Review of 2020 – The two that got away?

In this, the first of a short series reviewing the past year, a second look is taken at two cases of miscreant police officers being shielded by senior management in their respective police forces.

In August, a very powerful story was published on this website. The latest in a lengthy series of exclusives dating back to early 2018.

It was a relentless, excoriating take-down of an organisation that staggers from crisis to crisis, scandal to scandal. It’s title was propitious, given what was to happen within Greater Manchester Police less than four months later: ‘Rotten to its core‘ (read in full here).

Within that piece there were exclusive and sensational revelations about yet another grotesque ‘cover-up’ by GMP. The information was triangulated from a number of very well connected policing and media sources – and confirmed, to a very limited extent, by the force press office.

In short, a serving police officer, attached to an elite unit and who cannot be named for legal reasons, committed very serious criminal offences in the early part of this year and has yet to face any form of justice.

A member of the public caught with significant quantities of Class A drugs about his person, not once but twice, would have appeared at the local magistrates’ court within days of being apprehended. Especially, if there were child safeguarding issues also in play.

Two weeks later, there was a sequel, headlined ‘Even more rotten‘ (read in full here). Another exclusive, it has also received no press coverage elsewhere.

Central to the piece was a letter sent to the Deputy Mayor of Greater Manchester by Gail Hadfield Grainger, a nationally known justice campaigner. The turgid response from the perennially ineffective Beverley Hughes told little, apart from confirming that ‘a criminal investigation was ongoing’.

Gail’s stake in the case is that the subject officer was a significant part of the police operation, codenamed Shire, that led to the death of her partner, Anthony Grainger. He was also active in the run-up to the public inquiry into the shooting that took place in 2017, reflecting his key role.

The now departed, and disgraced, Ian Hopkins, an unmitigated disaster as a chief constable, was said to be anxious not to give the bereaved Grainger family another stick with which to beat him and the force. Particularly, in the light of the scathing public inquiry report published in July, 2019 (read here).

The revelation that one of Operation Shire‘s key officers was corrupt, and a drug dealer, would have piled on the agony for both GMP and Hopkins. Not at all aided by the further revelation that the predecessor investigation to Shire, Operation Blyth, also had a now-convicted drug dealer in its midst.

It is worth repeating yet again, for emphasis, that the public interest is not served at all well by senior police officers interfering with justice, simply to preserve their own reputation. On the watch of Ian Hopkins it was not, sadly, a rare occurrence. Greatly aided by zero oversight by the Mayor, Andy Burnham and his Deputy Mayor – and the so-called ‘police watchdogs’ who simply sat on their collective hands whilst the country’s second largest police force descended into corrupt chaos.

Will the New Year bring justice for the victims of the corrupt, drug dealing, Greater Manchester detective? For the moment it seems not, but with the police force now in ‘Special Measures‘, as ordered by the Home Secretary, then just maybe a more rigorous scrutiny of this troubling matter can be undertaken.

The second strand to this piece features an article published at the beginning of December detailing another police ‘cover-up’, this time from across the Pennine hills. Great care has been taken not to identify the senior officer, beyond the fact that s/he is serving with one of the Yorkshire forces.

A large enough pool to prevent jigsaw identification, although the officer’s identity within police circles appears widely known, judging from the unprecedented feedback received privately following publication of the article.

There is no criminal offence involved in this particular case, but allegations of an overt racist act that could have far reaching consequences, not only for the employing force but for the wider police service, whose obsession with diversity and inclusion is all consuming. Which spawned the headline ‘Say one thing, do another‘ (read in full here).

Large amongst those two-faced organisations, who routinely discredit themselves by their proximity to such covering up, is the much ridiculed College of Policing (read more here). They had the audacity to take the miscreant officer into their Ryton-on-Dunsmore headquarters for a week, knowing that, at the time, s/he was banned from all other police premises.

This, presumably, to give the appearance that all was well – and throw enquiring journalists, and fellow officers, away from the scent of corruption.

The actions of the subject police force, since the exclusive article was published on this website, give all the appearance of downplaying the incident and desperately wanting it to go away. There has, for example, been no referral of the alleged gross misconduct to the police watchdog. A mandatory requirement in the prevailing circumstances. They, in turn, despite being very aware of what is alleged, have not called in the investigation under their statutory powers.

There has been no intervention from the subject force’s police and crime commissioner, either, despite both s/he and her/his staff being highly aware of this troubling case and its impact on the electorate in the force area.

Once again, the public are ill served by these ‘top brass’ shenanigans and concealing racists in the ranks goes very much against the grain. Not to mention the huge amounts of taxpayer funds wasted on payments to officers on gardening leave or suspension.

But, without a greater public outcry, or a whistleblower prepared to speak out publicly, and with compelling evidence to boot, those same very senior officers will continue to laugh in the face of journalists attempting to hold them to account.

The outrage of decent, genuine officers, past and present, in all three Yorkshire forces, continues unabated. This is the comment of one, a number of others are couched in rather more forthright language: ‘Inevitably, front line morale will be sapped once more by poor judgement of our superiors and lack of recognisable leadership. I don’t want to work with or for a racist’.

Page last updated: Wednesday 30th December, 2020 at 1205 hours

Photo Credits: Independent Office for Police Conduct

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

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

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Criminals on the loose

Earlier this week, a watchdog report revealed another series of grotesque failures by beleaguered Greater Manchester Police (GMP).

Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary found that, in just one year, the force had failed to record 80,000 crimes in the year ending June, 2020 (an average of 220 per day). Thousands of others cases were also without proper investigation (read more here).

This is just one of them. Leaving three dangerous criminals, who had, apparently, also offended shortly prior to the events so graphically described here.

The response to this letter issued today by Gail Hadfield Grainger, and copied to a wide number of senior police officers, policing stakeholders and elected representatives, including the Home Secretary, will be a good indicator as to whether the “robust measures” allegedly now put in place, by GMP, to prevent such calamities are, in fact, effective:

“To the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police,

“My name is Gail Hadfield Grainger, my contact details are stated at the top of this letter.

“The principal purposes of this letter are (i) to complain about the way that the incident described below was handled by your police officers and (ii) to insist that a proportionate criminal investigation be instigated by experienced detectives, at least one of whom needs to be of managerial rank.

“This complaint is NOT suitable for local resolution. I will not be fobbed off. The matter requires rigorous investigation and those responsible properly held to account. That includes the supervisors, managers, commanders and chiefs who are responsible for the culture in which constables and civilian staff can treat victims of crime in this appalling manner.

“The Crime reference number for this incident is: CRI/06FF/0007643/20


“The particulars are as follows:

“In the evening of the 9th April 2020, two men attended my house to buy a mobile phone that I had been using for the previous year and was registered with my mobile phone network provider. I had advertised this phone for £440 on Gumtree. 

“When they arrived, I answered the door and asked if they were here to look at the mobile phone. They stated that they were. I said “wait there, I will go get it”. 

“As I turned around to go and get the phone, they unexpectedly followed me in – this made me feel extremely uncomfortable as I did NOT invite them in at any time.

“I did not express or imply permission for them to enter.

“I was at home with my two children, fortunately my partner was at my home address too. 

“The two men were Irish, with a strong Irish accent. They made small talk in my home, whilst one of the men stated that he was to “get the money from the car”. 

“He left the house.

“The remaining Irish man had the mobile phone and box etc in his hand, he asked me if the phone needed ‘wiping’ – I explained it was ready for sale and my details were ‘wiped’ from the phone. 

“This man slowly edged to my front door saying that he was wondering what was taking his friend so long to get the money. 

“It was at this point, he edged towards my front door, grabbed my handbag and ran to the silver/green colour Renault Megane, with dents visible on the bodywork and an Irish number plate. 

“My handbag contained my purse, cards and cash. My ring and watch was also in my purse. In the bag was also my make-up bag and my pencil case, Dictaphone and much more. My main worry at that time was whether I had left my spare key in my purse, also, and that the men would return to the house when I was sleeping in the house alone with my two children. 

“This fear lasted many days until I could get extra security on my house including cameras. 

“It was then that I chased the man to his car, screaming as I did so. The car had the door open and engine running ready for a quick getaway. They clearly pre-planned this robbery. 

“My partner got in his car and drove in the same direction, he spotted the car approaching Kearsley roundabout, at the Farnworth entrance to the roundabout.

“My partner followed them round Kearsley roundabout, down the slip road that takes you to to the M61 briefly, before joining the M60 and off at Junction 17 at Whitefield/Prestwich.  

“Whilst approaching the slip road at 50mph (the Irish men in the Renault Megane were travelling much faster as the temporary speed camera flashed) they purposely tried to ‘slam’ the side of their motor vehicle intentionally in a reckless manner into my partner’s car, almost causing him to have a serious crash as he tried his best to avoid the attack in the motor vehicles  – I would class this as attempted murder. 

“Their intention were clear, they committed another criminal act in order to evade being apprehended. 

“My partner decided that a handbag and phone are not worth losing his life over and returned back to my home.

“When he returned home, he was shaken and extremely distressed at the events, as was I, knowing that these men had been in my home, brazenly, without any consideration of the distress that it caused myself and my family. 

“It was at this point I rang the police, told them what had happened and described as much as I could. I was shaken, scared and expected the police to take action. Especially as I provided enough detail to the officer on the phone to warrant an arrest and a charge – given the circumstances. 

“I provided the IMEI number of the phone I sold to enable the police to track the phone should the two Irish men turn it on.I gave a description of the two men, the two phone numbers that they used (which could have easily been located through cell site analysis). I gave the route they took, the speed  camera that flashed (which would have revealed the VRN) and, as I found out by placing a post on Facebook (warning people in my local community to be vigilant as there were two criminals about), these same two males had already robbed someone and damaged a car when they stole the door mirrors from it.

“Given my past experience with the police, I am extremely hesitant to call them over anything. But, due to the seriousness of the crimes committed against me, I felt I had no other option than to phone the police and believe that they would investigate. As you can see from this letter, that was not done. I was left feeling scared, anxious and distressed, but expected officers to call and take a statement from me at the very least. I have previously experienced serious systemic and operational failings from Greater Manchester Police (GMP) and I have been expressly informed by the senior officers at GMP that these systemic and operational failings had been address and rectified. That is clearly not the case. 

“I believe there is one of two reasons why this crime was not investigated: Malfeasance, due to who I am and my relationship with GMP or serious incompetence that pervades the whole of Greater Manchester Police.

“Given the recent news articles coming to light such as this one:  –  it shows that it is not just me, but approximately 220 cases per day have not been investigated properly over the last year.

“I am distressed at the  thought of the perpetrators still being at large and that they have got away with so serious a crime, despite of all the detailed information that I gave. The actions of GMP (or rather lack of them) have caused significant loss and damage and may well give rise to a civil claim against the chief constable. I am taking appropriate advice on this issue.

“Since this burglary (whilst I was at home), my insurance company have attempted to contact the police for further information of the events, providing the crime reference number, but have told me that there is a lack of information available. So, I rang the police and asked for an update of what is happening in regards to the investigation – here is a synopsis of the call made on the 3rd of December 202 at 17.08hrs:Hannah PC 72436….. informed me that the case was indeed opened on the 9th of April 2020 and closed on the 10th of Aril 2020 and no investigation took place. 

“The offence was listed as ‘theft’ only. 

“There were no further lines of inquiry – which is peculiar as I didn’t call till the late hours of the 9th April 2020.

“The case was reopened briefly on the 10th of June 2020 and closed that same day. I believe that this is when I called for an update and to see when someone would be calling to take a witness statement  from me and witnesses – which would lead to the establishment of the facts of the case, in turn leading to the identification of the criminals – even though I provided ample enough information on the night for a prompt and effective investigation to take place. 

“I was told that NO investigating officer put their name to the case as NO investigation was started. 

“If I was to find out anything more about the steps taken (or lack of) Then I would need to contact the records management unit on 0161 856 2529. 

“There were NO steps to investigate taken

“GMP have failed their duty in many ways – for a crime of this class the public are entitled to  expect nothing less than an independent, prompt and IMPARTIAL investigation. Unfortunately, due to the INCOMPETENCE of Greater Manchester Police NOTHING at all was done in relation to the crime that was committed, including the attempt by dangerous criminals to cause very serious harm to my partner, at the very least. The police failed to record the relevant details of the case. 

“They failed to act on the information given 

“They failed to interview any key witnesses promptly OR at all

“The police failed to collect ANY evidence that may have led to the identification of those responsible and punishment accordingly. 

“Furthermore: This ill treatment by GMP has caused psychological distress to myself and my children. 

“I am in fear that if I ever need the police in an urgent matter (as I did previously) not only will they NOT attend promptly – but the police will breach their investigatory duty to act. 

“I believe GMP had an operational duty to investigate and this duty was breached

“Next time it could well be a murder, instead of an aggravated burglary or attempted murder/manslaughter (which your officers appear to have mis-recorded as a theft to minimise the need to investigate, raising a different range of performance issues).

“This matter now needs to be handled expeditiously and I expect to hear from a senior officer, of at least superintending rank, within the next 7 days, to discuss the best way forward from this horrific ordeal with a view to formulating an action plan that will lead to the apprehending of these dangerous criminals.

“I have copied in all the stakeholders whom I consider need to be aware of these grotesque failings of GMP.


Yours sincerely

Gail Hadfield Grainger”

As set out in the letter, the sender is well known to GMP. Her partner, Anthony Grainger, was shot by them in 2012. At the resultant public inquiry, the force was very heavily criticised over a long list of failings and the outfall from that still rumbles on (read here).

Was that a factor in the appalling treatment of Gail over this shocking experience at her home? We will see, once the layers of incompetence are pulled back and a proper investigation has taken place.

The signs are not promising, however. 24 hours after sending the letter not one GMP officer had been in touch with her, either by phone or email.

Another man, with now a great deal, to lose has also not spoken to Gail, or contacted her in any other way. Andy Burnham, the Greater Manchester Mayor, has let her down very badly over the outcome of the Grainger Inquiry, after making false promises on network television (read more here). Accordingly, her hopes are not at all high that he will hold the chief constable to account over this latest issue.

Gail, measured and articulate as always, can be watched talking about her horrendous experience in a short video clip here.

This is a developing news story and will be updated. Follow Neil Wilby on Twitter here, and on Facebook here.

Page last updated: Sunday 12th December, 2020 at 1045 hours

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

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

Picture credit: ITV Granada

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby Media, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Cover-up at all costs

There are many thousands of words written elsewhere on this website about the so-called ‘police watchdog’ in England and Wales, most recently here. Currently known as the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), having previously existed as the Independent Police Complaints Commission (2004-2018), the Police Complaints Authority (1985-2004) and the Police Complaints Board (1977-1985). Each of those ‘brands’ becoming more toxic than their predecessor (read more here).

The latest incarnation, the IOPC, is already regarded by those involved closely with the police complaints system as even worse than the thoroughly disgraced IPCC. Despite the high hurdle that undoubtedly presented, with its legacy of gratuitous self-congratulation, poor leadership, interminable delays, flawed decision making, and the inevitable partisan outcomes of ‘investigations’ carried out too frequently by inexperienced, under-qualified ‘casework managers’ or ‘lead investigators’ who had completed a six-week remote learning course to earn their badge.

Matters now made much worse by the controversial appointment of an inexperienced, under-qualified (in the police complaints arena) chief executive, Michael Lockwood, with, it appears, an unhealthy appetite for dining at the same table as those he is charged with holding to account. Most notably, his unctious currying of favour with the Police Federation of England and Wales, blowing an ill wind for those making complaints against the Fed’s members. Who just happen to account for over 80% of all warranted police officers.

Knowing whom the Home Office passed over for the job simply makes that situation almost unbearable. A no-nonsense, high-achieving criminal justice practioner with a proven track record of leadership and putting right great wrongs. Made to measure for an organisation so badly in need of a change in culture and the elimination of so many questionable practices.

It is a matter for that person to reveal how, and why, he was passed over. To do otherwise would necessitate an unconscionable breach of confidence.

Lockwood has, since his appointment, been embroiled in a ‘cronyism’ scandal over the appointment of Tom Whiting, his former number two at Harrow Council. Board minutes recorded that the £140,000 per annum appointment was ‘not previously budgeted for’ and Mr Whiting was not ‘financially qualified’.

A qualified accountant, Lockwood also hired his former personal assistant from the same council, but denied any impropriety in both cases.

He also lost his Deputy, Jonathan Green, in yet another embarrassing scandal after Green, who was recruited by the IOPC from the dental profession, was caught having an affair with a junior colleague. He headed up an inquiry that cleared five detectives of misconduct after Scotland Yard’s botched investigation into false claims made by jailed fantasist Carl Beech. The infamous Operation Midland.  One of the matters in issue was detectives misleading a judge in the course of obtaining search warrants.

In the face of well-rehearsed concerns of two prominent judges, the IOPC dismissed the misconduct allegations. The lead investigator on that probe, much younger than him, was said to be Green’s love interest. She admitted the relationship, but the married Green had denied it when first approached by The Times newspaper.

One of the main critics, retired High Court judge Sir Richard Henriques said he was ‘alarmed by the lack of knowledge of relevant criminal procedure’ of those within the IOPC, lamenting the fact that an ‘error-ridden’ criminal inquiry was ‘followed by such a lamentably slow and inadequate process’.

Green’s lover was replaced as lead investigator by another young female who had joined the IOPC, 16 months earlier, from Topshop, a leading clothing retailer. Not noted, of course, as a training ground for major police corruption investigations.

Against that troubled background, and being adjacent to current high profile and seriously unsatisfactory IOPC investigations involving such as the spectacularly failed Operation Resolve probe into the Hillsborough Disaster; outfall from the nationally known Anthony Grainger Inquiry; another high profile police shooting that resulted in the death of Yasser Yaqub on a slip road off the M62 near Huddersfield; and the death of Oldham man, Andre Moura, following a sustained beating in the back of a police van; a judgment was handed down at the Royal Courts of Justice this week in what appears, at first blush, to be a case of much lesser significance: A Section 18 search warrant, obtained by way of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, 1984 (PACE) was followed by the mishandling of the partially disabled detained person, by a group of Hertfordshire and Thames Valley officers, that resulted in relatively minor injuries.

The incident happened in 2013. It has taken seven years of determined struggle, against the police and their gatekeeping ‘watchdog’ for the complainant, Julian Watson, to reach the stage where matters are heard, for the first time, before an independent arbiter. Almost three of those years have been spent waiting for a hearing of his judicial review application. The decision challenged was made by the IPCC in December 2017, and permission was granted by noted police action lawyer, Clive Sheldon QC, sitting as a High Court Judge, in July 2019. No explanation is given in the judgment as to how such an interminable delay came to pass.

The IOPC had considered an appeal by Mr Watson against a decision of the Hertfordshire Constabulary (“Hertfordshire”). He had complained about two of their officers. The force had decided that one of them, Police Constable Lobendhan, should face disciplinary proceedings, but the other, Police Sergeant Jinesh Solankee, had no case to answer. The watchdog decided not to uphold the appeal against the decision in respect of PS Solankee.

The background to the case is taken almost verbatim from Mr Justice Chamberlain’s concise judgment: In the early hours of 24th December 2013, PC Lobendhan and PS Solankee went to Mr Watson’s home in Milton Keynes to conduct a PACE search. Mr Watson did not want to let them in. There was a scuffle at the door during which PS Solankee discharged PAVA spray. The officers then entered and arrested Mr Watson for obstructing a constable in the execution of his duty. They handcuffed him in what is known as the “front stack position”, that is to say with his hands in front of his body. Two officers from Thames Valley Police (“TVP”), Police Constable Morgan-Russell and Special Police Constable Badshah, came to assist. A search of the house was conducted. A small quantity of cannabis was found. Mr Watson was arrested on suspicion of possession of a class B drug with intent to supply.

PC Lobendhan and PC Morgan-Russell took him to the police car and then on to Milton Keynes police station. The other two officers also travelled to the station. The custody suite was in a temporary building, accessed by external metal steps with a sharp non-slip coating. Mr Watson suffers from sciatica and trapped nerves, having fractured five vertebrae in a fall. He told the officers that he could not get up the steps with his hands cuffed in front of him. PC Lobendhan and PC Morgan Russell dragged him up the steps by his arms. He was facing down the steps in a semi-seated position. He suffered cuts and scratches on his way up. PS Solankee observed these events and did not intervene. Mr Watson was then booked into a cell.

Mr Watson was never convicted of any offence arising out of the search and arrest. The only charge to proceed was one of obstructing a police officer in the execution of his duty. That charge was dismissed by the local magistrates.

In the meantime, on 31st December 2013, Mr Watson had made a written complaint about the conduct of the officers who arrested him. It covered several aspects of his treatment on 24th December, 2013. The one that matters for the purposes of the judicial review was “unnecessary brutality and injuries sustained in dragging me up steel nonslip sharp jagged steps to the Custody Office”. Mr Watson described what happened as follows:


“At the entrance to the Custody Office I told the police officers that my mobility disabilities would prevent me from being able to get up the ten steps with only one handrail and with handcuffs on. They refused to remove my handcuffs even though they were at least four officers present and, instead, one of them said: ‘If you don’t get up those steps we will drop you and drag you up and it will not be a pretty sight’. I again said that I could not negotiate the steps with the handcuffs on and that having told them of my disability is it was their responsibility to take care of that and act in an appropriate manner.


“The next thing I was aware of was being pushed backwards onto the steps and something (probably a foot or leg) put behind my legs making the trip over backwards and land heavily on the first few rungs of the steps. My dressing gown belt became undone so the front part of my body was exposed. They then proceeded to lift my arms above my head and pull on the handcuff central connector and drag me up the steps backwards. The steps are steel and finished on the step and nosing with very sharp gravel type non-slip finish.


“I was in considerable pain when I was dragged into the front desk area of custody, and after lashing out at their attempts to pull me to my feet, I was eventually allowed to kneel and pull myself up using a bench and wall. I notified the custody sergeant again of my disabilities and medication for it. I also asked for medical attention to my injuries that hurt very badly, but that I could not see as they were mostly to the back of my legs. During this time my dressing gown belt became loose and I was unable to gather the sides together and secure the belt with handcuffs on, so much to my embarrassment everyone was sniggering my immodest exposure.”


The complaint was considered by an investigating officer at TVP, Mick Osborne. He considered Mr Watson’s account, alongside those of PC Morgan-Russell, PS Solankee and PC Lobendhan. SPC Badshah had, by that time, left TVP and, he said, without explanation, it was not considered practical to obtain a statement from her. Mr Osborne also considered the custody record and viewed CCTV footage of the custody suite at the time when Mr Watson was brought into it. Mr Osborne produced a report on the basis of which a decision-maker in TVP decided that neither of the two TVP officers had a case to answer.


Mr Watson, unsurprisingly, exercised his right to appeal against that decision to the IOPC. On 29th March 2018, Philip Harrison, a Casework Manager at the IOPC, upheld the appeal. The letter containing Mr Harrison’s reasons included the following passage:


“…there is available CCTV which does show the top of the custody suite stairs, as well as the entry area of the custody suite. It is clear from this footage that you were dragged up the stairs and then into the custody suite. I have also reviewed photographs of the injuries he sustained while being dragged by the officers. The witness statement made by PC Morgan-Russell, following your arrest, confirms that he, along with PC Lobendhan, dragged you into the custody suite. However, as PC Lobendhan is not a TVP officer I cannot consider his actions or the outcome of the investigation into him as part of this appeal.


“PC Morgan-Russell does not appear to have provided any rationale, or justification, as to why he considered dragging you up an exterior set of stairs, while you were only dressed in a dressing gown, was the most appropriate use of force. There is no available evidence to demonstrate that he considered any other options, such as supporting you as you climbed the stairs or physically carrying you into the custody suite. There is also no evidence to suggest any consideration was given as to whether there were other more suitable access points that could be used.


“I have noted the comments the officers have made about your demeanour during this incident. While it is asserted you were aggressive at the outset in that you refused entry [into your home] by the Hertfordshire officers and used force to keep the door closed, it does not appear that this behaviour continued after entry was gained. After this point your behaviour is only described as abusive and uncooperative. I am also mindful that PC Morgan-Russell describes your resistance outside the custody suite as passive. In my opinion, these circumstances do not demonstrate a clear need to drag you backwards, rather than carry or support to you in another manner.


“In light of the lack of provided rational explanation as to why dragging you up the stairs was the most appropriate course of action, and the injuries he sustained while being dragged up the stairs, it is my view that there is sufficient evidence on which a reasonable tribunal properly directed, could find, on the balance of probabilities, misconduct in relation to PC Morgan-Russell’s use of force.


“The Police Standards of Professional Behaviour state under Equality and Diversity that ‘Police officers act with fairness and impartiality. They do not discriminate unlawfully or unfairly’. Home Office guidance further clarifies that ‘Police officers pay due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination and promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different groups.’


“PC Morgan-Russell records in his statement that you made him aware you were disabled prior to you leaving your home. PC Morgan-Russell further details that you stated you were unable to climb the custody stairs and would need to be carried up them. In light of this, and for the same reasons provided earlier in relation to PC Morgan-Russell’s use of force, I consider there is sufficient evidence on which a reasonable tribunal properly directed, could find, on the balance of probabilities, PC Morgan-Russell’s actions were discriminatory.”


Mr Harrison went on to say that the allegation that PC Morgan-Russell used excessive force would, if proven, be a breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour in respect of use of force and equality and diversity. The breach would not be so serious as to amount to gross misconduct (conduct warranting dismissal), but could justify a finding of misconduct. The appeal was therefore upheld and a recommendation made that PC Morgan-Russell be required to attend a misconduct meeting. The meeting took place and PC Morgan-Russell was found to have committed misconduct. The sanction imposed was “management advice”.


Separately, Mr Osborne’s report was sent to Hertfordshire for a decision on whether either of their two officers had a case to answer. It was referred to Detective Chief Inspector Beeby. She decided, on 26th July 2018, that PC Lobendhan would have had a case to answer for dragging Mr Watson up the steps to the custody suite. As he had left the force in 2016, however, there was no further action that could be taken under Police Regulations. The remainder of the allegations against PC Lobendhan and PS Solankee were not upheld. No reason was given for the latter conclusion, despite the fact that it was, on any independent view, a prima facie breach of Standards in respect of challenging inappropriate behaviour.

Six months earlier, after just 10 years as a police officer, PS Solankee had been promoted to inspector.


Mr Watson appealed to the IOPC against the Hertforshire decision. There were two parts to the complaint: The first concerned what Mr Watson said was the excessive use of force at his home. The second concerned the use of force to drag him up the steps to the custody suite at Milton Keynes police station.


The appeal was determined by Claire Parsons, an IOPC Casework Manager. In a letter dated 17th December 2019, she explained to Mr Watson her reasons for not upholding the appeal. Ms Parsons made clear that she had considered a range of information: Statements provided by PC Lobendhan, Inspector Solankee (who by this time had, of course, been promoted), PC Morgan-Russell and SPC Badshah (contrary to what Mr Osborne at TVP had said); contemporaneous records; the result of the misconduct meeting relating to PC Morgan-Russell; and CCTV footage. In relation to the allegation of excessive use of force in dragging Mr Watson up the steps to the custody suite, Ms Parsons said this:


“In relation to the second part of your complaint where you state that having got out of the police vehicle at Milton Keynes Police Station, you were dragged by the offices from the car park up a flight of stairs into the custody office. I note that PS Solankee confirms in his account that when you all arrived at Milton Keynes custody office you refused to exit the police vehicle, and informed the officers that you could not move. PS Solankee states that you were laughing as you were saying this and as a result the officers removed you from the vehicle by force. PS Solankee describes you as passively resisting as you began to walk up the stairs towards the custody office, and then you began to fall to the floor, telling the officers that you were disabled so they would have to carry you up the stairs. PS Solankee confirms that force was used to get you into the custody suite. I have also reviewed the two statements submitted by PC Lobendhan in December 2013 and 19 July 2015. I note that PC Lobendhan states that you had thrown yourself to the ground whilst leaving your property to enter the police vehicle, and had to be physically helped to the car. PC Lobendhan also states that when you all arrived at Milton Keynes custody office and exited the police vehicle you fell to the floor ‘in a controlled manner’ and then refused to get up, informing the officers that you could not walk. PC Lobendhan states that, as a result of this, he and PC Morgan Russell carried you up the stairs ‘causing minor scrapes and scratches to the DP (detained person in police parlance)’. However, it is of note that PC Lobendhan has not provided any rationale in regards to his decision to drag you up an exterior set of metal stairs with another officer, whilst you were only in your dressing gown. PC Lobendhan has also not provided an explanation as to whether or not he considered other potential options to get you into the custody office, such as using an entrance that is specifically designed for disabled individuals, or arranging for more offices to assist with actually carrying you up the stairs in a safe and more dignified manner.


“I have reviewed the CCTV footage which covers the top of the stairs to the custody office, as well as the corridor which leads to the entrance of the custody office. The footage clearly shows PC Lobendhan and PC Morgan Russell dragging you up the stairs by your arms, as you were in a seated position being pulled backwards. Both officers continued to drag you along the floor of the short corridor and then into the custody suite. In my view, you do not appear to be physically resisting the officers whilst they are doing this. I also note from the CCTV footage that the female officer from Thames Valley police walked in front of you being pulled up the stairs by PC Lobendhan and PC Morgan Russell and PS Solankee was then seen to be walking up behind you, but does not physically touch you. I have also considered the photographs of the injuries you sustained as a result of the officers dragging you up the metal stairs to the custody office.”

Ms Parsons then recorded and endorsed the investigating officer’s conclusion in relation to PC Lobendhan, before continuing as follows:

“In relation to PS Solankee, in my view, there is insufficient evidence that he used excessive force against you. However, I do acknowledge that he witnessed PC Lobendhan and PC Morgan-Russell dragging you up the stairs. Therefore, it is my opinion that it would have been good practice for PS Solankee to have intervened, and made an attempt to establish if there was an alternative entrance to use in order to access the custody block. However, I find that this does not constitute misconduct, but this observation should be relayed to PS Solankee as a learning point for any potential situations of this nature that may arise in the future. As a result, I concur with the findings of the IO (investigating officer) and accordingly this aspect of your appeal is not upheld.”

This is the conclusion that Mr Watson challenged by way of judicial review.

Ms Parsons also said she was unable to comment, or reach a decision on the part of Mr Watson’s complaint dealing with his treatment in custody at Milton Keynes Police Station, because that was for TVP to investigate. That conclusion is not challenged in these proceedings.

The legal authorities governing the principles to be applied on judicial review of a decision of the IOPC were helpfully drawn together by Stephen Morris QC, sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge, in R (Ramsden) v Independent Police Complaints Commission [2013] EWHC 3969 (Admin), at para [21] (read in full here). This is a case I know particularly well, as Tony Ramsden is a good friend and I drafted all the pleadings for that application and the subsequent permission appeal. West Yorkshire Police carried out five investigations into his complaints, each one progressively worse than its predecessor, four were upheld by the IOPC. The one taken to judicial review failed narrowly. The WYP investigator, DCI Osman Khan (as he was then), has recently been appointed to the rank of assistant chief constable in the same force.


During the hearing of Mr Watson’s application, Neil Moloney, an in-house IOPC barrister, drew the judge’s attention to other authorities: R (Chief Constable of Northumbria Police) v Independent Office for Police Conduct [2019] EWHC 3169 (Admin) (read in full here). At paras [54] to [56], HHJ Philip Kramer, sitting as a Judge of the High Court, relied on the decision of the Visitors of the Inns of Court in Walker v Bar Standards Board (19 September 2013), which considered the meaning of the word “misconduct”. In that particular case, a barrister prosecuting in a criminal case had been disciplined for asking an improper question imputing dishonesty on the part of a defence expert. Giving the judgment of the Visitors, Sir Anthony May said at para [16] that “the concept of professional misconduct carries resounding overtones of seriousness, reprehensible conduct which cannot extend to the trivial”. At para [32], he asked the question whether the conduct in issue was “sufficiently serious to be characterised as professional misconduct”. This required him to ask whether it was “particularly grave”. The Visitors said at para [37] that the barrister’s conduct was far from trivial, but was, nonetheless, “a momentary, an uncharacteristic lapse which did not cross the line of seriousness which, in the end, was a matter of judgment”.


In the Northumbria case, Judge Kramer applied this in the context of police misconduct, ruling at para [55] that “for behaviour to amount to misconduct it must fall below a recognised standard of probity or competence relating to the task in respect of which the misconduct is said to arise. If it does not, it cannot be characterised as particularly great. For an error judgement to amount to misconduct it must be the result of actions which fall below those standards.”

In the instant application, the judge summarised the competing arguments of Mr Watson and the IOPC thus:

Mr Watson’s case can be very simply put: Mr Harrison had found that PC Morgan-Russell had a case to answer for dragging Mr Watson up the steps to the custody suite. PC Morgan-Russell was later found guilty of misconduct by using excessive force. Hertfordshire had, itself, found that there would have been a case to answer against PC Lobendhan had he still been serving. There was evidence to show that the two had used force to drag Mr Watson up the steps into the custody suite when there were other ways of getting Mr Watson there. PS Solankee was senior in rank to the other officers. He saw what was happening and did not intervene to prevent it. This means that he participated in the unjustified use of force or, at least, may have been guilty of misconduct by failing to intervene. Ms Parsons’ conclusion that there was no case to answer was not properly open to her in the circumstances. Mr Watson also complained that the IOPC had been late in providing the CCTV footage it had to the court. He said that it appeared that some of it had not been disclosed. A submission that must have some merit, given that the police say that there was no footage of the exterior of what is one of their main stations.


For the IOPC, Mr Moloney submitted that Ms Parsons gave a reason why there was no misconduct on the part of PS Solankee: The CCTV footage did not show that he had, himself, used force. As to the other officers, it was important to note, he said, that no criminal proceedings had been brought against any officer. PC Morgan-Russell was found guilty of misconduct and PC Lobendhan would have had a case to answer had he still been serving. However, the conduct of each officer had to be considered separately; and that is what Ms Parsons did.


In his skeleton argument, Mr Moloney submitted that Ms Parsons’ conclusion was properly reasoned: “Having criticised PS Solankee to the extent that she inferred that it would have been good practice for him to have intervened, she explained why this criticism did not meet the threshold for a case to answer for misconduct.”

When pressed by the judge about where the explanation was to be found, Mr Moloney pointed to that same paragraph and submitted that, when read in context of the rest of the decision, Ms Parsons should be understood to have concluded, in line with the approach in Walker and the Northumbria case, that PS Solankee was guilty of a minor lapse which, even if not trivial, did not reach the threshold for misconduct. In any event, Mr Moloney submitted, there was no reason to assume that Ms Parsons’ conclusion was based on the legally erroneous conclusion that PS Solankee could not be guilty of misconduct unless he had personally participated in the excessive use of force.

The judge’s analysis of Ms Parsons’ decision was conducted by reading her reasons as a whole, whilst bearing in mind that she is not a lawyer or a judge. She was dealing with complaints about two aspects of the conduct of the officers who arrested Mr Watson on 24 December 2013 (the use of force in the initial arrest and the use of force in dragging Mr Watson up the stairs to the custody suite). She was considering the position of both PC Lobendhan and Inspector Solankee. Having viewed the CCTV footage, the judge found there was no basis for disagreeing with her description of the evidence He says that it shows no more and no less than she describes. Contrary to Mr Watson’s belief, he found there is no evidence that any other relevant CCTV footage ever existed but did not expand upon that finding.

Moreover, the central part of Mr Watson’s legal challenge is not to Ms Parson’s description of the evidence, but to her conclusion that PS Solankee had no case to answer. On the footing that he had failed to intervene to prevent the other officers from dragging Mr Watson up the stairs to the custody suite. Mr Watson framed his judicial review challenge as one based on rationality, but the judge noted that, in public law, rationality and adequacy of reasons are often overlapping grounds of review. In a case where the decision-maker has a duty to give reasons, and no adequate reason is given for a conclusion, the decision will be unlawful, at least in a case where the failure to give proper reasons gives rise to prejudice: For example, in the well-rehearsed case of South Buckinghamshire District Council v Porter (No. 2) [2004] 1 WLR 1953, at para [36].

Mr Moloney did not suggest the contrary. He maintained that the passage quoted from Claire Parson’s letter (para [13]) did convey an adequate reason, or that one could be inferred.


The judge told the court that he had read that passage carefully: ‘There is no legal error in Ms Parsons’ conclusion that “there is insufficient evidence that [PS Solankee] used excessive force against [Mr Watson]”. It is the next part that causes the difficulty, he said: Ms Parsons’ conclusion that PS Solankee’s failure to intervene “does not constitute misconduct” is simply that: A conclusion’.

Contrary to Mr Moloney’s submission, no reason at all is given for it. The absence of a reason might not be fatal in a case where the reason could be inferred, but Mr Justice Russell did not accept that it is possible, safely, to infer the reason in this case: Ms Parsons had concluded that PS Solankee’s failure to intervene was contrary to “best practice”. But this does not show that she had formed the view that PS Solankee’s conduct failed to meet the threshold for misconduct, still less that she had in mind the appropriate legal test. The difficulty with this inference, which Mr Moloney invited the judge to draw, is that it is not the only one that could be drawn. Another is that Ms Parsons thought (wrongly) that, if the officer himself neither uses force nor instructs another to use force, evidence of his failure to prevent an excessive use of force by another officer could never be grounds for misconduct. In the absence of any expressed reason for the conclusion that there was no case to answer, it is not possible to know which of these two approaches (one permissible if properly reasoned, the other unlawful) was being adopted by the IOPC.


If, as Mr Moloney suggested, Ms Parsons was expressing a conclusion that PS Solankee’s conduct, though contrary to “best practice”, was not serious enough to meet the threshold for misconduct, that conclusion called for a justification. Mr Moloney said, in some desperation, that it may have all happened too quickly for PS Solankee to intervene. If that is the case, the judge said, it is unclear why PS Solankee was criticised at all. Mr Moloney next suggested that PS Solankee, a Hertfordshire officer, rather than TVP, did not know Milton Keynes Police Station and so could not be expected to know about other ways of accessing the custody suite. There is, however, no trace of that explanation in Ms Parsons’ reasons; and in any event, it would not make sense, given that she appears to have endorsed the conclusion of the investigating officer that the conduct of PC Lobendhan (also from Hertfordshire) would have given rise to a case to answer had he still been serving.


Having considered both the decision itself and Mr Moloney’s submissions about it, Mr Justice Chamberlain concluded that the decision that PS Solankee had no case to answer was inadequately reasoned and is, on that basis, unlawful. Accordingly, Mr Watson’s claim succeeded.

He made clear, however, that nothing in his judgment should be taken to suggest that the IOPC is obliged to find that Inspector Solankee (as he is now) has a case to answer, far less that he is guilty of any misconduct. The IOPC will have to consider the first of these issues. The second issue will fall to be decided only if the IOPC decides the first is in the affirmative and misconduct proceedings are begun by his force.

According to the social media platform, LinkedIn, Jinesh Solankee fits his role as a police inspector around his job as Managing Director of London-based The Hush Group Limited (read here). He joined Herfordshire Police in 2007.

As for the IOPC, the complaint of Julian Watson has opened the window, once more, into their appalling incompetence, blame avoidance culture and a mindset that the maintaining reputation of the police service over-rides basic statutory requirements of fairness, diligence and independence. Not to mention careful husbandry of public funds.

It would be unfair to single out Claire Parsons, at the very bottom of the perenially hungry food chain. She is as good as the training with which she was provided, the professional support network around and above her, and the corporate culture within which she operates. Her decision would have been quality assured by an, as yet, un-named Senior Casework Manager. In the extant circumstances, it is almost certain that her decision would have been reviewed by her Regional Director, Sarah Green, and, presumably, the IOPC Director of Investigations, Steve Noonan. If so, they are the ones responsible for this debacle. Ms Green, an IPCC/IOPC long-termer, has plenty of previous in this regard. Notably, at the conclusion of Operation Poppy, one of the largest investigations ever undertaken by the watchdog (read more here). She was also one of the central figures in the Anthony Ramsden case.

The performance of in-house barrister Neil Moloney was, quite frankly, embarrassing. If he didn’t know he was on a hiding to nothing, confronted only by a litigant in person who appeared to make no oral submissions, then there is little in the way of salvation for him. Even with 21 years of call, it is hard to see how he would make a living in private practice. But, again, in fairness to Mr Moloney, he is, very likely, the victim of the IPCC/IOPC doctrine of pushing the foot soldiers into the firing line to protect the generals. In this case, that would include their most senior lawyers, the aforementioned Sarah Green and General Counsel (formerly Head of Legal Services), David Emery. Another IPCC/IOPC long-termer, having previously served with the Metropolitan Police Service, but, on the credit side, always approachable, helpful and, in my own professional experience, a likeable individual.

Similarly, the Professional Standards Departments (PSDs) of two police forces emerge with little or no credit. Their preoccupation with defeating any civil claims that may follow public complaints drives all their decisions, however irrational and contrary to the evidence they may be. That, very regrettably, is the same scenario throughout the police service, whatever may be said otherwise.

Will this court reversal bring change to either the IOPC or police force PSDs? Regrettably, history shows that the answer to that question has to be an emphatic ‘no’: Few, if any, other institutions have a less impressive portfolio when it comes to not absorbing and failing to learn lessons from past failures.

This is a developing news story and will be updated. Follow Neil Wilby on Twitter here, and on Facebook here.

Page last updated at 0815hrs on Monday 26th October, 2020.

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We investigated ourselves and found nothing wrong

During this course of this week, details have emerged of three more sub-optimal North Yorkshire Police investigations. These add to a shocking catalogue over the past 10 years or so (read more here).

Not burglaries or car break-ins, but deaths in two different rivers in the county, 12 years apart. Denying closure for bereaved families over periods far longer than necessary.

This followed hot on the heels of the shocking news that NYP had misled the tame local and regional media by asserting that a promised review into the depressingly poor investigation of the murder of Diana Garbutt, in 2010, never took place (read more here).

In April 2007, John David Clarke died in the River Foss near Towthorpe, by a strange coincidence a village with which convicted murderer Robin Garbutt, former husband of Diana, has strong family connections. No murder investigation appeared to take place at the time.

Pathology suggested that the circumstances were consistent with drowning and found that Mr Clarke had been heavily intoxicated at the time of death.

At the inquest, also in 2007, the coroner ruled that he had died by drowning, with alcohol intoxication a contributing factor. The deceased had an alcohol addiction and was being treated for depression. On open verdict was recorded.

But the police, led by senior investigating officer Lewis Raw, failed to consider the likelihood of a man in such a condition walking well over four miles from York to Haxby – probably taking around two hours to do so – before accidentally, or deliberately, drowning in the river.

Other clues that this was not an accidental death did not appear to be investigated with the necessary rigour:

Messages recovered from Mr Clarke’s mobile phone card SIM card confirmed that the man now convicted of his murder, ex-Tesco worker, David Roustoby, was the last person to see him alive.

His partner, Sharron Houlden, had reported her car stolen to the police two days after the murder, and it was found burned out a short distance away.

According to police reports, Mr Clarke had made a complaint in November 2006, saying Roustoby had allegedly discharged a firearm and threatened to kill him. The latter was arrested, but never charged.

In the end, it took a confession, filmed at a friend’s house in August 2019, for Roustoby to be finally arrested, interviewed, charged and face trial. He thought he had, literally, got away with murder after drugging and then strangling David Clarke with a tie because he thought ‘he was a nonce’.

Police, during a renewed investigation codenamed Operation Jet, found no evidence to suggest that the deceased had such character frailties and prosecutor, Richard Wright QC, told the jury: “Claiming David Clarke was a sex offender was a wicked self-justification of the terrible thing [Roustoby] had done”.

“David Clarke had no convictions of sex offences and no allegations of any type had been made.”

Mr Wright also told them that it was possible Roustoby had not “entirely killed” Mr Clarke when strangling him and the victim was, possibly, still breathing when he was thrown in the river.

When confronted with his video confession, Roustoby claimed that he was trying to impress his friends; that it was all fantasy. He was jailed for life, with a minimum term of 19 years to be served.

Miss Houlden was handed a sentence of two years and eight months imprisonment (less time already spent in custody) after pleading guilty to assisting an offender at an earlier hearing in September, 2020. 

Another curiosity is that Supt Raw was also the senior investigating in the disastrous Garbutt murder probe codenamed Operation Nardoo (read more here). A recent freedom of information request revealed that a promised review of that ‘comedy of errors’ never took place. Moreover, in recent correspondence with the chief constable, it is clear that the force is still refusing to re-open the case and very uncomfortable over the renewed scrutiny.

19 year old Sonny Ferry, brought up in Rutland but working as a building labourer in the city, also died in the River Foss in York in April, 2019. He had been on a night out with friends but became separated from the group in a local nightclub. It later emerged his bank card had been used several times on the day he was found and police knew it was missing when the body was recovered.

Inspector Lee Partridge said, at the time, it was not known whether the teenager’s wallet had been lost or stolen before he fell in the river or was fished out by person(s) unknown.

There were attempts to use Sonny’s bank card at a Tesco supermarket, two petrol stations and two McDonald’s outlets in the city between 04:22 and 06:10 BST on 14 April, although some transactions were declined.

The police did not tell Sonny’s family about the missing wallet until two months later but, by that time it was too late to check relevant CCTV footage in the areas where he had been.

A 45-year-old homeless man was arrested on suspicion of theft, in relation to the missing velcro-strapped wallet, but was released without charge.

His parents, Stephen and Kate Ferry, submitted a formal complaint to NYP after the initial investigation was closed just one day after Sonny’s death.

The perennially disgraced Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) was asked to investigate the circumstances leading up to his death.

However, the ‘police watchdog’ said evidence did not suggest the officers breached standards of professional behaviour. A decision that may not sustain before a coroner’s or civil court.

An inquest will now take place on a date yet to be determined.

A third victim of what appears to be sub-optimal NYP contact died in the River Ouse in York city centre less than a week later. Sharron Scott, the mother of the dead man said her 29 year old son Steven O’Neill, who was from The Wirral area of Merseyside, was on a night out with his brother, a soldier based at Imphal Barracks in the Fulford Cross area of the city, when the tragedy occurred.

Ms Scott said she failed to understand how her son ended up in the river because he could not swim. She was dissatisfied with the explanations of the police and made a formal complaint to the IOPC.

North Yorkshire Police said, at the time, they were alerted by CCTV operators to suspicious activity on Kings Staith in the early hours of a Saturday morning. Upon arrival, a man ran off and a short time later entered the water. A rescue operation was mounted but he was dead when his body was recovered from the river. All deaths where there has been police contact are required to be mandatorily referred to the IOPC for what is described as an ‘independent investigation’.

An IOPC investigator subsequently wrote to Ms Scott, to say that the evidence gathered does not suggest officers breached the police service’s Standards of Professional Behaviour. It is unclear as to who gathered what evidence.

He finalised his assessment of the status of officers involved in the incident preceding Steven’s death, after ‘carefully’ examining ‘all evidence’ including bodycam and CCTV footage, radio transmission recordings and witness statements (much more likely to be informal witness accounts than formal statements). Three visits to the scene and an inspection of life saving equipment were also made by the IOPC, they say, although it is not made clear who made these visits and for what specific purpose.

He said: “My assessment of all the evidence gathered to date in the investigation does not suggest the officers involved with Mr Scott may have breached the Police Standards of Professional Behaviour or acted in a manner that would justify disciplinary proceedings.”

Ms Scott said she was “appalled” by the investigator’s conclusions, and was planning to take civil action against North Yorkshire Police if the decision was upheld.

She said she did not believe sufficient care was taken for her son’s safety when he ran along the riverside – or sufficient action was taken by officers to save his life after he had entered the water.

The IOPC claim that CCTV, footage from body worn cameras, witness statements and police radio transmissions were all analysed, suggests that none was seized by the watchdog in the ‘golden hours’ after the death of Steven. They would have viewed, presumably, what the police wanted them to see. Over the years, their record on such analyses, in a number of other similar death following police contact cases, does not, regrettably, bear a great deal of scrutiny.

Neither does the record of the genuinely appalling record, over a long period of time, of the Professional Standards Department of North Yorkshire Police in covering up wrongdoing by their colleagues. Very strongly aided by a complete lack of oversight, or appropriately rigorous scrutiny, by any or all of the disgraced Police and Crime Commissioner, Julia Mulligan, about whom much is written elesewhere on this website; the aforementioned IPCC/IOPC and Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary.

In the month following the deaths of Steven and Sonny, NYP was forced to apologise to both families for alarm and distress caused when a CCTV operator posted an “inappropriate, insensitive” comment on the York Press Facebook page about drunks putting themselves in danger close to the rivers in York.

The force says it “wholeheartedly acknowledges” that the comments were made without any regards for families grieving the loss of a loved one.

“The member of staff who made the comments will be dealt with appropriately,” the force said, via their press office. “We apologise for the alarm and distress caused”.

The CCTV operator wrote: “Well, I normally keep my opinions on police matters to myself but I work in the police control room and sit in front of the CCTV screens.

“What doesn’t get reported are the number of drunks that put themselves in these dangers.

“Thursday night shift we responded to four persons too close, dangling legs, trying to climb river ladders or walk across the wall across Ouse bridge.

“One idiot jumped in and managed to climb out. That’s four individuals in danger in just one shift. It’s the person’s (drunken and misguided) choices, not the river’s fault.”

Sharron Scott said the comments were posted after The Press had reported on the death in the Ouse of her son. The link being, of course, that he drowned after running away from police officers, who had been alerted by CCTV operators to suspicious activity in the area of King’s Staith.

Ms Scott said that specific role of CCTV operators in the chain of events which led to Steven’s death had made the comments by one of those operators particularly concerning.

She added that the comment had sparked a series of other derogatory, speculative and prejudiced comments about her son from other people on Facebook, suggesting for example that he was clearly a drug dealer as he came from Merseyside.

“This has been incredibly upsetting and distressing not just for me but also for the wider family who are grieving for Steven, and also for the families of other people who have drowned in York’s rivers,”

The operator’s comment was deleted after a complaint to the police, but the comments by other people which it had prompted had remained.

“I personally would like to see the operator sacked,” said Ms Scott.

Ms Scott has previously made clear that Steven was a hard-working man with no criminal record and she had no inkling of what suspicious activity was referred to by police.

Kate Ferry told the same newspaper: “Speaking with the full support of my immediate family, we feel that had the operator previously had the honour of meeting the two members of the York Rescue Boat, as did myself and my husband, and of witnessing the raw grief on the faces of the unpaid volunteers whilst they told us of their first-hand experiences with individuals of all ages who have sometimes drunk a little too much alcohol, in some cases have drunk far too much alcohol and in further cases have drunk no alcohol at all but have nevertheless perished in the rivers of York, they would never have made those comments.

“Ultimately we feel that what is needed at this time is empathy, respect, courage and honesty. We feel we all need to be honest with ourselves. Haven’t we all said something naively and then wished we hadn’t?”

There is no indication on the NYP website that the CCTV operator faced any misconduct proceedings and it is, therefore, unclear what sanctions, if any, were imposed.

The force has chosen to break the law, yet again, by failing to simple questions put to them by way of the Freedom of Information Act (read more here).

Page last updated at 0945hrs on Saturday 2nd January, 2021.

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Page last updated at 0610hrs on Saturday 28th November, 2020.

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‘Be careful. They are going to fit you up’

They were the words of a retired senior detective delivered in person to a Leeds businessman, recently.

To those who have regular dealings with West Yorkshire Police this would not come as a surprise at all. The force has been notorious for fitting up innocent men and women for decades. Judith Ward, over the M62 coach bombing, and the late Stefan Kiszko, over the murder of Lesley Molseed, being two of the highest profile examples from the 1970’s (read more here).

If David Oluwale hadn’t have been kicked into the River Aire, after a brutal beating at the hands of two police officers, he would very likely have been taken to the police station in central Leeds and charged with one offence or another. That had been a pattern over the previous few years before a racist police force, in a notoriously racist city, finally disposed of their unwanted black vagrant (read more here).

Dishonesty and disregard for the law is deeply embedded in this police force’s DNA. As, very regrettably, is their treatment of black and ethnic minorities (read more here about an innocent, defenceless mother forced to flee Bradford), even within their own ranks (read more here about a whole series of complaints).

When the businessman referred to above is John Elam, still fighting injustice eight years after being released from prison, then it is almost expected that the vendetta waged against him for almost 20 years is just reaching its next stage (read more here). He is convinced that covert surveillance is still in place and that his every move is watched and recorded. It will be of considerable disappointment that the police have not discovered any criminal activity as a result.

John Elam, pictured outside the House of Commons in 2014

Gerry Sutcliffe MP told Parliament in 2014 that at one stage of investigations into Elam around 120 officers were involved. Including some drawn from a counter-terrorism unit in the period before the 7/7 bombings took place in London. Three of the four terrorists were, of course, from Leeds. The ringleader, recruiting sergeant and main financier of the 7/7 plot grew up in the Beeston area of the city where, by a twist of coincidence, John’s office is presently situated.

The whistle blower, whose identity is very closely protected, also said that the ‘fit-up’ would involve the planting of Class A drugs. An obsession of the police for two decades and, during which time, they have never found one iota of evidence that Elam has been involved with illegal substances, even after years of the most intrusive covert surveillance. The simple fact is that he trades development land and property, not cocaine and heroin.

A recent attempt to ‘fit up’ John Elam, at a much lower level, backfired spectacularly on WYP. He was taken to court over traffic offences that concerned a motor accident that never happened. Failing to stop, failing to report, driving without due care and attention. His arrest was conducted over these offences by armed response officers from Wakefield, not the constable local to where he lives.

Eventually, after all the relevant CCTV film was disclosed by the police, rather than the cut and shut version given to the compliant Crown Prosecution Service, the case was dropped. As a consequence, a civil claim against the West Yorkshire force was issued by leading ‘Actions against the Police’ solicitor, Iain Gould. An offer to settle the claim has been rejected by the lawyer, on behalf of his client, and it is now awaiting judicial assessment. The police have also baulked at giving an apology to John Elam.

His elected representative, the disgraced Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson, continues to turn a blind eye to the force’s misdemeanours, happy to fund spectacular reversals in subsequent court claims.

The last words go to John Elam: “The fight to clear my name goes on. I work hard, often up at 6am to start work on clearance for development sites, rain or shine. Spurred on by the news that the prosecuting barrister in my case, Jonathan Sandiford, has recently been made a part-time judge. There was so much wrong with that case, how it was presented and what was held back, it does trouble me that he is now up there on the bench”.

“After so many disappointments with legal representatives over the years, I now have a new barrister in my corner, Dominic D’Souza from Goldsmiths Chambers in London (read here). He looks to have more fight in him than the rest of them put together”.

“If you are a police officer that worked on my case or have knowledge of it, please read this appeal and get in touch with my MP”.

APPEAL: If any retired or ex-West Yorkshire Police officer wants to come forward, anonymously or otherwise, with information that may assist in answering the questions still posed by this troubling case, they are asked to contact, in complete confidence, the office of John Elam’s MP, Alex Sobel (details here). The Member for Leeds North West has been assisting Mr Elam, particularly with disclosure issues, for the past eighteen months. He has promised efforts will be made to secure a second adjournment debate in order to fill the gaps from the first one six years ago. They are, however, difficult to come by, especially now as the Corona Virus situation bites, and Alex has not been at all lucky in the ballots that take place when pursuing other issues on behalf of constituents.

Page last updated at 2010hrs on Monday 26th October, 2020.

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

There’s no excuse for abuse

These days, in almost every public sector building, business or shop premises there is a notice displayed prominently that says, more or less, ‘we will not tolerate abuse of our staff’. It’s a sign of the times, if the terrible pun can be excused.

It’s the same on public transport – and the illustration I have chosen is seen on buses and trains across parts of the North West.

The rule is quite rigidly enforced and some organisations do not hesitate to call the police. Barring offenders from subject premises is usually automatic. Rightly so.

Abuse of journalists has become an increasing problem over the past few years and my trade body, the National Union of Journalists, which doubles as a professional body, has run a campaign of sorts almost every year since 2014, to try to limit the distress and alarm these attacks cause. Details of the latest NUJ crusade can be read here.

In Oldham, now part of the Greater Manchester region, but forever East Lancashire to some, the problem of abuse of journalists, and other public figures such as MP’s and council officials, appears particularly acute. Surprising, on one ground at least, as the police force in the town constantly promotes campaigns against abuse and hate. But appear very slow to stem the flow from the very worst offenders.

There is no doubt at all about the main source of what is a relentless torrent of highly personalised, harassing abuse: Bradford-born, Raja Miah, now an infamous Oldham political activist, who openly defies the law. His persistent output on social media is highly concerning, both in tone and content, returning to the same narrow topics over and again, straying well beyond fair commentary or legitimate criticism.

The strapline with which he defiantly signs off posts under his Recusant Nine banner is: ‘DO NOT FEAR THEM. DO NOT FEAR ANY OF THEM’. He claims that his previous outlet, Medium, was subject to censorship, but it is unclear to what extent other than, quite likely, to remove offensive, harassing or defamatory material.

There are three journalists currently in his sights, it seems: Nationally-known political editor and commentator, Jennifer Williams, who works for the Manchester Evening News (MEN), but whose byline also appears in a number of national newspapers; Charlotte Green, still based at the MEN where she was previoulsy based, but now a BBC-funded Local Democracy Reporter covering Oldham and Tameside councils; and, more latterly, myself.

Jennifer, who is also a television pundit and newspaper reviewer, is regularly attacked over her perceived inaction regarding the alleged scandals at Oldham Council.

What is not widely known is that the MEN commissioned an investigation into Raja Miah’s business background, and particularly his much criticised stewardship of free schools in Manchester and Oldham. At its conclusion, and given what would be revealed, the MEN hierarchy decided, on health and safety grounds, that the risk of the type of personalised backlash that this would very likely generate against their reporter, post-publication, it was not worth the risk. The article was shelved and the cost of it, in effect, thrown away.

Raja Miah denies any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, over £2 million was siphoned out of the schools, for which the record-keeping falls well below the accepted standard. He was ‘blacklisted’ by the government

The Manchester Evening News did provide coverage of the scandal when it first broke, which resulted in a complaint to the newspaper industry regulator. It was peremptorily dismissed Read in full here) and it was plain, by comparing his submissions to the Department of Education report on the same subject, that Miah had sought to mislead the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

Charlotte’s sin is said to be ‘biased’ reporting of Oldham Council meetings and ancillary business. Objectively reviewed, there appears to be no evidential basis for such criticism. Although relatively young, she is fully trained and qualified – and has significant experience of court reporting. As I know well, that is a hard school of knocks. It becomes ingrained to only report what you hear, the consequences of doing otherwise are severe.

The third and now, it seems, main target is the author of this piece and since publication of the first of four articles on 5th October, 2020 (read here) there has been what can only be described as a relentless torrent of highly personalised smears posted, or broadcast, on all of his various outlets: Welcome to Oldham website, podcast and Recusant Nine Facebook page. Aided and abetted by a small army of anonymous, low or no follower foot soldiers, who pop up at all points on social media, now dubbed ‘Raja’s Rabble’.

Most regrettably this has impacted on two others, Gail Hadfield Grainger (read more here) and Samantha Walker-Roberts (read more here), whom he has identified as being associated with me, professionally. He also resumed his grotesque and very public attack against Cllr Arooj Shah. The fact that Gail and Cllr Shah are friends, having first made contact 5 years ago, appears to send the Recusant Miah off the scale. Particularly, as it is widely known that Gail and I have also become friends since first meeting last year.

Taken together, the mindless denigration of these five females gives off more than an unpleasant whiff of mysogyny. A suspicion he dismisses out of hand.

One of Raja’s key lieutenants operates under the pseudonym “Rocky Skelshaw” and is an ever-present wherever her hero, and leader, happens to be posting. Repeating and exaggerating the increasing ludicrous output from those quarters. Seemingly oblivious that Miah is presently the subject of at least two police investigations over his highly speculative, heavily politicised rants and that may well become her fate in acting as amplifier in his echo chamber. One of his other highly vocal sidekicks, Tracey Gibson, recently deleted her social media accounts on my advice.

“Rocky” was outed yesterday as another Diggle resident, Kerry Skelhorn (read in full here) after her own intemperate outbursts, over the past weekend, included berating a well known child sex abuse survivor from the Oldham area on a Facebook community forum and, of course, the standard harassing and defamatory posts that are the Recusant trademark.

She now faces civil action and a package is being prepared for the police. A statement has been requested from her employer, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to establish whether the core values of the charity are consistent with those of their Conservation Officer.

It is very surprising, from a journalist’s standpoint, that the unlawful activities of such as Raja Miah, Miss Skelhorn, and a significant number of others, with either personal or political axes to grind against some or all of such as local MPs, the council, the police, the Mayor, in maintaining this vile hate campaign, have not been the subject of more immediate and robust action. A matter I am taking up myself, in measured terms, with Detective Chief Inspector James Faulkner, a senior officer based at Oldham Police Station, who has been adjacent to the facts for some time. We start off from a healthy position, as the only previous interaction produced an impressive response from both him and his divisional colleagues over a safeguarding issue.

Greater Manchester Police press office has been contacted for comment.

Page last updated: Wednesday 28th October, 2020 at 1015 hours

Photo credits: Arriva North West

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby Media, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Road to Perdition

That a police force has set out to completely and utterly ruin a man, mentally, physically, financially, over the the past eight years is not in doubt. The story is well-rehearsed elsewhere on this website.

Neither is the fact that a law enforcement agency has not only been prepared to commit serious criminal acts, but coerce other policing agencies and public bodies to feverishly cover them up (read here).

That conspiracy against Dr Abdul Rashid, a well respected Bradford general practitioner, both in terms of the smear campaign against him, the police criminality and ‘cover-up’, for which the most compelling evidence is available, appears to embrace the local, regional and national media. The once-respected Telegraph and Argus has provided scant, one-sided coverage of the case and give the appearance of being at the beck and call of West Yorkshire Police.

The T&A gleefully reported the outcome of a ten day hearing of a bitterly fought civil claim hearing in Bradford County Court, directly opposite the newspaper’s headquarters. Their reporter, absent from the entire proceedings beforehand, turned up for the 45 minute handing down of the judgment and then did a hatchet job on Dr Rashid. Grounded in error-strewn findings that, put shortly, did not reflect the evidence or legal argument heard in court. It was appealed and the verdict of Mr Recorder Nolan QC duly quashed (read here).

I was the only reporter in court throughout the trial and the police made representations to the judge and tried to have me removed. An enterprise that failed miserably, as I hold the necessary press credentials (read more here).

The fact that an appeal was in train, the consequent one day public hearing of the appeal or the handing down of the judgment in Dr Rashid’s favour was never reported in the press, or on the heavily pro-police broadcast media in the region. Matters of not only huge reader (and viewer) interest in their locality, but of massive public concern in terms of the perenially oppressive, objectionable behaviour of the police and the conduct of the case by a judge whose attitude towards the claimant’s legal team was highly questionable throughout the trial. Amply borne out in the trial transcript (read more here).

At a case management hearing earlier today (16th October, 2021) at the Leeds District Registry of the High Court, before the North East Circuit’s most senior judge, Mr Justice Lavender, the outfall from Dr Rashid’s success at appeal, where it was determined that his arrest by WYP in 2012 was unlawful, was picked over and Directions given to both legal teams.

The successful claimant has been represented, throughout the eight year battle with the police, by Ian Pennock of Park Lane Plowden Chambers in Leeds. Olivia Checa-Dover of KBW in Leeds advocates for the police.

The judge, firstly, and as a High Court arbiter, dealt with matters consequential to the appeal:

The costs of the appeal were awarded to Dr Rashid. The legal bills of both parties are estimated to be around £125,000, for which the taxpayer foots the bill. A payment on account of £35,000 has been ordered by the judge, pending agreement or assessment of costs.

Folllowing the quashing of Mr Recorder Nolan’s Order, and a substitute finding by Mr Justice Lavender that the arrest was unlawful, the senior judge clarified that damages are to be assessed for wrongful arrest, at a hearing that will take place in the Autumn of next year, back at Bradford County Court.

The issue of whether Mr Recorder Nolan QC should preside over the causation and quantum hearing was dealt with fairly shortly by the judge. In his written submissions, Mr Pennock had advanced the view: “From the perspective of any reasonable person objectively assessing incorrect assertions by the police [in respect of their arguments in favour of Ben Nolan QC continuing to hear the claim], it would only further raise an index of suspicion with regards to the police’s clear and strongly expressed desire for the Recorder to be, effectively, reserved to this matter, particularly when the same is not necessary. Dr Rashid makes clear this is in relation to the ‘appearance’ of justice being seen to be done and the police not being able to select the judge they consider to be most favourable to them”. The nub of Miss Checa-Dover’s argument was that Recorder Nolan is familiar with the case and should carry on with it.

Mr Justice Lavender ruled that he was not minded to adopt the argument of counsel for either party. He will alert the Designated Civil Judge for Leeds and Bradford, HHJ Mark Gosnell, that listing the matter to be heard by Mr Recorder Nolan QC would be followed by an application, from counsel for Dr Rashid, in terms that the part-time judge recuses himself.

The judge also observed that Ben Nolan’s present contract as a Recorder will have expired by then, and there is no way of knowing whether that arrangement will be renewed. So, the prospective choice of that particular judge may not even arise.

The costs of last September’s ten day liability hearing are reserved. The reasons given by the judge are that Part 36 offers (read here) are already in place on behalf of both sides. If an Order was made now, it would, he says, preclude any further Order by a judge in the County Court in the future. ‘Consequences of those [part 36 offers] will fall to be considered at the end of the quantum trial’.

For example, if the damages did not exceed the offer made by West Yorkshire Police, confirmed in the hearing as £10,000, then Dr Rashid would be left with the costs. If the damages are set at, or exceed, £10,001, then the police pay the costs. The claim is for £5 million and Mr Pennock described the police’s Part 36 offer, not unoriginally, as ‘paltry’. He had argued that costs should follow the event, in the normal course of civil proceedings, but was overruled on that point. Miss Checa-Dover’s submission was that the claim by Dr Rashid is ‘not yet fully determined and there is a real possibility of impact on costs’. A clear signal that WYP will contest this claim to its bitter end.

As the judge himself noted wryly, by a trick of technical wizardry he was able to mutate from a High Court judge sitting in Leeds, to a district or circuit judge in Bradford County Court, so that he was able to give Directions to the parties for the future conduct of the case in that jurisdiction.

Timetabling of the route to the second trial, to determine causation and the amount of damages (quantum) that the police will pay Dr Rashid, was set out: A case management conference is listed for 28th May, 2021 and a further renewal, which may, in effect, become a pre-trial review to be listed on, or after 2nd July.

After hearing argument from both counsel, the judge rejected Miss Checa-Dover’s oral application for what was a thinly disguised bid for a wasted costs order. Mr Justice Lavender ruled that, in respect of today’s hearing, ‘costs were in the case’. That is to say, the ‘losing party’ at the outcome of the final hearing next year will bear the costs of both sides.

As Dr Rashid pointed out after the hearing, he is already ‘the winner’ in terms of having the 2012 arrest at his home, in a dawn raid involving 16 officers, deemed unlawful. That was a long-awaited vindication of a postion he adopted and maintained in the long years since that awful, deeply traumatic day.

Sir Nicholas Lavender QC is a former Chair of the Bar Council. He was called to the Bar in 1989 and took Silk (appointed as Queen’s Counsel) in 2008. He was appointed as a Recorder in 2010, a Deputy High Court Judge in 2013 and as a High Court Judge in 2016, assigned to the Queen’s Bench Division. Highly respected, he is currently a Presiding Judge of the North Eastern Circuit.

By the time the Rashid claim is finally settled, he will probably be a Lord Justice of Appeal. Following the same path through Leeds as one of the best judges ever to sit in that court, Lord Justice (Sir Peter) Coulson.

Two other victims of the same class of police vendetta also feature elsewhere on this website: John Elam (read more here) and Ralph Christie (read here).

Page last updated: Sunday 18th October, 2020 at 1855 hours

Photo credits: Cambridge University

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

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby Media, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

‘A comedy of errors’

North Yorkshire Police has finally admitted that no review of their calamitous murder investigation into the brutal death of Diana Garbutt ever took place (read more here). She was bludgeoned to death in the upstairs living quarters of Melsonby Post Office in March, 2010.

Her husband, Robin Garbutt, was convicted of the murder in April, 2011 after a Teesside Crown Court trial lasting four weeks. The jury didn’t believe his story that armed robbers had killed his wife, before robbing the shop at gunpoint. Neither did three law lords at the Court of Appeal. He continues to protest his innocence (read more here).

In a long-delayed response to a Freedom of Information request made in March, 2020 (read here), the force claim that a one day ‘de-brief’ took place in May, 2011, undertaken by the same officer that led the enquiry, Superintendent Lewis Raw (pictured). His report, it is alleged by NYP, was not published until eight months later.

Exactly a week after the murder, Supt Raw told the assembled press: ‘The investigation is very complex and it will take some time to complete all avenues of investigation’Yet the de-brief, NYP say, took less than a day.

The response to the FOI request was only provided by the police after intervention from the Information Commissioner’s Office.

At the time of the trial and its aftermath, NYP was wracked with scandal and, indeed, in that same month their chief constable, Grahame Maxwell, narrowly avoided being the second officer of that rank to be sacked after a misconduct finding. Stanley Parr of Lancashire Constabulary being the first in 1977. Cleveland’s Sean Price became the second in 2012.

The force had made a statement to the media after the sentencing of Garbutt to 20 years in prison, promising a full review into an investigation that the defence barrister, James Hill QC, had described as ‘comedy of errors’. The trial judge, Mr Justice Openshaw, showed rather more restraint in his summing up, pointing out to the jury that NYP’s management of the crime scene, Supt Raw’s primary responsibility, showed ‘a regrettable lack of professionalism’.

A remark that should also be ascribed to the NYP Command Team who, apparently, allowed this sham to take place. If, indeed, a de-brief ever took place at all. A matter that forms part of the internal review request. Supt Raw

Section 45 of the Freedom of Information Act gives an applicant the chance to challenge a public authority’s finalisation of their discloure request.

NYP are refusing to publish, as requested, the executive summary of the Raw report. Whether one actually exists forms part of that same challenge.

Lewis Raw is a former head of North Yorkshire Police’s notoriously poor Professional Standards Department. A role he was in which he was engaged until shortly before taking on the Garbutt murder enquiry. He has, more latterly, been criticised over a cold case review into the infamous ‘Nude in the Nettles’ murder, in which many mistakes were made by NYP detectives over the years since 1981 (read more here).

An update will follow once that internal review is published by NYP. It is expected that this is another disclosure issue that will, ultimately, end up before an information rights tribunal. A repeat of a lengthy battle over disclosure relating to Operation Rome, the biggest and most disastrous investigation ever undertaken by the force (read more here). An eight year farce, costing over £1 million, did not lead to a single arrest.

As can be seen from the link to the What Do They Know website in para 3 above, Caroline Williams, a long-serving NYP disclosure officer is handling the present information request. She was responsible, in part at least, for an amazing NYP ‘U-turn’ on a request she finalised in connection with Operation Rome. Ms Williams said there was a post-case review into the investigation, a finalisation that was overturned four weeks when her line manager, Ashley Turkington (Malone as she was then), said there wasn’t.

It will be more than interesting to see whether history repeats itself with Operation Nardoo.

Page last updated: Thursday 8th October, 2020 at 1550 hours

Photo credits: Northern Echo

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

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby Media, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Case Digest: R v Robin Joseph Garbutt [2012] EWCA Crim 1167

Summary

Irregularities in an offender’s post office accounting records could not prove theft and did not provide the motive for his wife’s murder. Therefore, the admission of fresh evidence seeking to explain those irregularities did not affect the safety of his conviction for murder, as it was clear that the jury had rejected his explanation that his wife had been killed by robbers independently of the accounting records or any other financial evidence. 

Abstract

The appellant, Robin Garbutt (G), appealed against a conviction of murder.

G’s wife had been murdered in the living quarters above the post office that they ran. It was G’s case that there had been a robbery at the post office and that the robbers had killed his wife. He had gone downstairs to open the shop some time after 04.00 and opened the post office safe at 08.35. A masked robber armed with a gun told him that they his wife was being upstairs, and ordered him to fill a bag with money. G found his wife dead upstairs and called the emergency services. It was the Crown’s case that G had killed his wife and falsely reported a robbery to cover it up. Expert evidence confirmed that the death had occurred hours before G’s call at 08.37. The post office safe electronics showed that the safe was openable again at approximately 08.36; and G’s call was 79 seconds later. Therefore, the events as described by G had to have occurred, within 79 seconds. The Crown also alleged that G and his wife were in financial difficulties; there were irregularities in the post office accounting records which went back to 2009; the absence of money in the safe was because of theft over a period of time by G; the overnight cash declarations were significantly higher than the post office head quarters computerised model suggested they should be; even though there were requests for payment of the surplus cash back to headquarters, no cash except surplus coinage was sent. At the trial, the jury had the accounting records from 2009 onwards. After trial, it transpired that the accounting records went back to 2004. Those records and information regarding variable limits for cash requests were admitted at G’s request at the instant appeal.

G submitted that (1) the pattern of accounting identified in the records from 2009 onwards could not be relied upon as demonstrating theft because a similar accounting pattern was identified in the 2004 to 2008 records which were deemed satisfactory in a 2008 audit, and that if the jury had the earlier records it would have taken a different view of his credibility; (2) the alleged theft from post office funds was put forward as the motive for murder.

Held

Appeal dismissed.

(1) The additional evidence about variable limits to requests for cash did not affect the safety of G’s conviction. G should have had the additional accounting records at trial. That would have allowed him to make additional points, including that he had always made returns showing larger sums of cash than the computer-generated model had suggested, which although not challenged, could have been verified. However, that would not have meant that the accounting records could not be relied upon by the Crown to show the real likelihood of defalcations. That the records went back several years before a satisfactory audit in 2008 did not mean that they had not been taken advantage of from 2009 onwards to use post office funds dishonestly. G’s explanation for non-compliance with the computer-generated requests for remittances had been unsatisfactory (see paras 22-23 of judgment). (2) The evidence of the accounting irregularities could not of itself prove theft. It was important in that it gave an alternative explanation consistent with there having been no robbery, but the evidence before the jury demonstrated that the possibility of a robbery as described by G had been rejected independently of the financial evidence. Even if some assumptions were made in G’s favour regarding the alleged robbery, the evidence as to the timing of death and its impact on what must have happened was conclusive. If the robbery had occurred in the way G asserted, the robbers would have had to have been at the premises several hours before appearing and taking the money. It was highly unlikely that robbers would have arrived early, done nothing to further the robbery or have gone upstairs when the money was downstairs in the shop. If the robbers knew of the 8.30 time lock on the safe as suggested that was even less reason to arrive hours before the robbery could be effected, or to go upstairs. Further, it was improbable that the robbers would have killed G’s wife without him hearing anything and that having killed her, they waited for the safe to be opened, or that they would not have been violent towards G who was alone in the shop. If the robbers had a gun as G alleged, it was doubtful that they would have needed an iron bar, which was the murder weapon. However, if that was the case, it was difficult to see why they would have placed it on the wall at the back of the premises in their haste of flight. In addition to those improbabilities, G, who had been robbed before, had left the back door open despite warning his staff not to, had made no attempt to press any panic buttons which triggered the silent alarms, and had given evidence contradicting the fact that he knew the alarms were silent. Those facts all supported the clear conclusion that G’s conviction was safe (paras 24-31 of judgment).

Bench: Hughes LJ; Hedley J; Maddison J

Counsel: For the appellant: James M Hill QC, Martin P Towers. 
For the respondent: David W Hatton QC.

Copyright: Westlaw UK

Date first published: May, 2012

An affront to open justice

Last Friday I reported on an appeal judgment handed down in the Leeds Registry of the High Court of Justice (read more here). It was a civil claim in which the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police and his legal team were defeated by a Bradford GP and medico-legal practitioner, Dr Abdul Rashid.

It was an expensive loss, in terms of reputation of the police, public confidence in them, as well as the consequential costs and, as yet unquantified, damages. Four chief officers, Norman Bettison, Mark Gilmore, Dionne Collins and John Robins have overseen this debacle from its genesis in October, 2011 and an unlawful dawn arrest five months later, involving no less than sixteen officers. The former two chiefs would have known very little about the case. Both left the force under dark clouds. The latter two deeply involved because of the huge sums of money at stake, potentially topping £5 million. Dee Collins, as she likes to be known, authorised a ‘Part 36’ offer of just £10,000 plus costs to settle the claim.

Robins has been on the scene throughout as divisional commander of the arresting officer and his cohort; temporary deputy, deputy and then chief constable. He has a great deal to answer for:

Criminal offences have been committed by officers, on the clearest of evidence (read more here), and the level of misconduct and gross misconduct by a number of other officers in the force, not least to perpetuate a grotesque ‘cover-up’ has been simply breathtaking. Pursuit of satellite interests, instinctive lying, data breaches, police computer misuse, concealing or destroying documents, suppressing witness evidence, grotesque smearing of a hard-working professional man and the pursuit of a zealous, persistent, long-running vendetta by the police, designed not only to ruin him but, principally, to defeat the civil claim.

Selective memory, of course, comes as standard with WYP in court proceedings and their main witness answered no less than 13 times in terms of ‘I don’t remember’ or ‘I don’t recall’ when questioned by defence counsel about key events or missing documents. The same officer, Sergeant Mark Taylor (as he was then) was present at the arrest and has been involved continuously in the case as exhibits and disclosure officer ever since. He should know the case backwards and have logged and preserved every single piece of evidence. That was his principal duty. Some of the key documents he couldn’t produce were his own notebooks and emails. Taylor is still a serving inspector in Bradford CID.

With, it must be said, the aid of a judge whose verdict has now been quite properly overturned, but not quite in the terms it should have been (read more here), the police very nearly got away with it. Rounding off a bad week for Mr Recorder Nolan QC as he was at the centre of a complaint outcome upon which I exclusively reported here. The complaint was not upheld, but is presently the subject of appeal to the Judicial Conduct Investigation Office.

The standing of the legal team deployed by the chief constable, in this most unpleasant of debacles, is also diminished and their own conduct, it can be argued, might well be the subject of a regulatory investigation, at the very least, in order to maintain public confidence in the civil justice system. Litigation is not for snowflakes, but what has been allowed to pass here as professional conduct is seriously troubling.

The instructing solicitor, Alison Walker, Deputy Head of Legal Services for West Yorkshire Police, is said to be already under investigation over other civil proceedings, but neither her own force or the force to whom, I am told, the matter has been referred (Cleveland) will confirm or deny. Mrs Walker will, doubtless, deny any allegations of impropriety in that particular case, and no imputation, beyond the fact that an investigation may be taking place, is made, but she has a much greater difficulty in the Rashid claim as I (and others) have witnessed it, recorded it in my notebook, reported upon it assiduously and have the complete trial transcript (running to 1166 pages) and trial bundle (electronic version of 12 lever arch volumes) to back up those scribblings. Not one word of which has been challenged by the police, or anyone else.

It is also not clear whether it was on instructions from her client, or of her own motion, but Olivia Checa-Dover of counsel sought to have me removed from the substantive hearing of the claim brought by Dr Rashid on the beginning of the fourth day (of ten). At a hearing in the same court building seven weeks later, she objected to my presence in the press box during another civil claim against West Yorkshire Police brought by a former officer, Kerry Perkins (read more here). The latter case cost the taxpayer over £80,000 in costs shortfall; the Rashid case could well cost the same taxpayers over £1 million in costs and damages. That is on Olivia’s opinion and advice. Seemingly, she, and the police, would much rather these matters, of huge public interest, were not reported and the foundation principle of open justice defeated. Not to mention the routine WYP disclosure failings, questionable witness box testimony, and the ‘cover-ups’ referred to earlier in this piece.

That, from my position in the press seats, diminishes her standing as both counsel and an officer of the court – and those instructing her, including other police forces such as Durham Constabulary (read more here) and Staffordshire Police to name but two, might, in future, consider anxiously whether she is an appropriate guardian of public funds. Or able to contain her innate bullishness.

Nothwithstanding those criticisms, I am an admirer of Miss Checa-Dover’s undoubted talent as a courtroom advocate, her ability to charm the bench and enviable case preparation skills.

As a footnote I would add that, having been adjacent to the Perkins case for over two years, from its very first public hearing in Wakefield County Court, if Kerry had not been worn down mentally, physically and financially by her former employers during the legal process, and forced to withdraw her own appeal to the High Court, she would also have ultimately succeeded in her data protection, privacy claim. A view shared by her legal team, including Sarah Hemingway of counsel, which would have been bolstered by the addition of the formidable Stephen Cragg QC to the legal team at appeal. That would have added around £175,000 to the West Yorkshire taxpayer bill, by way of costs and damages.

The spectacular oversight failings in this case of such as West Yorkshire’s hapless, hopeless Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson and his slippery chief executive and string-puller, Fraser Sampson, will be the subject of a separate article. The Independent Office for Police Conduct and Crown Prosecution Service also feature strongly in the facilitation of this grotesque debacle.

The IOPC, in particular, can expect to be put to the sword. They concealed a former WYP detective constable, Mark Lunn, in their Wakefield office for over three years and refuse to confirm that a full review of every case to which he was a party. He just happened to be the arresting officer of Dr Rashid. Even the most basic of checks by the police watchdog would have raised sufficient concerns for him not to be employed in an organisation where flawless integrity should be an absolute necessity.

Lunn is described by a former senior IOPC colleague as “lazy and corrupt, spending more time pursuing his own business interests (selling free range eggs) than his job here”. Given what is written extensively, elsewhere on this website (read here), about the wayward and dishonest Lunn, that observation has the necessary ring of truth.

Page last updated: Monday 28th September, 2020 at 1535 hours

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