Review of February, 2021 on neilwilby.com

A fairly busy month saw six articles published on this website. They have contributed to a pleasing and continuing upward trend in visitor numbers and page impressions.

The first, published on 10th February, saw a return to the vexed situation in Oldham, where a group of political agitators cling desperately to a series of mostly shocking and desperate untruths, designed almost solely to smear three senior political figures in the town and the party they represent. The article (read in full here) exclusively revealed that Cllr Sean Fielding, the Leader of Oldham Council, had been cleared by Greater Manchester Police of a series of bizarre allegations made by a retired police officer, a tax inspector and a PhD researcher at the University of Manchester.

The offences cited were very serious and included harassment, malicious communication and misfeasance offences; the evidence behind them almost non-existent – and an insider says the police inspector reviewing the case, unsurprisingly, didn’t deem them worthy of investigation.

There were also a series of other exclusive revelations that left agitator-in-chief, Raja Miah, and his core far-right supporters, reeling.

The next three articles, concerning the deaths of two Huddersfield men following contact with the police, were linked. The first tragedy happened in September, 2016 after Andrew Stephen Hall was detained and restrained at the local police station before being taken to the Royal Infirmary, where he died shortly afterwards (read more here).

Less than four months later, Yassar Yaqub was, controversially, shot dead on a slip road at junction 24 of the M62 Trans-Pennine motorway. Just 2km from the Infirmary and less than 4 months after Andrew’s death. The article covered the announcement by the police watchdog that none of the police officers involved in the killing would face misconduct charges (read more here).

Coincidentally (or otherwise), the announcement by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (formerly the IPCC) came on the very same day as the latest pre-inquest hearing touching the death of Mr Hall. The report from that hearing (read in full here) revealed, exclusively, that arguments over police witness anonymity are set to reach the Supreme Court.

On Friday 26th February, 2021, a police watchdog made its latest in a lengthening series of shocking revelations as to the failings of forces in England and Wales. The report by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary finds, emphatically, that racism, either conscious or unconscious, around stop and search remains unaddressed. My informed take on it can be read here.

The month’s publishing ended on a lighter note with the news that the popular policing drama, Line of Duty, is set to return to TV screens soon (read here). A programme that always resonates strongly with me as I spend a considerable portion of my time either dealing with or reviewing the work of the Professional Standards departments (or branches or directorates) of five police forces.

Two other older pieces are worthy of mention. Both recorded high viewing figures last month: ‘Blind in One Eye’ (read here) challenges the sub-optimal reporting by iconic satirical magazine, Private Eye, of the innocence claim of convicted murderer, Robin Garbutt. ‘Dr Truthseeker loses her moral compass’ owes its renewed interest almost entirely to the recent airing of a Channel 5 documentary featuring Dr Sandra Lean as a criminology ‘expert’. She is, or was, ‘Dr Truthseeker’ (read more here).

Page last updated on Thursday 4th March, 2021 at 1045hrs

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2021. 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.

Police forces still unwilling to confront institutional racism

A police watchdog has reported, four decades after the introduction of stop and search, that ‘no force fully understands the impact’.

Police in England and Wales are unable to explain why their powers are still used disproportionately, and in many cases unlawfully, on suspects from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) warns that police risk losing the trust of the communities they serve after the latest inspection on the disproportionate use of search powers.

Many policing commentators and elected representatives would say that, in some inner city areas of almost all the countries’ major cities, that trust has already decayed to the point of extinction.

A HMICFRS inspection report, published earlier today, says:

“Over 35 years on from the introduction of stop and search legislation, no force fully understands the impact of the use of these powers.

“Disproportionality persists and no force can satisfactorily explain why.”

It points to very recent data, from 2019 and 2020, that reveals ethnic minorities were four times more likely to be stopped under suspicion, and searched, than white persons.

Black people were almost six times more likely to have force used on them by police than whites and more than nine times as likely to have a Taser device pointed at or deployed against them. A chilling statistic, on any measure.

The inspection also uncovered further troubling numbers including black people being eight times more likely to be handcuffed while compliant and three times more likely to have a spit and bite guard used on them than white people, the reasons for which HMICFRS says are unclear.

The watchdog points out that forces may be acting unlawfully, because this power was disproportionately used on certain ethnic groups, without apparent evidence as to why: “Unjustified use of handcuffs is unlawful and could amount to an assault,” the report correctly points out.

The inspectorate further observes that the excessive use of these powers was unfair and could lead to more black and ethnic minority people being drawn into the criminal justice system, as well as disrupting their lives, education and work opportunities.

HM Inspector of Constabulary, Wendy Williams, formerly a very senior and highly rated black lawyer, who authored the report, says:

“It feeds perceptions among the public and police about black people and crime, and may also influence how the police allocate and deploy resources.”

HMICFRS found the most common reason given by the police, for the use of stop and search, was a suspicion of drug possession, rather than the much more serious offence of supply of drugs. She questions whether this is an effective use of the police power or their time, given that so little was found.

Drug searches on black people are also more likely to be carried out without intelligence, with officers recording weak grounds for so doing and, accordingly, less likely to find anything incriminating.

This indicates that efforts are not being effectively focused on policing priorities says Mrs Williams.

She adds: “Unfair use of powers can be counterproductive if it leads people to think it is acceptable to not comply with the law.

“It may also make people unwilling to report when they are the victim of crime or come forward as witnesses.

“The police must be able to show the public that their use of these powers is fair, lawful and appropriate, or they risk losing the trust of the communities they serve.”

HMICFRS say that, whilst improvements had been made, too many police forces still did not analyse and monitor enough information and data to understand fully how fairly and effectively the powers are used.

They found a wide variation in approaches between regional forces, such as their response to cannabis smoking, and said a consistent process was needed.

At the end of March 2020, statistics show that 93% of police officers were white, 1% black and 3% were Asian. There has only ever been one black chief constable in England and Wales; Michael Fuller, who took up his post in Kent in 2004.

Michael Lockwood, Director General of the perennially disgraced Independent Office for Police Conduct comments, one might say disingenuously: “Only by understanding the causes of this disproportionality – and helping officers to understand fully how their use of stop and search and use of force impacts on those most affected – can we start to make the changes that are needed.”

If Mr Lockwood doesn’t understand the cause by now, the role of the IOPC in it and the actions needed for remedy (which do not include constantly panderinging to the Police Federation), then he should go back to local government and leave the monitoring of policing to those more able and knowledgeable.

The equally ineffective National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) glossed over the scandal in its usual superficial, nothing to see here manner: “We are developing plans to address the disproportionality in the use of stop and search and to explain it and take action to reduce it wherever possible”.

NPCC’s spokesperson for stop and search is the Metropolitan Police Service‘s Deputy Assistant Commissioner Amanda Pearson, whose portfolio includes violence reduction. She goes on to say that chief constables will consider the recommendation around the best approaches to tackling drug crime. There is no acknowledgement or signaled intention to address the core findings of the inspection – and the consequent impact on public confidence in the police service. Which, one must observe, is routine for the policing body she represents.

In DAC Pearson’s own force, only six MPS officers have been disciplined over the misuse of stop and search since 2014. Despite receiving almost 5,000 complaints.

Figure obtained by the Press Association, using the Freedom of Information Act, show seventeen officers faced disciplinary proceedings. Of six allegations that were proven, four officers received management advice, one a written warning and another a final warning.

The data also shows the number of complaints more than doubled from 786 in 2019 to 1,744 in 2020, with the number of searches carried out rising from 268,771 to 319,713 in the same period.

The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners said it shared concerns over the impact of disproportionality on community relations and was involved in numerous initiatives to tackle it. But did not specify what they were – or explain why they appear to be having little or no impact.

Policing Minister, Kit Malthouse, whose usual starting point is to exempt the police service from any criticism, says stop and search saved lives after it helped remove 11,000 dangerous weapons from UK streets last year, adding that young black men are disproportionately more likely to be the victims of knife crime. Which is, of course, entirely correct but not the point in issue. Better (and lawful) targeting and more effective use of police time may well uncover more dangerous weapons.

He goes on to say: “We are committed to ensuring that stop and search is conducted lawfully, and that safeguards, including training, guidance, and body worn video, are in place to help ensure it is used effectively, and that nobody is stopped solely on the basis of their skin colour.”

Mr Malthouse, in his familiar, glib, politician manner, skirts around the key findings of the inspection which are damning in any number of ways over police misconduct and lawful performance of duties.

Andy George, president of the National Black Police Association, is much nearer the mark and says the HMICFRS report “dispels some myths that are used to justify the disproportionate targeting of black communities” and that he hoped it would “allow police leaders to admit that racism is still present in our systems and processes”.

“We want to see determined, accountable and transparent action being taken to remove disproportionality and bias from policing,” he added.

But interestingly, apart from Mr George not one of the policing spokespersons or, indeed, any mainstream media report save that of The Guardian (whose reporter, Vikram Dodd, is of BAME origin), touches on ‘the elephant in the room’: Institutional racism in the police. The spectre of which raises its head once more, almost 22 years to the day after the publication of the iconic Macpherson Report, following the murder of South London teenager, Stephen Lawrence.

HMICFRS has said police forces will face further inspections on race, including on recruitment, ethics and techniques to avoid conflict. There will also be a full inspection of diversity across policing. This will bring troubled West Yorkshire Police very much into focus, not least because of damning reports such as these elsewhere on this website (read here and here).

Wendy Williams is to be warmly applauded for such a searching inspection and pulling no punches in her reporting of it. This is her biography as posted on the HMICFRS . Impressive on any measure and, very arguably, the most effective recruit ever to the ranks of criminal justice watchdogs.

Page last updated on Suday 28th February, 2020 at 0855hrs

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

Photo credits: BBC and HMICFRS

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2021. 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.

Police anonymity argument set for Supreme Court

At a pre-inquest hearing on 19th February, 2021 it was revealed that a coroner’s ruling made in June, 2019 is now the subject of an appeal to the highest court in the land. It touches the death of a black man from Huddersfield, a large Pennine town in West Yorkshire. Andrew Stephen Hall was 43 years old when he died in the Royal Infirmary after an incident in the custody area of the local police station.

The hotly contested issue, a huge drain on public funds, is one of anonymity for the sixteen police officers who will give evidence at the inquest to be held in Bradford Crown Court. The ten week hearing is presently listed to open on 21st April, 2021 before Assistant Coroner for West Yorkshire (Western Area), Oliver Longstaff.

The matter of the use of screens to preserve anonymity has already been fully ventilated in the Administrative Division of the High Court in Leeds, in October 2019, before Mrs Justice Jefford, and then at the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal in London almost a year to the day later (read full history here).

Unusually, the three law lords were split on the appeal. Lord Justices Flaux and Lewison in favour of overturning the decision of the lower court. Lord Justice Males giving a dissenting judgment. It is assumed that the latter has given impetus to the Hall family’s challenge.

The pre-inquest heard that the delay in filing the detailed grounds supporting the appeal with the Supreme Court, made in timely fashion after the Court of Appeal hearing, was entirely due to delays in obtaining approval for funding from the Legal Aid Agency. The green light was given on or around 12th February. The Hall family is fronted, for legal purposes, by Andrew’s partner, Natalie Dyer, and her legal team is led by Leslie Thomas QC.

In the light of the impending Supreme Court appeal, Mr Thomas QC had made an application to the coroner to vacate the hearing in April, in view of the uncertainty of the appeal outcome and the impact it would have on preparation by the large number of legal teams involved in the process. He was, however, mindful of the impact that any further delay would have on other interested parties and those due to give evidence.

After hearing lengthy submissions on behalf of a large number of interested parties, and his own counsel, Marc Willems QC, the coroner ruled that a decision did not need to be made immediately. Several representatives, notably Brian Dean of behalf of the Police Federation of England and Wales, were already in contact with the Registrar’s office at the Supreme Court, regarding the urgent nature of the appeal and the prospects of permission being granted, or otherwise, before the end of March, 2021. At which time a more informed decision regarding the start date of the ten week inquest, presently listed for 21st April, 2021, could be made.

Mr Dean very helpfully took the coroner through the various Court Rules and Practice Directions and pointed out that, even with everyone working expeditiously towards a resolution of the permission appeal, a strict reading of the timetable meant that it was perfectly possible that the decision would not come in time.

The submission of Hugh Davies QC, on behalf of the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, that the inquest hearing opened in April and would be adjourned if the permission appeal was successful, did not find favour with either Mr Willems QC or the coroner himself. The latter expressed particular concern over the impact that a delay of some months, in those circumstances, could have on the jury.

Various estimates were advanced as to when and where a re-listed inquest might be accommodated, bearing in mind a large, ‘special measures’ courtroom (or courtrooms) is a specific requirement. They ranged from eighteen months to two years. The coroner pointed out that, even in the pre-virus epidemic era, there was a gap between the previous date vacated in November 2019 to the present listed date of 17 months.

A planned visit by the coroner, and the interested parties, to Bradford Crown Court is set to go ahead on 3rd March, 2021. Court staff are limiting the numbers attending on that day due to the virus epidemic. Arrangements regarding the positioning of TV screens, witness box screening and entry to/exit from the court in order to preserve anonymity of police witnesses will be amongst the topics discussed. Mr Willems QC told the hearing that a risk assessment had already been carried out by Crown Court staff, or those acting for them in that connection. Partitions between jurors and between counsel are already in place.

Mr Longstaff wen on to say that West Yorkshire Police had kindly offered to prepare the inquest hearing bundle which runs to over 6,000 pages. It will be distributed electronically in ‘pdf’ form. This represented a considerable saving to the coroner’s team, and their host authority, City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council, both in terms of outsourcing cost and saved hours internally.

Some of those savings look as though they will be re-invested by the Council in making a rolling transcript of the proceedings available throughout the inquest hearing. Mr Willems QC noted that such a resource would be useful to the coroner when summing up and, most particularly, the jury in their fact finding role. (Also, it must be said, very useful to members of the press).

Amongst five witnesses who had sought excuse from attendance at the inquest hearing was Christopher Hodgson of the Independent Office for Police Conduct. The IOPC had queried whether his evidence was necessary and, if so, could his statement be read to the jury.

By an extraordinary coincidence, the IOPC released an important statement concerning the findings of its investigation into the controversial death of another Huddersfield man, Yassar Yaqub, on the very same day as the pre-inquest hearing (read more here). The much delayed inquest touching that death, which followed a ‘hard stop’ shooting by police marksmen, is set to be heard in January, 2022.

Page last updated: Sunday 21st February, 2020 at 0835 hours

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This article contains public sector information licensed under Open Government Licence v3.0 (read more here).

© Neil Wilby 2015-2021. 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.

Watchdog clears police over M62 shooting

An investigation by the police watchdog into the shooting of a 28 year old Huddersfield man, after a hard stop on the M62 slip road at Ainley Top in January, 2017, has decided that no West Yorkshire Police officer committed a criminal offence or breached professional standards (writes Neil Wilby). 

Yassar Yaqub was a passenger in an Audi saloon car. It was returning to the Huddersfield area from a meeting at Cafe de Akbar in Bradford. His family believe he was ‘set up’ by a notorious police informant whom he had met shortly before he was killed.

At Leeds Crown Court, during the trial of the driver of the Audi car, Moshin Amin, it was heard that a microphone had been concealed in the ceiling at the restaurant, by police, who then followed the car through the city and out onto the motorway network. Amin hotly disputed that a hand gun was in the vehicle but the jury found him guilty of conspiring to possess a firearm with intent to endanger life. 

He also says no warning was given before three shots were fired into the Audi by a police marksman (codename Victor 39) from the passenger seat of an unmarked Mercedes Benz car. Amin’s testimony was, also, that Yasser was unarmed and on his mobile phone to a man who owed him money over the sale of a car when he was shot. The trial judge, Mr Justice Turner, during sentencing said that the evidence about the dispute being over a car, rather than drugs, was ‘implausible’.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said yesterday that its final report into the incident will not be published until after an inquest which is scheduled for January 2022.

Steve Noonan, the IOPC’s Director of Major Investigations, said: “Our investigation into the death of Yassar Yaqub concluded in 2019.

“Our detailed final report has been shared with West Yorkshire Police and the office of Her Majesty’s Coroner. 

“The outcome of our investigation has been shared with Mr Yaqub’s family and interested parties, while recommendations for learning have also been published on our website.

“A copy of our final report has recently been shared with Mr Yaqub’s family and interested parties.

“Our investigation was comprehensive and detailed.

“Police were treated as witnesses throughout the investigation and the report did not indicate that any officer may have committed a criminal offence or behaved in a manner that would justify the bringing of disciplinary proceedings.

“Due to the investigation’s complexity, as well as a parallel criminal investigation and subsequent trial in late 2018 which restricted our access to a number of key witnesses, there was an inevitable impact on when we could finalise our investigation. We recognise that this will have affected Mr Yaqub’s family.

“It would not be appropriate for the IOPC to publish a report or provide further information until the inquest is concluded.

“As always, our thoughts remain with all those affected by Mr Yaqub’s death.”

The investigation was led by one of its former Commissioners, Derrick Campbell, about whom the Yaqub family and their legal team are fiercely critical.

Michael Mansfield QC, the barrister acting for Yaqub’s family, is understood to have told IPCC investigators at a meeting in April 2017 that their approach was reminiscent of “the bad old days” when families were treated with “utter contempt by the police and those charged with investigating police misconduct”.

“The IPCC panel was not fit for purpose – that’s what they’ve shown,” said Mohammed Yaqub. “They tried to tell me certain things that were incorrect. They didn’t have their files with them [at the meeting]. I was very, very, very shocked.”

The disgraced watchdog was forced to change its name to the IOPC a year to the day after Yassar was shot. The IPCC brand had become too toxic after a lengthy catalogue of high profile failures almost from the day of its inception in April, 2004. It replaced the equally troubled Police Complaints Authority.

Mr Yaqub, a successful and well known local businessman, who is adamant that his son was shot unlawfully, has been approached for further comment. Mr Yaqub is a prominent member of the United Friends and Family Campaign (UFFC) which is a coalition of those affected by deaths in police, prison and psychiatric custody, supports others in similar situations. Their present number totals around 1,700.

The press office at West Yorkshire Police has also been asked for a statement. It is understood that the force has applied for anonymity for its officers at the forthcoming inquest. Important case law on the controversial topic, particularly in relation to the death following police custody of another Huddersfield man, Andrew Stephen Hall, is covered in great detail elsewhere on this website (read more here).

Page last updated: Saturday 20th February, 2020 at 0805 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: Christopher Furlong/Getty

This article contains public sector information licensed under Open Government Licence v3.0 (read more here).

© Neil Wilby 2015-2021. 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.

Inquest delayed over police anonymity arguments

Andrew Stephen Hall, a black man from Huddersfield, died in the town’s Royal Infirmary on 13th September, 2016. He was 43 years old and his admission to hospital followed an episode in West Yorkshire Police (WYP) custody at the local police station and an earlier visit to the Accident and Emergency Department (A & E) of the same hospital.

From documents filed at the High Court, these are the circumstances noted in submissions and are not the subject of factual dispute by any party to those proceedings:

In the early hours of that same September day, Mr Hall was found collapsed at home by his partner, Natalie Dyer. He had taken prescription medication and drunk alcohol. When paramedics attended, he was unresponsive and was taken to A & E where he received further medication and his condition appeared to improve.

He became agitated, however, and was alleged to have slapped a nurse. Ms Dyer says in a witness statement that this occurred because he was disorientated, frustrated and panicking. As a result of the incident, he was removed from the hospital to the nearby police station in the town centre, arriving at about 7.30 am.

At 8.35 am, Mr Hall was taken to a custody area and his handcuffs were removed. He told officers that he was feeling unwell and was going to be sick. He was taken to a cell where he could vomit. He was assessed by a male custody nurse at around 10am and, thereafter, taken back towards the cell by three officers. In transit, he freed one of his arms and grabbed a barred gate. During the ensuing struggle, at least one of the officers struck Mr Hall multiple times. He may have struck back. By 10.18 am the officers had restrained him and returned him to his cell. The custody nurse observed the later stages of what happened to Mr Hall during the altercation and he was of the view that the detained person needed to be taken back to hospital.

Paramedics attended the police station at 10.42 am and Mr Hall was returned to hospital in handcuffs and leg restraints. He was sedated, medicated and arrangements were made for him to have a computerised tomography (CT) scan. Whilst waiting for this procedure his condition deteriorated and clinical staff could not feel a pulse. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (commonly termed as CPR) was performed, but he was declared dead at 12.44 pm.

Andrew’s death, therefore, occurred shortly after he had been in police custody and restrained. Because of the prevalence of such incidents across the wider police service, dating back many years, there is significant public interest in an inquest into the death of a black man in these circumstances. The recent surge of publicity surrounding the Black Lives Matter campaign is ample demonstration of that.

Sixteen police officers are expected give evidence at the delayed inquest, to be held later this year. Anonymity was originally sought for fifteen of them, a number, seemingly, reduced to thirteen by the time the matter reached the appeal court.

Applications for anonymity

In March 2019, the WYP chief constable made an application to Her Majesty’s Coroner for West Yorkshire (Western) for anonymity for three of his officers and, also, for them to give evidence from behind screens. The ranks of those officers are, as yet, undisclosed.

A similar application followed from the Police Federation, on behalf of twelve of their members (officers holding the rank of constable up to chief inspector).

The application for anonymity was not contested by Mr Hall’s family and an Order was made, by the coroner, Oliver Longstaff, together with Orders that the CCTV footage featuring the officers will be modified so their names cannot be heard and their faces will be pixelated. The coroner, jury and legal representatives of the family will have access to unedited copies of the CCTV.

The applications for police officer evidence to be given from behind screens were, however, resisted by the bereaved family. The coroner heard these applications on 6th June 2019. He had two statements from WYP’s Inspector Danny Rotchell, together with his risk assessment; open statements from three officers and closed statements from other officers. The applications were grounded on the premise that if officers were seen, they might be identified and if so, they might be identified either by, or to, Andrew Hall’s brother, Qassim. He has a lengthy criminal record, is well known to the police in Huddersfield and records show that he has a history of making threats.

Qassim Hall was not one of the family members involved in the applications before the coroner, the subsequent judicial review and the consequent appeal to the Court of Appeal. He has not, so far, attended any of the hearings.

The named claimant (or respondent) in those proceedings is Andrew Hall’s partner (and the mother of one of his children). She was, in effect, acting with, and on behalf of, six other members of his family including his mother (Pamela Hall), father (Franklyn Lindor), three siblings (Tracey Nash, Daniel Priestley and Bianca Priestley) and an adult son (Joseph Hall), collectively referred to by the various courts as ‘the family’.

The coroner’s ruling

The coroner ruled, in the event, that the police officers giving evidence would be screened from the public (including accredited members of the press) and the family, but be fully visible to himself, the jury and the legal representatives of all the interested parties.

He stated that the wealth of competing legal authorities presented to him by counsel for all those parties demonstrated that, first and foremost, applications of this nature are ‘immensely fact-sensitive’.

Instinctively, the coroner said, the proposition that the family of the deceased who has died, in circumstances that call into question the State’s discharge of its obligations under Article 2 of the European Conventions on Human Rights [ECHR], should not see the agents of the state implicated in that death ‘offends what can be appropriately described as natural justice, in the sense of the fair and impartial application of law and procedure to all parties to a particular legal process.’

‘That instinct was all the stronger where the application was not based on any sufficient evidence or intelligence reflecting adversely on the family members most likely to be affected,’ adding that there was no basis upon which the Rule 18 power (under the Coroners (Inquests) Rules, 2013) could be exercised other than in respect of the perceived danger said to be posed to officers by Qassim Hall.

The coroner found that proposition credible, referring to Hall’s convictions for violence and history of making threats, including to kill. He accepted that Qassim blamed the police for Andrew Hall’s death and that the police officers had a genuine fear that if identified it would create a risk of harm to them, or their families, from the actions of Qassim Hall. He further accepted that in the case of some of the officers, these fears were affecting their health, and will continue to do so, unless steps are taken to minimise the risk. Hugh Davies QC and Brian Dean, of counsel, had both submitted, in terms, on behalf of the chief constable and Police Federation respectively, that the officers’ fears were not irrational but could be characterised as subjective fears that were objectively justified.

The coroner accepted the submission of Leslie Thomas QC, on behalf of the family, as to the presumption that evidence would not be given from behind a screen and said that Coroner’s Rules permits a departure from that presumption if he determined that the use of screens was likely to improve the quality of the evidence of the officers, or allow the inquest to ‘proceed more expeditiously’. (The sharp-eyed may have noted that the Rule, as drafted, refers to expedience not expedition).

He went on to conclude that permitting the officers to give evidence from behind a screen would be likely to improve the quality of their evidence overall. Witnesses who are fearful for their safety, or the safety of their families, in the event that they are identified, were more likely to be straightforward and forthcoming in their evidence if confident they will not be identified. He had considered whether the use of screens would impede the questioning of any witness and concluded that the retention by the family of a leading QC obviated the risk of any such impediment.

The coroner emphasised that his starting point was the interests of justice, generally, and of anyone concerned in the legal process ‘are best served when those charged with making findings of fact, and reaching conclusions based upon those findings, are able to do so on the basis of the best evidence’ and that, in this case, the best evidence will be given if the police officers give evidence from behind screens.

He confirmed that his decision cast no doubt, or aspersion at all, on the good character of the bereaved family, but his decision was based upon what he perceived as the genuine risk posed by Qassim Hall to the officers and their families.

Delay to inquest

The inquest touching the death of Andrew Hall was listed to commence on 4th November, 2019 at Bradford Law Courts.

That date was vacated as a result of the extant legal proceedings challenging the coroner’s decision and, subsequently, the decision of the High Court in respect of that ruling.

It will now be heard in April 2021, if and when the effects of the virus crisis are mitigated. Multi-handed hearings, before a jury and with large numbers of court staff, lawyers, security, witnesses, reporters and public to be accommodated, pose their own set of problems.

The next hearing will take place on 19th February, 2021. It is listed as a pre-inquest review before Mr Longstaff. Presumably, one of the issues to be resolved is a date for the final hearing of the inquest.

The judicial review application by the Hall family

On 11th October, 2019, Mrs Justice Jefford sitting in the Administrative Court in Leeds heard an application from Mr Hall’s family opposing the coroner’s directions in relation to the screens.

It is worth setting out the grounds in full as they articulate some of the recurring concerns of bereaved families, across a broader portfolio of deaths following police contact, particularly as anonymity orders and screening of police officer witnesses is now an increasing trend:

Ground 1: “The coroner misdirected himself, in that he failed to recognise (i) the fundamental importance of open justice and to give it great weight; (ii) the particular importance of open justice in this inquest, as it involves a controversial death in police custody of a black man following police restraint; (iii) that his decision interfered with the rights of the press within Article 10 of ECHR; (iv) that screening is only permitted in exceptional circumstances; and (v) that in this context screening, particularly screening of all factual police witnesses, is a serious incursion into open justice.”
Ground 2: “The decision to screen the 16 officers from the family and public was a greater intrusion into open justice than was strictly necessary. It follows from the coroner’s ruling that here was no rational basis for screening the witnesses from anyone other than Qassim Hall. There was a less intrusive means of achieving the aim pursued, which was to screen the witnesses from him alone.”
Ground 4: “The coroner proceeded on the basis that screening is permitted if that would improve the quality of evidence, and thereby misdirected himself.”
Ground 5: “The decision was not compatible with the procedural duty within Article 2 ECHR; was not correct as a matter of common law; or alternatively was disproportionate.”

The family was refused permission to apply for judicial review on ground 3 and, as such, it does not appear in the list above. HHJ Philip Kramer, sitting as a judge of the High Court, granted permission in respect of grounds 1,2,4 and 5.

As the hearing unfolded, grounds 1 and 4 were argued together, and the judge said it was first necessary to address the legal framework. There was no dispute that the principle of open justice is a fundamental tenet of common law, as applicable in a coroner’s court as in any other court, citing, inter alia, R (T) v West Yorkshire Senior Coroner [2017] EWCA Civ 318[2018] 2 WLR 211.

She then set out the different facets of the principle, including the ability of those present in court to see and hear the evidence being given. She stated that she did not consider it particularly helpful to frame any incursion into the principle of open justice as only allowed in exceptional circumstances. Her analysis was that: “where there is a balancing exercise to be undertaken, particular weight is to be attached to this fundamental principle and one of the consequences of attaching particular weight to that consideration is that the incursion into openness should be no more than necessary.”

The judge set out the four reasons advanced on behalf of the Hall family as to why the use of screens was a significant incursion into open justice: “(i) it undermines the effectiveness of the investigation because the public would not be prompted to bring forward further evidence; (ii) the observing of the witnesses is an important part of the investigative process (not limited to the process undertaken by the decision makers); (iii) preventing the witnesses being seen undermines public confidence in the process; (iv) not being able to see the witnesses reduces the prospect of catharsis for the family of the deceased.” She noted that no further reliance was placed on the first point but the family continued to rely on the remainder.

She further noted that being able to see a witness give evidence is an important factor in assessing demeanour and credibility. She said that, nonetheless, screening was common in criminal trials because the courts had recognised both the needs of vulnerable witnesses and innocent bystanders giving evidence in difficult circumstances – and the consequent benefit to the quality of their evidence from being made comfortable. This was not seen as undermining public confidence in the system of justice or the openness of the process. However, she added that the position being argued here was significantly different. In the case of an inquest such as this, the public interest in seeing the police officers, however they may have been involved in the events leading to the death of Mr Hall, was of a different nature and measure from the public interest in seeing a vulnerable complainant or witness give evidence – and the risk of undermining public confidence all the more obvious. She referred to the submission of Adam Straw on behalf of the Hall family that there must be such an overarching consideration because of the fundamental importance of the principle of open justice. She also noted his submission that, by following the Rules, the coroner had failed to weigh in the balance the fundamental importance of open justice.

The judge then set out why she considered it was right that the principle of open justice must always have a place in the decision making process and be given appropriate weight in the balancing exercise between potential benefits and detriments of screens and went on to say that it by no means followed that the coroner had misdirected himself in law, for two reasons she identified: Firstly, she noted the opposing arguments had been fully ventilated at the hearing, before the coroner, so it could not be said that Mr Longstaff was not aware of the matters the Hall family averred should be taken into account. Secondly, the coroner’s decision had to be read “with a degree of benevolence or pragmatism” and that the coroner must be taken to have in mind all of the arguments made by counsel, even if he did not set out each of them in detail. If he took account of the relevant factors, he could not be said to have misdirected himself in law, even if he did not articulate the legal principles in the way counsel for the Hall family would have formulated them.

In her judgment, she took the view that the coroner was entirely correct in saying the police application for screening was based upon the fears that Qassim Hall would seek to harm them and found that threat credible and the fears genuine.

She recorded the family’s view that what the coroner did was set out the competing submissions but did not then evaluate the comparative importance of the various factors or weigh them against each other. That is to say: Quality of the evidence weighed in the balance with the interests of open justice.

The judge found that his references to ‘the principles of natural justice’ were clearly in context references to ‘the principles of open justice’ and said, further, that the coroner had made clear his instinctive difficulty or discomfort with the proposition that the family would not see the witnesses implicated in Andrew Hall’s death if their evidence was given from behind screens. It was also found that the ruling in which the coroner considers all the circumstances of the case, may well be read as having inherent in it a balancing exercise in which the principle of open justice played a part.

The judge concluded in relation to grounds 1 and 4 that the coroner did misdirect himself in law and the challenge on the basis of ground 1 succeeded. The family’s position was, in those circumstances, that the judge should make her own decision about the use of screens if she considered there was only one possible outcome, but she could remit the matter back to the coroner if she thought there was a range of possible outcomes. She noted that there was no real dispute that, from the police perspective, it was the appropriate course. To deal with this issue, she considered it easiest to address what her decision would have been on grounds 2 and 5 had she not concluded that the coroner had misdirected himself.

Ground 2 involved a Wednesbury irrationality challenge, that even if the coroner did not misdirect himself, his decision was irrational essentially on the basis that less intrusive measures could have been directed, such as directions to screen the officers from Qassim Hall only, or to restrict his entry to the courtroom. It was said by the Hall family that, even if screens to protect the officers from the view of the general public was rational, it was irrational to direct screens that prevented the family members from seeing the officers give evidence.

Ground 5 was argued with ground 2 because it was similar. It was contended that the decision was neither compliant with the common law duty of fairness nor with the ECHR Article 2 procedural duty. Both grounds raising the same broad argument that the coroner’s direction was a disproportionate measure. Article 2 procedural duty requires that there be a sufficient element of public scrutiny of the investigation to secure accountability, maintain public confidence and prevent any appearance of collusion or tolerance of unlawful acts: The family must be able to participate effectively in the inquest. The judge recognised that this did not extend to the family having a right to cross-examine, or it would seem, a right to observe witnesses giving evidence, but the interest in doing so remains a factor to be taken into account.

The judge said that it was common ground that the decision as to compliance with the common law duty of fairness and/or proportionality was one for the court rather than an irrationality challenge. She said that if she considered the use of screens irrational, it would follow that she would conclude that it was not in accordance with common law principles and was a disproportionate incursion into the Article 2 procedural duty. In each instance, it was open to her to substitute her own decision, which she understood to be common ground.

The judge then set out details of Qassim Hall’s lengthy criminal record and history of making threats. It is not necessary to set out the detail of those findings, as none of the parties has sought to challenge the coroner’s finding that the threat from Qassim Hall was credible and the officers’ fears of being identified by him genuine.

Other than an alleged incident, the day after he had been told of his brother’s death, when Qassim Hall is said to have attempted to climb over the gates of Huddersfield police station (of which incident the police had no record) there was no further evidence that, in the three years since Mr Hall’s death, Qassim Hall had taken any steps to identify or threaten any of the officers. Before the coroner Hugh Davies QC, on behalf of West Yorkshire’s chief constable, had made very clear that none of the other Hall family members represented a threat to the officers or would, themselves, breach the anonymity order. What was contended was that the family members were vulnerable to forced extraction of the identity of the officers. Set against this is the fact of the family already knowing the identity of two of the officers and there was no suggestion they had disclosed that information to Qassim Hall.

The judge referred to the fact that Qassim Hall was not estranged from his family and to two incidents, one in which his mother was charged with violent disorder in 2005, whilst attempting to prevent his arrest and another when she was arrested but not charged when Qassim and his partner were under investigation for harassment. The judge described these as: “the high point of the evidence that a named family member might become engaged with Qassim Hall, out of a sense of loyalty, in steps against the officers by disclosing their identity or otherwise.”

The judge said in the ‘Discussion’ section of her judgment that the coroner made a rational judgment that the quality of the evidence of the officers was likely to be improved by screens and that the quality of the evidence must necessarily be a weighty factor but quashed the coroner’s decision to permit screens to the extent that the screens prevent the identified family members from seeing the officers give evidence. However she decided on the entirety of the evidence that the coroner’s directions as to screens should continue to apply to officers identified as ‘C’ and ‘N’. The reasons for drawing this distinction were not set out.

She concluded that the screening of all the officers from the family was not in accordance with the common law duty of fairness and was a disproportionate measure. The argument that the family would both identify the officers and breach the anonymity order, for which there was no evidence, was wholly speculative.

The appeal to the Court of Appeal by the police

The grounds of appeal of the Chief Constable are that Mrs Justice Jefford’s decision in her judicial review was wrong for the following reasons:

  1. She misdirected herself as to law
  2. She made irrational and/or inconsistent conclusions.
  3. She failed to apply the common test on facts as found.
  4. She wrongly concluded that Article 3 was not engaged and/or that, whether or not it was engaged, the only rational order was to permit defined family witnesses to see the anonymised witnesses.

As one might have expected, there was a considerable overlap between those grounds and those advanced by the Police Federation which were as follows:

  1. The judge erred in ruling that the coroner had not taken account of the principle of open justice.
  2. In reaching that conclusion and substituting her own decision, the judge made errors of law and misdirected herself.
  3. Having reached her erroneous conclusion, the judge wrongly substituted her own findings on the evidence and minimised or dismissed evidence that was uncontested. She reached conclusions that are inconsistent and unsupported by any rationale.
  4. The judge failed to rule appropriately or at all on important submissions in particular as to Article 3, failed to consider the risks to the officers’ families at all and having substituted her own views as to the (un)likelihood of disclosure by force or threat, failed to consider the risk of inadvertent disclosure.
  5. Overall the judge was wrong to find that in the case of 14 out of the 16 witnesses, the balance came down in favour of allowing the family to see the witnesses.

At the outset of his submissions on behalf of the Chief Constable, Hugh Davies QC emphasised that the course which the coroner had adopted, that the officers would be screened from the public and the family but be fully visible to the coroner, the jury and the legal representatives, and the redaction and pixelation of the CCTV footage, so far as the public and family were concerned, was entirely compliant with the Article 2 procedural obligations on the State in relation to the investigation into the death of Mr Hall.

Mr Davies QC submitted that the order for anonymity recognised that Qassim Hall posed an objective threat and an indiscriminate risk to the officers and their families. The risk assessment by Inspector Rotchell, a qualified professional, was that Qassim Hall was a threat of harm in the limited area of Huddersfield. He continues to offend and express views antithetical to the police. The assessment by Mrs Justice Jefford that, if the public were able to see the officers give evidence, there was a real risk of identification by, or to, Qassim Hall, but that the family were in a different position, would not stand scrutiny. He had a background of mental instability and there was a real risk that if the family could see the officers give evidence, Qassim Hall would learn that the family had seen the witnesses and seek to obtain information about them, with an increased risk to them of his putting pressure on them to extract that information. Contrary to the judge’s conclusion that this was “pure speculation”, it was, he said, a real risk. The judge’s conclusion was contrary to the coroner’s finding that the threat to the officers and their families from Qassim Hall was “credible”.

Although in his opening submissions to the Court of Appeal, Mr Davies QC put the case on behalf of the Chief Constable on the basis of both the common law and Articles 2 and 3 of the ECHR, during the course of the hearing he accepted that (as Leslie Thomas QC for the Hall family had correctly pointed out) the application before the coroner was in the end one of common law . Article 2 was, accordingly, not relied upon further and Mr Davies QC accepted that Article 3 had been “put on the shelf”.

Ultimately, the real complaint levelled by the Chief Constable against the judicial review judgment was in relation to the judge’s categorisation of the threat or risk as “pure speculation” which amounts to a rejection of any objective justification.

So far as concerns the correct construction of Rule 18 of the Coroner’s Rules, Mr Davies QC adopted the submissions of Jonathan Hough QC on behalf of the coroner, which are summarised below.

Mr Davies QC submitted that the reference in the coroner’s ruling to “a balancing of competing interests between the officers and the family”, in the context of the ruling as a whole, could only be to the competition between the family’s open justice expectations and the position of the officers, which was the whole point of the competing submissions. He said that whilst the judge had recognised that the ruling should not be subjected to minute dissection, that was the outcome which the judgment had produced. The judge had adopted a narrow contextual analysis of the ruling. Whilst it was accepted that the coroner had arguably not gone through a “pre-flight check list” in relation to the competing interests of open justice on the one hand and the concerns of the officers on the other, Mr Davies QC submitted that the coroner had dealt with the competing interests adequately and the judge had been wrong to substitute her own decision.

On behalf of the Police Federation, Helen Malcolm QC indicated that the only area where her submissions diverged from those of Mr Davies QC was that she contended that both Articles 2 and 3 of the ECHR were engaged fully. She submitted that the real question was not whether Article 3 was engaged as a matter of law, but how the protective duty of the state under Article 2 was to be satisfied. This concerned the balance to be struck between the state’s obligation to protect the officers and the state’s obligation to ensure that the family have access to the extent it is possible. She submitted that, contrary to the judge’s conclusion, the coroner had engaged in an appropriate balancing exercise and had given important weight to the principle of open justice in his ruling, where the reference to “natural justice” was clearly intended to be to “open justice”. The suggestion that he had not taken it into account at all was just not sustainable.

Ms Malcolm QC submitted that the judgment was riddled with public law errors. After the hearing she and her junior counsel, Brian Dean, helpfully compiled a Note setting out these errors. It is not necessary to enumerate all of them but two of them seemed to be of particular significance. The first is that the judge mis-characterised as “submissions” matters which formed part of the coroner’s decision in his ruling. The second is that, although the judge accepted the coroner’s findings on the evidence as to genuine fear and concern of the officers, she then minimised the risks and apostrophised the professional risk assessment of Inspector Rotchell as “wholly speculative” or “pure speculation”. Whether these are “public law errors” or just errors or inconsistencies in the judgment may not matter.

Ms Malcolm QC submitted that it was illogical for the judge to say at [64] of her judgment that there was a greater risk from the officers being seen by the general public than from there being seen by the family who were those who were closest to Qassim Hall and were in communication with him. She submitted in this context that the coroner and the Court would be entitled to take into account not only the risk of disclosure by family members of the officers’ identity as a consequence of pressure from Qassim Hall but also the risk of inadvertent disclosure.

She submitted that the judge had misunderstood the purpose of an inquest which was not to provide “catharsis” for the family or to allow them to assess the demeanour of the officers giving evidence, although that may be its welcome effect. Ms Malcolm QC emphasised that the inquest was not a blame-laying exercise, however much the family might want it to be, and that the family had no right to cross-examine witnesses other than with the permission of the coroner. She submitted that, in an inquisitorial process such as an inquest, getting the best evidence was of particular significance. It was in the public interest for the best evidence to be available to the fact-finder and that public interest was actively served by making life comfortable for the officers giving evidence. If there was no blame on them, then it was right and proper to protect them. If there was blame, the correct forum for that issue to be resolved was a criminal trial, not the inquest. She submitted that the coroner had to have an eye to the future. If the officers were identified and then threatened or harmed, it was less likely that there would be a full and proper criminal trial. The officers would be less able or willing to give evidence.

On behalf of the coroner, Jonathan Hough QC adopted a neutral stance as to the outcome of the appeal but he sought to assist the Court on two aspects of the case: (i) the correct interpretation of Rule 18 and (ii) the nature and content of the ruling.

He reminded the Court that prior to the enactment of Rule 18, there was no full procedural code and thus no statutory rule in relation to the use of screens in inquests. Any orders for screens were made under inherent common law case management powers. Before the Rules were made, in March 2013 the Ministry of Justice issued a consultation on coroners’ rules and regulations which attached draft Rules. The draft Rule 18 was similar to the current version, except that (i) sub-rule (2) only referred to improving the quality of the witness’s evidence as a basis for a screening determination; and (ii) sub-rule (3) did not make reference to national security interests as a factor in the determination. Following the consultation, the Ministry issued a response paper in which it explained: “We have amended rule 18 to allow the coroner to permit screened evidence only where this would be [i] likely to improve the quality of the evidence, or [ii] is in the interests of justice or [iii] national security.” The Rules were then laid before Parliament and passed in their current form.

Mr Hough QC submitted that the use of the word “may” in sub-rule (1) indicates that this is a discretionary power. Sub-rule (2) provides for a threshold condition that the discretion can only be exercised if the coroner determines that either giving evidence from behind screens would be likely to improve the quality of the witness’s evidence or “allow the inquest to proceed more expediently”. The “determination” referred to in sub-rule (3) is that determination made under (2) but it requires the coroner to have regard to all the circumstances of the case including the interests of justice and national security. He submitted that, contrary to the judge’s view, “expediently” should be given a relatively broad meaning of “appropriately” and not limited to convenience or practicality. This made internal sense of the Rule and meant that a determination that the giving of evidence from behind screens would allow the inquest to proceed more appropriately was a threshold condition. The consideration of what was most appropriate brings in the wider issues of what is in the interests of justice or national security.

He submitted that if “expediently” is given the narrow meaning which the judge seems to have favoured, serious practical problems are created since it is difficult to see how a coroner could order screens for national security or operational reasons (for example in relation to witnesses from the security services or under-cover police officers) if expedience was limited to convenience or practicality. This wider meaning was consistent with the use of the word expedient in other statutory contexts. Thus, the now repealed Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 permitted the public to be excluded from a hearing if “it is in the public interest expedient so to do for reasons connected with the subject matter of the inquiry or the nature of the evidence to be given.” Section 9A(2)(a) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (a section added by amendment after the making of the Rules) provides that a coroner may require a juror to surrender an electronic communications device if the order “is necessary or expedient in the interests of justice”. Mr Hough QC submitted that if “expedient” bore only the narrow meaning of “practical”, it would be an oxymoron in each case.

Mr Hough QC submitted that consideration of both anonymity orders and screens orders engages the open justice principle. What is entailed is a fact-sensitive balancing exercise taking account of all the factors, including the fears of witnesses, even if objective justification is weak or lacking. He submitted that in practice a coroner will comply with the balancing exercise by posing three base questions: (i) would the screening order sought improve the quality of the evidence or be appropriate in all the circumstances; (ii) if yes, does the balance of competing interests, including those of the family, justify the order sought; and (iii) would there be an Article 2 or 3 risk (risk to the life of the witness or risk of serious harm to the witness) if the order were refused? If so, the order would usually be made.

He submitted that there were five particular features of the case which provided the context for the coroner’s ruling: (i) the case involved the controversial death of a black man in police custody following multiple restraint; (ii) there was substantial evidence that Qassim Hall had a lengthy history of crime, including violence, although not the most serious, and a propensity for persistent harassment. On the basis of that evidence and evidence that he blamed the police for his brother’s death, the anonymity orders were made; (iii) the other members of the family had no criminal history and there was no evidence that they posed a threat to the officers; (iv) there was evidence that the officers were fearful of giving evidence if they were identified; and (v) it was common ground that the coroner, the jury and the legal representatives will see the witnesses but that if the general public saw the witnesses there is a real risk of their being identified to Qassim Hall, as the judge found at paragraph 64 of her judgment.

Mr Hough QC then drew attention to the salient aspects of the ruling. The coroner had recorded that Mr Thomas QC objected in principle to screens but also argued that his clients, the Hall family, should see the officers. In the Decision section, the coroner recorded that these applications are immensely fact-sensitive and he recognised the importance of the matters set out in Rule 18(3). He made the points about the screening of the officers from the family offending “natural justice” (in other words open justice) so that, as Mr Hough QC submitted, the coroner was focused on the central issue of whether the family members should see the witnesses. He dealt efficiently with the evidence about the threat posed by Qassim Hall, concluding (i) that the threat was credible; (ii) that the officers had a genuine fear; (iii) that it was affecting their health and (iv) that it would continue to do so, none of which, Mr Hough submitted, was controversial.

He submitted that the ruling followed the scheme of Rule 18 and said that the coroner was trying to reflect the terms of Rule 18(2) which requires one or other threshold condition to be satisfied, not cumulative conditions; and (ii) the coroner took account of the interests of justice in the remainder of his decision. He concluded that the use of screens would improve the quality of the evidence, which nobody challenged. He further stated that the coroner set out that he could not make the determination without considering all the circumstances of the case, in particular the matters set out at Rule 18(3)(a) and (c). No issue of national security impacted on his decision.

He then considered the remaining limb of (3) at sub-section (b), the interests of justice, saying they were best served when fact-finders could make findings on the basis of the best evidence which would be achieved by the evidence being given from behind screens. Mr Hough QC submitted that the coroner used the words “to the extent” at the beginning of paragraph 48 of his ruling because he recognised that he was considering both a threshold consideration and a balancing exercise, not purely a balancing exercise.

The judge had concluded that the coroner had engaged in too limited a balancing exercise but Mr Hough QC submitted that he had, in fact, taken account of the interests of the family.

On behalf of the Hall family, Adam Straw emphasised the importance of the principle of open justice in the balancing exercise that has to be undertaken. He drew specific attention to what was said by the Court of Appeal in at [63]:

Mr Straw submitted that part of the purpose of open justice was that the family should see the police witnesses and be able to assess their demeanour when a central issue was whether they had an honest belief that Andrew Hall posed a threat whilst in their custody. Mr Straw was, however, unable to point to any legal authority which established specifically that part of the principle of open justice was to enable members of the public, or here the family, to assess the demeanour of witnesses. He submitted that not having sight of the witnesses will make it more difficult for the family to understand the decisions reached by the jury.

In relation to ground 1 of the appeal by the Police Federation, that the judge had erred in concluding that the coroner had failed to take account of the principle of open justice, Mr Straw submitted that whether the judge was wrong was a question of fact and the standard of review for this Court was whether the judge’s decision was clearly erroneous. He relied upon the analysis of the circumstances in which an appellate court can review findings of fact by a court of first instance and that the judge was clearly right that the coroner had not had regard to the powerful imperative of open justice.

He submitted that the judge had been correct to substitute her decision for that of the coroner as there was a balancing exercise in considering the duty of fairness to a witness and on a judicial review it was for the Court to decide for itself whether a measure was fair. Whilst due weight should be given by the Court to the decision of the coroner as the primary decision-maker, in this case very little weight should be given to his decision since he had misdirected himself as to the law.

Leslie Thomas QC made similar points in his oral submissions. Whilst he accepted that the family was not the decision-maker in the inquest, they play an important part. They could not grieve properly until they were able to look into the eyes of the person who took their relative’s life, as their solicitor Alice Stevens (of Broudie Jackson Cantor) made clear in her witness statement. He emphasised that because this case concerned the death of a black man in custody, there was a belief that the system was weighted against them and there could be a cover-up. There was no good reason why they should not see the witnesses and if they did not, far from being at the heart of the coronial system as the Explanatory Memorandum said, they would feel side-lined.

He submitted that the Chief Constable was simply wrong in taking exception to the judge considering race as a factor relevant to open justice. A principal purpose of open justice was to restore public confidence and there was always a high public interest in open justice in any case where someone was killed at the hands of police officers, particularly the death of a black man, of which there were a disproportionate number globally. There was a legitimate interest in knowing whether race played any part in this death.

In relation to the complaint by the police that the judge had erred in distinguishing screening from the family and screening from the wider public he submitted that the onerous threshold to which Mr Straw had referred had not been met. The family was a small group of known individuals and Inspector Rotchell had identified no threat from the family itself. Ms Dyer says that she has known for four years the identity of two of the officers, but she has never disclosed that information to Qassim Hall. The family has made clear that they will not disclose the identity of the officers to him and has provided undertakings to the court. By contrast, the wider public could be anyone who came into the public gallery. That person’s character or propensity was an unknown risk. The distinction the judge had drawn was a rational one.

Mr Thomas QC submitted that the judge was correct to conclude that there was no objective risk, that there was no evidence that the family will breach the undertakings and the assertion that they will be forced to do so by Qassim Hall is, as the judge, said pure speculation. The alleged risk was without evidential or objective foundation. It was not correct that the judge had failed to evaluate the subjective fears of the officers. She had correctly stated the common law test and concluded that the officers’ fears and concerns were genuine, but she was entitled to conclude that they had less weight because they were not objectively justified.

In relation to the suggestion by the Police Federation that Inspector Rotchell’s evidence was not contested, Mr Thomas QC said that ultimately the only risk relied upon was that Qassim Hall would somehow forcibly extract the information about the identity of the officers from the family – and even that was contested by the family. There was no evidence of any stronger risk and no evidence of any risk of inadvertent disclosure.

The starting point for the analysis of this appeal, said Lord Justice Flaux, must be to consider what is the correct construction of Rule 18 of the Coroner’s Rules. As was essentially common ground between counsel for both the police and the Hall family, the Rule is not happily worded, but the analysis of the Rule put forward by Mr Hough QC is the correct one. Rule 18(1) confers a discretion and Rule 18(2) then provides that one of two threshold conditions must be met before the discretion can be exercised: That the coroner determines that giving evidence behind screens would be likely to improve the quality of the evidence or that it would be likely to allow the inquest to proceed more expediently, or appropriately.

In making that determination a coroner has to consider all the circumstances of the case under Rule 18(3) and, in particular, the matters listed in (a) to (c). In agreement with Mr Hough QC, it can be said that if “expediently” bore the narrow meaning of efficiency or practicality, it is difficult to see how, in the case for example of evidence from the security services or undercover police officers, ordering the evidence to be given from behind screens, whilst in the interests of national security, could be said to allow the inquest to proceed more efficiently or in a more practical manner. On the other hand, if expediency is equated with allowing the inquest to proceed in the most appropriate manner, the coroner can give the proper consideration which (3)(b) requires him to give to the interests of justice and of national security.

The “interests of justice” clearly is and is intended to be a wide term which encompasses the principle of open justice. The importance of that principle has been emphasised in countless legal authorities in the higher courts.

The critical question for the Court, said Flaux LJ, is whether the coroner erred in law in concluding that an order for the officers’ evidence to be given behind screens was justified. In considering that question, it is important to bear in mind that, despite the attempt by Ms Malcolm QC to broaden the application, the application which was made to the coroner was under the common law and not under Articles 2 and 3 of the ECHR.

Furthermore, if the Appeal Court considers that the coroner did not err in law, then it must follow that the judge’s determination that he misdirected himself in law was wrong. The suggestion by both counsel representing the Hall family (Messrs Thomas QC and Sraw) that somehow this was a question of fact for the judge or that this Court should exercise the same caution in relation to reviewing the judge’s conclusion as we would if she had made findings of fact is wholly misconceived.

The determination of the critical question whether the coroner erred in law in turn depended upon whether he gave sufficient weight to the principle of open justice in engaging in the balancing exercise required by the common law test. As the judge herself recognised, the coroner’s decision must be read with a degree of benevolence or pragmatism.

It seems to me that this approach by the judge fails to take into account sufficiently the opening words of the coroner’s ruling: “To the extent that my decision has involved a balancing of competing interests between the officers and the family”. That is not a reference to what follows in the subsequent paragraphs, which does not consider those competing interests, but to what he has already said elsewhere in the earlier Decision section about those competing interests. In particular, the coroner identifies his instinctive concern that the proposition that the family of the deceased who died in circumstances calling into question the discharge by the state of its Article 2 obligations should not see the agents of the state implicated in his death whilst giving evidence offends the principle of “natural justice” (by which he clearly means open justice) and procedural fairness. He goes on to say the instinct is all the stronger where the application for the use of screens is not based on evidence or intelligence reflecting adversely on the family members most likely to be affected by it.

Those paragraphs do demonstrate that the coroner had well in mind the principle of open justice and that that principle would be offended if the family could not see the witnesses. In the circumstances, it cannot be said that he failed to appreciate the significance of the principle. What he then went on to do was to balance against the principle of open justice, and the interest of the family in seeing the witnesses, the fears of those witnesses of threats from Qassim Hall and their interest in not being identified to Qassim Hall. Thus, in my judgment, the judge was wrong to conclude that the coroner had only weighed against the quality of the evidence being improved by the use of screens the question of whether the effectiveness of questioning will be impeded by screens and thus engaged in too limited a balancing exercise. The judge has overlooked the earlier part of the Decision section where the competing interests were considered and balanced. This may have been overlooked by the judge because she appears to have erroneously characterised as submissions aspects of the ruling which were clearly part of the coroner’s decision.

Whilst the ruling is not expressed as clearly as it might be, the coroner did not err in law in failing to take proper account of the principle of open justice or engage in too narrow a balancing exercise. It follows that the judge was wrong to conclude that he had erred in law and to substitute her own decision for that of the coroner. Accordingly both appeals were allowed and the coroner’s order reinstated.

In the circumstances, Flaux LJ said it was not strictly necessary to consider the other criticisms of the judgment raised by the appellants but, nevertheless, he dealt with them relatively briefly: The principal matter was the judge’s distinction between what she recognised is the real risk that, if the general public could see the officers give evidence, the officers would be identified by or to Qassim Hall but the position of the family was very different and the suggestion that they may be forced by Qassim Hall to disclose the identities of the officers was “pure speculation”.

Despite Mr Thomas QC’s arguments to the contrary, Flaux LJ (and Lord Justice Lewison) agreed with Ms Malcolm QC that the distinction which the judge draws is an illogical one. Aside from Qassim Hall, or an associate of his going into the public gallery and identifying the officers (and in the case of an associate passing on information to him), it is difficult to see how a member of the public seeing the officers creates a real risk of identification to Qassim Hall whereas the members of the family who have that familial connection with Qassim Hall and are in communication with him do not create a real risk.

The professional risk assessment of Inspector Rotchell set out in his second statement was:

As already noted, the coroner referred to the fears of the officers that Qassim Hall would seek to harm them if made aware of their identity and he said that the Rule 18 power could only be exercised in respect of the threat said to be posed to officers by Qassim Hall. He found that threat to be credible and went on to make the further findings to which Mr Hough QC referred. Although the coroner dealt with the matter in a rather attenuated fashion, it seems that he was concluding that the fears of the officers were both subjectively genuine and objectively justified. By finding that the threat from Qassim Hall was credible, he was accepting the risk assessment of Inspector Rotchell that there was an objective threat to the officers from Qassim Hall. In the light of his evidence, the specific finding by the coroner (which was not challenged on the judicial review) and the fact that an order for anonymity was made by the coroner without objection from the family (itself a powerful indicator that the officers’ fears were objectively justified) the judge was wrong to conclude that the risk of Qassim Hall extracting the identity of the officers from family members was pure speculation. The risk and the threat he posed were objectively established.

As noted in the summary of the submissions of the parties, Mr Thomas QC advanced various reasons why the family should be able to see the police witnesses give their evidence pursuant to the principle of open justice. He referred to the fact that this was a case of a black man who died in custody (or rather immediately after having been in custody) in circumstances where the police as agents of the state were implicated in his death and there was a high public interest in open justice. That was a submission he also made to the coroner and the coroner clearly accepted the force of the submission in his findings, but he then had to balance that public interest (and interest of the family) against the interests of the officers: The balancing exercise in which he engaged was an appropriate one.

Mr Thomas also submitted that it was important for the family to be able to see the officers implicated in Mr Hall’s death in order to achieve catharsis. This does not seem to have been advanced as a distinct argument before the coroner. Whilst Ms Malcolm QC is, no doubt, right that achieving this purging for the deceased’s family is not the purpose of an inquest, the fact that the Explanatory Memorandum to the Rules states that one of the policy objectives of the reforms introduced by the 2009 Act is “to put the needs of bereaved people at the heart of the coroner system” demonstrates that, since one of those needs is likely to be the need for closure, this is an important matter to be taken into consideration. However, the coroner recognised the interests of the family but concluded on the balancing exercise that they were outweighed by the need to allay the fears of the officers to ensure that they gave the best evidence, itself an important aspect of the public interest.

Mr Thomas QC and Mr Straw emphasised that the family should be able to see the witnesses give their evidence in order to assess their demeanour. Mr Thomas QC did raise the question of demeanour before the coroner, but only in the context of pixelation of the CCTV footage so that the jury would not be able to assess the demeanour of the officers during the struggle with and restraint of Mr Hall, but the concerns he raised were addressed by ensuring that the coroner, jury and legal representatives see an “unredacted” version of the video footage. Counsel for the Hall family were unable to point to any legal precedent which considered that one of the reasons why the members of the deceased’s family, or members of the public more generally, should be able to see witnesses give their evidence is to assess their demeanour.

As was pointed out in the course of legal argument, recent decisions of the Appeal Court have cast some doubt on the extent to which assessment of demeanour by the Court is a reliable indicator as to credibility. However, whatever the values of or limitations as to assessment of demeanour, that assessment is for the fact-finder in any court, here the jury in the coroner’s court, and not for the family of the deceased. Mr Straw’s fall-back submission that unless the family could see the witnesses, they might not understand the decision reached by the jurydid not find favour. As Lewison LJ pointed out in argument, if the family thought a witness whom they could see was lying but the jury believed him, in one sense that poses a worse problem.

Accordingly, it was consider that none of the additional matters raised by Mr Thomas QC and Mr Straw affects the validity of the balancing exercise in which it was found that, contrary to the judge’s view, the coroner did engage.

Finally, it was recorded in the Appeal Court judgment that during the course of argument we raised with the parties the question of whether the media should be able to see the police witnesses. No real objection was raised on behalf of the police, but points were raised as to the safeguards that would need to be in place and matters such as undertakings by representatives of the media. In the circumstances, although if an application is made to the coroner by representatives of the media to see the witnesses give evidence, it will be worthy of consideration, the decision as to whether to accede to such an application and on what terms is one for the coroner.

For the above reasons, said Flaux LJ, the appeals of the Chief Constable and officers B and E and of the Police Federation and the officers it represents were allowed and restore the order for screens made by the coroner. Lewison agreed with his fellow law lord.

The dissenting judgment of Lord Justice Males

But the allowing of the appeal was not unaminous. Uncommon in both the civil and criminal appeals courts. The judgment of Males LJ is set out in full (apart from minor corrections). For anyone interested in deaths following police custody and inquest hearings it is a recommended read, providing useful additional detail about what happened in the lead up to the death of Andrew Hall and, more crucially, through the eyes of this journalist at least, the most lucid, well laid-out argument about the case and the points of law in issue. Without wishing, in any way, to demean Flaux LJ’s output, it is an outstanding piece of work (and learning) from Lord Justce Males:

“While I agree with much of Flaux LJ’s judgment, I have reached a different conclusion. To explain why, it will be necessary to travel over some of the ground which Flaux LJ has already covered.

When an application for witnesses at an inquest to be permitted to give their evidence behind a screen is based on fear for the witnesses’ or their families’ safety if their identity becomes known, there are two bases on which the application may be made. One is that the witnesses’ rights under Article 2 or Article 3 ECHR are engaged. The other is that screens are necessary in accordance with the common law principle of fairness.

As appears from cases such as In re Officer L [2007] UKHL 36, [2007] 1 WLR 2135, there are material differences between an application invoking Convention rights and an application under the common law, albeit that both routes may, and often will, lead to the same destination. These differences may be summarised as follows:

The application for screens in the present case was made under the common law. Although some submissions were made to us based on Article 3, that was not a case advanced to the coroner and, as I have explained, it would have given rise to different considerations. It follows that we are concerned with the common law and our primary focus should be on the coroner’s decision.

At common law, open justice is always an important consideration to which, as a matter of law, substantial weight must be given (for example in R (T) v West Yorkshire (Western Area) Senior Coroner [217] EWCA Civ 318, [2018] 2 WLR 211 at para [56] referring to open justice as “the fundamental principle in respect of all proceedings before any court, including coroners’ courts” and at para [64] referring to “the powerful imperative of open justice”). Accordingly any derogation from open justice (including both anonymity and the use of screens) must have a clear justification and must go no further than is reasonably necessary.

I agree with what Flaux LJ has said concerning Rule 18 of the Coroners (Inquests) Rules 2013. Although in some respects not happily drafted, the terms of the Rule permit (and therefore should be read as requiring) the principle of open justice to be taken into account when making a decision as to the use of screens. Depending on the circumstances of the case, this may fall to be considered either (1) under Rule 18(3) when making the Rule 18(2) determination whether screens would improve the quality of the evidence or allow the inquest to proceed more expediently or (2) when considering the overall justice of the case after having made that determination. What matters is that it should be clear that the principle has been considered and given proper weight at some stage.

Where the coroner determines, after giving substantial weight to the need for open justice, that the use of screens is reasonably necessary, the inquest will be Article 2 compliant: Bubbins v UK (2005) 41 EHRR 24.

In considering whether there is justification for the use of screens, the purpose of the principle of open justice as applied to the facts of the case must be taken into account (T v West Yorkshire Coroner at para [63]). In the case of an inquest, one major purpose of open justice is to ensure public confidence in the fairness, thoroughness and transparency of the process. Referring to the state’s common law duty to investigate deaths of those in custody in R (Amin) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2003] UKHL 51, [2004] 1 AC 653 at [31], Lord Bingham’s summary of the purposes of open justice in an inquest into the death of a person in custody emphasises not only the importance of public confidence, but also the particular role of the bereaved family. The importance of that role is underlined by paragraph 7.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum to the Coroners (Inquests) Rules 2013, explaining that one policy objective of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 was to “put the needs of bereaved people at the heart of the coroner system”. It is therefore not surprising that Rule 18(3)(a) requires the coroner to consider any views expressed by an interested person, which clearly includes the family of the deceased.

In the present case it was accepted (or at any rate not disputed) that the police witnesses should be anonymous. This was itself an important derogation from open justice which was necessary because Qassim Hall, the deceased’s brother, was found to represent a credible threat to the safety of the witnesses and their families if their names were known to him, and because the officers were genuinely fearful for the safety of themselves and their families and, in some cases, that fear was affecting their health. The need for anonymity was not challenged before the coroner and has been accepted by the family. The issue before the coroner was whether those concerns justified a further derogation from open justice, namely the use of screens. Before the coroner the family challenged the need for the use of screens at all, and their submission that witnesses should not be screened from family members (other than Qassim Hall) was merely a fallback position. It is therefore understandable, perhaps, that the principal focus of the coroner’s decision was on whether screens were necessary at all.

The family has not challenged in this appeal the coroner’s decision that it was necessary to screen the witnesses from the public in general (including, if he attends, Qassim Hall). That was because of the risk that if the witnesses were seen by the public, their identity would be disclosed to Qassim Hall. For my part I do not see any want of logic in saying that the witnesses should be screened from the public, but not from the family. If Qassim Hall is indeed anxious to discover the witnesses’ identity, it would not be difficult for him to ask an associate who is familiar with police officers in the Huddersfield area to attend on his behalf.

We are concerned only with the coroner’s decision that screens should prevent the family from seeing the witnesses give their evidence. It is important to note, however, as Flaux LJ has explained, that the family’s legal representatives will have sight of the witnesses while they give evidence and have been or will be given access to unedited CCTV footage which (we were told) shows in full the incident during which force was used on the deceased by police officers and when restraint was applied to him. We have not seen that footage, but we are told that it shows a struggle between Andrew Hall and a number of police officers extending over several minutes, in the course of which officers struck Mr Hall a number of times and there is some evidence of him striking back. The family and the public will see an edited version of that footage in which officers’ faces will be pixelated and their names will be “bleeped out”. The jury will see a further version of the footage in which there is no pixelation but officers’ names remain “bleeped out”. It follows that the family’s legal representatives will not be hampered in any way in conducting cross examination of the police witnesses by the existence of screens. Moreover, if it were to turn out that there is anything relevant to the cross examination which has been removed in the editing process, the family’s legal representatives will be in a position to cross examine about it, albeit that care will need to be exercised to ensure that what is said does not identify the officers concerned.

Accordingly the use of screens to prevent the family from seeing the police witnesses will not affect the efficacy of the investigation into Andrew Hall’s death. This case is not, therefore, about the ability of the family to have the evidence of those witnesses properly challenged. Whether or not screens are used, there will be a thorough investigation into the circumstances of his death in which the family’s legal representatives will be able to challenge the officers’ evidence and to suggest, to whatever extent is appropriate, that the use of force by the police was unlawful. The case is solely concerned with whether the family should be permitted to see that process as well as to hear it.

It is, therefore, necessary to consider how the purposes of open justice in inquest proceedings may be served by enabling members of the deceased’s family to see police officers whom they believe to be responsible for the deceased’s death give their evidence and the extent to which those purposes may be frustrated if the family is unable to see the officers do so.

This topic was addressed in the witness statement of Deborah Coles, an Executive Director of INQUEST, a charity which provides advice to bereaved people concerning contentious deaths, their investigations and the inquest process. Ms Coles has extensive experience acquired over 25 years of working with families of persons who have met their death at the hands of state agents. Under the heading of “The benefit for families of seeing important witnesses giving evidence”, she identified four overlapping benefits, which can conveniently be labelled “trust”, “demeanour”, “accountability” and “catharsis”. She said:

With the exception of what Ms Coles says in paragraph 8 of her statement about families placing weight on the demeanour and body language of a witness, I regard this as a compelling explanation of why it is important for family members to see the witnesses themselves in circumstances such as these and why it is not a sufficient alternative that their legal representatives may do so. As to demeanour, however, it is not the family’s role to determine whether the witnesses are telling the truth, that being the function of the jury, while in any event it has increasingly come to be recognised that demeanour and body language are an unreliable guide to truthfulness (see R (SS) (Sri Lanka) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2018] EWCA Civ 1391 at [33] to [43]). I have no doubt that in the present case the CCTV footage of the incident will be played many times during the cross examination of the police witnesses, if necessary in slow motion. The extent to which their evidence is supported by or consistent with that footage will be a far more reliable guide to whether they are telling the truth than their demeanour or body language.

For the family, Leslie Thomas QC placed considerable weight on the fact that Andrew Hall was black. He said that there was a particular and significant public interest in an inquest into the death of a black man in police custody, and that in such cases it is common for the bereaved family to believe that the system is weighted against them, that there is a cover-up, and that police officers are given special privileges. For that reason, he submitted, it is particularly important for the family to be able to see the police officers give their evidence.

For the Chief Constable, Hugh Davies QC took issue with this approach. He insisted that the race of the deceased is irrelevant and that there is a strong public interest in a full and transparent investigation into the death of any person in custody, regardless of their race. Accordingly the public interest in open justice, including the need to hold state agents to account, is no different in the case of a black man than in any other case. From this, it follows that the deceased’s race cannot provide a stronger case for the family to be permitted to see the police witnesses give evidence than if the deceased had been white.

It is of course correct that the strength of the public interest in a full and transparent investigation into the death of a person in custody does not vary according to the deceased’s race. That was not Mr Thomas’s submission. Such an investigation is essential in every case for the reasons given by Lord Bingham in Amin. But I would accept that the death of a black man in police custody gives rise to particularly acute concerns. That is because of the perception which Mr Thomas described. It would be idle to deny that this perception exists. There is no doubt that black communities have in general less confidence in the police than other sections of the community, and that on occasion distrust and lack of confidence have led to racial tensions and conflicts. For present purposes what matters is not whether the perception is well-founded, but rather the fact that it exists.

In these circumstances, it is entirely understandable that the family of Andrew Hall should wish not only to hear, but also to see the police witnesses when they explain why they believed it was necessary to restrain him with the use of force, including the striking of a number of blows, and to see those witnesses when they react to the case which seems likely to be put to them, that the force used was excessive and unlawful.

All this amounts, in my judgment, to a powerful case that the application of the open justice principle in the circumstances of the present inquest requires that they should be able to do so. If they are not permitted to see the police witnesses, there is a real risk that the inquest may not achieve all of the purposes which open justice is intended to promote. This does not necessarily mean that the application for screens should be rejected. But it does mean that a compelling justification will be required to sustain the coroner’s order that the witnesses be screened from the family’s view.

A threshold requirement which must be satisfied before screens can be used is that their use “would be likely to improve the quality of the evidence given by the witness or allow the inquest to proceed more expediently”. In this case the coroner based his decision on the fact that screens would be likely to improve the quality of the police witnesses’ evidence and he did not consider any question of expediency.

A witness’s subjective concerns may be relevant in two overlapping ways. The first, referred to by Lord Carswell in Officer L in the passage from [22] cited above, is that fairness requires that witnesses should not be subjected to fear, particularly if that affects their health, if that can be avoided. The existence of such fears is therefore a factor to be taken into account in the overall assessment. The second is that such fears may impede the witness, for example because he is distracted or pre-occupied, from giving his evidence to the best of his ability – in short, from doing himself justice.

The requirement that screens would be likely to improve the quality of a witness’s evidence is directed at the need for the inquest, in this case the jury, to have the best possible evidence in order to determine the matters which it is the purpose of the inquest to determine, namely who the deceased was, and how when, where and in what circumstances he met his death. This is distinct from allaying a witness’s subjective concerns, which is a separate factor in the balance.

While any likely improvement in the quality of a witness’s evidence is sufficient to satisfy the threshold requirement under Rule 18(2), and obviously it is desirable that the jury should have the best possible evidence before it in order to perform its task, the weight to be given to such a likelihood in the coroner’s overall evaluation whether there is sufficient justification to depart from the principle of open justice must depend on the circumstances of the case. It is necessary to consider what difference the use of screens is likely to make, for example whether any improvement in a witness’s evidence is likely to be significant or only marginal and to balance this against the need for open justice. In general, for example, police officers can be expected to have some degree of resilience when giving evidence. In the present case it should not be too difficult for the officers, assisted as they will be by the CCTV footage, to explain what they did and why they did it – as indeed they have already done to the IOPC investigation which cleared them of any wrongdoing. In the case of an important witness, such as a police officer who has used force on a person in custody, the fact that screens would be likely to improve his evidence only marginally (if that were the position) would be unlikely to carry much weight.

The justification put forward before the coroner for screening the witnesses from the family was a narrow one. The only risk on which the Chief Constable and the witnesses relied was the risk of harm caused by Qassim Hall who (it was accepted) should not see the witnesses. Moreover, at any rate by the conclusion of the hearing, it was not contended that any family member would deliberately or even inadvertently disclose information to Qassim Hall which would enable him to identify any of the officers. Rather, the case which was advanced was that family members would be vulnerable to force or threats of force by Qassim Hall. As Mr Davies put it in submissions to the Coroner on behalf of the Chief Constable and the officers whom he represented, his submissions being adopted by Mr Brian Dean who represented the remaining officers:

This was the only objective basis for the existence of a risk of harm on which the Chief Constable and the witnesses relied.

Accordingly the objective justification for the use of screens depends on the existence of a real risk that Qassim Hall would seek to exert pressure on family members to reveal information likely to enable him to identify one or more of the officers and that those family members would succumb to such pressure.

It is right to acknowledge that in summarising the arguments made to him, the coroner referred to the acceptance by Mr Dean, representing some of the police officers, of the fact “that the use of screens involves a significant departure from an important general principle of natural justice”, and to the submission by Mr Thomas that the family was “asking for no more than the application of the ordinary rules of natural justice”. It is plain that the coroner’s reference to “natural justice” meant (or at least included) the principle of open justice. Further, the coroner began the “Decision” part of his ruling, after acknowledging that applications for the use of screens were fact sensitive and required him to take into account the matters set out in Rule 18, as follows:

I would accept that these passages show that the coroner’s starting point was that the principle of open justice required that the family should be able to see the witnesses in question. He stated also that he accepted Mr Thomas’s submission that Rule 18 was expressed in terms making clear that the presumption was that evidence at an inquest should not be given from behind a screen.

So far, it might be possible to criticise the coroner’s ruling on the basis that he did not spell out that open justice is a principle to which substantial weight must be given or the corollary that the use of screens in the circumstances of the present case requires a compelling justification. Certainly he did not refer to the particular importance of transparency in the case of the death of a black man in police custody. However, if that criticism stood alone, it might not be fair to regard the coroner as having misdirected himself, having regard to the need to accord his ruling a benevolent interpretation. Clearly, having started from the point that “natural justice” required that the family should be able to see the witnesses, he was then correct to go on to consider whether there was a justification for departing from that position.

The coroner went on to find that the police witnesses were genuinely fearful for their safety and for the safety of their families and that, in some cases, those fears were affecting their health. There was, therefore, a finding of subjective fears which were having serious consequences for the officers concerned.

The coroner found also that these fears were credible, by which he meant objectively well-founded, in the light of Qassim Hall’s history including convictions for offences of violence against the police (albeit I would add, relatively minor violence) and a history of making threats of violence. It is important, however, to see precisely what it was that the Coroner found. There are two relevant paragraphs of his ruling, which I set out with my added emphasis:

Thus the coroner found that Qassim Hall presented a threat to the safety of the officers or their families if he became aware of their identity. But the coroner did not at any stage consider whether there was an objectively well-founded risk that permitting the family to see the witnesses give evidence would cause Qassim Hall to become aware of this. In view of the clear but limited way in which the Chief Constable and the officers had put their case, the question which the coroner ought to have considered was whether there was a real as distinct from fanciful risk that Qassim Hall would seek to extract this information from family members by force or threats of force and that they would succumb to those threats. If he had done so, there is in my judgment no basis in the evidence on which he could have concluded that there was such a real risk. There was no basis for thinking that Qassim Hall is so determined to wreak vengeance upon police officers that he is prepared to use violence or to make a credible threat of violence against members of his own family (clearly a threat which was less than credible would not have this effect). Indeed Inspector Danny Rotchell, who carried out a detailed assessment of the risks presented by Qassim Hall for the purpose of the hearing before the coroner, did not really address this possibility. Moreover, there was unchallenged evidence that some family members already know the identity of two of the officers but have not revealed this to Qassim Hall. There was no evidence that Qassim Hall has taken any steps to identify or threaten any of the officers who may have been involved in the events of his brother’s death on 13th September 2016 in the time which has since elapsed.

Accordingly, while the coroner’s findings about the risks presented by Qassim Hall are not challenged, they do not in my judgment justify a conclusion that there is an objectively well-founded risk of harm to the officers or their families. In my judgment the judge was right to say at [64] that “The suggestion that [the family] may be forced by Qassim Hall to disclose the identities of the officers is pure speculation”. Although her use of the word “speculation” was criticised, it is clear that what she meant was that there was no sound evidential basis for thinking that this might happen.

Having made his findings about the risks presented by Qassim Hall, the coroner went on to consider whether the use of screens would be likely to improve the quality of the officers’ evidence and to consider the matters set out in Rule 18(3). He concluded that the quality of the evidence would be improved, but did not expressly refer at this stage to the importance of open justice and its role in promoting the purposes of the inquest. He said:

In my judgment this ruling was flawed.

First, as already noted, the coroner did not treat the need for open justice as a factor to which substantial weight had to be given as a matter of law, in particular in a case concerned with the death of a black man in police custody, so that a powerful justification was needed to override this.

Second, the coroner appears to have lost sight of what had previously been his stated starting point, namely his instinctive view that the family should see the witnesses give evidence as a matter of natural justice “in the sense of the fair and impartial application of law and procedure”. Instead, by the time he came to make his decision, his new starting point was that the interests of justice generally were best served by allowing the use of screens when that would enable the witnesses’ best evidence to be given. That was an error in my judgment. The fact that the use of screens would be likely to improve the quality of the witnesses’ evidence was a necessary threshold but in itself was not a sufficient justification for their use. Nor did it establish a rebuttable presumption that screens should be allowed.

Third, it is clear that the coroner proceeded on the basis that there was an objectively well-founded risk of harm to the officers or their families from Qassim Hall when, for the reasons which I have explained, he was not entitled to do so. It is to be expected that this is a factor that would have carried considerable weight with him as no judge would wish to expose witnesses or their families to such a risk. Subjective fears, however genuine and even when having consequences on a witness’s health, carry rather less weight.

Fourth, while it is obviously desirable that a witness should be able to give his best evidence, there is a distinction between providing for the comfort and allaying the fears of a witness on the one hand and enabling the inquest to obtain the most reliable evidence on the other. So far as obtaining best evidence is concerned, the coroner did not consider whether or to what extent the concerns of the officers which would or might prevent them from giving their best evidence would have a material impact on the ability of the inquest to arrive at reliable conclusions. In the present case what the officers did will be apparent from the CCTV footage. Whether the force which they used was reasonable and proportionate on the one hand or excessive on the other is an objective question, which will likewise depend primarily on the CCTV footage. Their evidence will go mainly to the question whether they had an honest belief in the need to use the force which they used. The coroner did not consider how much difference the presence or absence of screens would make to their ability to give evidence on that issue, which would not necessarily be the same in all cases. The coroner has found that it would make some difference but it is hard to think, at least in some cases, that the difference will be significant. There can be no doubt that the officers will say, as no doubt they have already said to the IOPC investigation, that they honestly believed that their use of force was reasonable, necessary and proportionate in the circumstances as they perceived them to be. Accordingly, while the coroner was entitled to say that obtaining best evidence from the police witnesses was a factor in favour of the use of screens, and while in general the weight to be given to each factor was a matter for him, his decision contained no analysis of what difference the use of screens was likely to make to the ability of the inquest to arrive at the truth. Without such analysis, he was not in a position to decide how much weight to give this factor.

When these flaws are taken together, I do not think that the coroner’s decision can be saved by giving it a benevolent interpretation.

Accordingly the balancing exercise which the coroner ought to have carried out would have taken account of the following factors. Militating strongly against the use of screens was the principle of open justice for all the reasons which I have explained. Factors in favour of their use were (1) the subjective fears of the witnesses (which had not been shown to be objectively well-founded), (2) the fact that, in some cases, the witnesses’ health had been affected, (3) the fact that the use of screens was likely to improve the quality of the witnesses’ evidence, but the weight to be given to this factor would require some analysis, as above, and (4) the fact that the use of screens would not impede the effective testing of the witnesses’ evidence. It would also have been sensible to recognise that the order for anonymity and the fact that the officers would be screened from the public would go some way to alleviating any concern.

For these reasons I agree with the judge that the coroner misdirected himself. I do not agree, however, that this is a case where, undertaking the correct exercise, there is only one possible decision which could lawfully be made. Accordingly I consider that the judge was wrong to substitute her own decision whether screens should be used rather than remitting the decision to the coroner.

I would, therefore, set aside the coroner’s ruling together with the judge’s order and would remit the matter to the coroner to make a fresh decision in the light of this judgment. To that extent I would allow the appeal. However, I would not disturb the judge’s order in relation to Officers C and N, as there has been no appeal from that part of her decision.

I agree with what Flaux LJ has said regarding the reporting of the inquest. For my part, I can see no reason why representatives of responsible media organisations, who can be relied upon not to disclose information to Qassim Hall and to report the unlikely event of any threat being made to them by him, should not be permitted to see the police officers give evidence. That would go some way to promote the objectives served by the principle of open justice. However, I agree that it should be left to the coroner to deal with any application which may be made, or if appropriate to consider the matter on his own initiative.”

Alice Stevens, who represents the family, said after the judicial review hearing: “Andrew’s family have been patiently waiting for three years for a full and fearless inquest. Their priority has always been to find out how Andrew died in such tragic circumstances yet, as a result of anonymity and screening applications, they been subjected to background checks, numerous hearings and multiple legal aid applications.

Recent years have shown a rising trend in police officers seeking anonymity and screening at inquests in which their actions are called into question. This judgment rightly highlights the fact that open justice in inquests involving contact by state bodies should not be undervalued and that screening may undervalue public confidence and should not be granted without careful consideration. Andrew’s family will now be able to fully focus on Andrew’s inquest and try to obtain answers to the many questions that have surrounding his death.”

Although events have superceded that statement much of the sentiments expressed therein remain intact.

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST saysWe repeatedly see defensive and combative tactics by police lawyers in the growing number of anonymity requests at inquests. This is about justice being done and being seen to be done. Anonymity goes against the spirit of an open and transparent investigation and hinders scrutiny of public officials. This judgment recognises the significant public interest in deaths of black men in custody. Open justice is vital to assuage public concern about cover ups and to ensure accountability.”

The Hall family are working with INQUEST caseworker Anita Sharma. The Independent Office for Police Conduct are interested parties in the legal proceedings but have, so far, not been represented. The findings of their investigation, following the death of Andrew Hall, will not be made public until after the inquest.

This is an important case, very much in a town I know well, and with familiar faces on counsel’s ‘front row’. I will be following it from the press seats or, for the time being at least, via a rather more stark Cisco Webex Platform.

Other anonymity orders have, typically, been granted for police officers following fatal shootings. However, there has been a recent, creeping trend of anonymity applications being made, and granted, to police officers at inquests and misconduct hearings in other circumstances, such as where the death involved police restraint. This, say INQUEST, ‘is disproportionately the case where the person who died is racialised as black’.

Deaths of black men in police custody, or shortly after restraint, have, over the years, been highly controversial and have led to high profile public protests as well as protracted legal battles to uncover the truth over what exactly occurred.

Recent anonymity cases include the deaths of Rashan Charles, Edson da Costa and Henry Hicks. The first two were young black men.

Police officers were also granted anonymity following the fatal shootings of Azelle Rodney, Mark Duggan, Anthony Grainger and Jermaine Baker. Again, all highly controversial cases. I am particularly adjacent to Anthony’s shooting by Greater Manchester Police officers via his bereaved partner, Gail Hadfield Grainger.

West Yorkshire Police are also understood to be applying for anonymity for officers involved in the shooting of another Huddersfield man, Yassar Yaqub. He was shot through the windscreen of his car after a hard stop adjacent to the M62 motorway at Ainley Top in January, 2017. The inquest touching his death is listed for hearing in January, 2022 (read more here).

UPDATE: At the pre-inquest hearing on 19th February, 2021 it was revealed that the Hall family have appealed the Court of Appeal decision to the Supreme Court. The full report from that hearing can be read here.

Page last updated: Monday 22nd February, 2020 at 1035 hours

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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This article contains public sector information licensed under Open Government Licence v3.0 (read more here).

© Neil Wilby 2015-2021. 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 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.

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

‘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.

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.

Photo credit:

© 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.