The Rocky Horror Show

Since I first published articles on the vexed political situation in Oldham (read here and here), Greater Manchester, where child sex abuse appears to have been weaponised by a small group of activists, one critic has been almost ever-present on social media: “Rocky Skelshaw”.

It is unclear why anonymity is sought by one with such powerful views, often very forcefully expressed. Except that, regrettably, the holder of the social media accounts in that name, on Facebook and Twitter, too frequently crosses the line into abuse, harassment and defamatory comment.

This is particularly so in defence of her hero figure, Raja Miah MBE, a leading critic of the local council, its leaders past and present; the police; Members of Parliament; the Region’s Mayor; community leaders and journalists.

He, like “Rocky”, is also much too frequently abusive, and his output both on his websites and on social media appears to be constructed to cause maximum distress and alarm to those he targets. As such, he is presently the subject of two police investigations and, it is anticipated, very soon to be three.

“Rocky” can now be identified publicly, for the first time, as Kerry Ann Skelhorn, a 43 year old Diggle resident who works for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds as a Conservation Adviser.

Originally from the Knowsley area of Merseyside, she claims she has lived in the Oldham area for around 20 years. Although appearing to have worked in Norfolk for the past few years at least, from material available via open source. Which would give the appearance of Diggle being a place she only visits at weekends.

On Facebook, Miss Skelhorn has very recently identified herself as “a lone female”, but records show that she shares the Diggle residence with a man called Ivan Kershaw and it does not take Sherlock Holmes to work out that her pseudonym is a play on the two surnames.

She is known for her activism within the Save Diggle Action Group, formed to protest about the re-location of Saddleworth school to her village and this has led to another false claim on social media: “I took Oldham Council to JR [Judicial Review] and won”. Whereas the official judgment of Mr Justice Kerr shows that the applicant was Keith Lucas MBE, and the Action Group whom he represented. Seven of the nine grounds for opposing the planning decision were, in fact, dismissed as ‘having no merit’ (read in full here). One of the other two grounds was not pursued at the final hearing.

An image showing the proposed school site superimposed on the land selected for the development. Diggle’s iconic clock tower is in the foreground.

There is a single mention of Kerry Skelhorn at para 15 in the judgment, but no amplification of her role beyond that. Hers was one of 671 objections received by the Council, whose conduct was criticised in several areas of their decision making and failure to follow process. Her name does not appear anywhere on the Action Group website (read here). Indeed the only person mentioned by name is the same Keith Lucas, together with a mobile telephone number.

The planning decision was quashed and officers forced to take a fresh look at the application. In the event, the result was the same. This is, understandably, the source of Miss Skelhorn’s great apathy towards Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council and anyone whom she perceives, however remotely, to have had a hand in the planning decision.

Notably, the former Head of Planning, Stephen Irvine, who resigned, in August, 2019, during a gross misconduct investigation. But the Council’s deputy chief executive told the local press it did not relate to Mr Irvine’s role supporting the planning committee, nor to advice relating to any planning decision or outcome. A statement that did not suit Kerry’s publicly expounded conspiracy theories over his departure, about which she falsely claims ‘he was sacked for gross misconduct’ and uses terms to attempt to derogate his honesty and integrity that will not, in fairness to Mr Irvine, be repeated here. A pdf of a printed leaflet bearing a raft of such allegations still sits on her ‘Stop The Land Swap‘ website. It was distributed in the Saddleworth area last year.

Former Oldham councillor, Khazir Rehman, another close ally of Raja Miah, had a different take on the Irvine departure and told the Saddleworth Independent: “He was suspended as a scapegoat, they maligned him by releasing info about his suspension and he’s suing them for constructive dismissal. They will pay him thousands of pounds as compensation. They messed up”. Rehman, who prefers ‘Kaiser’ as a forename, lost his council seat in May 2019. Standing as an independent candidate after suspension from the Labour Party. There appears to be no evidential basis for his comments regarding Mr Irvine, but that is not to say a confidential settlement was reached with him and the matter is now sealed under a non-disclosure agreement.

Kaiser is another who has been investigated by local police over harassment allegations and faces a second appearance at Tameside Magistrates’ Court on 5th November, 2020, following an arrest in May of this year. At the time, Raja Miah furiously took to his keyboard and expounded the view that there could be no possible basis for the police taking such action. Lawyers at the Crown Prosecution Service plainly disagreed with him. However, the usual presumption of innocence must prevail until the trial is concluded.

Apart from the now departed Stuart Irvine, Kerry Skelhorn routinely attacks Oldham council leaders past and present, Sean Fielding and James McMahon in seriously unflattering terms. The latter is now the elected MP for Oldham West, of course. Another local MP under fire from the Raja/Rocky nexus is Deborah Abrahams, who is the complainant in one of the police investigations into Raja Miah. A charging decision on alleged offences under the Representation of the People Act, 1983 is expected shortly from the CPS.

Two of the council’s top paid officials, chief executive Dr Carolyn Wilkins and solicitor Paul Entwistle, have replaced Mr Irvine as targets for the “Rocky” stone throwing. An interest here is declared as I am no fan of Dr Wilkins, either. She created what is widely regarded as a non-job for her friend, Rebekah Sutcliffe, after the disgraced police officer resigned from Greater Manchester Police over what became nationally known as the ‘Boobgate’ or ‘Titgate’ scandal. Becky was rewarded with a pay increase of around £13,000 per annum for the inconvenience and now earns £122,000 pa.

Returning to Miss Skelhorn, she is now, to all intents and purposes, little more than an echo chamber for Raja Miah’s sticking plaster narrative and targeted abuse; not only ever present on either his Recusant Nine page or the overtly racist Oldham Eye social media timeline, but appointing herself, latterly, as an expert in child sex abuse at or around the same time as Raja, towards the end of 2019. An issue never raised by either of them, previously, and not until, of course, they had lost traction on most, if not all their other collective gripes against the elected representatives whom they perceive has done them and the town of Oldham great wrongs. At least some of which, it must be said, have a sound, evidential basis but become lost in the frenzied noise, and the ludicrous stretching of their aim, so that everything points back at their principal hate targets.

One well informed observer, very adjacent to Kerry Skelhorn’s activities both as part of the Action Group and her routinely abusive posting on social media, told me that her permanently aggressive style of campaigning in Diggle has increasingly become a ‘turn-off’ for the more measured class of protester. It is easy to see why.

As for “Rocky”, and the persistent, harassing, defamatory abuse pointed in my direction, that will be dealt with through the appropriate legal channels, including the police. As a journalist, free speech and adverse opinions are die in the ditch causes, and fair, constructive criticisms are always acceptable, but Miss Skelhorn’s remarks go well beyond that and, when asked to desist, chooses instead to intensify the slurs. Very much in the style of her mentor and leader – and it must be said some of the more unhinged contributors on that forum who see mindless abuse as a substitute for reasoned argument.

A screenshot taken by an interested observer from Raja Miah’s podcast on Sunday 18th October, 2020.

Her very public attack on the Oldham Heart forum involving a well known child sex abuse survivor will also have consequences. This was in a futile, and increasingly desperate attempt, to reverse that victim’s denouncement of Raja Miah (read more here) and, instead, paint me as a predator and ruthless exploiter of a vulnerable person. Nothing, actually, could be further from the truth. As the brave survivor herself pointed out in measured terms.

It appears that “Rocky” has not removed her posts from that thread.

Right of reply was offered to Kelly Skelhorn. She did not acknowledge the email sent to her prior to publication.

The RSPB’s Head of Public Affairs, Rachel Evans, has been asked to provide a statement on behalf of the RSPB’s ruling Council.

Stephen Irvine, who now works for Oldham based architects’ practice, Studio KMA, as Director of Town Planning, declined to comment.

Page last updated: Tuesday 20th October, 2020 at 0755 hours

Photo credits: Eastern Daily Press

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 2015-2020. 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 Media, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Search for the truth

An investigation that began several months ago, in Oldham, into allegations made by a local political activist of a large-scale, multi-agency cover-up is nearing completion, with most of the key players interviewed or spoken to.

The claims are repeatedly made by Raja Miah, who posts and broadcasts on social media under the style ‘Recusant Nine‘ and blogs under the ‘Welcome to Oldham‘ banner. He has a substantial following on Facebook, and his trenchant views appear to find favour, particularly, on the right wing of the political spectrum; there is a lesser presence on Twitter, a gap filled by an account with the handle, Oldham Eye.

Many believe the latter social media account is controlled, or influenced greatly, by Raja, but the actual identity of the operator is a closely guarded secret amongst camp followers. Who provide almost identical answers when asked.

Earlier this week, a meeting took place with a well-known survivor of child sexual abuse in Oldham, Samantha Walker-Roberts. She has waived her legal right to lifetime anonymity and it was an important stepping stone in the investigation, adding significantly to the information matrix. It also emphasised how brave Samantha, and those other survivors who speak out, really are.

But the meeting only took place after local police were involved to ensure that a safe space could be created for Samantha, and, to a much lesser extent, myself. Their response was speedy, appropriate and professional.

This was considered necessary, because on the previous evening Raja Miah had made public the intended meeting as part of an incessant smear campaign with which he appears to be currently obsessed. Against a background of sustained, highly personalised abuse being directed at me by a group of his supporters, who took exception to two articles published about their ‘leader’ in the past week or so (read here and here).

As evidenced by their responses to those articles, the Recusant Nine fanatics are, it seems, immune to any reasoned argument, facts or evidence – and far too ready to attack, in seriously unpleasant terms, those who question their party line.

The police are already well aware of Miah and he is currently the subject of investigations into complaints made by local MP, Deborah Abrahams, by way of section 106 of the Representation of the People Act, 1983 and at least one other made against him under the Protection of Harassment Act, 1997.

Soon to be at least two, as a further package of evidence is being prepared, by me, for submission to the detective chief inspector in Oldham who is leading the extant investigations over Miah’s recent course of conduct.

The threshold for a journalist to take such action is high; we expect criticism as part of our vocation, often in robust terms. But what has been experienced over the past ten days, goes far beyond that – and is perceived to be a campaign very much intended to cause distress and alarm, to the extent where coercing discontinuance of the Oldham investigation is the primary aim.

Another Oldham MP, James McMahon, has stated publicly, and at length, that Miah is running a deliberate campaign of harassment and abuse against him, also, and at least some of the comments he makes are ‘blatantly defamatory’ (read more here). The impact on both his professional and personal life is said to be considerable.

Samantha, it was disclosed to me at our meeting, has asked her lawyer to advise on the merits of a privacy, data breach claim against Raja Miah as she has no recollection of giving permission for her story to be published on the Recusant Nine website. She cannot trace any messages, either, where such permission was either sought or given.

She is also concerned, and has expressed publicly, as well as to me in more detailed terms, that Miah is running his ‘CSE cover-up’ campaign for his own personal and political ends and not with complainants, victims and survivors at its centre.

On any independent view, there is considerable merit in what Samantha says: The focus is, plainly, the vendetta (his own word) that Miah is running against those he perceives to have done him wrong. Particularly, Jim McMahon, over his part in the investigation into a shocking catalogue of failures at schools that Raja founded and ran in the Manchester area. Those failures include operational and infrastructure shortcomings, low Ofsted ratings, large-scale financial irregularities, low staff morale, safeguarding failures, and the grooming of a 14 year old girl at one of the schools. Raja Miah denies any or all wrongdoing.

For clarity, my investigation into the CSE allegations, made by Raja Miah, does not in any way replace, or intend to trespass too greatly on, the Assurance Review presently in progress in Oldham, headed by two of the country’s leading child sexual exploitation experts, Malcolm Newsam and Gary Ridgway. Although some minor crossover is inevitable, as the wider online allegations made against Oldham council (and the police) form part of their terms of reference. The Review was commissioned by the Greater Manchester Mayor.

Their report is expected to be finished within the next few weeks and go out for consultation with interested parties. It is very keenly awaited, particularly in the wake of their widely acclaimed Review, also commissioned by Andy Burnham and published in January 2020, into widespread failings by police and councils in Rochdale and South Manchester.

Even in that light, Raja Miah has consistently sought to undermine the efficacy of the Oldham CSE investigation, without any regard for the integrity and track record of the two investigators, their high standing, professionally, or the toxic atmosphere, created almost entirely by him, that may have discouraged witnesses coming forward to give evidence to the Review or provide Newsam and Ridgway with viable lines of enquiry.

It is anticipated that my own findings on the merits of the Miah allegations, and the background to them, will be published within the next week or so. Raja grounds his campaign, that only began in the Autumn of last year, on a dossier leaked to him by a former councillor, Hugh McDonald.

In simple terms, its centre-piece is a one-eyed view of an email, sent to Jim McMahon over seven years ago by BBC journalist, Kevin Fitzpatrick, in which a number of other senior councillors are copied, including Mr McDonald. I have previously challenged Raja, publicly, on his Facebook page on that very point. He did not respond to that plainly expressed enquiry. Indeed, that was one of the tipping points, as it was becoming tiresome asking for evidence and/or substantiation and being blanked. I am, of course, now blocked from viewing any of his posts.

From information now in my possession, and taking a wider, much more enlightened view of local and national intelligence that was being fed into the Gold Group of partner agencies, at that time, it is evident that the ‘Lee Rigby’ golden nugget, weighted so heavily by the discredited Oldham activist in his criticism of Mr McMahon, and others, has lost a great deal of its lustre: There were credible policing grounds, to those who needed to know, to support the postponement of certain actions until the funeral of the fallen soldier had taken place.

More of that, and a closer scrutiny of the rest of the Recusant allegations, will follow. In the meantime, the author’s eye is drawn to this statement by much-criticised Leader of Oldham Council, Sean Fielding: “What disturbs me is that the comments on social media [led by Raja Miah] piece together historic incidents, much of which is in the public domain, over a long period of time to give the impression that the allegations relate to young people at risk today.”

Right of reply has again been offered to Raja Miah.

Page last updated: Wednesday 14th October, 2020 at 2055 hours

Photo credits:

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 2015-2020. 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 Media, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Riots peacemaker in ‘shoot to kill’ rant

Controversial Oldham businessman and political activist, Raja Miah, is noted for his trenchant views on a wide variety of topics relating to his home town, just West of the Pennines in the North of England.

He is also relentless in his criticism of local council leaders, Sean Fielding and Arooj Shah, and some of the area’s Members of Parliament (most particularly, James McMahon and Deborah Abrahams) and, it appears, anyone who associates with them on social media, writes about them in neutral terms or, heaven forbid, occasionally, in favourable terms.

His tone and hostility is alarming and, often it seems, allegations are made without a scrap of viable evidence and, in doing so, exposing significant gaps in his knowledge of public authority process and procedure. ‘Shout first, think later’ as one social media commentator noted.

An article published elsewhere on this website, earlier this week, heavily underscores those points (read here).

Given right of reply to that article, in which allegation after allegation he had made about the Deputy Leader of Oldham Council was comprehensively dismantled, Miah elected to pass up that opportunity and, instead, launched a vitriolic, ad hominem attack via his Recusant Nine Facebook page. Once again, littered with factual errors, half truths and half-baked assumptions.

Over the course of the next three articles on this website, covering just some of the main controversies presently raging, the ordinary, decent folk in and around the archetypal East Lancashire mill town will decide whether it is right to trust what is written by Neil Wilby and if it is reliable and well-grounded journalism: The product of repeat car journeys over the Pennines, foot-slogging, door-knocking, covert observation and knowledge of the appropriate processes and statutory frameworks, and, crucially, both the standing and ability to ask the right questions of the relevant individuals and organisations.

The political extremists, and the lazy, camp-follower keyboard warriors, at both ends of the spectrum, will doubtless dismiss, again, what is written as ‘garbage’, ‘utter crap’, ‘nonsense’, ‘bollocks’ and assert, or imply, there are bribes involved, or that mental health is a factor, or that the author is a stooge of Oldham’s Council Leader, the aforementioned Sean Fielding.

There will also be a further deluge of the ‘f**k off, you are not from round here and have no idea what’s going on’ class of abuse. Which appears to ignore the fact that Oldham is on the same main road as Huddersfield and Rochdale, about which a great deal is most definitely known. But there we are, reality does not appear to concern many of the critics.

Events this week, in the satellite world of Raja Miah, have taken an even more ugly turn – and that is a high threshold. Apart from renewing his harassment of Arooj Shah, a course of conduct that should, in all truth, be an urgent police matter, he has launched his latest mindless attack on another notably successful, high profile female, Gail Hadfield Grainger. It is difficult to comprehend, from a podcast rant on his weekly ‘Recusant Nine’ Facebook channel what motivated such bile, apart from her professional association with Neil Wilby. At that time, he was unaware of Gail’s five year association with Arooj.

In an attempt to smear Gail he describes her late partner, Anthony Grainger, as ‘a gangster’ and heavily emphasises that the police were right to shoot him, unarmed and without warning, through the windscreen of a stationary vehicle parked in a supermarket car park in Cheshire.

Summary justice, shoot to kill. No investigation, no public trial, sentenced to death on flawed police intelligence.

This from a man who made his name, and was awarded an honour by the Queen, in a peacemaking and community liaison role, following the race riots in Oldham in 2001. The flashpoint came, coincidentally, in the same district of Glodwick in which Arooj Shah has lived all her life.

Gail contends strongly that mysogyny is a factor in her being targeted alongside Arooj. Her record, and her media profile, as a justice campaigner and a relentless force for good, speaks for itself. Any attempt to undermine her will backfire on him.

“I’m shocked and disgusted that this man, whom I do not know, never met or spoken to, should attack a grieving woman who lost the love of her life in such horrendous circumstances, when an armed police officer shot Anthony, without warning, through a car windscreen. The Inquiry Chair, His Honour Thomas Teague QC, made his findings (read in full here) and the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police has apologised personally to me and the rest of Anthony’s family. This sly attempt to go behind those findings and use my dead partner, who was NOT a gangster, to slur me is beyond the pale. I just hope his children do not ever have to read or hear these things that he is saying”.

Not content with smearing Gail, ‘Recusant Raja” turned his attention on the son of her fellow United Friends and Family Campaign committee member, Mohammed Yaqub. In January, 2017, Yasser Yaqub was shot dead through the windscreen of his car, by armed West Yorkshire Police officers, after a hard stop on the M62 motorway sliproad at Ainley Top, Huddersfield. This followed a meeting with a man said to be, variously, a police informant, organised criminal and now convicted murderer, known locally as ‘King Meggy’ (read more here). Miah again emphasised that, in his view, the police did absolutely the right thing in performing a roadside execution. No arrest, no legal representation, no investigation, no trial, no jury verdict, no judge weighing all the relevant matters in the balance. Just a high velocity bullet in the chest. Summary execution by a rogue state militia.

Yasser’s father, a successful businessman and highly respected member of his local community in Huddersfield, was horrified after viewing the ‘Recusant Nine’ film clip: “I have never met Mr Miah and don’t know who he is or what he stands for. But to say that about my son, when he knows nothing of the circumstances in what is a very complex case, is absolutely disgusting. I would like to see his reaction if he, or a close member of his family, suffered in the same way we have. He should come to my home, firstly to apologise, and then see how my family and I still grieve for our son every single day. Is Mr Miah completely without feelings for his fellow human beings? He should be thoroughly ashamed of himself.”

Following on from those heartfelt and utterly scathing views from two bereaved families, these are plainly extreme and dangerous standpoints to harbour secretly, even for an activist. But to expound them publicly on the nation’s biggest social media platform is very seriously troubling. More, particulary,when broadcast from a crime-ridden town such as Oldham.

Raja Miah has been reported to Facebook and the local police over the podcast. He has confirmed that he is already the subject of two other police investigations regarding his conduct towards local politicians. One of which is codenamed Operation Hexagon, he says. That is believed to be a wide ranging investigation into allegations of harassment, he is alo under investigation for an offence under section 106 0f the Representation of the People Act, 1983 following a complaint by an Oldham MP, Deborah Abrahams.

A file is also being prepared for submission to the Cabinet Office’s Forfeiture Committee which will petition for removal of his MBE (read more here).

Right of reply was again offered to Raja Miah. He did not respond. As before, he chose to launch another ad hominem attack on social media instead. That, of course, is his prerogative.

Page last updated: Saturday 10th October, 2020 at 0700 hours

Photo credits: ITV, Manchester Evening News

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 2015-2020. 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 Media, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

If only, Madam Mayor

Several weeks ago, a well known and notably successful justice campaigner, Gail Hadfield Grainger, sent me a video clip (writes Neil Wilby). It featured a friend of hers, Arooj Shah, a prominent Labour Party politician in Oldham, an East Lancashire mill town in the North of England. It was filmed in the Council chamber as Cllr. Shah was moving a motion on harassment and abuse in public life, which called for a letter to be written to the Minister for the Cabinet Office to seek a cross-government response in tackling the issue.

Gail, over and above seeking justice for Anthony Grainger, is active in the same town. She supports the widow of André Moura, brutally killed in the back of a van by the same Greater Manchester Police who shot her own partner; also provides pastoral support to a victim of child sexual abuse in Oldham and champions an Oldham-based charity, The Greengate Trust, which undertakes overland aid missions to places such as war-torn Yemen and temporary refugee camps on the Greek Isles.

It is through giving so much of her time and considerable energy to others that Gail met Arooj, whilst she was doing the rounds of MPs in the Manchester and Salford area, harvesting support for her justice campaigning. At the time, Arooj was working in the office of Hazel Blears, prior to the MP standing down in 2015.

They also have a mutual friend, who works for Greengate, Mohammed Imran Ali, better known locally as ‘Irish Imy’, whose past association with notorious cop killer, Dale Cregan, forms just part of his local infamy. He is pictured here with volunteer colleagues and three Oldham police officers, who also enthusiastically support the work of the Trust.

For clarity, the officers are not ‘taking the knee’, as the Black Lives Matter campaign did not begin in earnest until a few months after this photograph was taken.

As a nod to Gail’s work, and the high admiration for her campaigning, particularly in almost single-handedly bringing about a public inquiry into Anthony Grainger’s death (read more here), the video clip was viewed, notebook at the ready.

Watching for the first time was an unsettling experience: Either Miss Arooj Shah was an Oscar-winning actress or she was a victim of a seriously grotesque, cruel, targeted campaign to discredit her. Much of the nine minutes speech was delivered through sobs and tears. The distress was palpable.

Shortly afterwards, the video was played a second time. This time without sound and focusing on everyone else but Arooj: Their body language, facial expressions, what they were doing with their hands. Including putting them together for a standing ovation at the end of the speech.

A third viewing, again silent, focused entirely on Arooj. The notebook was still blank because, by this time, the provisional view had been taken that there was more to this speech than politicking and play-acting. A transcript of the proceedings was procured instead. It is reproduced in full at the foot of this article.

The decision was made to take a neutral look at what is behind the individual, the politician, the speech and the allegations to which she alludes. A closer look at her tormentor was already well into the planning stage.

He was not named in the Council chamber, but identified himself as local activist, Raja Miah, in an on-line article shortly afterwards, Welcome to Oldham Part VI. Entirely devoted to a further, unvarnished attack on Arooj Shah, those associated with her, and businesses in which she has previously had, or presently has, an interest. 

Raja is not known to me personally, but he is an individual about whom a great deal has been learned over the past few months. We may have had a better understanding of one another if he had turned up for a meeting facilitated by an intermediary, and fellow Oldham activist, Tracey Gibson, in July. That involved me in a wasted 65 mile round trip and a lost afternoon. It added to the frustration of him not telephone calling, at an arranged time, whilst I was away in Spain earlier in the year. Tracey has now, it seems, distanced herself from Raja and deleted her Twitter and Facebook  accounts.

We have since communicated on social media, both in open forum and, more occasionally, by private message. But my persistent questions about backing up his assertions of wrongdoing with documents, or other evidence, have fallen on stoney ground and led to me being blocked on two of the main social media platforms.

One of Raja’s supporters likens that interrogatory approach as being ‘like a dog with a bone’. In reality, it’s just bog-standard investigative journalism.

Screenshot 2020-10-05 at 09.20.48

One of the issues upon which we clashed, publicly, was his interpretation of an email to which he refers, often, as evidence of a cover-up of child sex abuse in Oldham, a theme to which he returns regularly – and so will I in future articles.

Raja uses this allegation as a basis to attack one of his main targets in the aforementioned Welcome to Oldham series, Jim McMahon MP, a former leader of Council and, since May 2015, the elected representative for the Oldham West and Royton constituency. He is, more latterly, Shadow Transport Minister. Arooj Shah works in the MP’s office, as an adjunct to her main role as Deputy Leader of the Council, and that is how she came to the attention of Raja Miah, he claims.

Arooj is, more recently, the Council’s Cabinet Member for CoVID-19 which appears to have given Raja another stick with which to beat her, as Oldham enters its seventh week in ‘lockdown’.

Extensive enquiries have been made into what has flowed from Raja’s interest in Arooj. A search for the truth: Is she this dreadful, shameless, flighty individual that he paints, or has she been the subject of a contrived attack, designed to damage Jim McMahon by association. Or, does the answer lie somewhere in between?

Arooj’s parents migrated from Pakistan in 1968 to work in the local textile industry. She is one of seven siblings and has lived all her life in Oldham Borough, apart from term time at De Montfort University in Leicester, where she studied Politics and International Relations.

She was first elected as a Councillor for St Mary’s Ward in 2012 and selected as Cabinet Member for Performance and Corporate Governance, with responsibility for key campaigns and communications, in that same year. 

Arooj led Oldham’s pioneering Energy Switching campaign which became the most successful single-authority scheme of its type in the country – and was later rolled out across the Greater Manchester region. A collective bargaining initiative, this saw 8,726 households in the town signing up and making an average saving of £171 per year. Putting around £1.4 million back into Oldham resident’s pockets in a period of national austerity. 

In 2013, Arooj was named ‘Young Councillor of the Year’, alongside Oldham colleagues, Amanda Chadderton and Sean Fielding, by the Local Government Information Unit. Cllr Fielding is now, of course, Leader of Oldham Council and another local politician under constant attack from Raja Miah.

The Growth Company, where she currently serves as a Director, say: “She entered politics to give people strength and confidence in what they do, so that they feel able to speak up and have a voice. She has also worked hard encouraging local groups in schemes designed to take control of their communities and make them better places to live”.   

They added: “Arooj was praised for speaking out about harassment and intimidation she had suffered as an Asian female councillor before she was re-elected in the Chadderton South ward in May 2018”.

IMG_4368

Given my natural scepticism where all politicians are concerned, the direct feedback concerning Miss Shah was surprising, to say the least: ‘Very hard-working’ is a constant; ‘meticulous’, ‘very correct’, ‘loyal’, ‘dedicated’, ‘kind’, ‘caring’, ‘family and community-orientated’, ‘speaks her own mind’ also feature. A Muslim, she is known to be devoutly religious.

Less surprisingly, she is also regarded as highly ambitious, but not ‘a girl about town’ as they say. Indeed, no trace of a social life has been identified. As she said in her speech, she chooses to live at home with her mother. 

For emphasis, this is not client journalism: If there had been adverse commentary, or any other form of criticism of Arooj Shah, it would have been reported in the same way as the other remarks. In embarking upon this piece, and the ones that will follow, it was in the full knowledge that any unwarranted praise, perceived bias, or mistakes, or will be seized upon rabidly by Raja and his supporters.

The allegations made against Arooj Shah

For better or worse, these are the issues referred to in her speech and used by Raja Miah as a basis for undermining and discrediting her. At the same time, he rejects the notion that there is a mysogynistic element to his campaign.  

 – Slept her way to the top

This is referred to centrally in the speech, as is the dreadful effect it has had on Arooj. But, perhaps, the best answer is the one that forms the headline to this piece: ‘If only, Madam Mayor’. Beneath that, it is a desperately hurtful thing to say about a woman who is of the Muslim faith with, potentially, dangerous repercussions for her. Especially, when the allegation is made completely absent of any evidence, kiss and tell or otherwise.

The accompanying proposition that Raja Miah’s inbox is crammed full of lurid tales of her personal life appears to be far-fetched, at best. Not least, because the email link from his website is defective and communications are returned with an ‘undeliverable’ message.

Viewed objectively, her lifestyle, and total commitment to her career which, I’m told, involves her rising at 5am each day and finishing well into the evening, would not be conducive, in any way, to promiscuity. Neither would choosing to live in the family home.

The accolades she received after her first election success, and then having to resurrect her career after losing a local election in highly controversial circumstances in 2016, tend to suggest it is raw ability and commitment, rather than powers of seduction, that explain her present roles in politics and wider society.

 – Association with criminals

An interest must be declared here, first: Associating with criminals is something with which I can be charged. Often, in fact. Reporting on them from the press seats in Crown Court and the Court of Appeal; visiting them in custody (I have been inside seven different jails across Her Majesty’s Prison estate); assisting with rehabilitation, lobbying for employers to give a second chance to reformed offenders; supporting prison reform and rehabilitation on social media; campaigning against miscarriages of justice. I even share office facilities with one, when working in Leeds (read more here). That is, largely, who and what I am.

In Arooj Shah’s speech, she deals with her own connection with criminals with a fair and balanced explanation, from my standpoint at least. Given that all but two councillors rose to give her a standing ovation at the end of that powerful presentation, it was satisfactory to them, too. No doubt mindful of Oldham’s high level of criminality within the Borough and the difficulties that would pose if families and friends, or elected representatives, automatically disenfranchised those with a criminal record.

As a court reporter, I can go further in terms of relevance and context in this particular instance: Raja Miah, inadvertently or otherwise, frequently makes a connection to ‘Irish Imy’ as the getaway driver for Dale Cregan, then links that to the murder of two female police officers and, further and much worse, repeatedly asserts a link to Arooj Shah in the same chain. That has no basis in fact or evidence: Cregan did murder PC Nicola Hughes and PC Fiona Bone in a truly horrific, senseless attack, but handed himself in at Hyde Police Station soon afterwards. As such, there was no getaway.

The offence for which ‘Irish Imy’ was convicted, Assisting an Offender, was not linked to the police officer murders. It concerned the aftermath of Cregan killing the well known gangster, David Short, six weeks earlier, and a car journey to Leeds some hours after that murder had taken place. He was jailed for seven and a half years.

It is no secret that I have campaigned vigorously for an inquiry into what is said by well known police whistleblower, Peter Jackson (one of Rajah Miah’s biggest and most enthusiastic supporters on social media), to be the entirely preventable deaths of those two young police officers (read more here).  According to the retired murder detective, the failings of several senior colleagues had much, much more to do with Cregan being still at large than his association with Irish Imy.

The definitive answer as to whether Arooj Shah would be wise to cut loose a friend of 30 years will, ultimately, come at the ballot box. Either at the next local polls or, more widely, when she, inevitably, stands for election to Parliament. In the meantime, Raja Miah appears to be the only person in the entire country making an issue of it.

 – Jim McMahon’s support of Mohammed Imran Ali (Irish Imy)

As set out above, Arooj Shah works in the McMahon constituency office. Raja Miah’s number one target, in what he freely terms his ‘vendetta’, is that same Member of Parliament; apparently over a grudge related to the ‘blacklisting’ of Raja, after spectacular failures at schools he operated in Manchester (read more here). A government investigation cast “significant doubts” on the legitimacy of money paid to a company connected to Miah (read more here), but concluded it was too difficult to establish a money trail. The probe, inexplicably, looked at just two years of transactions.

It is understood that the Serious Fraud Office are presently seized of those matters, following pressure from another local MP, Angela Rayner. But that is not to imply any wrongdoing by Raja Miah. The presumption of innocence must apply until investigations are complete.

Arooj appears, from this journalists’s vantage point, to have been caught in the cross-fire of the McMahon/Miah war of words (read more here) and, thereafter, seen as an easy target.

Screenshot 2020-10-05 at 09.46.37

This is what has been established as fact, as opposed to what is asserted by Raja, over a letter sent from the MP’s office regarding prison licence conditions: ‘Irish Imy’ is registered as a constituent of Jim McMahon MP; it is routine for elected representatives to assist such persons, irrespective of their antecedents; Arooj played no part in the letter that was written to the probation service, she has no locus as far as casework is concerned; the subject letter did not concern an early release, as claimed by Raja, the prison sentence was indeterminate (read more here); the subject matter was an appeal against a proposed, unscheduled transfer from a bail hostel in Oldham to more remote premises, away from his partner and young family. 

It has to be said that being adjacent to the criminal justice system, and a network of reliable contacts within it, makes access to this information far easier for me to secure than it might be for Raja. But it is a curiosity that he should ground a story entirely on speculation and, seemingly, absent of any interrogative feature. 

 – The genesis of the friendship between Arooj Shah and ‘Irish Imy’ 

Raja Miah has made a qualified assertion that he does not believe the friendship between the two is what Arooj articulated in her speech. That is to say, they have known one another since the ages of 11 and 9 respectively.

That, unqualified, would be a very serious allegation to make: A Muslim woman, devoted to her faith and her God, notably successful in her chosen career and a high profile political figure across the North West region of the UK, lies to an entire Council chamber, knowing that there would be high media attention to what was quite sensational subject matter. Just one credible witness coming forward, to rebut the longevity of the friendship, would end her political career and destroy her reputation.

Equally concerning, is the foundation for the Miah assertion: An anonymous post, using the handle ‘Bashah’ in the comments section of a newspaper; screenshot, very conveniently, by Raja prior to it being removed by the moderator.

There are two errors in that post that are easily put right: ‘Bashah’ claims that ‘Irish Imy’ and Arooj’s brother were ‘locked up in HMP Buckley Hall together’. Arslan Shah has never been in Buckley Hall prison. His trial and conviction was never reported. I am aware, via criminal justice contacts, of where Arslan was arrested, tried and imprisoned. Raja plainly is not.

‘Bashah’ also claims that a man nicknamed ‘Shanny’ was Arooj’s boyfriend. My enquiries locally firmly conclude that is also untrue: Shahnawaz Qumer, for that is Shanny, subjected Arooj Shah to an obsessive, persistent and unpleasant campaign of highly personalised harassment and stalking. They were never in any relationship, it seems.

Screenshot 2020-10-04 at 17.52.40

‘Shanny’ was not, as he should have been, prosecuted for those activities, but he did end up in prison in 2015 after standing trial over a find of 30kg of cannabis, worth £300,000, at the address of a friend. Qumer, a married man with three children and serious financial problems, lied to police about his role transporting the drugs from Hertfordshire to Oldham before, eventually pleading guilty (read here). An unlikely suitor for a young, attractive, well-grounded high achiever; but a likely ‘informant’ for Raja Mia’s campaign against her.

Remarkably, those matters did not show up when Raja was ‘researching’ Shanny, but an alleged assault upon him, by Irish Imy, did. Conversely, and perversely, I can find no trace of this alleged assault, either in the public domain or via my criminal justice contacts. Or an Oldham Councillor wearing Jimmy Choo shoes in the council chamber or in a local MP’s office.

What is unclear is why Raja was checking into Shanny at all: They have been friends since they sat opposite one another in secondary school. The source of that information is Raja, himself. 

It has been pointed out since this article was published that ‘Bashah’ is possibly, or indeed probably, a play on Bash Shah (as in Cllr Shah). If that is so, and the readers will judge for themselves, the suspects as the likely authors of that newspaper comment is reduced to a very small number. 

 – Register of business interests

Without wishing to diminish what, taken to its extreme, is a criminal offence under the Localism Act, 2011, and the effort and informed research to bring it to the public’s attention, this is very much a case of Raja Miah making an ice cream sundae out of a well-licked lollipop. The truth is not difficult to uncover and involves talking to people and asking questions, rather than just bashing away on a keyboard: The business was set up by Arooj for her brother, Arslan, whilst he was in prison. The Shah family were desperate to keep him occupied after his release and out of further trouble. In that regard, the venture has been a success, whilst not prospering financially. A matter readily ascertained at Companies House (read here).

If there was an oversight in declaring what, at the time, was a dormant business, dogged by the builder refurbishing the premises going bust, then Miss Shah is guilty as charged. The matter has been investigated by the Council’s Standards Committee and there has been a disposal. No-one gained from, or came to harm over, the registration error.

The Miah proposition that this ice cream business is a disguise for a money laundering operation, and Arooj Shah was, at its formation, a ‘shadow director’ fronting it, appears to have no basis in fact or evidence. 

 – Asian Cartels and Block postal votes

Any assertion that Arooj Shah benefits from involvement with any alleged cartel, Asian or otherwise, or vote rigging, is defeated in just one sentence: She lost her St Mary’s seat at the local elections in Oldham in 2016. 

After the narrow defeat (289 votes), a piece to camera was broadcast on BBC Newsnight in which Arooj complained of an organised mysogynistic campaign against her. This followed an on-line BBC article two months earlier in which she spoke of resistance from some Labour members, in her predominately Asian ward, to a Muslim woman representing them: “There’s Labour Party members who will accept my two ward colleagues, Asian men, but support anyone but me. They’re members of the local Labour party. They are shameless about it… It’s because I’m a woman and anyone who sugar-coats it is lying.”

Screenshot 2020-10-05 at 08.30.22

She, plainly, still feels very strongly about that issue to raise it again so powerfully in her speech in the Council chamber.

Historically, Oldham has been at the forefront of publicity over postal vote rigging, but it is 20 years since there has been a successful prosecution. In 2014, the town was named as an ‘at risk’ location with police and Returning Officers alerted by the Electoral Commission. Particularly in local communities where there are ‘low levels of literacy or a lack of English skills’.

The Council and Greater Manchester Police have both been contacted regarding the number of complaints of postal vote rigging in the Oldham Borough since 2014.

Requests have also been made to the same two public authorities to ascertain the number of retrievable documents that are returned, electronically, from the search term ‘Asian Cartel Oldham’.

Conclusion

The reader is, of course, invited to form their own view of events, before, during and after Arooj Shah’s speech, and my reporting of them. Earlier in the piece, I posed the questions, is she a bad person of low morals, the subject of a sustained, contrived attack by Raja Miah – or does the answer lie somewhere in between? You decide.

But, from this journalist’s standpoint, it has heavily underscored a suspicion I first formed two months ago and have posted about regularly on social media ever since: Almost all of Raja Miah’s assertions have little or no safe ground beneath them – and facts and evidence are in short supply. A point that will be explored in more detail in the succeeding Oldham articles in what, at present, is planned to be a series of four. The next piece covers the question of whether his core, and frequently repeated, allegation of long-running, widescale, multi-agency cover-up of child sex abuse in Oldham has substance. 

Both Arooj Shah and Raja Miah have been given right of reply to this article.

Raja Miah did not respond to me directly but, in an angry post on his Recusant Nine Facebook page, he has launched into an entirely predictable ad hominem attack. He goes on to describe the article as ‘all Wilby’s crap’ ‘a eulogy to Arooj Shah’ and a ‘so-called exposé’. He has not addressed any of his evidential failings, brought to light in this piece, or, much more crucially, apologised for smearing Arooj Shah. 

The Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council press office did not respond to the request for comment on behalf of Cllr Arooj.

 

Page last updated: Thursday 8th October, 2020 at 0600 hours

Photo credits: Oldham Chronicle, Greengate Trust, ITV News, MEN

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 2015-2020. 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 Media, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Transcript of Arooj Shah speech, 8th January, 2020

Arooj Shah: Thank you, Madam Mayor. Before I go into this can I just echo what the Leader of the Council, Sean Fielding, has said. We’ve heard some fantastic contributions tonight, and the comments that Steve [Bashforth] made are absolutely right, and Cllr Sam Al-Hamdani.

This motion isn’t about self-gratification, it’s not about saying ‘Oh God, we’re so sensitive and we’re politicians that can’t take what people say about us’. We are open to scrutiny and we are open to accountability, that’s what we fight for and that’s why we come here – and we put in all the work that we do. 

But what we can’t say is that it’s okay to be personal, to attack us, to abuse us because that just doesn’t impact us, it has a massive impact on our family.

And we enter politics that’s a choice we make as individuals, we don’t ask our family members, our loved ones and our friends ‘Are you okay with this?’ because what might be said about me – rightfully or wrongfully – will have an impact on your life.

That is something we don’t do, so this motion is simply about saying treat us with the respect that we honour, and this job, Madam Mayor. When I got into this, I didn’t think that I would spend my whole life, give up my whole life to politics, and I did. 

I sacrificed some personal choices, that I have made myself. I have sacrificed them because I believed I could serve my community and I think I’ve done a really good job.

And like Cllr Bashforth says, for people who think that I haven’t, I’m there for you to ask me and challenge me in a respectful way, and I will respond to that.

But if you’re going to take to social media, and call us names, then that’s not acceptable I am not going to be ashamed of standing up and speaking up for myself, and other people who give their lives up to public service.

So, Madam Mayor, I want to thank the Members in this debate. And, at times, I suspect many of you feel alone and, perhaps, even isolated, and I want to say that my door is always open for you. So, if you need any support, help or guidance please feel free to get in touch.

And I say that because I know how this feels, I can speak to my own experience Madam Mayor, the person embarked on a targeted campaign of harassment for no other reason than I dared to challenge his behaviour.

The individual deliberately sought out to bring shame to me in my community and impact my family.

Actually, Madam Mayor, I’m touched by the contributions that have been made tonight and I resent the way public servants aren’t allowed to stick up for themselves without being told that they’re self-obsessed.

So, this individual came after me because I dared to challenge his behaviour. He inferred that ‘women in my profession must have sexually transmitted diseases and the only reason I hold the position I do is because I slept my way to this position’.

If only, Madam Mayor.

He also indicated in other posts that he has an inbox full of stories about my personal life, and he makes threats to publish these. 

The pattern of directing attacks towards my personal life Madam Mayor, by him is not a coincidence.

He has caused great distress to me within my community, but you know what more importantly, he’s caused upset to my family. 

It is textbook misogyny, and I’ll use that word and no doubt later on he’ll start saying ‘oh my god she uses this to progress her professional career.’ No I don’t, this is my reality and I’m sick of that being undermined.

He has clearly designed to cause me sustained reputational damage, it soon moves on though because he claims to be a fictional writer and he does write a lot of fiction.

He soon moves on, though never too far from him accusing me of covering up child sexual exploitation Madam Mayor, who in this chamber would ever do that.

What kind of person does it take to do that, and the very fact that this person can think it is more of a reflection on him than it is on me or anyone in this chamber.

He then goes on to accusing me of misusing my position in public office, and people say to me all the time, ‘Well, if that’s not true why do you not answer it, why do your colleagues not answer it, why isn’t Sean answering the fact that he’s not a paedophile protector, why isn’t Jim McMahon answering these questions?’. Because we are too aware that if you were to counter every accusation he makes, that something more ridiculous and outrageous will follow. 

Madam Mayor, because he and these people are not about truth, they’re about intimidation and that’s what he tried to do.

Madam Mayor, I was born and raised in Glodwick, Oldham, and I came into public service because I wanted to serve my community.

I have always acted appropriately in my political and professional life. I have never abused my position and I have never, ever compromised any confidences. 

But Madam Mayor, that in and of itself is not enough when the level of attacks against you are not about the truth.

He then went on to share pictures of me with my brother, and one of my friends called Mohammed Imran Ali, who I’ve known since I was 11 years old.

Both of them have been into prison, but he did that because he wants to create a perception that I am part of a criminal gang, that I’m part of “a cartel”.

Madam Mayor, he knows full well that I have not covered up child sexual exploitation, that I have never misused my position in public office, because he’s asked these questions and he’s had the answers.

He knows that I am not part of a cartel, but he is also fully aware that I would not condone any acts that my brother did or that my friend did.

But Madam Mayor, whilst my longstanding relationships and friendships will be difficult for some people to accept, and I fully understand that, I can’t pretend that they don’t exist. 

And I certainly cannot turn my back on people I’ve known since childhood for political convenience. 

And I certainly don’t forget where I came from, there were times in my life Madam Mayor where I could only put in about £3 worth of petrol (in my car) I’d have to consider every journey to see whether it was worth me making. 

Now I’m in a position where I don’t even consider my journeys, and I’m able to put petrol in my car without giving it a second thought.

There have been times in my life where I have longed for certain types of clothing, shoes or for my hair to get done in the hairdressers, and I’d have to consider my choices, but today Madam Mayor, I’m fortunate enough to do that for myself.

And not just for myself, I’m fortunate enough and blessed enough to be able to do it for other people that I care about. 

There were times where I thought will I ever have my own home; will I ever be able to move out? Now Madam Mayor I have my own home, but I live with my mum out of choice, and all this happened because somebody believed in me.

Because the kind of community that I came from, the stacks are against you. It’s hope and it’s opportunity, and somebody believed in me.  

I swear to God, if people believe that I have not got to be the first Asian female Cabinet Member of Oldham Council, and the first Asian female statutory deputy leader of Oldham Council, by not working hard, I can tell you this: I have worked fifty times harder than my peers and my colleagues in this chamber to hold this position.

I don’t pretend to be somebody I’m not, Madam Mayor. I am straight talking, but I am very kind and respectful towards people. 

I do not disown people for political convenience or to advance my political career.

Too many people come into public life because they are driven by a passion for public service, a desire for better and believing that they have something to offer. 

But often Madam Mayor, the impact goes beyond those who make the choice to step forward, and it can affect your family and your friends.

As we are fighting for greater protection we ought to reflect that the vast majority of people like Cllr Sean Fielding said, like Shaid Mushtaq said, that the vast majority of people are decent, respectful and want the same for our communities.

So for those who step into public life, I sincerely thank you and to the friends and family that support you, your support means the world, and it’s more valuable than you’ll ever know.

Madam Mayor: Thank you, Cllr Shah. Does Council agree the motion; those in favour?

We’ll class that as unanimous. Thank you.

Even more rotten

On 21st August, 2020 an article was published on this website, headlined ‘Rotten to its Core‘ (read here). It referred to the actions of Greater Manchester Police (GMP) in the eight years following the shooting of an unarmed man, Anthony Grainger, in a supermarket car park in Culcheth, Cheshire by a GMP armed response unit.

Within the piece were exclusive revelations concerning a corrupt detective who had worked on that undercover police operation, codenamed ‘Shire’. The officer also worked on the predecessor drugs investigation, Operation Blyth, but cannot be named for legal reasons and great care was, and is, being taken to avoid any possibility of ‘jigsaw identification’, in order not to prejudice any future proceedings against the officer, even though s/he has not yet been charged and, also, to protect unwitting others who are now dragged into the scandal.

The officer’s identity is, however, well known within GMP, not least because of the elite unit in which s/he was posted and there is a also relative who works for the force. Some colleagues were present when the arrest was made.

Not unnaturally, it created a great deal of public comment, opprobium and, indeed, alarm on social media, although completely ignored by the local and regional press. The most troubling aspect of the case is the genesis of the investigation: The subject officer allowed a packet of drugs to fall from a jacket pocket whilst dropping off a child at school (the location of which is now known but not disclosed here), left the scene without picking it up and the drugs were ultimately found by a pupil, handed to a teacher at the school, who called the police. The arrest followed, at the detective’s workplace, during which more drugs were found – and a search at home found yet more drugs and a cache of ammunition. The latter strongly suggests links to at least one organised crime group. The officer is presently suspended on full pay.

On 16th August, 2020 Gail Hadfield Grainger, the bereaved partner of Anthony, wrote to the Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, who has a dual role as Police and Crime Commissioner for the region. This is the communication, in redacted form:

“Subject: Another corrupt officer attached to Operations Blyth and Shire.

Dear Andy

It is with some dismay that I have to write to you, yet again, over concerns related to the ‘investigations’ that ultimately led to Anthony’s death.

There is, apparently, no-one holding the chief constable to account, including yourself and Bev Hughes, and that is why GMP is widely, and quite correctly, labelled ‘rotten to the core’.

The latest revelation concerns [name redacted] whom, as you may know, featured strongly in both the subject investigations involving Anthony. [Gender redacted] has been arrested and is presently under investigation by the IOPC (believe it or not) over drugs offences. 

Both the Daily Mirror and the Daily Star have been trying to get the story past their lawyers. So far, unsuccessfully, because of the very limited response from the GMP press office. The facts are that [name redacted], when dropping off a child at school, inadvertently allowed some Class A drugs to fall from [gender redacted] pocket. These were picked up and handed to a teacher, who called the police. 

GMP officers found ammunition and a further supply of cocaine at [gender redacted] home address (more than for personal use). [Name redacted] also had drugs on [gender redacted] person when searched at [Name of office building redacted]. The offending is, apparently, common knowledge amongst the [name of unit redacted], of which [Gender redacted] is part.

Now to the important part. My information, from two sources, is that GMP are going to cut a deal with [name redacted] so that the story doesn’t get into the public domain and, they thought, reach my ears. [Gender redacted] won’t be prosecuted and misconduct proceedings will be held in private. [Gender redacted] will, of course, be on full pay for as long as [name of staff association redacted] can spin this out and then, of course, receive [gender redacted] pension.

It is not confirmed yet, but I have reason to believe that [name redacted] lives in the [name redacted] area. [sentence redacted].

In these circumstances, I require from you a firm undertaking that this officer will be prosecuted and sentenced with the same rigour as any other member of the public and that you properly and fully hold the chief constable to account over this disgraceful situation. Those orchestrating the cover-up should also face the full force of the law. You were noisy enough on that very same point when grandstanding for the Hillsborough families.

In the absence of you taking all the necessary and correct steps to put right this series of wrongs then I will go public and you will be doorstepped if you won’t face the cameras and answer questions.

A copy of a letter sent to all Greater Manchester MPs, including of course my own, is attached. The contents are self-explanatory. Your failure to hold the chief constable and his corrupt police force to account has been expressed within.

Yours sincerely

Gail Hadfield Grainger

Bereaved family member and victim – Anthony Grainger”

 

The Deputy Mayor’s response amounted to just five short, sterile paragraphs. It is completely absent of any empathy or sympathy for the distress and alarm these latest developments have brought to Gail and her family. In Ms Hughes’ familiar style she relies entirely on what the police have told her without making her own, independent, enquiries.

She quite correctly opens by saying that she is limited to what she can say because of an ongoing criminal investigation. But she omits to say for how long this investigation is ongoing. It is believed to have been running for over six months. The letter goes on to say that there are simultaneous investigations being conducted, misconduct by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) and a criminal investigation led by the GMP Head of Professional Standards Branch (the very same PSB unit that has led the sustained ‘cover-up’ over Anthony Grainger’s death since March, 2012). The investigation was sent back to PSB, by the IOPC, rather that the watchdog take the more logical and transparent step of inviting another large metropolitan force to get to the bottom of what could be widescale corruption of which the subject officer may only form a part.

Ms Hughes says, despite the lengthy and troubled background to the Grainger case, that she is ‘assured that there is no question that a deal is being done with the officer’. But she gives no clue as to the source of that ‘assurance’ making it, in the event, worthless. She adds that any decision to hold a misconduct meeting in private would be made by the Panel Chair. Omitting to mention that the Mayor decides which legally qualified Chairs form part of his standing list from which a selection is made each time a misconduct hearing is deemed necessary.

She concludes by saying that ‘I am assured that the investigation will be conducted in a thorough and professional manner through to its conclusion and all available evidence presented to the CPS and any misconduct panel’. Again there is no clue whatsoever of the identity of the officer giving the assurance.

It is true to say that Gail Hadfield Grainger was surprised, disappointed and not a little angry that Andy Burnham had not responded himself and, more particularly how weak and supine the response was, after careful analysis.

Accepting, of course, the limitations of the Mayoral response in order to protect the integrity of the investigation (Gail has a Masters degree in law), there was no mention of:

– The ‘Rotten to its core’ label now widely attached to Greater Manchester Police.

– Why the investigation is taking so long? A member of the public found with drugs and ammunition, during and post-arrest, would have been charged, put before the local Magistrates’ and committed for trial at Crown Court within hours, not months.

– What safeguarding measures are being/were put in place at the school and whether counselling for the children and staff unwittingly involved in these crimes was offered?

– The danger this bent cop, and the missing firearm for which the ammunition was acquired, poses to the public of Greater Manchester, and serving colleagues, whilst still at large.

– The fiasco surrounding the investigation of every other officer accused of criminal offences and/or misconduct and involved in either the killing of Anthony Grainger, or the grotesque and sustained ‘cover-up’, by GMP, that followed.

– The fact that a key member of her own team, Paul Gilfeather, was convicted of Class A drugs offences in December, 2018 (read here).

Since that exchange of correspondence, other information has been shared by insiders that adds considerably to the risk that the public are being placed under. It is alleged that the subject officer has, before the suspension from duty:

– Unlawfully accessed police computer systems.

– Had involvement with at least one organised crime group. It is generally accepted that, where there is OCG drugs and firearms offending, as in this case, it usually follows that trafficking, extortion, robbery, theft to order, money laundering are also adjacent.

– Tipped off criminals as drug busts and other disruptive police activity in the locality were being ‘blown’ regularly. Senior officers, prior to arrest of their colleague, were said to be perplexed as to how this series of failed operations had come about.

Other matters more broadly connected to this troubling case include:

– One of the Mayor’s key political allies is said to be a recreational cocaine user. GMP should be aware, as the dealer is said to be a police informant. However, there is no suggestion whatsoever that Andy Burnham is adjacent to that fact. That is also the case with his now dismissed PR Guru, Gilfeather.

– It is alleged that an officer who worked on Operation Blyth was prosecuted for stealing drugs from the police force exhibits store.

The attempt by Beverley Hughes to downplay the case, and its wider ramifications, should trouble every single person in Greater Manchester and beyond. Her suitability to be be holding any police officer to account, given her own highly questionable ethics and professionalism, is just another part of the factual matrix. As is the total reliance on anonymous sources, within a corrupt police force, for her ‘assurances’ that everything will turn out well for the public in the region. The damning evidence already heard at the Manchester Arena Inquiry again expose the frailty of that proposition, as the rank incompetence of the senior leadership is again exposed, unchecked by any form of accountabilty from the Mayor’s office.

The last word, for now, goes to Gail Hadfield Grainger:

“Since this officer’s arrest was first brought to my attention it has caused great anguish to both my family and myself. The role played in the two operations that led to Anthony’s death cannot be erased from history and is a significant trigger. Nor can the terrible mistakes that preceded that utterly tragic event or the cover-up engineered by the police almost from the moment Officer Q9 pulled the trigger.

“With very good reason, I do not trust either the police service, or the Independent Office for Police Conduct, or the CPS, to bring to book this latest GMP criminality, without fear or favour and, unfortunately, the inactions of the Mayor, and this recent letter from his deputy, do nothing to dispel that deep rooted concern. The case should have been given to another police force to investigate”.

The Mayor’s and the police press office have been invited to comment.

Page last updated: Wednesday 9th September, 2020 at 1735 hours

Photo Credits: Greater Manchester Police, ITV News, Derby Telegraph (Stockphoto)

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 2015-2020. 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.

 

‘Rotten to its core’

These are the words of leading counsel, Leslie Thomas QC, about what is now recognised as the most scandal-ridden police force in the country.

They were spoken in May 2017 at the conclusion of a public inquiry into the death of Bolton man, Anthony Grainger. Mr Thomas went on to claim Greater Manchester Police attempted to “cover up” failings over the tragic and needless death.

He added: “Key documents have been destroyed, accounts and logs embellished, police statements carefully stage-managed, evidence has been concocted, redactions made for no good reason and thousands of pages of relevant material withheld.

“Taken together with the sweeping failures in planning and execution of this operation, this smokescreen by GMP reveals an organisation that is rotten to its core.”

The inquest touching Mr Grainger’s death was converted to a public inquiry by way of a decision taken in March 2016 by the Home Secretary of the day, Theresa May. This followed the abandoning of a Health and Safety prosecution against Peter Fahy, the chief constable at the time, in January, 2015.

The perenially inept Fahy, who had pleaded not guilty at Liverpool Crown Court, had been charged as the corporation sole, a legal status that meant he represented GMP, but bore no criminal liability.

The prosecution set out to prove 26 alleged GMP failings arising out of Operation Shire, an armed police deployment acting without any proper intelligence basis for so doing, and when the use of armed police was unnecessary or premature. Particularly when some of them had been hanging around for up to 14 hours before reaching the death site.

But, following an application by defence counsel that the prosecution was an abuse of process, the CPS offered no evidence and a not guilty verdict was formally recorded. ‘Shire’ had followed another flawed and controversial drugs-focused operation, code-named Blyth, also dogged with corrupt officers.

It was argued, some might say incredibly, that evidence gathered by the force was so secret it could not be shown to a jury and, therefore, Fahy and GMP could not get a fair trial. It was, on any independent view, another in a long line of disgraceful episodes in the recent history of GMP.

Fahy, whose dreadful legacy still puts Greater Manchester at risk, retired later that year. Some of those perils are outlined in this shocking and widely read catalogue of scandals besetting GMP, many of them on Sir Peter’s watch (read here).

One of his worst bequests was the choice of his deputy, Ian Hopkins, promoted to that role in 2012 after joining GMP in 2008 as an assistant chief constable. Hopkins had previously served, without any obvious distinction, in three small county forces.

Following the Fahy retirement, Hopkins was take his place as chief constable, after no other officer, internally or externally, made the short-list for what should be a highly prestigious role, heading up the third largest police force in England and Wales.

The force, on Hopkins’ watch has, almost since the day of his appointment, staggered from crisis to crisis, scandal to scandal, on a routine basis, and confirmed his position as the worst chief officer in the country, by some distance. Most heavily underscored by the disastrous IT Transformation that is commonly known as iOPS (read more here) and the catastrophic human tragedies associated with Operation Augusta.

One of the worst of those scandals will surface again shortly as the Grainger shooting is about to hit the headlines, once more, for all the wrong reasons.

At the Grainger Public Inquiry, Assistant Chief Constable Steve Heywood was caught telling untruths and admitted making forged entries in a policy log in an attempt to justify the fatal attack. Just part of the catalogue of disgraceful GMP conduct referenced by Leslie Thomas QC.

Heywood told the judge, under probing from counsel to the inquiry, Jason Beer QC, that he did not intentionally mislead the inquiry. Against a background of his force doing just that, over and over again, in those same proceedings.

He signed off on sick leave the day after giving that evidence and never returned to duty, thereafter. It was reported that, during his eighteen month ‘sickness’ absence, he received salary and benefits worth a sum over £250,000. He ‘retired’ in October, 2018 on a full police pension, having reached 30 years service.

This officer, whose evidence was generously described by the inquiry Chair, Thomas Teague QC, as ‘lacking candour’ was not, subsequently, prosecuted over what might be considered, at their highest, to be very serious criminal offences; the Crown Prosecution Service ruling that there was insufficient evidence to secure a conviction. Later revised, after it was belatedly accepted that it did, in fact, meet the evidential threshold, to ‘not in the public interest’.

An investigation followed the public inquiry, by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, into Heywood’s misdemeanours. It began in October 2017 and concluded in May 2018. Roughly five months longer that a competent probe should have taken. They, eventually and belatedly, ruled that he had a case to answer for gross misconduct. It took GMP until November, 2018 to accept that finding. Another six months deliberately wasted.

The disgraced IPCC, upon whose evidence the CPS had relied in deciding not to charge Heywood, had in the meantime changed their name to the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

In May, 2020 the Government produced a ‘whitewash’ response to the 346 page Report into the Death of Anthony Grainger (read inquiry report in full here). It said ‘valuable lessons have been learned for the future’ and ‘good progress’ had been made on nine of the recommendations set out by HHJ Teague. There did not appear to be any probative evidence supporting those assertions (read here).

Supine and very largely ineffective Policing Minister, Kit Malthouse, said: “These organisations [the National Police Chiefs Council and GMP] have accepted the recommendations which were made and assured Government that, in the eight years since the operation in which Anthony Grainger was fatally shot, significant work has taken place to implement changes”. Again completely without supporting evidence. Simply relying on the word of the same senior officers who had condoned the disgraceful conduct of the force at the inquest.

Four officers remain under investigation by the IOPC in connection with the incident and its aftermath. They include another assistant chief constable and Fahy protege, Terry Sweeney. The IOPC seem determined to string out proceedings as long as humanly possible, apppearing to do little or nothing between updates to the bereaved family.

In the midst of all this controversy, in May 2019, Ian Hopkins was given a two year extension to his highly lucrative chief constable contract by the Manchester Mayor, despite being the officer very closely involved in the purchase of illegal gas canisters, deployed in the immediate aftermath of the fatal shooting of Anthony Grainger. One was thrown into the car in which he lay dead. The canisters, purchased in the USA, had been stored by GMP for some time before that unlawful use.

The marksman who shot Grainger, anonymised under the codename Q9, was recently told that he had no case to answer for misconduct (or criminal liability). The watchdog found Q9’s reason for using lethal force was “honestly held”. A surprise and disappointment to the Grainger family having heard his evidence, and that of the others involved in the botched operation, at the public inquiry.

The gross misconduct proceedings against Steven Heywood were listed to be heard at GMP HQ from Monday 1st June, 2020 and scheduled to last three days. They sensationally collapsed, early on the second day, when counsel for the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, who had brought the proceedings against Heywood, submitted to the Panel that charges against him should be dismissed. This remarkable turnaround, by Gerard Boyle QC, followed an application on Friday 29th May, 2020 by GMP to the effect that proceedings should be adjourned whilst an issue concerned redacted materials in the hearing bundle was resolved.

The response of counsel for Heywood, John Beggs QC, was to apply for a stay to the proceedings on the grounds that the delay in bringing the proceedings, and a contemplated further delay, was unfair and prejudicial. Beggs, in oral submissions, also made great play of the redactions issue being unfair to his client, although his copious written pleadings were largely silent on that point.

The way the proceedings played out, regrettably, had the appearance of a well-rehearsed pantomine. With ‘the baddie’ making good his escape.

However, to her great credit. the Panel Chair pulled no punches when responding to the submissions by counsel, being harshly critical of the conduct of both parties.

A transcript of the Panel’s decision and closing remarks – and the response of GMP to them – can be found here.

The officer providing the statement on behalf of the force was Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling, Command Team portfolio holder for professional standards, and it is with him that the search for those responsible for the debacle begins: “Following submissions made at the gross misconduct hearing in relation to retired ACC Heywood on June 1, the force has made the decision not to pursue these proceedings further and invited the panel to dismiss the charges against Mr Heywood.

“This misconduct case involved consideration of some complex issues relating to certain information and intelligence which, for legal reasons, could not be provided to Mr Heywood and could not be made public or indeed even shared with the panel dealing with the misconduct hearing.

“Evidence relating to those things was heard in private at the Anthony Grainger Inquiry, and as such was redacted from the public records of that inquiry. The law concerning what can be disclosed in a public inquiry is different from that in misconduct proceedings.

“Following submissions made on Monday, the force has accepted that some of these matters could not be overcome and it would be unfair to pursue the case against the retired officer.

“These are complex issues and the available options were often constrained by the law. Decisions have been made based on professional advice and in the best interests of reaching the most appropriate outcome – however, in this case this hasn’t been possible, which I very much regret.”

As can be seen from the transcript, the Panel Chair, Nahied Asjad, slammed GMP for “delays and procedural errors” and said the handling of the misconduct hearing “could undermine public confidence in the force”.

“There has been a  fundamental disregard for everyone involved in the proceedings, including Mr Grainger’s family, Mr Heywood and the public”, she added.

In the face of that stinging criticism, DCC Pilling added: “The Chair has been clear that the Panel are of the view that GMP did not deal with some key elements of this matter in an appropriate way. Whilst we need to examine the comments more fully, we absolutely accept that mistakes have been made and this matter should have been handled much more effectively.

Pilling did not offer his resignation, as he rightly should have done but did go on to say:

“We apologise unreservedly for the errors which were made, in particular to the family and partner of Anthony Grainger and to all other involved parties.”

gail hg

An apology not accepted by Gail Hadfield Grainger, Anthony’s co-habiting partner at the time of his death – and an intelligent, dignified, determined and resourceful campaigner for justice ever since.

She has similar disregard for the perennially weak IOPC Director of Major Investigations, Steve Noonan, who said: “Anthony Grainger’s family, and the wider public, deserved to hear the evidence and Mr Heywood account for his actions. We acted quickly and decisively to examine Mr Heywood’s conduct once it was brought into question during the Grainger Public Inquiry in 2017. In May 2018, after our seven month investigation, we concluded he should face a public hearing to answer allegations that the evidence he provided to the Inquiry may have breached police professional standards relating to honesty and integrity and performance of duties. GMP agreed with our findings.”

“Today’s developments mean that there can be no ruling from the police panel, as to whether or not Mr Heywood committed gross misconduct to a degree that would have justified dismissal, were he still serving.

“Three new investigations stemming from evidence given at the Anthony Grainger Public Inquiry, which reported its findings in July 2019, began earlier this year, and we will continue to work hard to ensure those allegations are thoroughly examined, that actions are accountable and lessons learned.”

Gail absolutely rejects that lessons have been learned by either GMP, or the IOPC, whom she holds jointly responsible for the Heywood fiasco with the CPS, who provided two different and equally weak arguments before deciding not to prosecute. A decision that had all the appearance of being pre-formed with a resort to any excuse not to put matters before a jury.

On Friday 21st August a very short remote hearing took place under Regulation 34 of the Police Conduct Regulations 2012, applicable in this particular case. The chair, DCC Pilling looking shifty and uncomfortable, who is also Appropriate Authority and responsible almost entirely for the Heywood debacle, determined that no disciplinary sanction would be applied to the former assistant chief constable in the light of the Panel’s decision at the June hearing.

Steve Heywood did not attend the proceedings and neither did his legal team. Gerard Boyle QC, as mentioned above counsel to GMP, was in attendance but had nothing to add to Pilling’s decision.

The execution of the Heywood cover-up was complete. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along to the next one, which allegedly involves a cocaine-using officer, with links to illegal firearms, presently being ‘investigated’ by the IPCC following an arrest. The officer cannot be named yet, for legal reasons, but was involved with both Operations Blyth and Shire, the latter to a significant degree. GMP are desperately trying to suppress details of the shocking nature and scale of offending. The officer was attached to one of the highest profile and most prestigious units in the force where, it is said, the offending is common knowledge.

Gail Hadfield Grainger has, quite rightly, expressed her outrage at this latest ‘cover-up’ involving officers in the team responsible for her partner’s needless death. An email setting out her concerns that ‘a deal’ may have been done with the offender, to slip the officer out of the GMP back door away from public view, without prosecution or a misconduct hearing held in public, has been sent to Andy Burnham. He has until Monday 31st August, 2020 to respond.

The Home Secretary, Greater Manchester Mayor and the chief constable have been approached for comment.

Page last updated: Monday 24th August, 2020 at 1735 hours

Photo Credits: Greater Manchester Police, ITV News

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 2015-2020. 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.

Danny Major case back under CCRC review

After a pause lasting almost five years, the innocence claim of former West Yorkshire Police officer, Danny Major, is once again being considered by the Criminal Case Review Commission. He was convicted in November, 2006 of assaulting a prisoner and causing actual bodily harm following an incident that took place in Leeds Bridewell three years earlier. Concurrent sentences of 3 months and 15 months imprisonment were handed down.

New central Leeds police station opens | Calendar - ITV News

The Major family has vehemently protested his innocence ever since (read more here).

Since 2013, there has been two investigations carried out by Greater Manchester Police into the handling of complaints made by Danny’s mother, Bernadette Major. There are wide-ranging allegations of corruption involving the notorious Professional Standards Department.

The first investigation, codenamed Operation Lamp, was launched in April, 2013 at the behest of the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner and concluded in December, 2014. But, for reasons GMP has never explained, the report was not released until 12 months later.

A second investigation, codenamed Operation Redhill, was instigated by the incumbent chief constable, Dionne Collins, in April, 2016. The first phase appears to have now also concluded in November, 2019, absent of any announcement from either the Major family, GMP or WYP.

The criminal justice watchdog confirmed earlier this week that their investigations have now resumed:

“A second application arrived  on 14th December 2015. Maslen Merchant of Hadgkiss Hughes and Beale is the family’s legal representative. We started a review, but it became clear that we could not sensibly conduct our review while there were ongoing police investigations (Greater Manchester Police’s Operation Redhill)  in relation to the case. In November 2017 we wrote to Mr Major and his lawyers to explain that we had essentially paused the case and that we would restart our review when we could. That is to say, if facts came light that required it, or when Greater Manchester Police (GMP) relevant enquiries were complete.

“This second review of Mr Major’s conviction resumed at the end of November last year when GMP supplied us with a summary of its investigation. We asked for more material from the investigation and, in January 2020, GMP supplied us with extensive material in relation to phase one of Operation Redhill. We are in the process of considering that material. The Covid-19 related closure of our office in March has caused some delay as it reduced our ability to securely access some of that material, but the case is being actively considered.

“The first CCRC application in relation to Danny Major was received in 26 September 2007 (Maslen Merchant/Hadgkiss Hughes and Beale were not the representatives at that stage, but they did take over shortly after in January 2008).

“We sent a Provisional Statement of Reasons  in October 2010 (a PSOR is used when, after a review, we consider that we have not identified reasons to refer a case.  It sets out the reasons for that view and invites a response from the applicant / their legal representative if they have one – nowadays 90% of applicants do not). We consider any response before making a final decision.

“The CCRC received substantial further submissions in response to the PSOR (over a period of almost six months) and further work was conducted before we eventually issued a final Statement of Reasons not to refer on 2nd August 2011. (The CCRC is prohibited from making its statements of reasons public. However CCRC applicants can share them if they wish)”.

The final SOR ran to 62 pages with a further 11 pages of annexed material. It was signed off by John Weeden, CB. The other two Commissioners who formed the committee considering the Danny Major were Ewen Smith, a Birmingham solicitor, and Jim England. All three served their full ten year term at the CCRC.

The Major family and their legal representative were criticised for both the repetitive nature of their lengthy submissions and for introducing issues that could not go to the consideration of a referral back to the appeal court.

This echoed criticism of two of the three grounds upon which the appeal to the Court of Appeal was made. One was characterised as ‘surprising’ and another has having no merit whatsoever (read in full here).

The Major family’s first application to the CCRC ran to almost 400 pages and the watchdog narrowed its focus to:

  • The integrity of PC Kevin Liston, the key prosocution witness
  • The integrity of other officers involved in the detention of the assaulted prisoner, Sean Rimmington, and those involved in the subsequent investigation
  • The integrity of West Yorkshire Police
  • The integrity of the Crown Prosecution Servive
  • CCTV evidence at Leeds Bridewell

The CCRC enquiries, including interviews with Danny Major, his parents, officers from the Professional Standards Department at West Yorkshire Police; telephone conversations with prosecution counsel, Ben Crosland, and defence counsel, Simon Jackson QC (now a judge) and Sunny Bhalla, at the material time a casework manager at the now defunct Independent Police Complaints Commission appeared to be comprehensive. They were not challenged by way of judicial review.

This is yet another case where a notably poor police investigation, an unsatisfactory series of trials (three in all) with familiar disclosure issues, and a subsequent, sustained cover-up and closing of ranks by the investigating force to protect a corrupt police officer, may not be enough to see the conviction quashed. Particularly, if there is no confession by another officer, or officers, present in Leeds Bridewell that night.

Given the passage of time, seventeen years, and the high stakes that has to be considered unlikely. There has been no announcement of any arrests or press coverage of prosecutions during the currency of Operation Redhill, now in its fifth year. Taken together with its predecessor investigation, Operation Lamp, which took just under three years, it is believed to be the longest investigation ever into an assault in the history of the police service.

Both police forces and the Major family were approached for comment. There were no responses to those enquiries.

Page last updated: Monday 13th July, 2020 at 1730 hrs

Photo Credits: WYOPCC, CCRC

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 2015-2020. 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.

 

Misconduct proceedings described as ‘omnishambles’ by top QC

As an interim measure, this is a contemporaneous record of notes taken during the substantive part of the proceedings of Tuesday 2nd June, 2020, in the hearing of gross misconduct allegations against former assistant chief constable, Steven Heywood. A more complete report will appear later.

This was the second of three days listed for the hearing. Most of the first day’s session was taken up with an opening by Gerard Boyle QC, representing the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police and a viperous response from John Beggs QC, for Heywood, who sought a stay of the proceedings under sections 19 and 21 of the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2012.
Those concern prejudice against an officer, the subject of misconduct proceedings, in the event of protracted and inexplicable delay. Beggs QC described the conduct of the misconduct proceedings by GMP as ‘an omnishambles’.
He also complained bitterly about ‘equality of arms’, in terms of legal representation and funding. In which he felt that his lay client was seriously disadvantaged.

This disciplinary hearing was brought about by Heywood’s seriously troubling evidence given at a public inquiry into the shooting of Gail Hadfield Grainger’s partner, Anthony Grainger, in 2012. It was Gail’s articulate, dignified but persistent campaigning that  largely brought about the inquiry.
The Crown Prosecution Service subsequently refused to prosecute Heywood after he lied on oath at the inquiry and it transpired that he had altered police logs post-facto. They said the evidence was ‘insufficient’ to secure a conviction.
Gail was refused a review of that inexplicable decision on the grounds that she wasn’t regarded by the CPS as a victim.
Decision of Panel, as delivered by Legally Qualified Chair, NAHIED ASJAD LLB (Hons) LLM. [There are a number of typographical errors in the note-taking, these will be corrected at the earliest opportunity].
“These are misconduct proceedings brought by the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, as the appropriate authority, against former ACC Steven Heywood. The proceedings commenced on Monday 1st June, 2020 and the matter was listed for three days.
“Yesterday, we heard submissions from Mr Boyle QC on behalf of the appropriate authority, and Mr Beggs QC on behalf of Mr Heywood this morning. Mr Boyle QC invited the panel to recommend that the charges against Mr Haywood be dismissed.
“In his submissions, on behalf of the appropriate authority, Mr Boyle stated that the appropriate authority had concluded that it cannot in good conscience, seek to pursue these matters further.
“Well, in this Panel ‘in good conscience’ cannot dismiss the allegations against Mr Heywood, without stating the following. What we are about to say is not directed at Mr Boyle QC, but is directed towards the appropriate authority [Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police]. We, as a Panel, were convened to hear Gross Misconduct allegations against Mr Heywood; one of the purposes of misconduct proceedings is to maintain public trust and confidence in the police service. The integrity of the police system can only be upheld if officers who are alleged to have committed misconduct proceedings are dealt with appropriately.
“Mr Grainger was shot on 3rd March, 2012. His death has been the subject of a public inquiry, a CPS prosecution and these Gross Misconduct proceedings. We learned yesterday that the same legal department of Greater Manchester Police had been involved in all of these proceedings, in one way or another, yet it is manifestly obvious that no one has strategic oversight of all of these matters. How else can it be explained that matters that today are said to be inevitable and unfair, when not seen in the same light by the same legal team after the IOPC completed its investigation, following a complaint in relation to Mr Heywood.
“The appropriate authority has said that it does not accept the colourful descriptions by Mr Beggs QC of funding by GMP of a chaotic and shambolic approach. This panel goes further however, and states that there has been a fundamental disregard to everyone involved in these proceedings. And by that we mean the family of Mr Grainger, interested parties, Mr Heywood and the public.
“All the expectations and faith in the misconduct process that these individuals had, has been held in abeyance whilst the appropriate authority attempted to sort out issues that, according to its own chronology, it had been working on since at least March, 2019. That chronology shows that they spent nine months, attempting to resolve the issue of intelligence and its impact on the misconduct proceedings. And, according to Mr Boyle, did so in good faith.
“Yet, that cannot be right as, despite not having resolved those issues, they decided to bring these misconduct proceedings. And now, in June 2020, have gone the other way. As we have already noted, up until Friday of last week, they had even prepared the case for hearing with an opening note, in which they relied on a blanket prohibition on the redactions. We are deeply concerned that, despite advice from counsel, despite assistance from the National Crime Agency, and most importantly, despite knowing the history of the case and the outcomes and the criminal proceedings, it is only now two years after the IPCC report was sent to GMP that they now say that they have reflected on the position and realised the inevitable and have been persuaded that it would be unfair to proceed. Reflection and realisation should have occured much sooner. Instead, the family of Mr Grainger are having to leave these proceedings without an outcome.
“They and the public were led to believe, by the very fact that these proceedings were brought, that at least the allegations of Gross Misconduct would be heard. Similarly, Mr Heywood has had to face these allegations for years, only to be told today that the appropriate authority, would be offering no evidence.
“Mr Grainger’s family, Mr Heywood and the public, have been let down by the appropriate authority in this case, and we note that there was no contrition, or apology, to anyone in what was said on their behalf this morning.
“Public confidence in the police force can be undermined if the proceedings themselves are so flawed by delay and bad decision making. But, ultimately, they lead to charges being dismissed, the costs involved in bringing such Gross Misconduct proceedings cannot be in the public interest, either the appropriate authority has accepted delay in this case, as well as procedural irregularity in that the regulation 19 and 21 notices were not issued as soon as reasonably practicable.
“We note that the appropriate authority said that they would be very happy to attend and explain the steps taken, following the CPS decision and progress made but, in the end, doing so would have been an academic exercise.
“This Panel feels that everyone would have been greatly assisted in understanding what has happened in this case, had they heard direct from the appropriate authority, because even now, as we stand here today, it’s not clear why these delays and procedural errors have occurred.
“We do find it necessary to mention that we also have some criticism of the way the defence conducted themselves in response to these proceedings. Nowhere in the regulation 22 response was there any mention of the redactions request being an extant issue. It was mentioned twice in a 23 page document comprising 82 paragraphs. At paragraph 7 it was mentioned in brackets, in the following way. “It would be helpful if the appropriate authority lifted the redactions in this section, to better content contextualise his answer. The second time it was mentioned was in paragraph 66, where it was said, it makes it more difficult for him to answer the issues in this misconduct case with redactions.

ements of a regulation 22 response is that the officer should provide, to the appropriate authority, written notice of whether he accepts the conduct amounts to misconduct, or Gross Misconduct, any submissions he wishes to make in mitigation and which parts of the case he disputes was written notice of the allegations he disputes, and any arguments on points of law, he wishes to be considered.
“Nowhere in the Regulation 22 response was there any reference to Mr Heywood having actively pursued the issue of redactions. Nowhere was it said that this was an outstanding matter, or that the case could not be pursued fairly as it stood, or that illegal point was being taken.
“This only added, therefore, to the surprise that the Panel felt at the turn of events yesterday when Mr Beggs advanced it repeatedly, and that the redactions point was an obvious issue, and had always been since 2018. Indeed, yesterday it was cited as the central issue. But even in the letter to Laura Shuttleworth, which was produced in the bundle it doesn’t say that the issue of redactions was raised as an ongoing or outstanding issue.
“That  had been going on for a year, but only on the basis that Mr Heywood needed them so he could remember his evidence, and it was a request that the appropriate authority should consider it.
“We mentioned that, just to make it clear that that didn’t help matters either in the way that they have been progressed in this case. Turning to the decision that needs to be made. Mr Heywood has retired from the police, these proceedings are brought under the Police Conduct Regulations 2012. As amended, and so he’s being dealt with as ‘a former officer case’, the panel will know that at the conclusion of this hearing.
“We have a duty to produce a report to the appropriate authority, recording our findings, our reason for those findings and a recommendation. We have been invited to make a recommendation that the charges be dismissed. And in the light of what we have said, we make that recommendation today. And that’s all we want to say about this matter.
*** BEGGS
But can we just, through your good offices, point out that a number of media outlets seems to be labouring under the misapprehension that the firearms operation on 3rd March 2012 was not commanded by ACC Steve Heywood. As you know, and I’m grateful that you’re nodding. It wasn’t just as a matter of good reporting and accurate reporting. Could I ask you to make clear that he did not command the operation which led to the shooting of Mr Grainger, lest anyone makes a mistake on that point.
**** NAHIED ASJAD
Absolutely, the facts in this case, need to be understood. Mr Heywood only faced Gross Misconduct allegations as a result of answers that he gave at the public inquiry in 2017, and it was a result of a log that he kept the day before. This incident took place when he had command, but he then rescinded the order, the actual order was made by a different officer. So, the shooting of Mr Grainger, tragically, did not occur, whilst under the command of Mr Heywood and it’s very important that that distinction is made, I agree.
***BEGGS
Thank you very much for that, because the press are more likely to listen to us and to me. Okay. Thank you.
*** BOYLE
No matter of justice, but to thank you and your colleagues for your consideration of the issues in this particular case. Your comments, I’m sure, will resonate with those who are instructing me. Thank you.
*** NAHIED ASJAD
Thank you. Can I thank both yourself and Mr Beggs QC for your very thorough consideration and presentation of the case. And thank you to everyone who has helped with this Microsoft Teams hearing, and its administration. Mr Heywood, that is the end of the case against you. I hope we can move on from this. Miss Gail Hadfield Grainger, thank you for the way in which you’ve conducted yourself during these proceedings, you’ve conducted yourself impeccably and with the greatest of patience and we are grateful for that. That is the end of the hearing. So I’m now going to be formally closing proceedings Thank you everyone.
CLOSE SESSION

The Panel Chair, Nahied Asjad is an experienced Crown Advocate and has worked for the CPS since qualifying as a Solicitor in 2002 and transferred to the Bar in 2007. She has prosecuted in all courts, including the Magistrates Court and the Youth Court and currently works as a Crown Court advocate, dealing with serious offences. Nahied is a trained Pre-Trial Witness Interviewer and Proceeds of Crime Specialist and was the lead lawyer in the largest money laundering case in Leicester, leading to a £5 million confiscation order. Nahied reviews offences at the police station and decides upon charge and prepares cases in the office and makes decisions as to whether or not to prosecute.
The response of the force and an unreserved apology

Greater Manchester Police’s Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling, about whom plenty is said elsewhere on this website, said the force made the decision not to pursue the proceedings further and invited the Panel to dismiss the gross misconduct charges against Mr Heywood following submissions made at the hearing:

“This misconduct case involved consideration of some complex issues relating to certain information and intelligence which, for legal reasons, could not be provided to Mr Heywood and could not be made public or indeed even shared with the panel dealing with the misconduct hearing.
“Evidence relating to those things was heard in private at the Anthony Grainger Public Inquiry and as such was redacted from the public records of that Inquiry.

“The law concerning what can be disclosed in a public inquiry is different from that in misconduct proceedings.”

Pilling, who holds the Command Team professional standards portfolio in GMP, said the force accepted some of these matters “could not be overcome” and it would be “unfair to pursue the case against the retired officer” following submissions made to the Panel on Monday.

“These are complex issues and the available options were often constrained by the law.

“Decisions have been made based on professional advice and in the best interests of reaching the most appropriate outcome. However, in this case this hasn’t been possible, which I very much regret.

In answer to the stinging criticism made by the Panel Chair, Pilling said: “In her comments, the Chair has been clear that the Panel are of the view that GMP did not deal with some key elements of this matter in an appropriate way.

“Whilst we need to examine the comments more fully, we absolutely accept that mistakes have been made and this matter should have been handled much more effectively.

“We apologise unreservedly for the errors which were made, in particular to the family and partner of Anthony Grainger and to all other involved parties.”

On behalf of the Grainger family, friends and campaigners Gail Hadfield Grainger said:

“This misconduct hearing follows on from a public inquiry, where the police were to blame for killing a man, due to inaccurate intelligence,  about which Mr Heywood later went on to mislead the Inquiry.  Questioned on the validity of entries he made in a contemporaneous log he admitted that some had been forged using different coloured pens and backdated.

“These matters need to be taken seriously. Given the stark criticisms made in Judge Teagues report, and now the manner in which GMP have delayed this misconduct hearing, and in my opinion, purposely, to ensure it does not go ahead, this is not in the name of justice, but to save the Chief Constable  and the force further embarrassment”.

“This misconduct process was set up to fail and the reasons behind its collapse need to be taken up at the highest level and those responsible brought to book. It makes a mockery of Teague’s report, of the justice system, to this Panel, and, most of all, it makes a mockery of the public”.

Holding to account

The person responsible for holding the chief constable to account, Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, did not respond to a request for comment.

Postscript

On Friday 21st August a very short remote hearing took place under Regulation 34 of the Police Conduct Regulations 2012, applicable in this particular case. The chair, DCC Pilling, who is also Appropriate Authority and responsible almost entirely for the Heywood debacle, determined that no disciplinary sanction would be applied to the former assistant chief constable in the light of the Panel’s decision at the June hearing. 

Steve Heywood did not attend the proceedings and neither did his legal team. Gerard Boyle QC, counsel to GMP, was in attendance but had nothing to add to Pilling’s decision.

 

Page last updated: Friday 21st August, 2020 at 1345 hours

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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 2015-2020. 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.

Bailey can’t bridge the credibility gap

In July 2019, after serving for over 27 years with a backwater county police force, Nicholas Bailey took the short, but well worn path, from Cheshire Constabulary to its metropolitan neighbour, Greater Manchester Police, the fourth largest force in the country.

He followed in the footsteps of past chief constable Peter Fahy; the present incumbent Ian Hopkins; and a former assistant chief constable, Garry Shewan, to name but three, who had all passed through the same revolving door.

At the time of the appointment, GMP’s beleaguered chief constable said in his standard hyperbolic style: “We are delighted to welcome Nick to our GMP family. He is an extremely experienced officer with a wealth of knowledge and skills from a vast policing career, spanning over three decades [emphasis added by author for reasons which should become clear as this piece unfolds].

“His extensive background in policing will help us continue to protect the people of Greater Manchester and his work around local policing will help us continue keeping our communities safe.”

Rather clumsy, one might observe, in the wake of the Manchester Arena Bombing and the Grainger Inquiry, at which the force was thoroughly disgraced, and described by leading QC, Leslie Thomas, as “rotten to its core“.

For his part in the usual mutual backscratching that, inevitably, accompanies these appointments, Bailey said: “I’m thrilled to join GMP as it gives me the opportunity to give back to the city [whilst drawing a salary of around £110,000 per year plus substantial benefits] and surrounding areas where I have lived and spent most of my life. My father was a GMP officer and to follow in his footsteps is a great honour, as well as being a challenge in such a high profile force, with so much ambition.

“When I started my role as a police officer I found my vocation and understanding of how I could help the public. Since then I’ve had many memorable moments and found there was no better feeling than locking up an offender and making a difference to victims of crime or vulnerable people [Bailey has been asked to recall the last time he locked up an offender].

“Unfortunately, a sad reality of the job is the tragic and traumatic incidents that stick in your mind and remain with you forever. I was one of the first officers to arrive at the scene of the [IRA] Warrington bombing in 1993 [Bailey presumably refers to the second bombing on Bridge Street in which two children died and 56 other people were injured] and was the senior officer on duty at Cheshire Police on the night of the Manchester Arena bomb. Both these events ended in a huge loss of life, which only further increases my motivation to be a police officer and do all I can to help. [‘Huge’ equals 2 at Warrington and 22 at Manchester Arena. Tragedies both, but not on the scale to which Bailey carelessly alludes. Which might give rise to doubts about his ability to objectively assess evidence and give straight answers].

“I look forward to the challenges ahead and being involved with a force that has the ambition to have such a positive impact on the communities, particularly through placed (sic) based partnerships.” For the unitiated, including the author, read more here.

What neither Hopkins nor Bailey alluded to was the swathe of deep scandal in which GMP was mired, or the trail of Command Team officers that had left the force in disgrace over the past few years. Or indeed, the perennial scandal surrounding Hopkins’ most recent recruit at that rank, Assistant Chief Constable Maboob Hussain. Now known irreverently as ‘Mabel’, the former West Yorkshire officer apparently prefers ‘Mabs’.

Or, indeed, the even bigger scandals surrounding the senior officer that Bailey replaced: the despicable Steven Heywood. Very fortunate to escape prosecution over his antics at the Grainger Inquiry, amongst a lengthy tariff of other alleged misdemeanours, he still faces a much-delayed public gross misconduct hearing at which neither his former force, nor himself, will likely emerge with any credit.

Add in Terry Sweeney of Shipman body parts and Domenyk Noonan notoriety, Rebekah Sutcliffe’s ‘Titgate’ outrage and Garry Shewan scuttling off, once it became apparent how disastrously his much-vaunted IT Transformation Project, including the now infamous ‘iOPS’ installation, was turning out to be, and the question that simply begs to be asked is: Why would any self-respecting, law-abiding officer want to be involved or associated with persons of such questionable character? That is another question that has been put to GMP’s newest and, for the present, shiniest ‘top brass’.

Bailey, for his sins, appears to have recently taken over the iOPS poisoned chalice from the hapless Chris Sykes, another recent assistant chief constable appointment, commenting for the force on social media, and in the local newspaper, as another catastrophic failure beset the ill-fated project in early February, 2020. One day after this article was published, more whistleblowers came forward to highlight another round of problems. This time, it is reported, connected to Crown Prosecution Service interface, access to crimes and reports, and, most crucially, huge backlog of child protection cases.

It has also emerged that, whilst an iOPS inspection report by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary is constantly delayed, the force are trying to implement as many of the HMIC recommendations as possible, before publication, in order to mimimise reputational damage and hoodwink the public.

Another GMP Command Team member, the seemingly gutless Debbie Ford, accepted a rare neutral transfer back to her previous force, Northumbria Police, rather than confront the wrongdoing of the senior leadership miscreants amongst whom she sat every morning and, she said, were making her feel ‘uncomfortable’.

But the most persistent, and obvious, Command Team ‘villain’ within GMP is, very arguably, the chief constable himself.  The persistent failings of this belligerent and self-adoring individual are well documented elsewhere on this website (read more here). The most recent scandal post-dated the publication of that widely read, and shared, article when the outcome of the Greater Manchester Mayor’s Assurance Review of Operation Augusta (an abandoned investigation into child sexual exploitation in Rochdale in 2004) was pubished on 14th January, 2020. Hopkins had planned to abdicate responsibility for appearing at a press conference, offering up arch-sycophant ACC Hussain instead.

But the assembled media was having none of that and, eventually, Hopkins was coaxed down from the 4th floor at GMP’s plush HQ. But, only to read out a prepared statement after which he departed in high dudgeon, refusing to answer any questions. A shameful performance, by any measure, and one for which he has been quite rightly and robustly criticised in the press, on television and on social media.

The full Augusta report, which some readers may find distressing, can be read here.

Hopkins deleted his Twitter account later the same day, or early the following morning. He had disgraced himself previously on the social media platform, appearing to abuse his position of authority – and an official ‘blue-ticked’ Greater Manchester Police account – to attack fellow users (read more here). The GMP press office, unusually for them, refused to even acknowledge the request for a statement from Hopkins over his sudden and unexplained disappearance from Twitter. Remarkably, the story didn’t make the mainstream media, particularly the Manchester Evening News whom, conversely and perversely, draw a significant amount of their output from daily social media trawls and, in particular, police force users.

Apart from Grainger, iOPS and Operation Augusta, commentary on another disgraceful GMP scandal now appears very frequently on social media. This concerns the tragic death of 17 year old Yousef Makki, a Manchester Grammar School pupil stabbed to death in a leafy street in the millionaire village of Hale Barns.

Yousef’s family, close friends and supporters have, through their grief, moulded themselves into a formidable and well-informed campaigning group against the apparently woeful police investigation led by DCI Colin Larkin (unsurprisingly nicknamed “Pop”) and, it seems, half-hearted prosecution. The senior police officer with overall responsibility for the investigation is the aforementioned Maboob Hussain. He has emerged as the force’s spokesman on the scandal and ‘Mabel’ has met the Makki family, where his focus appeared to be attempting to discredit former Head of the Major Incident Team at GMP, Peter Jackson, who has been assisting Jade Akoum, Yousef’s exceptionally resourceful and articulate sister and Debbie Makki, his distraught mother. The popular and widely respected Jackson is now well known, nationwide, as the country’s most vocal and effective police whistleblower and, as such, a persistent thorn in the side of GMP and Mabel, it seems.

Jackson has brought Employment Tribunal proceedings against Greater Manchester Police, listed to commence on 20th April, 2020, over the highly questionable treatment he received from fellow senior officers after he blew the whistle on a lengthy, and truly shocking, list of failings by them (read in full here). The Tribunal is expected to sit for 12 weeks as some very dirty GMP washing will get a public airing from a lengthy list of police witnesses.

But Hussain has not been able to shake off the controversy surrounding his own appointment to his senior position in GMP and the serious doubts about his own integrity that flowed from it. It is covered in forensic detail elsewhere on this website (read in full here) and, devastating though it is, stands completely unchallenged. The Hussain/GMP/West Yorkshire Police strategy of stonewalling and attempting to silence critics has not worked – and in the modern era of instant and connected communication was never likely to, either.  Especially as local, regional and national politicians, and policing figures, are now seized of the matter due to the significant adverse publicity being generated, and the consequent damage to public confidence in the police service more widely, and GMP in particular.

On any independent (or political or regulatory) view, Hussain should not be near any evidence chain until the doubts over his own trustworthiness, and those of a large number of other senior officers alleged to be involved in the ‘cover-up’, are resolved one way or another. Those include the deputy chief constable at GMP, Ian Pilling. A man with whom the author of this article has had extensive and mostly unsatisfactory dealings. Those interchanges may, very arguably, persuade anyone reviewing them that Pilling’s conduct, generally, and his approach to the indisputable misconduct of others, is highly questionable. To the extent that his seat as deputy chief constable is untenable at least until those doubts are satisfactorily, and independently, resolved.

After choosing to intervene in a Twitter thread concerning the Makki killing, Nick Bailey has been asked twice, on that social media platform to confirm if he believes that, on the basis of what is set out in the ‘When The Cover Up Becomes The Story‘ article, and the evidence behind it, three of his GMP Command Team colleagues, Hopkins, Pilling and Hussain are officers of unimpeachable integrity.

This is not a trick question, but one of the highest public interest and should, one might expect, have produced an immediate, and unequivocal, response in the affirmative. Especially, with Bailey having eulogised so profusely about the force, and those running it, when he joined Greater Manchester Police a short time ago.

It is also relevant to point out that he is highly qualified to make judgements on the integrity of policing colleagues, having spent a significant period of his Cheshire Constabulary as Head of their Professional Standards Department.

But the problem for Assistant Chief Constable Bailey is that he cannot endorse the integrity of any of those three senior colleagues, having read the Hussain article, without compromising his own.

So what will he do about it? An educated guess is NOTHING. Zero. Zilch. He will, presumably and having ignored the invitation on social media, be prepared to breach the College of Policing’s Code of Ethics requiring him to challenge inappropriate conduct and, of course, his first duty to those precept payers funding his huge salary by keeping them safe from other senior police officers whom, seemingly, cannot be trusted to do their job with unimpeachable integrity, without fear or favour and in accordance with the Oath of a Constable (read in full here). In the case of the Hussain ‘transfer’ from West Yorkshire to GMP there were, demonstrably, a fair few favours called in. It hangs over both police forces like the stench of fish, rotting from the head down.

Why is this situation allowed to pertain? Because that is how the top echelons of policing work. Almost every NPCC-rank officer will cover for another. Omertà is the operational code. We have seen another high profile example of that, very recently, in GMP, with the revelations and naming of the involvement of very senior officers in the premature closing down of Operation Augusta – and all that has happened since to stifle accountability and to silence another nationally-known, high octane whistleblower, Maggie Oliver. Where, undoubtedly, selective memory and refusal to co-operate with the enquiry were some of the most troubling revelations. Two ex-GMP officers who went on to become chief constables elsewhere head that list: Dave Jones, who suddenly quit North Yorkshire Police in mysterious circumstances in April, 2018 and Dave Thompson, still serving at West Midlands Police and known by former colleagues for his remarkable recall, across decades, on matters unconnected to the child sexual exploitation in Rochdale.

It is not clear what Bailey actually does to earn his six figure salary at GMP, apart from publicly support menopause campaigns on social media. His biography on the force website appears completely absent of detail as to what his portfolio responsibilities might be (read here).

He is, however, National Police Chiefs Council lead for information rights, covering the Freedom of Information Act and the Data Protection Act: On this basis alone, Bailey should resign from GMP as they are, in the extensive experience of the author of this article, persistent and mendacious law-breakers of both Acts. The cavalier and unacceptable approach by GMP to disclosure in civil claims is also the subject of repeated and vitriolic criticism by claimants and their lawyers.

If he has national responsibility for information rights, as appears to be the case, then the reader can add, for certain, the disgraceful antics of such as the three Yorkshire police forces, Humberside and Durham to the list of law-breakers. It should also be noted that the situation is getting worse since Bailey was appointed, not better.

In conclusion, it appears that Greater Manchester Police has landed itself with another dud, out of depth assistant chief constable to add to a depressingly long list of previous failures. If he finds this article an uncomfortable read then he should begin today and start to put matters right. Make his family and the beleagured junior ranks in GMP proud of him: Challenge those around him that are, at present, deemed untrustworthy; forget mealy-mouthed excuses and come clean about iOPS; robustly sort out the information rights catastrophe across the police service, starting urgently with GMP; spend less time fretting about menopause; and then another article can be written, and published, enthusiastically lauding those achievements.

Over to you, Nicholas Bailey and please use your right of reply.

At present, over three days after publication of this article, the email sent to ACC Bailey requesting comment has not been acknowledged. GMP’s press officer were copied in to that communication.

That failure to respond is, of itself, a breach of the College of Policing’s Code of Ethics under the headings of Respect and Courtesy; Duties and Responsibilities. But as this article sets out, in the main, if you are a senior police officer engaged by Greater Manchester Police you regard yourself as above the law.

It would, after all, take just a few seconds to type: “Thanks, but no comment“.

 

Page last updated on Monday 2nd March, 2020 at 1445hrs

Picture credit: Greater Manchester Police

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 2015-2020. 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.

 

Lamp fails to light the way

Seven years ago today, The Times newspaper informed its readers that Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary had appointed Greater Manchester Police (GMP) to investigate corruption allegations involving a neighbouring force (read the article in full here).

The notorious West Yorkshire Police (WYP), whose miscarriage of justice history stretches back almost 50 years, are accused of a widescale force-wide ‘cover-up’ in the case of ex-PC Danny Major, a graduate probationary officer who was jailed for an assault on a teenaged prisoner, held in Leeds Bridewell, after WYP colleagues testified against him in three criminal trials.

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PC Danny Major pictured as a young officer in Leeds

The first trial, in 2005, was stayed as an abuse of process; the second, in April 2006, declared a mis-trial after the jury could not reach a majority verdict; the third in November, 2006, saw Major convicted of two counts of common assault and sentenced to 15 months in prison. He served 4 months before being released on licence in March, 2007. The offences took place in September, 2003. The victim, Sean Rimmington, was a lairy 6’4″ amateur rugby league player who had drunk himself senseless and was found at around 4am propped against the old Millgarth Police Station in central Leeds.

After an inexplicable delay of over five years, Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire’s perenially ineffective Police and Crime Commissioner, finally referred the case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) after complaints that officers’ testimonies were unreliable and that other key evidence, including closed-circuit television footage, was withheld from the defence during those trials.

Like the PCC, in his former life of Police Authority Chairman, the IPCC had also previously rejected the complaints made by Danny’s mother, Bernadette Major, after what appeared to be a closed, compromised, rigour-free, highly partial assessment of the issues raised against the police, in 2007. Those were, of course, the police watchdog’s familiar trademarks and, many years too late, they were eventually dissolved in December, 2018 after a lengthy series of national scandals, often involving loss of life at the hands of the police, and of which the Major enquiry was just one relatively minor part. No life was lost, but many were ruined.

I was namechecked in The Times article and freely credited, at the time, by both the Major family and GMP, as the campaigner singularly responsible for the reluctant change of heart by the two Commissioner bodies and the instigation of the ‘outside force’ investigation. Sampson and Burns-Williamson had branded the Major family ‘persistent complainants’ (a fate that has befallen many others, including myself) and the IPCC had previously placed them in ‘special measures’ with a single point of contact (SPOC) stonewalling their enquiries and entreaties. The SPOC, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had a vested personal interest in maintaining the status quo.

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An extract from The Times article of 26th January, 2013. It was headlined ‘Police force accused of cover up faces corruption inquiry’

WYP, and the IPCC, for their part, maintained a resentful silence after the referral but I was, over the succeeding three years to be attacked by both those policing organisations claiming harassment against officers whom I’d named as failing in their public duties. Neither succeeded; the IPCC via the civil courts and WYP via a lengthy criminal investigation, but the attrition, undoubtedly, left a lasting toll. To this day, I am continually harassed by WYP as they regularly instruct lawyers to seek to have me removed from courtrooms from which I am reporting as an accredited journalist. So far, those lawyers, and the police force, have only succeeded in making even bigger fools of themselves.

GMP, in the guise of ACC Garry Shewan, the Gold Commander, also pulled a harassment rabbit out of the hat when he was caught out, telling at least one lie, just six months into the Danny Major investigation, randomly codenamed Operation Lamp. That complaint also came to naught, except that I refused to have anything further to do with him. I was widely reviled for calling out Shewan on social media, and in articles written at the time, as he enjoyed a high profile and appeared to be a very popular senior policing figure. In my own experience he was a pompous, shallow and, at times, quite ludicrous individual.

The succeeding years saw Shewan fall into disgrace as police whistleblowers came forward to reveal both his own integrity shortcomings and the wider, and deeply entrenched, ‘cover-up’ culture cascading down from the top of the Greater Manchester force of which he was, of course an integral (and some say central) part. The best read article on this website, even though it was only published a few months ago, covers in some detail that propensity. It can be read in full here.

Shewan was also very largely responsible for one of the biggest in-house disasters the UK police service has ever encountered. A £27 million IT transformation project, nicknamed iOPS, which he formulated, procured and implemented has turned into an £80 million (and rising) nightmare for the Manchester force. I’ve written thousands of words on the topic (read more here) and appeared on an ITV Granada Reports programme that put the extent of the scandal into the public domain for the first time (view here).

When the terms of reference for Manchester’s Danny Major investigation were set. Shewan acted on behalf of his force and I represented the Major family in that process as their on-record complaint advocate. Fraser Sampson, the PCC’s slippery chief executive completed that particular triangle. He was the public official whom, it is generally acknowledged by insiders, was mainly responsible for continually blocking the Major family’s fight for justice prior to 2013. For Sampson, a man whom I have found to be a stranger to the truth on more than one occasion, and called him out on it face to face, it very probably comes down to money: Danny Major would be entitled to £millions in compensation for malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, loss of status, reputation, salary, pension and associated benefits if his name is eventually cleared at the Court of Appeal. Every year that goes by compounds the figure dramatically. It would fall to Sampson, as WYP’s general counsel, to settle the claims and sign the cheques.

It was at my dogged insistence that the term “go where the evidence takes you” was included for reference by the Operation Lamp investigators. The relevance of that demand was to unfold dramatically just under three years later.

In December, 2015, a redacted version of the Operation Lamp investigation outcome was finally released to the Major family. Shewan and another officer with whom I had clashed, C/Supt Paul Rumney, had sat on that report for 12 months. There was no credible explanation for the delay. The Lamp outcome ran to 506 pages, with seven additional volumes of evidence.

Although I have not seen that version of the report, from what was reported in the media elsewhere, it completely vindicated what I had said to crime reporter (now crime and security editor), Fiona Hamilton, at The Times in January, 2013.

The Major family and I split in the days before the publication of the Lamp report, although cracks in the relationship had appeared a little earlier, once Ian Hanson, the Chairman of the GMP Police Federation had become involved with them. His mission, it seemed at that time, was to drive a wedge between us, by promising the earth to the Major family, provided I was kept at arm’s length and any media activity involving me very much muted.

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Ex-GMP Federation Chair, Ian Hanson

Later events, including the emerging fact of Hanson’s close friendship with the present chief constable, the now disgraced Ian Hopkins, considerably fortify that belief. This is an article I first published in December, 2015 in response to Hanson’s ‘deal’ with the Majors (read in full here). It was later updated to reflect information that had become publicly available in the meantime.

In my certain knowledge, Hanson was viewed by well-known and well-respected police whistleblowers as an over-promoted, self-regarding, under-achieving, and, perhaps ungenerously, as a ‘command team quisling’. His standing does not appear to be overly high with his successor at the Fed, either, if one reads closely into the election publicity of Stuart Berry. Interestingly, Berry’s relationship is, reportedly, very different when it comes to dealing with the chief constable and the new Chairman is prepared to forcibly stand his ground, where necessary, to protect the interests of his Members.

But, for all that, Hanson achieved what he set out to do and the Majors were now isolated and at the mercy of the same institution, the police service, that, apparently, ‘fitted-up’ Danny and then, and about this there is no doubt, engaged in a persistent, long-running, grotesque, multi-agency ‘cover-up’. Personally, and professionally, I found that action by GMP, and its tame acceptance by the Major family, profoundly disappointing. Not least because I had been asked to write the book about the Danny Major miscarriage of justice – and it was always understood that I would manage media relations exclusively on their behalf once the Lamp report was published.

In the event, I was dropped like a stone and it is as though I never had any part to play in the family’s fight for justice. Nevertheless, life goes on and the Lamp report produced some sensational headlines in the local, regional and national media. It also received extensive coverage on network television. Danny Major thought the battle was won and he was about to be cleared and return to work as a police officer (he was promised a job with GMP as part of the Hanson ‘package’). But to me, given my inside knowledge, the Lamp report was fundamentally flawed. There had not been a single arrest or prosecution. Or, so it seems, not even one interview, under caution, of any suspect. Greater Manchester Police had NOT gone where the evidence took them, as they were required to do under the terms of reference. It would impact on everything that follows.

At least two officers escaped justice during that near three year investigation period. The most obvious was ex-PC Kevin Liston, a serial criminal whom had been protected for almost 10 years by West Yorkshire Police (read more here in a piece I first published in 2012). He was the main prosecution witness against Danny Major. Without Liston maintaining the stance he took before and at trial, however weak and implausible that was, then the whole case against Major falls apart. The Lamp report describes his evidence at trial as: ‘either deliberately, or inadvertently, misleading the court’.

As can be seen from that Liston article, and prior to the commencement of the Lamp investigation, a list of fifteen criminal offences committed by the miscreant officer had been compiled by the family, and myself, using a variety of police and other insiders. The Manchester detectives were to tell Eric Major, himself a retired police officer with 31 years service, that the schedule was 70% correct: The Lamp team had compiled their own list of 22 offences. There is no evidence in the public domain that Liston has been prosecuted for any of them. The readers of this article are invited to form their own view on that bizarre situation.

By a curious coincidence, my family owned a property in Baghill Lane, Pontefract for many years, less than 200 yards from Liston’s home in an adjacent street. It was sold 3 years ago.

No other journalist has ever questioned why a police officer has been given such licence to commit an alarmingly long list of criminal offences and enjoy complete immunity from prosecution. Neither has the role of the IPCC been questioned in this long running scandal, as it quite properly should. Their officers were complicit in the ‘cover-up’ from a very early stage. A point I made repeatedly to Operation Lamp detectives in the early stages of their investigation in 2013. There is no mention of this in the investigation outcome, yet the evidence examined by Lamp should, most certainly, have taken them there.

The other WYP officer to evade meaningful investigation and sanction during the Lamp investigation was former detective inspector Michael Green. As the architect of the apparently malicious Danny Major prosecution, that has regularly been described since as a ‘fit-up’ and, at the very least, one of the instigators of a 10 year police ‘cover-up’, he should, very arguably, have been charged with at least one of two criminal offences: Misconduct in public office or perverting the course of justice.

The Lamp report, disappointingly, limited comment on Green to ‘poor investigative rigour and a mindset that could be described as verification bias’.  It reveals that he failed to recover four out of the six video tapes containing the CCTV output in Leeds Bridewell and failed to interview the officer who was in charge of the control room and monitored that CCTV on the fateful night. The two VHS tapes that were used at trial had been edited in a way that did not assist the defence team at all. Green is alleged to have been the officer who scripted those cuts. He also admitted under cross-examination that he had never viewed either of the tapes. There was also a fairly lengthy list of other disclosure failings uncovered by the Manchester detectives.

At Danny Major’s trial at Bradford Crown Court HH Judge Roger Scott stated that Green was, in his estimation, ‘Inefficient, incompetent and ineffective – and that just covers the i’s, the rest of the alphabet may follow later’. The learned judge was being generous. To those insiders, including myself, who have had access to the relevant case materials, the letter ‘c’ would have been a better place to start: ‘Criminal, corrupt and contempt (of court)’

The same judge also told West Yorkshire Police at the outcome of the trial that he anticipated a full investigation to be carried out in relation to events at the Leeds Bridewell on the night of the assault and, further, expected that several police officers should face criminal charges as a result of the evidence presented at trial. That criminal investigation never took place and the sham misconduct proceedings, that were put in its place instead, were abruptly shut down immediately after Green was interviewed as part of that process by another serial Professional Standards rogue, ex-detective inspector Damian Carr. As a result, not one WYP officer had a single misconduct finding against them as a result of the Danny Major ‘fit-up’. Carr was also, effectively, Kevin Liston’s PSD ‘minder’ for a period of around 5 years during which a significant amount of offending occured.

In another coincidence, Michael Green was in the twilight of his rugby career at Wakefield RUFC as I was beginning mine at neighbouring Sandal. He contacted me several times in 2012 and 2013, protesting his innocence and claiming the Majors were not telling the truth, and asked to meet me at Sandal for a pint (of beer) and a chat. I declined his offer. The case against him, on my reading, was incontrovertible and, indeed, the uPSD (un-Professional Standards Department) website (www.upsd.co.uk), launched in 2012 was named with Green very much in mind.

In February, 2016, West Yorkshire Police referred the ‘explosive’ Operation Lamp report back to the IPCC (now re-badged as the IOPC) who promptly returned it to WYP for ‘local investigation’. They said, in a statement at the time, that Greater Manchester Police had been invited to carry out a second review in February “to investigate whether, in their view, there are any criminal and/or misconduct matters to answer”. The force, curiously, declined to provide the terms of reference for the second investigation, codenamed Operation Redhill.

A third coincidence, if indeed it is one, is that both PCC Burns-Williamson and myself were brought up in the area of Castleford (Glasshoughton), adjacent to Redhill, and Eric Major served for a part of his career at Pontefract police station, just a couple of miles away.

Will Danny Major ever be cleared? I sincerely hope so, but we are now one month into a new decade, seventeen years after the assault on Sean Rimmington took place in Leeds Bridewell; thirteen years since Major was released from jail; seven years to the day since the article in The Times that promised to light the way to justice. To date, no-one has been prosecuted for the offences for which PC Major was tried and cleared and, more particularly, those for which he was convicted. Without the perpetrator(s) being identified, and either cautioned or convicted, then his name can never be cleared. That is how the criminal justice system works. With the passage of time, and the almost four years now taken by the Operation Redhill team on the follow up to Lamp, it strongly suggests that the two police forces are simply running down the clock. Aided and abetted, of course, by the ‘police watchdog’ in the game of pass the ‘explosive’ parcel.

Will the convictions be quashed? Nine years ago, when I was first given access to the case files and the family’s own quite brilliant investigative work, I was confident that goal was achievable, even though it requires a very high evidential and legal bar to be overcome. More so, when I was able to obtain other materials for the family, including the ‘breakthrough’ disclosure from the IPCC, via a data subject access request, that ultimately led to Operation Lamp. After the investigation report was published, everyone involved in the case assumed it was a formality – and I would place myself in that category. But the Criminal Case Review Commission ended their second review of the Major file some time ago (it began in March 2016) with no plans to re-visit until after the conclusion of the Opertion Redhill investigation. They refused a referral to the Court of Appeal after their first review which began in, or around, 2009.

It is, in my informed submission, now unlikely the CCRC will ever make that crucial referral back to the Court of Appeal, without the necessary conviction of the officer(s) in Leeds Bridewell that night who did assault Sean Rimmington. The list of suspects is small, but the evidence necessary to prove it is now, very likely, inaccessible. Also, the will of both the Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire police forces to instigate such a prosecution simply appears not to be there. How else can a second investigation, to simply review the first (which over-ran by two years), take four years, unless there are political machinations being ground out in the background?

Some of those political machinations will, doubtless, involve such as Angela Williams (famously described as “thick as a brick” by Bernadette Major) who is now an assistant chief constable in WYP. As a superintendent in PSD she was the first officer to make adverse decisions concerning the Major family’s complaints.

John Robins, the present WYP chief constable has twice held the command team portfolio for Standards (District) or Professional Standards (HQ) since July 2012 when he was promoted from chief superintendent.

Five heads of WYP’s Professional Standards Department all participated, to some degree at least, in the ‘cover-up’ of the Danny Major scandal and the persistent offending of Kevin Liston: They are Mark Bradley, Ian Kennedy, Sarah Brown, Andy Battle, Marc Callaghan. Kennedy labelled me “a crackpot” and Battle told me to my face, at police HQ, I was “a security risk”. Bradley I had nothing to do with. Brown I found lacking in integrity; ineffective and inefficient, Callaghan styled himself “Big Boss Hogg” on social media and the Dukes of Hazzard TV characterisation of “ineffectual, amusing bad guy”  did seem to fit in with my own dealings with him.

The IPCC casework manager who rejected the appeal against Williams’ decision is now a senior figure within the disgraced police watchdog which was forced to change its name in 2018 to the IOPC.

The pivotal roles of Fraser Sampson and Mark Burns-Williamson in the Major ‘cover-up’ will also be a political factor in what is an election year for police and crime commisssioners.

Finally, would it have made any difference if the Major family had continued to have me at their side, rather than trading me out in exchange for Ian Hanson and what appears to be a bag full of empty promises?

Personally, I think it would:

  • More searching questions would have been asked over Operation Lamp than appeared to be the case at the time, notably the ‘where the evidence takes you’ issue and why GMP had ducked out of it.
  • The Major case would have been a platform – and pinch point – from which to help expose other serious corruption matters within West Yorkshire Police and visibly assist others in bitter struggles for justice.
  • The terms of reference and timescale for Operation Redhill would have been fought over tooth and nail – and both GMP and WYP left in no doubt that private prosecutions would be laid against Kevin Liston and Michael Green if the police were not prepared to see the job through inside twelve months. 
  • The Redhill investigation would not have taken almost four years, either, because , after one year, there would have been a group of us camping outside GMP HQ in North Manchester, accompanied by video cameras broadcasting daily on social media.
  • Pressure would have been brought to bear in Parliament. Most notably with an evidence session at the Home Affairs Select Committee.

But, regrettably, we are where we are, and the last words, of course, must go to Danny Major himself:

“This case has been all-consuming. I still wake up in the night thinking about it,’

“But I am very determined to clear my name. I will never stop. In fact, everything that I worked so hard for is based upon me clearing my name.”

 

Page last updated at 1445hrs on Sunday 26th January, 2020.

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