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).

An enforcement 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. 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 third article will be published that looks in detail at 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.

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

 

Page last updated on Wednesday 12th December, 2018 at 2220hrs

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.

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

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

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

24th October, 2018     – Staff shortages

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

13th November, 2018 – Early next week

29th November, 2018 – Shortly

12th November, 2018 – Short delay

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

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

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

They later refused to answer the following two specific questions:

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

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

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

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

 

[1] The Guardian: ‘Streets of Fear’

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

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

[4] College of Policing: Authorised Professional Practice

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

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

Picture credit: The Guardian Media Group

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

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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