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.

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

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

Mystery of the ‘missing’ peer review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the request in full:

“Dear Greater Manchester Police (GMP),

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours faithfully,

Neil Wilby
Investigative journalist”

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

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

This is the full text of the first request:

“Dear Metropolitan Police Service (MPS),

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

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

In this regard, please provide the following information:

1. Date the Peer Review commenced.

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

3. Date the Peer Review ended.

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

5. The operational name given to the Peer Review.

Yours faithfully,

Neil Wilby
Investigative journalist”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dear Metropolitan Police Service (MPS),

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

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

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

2. Copy of Terms of Reference

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

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

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

Yours faithfully,

Neil Wilby
Investigative journalist”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Picture credit: The Guardian Media Group

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