones – well ahead of any representation of the interests of the public. 

This Decision Notice will demonstrate that the PCC is holding the Chief Constable to account by monitoring the financial support of a specific case which is currently a matter of ongoing civil proceedings.

The one significant feature of the PCC’s tenure has been her complete failure to hold the Chief Constable to account. This was a key strand of argument from those opposing her in the PCC elections in May 2016, when Julia Mulligan was elected on a much reduced majority. The shambles surrounding this Decision Notice is a further example of that.

The PCC is satisfied that supporting the action by individuals is a lawful and proportionate use of public money and is in line with her priority of supporting victims and ensuring an efficient and effective police service. This Decision Notice will explain the scrutiny process.

In the Hofschröer case there has been one victim who stands out above all others: Disabled World War 2 veteran, Barbara Hofschröer, who was displaced from her home and now languishes in a council run care home, cut off from her chosen carer. Whilst no right thinking person could condone the appalling manner in which the campaign for justice for Grandma B (as Barbara is widely known) was run by her son and carer, Peter, at the heart of this issue is a grave miscarriage of justice.

In order to be as open and transparent as possible, the PCC publishes all Decision Notices so they are available to the press and the public.  This happens whenever a decision is in the public interest, of which there are several tests. In addition, the PCC expects the Chief Constable (CC) to draw to her attention issues which (amongst other things) are sensitive, contentious, novel or repercussive or where there is a real risk that the Commissioner or Chief Constable could be exposed to public criticism.

This Decision Notice was only published after considerable pressure was brought to bear by me, both via social media and a complaint to the Police Scrutiny Panel. Almost a full year after the PCC was legally obliged to do so.

In making this decision publicly and formally, through a published Decision Notice, the PCC will demonstrate that:

  • She is holding the Chief Constable to account by monitoring the financial support provided to a specific legal case, which is in the public interest

On any reasonable view it is difficult to see how the public interest is satisfied by granting huge benefits, by way of free legal fees, to very highly paid senior police officers over ‘hurt feelings’.

  • She is satisfied that supporting the action is a lawful and proportionate use of public money in line with her priority of supporting victims, and is in the best interests of the public purse

There are thousands of victims of serious crime in North Yorkshire who have received no financial support, whatsoever, from either the state in general, or North Yorkshire Police in particular. To allocate huge sums of money to alleged victims of harassment without violence is preposterous. Away from North Yorkshire, I draw the stark example of the families of the twenty-one victims of the Birmingham pub bombings who are desperately seeking public funding for legal representation at the new inquests. They have, so far, been refused legal aid and an appeal direct to the Home Secretary has been made. Perhaps they might get  more joy from Julia Mulligan?

She is upholding her commitment to being open and transparent.

The repeated use of the expression ‘open and transparent’ is troubling (they are underlined for emphasis). It has been proven beyond any doubt, whatsoever, that the PCC’s office is anything but. To the extent that Julia Mulligan is due to appear in Huddersfield County Court on 11th October, 2016 over her persistent breaches of Data Protection and Freedom of Information Acts. Much of the withheld information that forms the grounds for my claim concerns Operations Rome and Hyson.

1. Introduction and Background

Over the last seven years an individual has been involved in a complex family dispute.  Some of the allegations made have been investigated for possible criminal offences.  During the course of the investigation, members of the public and several professionals involved in the case, including former and serving police officers, have sustained alleged harassment.  The alleged harassment has included an amount of comment about their personal integrity and has been experienced through correspondence with the force and the Office of the PCC (OPCC), in formal complaints and on various social media outlets including websites and blogs.

The individual concerned was Peter Hofschröer. In an ‘open and transparent’ Decision Notice it seems odd that he has not been named. Six months after court proceedings were opened in a public hearing. Similarly, the websites referred to were Real Whitby and the North Yorks Enquirer. The blog in question was the previously mentioned Grandma B.

Criticism of North Yorkshire Police is of course accepted as fair comment and complaints are dealt with in accordance with procedures.  North Yorkshire Police strives to encourage engagement and debate with the public it serves, and in no way seeks to “close down” legitimate criticism that is helpful in improving the service response.  However, some of the comments have been so personal as to have affected the health of some of the recipients.  Police officers are used to dealing with difficult situations, they have broad shoulders and they are certainly not above criticism. 

There can be few, if any, other public bodies that are as sensitive to any criticism as North Yorkshire Police. It only encourages debate if they are able to control the agenda. Similarly, if the force is tackled on any area where their service falls below the required standard they are simply not interested in engaging with those who highlight shortcomings.

Similarly, the assertion that complaints about NYP officers are dealt with according to procedures is risible. A growing portfolio of cases to which I now have access has proved, beyond any doubt, that abuse of the complaints system by the force is on an industrial scale.

There has however been years of unwarranted harmful personal abuse that has tied up police time.  If the behaviour had been physical then there may have been a variety of different solutions to stop the behaviour and the Chief Constable has a statutory Duty of Care to look after the health and safety of his employees no matter how any distress is caused. Along with the health and safety of individuals, the effectiveness and efficiency of the police service is paramount and must be protected.  Over a considerable period of time the contact of individuals has impacted greatly on police resources in a way that is not sustainable.

The three officers concerned here are Chief Constable Jones, Deputy Chief Constable Tim Madgwick and Chief Superintendent Lisa Winward (since promoted to Assistant Chief Constable). The harassment, according to the claim’s particulars and their own witness evidence, comprised of emails and articles on two websites. It is very doubtful that the two chief officers saw the emails and even more doubtful that they read the articles on what are two niche websites. Indeed, the pleadings made it clear that a lot of the ‘harassment’ complained of required a Google search by a team of expensive lawyers, working on their behalf, building a case.

The Chief Constable took the decision to proceed based on clear advice from a leading Barrister.  Based on that advice, the Chief Constable took the view that civil litigation was a necessary step to exercise his duty of care to members of his own organisation and to protect members of the public.

The leading barrister is Simon Myerson QC, who had also been advising on the spectacularly failed criminal investigation, Operation Rome. It is unclear why, in an ‘open and transparent’ Decision Notice why such a high profile lawyer would not be named. He had already appeared in court in the matter twice by the time the Decision Notice was published.

The decision by the Chief Constable to fund legal action to support individuals – both former and serving officers, and others connected with the case – attempting to prevent further alleged harassment was considered at great length.  Legal advice was proactively sought. 

Alongside that formal legal advice, both the PCC’s and Chief Constable’s Chief Finance Officers were consulted and provided their professional opinion.  Financial regulations were also checked. 

The External Auditors have also scrutinised the rationale and confirmed that North Yorkshire Police has the powers to undertake the actions that it has.

An employer has a statutory duty of care to the employees of the organisation.  Responsibilities include matters of health and safety and well-being.  Supporting this case seeks to addresses this.  Along with this duty on the employer there is a legal power and duty upon the PCC to maintain an efficient and effective police force for the area.  Supporting this action seeks to contribute to this in relation to the significant time and resource that has already been spent on this matter.

As is often the case in legal proceedings, most of the cost is frontloaded as evidence has had to be filed at the beginning.  This Decision Notice is being considered before the proceedings move towards any possible further hearings.

Two hearings had already taken place at Leeds High Court and a third hearing was already listed, before the Decision Notice was published. On 9th February, 2105; 25th June, 2015.  and 27th November, 2015 respectively

The position at this time is that the defendants can now decide whether to contest the case brought.  If they do so, a final hearing timetabled by the Judge would then be required.  It is of course hoped that a lengthy hearing can be avoided by the defendants agreeing to proposals made.

By the time the Decision Notice was issued it was clear that the two journalists were not going to go down without a fight and that a lengthy and costly legal battle was inevitable.

The final cost of the civil case will depend at what stage the case is finalised. Any early settlement will avoid a contested final hearing.  So far (to the date of this report), external legal advice and representation in the civil proceedings has cost £162,406. Most of the cost is frontloaded in this type of proceedings, as evidence has had to be filed at the beginning.

An estimate for the anticipated costs was made before the start of the proceedings and was estimated at around £202,000.  This is set against the cost of over £400,000 which the matter had already cost the force in dealing with the activities of those against whom the civil claim is made.  There was no apparent end to the case without positive action and other solutions had already been exhausted, which was a key factor in determining the course of action through the civil court.

It must have also been clear at that time that the estimate for the legal costs was going to be well in excess of the £202,000 estimate referred to in the Notice. The claim of £400,000 being the cost of dealing with the ‘activities’ of the defendants has been proved beyond any doubt to be far-fetched in a highly forensic article I wrote on the subject earlier this year. Read ‘409,970 reasons not to trust North Yorkshire Police’ [4].

In addition, the victims of the alleged harassment need to be able to seek relief from the alleged harassment they have felt and the PCC felt it appropriate to support them as victims in these proceedings.

A freedom of information request has been submitted to the PCC’s office to establish how money other victims of crime have been granted access to police funds to pursue civil claims.

2. Other Options Considered

It is for the Court to find, on consideration of evidence put before it, whether the issues and behaviour concerned have amounted to legal harassment of the individuals concerned. However, North Yorkshire Police felt obligated to take positive action to try to protect its staff.  Therefore it was decided to support the officers to commence civil proceedings as individuals.  In addition, as all solutions in the criminal arena had been exhausted for other claimants, a decision was taken to combine all actions of all individuals concerned from the start.  This was considered to be the most operationally and administratively effective solution saving both financially and court time (and therefore further public money) to combine all actions of the individuals concerned from the start.  It is hoped that the final outcome will reduce the distress felt by all those party to the action.

Citizen journalist Nigel Ward was included in the action despite none of the police officers (serving or retired) having any evidence against him, whatsoever. The Hofschröer family and their social worker had none either. That meant eight of the nine claimants had nothing against Mr Ward. Yet, the police officers held him in the claim until June, 2016 before discontinuing their claims and agreeing to pay Mr Ward’s costs. At the final hearing, Mr Ward was also awarded his costs against the ninth claimant, Jane Kenyon-Miller. This is likely to add over £100,000 to the police bill and raises huge public interest and misfeasance questions about the funding, by the police, of an action that, in the end, amounted to a wealthy public figure trying to crush a penniless pensioner into silence over her dodgy business dealings.

3. Contribution to Police and Crime Plan Priorities

The action supports the Policing Priorities in the Police and Crime Plan.

This statement is a nonsense. There is nothing at all in the Plan that supports senior police officers being granted huge sums of public money to pursue journalists over alleged harassment. Especially, after the CPS had twice ruled against the police on charging decisions over those same allegations.

4. Implementation and Resourcing Implications

The proceedings will continue in line with Directions made by the Court and regular meetings will be held to monitor progress and plan for different outcomes depending on any Orders or Judgment.

A freedom of information request has been made concerning the notes of those meetings. The decision to proceed to trial in a one versus one situation was very high risk for the police – and so it proved. The officers involved in that decision should be named and shamed.

5. Consultations Carried Out

Professional consideration and advice has been provided by: 

Department
Office of the PCC
Financial Services
Local Policing
Human Resources
Joint Corporate Legal Services
Corporate Communications

 5. Compliance Checks

Financial Implications/Value for money: 

Comments of the Commissioner’s Chief Finance Officer
Prior to any expenditure being undertaken on the work to support funding this case the PCC CFO and CC CFO were consulted and their authorisation sought to spend public money in the way proposed. As PCC CFO, and therefore advisor to the PCC on financial matters, it was my opinion at the time, and continues to be my opinion that the organisation has the ‘power’ to incur expenditure in this way based on 2 reasons from a financial perspective.

This is patently untrue. Work was in train on Hyson as soon as Rome ended in July, 2014. The earliest recorded discussions taking place over funding was three months later, in October 2014. There are also significant breaches that have been exposed, by freedom of information requests,  over procurement regulations in force. Solicitors and barristers were awarded contracts for over £200,000 without any tendering protocol being observed. Requests for sight of the Single Tender Access documents, upon which the police later relied as an explanation, have fallen on stony ground.

The first reason is that an employer has a statutory duty of care to their staff in matters of health and safety and well-being, which is something that supporting this case looked to address. The second reason is that the PCC has a legal power and duty to maintain an efficient and effective police force for the police area. Given the amount of time and resources that has been spent on this matter previously, an estimate of which is set out within this Decision Note, then to protect the effectiveness and efficiency of the Force and to enable scare resources to be directed to the most appropriate areas of policing then the power exists to spend the money in the way outlined within this Decision Note.

It has been demonstrated beyond any doubt that the figure of £400,000 relied upon for expenditure on Operation Rome – and used as justifaction for spending £200,000 on Hyson – was largely an invention.

As mentioned elsewhere, legal advice has been sought and received in relation to the power of the organisation to spend public money in this way which supports the views of the statutory officers employed by the PCC and CC. In addition to this the External Auditors for North Yorkshire Police and the PCC have looked separately into this matter, to satisfy themselves that the organisation had the power to spend the public’s money in this way. While their formal opinion has not been received on the 2014/15 Statement of Accounts it has been communicated that they are satisfied that the ‘powers’ that the organisation has relied upon to incur this expenditure are lawful.

The External Auditors, Mazars, were not even aware of Operation Hyson until I raised it with North Yorkshire Police during the public accounts access period in July, 2015. Exactly a year after the first invoice connected to Hyson was raised by Simon Myerson QC. Mazars have not produced any evidence of independent legal opinion concerning the lawful ‘powers’ of a chief constable authorising himself £50,000 of free legal fees.

Comments of the Chief Constable’s Chief Finance Officer
I am in full agreement with the remarks made by the Commissioners Chief Finance Officer. 

I have submitted a freedom of information request to North Yorkshire Police seeking all meeting, briefing notes, internal and external emails connected to the decision (and the rationale behind it) by the force (and the PCC) to fund the civil action.

Legal Implications:
External expert legal advice has been sought (which is legally privileged) and there has been significant consideration of the ‘vires’ (lawful power) to use public money to support the funding of this case.  The T/Force Solicitor and Head of Legal Services is satisfied that this report does not ask the PCC for North Yorkshire to make a decision which would (or would be likely to) give rise to a contravention of the law.

It has been proved conclusively, by me, that the PCC received no independent legal advice concerning ‘vires’ – and none was ever sought. At first, Force Solicitor, Jane Wintermeyer, falsely claimed to me, in writing, that legal opinion had been sought on 13th January, 2015. She later retreated from that position and said the opinion was given in conference with Simon Myerson QC on 15th October, 2014. Myerson has never been instucted by the PCC on this (or any other) issue – and neither has any other solicitor or barrister according to a freedom of information response.

Human Resources Implications:
Welfare provision has been considered throughout in relation to those directly affected, due to the duration of this case, ongoing assessments should continue as part of our duty of care as an employer.

No medical evidence was adduced at any stage in the claim to support the proposition that the three serving police officers have been affected in a way, beyond hurt feelings, that would justify the spending of public funds to the tune of £450,000.

Public Access to information
As a general principle, the Commissioner expects to be able to publish all decisions taken and all matters taken into account when reaching the decision.  This Notice will detail all information which the Commissioner will disclose into the public domain.  The decision and information will be made available on the Commissioner’s website.

This is patently untrue. This was a Decision Notice that should have been published in October, 2014 when the decision was allegedly made to dip into the public purse to fund this legal free-for-all. It was admitted to me, in writing, by the North Yorkshire Police Force Solicitor that there was no intention to publish a Decision Notice about this grotesque waste of public money without a formal complaint being made to the Police and Crime Scrutiny Panel concerning its absence. The failure to publish placed the PCC in breach of The Elected Local Policing Bodies (Specified Information) Order 2011.

In summary, it can now be seen that this Decision Note was a lame attempt to cover over a number of defects in due process and slack accounting procedures at the very least.

During my investigations into the Hyson case I have been variously and regularly been obstructed, lied to, smeared and even threatened with legal action by either the Force Solicitor, or those working on her behalf.

The Chief Financial Officer failed to comply with her disclosure obligations under the during the public accounts inspection in 2015.

The ‘open and transparent’ Police Commissioner consistently refused to answer questions over the funding – or even whether she had read the particulars of claim or statement of case – during proceedings by citing potential prejudice. Then, incredibly, airily dismissed fifteen public interest questions put to her in an open letter published on both this and the North Yorks Enquirer websites [5]. She went further and, incredibly, asked me not to repeat that costs had been awarded against Jane Kenyon-Miller and the other eight claimants. Nothwithstanding the fact that I was in court when the draft orders to that effect were agreed between counsel for the parties and nodded through by the presiding judge.

It is not known, as yet, whether, Mrs Mulligan and ‘Knacker’ as the satirical irreverently refer to her chief constable will be suing Private Eye over the article. Using public funds, of course.

This is a story that still has some way to run and if those officials, elected or employed, who have treated both the public and the law with utter contempt may well find that their seeming sense of invincibility will be shattered in a way they might not have considered possible. A study of section 6(1) of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 might well be prescriptive.

 

Annotations

[1] Private Eye, August 2016: ‘Police 5 – North Yorkshire Boors’.

[2] York Press, 11th July, 2016: ‘Historian who had 36,000 indecent images gets two and a half years’

[3] North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, 29th September, 2015: ‘Decision Notice 011/2015 – Formal support and explanation from the Police and Crime Commissioner regarding funding of ongoing civil litigation action (sic) to protect officers and members of the public against alleged personal harassment’.

[4] Neil Wilby, 20th March, 2016: ‘409,970 reasons not to trust North Yorkshire Police’

[5] Neil Wilby, 29th July, 2016: ‘Open letter to Julia Mulligan’

Page last updated on Monday 5th September, 2016 at 0845hrs

© 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.

Operation Barium too hard to swallow?

On 7th July, 2009 I wrote to Sir Norman Bettison, then Chief Constable of my local police force. He was offered intelligence over the misconduct of a number of his junior officers and a newspaperman’s instinct that all was not well within West Yorkshire Police.

Shortly afterwards, I received a telephone call from his staff officer at the time, Chief Inspector Christopher Rowley. Recently, and controversially, appointed to disgraced South Yorkshire Police as an assistant chief constable (read more here).

It matters little that CI Rowley’s call was a fob-off, delivered in an unattractive manner. It was to lead, indirectly, to a challenge never before faced by a police force: Scrutiny by investigators, not part of any official oversight body, who were to determined to show the true face of a police force that considered itself completely unaccountable to anyone.

At the time of my letter being sent to Bettison, one of his gilded protégés was Mark Gilmore. He was one of five assistant chief constables in a Command Team that was to become almost entirely  discredited: Bettison’s career ended in ignominy as he became engulfed in a number of scandals, with his role in the Hillsborough Disaster aftermath being much the highest profile.

Bettison’s deputy chief constable was none other than David Crompton. Also widely known as ‘Disaster Dave‘ and for whom Hillsborough was also to prove his nemesis (read more here).

Two other of the disgraced chief’s assistants, John Parkinson (later to succeed him as temp0rary chief constable) and Geoff Dodd, were to retire from the police service with clouds hanging over them. Dodd was connected to the framing and jailing of a promising young police constable and, after the Operation Lamp investigation into that miscarriage of justice was completed, but before the report was published, he sailed into the sunset clinging to his gold plated pension. Parkinson was also deeply involved in the PC Danny Major cover-up, amongst a significant number of other misdemeanours, about which more can be read here.

My first interaction with Parkinson was in May 2010, as he was portfolio holder for the notorious Professional Standards Department in West Yorkshire Police. Just under two years later I wrote to him and promised I would drive him out of the police service, based on the evidence I held. He probably laughed it off at the time, but a year later he was gone.

Mark Gilmore, having been recruited in 2008 by Bettison from a sinecure as staff officer to ACPO president Sir Hugh Orde, was given a special projects role in the procurement and delivery of profit for investment (PFI) schemes at WYP. Bettison was, at the time, vice president of the now-defunct ACPO.

A number of new divisional headquarters around the county and a massive project at the force’s operational support and training centre at Carr Gate, near Wakefield were built as a result of the PFI financing. The total sums involved have been reported in the local press as totalling £300 million, yet the company appointed to facilitate the financing appeared to be carrying a net current deficit of several million pounds.

There is a well-grounded suspicion that the PFI schemes are a ticking timebomb as far as future debt is concerned. As soon as time and funding allow, this is to form the subject a separate forensic investigation by me.

In July 2011, Gilmore was appointed as deputy chief constable to another big city force. He joined another Bettison protégé who was chief constable of Northumbria Police, Sue Sim. Recently in the news as a whistleblower exposing concerning practices amongst senior officers in her former force (read more here). Bettison and Sim worked together at Merseyside Police, during the former’s controversial reign in Liverpool.

It is not known, at this stage, whether Gilmore was intended to be one of the subjects of his former chief’s scathing and wide-ranging criticisms. Incredibly, it is West Yorkshire Police who have been sent to investigate Mrs Sims’ complaints.

JS34806226

Less than two years later, Gilmore was back at West Yorkshire Police having been crowned as chief by the newly-elected Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Mark Burns-Williamson.

Sources close to the process suggested at the time that Gilmore had defeated John Parkinson, Mark Milsom, an ACC with WYP and most famous for running a BMW X5 police car through a red traffic light and into the side of a bus in Leeds city centre, and Phil Gormley, at the time chief constable of Norfolk Constabulary, a formet Metropolitan Police assistant commisssioner and, presently, chief constable at Police Scotland.

The largely invisible Gilmore was later to controversially refuse to prosecute Milsom over the ramming of the bus in City Square, saying after a lengthy investigation that “it was not in the public interest“. A decision that was to leave most West Yorkshire folk, and many of the front line officers in their police force, entirely bemused (read more here).

The very few policing commentators who were aware of the shortlist could only stand shocked at the decision to select Gilmore ahead of Gormley. Burns-Williamson, who prior to his appointment had been Chair of the police authority for ten years, appeared to place emphasis on the fact that Gilmore was a known entity – and his experience in the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) was particularly relevant.

Those in the know had an entirely different perception: Gilmore knew where a whole pile of WYP corruption bones were buried and it was felt that Burns-Williamson didn’t want anyone from ‘outside the circle’ poking around and asking questions.

I wrote an article that was first published on the uPSD website at the end of April 2013 that set out in some detail the extent of the alleged ‘cover-ups’ to which Gilmore was, at the very least, a passive party (read more here). It was a formidable list. For his part, Burns-Williamson was content to continue as though none of this corruption existed. Indeed, his oft-repeated mantra during the election campaign that brought him to power in 2012 was that “there is no corruption in West Yorkshire Police”. He didn’t repeat it in the campaign in May, 2016.

It took just fourteen months before his PCC, so effusive at the time of his appointment, had to remove his ‘chosen one’ from police HQ. Mark Gilmore was suspended from duty in June, 2014. This move was prompted by a PSNI investigation into the awarding of police vehicle contracts in Northern Ireland.

Seven men were arrested by detectives working on the case at the time and questioned on suspicion of offences including bribery, misconduct in public office and procuring misconduct in public office. Gilmore was not one of those detained. In a statement he insisted that “I have conducted myself with the honesty and integrity expected of someone in my position and have 31 years unblemished professional record”. He presented himself at a Belfast police station, voluntarily, for an interview under caution.

He added: “I have fully co-operated with the investigation and will continue to do so. I hope to work with the Police and Crime Commissioner to bring about a quick and positive resolution to this matter so I can return to serving the people of West Yorkshire as soon as possible.”

The criminal investigation was concluded a year later with no charges being laid against Gilmore. His suspension was lifted by Burns-Williamson, but he was immediately placed on gardening leave. The effect was, more or less, the same. Gilmore was barred from West Yorkshire Police premises and could have no contact with any of the officers over whom he, notionally, had command. The criminal investigation was replaced by a misconduct probe led by Assistant Chief Constable Tim Jacques of Lancashire Police. It was codenamed Operation Barium. The terms of reference and cost for that probe are currently the subject of a freedom of information request.

The cost at this point to the taxpayers of West Yorkshire of funding two chief constables was in the region of £200,000. Burns-Williamson sought to deflect criticism by concocting a role with the National Police Chiefs Council (formerly ACPO in all but name) whereby Gilmore was supposed to be occupied by the implementation of an intranet system for the chief officers involved with the Council.

Bradford councillor, Michael Walls, a member of the police scrutiny panel said at the time: “It seems improper that the West Yorkshire taxpayer is funding an officer on a very significant salary, to undertake work benefitting the residents of London”. Which wasn’t quite accurate, but the sentiment was well meant.

Burns-Williamson, meanwhile, was deaf to the criticism and appeared to be clinging grimly on to the hope that Gilmore would be cleared by the Barium probe and he could return to police HQ.

On 9th August 2016, almost 26 months since he was suspended, Gilmore announced he was retiring from the police service and would not be returning to the West Yorkshire force, irrespective of the outcome of Operation Barium.

As ever with Burns-Williamson, there is a troubling deceit about such matters and it now revealed that the report was delivered by Lancashire Police on 26th July, 2016 to the Commissioner’s office. A spokesman says that the PCC plans to publish the report ‘as soon as practicable’, but fails to clarify why that cannot be immediately. It also remains unclear, at present, as to whether Operation Barium’s remit covered Gilmore’s involvement in the highly lucrative PFI building contracts.

The Chair of the police scrutiny panel, Alison Lowe, a close Labour party ally of Burns-Williamson, says he is currently on holiday and that she didn’t expect to be briefed by him until the next panel meeting in September. She didn’t even know that the report had been in Burns-Williamson’s hands for the past two weeks. Which, given my own extensive experience of dealing with Cllr Lowe’s hapless panel, is entirely in character. She added that she felt that Gilmore’s retirement was a “good thing”. But made no mention of the huge burden placed on the taxpayer for the previous 26 months amounting to a sum in excess of £600,000.

The last words, at least until the Barium report is put under the x-ray, goes to Mark Polin, Chair of the Chief Police Officers Staff Association (CPOSA). He said in May, 2016: “Mark Gilmore remains committed to working alongside the police and crime commissioner to serve the communities of West Yorkshire”.

Mr Polin added “We are disappointed at the length of time the investigation has taken, which follows satisfactory resolution of the Northern Ireland and IPCC investigations, and Mr Gilmore looks forward to this matter being resolved as soon as possible.”

It is understood that CPOSA’s insurers have been underwriting Gilmore’s legal fees in defence of any contemplated actions against him. Mr Polin was not so forthcoming when contacted for comment this week.

 

Page last updated: Sunday 14th August, 2016 at 0855hrs

© 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.

Photo credit: Huddersfield Examiner

 

There are more questions than answers

So goes the 1970’s song by reggae artiste, Johnny Nash, from his iconic, chart-topping album ‘I Can See Clearly Now’. And so it is with my dealings with the slightly less famous Julia Mulligan, North Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner. Who is now recognisable to at least 10% of the populace at the rural end of God’s Own County.

For the past eighteen months, Julia has ducked my every question over the funding and conduct of a controversial civil harassment claim, brought by the police force to which she was elected to provide oversight. Indeed, her reputation as a ‘question dodger’ extends far beyond my own domain. Even the nodding placemen on the local Police and Crime Scrutiny Panel have admonished her over poor community engagement.

But, back to the matter in hand. Her reasoning was that by commenting on the court case it might prejudice proceedings. Which, actually, has little merit given that it was heard by a very experienced single judge sitting firstly in the High Court and, latterly, in the County Court in Leeds.

If ever a day comes when His Honour Judge Gosnell is influenced by anything said outside of his courtroom that is exactly the moment when the sky falls in on the entire civil justice system.

On 29th July, 2016, three days after the case concluded at a final hearing, I posted an open letter on this website which posed fifteen public interest questions about the case, the way  it had been handled, the conduct of Julia’s two most senior police officers and, of course, the funding. That letter can be read here in full. It is by no means an exhaustive list and there at least as many more yet to be posed.

On the same day, I emailed Julia’s Chief of Staff, Will Naylor, and invited a response from the Commissioner. With a promise that an appropriate reply to the questions would be published in full.

What was provided, almost exactly a week later, could scarcely be described as adequate. Or, in any way appropriate, in the present circumstances.

Indeed, the letter has been passed to my solicitors for appraisal. As to publish it may well be defamatory of well known Whitby citizen journalist, Nigel Ward. It is understood that Mr Ward has also passed the letter to his own solicitors, who will be seeking clarification over some of the remarks made by the disengaged Commissioner. Particularly, as Julia contends that Mr Ward has ‘harassed’ some of the claimants, which is not the finding of the court. She has also made what appear to be similarly misinformed comments concerning the matter of costs that have been ordered, by the court, against the claimants.

I have the overwhelming advantage over the Commissioner by not only being in court for every hearing of this case except the first (when I was ill) but also having read, with appropriate care, all the relevant court pleadings and orders.

There are also concerning references in her letter to my ‘close’ association with the three defendants in the civil claim. This is the latest in a lengthening number of attempts to smear me, by association with Grandma B campaigner and military historian, Peter Hofschröer, who was recently sentenced at Teesside Crown Court to two and a half years in prison over thousands of indecent images found on computer equipment connected to him (read York Evening Press coverage here).

The plain facts are: I have never met Mr Hofschröer; never spoken to him on the telephone; and never emailed him, as far as I can trace. The only time I have ever seen him is when he has twice given evidence, via video link from HMP Hull, whilst I have been sat on the press benches in Court 19 at Leeds Combined Court Centre.

It matters little – and I certainly didn’t scream ‘harassment’ – that Mr Hofschröer has also been abusive towards me in open forum. Simply because I wouldn’t assist in his campaign. That is not to say that the Grandma B crusade was without merit. It certainly raises many questions about the conduct of a number of NYP officers, but it was the manner in which the campaign was being handled that caused me deep concern. A view shared by everyone else I represented at the time, as police complaints advocate.

My friendship with Nigel Ward is not a secret. I respect him as a courteous and helpful man, and a relentless warrior in the battle against public sector misconduct and criminality in his local area. Interestingly, he has just registered another notable success against the notorious Scarborough Borough Council over the ‘whitewash’ of yet more corruption within that ‘Rotten Borough’, part of which entailed the victimisation of a whistleblower.

All this came to light this week in Employment Tribunal proceedings in Hull, before Judge Humphrey Forrest, in a case that saw whistleblower, Ben Marriott, succeed in his claim against the Council. North Yorkshire Police are very tightly aligned with Scarborough Borough Council and the latest corruption exposure will not have gone down well with the boys in blue who, on past experience, will be happy to look the other way.

As far as the third claimant goes, I have not spoken to, or heard from, Luxembourg-based Tim Hicks via email or phone since May, 2016 and have met him just the once, apparently surveilled by North Yorkshire Police, at the Hilton Hotel in Leeds in February, 2015. I discovered that Mr Hicks claim with NYP had reached a compromised settlement at the end of June, via my own enquiries and sources. Not from him. That is entirely his prerogative, of course, but scarcely supports the PCC’s assertion that we are ‘close’.

Turning now to the fifteen questions that were asked of Julia Mulligan in the open letter. They can be usefully grouped together so that it is easy to see just what the Police and Crime Commissioner wants to bury out of public sight:

Operation Rome

Questions 1,2,3 and 4 all concerned the ill-starred criminal investigation that sought to prosecute Messrs Hicks, Hofschröer and Ward for harassment. The whole episode has been shrouded in deceit and my questions essentially sought to identify the senior officer driving it and publication of the investigation report. If, as Julia has consistently maintained, £409,970 was spent by North Yorkshire Police then the public are entitled to see what they got for their money.

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 12.31.30

In her letter, Julia makes no reference whatsoever to Operation Rome and does not address ANY of the questions, let alone provide the answers.

Much more background on Operation Rome can be found in earlier articles by me here and here.

Operation Hyson

Questions 5,6,7 and 8 (part) all concerned Operation Hyson. The codename given by North Yorkshire Police to the civil harassment claim. All four questions are not only ignored by Julia in her reply she doesn’t rate Operation Hyson worthy of mention. The pointed question as to how much she, herself, knew about the civil action is, of course, ducked as well. Just as she ducked the same question repeatedly throughout the proceedings.

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 12.33.33

The public, quite rightly, expect their elected representative to not only know about key issues affecting finance and performance of the police force serving their constituency, but to report on them openly and honestly as well and where necessary challenge them.

Much more on Hyson can be read here and here.

Finance and budget

Questions 8 (part), 9, 10 and 11 all concern public funding with particular focus on the grotesque sums allocated to Julia’s Conservative Party crony, Jane Kenyon-Miller, whose evidence against Nigel Ward in both the civil claim and the failed criminal prosecution before it, left a great deal to be desired and appeared, on its face, highly vulnerable to forensic cross-examination.

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 12.35.06

In her letter, Julia makes no reference whatsoever to the financing of the claim, except a vague threat about me not repeating that costs had been awarded against the claimants. In short, she does not address ANY of these four questions, let alone provide the answers.

Misconduct matters

Questions 12, 13, 14 and 15 all concern alleged misconduct by her most senior officers. The matters cited in the questions are well evidenced and would not have been introduced in a public forum, otherwise. Julia has, not only a duty as the elected policing representative to deal openly and effectively with these issues, but a statutory duty as well. One in which, she has performed less than satisfactorily of late, and her reply to my open letter leaves the very strong impression that she is perfectly prepared to tolerate any sort of behaviour from the senior ranks of North Yorkshire Police, provided their, and her, reputation doesn’t get damaged in the process.

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 12.36.40

Having not answered one single question out of fifteen, Julia signs off her letter by imploring that I do not challenge her again on the subject of Operations Hyson and Rome. She doesn’t want any more well-founded journalist’s questions about her senior officers making false statements in court proceedings, scandalous frittering away of public funds, and cronyism.

This, from a Police and Crime Commissioner who freely, and persistently, proclaims that she is ‘open and transparent‘ in everything she does. Readers of this article are invited to form their own view on that. They may even be minded to hum, or sing, Johnny Nash’s ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ whilst musing on that question.

In the meantime, I will conduct further, legitimate enquiries in order to winkle out the answers that so many in North Yorkshire are keen to learn. This will include another round of freedom of information requests, involving further needless expense both to me, and to North Yorkshire Police.

It is, of course, also my prerogative (or that of anyone else) to ask public questions at successive ‘open and transparent’ North Yorkshire Police Scrutiny Board meetings over the next year or so. Or, who knows, some bright spark may ask all fifteen at once?

All because the public’s elected policing representative can’t face unpalatable truths about the way her own staff, and the police force she monitors, go about their work.

 

Page last updated: Saturday 6th August, 2016 at 1945hrs

© 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.