Second investigation into ‘lying’ chief constable flounders

Retired murder detective, Peter Jackson, the country’s best known police whistle blower, has written to the Mayor of Greater Manchester’s office to point out that his complaints against the region’s chief constable, Ian Hopkins, are, once again, not being investigated properly.

Under the applicable statutory framework, the Mayor is, ultimately, the Appropriate Authority who deals with such complaints. After a calamitous first investigation, in which his Deputy, ‘Bev’ Hughes attempted to dispose of the complaints by a hopelessly misconceived local resolution process, and misled the complainant by claiming she was conducting an ‘investigation’, Durham Constabulary was asked to assess and manage the probe into the misconduct allegations (read more here).

The ‘investigation’ by Mrs Hughes subsequently turned out to be no more than a phone call to Mr Hopkins. Not one scrap of paper was produced by her after the Independent Office for Police Conduct (more widely recognised under its previous guise of the IPCC) directed the hapless Deputy Mayor to disclose all documents relating to the process. Mr Jackson’s complaint against her ‘local resolution’ findings was, unsurprsingly, upheld by the police ‘watchdog’.

Bev Hughes had falsely claimed that she had conducted a three month investigation and Peter Jackson was, understandably, disconcerted when the truth emerged. She has faced no disciplinary process or sanction, arising from that disgraceful farrago.

Greater Manchester Combined Authority, which hosts the Mayor’s administrative functions first contacted Durham on 5th December, 2018. Three weeks later, after a flurry of communication between GMCA’s Deputy Director of Policing, Clare Monaghan, and a Durham civilian investigator, Darren Ellis, the small county police force took on the job of tackling serious misconduct allegations against the chief constable of the country’s fourth largest metropolitan force.

It looked a mis-match from the outset, and so it has proved. Not helped, it seems, by the unexpected announcement of the retirement of the Durham chief constable, Michael Barton. He is the Gold Commander of the Hopkins investigation, even though he appears to spend an extraordinary amount of his time ‘out of force’.

There are serious and well-grounded questions presently being asked surrounding the reasons given for that retirement, and its proximity to accepting the investigation into Chief Constable Hopkins. Mr Barton was less than half way through a contact extension agreed in 2016, which would keep him at the Durham helm until February 2021 (read more here).

Mr Jackson says he has lost confidence, both in Mr Ellis and the Durham investigation. He cites the following principal reasons:

– Witnesses that were identified in his evidential statements have contacted him to complain about the conduct of Ellis towards them.

– Those witnesses, a serving and a retired police officer, Paul Bailey and Scott Winters respectively, plus journalist Neil Wilby, have no confidence in Mr Ellis and, particulary, his ability to conduct a correctly framed, robust, proportionate investigation.

 – He is not reassured that Mr Ellis is adopting an appropriately thorough and independent investigation of his complaint. He fears another ‘whitewash’, along the lines of the previous feeble attempt to dispose of the complaints by the Deputy Mayor.

 – Ellis has been accused variously, of being sarcastic, patronising, confrontational, aggressive, insulting, deceitful, evasive, inept, unethical and unprofessional. Seeking, from the outset it seems, to break off contact with all parties on the complainant’s side.

 – Providing a straight answer to a straight question also appears to be beyond Durham’s finest.

Mrs Monaghan was provided with relevant e-mail correspondence to evidence this serious and quite astonishing catalogue of allegations. She has acknowledged the communication from Mr Jackson and is set to discuss the matter with the Mayor, Andy Burnham in the near future.

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Gretaer Manchester’s Deputy Director for Policing, Clare Monaghan.

Those Ellis emails, highlighted by Peter Jackson, include one to Neil Wilby, where, amongst other smearing, misdirected remarks, he references visiting the toilets at a friend’s house. Mr Ellis cites quotations he read on the walls of both the upstairs and downstairs facilities, referring to him as a fool. Ellis might well be correct in his assertion, but to use a police email address and IT systems, is unethical and unprofessional, at best. Not least, as the journalist is a deponent in the investigation of which the Durham detective is seized, at the behest of the complainant, and has extensive and detailed witness evidence relevant to what is asserted by Peter Jackson.

At the initial meeting between investigator and complainant, Mr Ellis gave the impression that he understood the seriousness of the matters in issue, and would conduct a thorough investigation. More crucially, he agreed to ‘go where the evidence takes him’, adding it into Mr Jackson’s first witness statement and asserting that such a crucial caveat would form part of the investigation’s Terms of Reference, agreed with GMCA.

As a former head of GMP’s elite Murder Investigation Team (MIT), Mr Jackson is much more aware than most, including Mr Ellis, that it is a well recognised, and sound, approach to examine evidence arising out of similar conduct in other incidents when conducting any investigation.

To Mr Jackson’s obvious dismay, Mr Ellis is said to be conducting the investigation ‘with his fingers in his ears’ whilst acting in an antagonistic manner towards highly informed and experienced witnesses. Conversely, and perversely, there appears to be excessive contact between Ellis and Mrs Monaghan. More alarmingly, Durham Constabulary appear to be willing to break the law to conceal the extent of it (read more here). 

Mr Jackson was recently contacted by a well informed local journalist, based in Manchester, who has reinforced the complainant’s view that the outcome of the present investigation is going to be another ‘whitewash’. Firmly held views, emanating from highly placed sources within both GMP and GMCA, are that the complaint is ‘trivial’ and ‘the investigation is going nowhere’. 

In an article, published on Wednesday 3rd April, 2019 in the Manchester Evening News, that has the look and feel of the under-fire Mr Hopkins calling in a favour from his friends at the local newspaper, the prospect of a ‘whitewash’ increases.  ‘Chief constable vows to clear his name’ screams the headline. The oxymoron, ‘I did not deliberately lie‘ is the theme of an article almost entirely absent of journalistic rigour. 

Mr Jackson has made it clear, in his evidence to both the Durham team and Mrs Monaghan, that the conduct of the chief constable in response to The Times article at the heart of the present complaints, was not a ‘one off’. It forms part of a much wider pattern of alleged behaviour that includes deceit, lies, ‘cover up’ and misleading of the public. 

For his part, Mr Ellis has repeatedly refused to inform the complainant of the outcome of his severity assessment. Although Ellis asserts that a Regulation 15 notice has been served on Ian Hopkins, he refuses to say whether the allegations amount to misconduct, or gross misconduct. Adding to the opaqueness, GMCA have refused requests by the BBC to confirm whether the regulation notice has been issued. GMP referred such enquiries to GMCA. The latter has been approached by Neil Wilby, via a freedom of information request, for a copy of the notice.

The terms of reference have been disclosed publicly and they appear to be a diluted version of what Mr Jackson was told to expect. There is no mention of the recording of the disreputable conduct that is alleged by Jackson, and the ‘go where the evidence takes us’ is missing. Mr Ellis has refused to explain these disparities and has cut off contact with the complainant, accusing him of leaking information to journalists.

In the light of the alleged misconduct of Darren Ellis, together with the highly conflicted position of the Deputy Mayor and GMCA, flowing from the disgraceful first attempt at the investigation of the Jackson complaints, a firm request has been made for a referral of these matters to the IPCC (now IOPC) for an independent investigation, by them, as a matter of urgency.

Page last updated on Monday 8th April. 2019 at 1725hrs

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.

Picture credit:  Manchester Evening News

© Neil Wilby 2015-2019. 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.

Barton beats an unexpected retreat

Earlier this week Durham Constabulary announced the retirement of its chief constable, Mike Barton, both on social media and via a press release issued to local, regional and national media. The story attracted little attention, given the controversial figure he has frequently cut.

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But this announcement took many people by surprise, not least policing colleagues whom he had told that he wanted to complete 40 years police service before contemplating retirement. That would have taken him through to at least 2020, having joined Lancashire Police in 1980. 

In a typically robust Sunday Mirror article (read here), published hours before the retirement announcement, there was absolutely no inkling that the Durham chief was about to abandon his post and the high profile, and hugely important, war on knife crime.

Born into a farming family, Mike Barton became a constable with his local force in Blackpool, where his beat included the resort’s famous Golden Mile. He was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal in 2014.

Now aged 62, and a self-proclaimed ‘maverick’, Mr Barton agreed a five-year contract extension in November 2016 (read more here). That arrangement was intended to take him to the end of the current Police and Crime Plan agreed with his employer, the Durham Police Crime and Victims Commissioner, Ron Hogg,

For reasons that are unclear, for the present at least, the Sunderland Echo reported that Barton’s contract extension was only three years, and that ‘he had worked beyond his intended retirement date’.

News of chief Barton’s departure also came as a shock to those closely involved with Operation Lackan, a misconduct investigation into alleged dishonesty and disreputable conduct of Ian Hopkins, chief constable of under-siege Greater Manchester Police. The complainant is retired GMP superintendent, Peter Jackson. Currently, the country’s best known, and most widely reported, police whistleblower. The author of this article is, also, a deponent in those proceedings.

Mr Barton is Gold Commander of that highly vexed probe. A role he accepted at the very end of last year from Greater Manchester Combined Authority, the appointed body to deal with complaints against the region’s chief officer. At the present rate of progress, with terms of reference taking, it seeems, twelve weeks to agree, it is difficult to see Barton signing off the investigation outcome before he retires.

The question also hangs in the air as to why he took on the highly significant Manchester investigation if retirement was front of mind. His temporary replacement as chief will be present Deputy Chief Constable, Jo Farrell. Nothing in her police record, or via other open source material, suggests that she has experience of heading up such a controversial gross misconduct investigation. The major significance of that apparent deficiency unfolds as the sudden, and unexplained, departure of another chief constable is analysed later in this piece.

In these circumstances, the statement issued by his police force press office is worthy of further scrutiny: It begins by saying that the chief constable confirmed his retirement, in writing, that morning (11th March). Suggesting that he had already told his employer, verbally, that he was leaving the force. A leaving date of 7th June might imply that such a conversation took place during the previous week, on 7th March.

The usual valedictory prose pads out a substantial portion of the rest of the statement – and it is much nearer the beginning than the end where the reason for the sudden exit is given: Mr Barton wants to ‘spend more time in his greenhouse and with his grandchildren‘.

Earlier in the statement he is quoted thus: ‘There remain many challenges in policing that I would have relished tackling, but there comes a time when one should hand the baton to the next generation of talented and committed people who will bring their own style, thinking and approach’. Which is an oddity, of itself, as the National Police Chiefs Council, of which Mike Barton is a very prominent, outspoken member, openly admit there is a troubling, and worsening, dearth of senior officer talent in this country.

But above all, he said, the role as Durham’s chief constable had been ‘exciting’ and ‘enormous fun‘. His police colleagues in Durham, and possibly elsewhere, refer to him as a ‘nutter’. In the comedic sense, one assumes?

The statement concludes by saying that details of the procedure to recruit the next chief constable will be announced by the PCC’s office over the coming months. Which precludes any handover, by Barton, to his successor in the top job. The role currently attracts a remuneration of £134,400 per annum, plus the use of a pool car for private use and generous pension benefits.

This unexpected, and largely unexplained, departure is in a similar mode to that of a another experienced, long-serving, recently retired chief, the enigmatic Dave Jones, who ended his service at neighbouring North Yorkshire Police. Except that Jones did what was, effectively, a ‘moonlight flit‘. On the day his departure was announced, 9th April, 2018, after a period of annual leave over the Easter period, he put in a three month sick note and never appeared at force HQ again. NYP were then forced to seek a successor in his absence, with no smooth transition period, and the consequent cost and operational penalties.

Pertinent public interest questions put to the disgraced North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Julia Mulligan, concerning proposed action over a possible contract breach, drew the usual blank. Jones’ had willingly committed to remain at NYP until May, 2020. Turning his back on around £350,000 in salary and benefits to ‘spend more time with his family‘. His three months of sick leave was worth over £40,000 in pay and benefits.

It is worth noting, in a wider context, that Dave Jones spent the first 21 years as a Greater Manchester Police officer and was, at one stage, a CID colleague of Peter Jackson.

Mike Barton has walked away from a similarly large sum, and given much the same reason for doing so. Which, in both cases and taken at their face, appears scarcely credible.

Jones was facing a mounting series of operational problems, adverse inspection reports, quite astonishing criticism from an appeal court judge, and other serious questions about his competence and integrity posed in the media. Other possible reasons for his departure are explored in another article on this website (read here).

But Barton has, previously, faced none of the sort of relentless journalistic scrutiny which came the way of North Yorkshire Police before, and during, the Dave Jones era, and he appears to have an excellent relationship with local and national media. Basking in the glory of being rated as the country’s best police force, according to Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, and being a ‘colourful character’ to boot. Relations between chief constable and police commissioner also appear to be always positive. A situation that could not be said of Jones and his own controversial, and soon to depart, PCC.

But taking on the Hopkins investigation has brought about a different type of scrutiny, not least from this quarter, from whence, and with ample justification, Durham Constabularly is frequently referred to as “a grubby little police force” – and it is already very clear that Durham are not enjoying the oversight. Blocking posts on social media would be a particularly peurile, and futile, example. If a detective chief inspector, and a senior professional standards officer to boot, doesn’t want to hear the truth about the failings of her police force, then Victoria Martin might reflect on her Oath of Constable and whether she is, in fact, deployed in the right vocation. 

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Operation Lackan is very likely to turn out to be highly toxic and Mike Barton has appointed as his Silver Command an officer who appears, on all the evidence seen so far, to neither have the requisite competencies, judgement, resilience or the temperament, to cope with what faces him across the Pennines: Investigating the chief officer of a police force beset with very serious organisational and leadership issues, at least six times the size of his own. A journey so arduous he has, on at least one occasion, required the services of both a detective sergeant AND a driver.

Darren Ellis, a civilian investigator who appears to be Barton’s favoured bag-carrier, has already been placed on written notice concerning some of the professional failings identified, so far, and reacted to reasoned, and well evidenced, criticisms with a grotesquely unprofessional, spiteful, childish response. Ellis also appears to be highly sensitive to fair, and plainly expressed, comment on social media. Even though, surprisingly, and for one who has such an extraordinarily high opinion of himself, he appears to have no presence on Twitter. He was, also, previously a close working colleague of DCI Martin (and may well still be a subordinate in her department). Which may well imply a cultural, or organisational, issue within Durham Constabularly in dealing with hard truths. 

The obsession, stoutly maintained by Ellis, of the existence of a partnership, or other influential or advisory arrangement, between Peter Jackson and Neil Wilby does him no credit. He has been told, repeatedly, by both, it simply does not exist. There is simply no evidence to support his near-frenzied repetition. 

Neither does his bizarre authorisation of the release of lengthy, and unredacted, email correspondence between complainant and police investigator, to an investigative journalist, and all the consequent breaches of the Data Protection Act.

In a previous investigation in which Darren Ellis was closely involved, as lead investigator, Durham Constabularly were criticised, for apparent lack of understanding of data legislation, by Police Scotland’s Deputy Chief Constable, Rose Fitzpatrick. In the same letter, which can be read in full here, she also noted that Durham had stepped outside of the agreed terms of reference.

The Lackan investigation, conducted with appropriate rigour, and following the evidence, will see the end of the career of Hopkins, if he hasn’t already joined the ranks of disgraced senior officers from the Manchester force who have either resigned, or retired over the past few years. These include ACC Rebekah Sutcliffe (Titgate), ACC Steve Heywood (lied to Grainger Inquiry; forged policy log entries), ACC Terry Sweeney (Operations Poppy 1, 2 and 3), ACC Garry Shewan (Operation Redbone; Operations Lamp/Redhill; £70million iOPS failure).

Sweeney’s departure, whilst facing gross misconduct investigations, including the Shipman body parts scandal, infuriated many policing commentators and, actually, led to a change in the law. The other three departed on Hopkins’ watch as chief constable. He was deputy chief when Sweeney slid out the back door of GMP HQ.

Two of their replacements are already mired in controversy, ACC Mabs Hussain (read more here) and T/ACC Annette Anderson, who is currently on a three month absence from the force, whilst attending a senior leaders’ course at the College of Policing. Hopkins is directly involved in the former and, indeed, created it. His deputy, DCC Ian Pilling is closely involved with the Anderson scandal and is also the subject of robust, well-evidenced, criticism over a series of alleged ‘cover-ups’ that have already featured, regularly, elsewhere on this website. He presently faces no misconduct proceedings, but will definitely be cited in evidence supporting the section of the Jackson complaint that deals with institutionalised deceit.

Ex-ACC Dawn Copley could also, feasibly, be added to the list of controversial ex-Manchester retirees. She became the shortest ever serving chief constable in police service history when her tenure lasted just 24 hours at South Yorkshire Police. It has been well reported that ‘Big Dawn’, as she is commonly known, and Peter Jackson, clashed a number of times, as he repeatedly insisted that an investigation should be launched by another police force concerning the ill-starred Operation Nixon (read more here).

Both Copley and Pilling are former Lancashire Police colleagues of Mike Barton, and therein at least part of the answer to the latter’s sudden departure may lie. If, as might be expected, the dishonesty complaint against his chief constable colleague, Ian Hopkins, widens to examine an institutionalised culture of deceit and ‘cover-up’ that cascades down from the top of the Manchester force. A point presciently made in one of a series of articles by The Times journalist, Fiona Hamilton, who is also likely to give witness evidence in the Lackan investigation.

On any independent view, Greater Manchester Police, absent of any meaningful oversight from those public bodies responsible, principally the Deputy Mayor and the perenially hopeless Independent Office for Police Conduct, is a ‘bandit’ police force that, to maintain public confidence, requires urgent intervention from the Home Office. Reminiscent of the dark days of the infamous Leeds City Police in the late 1960’s and eary 1970’s. In slightly different terms, The Times newspaper has twice called for a public inquiry, via its hugely influential leader column. Read by every Prime Minister since 1788.

Which poses a second question concerning Mike Barton: In the twilight of what is reported to be a long, illustrious, and decorated, police career would the Durham chief want to risk being dragged, wittingly or unwittingly. into a situation that has already stained the careers of so many other senior police officers – and likely to end several more? 

Comment about any investigation would normally, and quite properly, be reserved until its outcome is published, so as not to engage prejudice. But this particular matter is wholly exceptional, as it has almost entirely been played out in the public domain. The complainant is a very high profile police whistleblower and the misconduct complained of concerns the chief constable of the UK’s fourth largest police force. Two of the witnesses are journalists. Another one is a retired police officer, a fourth is a serving police officer. There are a large number of national newspaper articles, and publicly accessible investigation reports, concerning the Jackson disclosures, which date back to 2014. Indeed, Operation Lackan centres around one of those articles, published by The Times in June, 2018; the Hopkins response; and two follow-ups in The Times that destroyed both the police statement and one made in support of it by the Deputy Mayor of Manchester, Beverley Hughes

In my own extensive and informed knowledge, there can only be one conclusion: Hopkins has, on any view of the facts, misconducted himself and, with it, brought disrepute to the door of his force. The only matter to be determined is one of degree. Which may be the third reason why Mike Barton has decided to go.

Fourthly, Operation Lackan promises to be neither ‘exciting’ nor the ‘great fun’ that the Durham chief says is his more familiar experience in police HQ at Aykley Heads. Far, far from it. There is likely to be a some banging of heads against brick walls dealing with the Manchester Mayor’s office and Barton may have decided, after his experience of the Police Scotland investigation, that enough is enough (read more here).

By way of another curious coincidence, a gross misconduct investigation, carried out on behalf the the Cheshire police commissioner, into another chief constable, Simon Byrne, was one of the reasons mooted for the abrupt departure of Dave Jones. Described by John Beggs QC as ‘sub-optimal’, at the subsequent disciplinary hearing, the much-feared barrister was being uncharacteristicly over-generous. As the public hearing unfolded in Warrington Town Hall, it became clear that Jones had been out of his depth: The investigation was a shambles, almost from start to finish. He had previously told the commissioner, David Keane, that he was experienced in such matters. It appears as though he was not. What was not disclosed to Mr Keane was that Jones and Byrne had a professional association, via the Scrutiny Board of the National Police Air Service. A member of that same body, at the material time, will say that the two ex-chiefs were friends. Both Byrne and Jones were also senior ex-Greater Manchester Police officers.

By contrast, there is no doubt at all that, given a free hand, Mike Barton could, and very probably would, investigate the Hopkins allegations effectively, and report back efficiently, with appropriate findings. But the big issue is, whether his terms of reference from the Manchester Mayor’s office, where knowledge of the applicable statutory framework appears seriously limited, would have allowed him such liberty. That could be advanced as the fifth and most crucial reason. Who wants to conduct an investigation with their hands tied behind their back? But now, with Barton’s impending retirement, we will never know.

Greater Manchester Combined Authority, on behalf of the Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, confirmed, in a press statement dated 15th March, 2019, that Chief Constable Hopkins would not be either suspended, or placed on gardening leave, whilst the misconduct investigation is in progress. That strongly implies that Mayor Burnham has not passed the matter over to Durham Constabulary as a ‘gross misconduct’ investigation, but a much lesser one of ‘misconduct’. GMCA has not confirmed, as yet, whether a Regulation 15 notice has been served on the chief constable. Enquiries to Greater Manchester Police press office on this subject were referred to the Mayor’s office.

Terms of reference for the investigation have now been disclosed by Durham (read here), after unnecessary delay, apparently as a result of invervention by Darren Ellis, and, put shortly, fall well short of what Ellis promised the complainant in correspondence with him and, it appears from that email chain, assurances given in the face-to-face meeting they had. Peter Jackson has emphasised two key points throughout his contact with Ellis:

– Firstly, that a term of reference be included to the effect that the investigation will ‘go where the evidence takes it’. In layman’s terms, that means if other offences, either misconduct or criminal, are uncovered during the taking and examining of the evidence, then the investigating officers would pursue those appropriately.

– Secondly, Jackson has maintained that the very public and deliberate smearing of himself, Fiona Hamilton and her newspaper by Chief Constable Hopkins cannot amount to anything other than an abuse of his position, and conduct that brings disrepute to both his own force and the wider police service. Hopkins has made no attempt to put the record straight with a correction statement and that fact simply adds an aggravating feature to the offences.

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Allowing the scope to be limited in this way, after a delay of what appears to be almost three months, does not bode well for the efficacy of the Mike Barton investigation. Neither does the secrecy surrounding his sharp exit from it.

The acquisition of further knowledge behind the Durham chief’s retirement decision, and the PCC’s enthusiastic endorsement of it, are now the subject of two searching freedom of information requests (read here and here). 

Page last updated on Sunday 24th March, 2019 at 1335hrs

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.

Picture credit:  Durham Constabulary

© Neil Wilby 2015-2019. 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.

 

 

Chief constable faces investigation over ‘false’ statement

Greater Manchester Police is the fourth largest force in the country. It has been the subject of a barrage of well aimed press criticism over the past year or so. Almost all of it by the leading ‘serious’ newspaper in the United Kingdom, The Times.

The ‘newspaper of record’ has also taken the unusual step of calling for a public inquiry into police corruption in Greater Manchester, by way of its hugely influential leader column. Read by every Prime Minister since William Pitt the Younger.

The source of most of the articles has been disclosures made by a retired Manchester detective, Peter Jackson. At the time of his retirement, he was a superintendent heading up GMP’s murder investigation team. Popular with both his peers and subordinates, he served the public in his home city with dedication, and distinction, for 31 years.

One of these articles made the front page of The Times on Saturday 23rd June, 2018 (read here). It exposed serious failings by senior officers who watched a thirteen year old boy enter the home of a suspected paedophile, and notorious career criminal, Dominic Noonan, and allowed the child to remain in the property with the villain, and an accomplice, for two hours. The covert surveillance was part of a wider investigation into Noonan (now known by the name of Domenyk Lattlay-Fottfoy) codenamed Operation Nixon. GMP has a long history of being given the runaround by Noonan and tried unsuccessfully, in 2006, to block the airing of a TV documentary featuring his gangster family (view here).

The officer in charge of the Noonan covert police operation, Dominic Scally, was promoted afterwards and now heads up the North West Counter Terrorism Unit. A role to which a significant number of serving, retired and ex-GMP officers, with hundreds of years service between them, feel he is entirely unsuited.

Following the article, and acting with unusual alacrity, GMP chief constable, Ian Hopkins, issued a controversial press statement on the very same day (read here). The central theme was that The Times splash, background spread and leader were “wholly misleading and unfair”. It was an unvarnished, and unattractive, attack on the widely respected journalist, Fiona Hamilton, her venerable newspaper, and Pete Jackson. It went far beyond the acceptable, and was, on any independent view, a clear abuse of his authority as a senior police officer. To the extent that it may amount to disreputable conduct, as referenced in Police Regulations. Equally crucially, there was no rebuttal of the core allegations of serious police force failings, highlighted by Miss Hamilton.

Central to the defence of his officers, and their actions, was the claim by Hopkins that the force had referred itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (now rebadged as Independent Office for Police Conduct) over the alleged Op Nixon failings and his confidence in the ‘completely independent’ police watchdog to provide effective oversight. In this particular case, the misconduct probes were codenamed Operation Poppy 1 and 2. (Read IPCC outcome reports here). As with so many IPCC investigations, indeed almost all that could be classified as high profile, Poppy took so long it went to seed and was condemned as a ‘whitewash’ by many of those close enough to the seat of the action.

Unfortunately for Hopkins, a whistleblower came forward with a tape recording of a meeting in police HQ, at which the chief was plainly heard to say that the IPCC were “abysmal” and incapable of carrying out “thorough investigations“. The timing was important as the chief constable’s comments were made the year before the first Poppy investigation was launched. These revelations, unsurprisingly, led to a follow-up article in The Times, three days later, in which the damning audio was embedded (read and listen here). Hopkins was, quite rightly, put to the sword by the tenacious crime and security editor, Fiona Hamilton.

The chief constable refused to provide a statement explaining his disparaging comments, but was reported at the time, by police insiders, to be in a rage over the article – and obsessed with hunting down the source of the leak to the newspaper.

In October, 2018 a third, and even more devastating, article on this same topic was published by The Times. Evidence showed that Hopkins’ central claim in his June 23rd statement was false. The force did NOT refer the investigation to the IPCC. They had, in fact, spent eighteen months doing everything they could to avoid any scrutiny of the Noonan failings. The fact is, Operation Poppy was brought about following disclosures made to the police watchdog by Peter Jackson. The defensiveness of the force, and its senior officers, together with the propensity to bury wrongdoing was exactly as Miss Hamilton had foretold in her preceding articles.

There has been no public response by Hopkins, or the GMP press office, to these latest revelations.

Unsurprisingly, and following the third newspaper article, Peter Jackson filed a formal misconduct complaint against his former colleague, Ian Hopkins. The core matter in issue is straightforward: The chief constable was not truthful in his 23rd June, 2018 press statement over the IPCC referral. He claims it was not deliberate, but, it must be noted, he took almost six months to come up with his defence. There is no mention of, or apology for, the highly damaging abuse meted out to whistleblower and reporter.

The policing body that has oversight responsibility for chief constables is the police and crime commissioner (PCC) for the area, or region. It is, in almost every case, a post elected by the public at the ballot box. Greater Manchester is one of the exceptions: It has an elected Mayor, Andy Burnham, whom, in turn, and in theory, selects a suitably experienced and capable official to the role of Deputy Mayor for Policing.

Unfortunately, in this particular case, the Mayor’s pick could scarcely have been worse. A 68 year old ex-MP crony, Dame Beverley Hughes, whose Parliamentary career was dogged by controversy. Including misleading the House in 2004, claiming she hadn’t seen a report when it was later proved that she had. An incident that has now come back to haunt her, in a number of ways.  Burnham and his Deputy worked together in the Home Office in the early 2,000’s and were both protégés of the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett.

The only career experience of Beverley Hughes, remotely connected to policing, was spending six years as a Merseyside probation officer, over forty years ago, whilst she continued her university studies in tandem.

Remarkably, this particular police commissioner, elected or otherwise, is what is known within the relevant statutory framework as the ‘Appropriate Authority’ for the disposal of complaints against a chief constable. The presumption is that she would know the applicable laws and regulations, maintain the necessary impartiality and have unimpeachable personal and professional integrity. Regrettably, Beverley Hughes, on all the evidence I have seen, does not tick any of those boxes.

It is uncontroversial to say that the Jackson complaint was dealt with entirely inappropriately by ‘Bev’, as she likes to be known, and, as is often the case with PCC’s, the ‘cover-up’ of alleged misconduct by chief constables becomes the story. Essentially, a phone call between Ian Hopkins, and the Deputy Mayor, was the entirety of what she claims was an ‘investigation’ that led to a ‘local resolution’ of the complaint. In which Hopkins was found, by Bev, to have done nothing wrong: In the unseemly rush to get the press statement out, he claims an inadvertent error was made over who made the IPCC referral.

Those familiar with the chief constable’s micro-management style, particularly in relation to the force’s PR output, will argue strongly against the likelihood of a genuine mistake. As will those with close knowledge of the acrimony, and controversy, amongst the key players in the lead up to the Op Poppy investigations. Hopkins as deputy chief constable at the material time was central in that drama.

Bev Hughes’ actions or, more accurately, inactions, drove a coach and horses through the relevant statutory framework and not one single legal, or ethical, requirement was followed throughout the process. Overlaid by misleading the complainant from start to finish over how the matter was being progressed.

Those shocking procedural failures could well have been connected to either Bev’s overly-cosy relationship with a chief constable, over whom she has a statutory duty to provide oversight, or the fact that she also issued a troubling, and plainly co-ordinated, statement attacking the The Times article. She described it as “deplorable, totally unjustified and completely wrong”. No attempt to issue a correction can be traced.

‘Bev’ also had the temerity to reference the deaths of two young female police officers in an attempt to slur Peter Jackson, when the reality is that both may well still be alive if his own warnings to fellow senior officers, regarding the deranged killer, had been heeded at the time.

It is understood that a second Jackson complaint, this time against the Deputy Mayor, is due to be lodged with the Greater Manchester Police and Crime Panel (PCP) over her handling of the complaint against the chief constable. The complaint will allege misconduct in public office, a criminal offence that will require a mandatory referral to the police watchdog (the IOPC), by the PCP, for a decision as to if, or how, the complaint is to be investigated.  They are the appointed body – packed tight with even more of Andy Burnham’s Labour Party cronies – designated to deal with such issues.

The Mayor’s original stance was, incredibly, that his Deputy had acted “with complete integrity” over the Jackson complaint. It is not known if he intends to maintain that entirely erroneous position.

Following a robust response from Pete Jackson to the outcome of his complaint against Hopkins, and a merciless shaming of Burnham, Hughes and their Deputy Director for Policing, Clare Monaghan, on social media, Burnham finally intervened, in spite of his apparent confidence in the Hughes ‘investigation’, and referred the matter to the IOPC for a method of investigation decision. As a result, Durham Constabulary was contacted substantively by Mrs Monaghan on 24th December, 2018, with an invitation to investigate the Jackson complaint on behalf of the Greater Manchester Mayor. The latter having taken over conduct of the matter from his hapless Deputy.

In a police operation now codenamed Mackan, Durham chief constable, Mike Barton, will have overall responsibility, and sign off the investigation into Ian Hopkins, as Gold Commander. Silver Commander is Durham’s former head of professional standards, Darren Ellis, now employed by the force as a civilian investigator

A Durham Constabulary spokesman said: “Whilst some information has been received [from the Manchester Mayor’s office] there is a need for more to be forwarded at this stage.

“As the ‘instruction’ to engage with us is in the very early stages we are not in receipt of any preliminary assessments from GMP, nor any specific terms of reference.

“Until Durham Constabulary are fully ‘read in’ to matters and fully understand what is expected we will not move forward. To assist with this, we have arrangements in place to speak to an involved party in the near future.

“Until matters progress we are unable to estimate how long this piece of work will take.”

Which, de-coded, appears to say that Durham stand ready, but neither GMP, nor the Mayor’s office, despite the passage of five weeks, have given them the tools necessary to do the job. Given all that has gone before, that should surprise no-one. It is assumed that the ‘involved party’ is Peter Jackson, as his consent would be needed to allow Durham to proceed with evidence gathering.

Mike Barton, whom Durham colleagues variously describe as a “nutter” and a “maverick” (read more hereand here) also undertook the ‘outside force’ investigation, in 2016, into the gross misconduct allegations against GMP’s Assistant Chief Constable, Rebekah Sutcliffe, over the notorious ‘Titgate’ scandal. It is not known, at this stage, if Mr Ellis was involved. Ms Sutcliffe received a final written warning before a disciplinary hearing, chaired by Rachel Crasnow QC (who also chaired the recently concluded hearing into bullying allegations against ex-Cheshire chief constable, and former GMP deputy chief, Simon Byrne). The repentent Ms Sutcliffe made full and frank admissions from the outset, so that particular investigation was, on any view, rather less taxing than the present renewal (read more here). The curious might enquire why, with 42 other police forces to choose from, Durham’s turn has come around again so quickly*.

[UPDATE* A plausible answer may be that Greater Manchester’s portfolio holder for professional standards, Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling, and Barton were colleagues at Lancashire Constabulary. Both started their careers in that force, in 1980 and 1990 respectively. They would have been closely involved in the Sutcliffe investigation, as Pilling led the mob baying for her dismissal from the police service. Pilling’s predecessor as GMP PSB portfolio holder was also a former long-serving Lancashire officer, Dawn Copley. She joined in 1987 and left to join GMP as an assistant chief constable in 2010. She was never far from controversy, it is fair to say, and became the shortest ever serving chief constable in police service history after joining South Yorkshire Police. The intervention of two journalists, both of whom I know well, led to her removal after less than 24 hours.]

Nevertheless, given my own interaction with Durham Constabulary, there are serious and well-grounded concerns over their capability, or willingness, to carry out robust, thorough and impartial investigations on behalf of other police forces, or policing bodies. Indeed, my views are well rehearsed both on this website, the What Do They Know website, and on social media: “A grubby little police force that does favours for other police forces.” Durham is very well aware of that stance – and the well evidenced reasons upon which it is grounded. Much of which is set out in forensic detail here. Those robust allegations stand unchallenged by their controversy-courting chief constable whom, it must be said, is not usually backward in coming forward, as we say in Yorkshire.

Durham Constabulary also seriously, gratuitously and repeatedly, libelled me. Aided and abetted, incredibly, by the National Police Chiefs Council and, less surprisingly, North Yorkshire Police, over a freedom of information request that, ultimately, revealed a badly organised and shamelessly poor fraud investigation, carried out by Durham, on behalf of the latter, that is still, to this present day, the subject of a multi-agency ‘cover-up’.

Over £2,500 was spent in legal fees preparing a defamation claim against Mike Barton and Durham, but that was abandoned on counsel’s advice which was, essentially: ‘They have plainly libelled you, but will bleed you white on costs’.

A prescient remark, given what has transpired subsequently in other legal proceedings between us: Mr Barton and I will face one another in county court later this year. A claim under section 13(2) of the Data Protection Act, 1998 rests, presently, with Durham County Court (the third court to have dealt with the matter). He has, already, tried to circumvent the court’s mediation process on *three* separate occasions, and, instead, spent around £5,000 on legal fees, with a large Sheffield law firm and a London barrister, in a hopelessly misconceived defence of the claim. Which he would be perfectly entitled to do, of course, if it was his own money he was squandering. But it isn’t. It belongs to the hard-working precept payers of County Durham and Mr Barton should, in all truth, take better care of it.

[UPDATE ** Five days after this article was published I received an email from Small Claims Mediation Service (SCMS) to say the chief constable had, yet again, rejected mediation, in spite of a judge’s Direction to seek resolution by those means.]

The final cost, if the matter goes to trial, and Barton being cross-examined, by me, is something to be relished if it does, is likely to be well in excess of £10,000. To settle the claim would require a fraction of that cost, together with an admission of the breach, and an apology.

But there we are, that is how money-no-object, don’t-blame-me policing operates at the highest levels in this country. I see it every day with the three Yorkshire police forces with whom I’m closely involved.

For all these reasons, and the fact that I propose to provide a relevant, and collateral, witness statement to Durham, regarding well-evidenced integrity concerns around Ian Hopkins’ stewardship of GMP, in which I am both a significant stakeholder and a target for harassment by GMP senior managers, an even more keen eye than usual will be kept on the investigation into this complaint against the under-siege Greater Manchester chief constable. Made by, arguably, the country’s best known police whistleblower.

[***UPDATE. Information has been passed to me, by a bereaved complainant, of another sub-optimal Durham PSD investigation where dishonesty and/or deception may well be a factor. The evidence includes covert tape recordings of telephone conversations and meetings. Taken at their face they are concerning, to say the least.]

[****UPDATE. More information has come to light from another complainant who has very strong evidence of alleged, and potentially very serious, breaches of Standards of Professional Behaviour by Durham PSD. Darren Ellis is well aware of these as he, personally, refused to meet with the complainant. A sensible, measured, reasonable, but doggedly persistent, individual.]

[*****I wrote to Silver Command, civilian investigator Darren Ellis, on 20th February, 2019, to express concerns over both his own conduct and Durham’s suitability to carry out this investigation. His response was controversial to say the least (read more here)]

Greater Manchester Police and the Mayor’s office have been approached for comment. It will be something akin to turning wine into water if the latter even acknowledge the request.

Peter Jackson has declined to do so, in order to preserve the integrity of the Durham investigation.

Page last updated on Friday 22nd February, 2019 at 0020hrs

Picture credit: Scottish Parliament TV

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Staring into the abyss

As an eight year old lad, I was hit by a car whilst crossing the main road near the tied colliery cottage in Whitwood, Castleford that was my family home at that time (number fifteen, the house with the unkempt gable in the picture).

The injuries were not life threatening, but I was detained in hospital for five days. I retain little, or no, memory of what was, most fortunately, a glancing blow impact.

When consciousness returned the next day, a policeman from the now defunct West Riding Constabulary was soon at my bedside, along with my parents. They were, of course, anxious to hear an account of what had happened. I told them about my errand to the newsagents, almost opposite the landmark Rising Sun public house, coming out of the shop, looking both ways before attempting to cross, seeing a car coming from my left, nothing from my right. Judging that I could beat the car, as a notably fast runner, I sped across the road.

It wasn’t possible to say whether the car, later identified as a Wolseley sedan used in a post office robbery in neighbouring Normanton, had hit me with its offside or nearside wing. It, very obviously, hadn’t struck me head on. The driver may have stopped, briefly, to ascertain my condition, but he didn’t remain at the scene and was never caught.

All I could usefully report was that it appeared grey in colour with a large chrome radiator grille and bumpers. My elder, much loved, and now sorely missed, sister found me in the road, nearer the centre than the far kerb. It was Jacqueline that had despatched me to the shop with the usual inducement of a penny for sweets. By the time she was at the scene, other cars had stopped and an ambulance, called for from the nearby pub, was on its way.

After the police officer left, my father robustly challenged my account and suggested I had been reading the evening newspaper, the purpose of my errand, or had my nose in my bag of Sports Mixtures, and not looked before crossing the A655.

It was my fault – according to my father – and I’ve never forgotten the words he said, thereafter: “If you tell one lie, you will end up telling five or six more to cover up the first one”. They are quoted by me, often, to this day.

To a young lad lying in hospital, with broken bones and crushed pride, when, in reality, he should have been on a mortuary slab, the accusation was deeply wounding. The pain is still felt over 50 years later. More excruciating because there was no apology from my father when, a couple of weeks later, our local bobby told my parents about the escaping villains in a stolen vehicle. Which appeared to support my account, in part, at the very least.

I had told the truth, and had been caught out by the speed of the car, but that flawed, and summary, parental guilty verdict was etched in the front of my mind. As was the fact, that I learned over the years, my father very rarely explained or apologised for anything, up to the day he died in 2014. But, in that regard, he was no different to most other men hewn from coal mining stock in the many surrounding pit villages.

Latterly, I’ve been drawn into another ‘car-crash’ investigation, this time in North Manchester, the site of the region’s police headquarters, rather than a quiet West Riding backwater, just off the M62. There has also been a second incident in Central London, at New Scotland Yard, as the country’s largest police force has failed to apply the brakes and prevent a slow-motion collision with a pedestrian, plodding investigative journalist unnaturally driven to uncover the truth.

Again, allegations of lying, lack of explanation or apology are the central themes. Its aftermath has already spawned three articles on this website.

Mystery of the missing peer review

Your cheque is in the post

Peering into the gloom

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) is a force that has attracted a lot of adverse media attention over the past few years and, in particular, its seeming ability not to come clean about its shortcomings, explain them, learn lessons, apologise and move on. Instead, it has a senior leadership team that is perenially mired in deceit and ‘cover-up’.

The present chief constable, Ian Hopkins, having joined GMP in 2008 as one of Sir Peter Fahy’s assistant chiefs, promoted to deputy in 2011, then taking over the top job, unopposed, in 2015, has been at the scene of much of the controversy.

This latest, and still expanding, investigation into alleged GMP impropriety started with a notion that the force was, once again, hiding the truth over internal failures. But, taken at its face, appeared relatively innocuous at the outset, compared to those by other newspaper, radio and TV journalists covering, for example, death or industrial scale rape and trafficking of children.

On any view, it is a quite extraordinary tale and GMP has now dragged the Metropolitan Police Service under the bus with them. It began, in November, 2015, with an entire front page of a newspaper taken up with a photograph of a newly invested chief constable, accompanying a hard-hitting story of a repeatedly called for, long-overdue corruption inquiry.

The once-mighty Met was, it was said, to spend six weeks in Manchester investigating GMP’s much-criticised internal affairs department, otherwise known as the Counter Corruption Unit (CCU). A root and branch process that would settle the ‘corruption’ argument one way or the other. Hopkins vigourously denies any wrongdoing of his police force and, by implication, himself.

Of some concern at the time, but not, apparently, to the newspaper’s reporter or editor, the Met invasion was designated to be a process known within policing as a ‘peer review’. A long way short of a misconduct or criminal investigation, by another police force, that many deemed essential.

The CCU, a secretive, undercover investigative unit, forms one limb of GMP’s Professional Standards Branch (PSB). Another is the PSBi, known as the Professional Standards Investigation Unit, which, ostensibly, deals with overt resolution of public complaints. A third is the Force Vetting Unit, and, lastly, Legal Services.

The role, and importance, of the latter is often misunderstood by the public, as the primary function of the PSBi is to prevent, at source, civil claims being successfully mounted by complainants. That applies to the professional standards departments of every police force in the country. If they came clean to the public, and properly explained the dynamics, it would save so much time and frustration to those wronged by the police.

An unseen, and too often unseemly, activity of the CCU is to target officers who become a problem to the reputation of the force by speaking out against wrongdoing by other officers. They are subject to intensive and, often, seriously intrusive scrutiny in order to discredit and ultimately drive them out of the police service.

Ex-Superintendent John Buttress is the highest profile example of this tactic as the CCU were, for example, permitted, without sanction, to seriously tamper with witness evidence and criminally hack the phone of his partner as part of a grotesque, highly-publicised witch-hunt. By contrast, Assistant Chief Constable Steve Heywood was allowed to retire after the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute him on the most compelling evidence. The working hypothesis is that the CCU attack dogs were not unleashed on Heywood to dig up other dirt, just in case the CPS ‘bottled it’ over his lying in oral evidence to a public inquiry, and forging a document disclosed to it.

The Met’s peer review team did not look at the Buttress file. Nor is their any suggestion in their final written report that any of the other controversial files were examined, either.

The three previous ‘peer review’ articles covered the genesis, execution and aftermath of the Met’s visit to Manchester, in forensic detail. A fifth article will follow this one, demonstrating that GMP’s professional standards function, post peer review, is as deplorable as ever.

The focus of this fourth article is the huge gap between expectation and delivery: What the local newspaper projected as a robust, thorough, warts and all investigation and the pale imitation, talking-shop that actually took place at Manchester police HQ.

After the third article, a highly critical take down of what can only be described as an inter-force ‘whitewash’, a statement from the GMP chief constable was sought, via his press office, in order to explain the difference. This is the lengthy response, attributed to a force spokesperson.

“In late 2015 a programme of work to transform Greater Manchester Police’s Professional Standards Branch was put in place. As part of this work a range of activities were undertaken including a full, in depth independent review, a peer review and oversight from an external group.

“The Peer Review by the Metropolitan Police originally planned for 6 weeks in late 2015 had been delayed due to operational matters. This was rescheduled to May 2016 by which time substantial work was already underway as part of the independent review. The peer review therefore was focused as an assessment of the progress that had been made and changes which were planned. This was reduced from the initial scope to two days as this was sufficient for its revised purpose – to support the independent review and transformational change programme which had started in Nov 2015. The Peer report was provided to GMP in December 2016.

“The external reference group was established in Feb 2016 with an independent chairperson. Representatives on the group included a wide range of individuals with expertise and views about the work around professional standards. They continued to provide support and advice until June 2017.

“The programme of work has led to changes being made to the way professional standards operates in GMP and we are continuing to review and develop this work. Since then there have been reviews by HMICFRS (Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Service) and the IOPC (Independent Office for Police Conduct) who have raised no issues of significant concern.”

There was no comment, as specifically requested, from the normally voluble chief constable.

A request for clarification of a press statement that, plainly and unexpectedly, introduced a tranche of what appears to be significant new information, regarding the alleged review of GMP’s PSB was, however, plainly necessary. There is no open source material available to support any of the assertions made by the press office about independent and external scrutiny, other than the Met’s peer review. A search of the two police watchdog websites was not immediately fruitful, either.

The second press request was thus formulated:

“There is no wish to be a burden to a busy press office but this is a matter directly affecting public confidence, not only in GMP, but in the wider police service.

Independent review: Who carried it out, when did it start and end, was there a closing report (the latter would be subject of an FOIA request, of course)?

External reference group: Please provide details of name of the group, and its constituent members, and, also, direct me to any publications made either by GMP, or the group, before, during or after the review. This is necessary to establish their credentials for carrying out the work. Only the Chair would be named in the article, unless the other Members raised no objection to being named, or their names are already in the public domain.

HMICFRS and IPCC (IOPC): Can you please direct me to the ‘watchdog’ reports referenced in your press statement?

“These require scrutiny, and further comment from them, as my own extensive experience of PSB (which is the subject of the next in the series of peer review articles) leaves me in no doubt, whatsoever, that the department is still quite shockingly run, with little or no discernible commitment to the requisite ethical or professional standards. A matter I have articulated, at some length, to DCC Pilling, over a lengthy period, including the email dated 24th March, 2018 which is attached as a pdf.”

 

The press office replied as follows:

“We have nothing further to add to the statement and report you have received on this. If you wish to seek further information then please put in an FOI request.

“With regards to where the reports are, you will need to speak to those respective organisations if you want to find/access their reports.”

This, from a police force that jumps on any ‘open and transparent’ bandwagon that rolls past. Even by press office standards, and GMP are one of the better ones it must be said, it is a woeful abdication of ethical and professional responsibilty.

Quite apart from which, it could safely be argued, the information sought, via the press office, should be part of a police force’s publication scheme on their own website, or that of the elected policing body that provides oversight. That is the effect of guidance given to public authorities by the Information Commissioner, a statutory regulator.

In any event, the questions, as framed, should have posed no difficulties at all if there is nothing to hide: Who undertook the reviews, when did they start and finish, where are the reports?

The irony is, also, completely lost on the press office that the peer review, and the transformational change programme within which it was embedded, was designed to improve the experience of those engaging directly with the force, and stakeholders who had lost confidence in GMP as a result of swathes of adverse publicity connected to corruption allegations.

A sub-optimal response, as this one can safely be characterised, is simply an open invitation to a journalist for the delivery of more stinging criticism. Kicking off with the wasting of substantial amounts of not only my time, but those dealing with freedom of information (FOI) requests within GMP, HMICFRS, IOPC, College of Policing, National Police Chiefs Council and the Greater Manchester Mayor’s office. All avoidable, with a minimal amount of effort from a GMP press officer and one GMP PSB administration assistant, or low ranking detective.

What follows, by way of further investigation, is a piece by piece dismantling of the GMP press office statement, with, almost inevitably, more deceit and double-speak exposed. It will be re-assembled after the disclosures from the various FOI requests are received, around the end of January, 2019. A delay which appears to be the only motivation for GMP providing a statement of such obviously poor quality.

The starting point has to be the introduction, by the press office, or the directing mind behind their statement, into the peer review ambit, of the “independent review” and the “external reference group”. In a five month, fairly intensive, journalistic investigation of the peer review, this is the first heard of this additional form of scrutiny.

I was alert to the possibility that they could be one and the same, but the press office would have made that clear, surely? So, this analysis proceeds taking the force spokesperson’s words at their ordinary meaning.

Returning to the genesis of this saga, there was no mention by Chief Constable Hopkins of anything other than a peer review on the now infamous Manchester Evening News front page. The Metropolitan Police were put up as the solution to the problem, and no-one else. It also begs the question that if GMP have the country’s largest, and much the most important, police force giving an organisational problem the ‘once over’ during a six-week review, why would anyone else be needed?

In an article published by the MEN in September, 2016, it was noted that the peer review by the Met had taken place, but attributes no source and, most certainly, does not mention either of the other two reviews. The working hypothesis being that the local newspaper was also blissfully unaware of their existence:

“The peer review by the Metropolitan Police was carried out at the request of Chief Constable Ian Hopkins, in a bid to draw a line under the [corruption] allegations which stretch back at least two years and which it vigorously denies.

“A separate investigation has been carried out by Kent Police into 17 allegations of corruption made by sacked former chief inspector John Buttress.”

The thrust of the MEN article was that a member of GMP’s counter-corruption team was under investigation for alleged fraud. The CCU officer, believed to be of managerial rank, is one of several being investigated after the force received information from a whistleblower concerning the alleged inappropriate disposal of £100,000 worth of vehicles.

* Since this article was first published on 18th December, 2018 information has come to light that the CCU officer, an inspector (whose name is known), was cleared of any wrongdoing. He was formerly a covert officer in GMP CID and the alleged fraud concerned members of his team selling vehicles previously used in undercover operations at below book value. *

The next stop in the search for the peer review truth was a trawl of the Manchester Mayor’s website. He, and his Deputy, are the de facto police commissioner for the region, with a statutory remit to appoint, dismiss and provide oversight of the chief constable. It did shed some light, but does not assist either Mr Hopkins, or his press office. Quite the opposite, in fact.

This is an extract from the Deputy Mayor’s Independent Ethics Committee meeting on 28th January, 2016 tucked away under Any Other Business:

“Ian Hopkins gave the Committee a brief update with regards to the general review of the Professional Standards Branch in GMP, and in relation to individual cases. Reports in relation to this are expected within the next few months.”

No questions relating to the ‘general review’ were raised by any Ethics Committee Member and, it appears, no advance notice of the Manchester Evening News article, loudly trumpeting the Metropolitan Police peer review, was given to the Committee by Mr Hopkins, at their previous meeting on 15th November, 2015. Even though it occupied the whole of the front page of that newspaper just four days later.

Neither the words ‘independent review’ or ‘external reference group’ were mentioned to the committee on either occasion. On that basis, the Ethics Committee, led by the Bishop of Manchester, Right Reverend David Walker is dismissed as having partaken in any meaningful ‘independent’, or ‘external’, review of GMP’s PSB or CCU. The Bishop has previously served as a human rights panel member at the College of Policing. Which would make for an interesting brainwashing competition.

The Ethics Committee was the brainchild of the previous Police and Crime Commissioner, Tony Lloyd, who instituted it in early 2015. In a letter to HMICFRS talking head, Zoe Billingham, Lloyd signalled that a process of reform in GMP was already under way, with particular focus on both PSB and CCU (read in full here). This, of course, differs from the press statement wherein it states the process began in November 2015.

In the months after the Met’s peer review was said to be delivered to GMP, there were two meetings of the Ethics Committee. Attended, respectively, by Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling and Ian Hopkins. The minutes of those meetings reveal that there is no mention of the peer review, or any other review of PSB.

After elimination of the Ethics Committee as a reviewing body for PSB transformation, the College of Policing and HMICFRC websites were the next locations searched for open source data connected to the various alleged reviews of GMP’s PSB and CCU. It was a short process. There is none. Freedom of information requests have, subsequently, been submitted to both.

Chief Superintendent Annette Anderson, who played a key liaison role with the Met, before and during the peer review, served for two years with HMIC, prior to its change of name, after they took over inspections of fire and rescue services. During her time with the inspectorate, a report was published that bears the title ‘Police Integrity and Corruption – Greater Manchester Police’ and is dated November 2014 (read here). It is a largely unimpressive piece of work, given the most serious of subject matter, that appears to be lacking in the necessary investigative rigour.

My own experience of dealing with HMIC, on disclosure and press issues, is memorable only for that organisation’s underwhelming mediocrity, led by a man with a chronic over-estimation of his own ability and judgement. Sir Thomas Winsor’s characterisation of the disgraced David Crompton, a former senior officer with GMP, and later chief constable of South Yorkshire Police (SYP), as ‘an exceptional police officer’, in civil proceedings fought out in the Royal Courts of Justice, defied comprehension. I sat in the press seats, a few feet away from both, quite simply agog.

HMICFRS has, also, fairly recently formed an External Reference Group to advise on policing protests (read here). Incredibly, its panel includes another disgraced ex-SYP chief, Meredydd Hughes, who gave, arguably, the worst evidence ever, to a Parliamentary Select Committee, when questioned over his knowledge of industrial scale rape and trafficking of children, over the entirety of his period in charge of that disgraced force (view video here). Hughes is also on the list of discredited ex-GMP senior officers, having served there as an assistant chief constable from 1999 until 2002.

The suspicion is now raised over the efficacy of such groups, if this is a sample of the selection of its constituents. It may well explain why the GMP press office were reluctant to reveal more details of their own?

A FOI request has also been submitted to the IOPC, seeking details of their alleged involvement in the subject reviews. Whilst not attributable to the IPCC (as they were then known) an undated, 22 page document did surface. It appears to have been produced internally by un-named officers in GMP’s professional standards team for the consumption of the police commissioner at the time, Tony Lloyd (read here). It is largely statistical, but in one interesting paragraph it reveals the appointment in 2014, by Lloyd, of a Greater Manchester Complaints Ombudsman, retired judge William Morris, to work alongside Lloyd’s deputy, Jim Battle, dip sampling PSB files. It appears that files were inspected, and reviewed, on this basis once, but there is no trace of further activity, records or minutes, via open source. Battle continued to sit on the Ethics Committee until recently.

Absent of substantive responses to the FOI requests, the preliminary view is that the ‘independendent review’ and ‘external oversight group’ activities, relied upon by the GMP press office, amount to much the same as the fabled Emperor’s New Clothes.

Attention is now turned to the other anomalies in the GMP statement:

Firstly, it is claimed that the peer review report was delivered by the Met to GMP on 22nd December, 2016. But the document is clearly dated on its front cover, 7th January, 2017.

Secondly, it is claimed that the peer review was delayed by ‘operational matters’. The reality is that, the terms of reference, a two page document, was not drafted by DCC Pilling until the end of March, 2016. The Met responded extraordinarily quickly after that. GMP had previously claimed, in writing, that the terms were drafted by the Met, not by Pilling. They have not responded to a request for an explanation of that anomaly.

Thirdly, the GMP claim that the work of the Met’s peer review team could be reduced from six weeks to two days, on the basis of the other claimed reviews, simply has no evidence base and appears fanciful, at best: The Met’s peer review report and appendices, within its 42 pages, make no mention at all of the work, or findings, of any other reviewer, or how their own task was related, or joined, to them.

Fourthly, as alluded to earlier in this piece, an informed insight into the inner workings of GMP’s PSB, post peer review, is that it is still in a desperate state. Not assisted in any way by its two principals, Anderson and Pilling, lacking the necessary grasp of the applicable statutory framework. Or, failing to adhere to it, if they do. Also, deploying a hopelessly incompetent Complaints Manager, Mike Thornton, whose very presence blights the whole department.

Thornton, unbelievably, is a delegate of the chief constable in a role known as Appropriate Authority. Which more than anything, informs on the importance, or lack of, that GMP attaches to ethics, professionalism and the effective, efficient resolution, or disposal, of public complaints.

Following the email sent to DCC Pilling in March, 2018 – a blistering, fully evidenced condemnation of the PSB under his leadership – and sent to the press office to assist their reply, I wrote again to Pilling, in early November, 2017, following the exposure of subsequent calamities. He was invited to reflect on the wisdom of having the key role of complaints manager filled by an officer plainly unsuited to the role. His reply, which, I believe, was drafted by Thornton, was both vacuous and peurile, and, as is usual in my dealings with him, fails to address the core issue.

Any implication of improvement in PSB following the various reviews, as alluded to in the press statement, is simply untrue. A matter put to them, with some force, in my follow up questions. To which, of course, they declined to answer, at all. On any independent view, a continuation of the organisational lack of truthfulness which has characterised this investigation from the very outset.

My father’s body was cremated in April, 2014 after a short, poignant, private service. When the coffin was touched in a last farewell, I wanted to believe he may have gone to a better place. The last few years of a life that lasted almost 86 years were blighted by the most terrible dementia, having previously survived bowel cancer, first diagnosed in 1980-81. At that time, he was given only 6 months to live, but he was a proud Yorkshireman, with the love of a wife, Vera, utterly devoted to him for all their adult lives, to cling to. He survived 33 more years, although his propensity for evidence-free, snap judgements did, thankfully, diminish over the years. It is also true to say that my own indulgence of them increased, correspondingly, with advancing maturity.

Alan Wilby may look down on his son, or up, who knows, and say to himself: ‘Might have been a bit hard on the lad, but he certainly learned the difference between right and wrong, truth and lies’.

My promise to the old man is that I will get to the bottom of this peer review farrago, and change for the better, for the taxpaying public in Manchester, will be brought about, one way or another.

As a footnote, my dear mother, who passed away in January, 2018, did not approve of anything that was critical of the police. Including my own investigative journalism. She had this unswerving, old-fashioned faith in their efficiency, effectiveness, fairness and honesty. As so many of her generation did. The liars and deceivers in the present day police service should deeply reflect upon where all that went wrong.

 

Page last updated on Sunday 23rd December, 2018 at 0720hrs

Picture credit: Roy Hampson and Shirley Schofield

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

Right of reply: If you are mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let me have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory it will be added to the article.

© Neil Wilby 2015-2018. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

Peering Into The Gloom

In an article published on this website on 11th November, 2018, ‘The mystery of the missing peer review’ (read in full here), the importance of freedom of information (FOI) requests as an aid to journalism was highlighted.

It investigated the background to an alleged ‘cover-up’ by the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police over well-publicised allegations of misconduct and criminality within his Counter Corruption Unit (CCU). The wider public might better recognise the CCU as the equivalent of the AC12 department in the hugely popular television drama, Line of Duty.

As that article explored, ‘The mystery’ centred on the silence that followed  a front page splash in the local newspaper trumpeting, what many believed, was to be a root and branch investigation that would settle, once and for all, whether his Professional Standards Board (PSB) was responsible for corrupt investigation outcomes. Read article in full here.

Within GMP, as with most other police forces, the secretive CCU operates under the overarching PSB umbrella. It also includes the departments that control disclosure under both the Freedom of Information Act and Data Protection Act. The newspaper described Manchester’s versions as “feared and loathed“.

The previous article posited three possible explanations for the ‘missing’ peer review report, and why the chief constable, or his deputy, who has portfolio responsibility for PSB, was refusing to be drawn into any statement, and stubbornly resisted publishing the findings of the review.

In summary, they were:-

– The peer review didn’t take place.

– The peer review did take place, but was a complete sham.

– The peer review did take place, but there was never any intention to produce a closing report.

Five days after the article appeared – and drew widespread attention on social media – a response to a FOI request made to GMP in August, 2018 was finally provided. All efforts, over the previous three months, to persuade the police force to even acknowledge the request had failed. They had broken the law, repeatedly, to prevent a journalist getting to the truth of this increasingly vexed matter.

The unlawful conduct of the Met is similarly grounded: Significant disclosure to a request first made in July, 2018 is still withheld, as excuse after excuse is given for the delay. None of them, taken at their face, appear remotely credible. It has spawned a separate, excoriating article on this website, ‘Your Cheque Is In The Post’ (read here).

A notice issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) expired on Wednesday 12th December, 2018. Which, potentially, places the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service in contempt of court once a Decision Notice is issued by the statutory regulator. On any view, a very serious matter indeed.

Over, and above, the Met’s precarious legal postion, even holding the country’s largest, and most important, police force to ridicule, on social media, has failed to squeeze out the requested peer review documents before the expiry of that ICO notice.

Without a doubt, something very important is at stake here and, when routinely dealing with the police, that usually amounts to only two things: Covering up their own wrongdoing, and protecting the reputations of senior officers whose fingerprints are on the misconduct.

The delays by both police forces to the requests for disclosure, very much in the public interest, give the impression that they are connected, and co-ordinated, at very senior officer level, whilst hard-pressed civilian disclosure officers, and lawyers, are placed in the firing line, to take the inevitable flak.

The partial disclosure of documents connected to the Peer Review, eventually made by GMP on 16th November, 2018, do not, readily, answer any of the three hypotheses expounded in the previous article. Indeed, they actually pose more questions about both the intent of the review – plainly not designed to be any sort of interrogative process, focused on alleged corruption, and the provenance of the documents provided.

The disclosure consists of, firstly, the Terms of Reference (ToR) for the Peer Review, a two page document, with an Appendix of the same length. It is headed ‘Transforming Professional Standards in Greater Manchester Police‘ and dated 31st March, 2016 (read in full here). Secondly, a report titled ‘MPS Peer Review of Greater Manchester Police Professional Standards Branch‘. The date on the cover sheet is 9th/10th May, 2016. There are thirteen pages, with four appendices, which include the ToR, totalling a further twenty pages.

The ToR’s are disclosed, almost in full, but, curiously, the names of Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling and Chief Superintendent Annette Anderson are redacted from the document. There is certainty that they are the officers involved, as their names were freely provided by GMP, in response to a separate FOI request made in September, 2016. It is a founding principle of the Freedom of Information Act that disclosure is ‘to the world’, not to an individual requester and, in those circumstances, one must question the motive of of Pilling and Anderson for not wanting to put names to their own work.

Information volunteered to the author of this piece, by Detective Constable Christopher Prince, himself attached to GMP’s PSB, that the same Annette Anderson is the directing mind behind the latest peer review freedom of information request to GMP, simply underscores the concern over the validity of the disclosure, the time it has taken to finalise, and the foreboding, and repeating, sense of yet another GMP ‘cover-up’.

The marked reluctance of the otherwise ineffective, inefficient DC Prince, presumably under the same senior officer direction, to conduct an appropriate investigation – or any investigation at all it seems – into the wrongdoings associated with this disclosure fiasco, is also seriously troubling. Particularly, as it is against every tenet of the applicable statutory framework, and regulatory guidance, that a lowly detective constable, with what appear to be seriously limited competencies, and a notably poor attitude, should be tasked with investigating the two most senior officers, a chief superintendent and a deputy chief constable, in the very same department.

A further concern is that in another freedom of information response made by Greater Manchester Police, in June 2017, they said, unequivocally, that the Terms of Reference were set by the Met, and NOT by GMP. Which, in the event, has now been proved to be yet another blatant lie in this increasingly troubled matter.

It is worth repeating here, from the previous article, that another GMP lie concerning the Peer Review was also uncovered by collateral freedom of information requests. In one made by Neil Wilby, finalised on 29th November, 2016 no disclosure was made regarding the existence of the Met’s Peer Review when the request specifically required them to do so. This goes directly to the heart of the deceit, and double-speak, that has been an ever-present feature of the Review, since its existence was first broadcast over three years ago.

Analysis of the ToR, which, the force want the public to believe, were finalised four months after the sensational newspaper article, reveals a very different framework to the process anticipated, deliberately or otherwise, from the narrative on the Manchester Evening News front page. The focus of which was the persistent corruption allegations made by police officers, past and present, against GMP’s PSB and, particularly, their CCU, and the sweeping derogation of those claims by their chief constable who, essentially, branded the complainants embittered troublecausers.

It was, very plainly, NOT planned to be an adversarial ‘go where the evidence takes us’ investigation that would unearth, and address, the persistent allegations of GMP wrongdoing, aired regularly in the media.

DCC Pilling, instead, wanted the peer review to be ‘neutral, inquisitorial and supportive‘.  Its guiding theme was to be ‘meaningful insight, common understanding and to value how GMP PSB was operating‘ at the time of the review.

Pilling develops that theme in the Appendix to the Terms of Reference, titled ‘Methodology’. In summary, he cites ‘consistency in [severity] assessments’; ‘supervisory oversight and scrutiny’; ‘detail and quality of [senior management] decision-making’ as the key points of focus of the review.

None of the words ‘phone-hacking’, ‘evidence-tampering’. ‘wrongdoing’, ‘malpractice’, ‘negligent’, ‘unlawful’, ‘unethical’, ‘unprofessional’, ‘abuse’, ‘subversion’, or ‘failure’ appear anywhere in the TOR, or the Appendix.

An independent commentator might well view the plenteous management-speak guff, together with a marked lack of cutting-edge to the process, as a conventional, behind closed doors, Greater Manchester Police box-ticking ‘whitewash‘. Mutually-aided, of course, by both the Metropolitan Police and the much-maligned College of Policing.

Crucially, Pilling allocated just two days for the on-site review, not the six week duration that the local press reported. Although, a closer reading, and a liberal interpretation of the agreed terms of the review, might, just might, persuade the public that the six weeks included post-review consultations and report writing. A far cry from the impression given by Hopkins in his newspaper interview, inadvertently or otherwise.

It was anticipated that the four review team officers, led by the Met’s Superintendent Gary Randall, under the overarching command of Deputy Assistant Commissioner Fiona Taylor, would have unfettered access to all case files, live or closed; PSB officers and staff, including shadowing investigators; and would be appropriately vetted and security cleared. The names of the other Met officers are redacted from the disclosures.

It is also worth noting that the ‘peer review’ was carried out by a detective superintendent from the Met, liaising with a chief superintendent and a deputy chief constable from the force under scrutiny. A ‘Subordinate Review‘ might, therefore, have been a more appropriate handle. DAC Taylor was not part of the ‘away’ team playing in North Manchester and is not mentioned anywhere in the report.

Also, whilst not directly applicable, under Statutory Guidance issued by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, the much-maligned police watchdog, officers investigating allegations against other police officers should be of at least equal rank. That is not to derogate Supt Randall’s ability, or experience, only his standing in the police hierarchy. He is a key player in Operation Winter Key, the Metropolitan Police investigation set up alongside the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse, and as a detective inspector led a robbery squad, with some notable successes, in North London.

Fiona Taylor, for her part, sensationally quit the Met after the announcement, earlier this year, that Sir Stephen House had been brought in over her head as assistant commissioner. ‘Bleak’ House, as he was known to colleagues (he was called much worse during his time as Divisional Commander in Bradford), reportedly retired from Police Scotland under a cloud, when other senior officers threatened to resign if he stayed. His reign as chief constable was never less than controversial.

Taylor thus returned to policing in Scotland in July, 2018, as deputy chief constable, days before the first information request was made about the Peer Review. She had previously served with both the Lothian and Strathclyde forces before they were merged into Police Scotland. She started her career with Lincolnshire Police 24 years ago and owes her meteoric rise in the police service, at least in part, to the accelerated fast track management programme introduced in 1998.

She will, again, have portfolio responsibility for professional standards in her new role, which may well concern some. Interestingly, she was also the Met’s lead on the discredited Public Inquiry into Undercover Policing (UCPI) in which the force remain utterly determined to conceal wrongdoing, and criminality, of their officers from both the victims and the public. Which concerns a great many more.

The Peer Review Final Report, as noted previously, amounts to just thirteen pages. It can be read, together with the four appendices, in full here.

The key points to be drawn from it are that the exercise was to be ‘non-threatening’ and the self-expressed role of the leader of the review was that of ‘critical friend’. That is to say, in police parlance, anything that can harm the reputation of the force, or the wider police service, is not to be exposed, or reported upon.

A vivid example of that is the approach to what was in the GMP PSB files, selected by a dip-sampling method. The only matters concerning the Met review team was the structure and formulation of a file, not the content, or how an investigation outcome had been reached. Whether that be lawfully, or unlawfully. Or, for example, by hacking an innocent bystander’s phone as happened in the infamous John Buttress case (read here). A second phone hack was carried out by the notorious CCU in 2014, but that remains covered up by GMP to this day.

The two day peer review, consisting mainly of informal focus group chats between the Met’s four officer team and low-ranking, and civilian, GMP professional standards officers, included a hot debrief, and peer review team debrief, that took up the afternoon of the second day. During which the review team also travelled back to London.

The report from that hot debrief forms part of the appendices to the final report. It amounts to very little. Unsurprising, given the actual reviewing amounted to less than a day’s discussions with junior officers.

Another appendix is an infographic, set out with the look of a school timetable. It is a stark, visual reminder of how pitiful this review was. A far cry from promises either made, or implied, in the Manchester Evening News.

It is clear from the ‘timetable’ that the Met Peer Review team spent almost as much time talking amongst themselves as they did with GMP officers. They did NOT shadow PSB investigators as the Terms of Reference indicated they would. There was no contact, at all, between the Met team and the CCU.

There also was no contact whatsoever, it seems, with any officer above the rank of chief inspector, after the brief introductions on the Monday morning, at which DCC Pilling and C/Supt Anderson may have been present. We do not know because GMP are not saying.

Remarkably, GMP claim that neither Pilling, nor Anderson, nor any other officer present, made any notes in their pocket, or day, books during the debrief. They are also refusing to reveal who was involved in that process.

One officer not involved was the Discipline Lead for Greater Manchester Police Federation, Aidan Kielty, whom, it might be argued, was crucial to any understanding, by the Met’s peer review team, of the inner workings of the force’s professional standards, and counter corruption, operations. Perhaps he knew too much?

Randall’s report was clearly set up to be a ‘whitewash’ and, unsurprisingly, amongst all the management-speak gobbledegook, that is exactly what it is. Not one single word of criticism of Greater Manchester Police’s Professional Standards Board is to be found in the Metropolitan Police final report. It is risible on any view, but, more particularly, in the context of the welter of criticism of GMP on network television and radio, and in regional and national newspapers.

It is also noteworthy, that such a report, containing little or nothing of substance, took seven and a half months to deliver to GMP – and raises the spectre of there having been, initially, no intention of producing one until questions were asked of GMP about its whereabouts in September, 2016. But even the date claimed by GMP, for delivery of the report, 22nd December, 2016 appears to be false. The sharp-eyed will notice that the report is dated 6th January, 2017. Perhaps it was delivered by a time machine similar to Dr Who’s Tardis.

GMP in response to a request to provide post-report correspondence with the Met have disclosed nothing. The inference being, that it was filed away in the ‘Boxes Ticked‘ drawer in DCC Pilling’s office and has never been seen since.

In that drawer, there will, undoubtedly, be a number of others where the police investigated the police and found nothing wrong.

Once the final Peer Review disclosures are eventually made by the Met, a further article will be published that looks in detail at case studies that highlight the shocking performance of both the Met and GMP professional standards units, since that report was written. This will add significant further context to the efficacy, or otherwise, of the Peer Review.

A request for a statement from the chief constable was made to the GMP press office on 11th November, 2018. It asked to address the disconnect between what appeared to be promised in the Manchester Evening News in 2015, and what was revealed by freedom of information disclosures three years later. A lengthy narrative was provided on the same day, attributed to a force spokesperson, that will require further analysis and questions.

The gist of the GMP response is that there has been a number of other scrutinies apart from the peer review, which was foreshortened due to a variety of factors, and the present day functionality of their PSB is, essentially, given the all-clear.

Further questions were put to GMP’s press office seeking substantiation of some of the assertions made in their statements. Several of which appeared, taken at their face, to be falsely grounded. Unsurprisingly, no reply has been, as yet, forthcoming.

A seperate article will cover the GMP statement and those subsequent questions. A further freedom of information request will also be necessary as GMP claim, without any supporting evidence, that other external, independent scrutinies took place before and after the Peer Review.

Police Scotland’s press office has also been approached with a request for a statement from DCC Fiona Taylor concerning her part in the alleged ‘whitewash’. As has the Met’s Gary Randall. No response has been forthcoming.

DC Prince was also offered right of reply. The email was not acknowledged.

* Since this article was first published, other important information has come to light. In a decision letter issued by the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC) on 18th April, 2018, following an investigation into the case of ex-GMP Inspector Mohammed Razaq, reference is made to the Peer Review at paragraph 27. The CCRC wrote to GMP asking for sight of the review. The police force said that it was not relevant as the review did not concern misconduct. *

 

Page last updated on Sunday 23rd December, 2018 at 0740hrs

Picture credit: World Productions

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

Right of reply: If you are mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let me have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory it will be added to the article.

© Neil Wilby 2015-2018. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The dreaded vote of confidence

She has acted with the utmost integrity“.

So says Greater Manchester’s high profile Mayor, Andy Burnham, as part of a limp vote of confidence in his under-siege deputy, Baroness Beverley Hughes.

Except that she didn’t.

The Burnham endorsement came as part of a blustery defence of the sly, duplicitous, incompetent handling of a serious complaint against her chief constable, Ian Hopkins.

‘Bev’, as she prefers to style herself, is the de facto police and crime commissioner (PCC), as part of the region’s devolutionary structure under the Greater Manchester Combined Authority umbrella. With Mayor Burnham at its point.

Her responsibilities include dealing with complaints against the chief constable. She is, to use the correct regulatory terminology, the ‘appropriate authority’  in such matters.

The complaint against Hopkins concerns an allegation of lying in a press statement he made in response to an excoriating article that appeared in The Times newspaper in June, 2018 [Read statement here and article here].

Remarkably, as the alert reader will have noticed, the expression “acted with the utmost integrity” was also embedded in that statement from the under-siege chief constable. In it, Hopkins also gratuitously smeared police whistleblower, Peter Jackson, a highly respected former senior investigating officer with Greater Manchester Police .

Hopkins also, repeatedly, claimed that there was no ‘cover-up’ mentality within GMP and expressed confidence in the Independent Police Complaints Commission, and their ability to carry out rigorous investigations into alleged misconduct of his officers.

To anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of GMP, or the IPCC (now re-badged as IOPC), that was an assertion beyond ludicrous. Even before taking account of the uncomfortably incestuous relationship between the two, that has led to some appalling miscarriages of justice. Notably, in the ‘investigations’ following the deaths of Jordon Begley and Anthony Grainger at the hands of the police.

The latter case has been back in the headlines again, very recently. The Crown Prosecution Service declined to bring charges against ex-assistant chief constable Steve Heywood for lying, and falsifying evidence, at the public inquiry into Anthony’s death. Heywood has been allowed to retire on full, gold-plated pension, claiming he ‘didn’t intend to mislead‘. A familiar claim if you are a senior police officer, or elected policing body, in Manchester.

In the event, Hopkins’ press statement did not age well: Just three days, in fact. A video clip, published on The Times website on 26th June, 2018, shows Hopkins rubbishing the IPCC’s  investigative capability. Their alleged efficacy had, of course, underpinned the defence of GMP’s probity in his now infamous press statement (view The Times film here).

His reputation was, again, in tatters and, significantly, there was no statement put out by the media-savvy chief constable on this occasion.

Insiders say that the focus of the enraged Hopkins was not on an apology and reparation, but, instead, on a GMP counter corruption unit ‘witch-hunt’ for the source of the video clip, identifying how it leaked out of the force and to stem the flow of other information reaching journalists. They drew a blank.

These actions do not sit easily with Hopkins’ robust denials of a propensity to ‘cover-up’ senior officer wrongdoing. There is also a genuine concern that unlawful surveillance may be in use against journalists critical of GMP.

The Times‘ Crime and Security Editor, Fiona Hamilton, whose own integrity and journalistic capability were also attacked by Hopkins’ gratuitous, self-serving missive, responded further, and robustly, in a follow-up article on 15th October, 2018; ‘Police chief “misled” public over boy in abuser’s lair’ (Read here).

Hopkins’ lie about a referral he claimed to have made to the IPCC, in what became Operation Poppy 1 and 2, was ruthlessly exposed. In the same moment, The Times, and one its senior journalists, were both fully vindicated. It was the same plucky Australian, Fiona Hamilton, backed by the full might of The Times, who called for a public inquiry into Greater Manchester Police over high-level ‘corruption’ and ‘cover-up’ in an article published in December, 2017 (read here) and repeated in a stinging Times leader, ‘Murk in Manchester’ two months later (read here).

Again, there was no rebuttal statement from the chief constable over the latest Op Poppy revelations, and no apology for the smears against Hamilton and Jackson. The GMP press office refused to answer questions about the particulars of the untruth.

Meanwhile, Pete Jackson had lodged a complaint with the deputy mayor, over the Hopkins’ press statement alleging breaches of honesty and integrity. Very serious matters, on any independent view.

Bev’s own antecedents are both interesting and relevant. They include resigning from a Ministerial post after apparently lying on BBC Newsnight in 2004, over an immigration ‘scam’ (read BBC article here). At the time, she claimed she had “unwittingly misled” fellow MP’s and the media.

Five years later, Beverley Hughes was caught up in the Daily Telegraph‘s investigation into MP’s expenses. It was revealed that she rented a second home in London with running costs of £1,000 per month in rent, her cleaner was paid £150 per month, and she was claiming £350 per month for food allowance. There were also one-off claims for £801.60 for reupholstering furniture, £718 on a chair and £435 on curtains and for bedding.

Bev announced her decision to stand down as Children’s Minister, and as an MP, shortly afterwards, citing “personal reasons”. She maintained at all times that her expense claims were “appropriate”.

More recently, and, perhaps, most crucially, Beverley Hughes in her role as PCC, had also made a statement following The Times article in June, 2018 that, incredibly, and in its entirety, supported the one made by her chief constable. It was also an unvarnished attack on Pete Jackson (read her full statement here). In her concluding paragraph she says: “The article …… is deplorable, totally unjustified and completely wrong.”

It should be noted that she claims some of the allegations against very senior GMP officers, made by Pete Jackson and a group of other retired, and very well respected, former police officers, have been extensively examined (not investigated). They would all beg to differ.

She added: “Those who claim to have further information have been asked to bring it forward and it has been made clear that we will act on any new evidence. However, none has been forthcoming”.

That all changed when on 6th August, 2018 a meeting between Peter Jackson, Maggie Oliver and Paul Bailey, former chair of National Black Police Association and the Mayor and Deputy Mayor, her chief executive, Clare Monaghan, and the Mayor’s political spin doctor and right hand man, Kevin Lee, took place at Churchgate House, the Mayor’s HQ. The sole topic for discussion was the disclosures made by the whistleblowers, and the further information that ‘Bev’ was, purportedly, seeking so as to justify a fresh investigation.

Bev’s poor attitude, facial expressions, body language and general conduct, during that meeting, was drawn to her attention both at the time, and in comprehensive, and contemporaneous notes of the meeting, provided by the whistleblowers to GMCA. She plainly found the whole process of listening to incontrovertible accounts of GMP wrongdoing highly distasteful. The only challenge to Pete Jackson’s copious notes, by the Mayor’s office, concerned Bev’s gurning. Which was an oddity, as she was facing the three whistleblowers, but sat alongside those who said she wasn’t face-pulling. The rest of his notes, on very serious and extensive police officer misconduct, drew no comment

Mr Lee had spent most of the time fiddling with his mobile phone, and appeared calculatingly disinterested in the meeting, so he couldn’t have seen anything, in any event.

Four months later, the whistleblowers still await any form of substantive response from the Mayor’s office, who stonewall requests for updates. There is no indication that any of the allegations have been severity assessed and passed over for investigation to an outside police force. There is no Decision Notice published, as required by the Elected Policing Bodies (Specified Information) Regulations that would record such action.

With her press statement in mind, together with her crass behaviour during the meeting with the police whistleblowers, the spectre of bias, therefore and unavoidably, raises its head when Beverley Hughes is dealing with a complaint by Jackson against Hopkins. Even at the unconscious level, an issue recognised as a deep-rooted problem within policing bodies.

The outcome into the Jackson complaint against the chief constable, delivered on 21st September, 2018, in a surprisingly short letter, and the subsequent appeal to the IOPC, has, almost inevitably, become the subject of the latest, and not inconsiderable, controversy to engulf ‘Bev’. It is believed to be the third complaint made against Chief Constable Hopkins since she took up the role of PCC in 2017. One was recorded and referred to the IPCC; the other was not recorded as it had been made by a serving officer, which is impermissible under the Police Reform Act, 2002. This information is drawn from confidential complaint documents passed to Neil Wilby.

‘Bev’ has repeatedly claimed that she conducted an ‘investigation’ into the Hopkins dishonesty allegations yet, counter-intuitively, determined its outcome by a process known as local resolution. Entirely inappropriate in the circumstances and, particularly, given what is in issue: The career and reputation of the chief officer of the fourth largest police force in the UK.

An appeal against the outcome, by the complainant, made to the IOPC, resulted in the police watchdog directing the deputy mayor to disclose the details of her alleged investigation to Pete Jackson.

‘Bev’ was given 28 days to do so, which, taken at its face, might seem an inordinate length of time to send an email and attaching a document that ought to be already resting on GMCA’s computer servers.

After several follow-ups from Jackson, protesting at the delay in disclosure, ‘Bev’ sent him a letter, on the 30th day, having ignored a lawful direction from a statutory regulator, saying there was no documentation relating to an ‘investigation’. Nothing. Not a single scrap of paper. Which the canny ex-murder detective had suspected all along, of course.

On any independent view, the constant references to an investigation having taken place, repeated to the IOPC, were false. Invented. Made-up. A lie.

Which takes us back to the opening lines of this article. The Deputy Mayor most certainly did not act with ‘utmost integrity’ and the claim that she did, by Mayor Burnham, seriously undermines his own credibility.

Crucially, the watchdog’s caseworker, whom, for legal reasons, cannot be named here, is now a witness to what may amount to a criminal offence, misconduct in public office. To lie to Pete Jackson is one thing, to set out to deceive a statutory regulator is quite another.

There is also the blackest of irony here in ‘Bev’ trying to convince a senior detective, who’s conducted 1,000’s of investigations, many into very serious crimes, what an investigation should comprise. She, as far as can be gleaned from her CV, has never conducted one before in her entire career.

Even worse, the basic documentation, action plan and communications with the complainant, that support a disposal of a complaint by local resolution were also completely absent. These are embedded in the IOPC’s Statutory Guidance and section 22 of the Police Reform Act, 2002. There can be no mistaking their specification, and necessity. If she needed clarification, Andy Burnham was Parliamentary Private Secretary to David Blunkett, at the time the latter was the promoter of that particular legislation.

The inescapable conclusion is that the ‘local resolution’ outcome, claimed by ‘Bev’, was also an invention. Another lie.

At this point, as social media is agog with the latest Manchester police scandal, in steps the Mayor himself, again: Andy Burnham writes to Pete Jackson and only succeeds in making the situation worse. Much worse, it must be said. He repeats the claim about an ‘investigation’ and conflates it with ‘local resolution’. Thus putting his own integrity into question:

“The Deputy Mayor has explained that your initial complaint was concluded through the local resolution process. This process quite rightly involved an investigation into the allegations you made. However, as you may be aware, no investigation report is produced at the conclusion of the local resolution process.”

He is bluffing, and plainly badly advised: An investigation has many characteristics, but making a phone call to the person complained about and receiving ‘assurances’ that it was ‘all a bit of a rush and a misunderstanding’ wouldn’t be one to rely on. Burnham then adds this:

“Following the decision of the IOPC to uphold your appeal and having consulted senior officials at the IOPC, the Deputy Mayor and I have decided to commission a local investigation which will be fully compliant under the terms of the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2012 and therefore its validity beyond doubt.”

Burnham doesn’t offer any explanation, or apology, to Jackson, as to why the initial process didn’t even begin to be compliant. He also fails to disclose why he has acted outside the Police Reform and Responsibility Act in having informal discussions with the IOPC, rather than referring the matter to them for a mode of investigation decision, to be made by the watchdog, not the PCC or the Mayor.

As crucially, what the Mayor doesn’t say is WHO will be carrying out the investigation into the allegation that Ian Hopkins has lied in a public statement. Again, with not a little irony, about a referral to the IOPC.

It also appears that Burnham is minded to attempt to conduct a second complaints process without involving the complainant. In response, ex-Supt Jackson has made it crystal clear that he expects a Section 9 Criminal Justice Act statement to be taken, as there is now a misconduct in public office allegation against Hughes. An allegation of a criminal offence from a retired senior police officer, that the Mayor seems to have airily dismissed without referring the matter to a police force, other than, possibly, GMP, for investigation.

Mr Burnham also does not make clear whether the PCC and appropriate authority, Beverley Hughes, is excluded from the process as a result of her catastrophic failings in the first attempted disposal of the complaint. Both she, and the statutory officer advising her, Clare Monaghan, appear to be clueless about the applicable legal framework in respect of complaints: ‘Bev’ is automatically excluded from the process having been involved in an abandoned local resolution. IPOC’s Statutory Guidance makes this clear.

Mrs Monaghan was also surprisingly unresponsive when approached by a card-carrying journalist to ascertain that she was, in fact, the statutory officer required to support a police and crime commissioner. Given that her total cost to the taxpayer is approaching £170,000 per annum, the salary cost of eight police officers on the beat, better might be expected of her.

Mayor Burnham signed off his letter to Pete Jackson not only with the dreaded ‘vote of confidence’ but, also, what appears to be a veiled threat:

“There can, therefore, be no suggestion that the Deputy Mayor has lied or acted with anything other than utmost integrity throughout this process. I ask you not to repeat your accusations.”

A politician is, effectively, telling a police officer with 31 years exemplary service, latterly as Manchester’s top detective, what does, or does not, constitute an untruth. This is Pete Jackson’s response:

“All [Beverley Hughes] actions suggest anything but that [utmost integrity]. There has been zero communication, zero consultation and zero documentation provided. Can you imagine how a police officer would be received at court if they had taken such a clandestine, secretive approach to an investigation with no records or documentation to show what they had done? Do you think the court would determine that the officer had acted with ‘the utmost integrity throughout’?”

“All I have seen is delays, prevarication and a response to my complaint that has engendered complete and utter mistrust.”

There has been no response, as yet, from the Mayor to that compelling argument.

But the Mayor and Deputy Mayor’s present problems aren’t confined to a dishonesty complaint about the chief constable. ‘Bev’ is facing one herself from investigative journalist, Neil Wilby. The genesis is a highly contentious freedom of information request which has again caused Bev’s integrity, and compliance with statutory obligations, to be questioned.

The requested disclosure concerns the circumstances surrounding the appointment of GMP’s newest member of the command team, Assistant Chief Constable Maboob ‘Mabs’ Hussain.

It seems that, caught out by other disclosure made to that same requester, on the same topic, from Greater Manchester Police, ‘Bev’ has provided a false outcome. She claims that, after appropriate searches were conducted, not a single scrap of paper was retrieved, or available to be lawfully disclosed. No notes, no diary entries, no telephone logs, no meeting notes, no meeting notes, no interview agenda, nothing.

Even taken at its face, any independent reviewer would find that far-fetched. Also, the GMP disclosure strongly indicates otherwise.

Having been forced to make a request for the false finalisation to be reviewed internally, the first paragraph of what is a quite brutal examination of the shortcomings of Beverley Hughes reads thus: “This is a response so deceitful, calculatingly so, in my respectful submission, that section 77 of the Act may well be engaged. For convenience, I attach a copy of the relevant section of the Act. As the Deputy Mayor should be aware, not knowing the law is not a defence.”

The review request goes on to say: “Further, and in any event, there is no provision in the Police and Social Responsibility Reform Act, 2011 for secret meetings, absent of written record, to take place between a chief constable and an elected policing body concerning the appointment of his assistants. The proposition, advanced in the finalisation of this request, is, accordingly, deeply concerning. Again, the Deputy Mayor is most strongly urged to seek appropriate, independent legal advice before attempting to maintain this position following internal review.”

Three reminders to comply with the Freedom of Information Act have not persuaded ‘Bev’ to swing into action. In fact, the last two have been completely ignored and the Information Commissioner’s Office is now seized of the matter. No rebuttal of the direct challenges to her integrity has been provided in the ensuing two months.

The full correspondence trail from the What Do They Know website can be read here. It presents ‘Bev’ again as incompetent, a prevaricator and prepared to indulge both in deception and breaching an Act of Parliament.

As an elected policing body, her position might now be argued as being untenable. The question should also be asked how, given her past history, she came to be handed the role in the first place.

This extract from Wikipedia sums up Baroness Beverley Hughes, another disgrace to this country’s honours system, as neatly as any other anecdote: In July 2001, she received significant ridicule and criticism in the media after it was revealed that, along with other politicians, she had repeatedly denounced an edition of the Channel 4 television show Brass Eye as being “unbelievably sick”, but then subsequently admitting that she’d never seen it – and refused to ever watch it. The programme was, in fact, parodying hysteria surrounding the issue of paedophilia and the media, thus commentators suggested that extreme reactions such as those by Hughes had in fact emphasised the need for such programming. Sir Paul Fox criticised Hughes and her colleagues, suggesting they “have to have the courtesy to have seen the programme before they go in at the deep end”, with Christopher Howse even more critical, suggesting “it was as if paedophilia were sacred and not to be blasphemed against” and that the IDIOCY of Hughes’ performance on the affair was “hard to beat”.

That last line could well be repeated over her performance in handling the complaint against her chief constable. Taking a wider view, in the Hopkins case she repeats her delivery of a pre-formed judgement, without considering any of the evidence, as she did in the Brass Eye controversy.

But, whichever way it is looked at, it does little for her standing as a public figure and her well-tarnished integrity. How long she now lasts as PCC, following the ‘vote of confidence’ from her boss, remains to be seen.

GMP’s press office provided these two statements:

“Complaints against the Chief Constable are required to be considered independently by the Local Policing Body which in the case of GMP is the Mayor for Greater Manchester. The decisions concerning recording and investigating complaints against the Chief Constable are a matter for the Local Policing Body”, a GMP spokesperson said:

Comment from Chief Constable Ian Hopkins: “I am aware of the allegations that are being made. I welcome the allegations being looked at that I deliberately lied in my public statement of 23 June 2018. There was no intention on my part to lie or deliberately mislead anyone in my statement.”

The GMCA press office was also approached for comment. The request has not, so far, been acknowledged. Which, regrettably, is standard for that organisation.

There was, however, a response to the information request from GMCA’s Assistant Director of Information and Governance, Philippa Nazari. Materials were disclosed that Beverley Hughes had previously denied existed. There was no explanation for the discrepancy. No explanation as to why Bev chose to break the law to avoid disclosure.

The GMCA finalisation has been challenged on the basis that there are still further materials undisclosed.

The IOPC press office has refused to provide either the name of the police force appointed to carry out a second investigation into Chief Constable Hopkins, or name the senior investigating officer. They attempted to pass a press request over to their freedom of information department.

Last updated: Monday 10th December, 2018 at 2020hrs

 

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 2015-2018. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Your Cheque Is In The Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tension between requester and public authority is now palpable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On 13th December, 2018, Mr Baird was asked if the request would be finalised before the Christmas shutdown on 21st December, 2018. He replied saying he believed it would.

It wasn’t – and there was no explanation as to why not.

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

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

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

24th October, 2018     – Staff shortages

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

13th November, 2018 – Early next week

29th November, 2018 – Shortly

12th November, 2018 – Short delay

29th November, 2018 – Should be in a position to respond to you shortly

11th December, 2018 – There will be a short delay

13th December, 2018 – It should be completed by [21st December, 2018]

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

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

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

They later refused to answer the following two specific questions:

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

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

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

The enquiries, perfectly reasonably presented, were not drawn to the attention of DAC Taylor, as specifically requested. Or any explanation provided as to why.
Indeed, it has now been learned that Ms Taylor sensationally quit the Met just days before this information request was submitted, in July, 2018. She has now taken a sideways move to troubled Police Scotland.
A fact that any of the Met’s disclosure, legal or press officers has omitted to mention in a significant number of communications.
In the light of this response, the press officer was informed that an approach will be made directly to her. That was done, via the Police Scotland press office, but did not even elicit an acknowledgement.
The press officer email exchange in November was signed off thus: ‘It would be a kindness to describe your response as ‘sub-optimal’. They were approached again for comment on 11th December, 2018 but ignored the request completely.
Page last updated Friday 21st December, 2018 at 2100hrs

 

[1] The Guardian: ‘Streets of Fear’

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

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

[4] College of Policing: Authorised Professional Practice

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

Picture credit: The Guardian Media Group

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

Right of reply: If you are mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let me have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory it will be added to the article.

© Neil Wilby 2015-2018. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.