‘That particularly dubious constabulary merits careful investigation’

No-one, over the past six years, has come close to writing more words challenging the conduct of North Yorkshire Police than the author of this piece. On this website alone there are 32 articles, on social media there are thousands of posts. I have taken them, and their disgraced Police and Crime Commissioner, both to county court and information rights tribunal and defeated them at each venue.

A highly attritional relationship

The relationship between investigative journalist and a police force that utterly resents any form of scrutiny is, at all times, highly attritional.  It is in no way an exaggeration to say that I played a not inconsiderable role in the professional demise of NYP’s previous chief constable, the hugely over-rated Dave Jones and the soon to depart, disgraced, and deeply unpleasant PCC, Julia Mulligan.

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The latter is benefiting from an ill-deserved reprieve, as a result of police and crime commissioner elections being deferred, by a full year, whilst the country deals with the Corona virus epidemic. She was de-selected as a candidate by her own political party last year and should, in all decency, have resigned there and then. ‘In post, but not in power’ as one of her political opponents succinctly puts it.

Time and again, the reputations of both were trashed as I uncovered, within this police force, and the police commissioner’s office, a trail of mind-boggling incompetence, discredited major criminal investigations, dishonesty, leadership failings, cronyism, profligacy, and persistent, mendacious law breaking – and an unsavoury tendency to use precious police resources and public funds to smear, bully, vex, annoy and harass critics.

The propensity to cover up, rather than address and rectify, the force’s many failings is constant and, at times, seriously shocking. Another very senior NYP officer, Tim Madgwick, was in the vanguard of a significant number of the force’s catastrophes and, most regrettably, it took Jones far too long to work this out. His deputy left the force after 30 years service without any of the fanfare one might usually expect – and no valediction from his boss, or any other senior colleague. For his last three months at NYP, Madgwick had been removed from operational duties and given a project to occupy his time.

When Madgwick was, quite amazingly, awarded the Queen’s Police Medal (QPM) in 2016, at the height of the scandals and exposés, Jones made one of the most ludicrous assertions in recent policing history: ‘Tim has led teams through some of the most serious incidents North Yorkshire Police has dealt with, in recent years, in an exemplary way‘ (read more here).

In 2012, when Mrs Mulligan was elected as the county’s first ever PCC, Madgwick was acting as chief constable after the departure of the discredited Grahame Maxwell, whose best known line during his tenure as top man in NYP was: “I’m a chief constable, I can do what I want“. This was during an Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation in which he was ultimately found guilty of gross misconduct.

PCC Mulligan, understandably, decided that she wanted a new chief, not steeped in the rotten culture that pervaded within NYP, and, in April 2013, appointed an assistant chief constable from the Police Service of Northern Ireland, whom she described as ‘a tough man for a tough job’. Jones had served with Greater Manchester Police for the first 22 years of his career. Whose record in producing sub-optimal chief constables in other police forces should have sounded loud alarm bells in the ears of the PCC.

Madgwick, having tasted life at the top table, was pushed back down the ranks. Given the opportunity to fight his corner in a court witness box, under cross-examination from me, he chickened out. Aided by a supine tribunal judge who refused my application to serve a witness summons, on the single ground that he had retired from NYP earlier that year, nearly two years after the information rights case in which Madgwick was absolutely central (as Gold Commander) had been launched. It is fair to say he would have faced a struggle extricating himself from the web of deceit that had been woven around the case by the force and two of its lawyers.

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Dave Jones was awarded the QPM himself, exactly a year later, but was under a constant barrage of well aimed, and highly justified, criticism from this quarter and, ultimately, the pressure told. At the end of March, 2018 he broke his contract with more than two years to run, did a ‘moonlight flit’ and has never been sighted publicly, since. He claimed that his ‘retirement’ was ‘to spend more time with his family’. The ‘tough man’ had gone soft. Julia Mulligan was spurned, in the end, by the man she both idolised and resolutely defended through some mind-boggling scandals.

Amid this turbulence, it might not be so surprising, therefore, that a well-publicised miscarriage of justice campaign, with NYP at its heart, slipped the net.  

In October, 2019 I attended, as an observer, a conference in Liverpool, organised by United Against Injustice. I have known the leading lights in UAI for some years, but this was my first conference visit to their annual gathering. The fact that three representatives from the Criminal Case Review Commission were due to give a presentation, and be available to answer questions afterwards, was at least one compelling reason to justify the journey.

The Melsonby post office murder

One of the cases on the conference agenda was the murder of Diana Garbutt, by her husband, Robin Joseph Garbutt, at the village store and post office they ran in Melsonby, North Yorkshire. He was found guilty after a four week trial at Teesside Crown Court in April, 2011 and sentenced to life imprisonment. The miscarriage of justice campaign was launched soon after. 

Fully committed elsewhere, it was not possible to engage with the Garbutt case at that time. But the publicly accessible documents, which always form the starting point in any investigation I undertake, have since been obtained: The summing up and sentencing remarks at trial; and the Court of Appeal judgment. They provide a shortcut to the best arguments of both sides; the police and Crown Prosecution Service on the one hand and the defendant (appellant) and his legal team on the other. 

It also gives an experienced reviewer a firm handle on how high the bar is set in order to overturn a conviction. Most crucially, if the necessary ‘new evidence’, as strictly defined in section 23 (2) of the Criminal Appeal Act, 1995 [read here], is likely to be available. To an extent that it would persuade the law lords that the conviction is ‘unsafe’, and quash it, under powers vested by way of section 2(1)(a) of the same Act.

Following the trial in 2011, the murder conviction was challenged by Robin Garbutt at the Court of Appeal, in May 2012. The appeal was dismissed. Even though new evidence, that the judges agreed had not been available to the defence team at the trial, was before the appellate court. This was in the form of Post Office HQ records between 2004 and 2009. The three law lords ruled that, whilst conceding that Garbutt may have suffered some prejudice at trial, in the event, the irregularities in the drawing of cash from HQ, asserted by a Post Office fraud investigator who gave evidence, could not, on its own, prove theft. It only became important to the police, and later the prosecutors, once it was known that the safe was empty and Garbutt’s explanation was the armed robbery.

The core of the defence submission was that the alleged theft was advanced by the Crown, at trial, as the motive for murder – and that the jury took that route to their guilty verdict. 

The three senior judges, presided over by Lord Justice Hughes, were satisfied that the jury had rejected the possibility of the robbery having taken place at all, independently of the financial evidence. For that reason they say the conviction is safe. That sets the bar very high in terms of any future appeal that may reach the same court: The task facing Garbutt and his lawyers is now, effectively, to persuade a reviewing body, to the criminal standard, that the alleged armed post office robbery did take place, in order to disturb the Court of Appeal stance. That is one of the inherent iniquities of the modern criminal justice system in England and Wales. As is the perennial reluctance to go against jury findings in the lower court.

The original powers of the Criminal Court of Appeal, under the 1907 Act, gave it an unrestricted power to quash convictions: ‘….if they think that the verdict of the jury should be set aside on the ground that it is unreasonable or cannot be supported having regard to the evidence, or that the judgment of the court before whom the appellant was convicted should be set aside on the ground of a wrong decision of any question of law, or that on any grounds there was a miscarriage of justice’ (section 4(1)).

The 1907 Act had no restrictions on the admission of new evidence. Those disappeared after the 1968 revision. A catastrophic sea change for those fighting against wrongful convictions.

The three Garbutt appeals to CCRC

In the Garbutt case, two subsequent rejections of appeals to the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC), a product of the 1995 reforms of the Act, did not appear to have received very much publicity at the time. It has not been possible to gain access to the submissions made by the Robin Garbutt team and the consequent decisions by the ‘watchdog’.

The CCRC Statement of Reasons are not published, as one might expect, on the Garbutt campaign website (see here). Indeed, the submission of the first appeal, in March 2015, is mentioned, but there is no reference at all to the second. Either the date of its submission or when the decision was subsequently communicated to Robin Garbutt’s legal team, headed by Martin Rackstraw at Bindmans. 

Nevertheless, neither application can have met the ‘real possibility test’ of overturning the conviction, in the opinion of the Commissioner(s) reviewing the applications, and making the final decisions. As set out on their own website (see here), it is not the function of the CCRC to facilitate a replay of a criminal trial on the basis that the defence evidence was not accepted by the jury and the prosecution evidence was. A point the Robin Garbutt campaigners appear, at all times, slow to accept.

More recently, a third application has been submitted to the CCRC and this has attracted a welter of publicity, both in the press and on regional television in the Yorkshire and Tyne Tees area. This time, it seems, the Garbutt campaign team are much less reticent about the grounds for the appeal. They will be covered in detail in a fourth article in a series of four to be published shortly on this website. The first was published earlier this week (read here). This is the second in the series. The third is a deeper dive into the police failings in the Garbutt investigation.

Briefly, they appear to be another challenge to the time of death; proven flaws in the Post Office computerised accounting system (Horizon); cross contamination of evidence; and ITV news film from the day after murder that shows the murder weapon was not in the place where the police say they found it one day later. 

An independent investigation – a search for the truth

These four articles are viewed through an almost entirely different lens to those appearing elsewhere. These are not of the news item genre, or a cheerleading boost to the justice campaigners. They are an extensive, informed, well-grounded, independent, open-minded search for the truth. Aided in this case by an exceptional knowledge of the police force, and a number of the dramatis personae, involved in the murder and armed robbery investigations.

For reasons that are unclear to me, at least, the Robin Garbutt campaigners have taken exception to this investigation. A curiosity when one considers their frequent, almost monotonous, war cry of ‘Robin has always told the truth‘. If that were the case – and it very plainly isn’t, given what was heard in court – then there should be nothing to hide from a search for the same truth, by a journalist who is adjacent to the criminal justice system every single day: Who killed Mrs Garbutt and, if there is a killer still on the loose, then press the authorities very hard for the case to be re-opened as a matter of urgency. 

 

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The murder of 40 year old Diana Garbutt took place on 23rd March 2010. The scene was the living quarters above the post office in Melsonby, in the Richmondshire district of North Yorkshire. The village, with its remarkably low crime rate, lies 1.2 miles to the west of the A1 trunk road and 1.2 miles north of the A66 route towards Penrith in Cumbria. The well known, and very busy, Scotch Corner interchange is just over 3 miles away.

Diana, brought up in Eggborough near Selby, was struck by three heavy blows from a blunt instrument, a rusty iron bar, according to the evidence heard at the criminal trial the following year. The assailant attacked her to the top of the head and once on each side.

One of the blows was fatal and she was found, wearing only a camisole, some time after the murder, by her husband, with her head in a pool of blood, face down on top of the duvet cover in the spare bedroom. Moments after an alleged armed robbery had taken place in the post office area of the village store. This is a tape recording of the 999 call made to the police:

That robbery would have been the second, almost identical attack, within 12 months. On 18th March, 2009, just before 8.30am it is said that two hooded young men, aged between 20 and 25 years old, wearing dark clothing, one of them armed with a handgun, threatened Robin Garbutt with the weapon, before making off with more than £10,000 in cash and an A4 book of postage stamps. Garbutt, who made no comment to the local press at any time after the first attack, was said by police to be ‘shocked, but unharmed’.

Detective Inspector Heather Pearson, who led that investigation and features elsewhere in this piece, in the section covering the disastrous Operations Rome and Hyson, said at the time of the robbery: “The area [around the post office] was busy with people driving to work or taking their children to school”.

“We are still appealing to passers-by who possibly noticed suspicious individuals or vehicles in the vicinity of the post office to come forward as a matter of urgency.”

There was no description of the getaway vehicle, or its direction of travel, given by Garbutt in the aftermath of the incident. No sightings of any persons matching the descriptions given by the shopkeeper. He told police that the robbers had entered the post office through the front door of the shop and made their exit the same way, one a short time before the other, after the safe containing an A4 Post Office book of stamps and around £10,000 in cash was emptied. It was said Mrs Garbutt was upstairs at the time and heard nothing. She rarely rose from her bed before 8.30am.

The police made no public appeal regarding the handgun allegedly pointed at Robin Garbutt in the course of that robbery. Or, it seems, gave any warnings not to approach the men if they were suspected of involvement in the Melsonby robbery. An imitation firearm was recovered during what, police said, were extensive enquiries, but not linked to this crime. No one was ever identified as a suspect, or arrested, in connection with the robbery and the incident is still logged by police as an unsolved crime. Following a general police appeal for information, two days later, it appeared that the trail had gone completely cold and nothing, it seems, was subsequently reported upon, in the local press, until Diana Garbutt’s murder.

At the murder trial, the issue of whether the 2009 raid actually occurred was not pursued by prosecuting counsel, David Hatton QC, in cross-examination, but, in his closing speech to the jury, he briefly oulined that it may have given Garbutt the idea for the alibi for his wife’s murder, almost exactly a year later. Both on a Tuesday morning, at the same time, at 8.35am just after the school bus had left the village. Two young(ish) robbers, similar physical descriptions, dark clothing, one armed with a handgun. No details of the getaway in either instance. The robbers vanishing into thin air.

A prosecution witness at the murder trial, fraud investigator Andrew Keighley, also gave evidence concerning another similarity: In the months leading up to both reported robberies, Post Office Limited recorded an increase in requests from the Melsonby branch for extra money to be delivered.

It may never be known if the requests in 2009 were needed to replace misapproprated cash, as police believe happened in the time leading up to Diana Garbutt’s murder. One of the foundation stones of the investigation that the justice campaigners feel they have since undermined.

‘A comedy of errors’

The court heard of a number of North Yorkshire Police blunders, some of which were described by defence counsel, James Hill QC, as a ‘comedy of errors’ but. of course, not at all funny to the man in the dock. The trial judge, Mr Justice Openshaw said, in turn, that the stewardship of the crime scene demonstrated ‘a regrettable lack of professionalism’. Briefly, these were or are:

(i) Police claimed a bloodstained pair of boxer shorts found in a rubbish bin was Garbutt’s. They belonged to a neighbour. This ‘evidence’ enabled the police to persuade a Magistrates’ Court to refuse bail and have Garbutt held on remand at Holme Hall prison.

(ii) An iron bar – said to be the murder weapon – has caused consternation both regarding the circumstances of its alleged discovery, two days after the murder, and the results of DNA tests taken from it four months after its discovery. The fact that a police officer’s DNA showed up on the bar was, at first, concealed from Robin Garbutt’s lawyers.

(iii) Strands of hair found on the pillow near an outstretched hand of Diana were said to be ‘lost’ by the police. They never made it to the forensic science labs after being captured on scenes of crime photographs. As a consequence, they were never available for DNA testing. Providing, of course, the follicles were still present.

(iv) DNA tests taken from the pillow are now the subject of further challenge by the Garbutt campaign team over potential cross-contamination with biometric samples taken from the murder weapon . 

(v) Two bedside lamps were removed by the police from their position within the crime scene, and placed in a cupboard. There were signs of blood spots on at least one of them.

(vi) A bedside mirror and carpet beside the bed were not tested for blood spatter. There was no blood spatter on any of Robin Garbutt’s clothing. 

(vii) The defence team assert that the fish and chip wrappers, containing the remnants of the couple’s supper on the evening before the murder, were the wrong ones. This casts doubt on the analysis of the food decomposition in Diana’s stomach by the police’s chosen expert.

(viii) Questions for Melsonby villagers, interviewed during post-incident house to house enquiries, included confirmation of their hair and eye colour, whether they wore body piercings, or a watch. Householders were also asked ‘intrusive’ questions about neighbours. 

(ix) Detectives issued an appeal regarding owners of white vans, and a number were interviewed and eliminated. But a similar appeal was not made about a metallic or electric blue car seen around the village on the morning of the murder. Or a vehicle seen parked near the entrance to Low Grange Quarry, about a mile from the post office along West Road.

(x) According to CCTV evidence, a vehicle following Robin Garbutt was picked up eight times on the journey to Stockton-on-Tees and back on the night before the murder. The campaign team say that the driver was not traced and the vehicle was sold four days after the murder.

(xi) Police and prosecutors claim that no struggle between Diana and the killer took place before the murder. That is disputed by the Garbutt campaigners who claim that pictures were displaced and bedside lamps were knocked over. They say that Diana with her armed forces background would have fought an attacker.

(xii) A balaclava and ball-bearing handgun were found by Cleveland Police in Thornaby, 19 miles from Melsonby, on 24th March, 2010. The campaigners say there was no attempt to link them forensically to the Garbutt murder.

(xiii) At first, the police accepted the time of death of Diana Garbutt was 6am at the earliest. This stance was changed at trial, which started a year later, based on expert evidence from a forensic archeologist.

(xiv) Neighbour Pauline Dye was allowed to wash her bloodstained hands in the Garbutts’ bathroom sink after handling the body of Mrs Garbutt.

This is, on any view, a truly shocking catalogue of serious investigative failures and is much more extensively reviewed in a seperate analyis on this website (read in full here).

Confirmation bias

In this light, Robin Garbutt can safely say that he suffered prejudice at the criminal trial as a result. In that sense, there is merit in the argument of his campaign team that there has been, potentially, a miscarriage of justice. But not an unsafe conviction.

Without the armed robbery story, Garbutt would, very likely, NOT have been convicted of the murder. Indeed, the police and prosecutors, absent of a confession, may well have struggled to get even a charge against him, let alone a trial. There was simply no evidence linking him to it, forensic or otherwise.

A well known retired senior police officer and commended detective, who spent his entire career with a large metropolitan police force, told me that the smaller county forces didn’t have the well-oiled machinery and the know-how of their big city cousins to roll out an effective, efficient investigation in the ‘golden hours’ just after a serious crime had been committed. They often didn’t have the required personnel, either. The cream of the crop tended to be skimmed off by the larger forces. 

Another friend, of even higher rank, was actually brought up in Melsonby village. He is also scathing of the abilities, of what was his local police force, to conduct major investigations.

Defence barrister, James Hill QC, put it this way to the jury in his closing speech: “You can’t just cherry-pick the evidence. You can’t just ignore the parts of the evidence that you don’t like, in order to put forward a theory. I’m going to suggest that the prosecution case is nothing more than that – a theory. Ever since, they’ve been trying to make that evidence fit that theory.”

North Yorkshire Police had 30 officers assigned to the murder investigation, closed off the village, and set up a mobile facility in Moor Road, adjacent to the gate at the rear of the village shop premises. But, almost from the moment the first officer arriving on the scene, Traffic Constable Chris Graham-Marlow, had spoken to the paramedic, Michael Whitaker, the husband was the main suspect and it seems, particularly to the Garbutt campaign team, that police activity only concerned their man – and focused on evidence that supported their hypothesis and ignored anything that went against it. A well-discussed policing phenomenon of confirmation bias.

That bias, and the narrow, rigid mindset and weak organisational culture that accompanies it, is a recurring feature of almost every high profile NYP investigation – and has led to some tragic failures, most notably during Operation Cabin, the first, bungled, investigation into the disappearance of Claudia Lawrence.

Nevertheless, after having heard ample evidence of the poor police investigation, the rubbishing of it by the defence barrister and the more restrained, but damning, criticism  from the trial judge, the jury found Robin Garbutt guilty of the murder of his wife.

In a piece published earlier this week (read in full here) it sets out in considerable detail the two crucial decisions that the twelve members of the panel had to decide. Namely the time of death and whether, in fact, there was truth in the assertion, by Robin Garbutt, that an armed robbery had taken place moments before he had discovered the bloodied body of his wife. The article, in which is embedded a police film of Garbutt’s first account of the robbery, is said to be a compelling read.

More neutrally, if the earlier 2009 robbery was also a fake, it raises the probability that, had North Yorkshire Police uncovered this at the time, a murder could have been prevented. That is the view of Diana’s mother, 70 year old Agnes Gaylor, who sat through every hearing day of the trial at Teesside Crown Court, and is convinced of Robin Garbutt’s guilt. Nevertheless, as a matter of legal correctness, the presumption of his innocence must prevail over the 2009 incident. 

In fairness to the police, and in the absence of CCTV nearby, proving the robbery didn’t take place would be next to impossible. Nevertheless, in policing circles, it would have been surprising if Robin Garbutt’s ‘card hadn’t been marked’ as the local saying goes: The failure to activate the silent alarm and the complete absence of any sightings of robbers or getaway vehicle, in the busiest part of the day in this village, would, doubtless, have troubled them.

Mrs Gaylor was interviewed, very briefly, by the media, after the Garbutt sentencing and alongside Detective Constable John Bosomworth (watch short video clip here). Based with Northallerton CID, DC Bosomworth read from a statement prepared on behalf of the family in which the murder investigation was warmly praised, particularly for its ‘care and compassion’. This is a recurring NYP trait. The rest of the country knows that this was a quite appalling investigation from beginning to end, and still with huge question marks against it, and their first, and persistently irritating, instinct is self-praise.

More recently and, perhaps, less surprisingly Agnes told ITV News: “I attended every day of the trial and after listening to every word said and with great effort to put myself mentally in the jury box, with an open mind, I am beyond confident that Mr Garbutt is in the right place. I understand why his family and friends would love to see him freed, but all I hear is – he’s such a nice man he couldn’t possibly have done such a thing. But nice men, sadly, do”.

But this wasn’t the only police investigation in which DC Bosomworth was centrally involved around that time and his underperforming NYP colleagues were later the subject of fierce, and highly justified, criticism by those pursued by them. As in the Garbutt case (criticised by the trial judge), in this case the force was criticised by a senior officer from another constabulary, appointed by the police watchdog, to assess an appeal into a quite disgraceful internal investigation by NYP (read press report in full here). That case involved a mother being falsely, and, on the evidence, perversely and irrationally accused of the attempted murder of her own disabled young daughter. None of the officers concerned in this case was properly held to account.

As far as Operation Nardoo is concerned, the police codename for the calamitous Garbutt investigation, a review into the failings of North Yorkshire Police handling of the murder probe was promised in a statement to the local press, shortly after the trial concluded. There is no trace of such an inquiry ever taking place and, as a consequence, the force has been tasked with providing details, by way of a freedom of information request (read here). The Gold Commander for Nardoo was ACC Tim Madgwick, whose command team portfolio at the time included criminal investigations. A bitter and protracted battle is expected with the police force to extract that information and place it in the public domain.

Madgwick was also Gold on Operation Cabin, later reviewed internally by NYP in an operation codenamed Essence, which highlighted some of the failings of the original investigation into the disappearance of Claudia Lawrence after leaving her York home to travel to work at the city’s university. No arrests were made during this investigation. An inaccurate photograph of Claudia was issued by the police at the outset. Failure to establish basic facts such as distances and timings. Failure to preserve Claudia’s home as a crime scene. Failure to eliminate a suspect vehicle by using even the most rudimentary investigative techniques. Obsession with a theory based around Claudia’s love life. Bull in a china shop approach to locals in the area where Claudia lived. Disaffecting members of Claudia’s family. 

Operations Rome and Hyson (one flowed into the other) feature extensively on this website as one of the biggest investigation failings in police service history. Yet again, Madgwick was at its very heart as Gold Commander of Rome, upon which almost £1 million of public money was squandered in a farcical, meandering, highly partial investigation into what they resolutely maintain concerned ‘alleged harassment’, that lasted 7 years and resulted in not one single arrest. He remained as the controlling mind, and chief ‘cover-upper’ of Hyson, even though his subordinate, ACC Paul Kennedy, was nominally Gold. Heather Pearson played a signifant part in that investigation, as Senior Investigating Officer, at least for part of the time that the investigation ran, exceeding her powers and exhibiting an alarmingly closed mind when ordering the arrest of a citizen journalist, Timothy Hicks, over his criticism of the force. Tim is a professional man, a chartered accountant and certified fraud examiner, of exemplary character. His detention at a York police station, followed by pointless and utterly irrelevant questioning, had an Orwellian look to it.

Rome ran from 2008 until 2014, Hyson 2014 until 2016. Lord Maginnis of Drumglass was refused a meeting with Theresa May, Home Secretary at the time, to raise grave concerns over Operation Rome and the way North Yorkshire Police was running it. She refused, so he raised the matter in Parliament. He told those assembled on the red benches: ‘That particularly dubious constabulary merits careful investigation’. 

That startling submission was on 15th May 2012, less than a month after Robin Garbutt was sent to prison. It is a quote, entirely factual, that police force and its senior leaders came to resent and detest.

The Private Eye magazine eventually featured the scandal in August, 2016 with a near full page article headlined ‘North Yorkshire Boors‘. It signalled, thankfully, the beginning of the end for Tim Madgwick. Who, curiously, has lived around the Easingwold area (the names of two of the villages are known, but it simply would not be right to publish them) since he moved north to join NYP from his Hampshire origins; the same area of York in which Robin Garbutt grew up and lived in, Tholthorpe and Huby respectively, before he and Diana bought the post office in Melsonby. 

This is far from an exhaustive list of NYP failures; in my time spent scrutising the force they run well into double figures. Including serious allegations, supported by employment tribunal findings, of being a racist and sexist organisaion. But it gives the reader a flavour of just how low the ethical and professional bar is set in this police force. Add to that a breathtaking level of incompetence, layered over with ingrained, overbearing arrogance and superiority, that seeps into almost every business area, and the scale of the problems within this organisation begins to crystallise. It is almost certain that justice campaigners such as the Garbutt team, and their legal team, will recognise these unpleasant, and wholly unacceptable traits, as they have battled to uncover the truth behind a grotesquely failed Operation Nardoo investigation.

Robin Garbutt campaigners - ITV package

Obtaining disclosure of relevant materials will also be a constant thorn in the side of the campaigners, led by Jane Metcalfe (on the left in above pic), his sister Sallie Wood and brother-in-law, Mark Stilborn, as it is for anyone who deals with the force on a professional level, such as lawyers and journalists. Best exemplified by this case, wherein the Lord Chief Justice was blistering in his condemnation of, amongst others, the Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police. Sir John Thomas described the force’s conduct as ‘reprehensible’. At one point, Dave Jones was summoned to appear before the law lords in London. The full handed down judgment can be read here. The only officer ever held to account was an inexperienced detective constable, recently posted in a department that was widely known for its failings and, of course, in true NYP style, the decision makers and top brass escaped any censure, whatsoever.

So, we come to the key questions:

 ~ Did Robin Garbutt get a fair trial in April, 2011 at Teesside Crown Court?

Emphatically not, in my submission. A police investigation so inept it borders on the criminally negligent; a senior leadership and detective mindset mired in confirmation bias: a threadbare prosecution absent of anything other than circumstantial evidence and accompanied by the almost standard disclosure failings that, seemingly, weave through every operation conducted by North Yorkshire Police.

~ Did the jury come to the right verdict?

It should first be said that I am not an advocate of majority verdicts. Until 1967, a jury had to reach a unanimous finding, ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Now a 10-2 or 9-1 verdict, where the jury is ‘sure’ of the defendant(s) guilt is within the law (Juries Act, 1974). On the evidence heard in the Garbutt trial, summed up by an experienced, senior judge and properly directed on the law, it was not surprising to the neutral observer that they concluded Garbutt was guilty of the murder of his wife. Such a conclusion must have embraced at least one of the two main planks of the prosecution case: (i) The robbery at the post office did not take place (ii) The time of the murder was before Robin Garbutt served his first customer in the shop at around 5.15am that morning (according to the till roll).

~ Was the Court of Appeal wrong to dismiss Robin Garbutt’s claims of a miscarriage of justice at the hearing in May 2012?

For my own part, every judgment that this court delivers is read, as part of learning how to understand and assess other cases. I have also been in the press seats at the Royal Courts of Justice to hear an appeal in which I was assisting the person convicted of murder, and his family, and, in fact, made a successful oral application to Lord Justice Davies, from the press seats, to live tweet those proceedings. From that informed perspective, the refusal to quash the Garbutt conviction was routine, given what was before the court. The defence team, still led by James Hill QC and praised by the law lords for their skilful submissions, had a mistaken grasp of the very probable route to verdict taken by the jury. Their majority decision says the robbery didn’t take place and, on the only alternative put to them by the prosecution, Robin was found to have killed Diana. That is the legal position and, as I say to every single person who seeks out my view, the appellate courts are almost always where law is decided, not justice. That has been the position, for better or worse, since 1968.

 ~ Will the Criminal Case Review Commission refer the case back to the Court of Appeal after the third application by Robin Garbutt?

The conclusion reached on that discussion is reserved for the fourth article in this series, in which I set out the grounds, as I know them, and my reasoned views as to if, and why, they do, or not have merit. It would take just one compelling ground for a referral out of the four believed have been advanced by his legal team for the CCRC to make the prized referral.

Timeline 

An at-a-glance timeline of events leading up to the murder and all that happened since can be viewed here.

The Robin Garbutt justice campaigners were contacted for comment. They did not respond.

 

Page last updated: Saturday 11th April, 2020 at 1835 hours

Photo Credits: ITV News, Press Association, North Yorkshire Police, North Yorks Enquirer

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

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

 

 

‘Don’t do anything stupid. We’ve got your wife’

As one who frequently sits in court press seats, directly opposite jury boxes, it might be said that I am moderately qualified to pass comment on the vagaries of a system that sees the fate of defendants, accused of serious crimes, decided by twelve of their community peers.

The prosecution present the case as to why the Crown (or State) believe the accused is guilty, then the defence barrister will answer the allegations. Each will usually bring witnesses to speak either for, or against, the defendant(s) and there are often exhibits in the form of documents, records, clothing, photographs, and sometimes, weapons. Experts, of varying qualification and authority, can be deployed to give evidence for either side.

It is what is known as an adversarial system. Where the most refined arguments on the applicable law and the more compelling evidence of fact succeed, in theory at least. Compared to, for example, an inquest, or courts in some other European countries, where the process is inquisitorial. A search for the truth.

At the end of the evidential stage of a trial, counsel (barristers, or Queen’s Counsel where the charges are serious) for both the prosecution and defence will each make a closing speech, addressed directly to the jury, which comprises the best of their arguments and highlights the evidence that they believe falls in favour of either the Crown or the defendant. Often, and for very good reason, they are highly emotive – and regarded by many as the key components in a trial.

Immediately following the speeches, the trial judge ‘sums up’ the arguments and evidence. Stressing all the time, that he, or quite often she, these days, is the arbiter on law only; decisions on facts are for the jury alone. What a judge may consider important points the jury may not, and vice versa.

Having given the jury directions on the law – and how it applies in the particular case being tried – a jury bailiff is sworn in and the twelve men and women, from all walks of life, are sent to the jury room to deliberate. Under strict instructions not to discusss the case, except when they are all together in that room. They are also warned about researching any details about the case on the internet, or discussing it at home or with friends. Their verdict is reached only on the evidence they have heard  in court – and the judge will remind them that it for the Crown to prove guilt, not for the defendant to prove his innocence.

The judge will also urge them to reach a unanimous verdict when they are sure the defendant is either guilty or not guilty. If the jury is ‘hung’, that is to say not all of them agree on a verdict, the judge will take soundings from both prosecuting and defending counsel as to how long must pass before the court should allow a verdict based on the majority of jurors. Either 10-2, or 11-1, if all 12 jurors are still sitting.

If the jury finds the defendant guilty, the judge hears from both counsel again – and then passes sentence: The prosecution will present the views of the victim, often in the form of an impact statement, and advocate for what is believed to be an appropriate sentence, within the guidelines. Defence counsel mitigate, as best they can, on behalf of their client. In the case of a not guilty verdict, the defendant is released from the court dock soon after the verdict and free to go about his daily business, no doubt chastened by the experience. The guilty take the slow walk down the dock steps to custody.

Nothing about the deliberations of the jury can be made public, either during or after the trial. But the judge, using his experience and knowledge of the case, will apply their fact finding when passing sentence and making his accompanying remarks. In the higher profile criminal cases, the ‘Sentencing Remarks’ are made public and widely distributed.

Following a four week trial in Teesside Crown Court, during March and April, 2011, a 45 year old man, Robin Joseph Garbutt, was found guilty of the murder of his wife, Diana, at the village store and post office they ran at Melsonby, in the Richmondshire district of North Yorkshire. The jury were split 10-2, a majority verdict. They had deliberated for over thirteen hours, but took only a very short time after the judge released them from their obligation to return a unanimous verdict.

The heinous crime was committed just over a year earlier, on 23rd March, 2010, and attracted a large amount of press attention; not least because it was said that an armed robbery had taken place, in which a large amount of cash was stolen. The widely held assumption, at that time, was that Mrs Garbutt had been killed by those same robbers during the raid. The local police force were under enormous pressure to ‘get a result’.

At first, it appeared that the police had accepted Robin Garbutt’s account of the robbery, and the circumstances in which Diana had died. But three weeks later, the innocuous, well-liked and respected local man was arrested by North Yorkshire Police in an early morning swoop, held in custody and questioned for 3 days. After which, he was charged with his wife’s murder.

Garbutt, it later emerged, had been suspected of a false narrative, by the police, within a short time of them arriving in the picture postcard village: PC Mark Reed, the second officer to arrive, said that his account was ‘jumbled, all over the place’. TC Chris Graham-Marlow, the first officer on the scene, was concerned that he continually questioned the opinion of the paramedic attending the body of Diana who had told him that rigor mortis had set in and there were also clear signs of hypostasis (blood pooling in tissue where her heart had stopped), indicators that death had occurred at least an hour earlier and, more likely, several hours previously. There appeared to be no good reason, when apparently almost hysterical over the death of his wife, why he would do so. The nett effect was to invite closer attention to the armed robbery narrative.

PC Reed says that when he and another officer drove him to Northallerton police station, at lunchtime on the day of the murder, Garbutt again returned to the subject of the time of death and the state of the body.

At the time of his arrest, the police said that there were inconsistencies in his account of what had taken place on the fateful day, and the background to it. Exactly a week after the murder, Detective Superintendent Lewis Raw said “The investigation is very complex and it will take some time to complete all avenues of investigation”. The first sign, publicly, that the police were not treating this as an armed robbery gone wrong.

At trial, it emerged that Garbutt had further aroused police suspicions by painting a rosy picture of the marriage and the village store business. But, in reality, the prosecution presented the jury with a very different picture: A woman sexually unfulfilled and with a constantly roving eye – and the couple had rising debts which, at the time of the murder, amounted, jointly, to over £44,000, plus a £60,000 mortgage on the property. They had seven credit cards between them, all running at or near the credit limit.

Diana, it was heard in court, ‘had lost interest in the business’ and it had been on the market for around 5 years, with little or no buyer activity. Robin admitted that he was heard, at least once, to tell her to ‘get off her fat arse and do something’.

She had told one of her male dalliances, in an email message, that her marriage was ‘doomed’. She told another that the marriage was going through ‘a rough patch’. The court also heard that the Garbutts had seen a Relate counsellor, regarding their sexual incompatibility, and discussed splitting up, with Diana renting a room elsewhere in Melsonby village. At trial, Robin dismissed this as being ‘long in the past’ even though it was just over a year ago. His wife had visited a dating website several times on the day before the murder, including just a few hours before she was bludgeoned to death.

Comprehensive and highly forensic analysis of the personal finances of the couple, the village shop and the post office was put before the jury and they heard live evidence from Teresa Bentley, a specialist economic crime investigator who had full access to all the couple’s personal and business bank accounts, credit card accounts. She was, also, assisted by a Post Office fraud investigator, Andrew Keighley. The jury heard from the latter that there were ‘irregularities’ over the Post Office record keeping and unusual requests for cash from HQ. Mrs Bentley told the court that there were regular, substantial cash sums sent to the bank, via special delivery. Her reports, included in the jury bundle, tended to show that it was these cash deposits, about which there was scant explanation from Robin Garbutt, that were keeping their business and personal finances afloat.

In 2009, the couple, who married six years earlier, had eight holidays, including weekends in Amsterdam, paying two visits to the Hard Rock Cafe, and trips to York, Paris and Northumberland. Two of their other weekend trips to Bolton Abbey cost £1200 and £800 respectively. Diana went with a friend on a trip to the Glastonbury Festival. A week or so after the murder they were due to fly to the United States for a three-week holiday at a cost of £3,000 (Diana’s father was American and she had dual nationality. The plan was to visit her sister Victoria in California, before travelling to see her 94-year-old grandmother, Rose, in Virginia). When the prosecution advanced the view, in cross-examination, that the Garbutts were living well beyond their visible means, Robin denied that. He told the court that not all the business takings went through the till [Which, of course, means that VAT and income tax returns were, demonstrably, false]. Diana’s Post Office salary was £14,500 and the shop was, at best, showing a very small profit. In the months leading up to the murder the shop was losing a significant amount of money, according to the police analysis, although defence counsel, James Hill QC, did question the actual amount that was put before the jury (around £14,000).

There was no countervailing expert, or forensic, analysis of the accounts, or cash transactions, put forward by the defence. They relied, almost exclusively, on cross-examination of Ms Bentley and Mr Keighley.

The trial, and the verdict reached by the jury, appeared to turn on just two key findings: The time at which the murder occurred and whether, or not, the alleged armed robbery took place. The judge, in his summing up, had made it clear that the Crown did not have to prove motive, only the charge on the indictment. That is the law as it stands.

Much of the witness evidence heard at trial, on behalf of the prosecution, was to dispel the widely held myth in the village that all was perfect in the Garbutt marriage – and their business enterprise was flourishing. The court also heard many glowing personal testimonies about the couple, and Robin; and the judge, of course, drew equal attention to those.

He also explained that, in the circumstances of this particular case, a verdict of manslaughter was not available to the jury.  Robin Garbutt was either guilty, or not guilty, of the murder of his wife, Diana. If he didn’t commit the crime, then the jury verdict would point to the armed robber(s). That was how the police and prosecutor had, some might say very cleverly, constructed the case. Their strategy, for example, excluded the possibility that there was a third party involved in a conspiracy to murder, who may well have struck the fatal blows whilst Garbutt was serving in the shop downstairs.

David Hatton QC, prosecuting, said propitiously: “One of the questions you will have to consider, if you accept this evidence [of a robbery taking place], is the likelihood of a robber, or robbers, being prepared to violently kill a female sleeping in her own bed, at all; but then, having done so, to wait for [four to six hours]* before going downstairs to rob the post office.

“And then, it has to be said, having been prepared to bludgeon the lady to death upstairs and wait for that length of time, to leave the defendant himself unharmed and unrestrained to raise the alarm.”

The timing* of the murder has, before, during and after the trial, created huge controversy. The prosecution say it happened between 2.30am and 4.30am, the defence assert that it was after 6.45am. Those competing arguments, along with the other matters around which the Garbutt miscarriage of justice campaign is focused, is the subject of analysis in a separate article in which I conclude from, it must be strongly emphasised, a non-scientific standpoint, but after weighing all the evidence heard in court and the counterclaims regarding the food digestion analysis since the trial, that the attack occured between 5.40 and 7.10am.

The first paramedic on the scene, Michael Whitaker, gave evidence to the effect that, upon arrival at the scene of the murder, there was no electrical activity in Diana’s heart and her arm was solid with rigor mortis. The court heard: “I assumed that the lady had been deceased for quite some time.” Under cross-examination, Mr Whitaker told Mr Hill that he could not say for certain how long she had been dead for.

The issue of whether the robbery took place, or not, is more compact, does not involve complex science, and amounts, quite simply, to whether the account of Robin Garbutt can withstand scrutiny. So, readers of the present article are invited to put themselves in that jury box, test the evidence and reach their own verdict.

The narrative account of the robbery given to the police on the day of the murder was repeated, more or less, in the witness box at trial. With the apparent exception that, on the morning of the murder, Garbutt told the police that the armed robber had entered the shop from the upstairs living quarters.

It boils down to what took place between and 08.35.54 and 08.37.13 on Tuesday 23rd March, 2010. A total of 79 seconds.

During that time, from when the opening of the safe became possible, recorded both within the deposit box itself and centrally at Post Office HQ, and the 999 call being answered, this is what is said to have happened:

~ Garbutt was in the post office booth, within the shop, having just opened the safe, when he heard a noise from behind the shop door that connected to the staircase leading up to the living quarters.

~ After opening the safe, but before he was disturbed, he had removed the A4 book containing postage stamps. He had also removed the compartmentalised tray containing the coins that fitted in the post ofice till.

~ He left the booth and moved towards the door thinking he would be greeted by his wife. Instead he was met by a masked man, in dark clothing, holding a gun down by his side.

~ The robber told Garbutt: “Don’t do anything stupid, we’ve got your wife upstairs”.

~ He was then instructed to turn off the lights in the shop and lock the front door. In court, it was heard that he slid across the top bolt on that door.

~ He then returned to the booth and filled a black holdall with over £16,000 in denominations of £20, £10 and £5 notes. They were in bundles on a shelf in the safe.

~ Emerging from the booth, he then went around to the back of the shop counter and emptied the contents of the till (about £150) into the holdall, on the instructions of the robber.

~ At this point the armed robber left the shop, via the connecting door and the back door to the premises, which Garbutt says he had left unlocked when offloading stock for the shop, from his car, earlier that morning between 4.30am and 6.00am.

~ Garbutt was warned by the armed robber not to move.

~ The back door, apparently, had not been locked by the robber(s) after they gained entry.

All of the above actions, mostly by a man seemingly paralysed by fear, and with one eye on the gun in the robber’s hand, had taken just 20 seconds, says Garbutt. Emphatically.

This is a picture of the interior of the shop which may aid readers’ understanding and assessment:

Screenshot 2020-03-29 at 14.16.53

The silent alarms, which connected to the police control room via a central monitoring station, had not been activated. One was in the booth near the safe, another was next to the shop till and a third was by the connecting door. Garbutt explained this to the police, and later in court, by saying, firstly, that ‘he was caught in the agony of the moment’ and, secondly, he did not know the alarms were silent, despite the court hearing evidence that he had been instructed at least three times in their use by two different Post Office technicians. It also emerged in court that he had taught one of his shop assistants, Linda Sharp, some months earlier on how to use the alarms and explained their effect (the court heard that she was also told in strong terms to make sure she always kept the back door to the premises locked).

~ After the robber had left, and without having sight or sound of any other robber whom, according to the thief in the shop, was holding Diana captive, Garbutt says he raced upstairs, passing the silent alarm button near the connecting door.

~ He arrived in doorway of the spare bedroom to see his wife face down on the bed, her head in a pool of blood that had spread out on the pillow beneath her.

~ The husband of the wife he told the court he adored, did not offer any first aid, or even check whether she was dead or alive.

~ From there he went to the living room on the first floor and dialled 999 to report the robbery and injuries to his wife. He did not tell the emergency operator whether she was dead, or not.

~ Garbutt told the emergency services operator that the robber(s) had made good their escape, although he had no knowledge of that. He did not check the direction in which they were headed or whether they were, in fact, lying low on or around his property. No other person in the village, or elsewhere, had sight of them at any time on that morning. His next door neighbour, Pauline Dye, was in and out of her house, hanging out the washing in the back courtyard, at around the time the robbery took place. She saw or heard nothing.

There is no account of Garbutt searching for, or calling out to, the other robber(s) said by the gunman to be holding Diana captive. Or arming himself to confront or defend himself from an attack from the second robber that he must have believed was present, and armed, with his wife, thus ensuring compliance with the instructions from the robber who appeared in the shop. Garbutt told the police, when later interviewed as a suspect, that the robber did not have the iron bar in his hand. Also, he could not explain how the robber had, apparently, no blood on his clothing.

This is a short film of the account Robin Garbutt gave of the alleged robbery. It was given to police a few hours after the discovery of his dead wife.

The defence, at trial, relied on the report of another almost identical robbery at the same village shop, exactly 53 weeks earlier, on 17th March, 2009. The court heard Garbutt’s account of how, at about 8.30am, he had been confronted by two hooded men, with their faces covered, one pointing a gun at him, as he opened the post office safe. They escaped with around £11,000 in cash and a valuable A4 book of stamps. Garbutt did not activate the silent alarms on that occasion, either. Diana, the court heard, was upstairs in the living quarters and heard nothing. No-one in the village saw or heard anything, either. It remains as an unsolved case. The prosecution elected not to take a view on whether the robbery described by Garbutt took place, or not. It was left for the jury to decide as part of their fact-finding matrix.

Unknown to the jury, Mr Justice Openshaw took the unusual step of remanding Garbutt in custody after hearing his evidence. Prosecutor David Hatton QC said that it “bordered on the absurd”.

Robin Garbutt has always vehemently denied murdering a woman he says he loved so very dearly. His soulmate, whom the jury heard was ‘as close as close could be’. He has also consistently maintained that both armed robberies DID take place and one of the robbers in the second raid (or later distilled at trial to a single robber) killed Diana as she lay in her bed. 10 of the 12 jurors did not believe him. They had the benefit of hearing evidence from 68 prosecution witnesses and 18 defence witnesses, plus the testimony of Garbutt himself across two hearing days.

Neither does Diana’s mother, Agnes Gaylor, who sat through the entire criminal trial. The village of Melsonby is still split over the verdict.

Passing sentence, Mr Justice Openshaw pulled no punches. He said the defendant had shown no remorse over the death of his wife, adding: ‘He has always accompanied his lies with sanctimonious lies of his love for her’.

‘By their verdict, the jury have exposed this as pure humbug.’

‘This was a brutal, planned, cold-blooded murder of his wife as she lay sleeping in bed.’

‘There was no struggle, she never awoke. He struck three savage blows, smashing her skull and causing her immediate death as clearly he intended’.

The story of the armed robber he said was ‘ludicrous from beginning to end’.

The defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a recommendation that he serve at least 20 years. Sir Peter Openshaw DL, as he is now styled, is a judge with whom I am particularly familiar, in terms of style, tone, compendious knowledge of the law and procedural rules. Having been in his court for very many days of the hearings of the first Hillsborough trials across a period of over two years.  There has never been any criticism of his handling of the Garbutt trial, or the way it was summed up, except that he was keen to keep it on track in terms of length of trial. That also featured in all the hearings at Preston Crown Court, and so it does in every other Crown Court on my beat. It is what judges do: Effective listing and timetabling are significant parts of their oversight role. Openshaw ran his courts with almost military precision, matching that familiar stiff gait to and from his seat on the bench.

Xanthe Tait, Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor for North Yorkshire and Humberside, said after the trial: ‘Diana Garbutt’s life was cut brutally and tragically short. Her family is left to forever mourn her loss.

‘She was violently bludgeoned to death. A callous crime motivated by the basest of human characteristics.

‘Robin Garbutt went to great lengths in creating a cover story involving a robber with a gun: a story he maintained throughout the trial – lying about his finances, lying about his relationship with his wife and lying about the robbery – to conceal his appalling crimes.

‘We have worked closely with the police to build a robust prosecution case and secure justice for Diana. Our thoughts are with her family and we hope that today’s conviction will bring them some measure of comfort and peace.’

Ms Tait, for the past several years, has led a three-force collaboration group which aims to bring the legal services departments of Cleveland, Durham and North Yorkshire Police together in a project codenamed ‘Evolve’. She was a high-achieving prosecutor, widely respected by her peers.

Since his incarceration, a highly visible campaign group has formed around Robin Garbutt. They are energetically, and passionately, led by Jane Metcalfe, a friend from the time when he lived in York, together with Garbutt’s sister, Sallie Wood, and brother-in-law, Mark Stilborn. Jane and Robin are in constant touch by phone.

In the past few months, regional and national newspaper coverage, an article in Private Eye, and packages on the two local TV news programmes, ITV Calendar and Look North, has kept the miscarriage of justice claim very much in the public eye. A third application to the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC) is the trigger for the publicity. An appeal to the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal was dismissed in May, 2012. Two subsequent applications to the CCRC were also dismissed.

A website set up and maintained by the campaigners can be viewed here. Whereas the presentation is rudimentary, the message is very strong: Robin has always told the truth and he could not possibly have committed the crime. It promises so much, but delivers surprisingly little by way of references to substantive evidential material.

The ever-present assertion of unwavering truthfulness of Robin Garbutt has little or no basis in fact. Whilst those same campaigners, and the convicted murderer, have refused me access to his witness statements to the police, the merest examination of his witness box testimony reveals gaping holes and alarming contradictions in his story.

Why deny a journalist, approaching the case as one who has very good, and well evidenced, reason to doubt just about anything that North Yorkshire Police do or say, over a very lengthy period, access to any of the case materials? Unless there is something to hide from an independent investigator?

Another journalist, the late Bob Woffinden, also contributed significantly to the campaign in 2016, before his sad passing in May 2018, and his article (read in full here starting on page 14) certainly raised its profile and credibility at the time. However, to locate his work on the internet requires a little persistence. There is no link to it from the campaign website. It is, with all due respect to Bob, a very popular and capable journalist, a partial piece that adopts the cause of the convicted murderer.

A petition protesting Robin Garbutt’s innocence, propagated from the website, has gathered just 54 signatures. William Hague (now Baron Hague of Richmond), who retired in 2015, is listed as Robin Garbutt’s MP. In fact, his representative now is the very high profile Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak MP.

The past and present MP’s have both have been contacted for comment on the campaign and to establish whether they have added support in any way. A response is awaited and will, very understandably, be delayed in the case of Mr Sunak.

The Garbutt campaigners declined to provide a statement for this article, despite being prolific elsewhere. A request for answers to a series of straightforward questions about the background to the events of 22nd/23rd March 2010 was also declined. It has taken a considerable amount of additional time and effort to dig them out, but almost all of those answers have now been obtained from other sources. Several of them now cast further doubt on the Garbutt narrative, particularly in relation to the weapon that the armed robber held in his right hand as he entered the shop.

Dr Michael Naughton, an academic whom, it is claimed, supports the campaign, did not acknowledge or reply to an email asking for details of his analysis of the case, or the grounds upon which he has based his support by way of a relatively new venture, Empowering the Innocent. Dr Naughton does, of course, have at least one blemish on his miscarriage of justice record; the case of Simon Hall for whom he was the leading advocate for five years. The convicted murderer actually confessed to the crime in 2013 (read BBC report here). The parallels with the Garbutt case are, on any independent view, stark. The discomfort when this is drawn to the attention of his campaigners is palpable. Naughton claims he has never seen the signed confession and is reported to continue to cast doubt on its existence. A search to find a case to which he has been attached professionally, and has succeeded at the Court of Appeal, has drawn a blank.

By way of a carefully framed, plainly expressed freedom of information request, North Yorkshire Police were asked on 30th January, 2020 to provide basic details of the murder probe, the usual foundation stones of a properly grounded journalistic investigation. Over two months later, they are yet to respond to the request, or an application for internal review (read in full here). Those that check out the details will see that NYP are prepared, arguably, to commit a criminal offence to avoid disclosure. That, it might be said, is a measure of the habitual fear they have of the type of relentless scrutiny they face from this quarter. The lurking presence of Xanthe Tait, as the ultimate arbiter of that disclosure decision, and particularly with her colours now firmly nailed to the NYP mast, cannot be overlooked.

Screenshot 2020-03-29 at 19.25.53
Xanthe Tait, formerly Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor and, more latterly, deeply embedded in North Yorkshire Police.

As it happens, most of the requested details have been obtained from independent sources about Operation Nardoo, the police codename for the calamitous Garbutt investigation, which form the basis of the third article, in a series of at least three, covering the Garbutt case. The product of almost 200 hours, over the past two months, invested in this most puzzling case and one in which the judge expressed serious, and well justified, concerns about the police management of the crime scene: ‘A regrettable lack of professionalism’.

It is safe to to say, supported by a lengthy and highly attritional history (for example, I have taken them to court twice and defeated them), that NYP will not enjoy the intensity of the spotlight that I routinely turn onto them.

The police press office was not contacted, as it is some years since they responded to any enquiry from this quarter, despite my press accreditation by the National Police Chiefs Council and, of course, their lawful obligation to do so by way of section 39A of the Police Act, 1996.

This, as the reader may have gleaned already is a story with some way to run.

UPDATE: The second article in this four part series can now be read here. The third article here and the fourth article here.

Timeline: An at-a-glance timeline of events leading up to the murder and all that happened since can also be viewed here.

Page last updated: Saturday 11th April, 2020 at 1825 hours

Photo Credits: Press Association, North Yorkshire Police.

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

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

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. 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.

Not one single piece of paper

Exactly six years ago, at the end of the day’s Parliamentary business, Gerry Sutcliffe rose to his feet from the green leather benches to begin his contribution to an adjournment debate on the subject of the John Elam miscarriage of justice case. This is what he had to say:

“I am pleased to see the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims in his place. I do not expect him to be able to respond in detail to the important issues that I will raise, but perhaps while he listens to my speech he will reflect on what advice he can give on the best course of action to take the matter forward.

“The last case that I raised in which I felt a serious injustice had been done was that of Private Lee Clegg, a soldier in Northern Ireland who was convicted of murder. After the intervention of his solicitor, Simon McKay, other Members from both Houses and myself, he was eventually cleared of the crime.

“I want to make it clear that I do not raise these matters lightly. On the whole, our legal system is fair and just. It was with great pleasure and pride that I served as a Minister in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice under the last Government. I therefore raise this case knowing the confines within which Ministers may speak because of operational issues and the legal process. I raise this case this evening because a number of things have happened that have made me want to put it on the record.

“Mr John Elam was convicted of a conspiracy to commit fraud and received a 10-and-a-half-year jail sentence in April 2008. He has now been released on licence. He has always maintained his innocence and has sought to appeal against his imprisonment. He had an appeal in 2010 that was turned down.

“A constituent of mine came to see me to raise his concerns about the safety of the conviction and the role of certain officers in West Yorkshire Police. As you will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, Members of Parliament are approached by many people who feel that the legal system has operated against them. Sometimes it is difficult to unravel what the issues really are. As any other constituency MP would do, I wrote to the appropriate Departments and West Yorkshire police, and I contacted Mr Elam’s then solicitors, Keith Dyson and Partners. I also had meetings with the West Yorkshire Police Commissioner [Mark Burns-Williamson].

“My interest was stirred even more when differing accounts of the case emerged. According to West Yorkshire Police, Mr Elam was an international criminal who had connections to the Russian mafia and was involved in money laundering and the drugs trade. However, according to his solicitor, Mr Elam was the victim of police intimidation and a dirty tricks campaign, which included a lack of disclosure at his appeal. I am not a lawyer, so I was unsure what legal avenues were available to resolve the conflicting stories. As MPs do, I asked around, seeking advice and receiving information from many sources. The responses led to my interest in the case deepening further.

“Mr Elam had only one previous conviction, for common assault—he threw a Toby jug at a pub landlord. How did that minor criminal evolve into an alleged international criminal? According to West Yorkshire Police, they were interested in Mr Elam in 2005 and sought approval to have him monitored and placed under surveillance as a dangerous criminal. Operation Teddington was set up, and a very large amount of resources was spent on the process. Covert action was used to monitor the bank accounts of the Medina Trading Company, which consisted of a restaurant and a car wash. Mr Elam has always admitted his involvement with the Medina company and its directors.

“The Yorkshire Bank held the accounts of the Medina company, and an employee of the bank at that time, Mr Richard Shires, passed on information relating to the accounts, and cheques, to DC Mick Casey of West Yorkshire Police, as confirmed by affidavit. During my investigations into the matter, I have submitted a number of freedom of information requests to West Yorkshire Police, through which I have discovered that a person called Mr Richard Shires was a serving special constable in West Yorkshire Police at the time the information was passed on. I have also discovered that a person called Mr Richard Shires subsequently became a paid constable in West Yorkshire Police and continues to serve to this day. I have tried to discover through a recent freedom of information request whether those Richard Shires were one and the same, but at this time I have not been provided with that information.

“If those Richard Shires were one and the same, there was a clear conflict of interest, and more to the point, the credibility of the information and cheques passed to DC Casey would be called into doubt. I think all would agree that it would never be appropriate for a bank employee who was also a serving special constable to assist with the inquiries of the very same police force he worked for.

“At the trial, the Crown was represented by Mr Jonathan Sandiford. No evidence was given about the wider concerns relating to Mr Elam’s criminal associations. In fact, Mr Sandiford stated: The prosecution case here is that the conspirators sought to conceal the fact that Mr Elam was the true owner of the companies acquiring the business in order to defraud creditors’.

“In summing up the case, His Honour Judge Wolstenholme said to the jury that ‘….what you must do is take the view that, well, something dishonest was going on with one or more of the defendants. They must all have been up to something, even if you are not sure what.’

“Subsequently, Mr Elam was convicted.

“Mr Elam’s case, supported by his legal team, portrays an entirely different account of the chain of events. Mr Elam claims that he was approached in the summer of 2004 by a police officer demanding £150,000 in cash to be paid immediately, and £30,000 annually thereafter. In March 2005, the police investigated Mr Elam’s business practices using the covert name Operation Teddington. It is alleged that, in June 2005, 49 officers were redeployed from the anti-terrorist taskforce to work on Teddington.

“As I said, in September 2005, Richard Shires was a paid employee of the Yorkshire Bank. He accessed bank accounts relating to the Medina restaurant and secured more than 3,000 cancelled cheques. A written affidavit by Mr Shires confirms that he delivered a bundle of those cheques to DC Casey. The Yorkshire Bank also confirms that it never received an order to produce from the courts.

“In 2006, John Elam was arrested, and then the Crown court trial began. Despite a wide-ranging three-year investigation, involving more than 300 officers, Mr Elam faced a single charge of conspiracy to commit fraud. He was convicted and served his sentence in HMP Wakefield as a category A prisoner, the highest security level. He had also been treated as a category A prisoner during his time on remand. Mr Elam suffered a stroke in prison and needed external medical support.

“It is my contention that, whatever the true situation, a number of questions remain unanswered and there are a number of public interest concerns. First, was a production order properly served to Yorkshire Bank, and what was the role of PC Shires? Secondly, what was the true cost of Operation Teddington, and were officers diverted from the anti-terrorism taskforce, who at the time were dealing with the 7/7 bombers in West Yorkshire? Thirdly, why was Mr Elam considered to be a category A prisoner, and who was the police officer that demanded money?

“I know the Minister cannot respond directly to individual cases and that the Criminal Cases Review Commission will take a fresh look at this case, but I am seriously concerned enough to raise these issues and the fact that, while out on licence, Mr Elam still faces issues related to the recovery of the proceeds of crime. A hearing that was suspended in October is due in February. I have tried to contact West Yorkshire police on a number of occasions about those issues, and I will continue to do so. I was heartened today when I had a more co-operative response from West Yorkshire Police because they knew this debate was taking place, and I hope to take the matter further.

“These are serious allegations and this is a serious case—as I said, I do not usually promote and push issues where I do not feel that a cause needs to be looked at. This is a sensitive case, but it is important that as constituency MPs we raise such matters when they are put to us, and that we try to get the best result for the constituents we represent, particularly where justice and the work of the police are concerned. It must always be held utmost that the police operate in a proper manner and that our legal system is operating at its best.

“I want to put this case on record. I am sure it will not end here and that we will have to deal with other issues. However, I believe that the other bodies involved—they know who they are—should look at this case in greater detail, and I look forward to what the Minister has to say.”

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Gerry Sutcliffe, former MP for Bradford South

The Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims (Damian Green) then rose to respond on behalf of the Government:

“I congratulate the Hon. Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe) on securing this debate and thank him for recognising at various stages in his speech that I will inevitably be constrained in what I can say in response to the specific points he has raised. He served in a distinguished capacity in both the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office under the previous Government, so he will recognise that as a Minister in both Departments I am doubly constrained in what I can say. I will, however, respond to his points about miscarriages of justice, applications to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, and police matters.

“Consideration of alleged miscarriages of justice is a matter for the independent Criminal Cases Review Commission, and ultimately for the appeal courts. I am aware that Mr Elam has made an application to the commission. It is therefore not a matter for the Government and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on that case on their behalf. I understand that Mr Elam has made a complaint to West Yorkshire Police that is still ongoing and being investigated by the force’s Professional Standards Department. Again, that disqualifies me from commenting on it.

“The Hon. Gentleman mentioned the background to the case, and I understand that Mr Elam and a number of co-defendants were prosecuted as a result of a major operation by West Yorkshire Police. There were a number of criminal trials against Mr Elam and other defendants in 2006, 2008 and 2009. Mr Elam was convicted of offences including assault and conspiracy to pervert justice, conspiracy to defraud, and doing acts tending or intending to pervert the course of justice. Custodial sentences were imposed following conviction, which have been served, and I understand that Mr Elam has appealed unsuccessfully to the Court of Appeal, against sentence on one occasion, which was heard in 2007, and twice against conviction—both those appeals were heard in 2010.

“As I have said, Mr Elam has made an application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which was established by the Criminal Appeal Act 1995. Its purpose is to review possible miscarriages of justice. Since 31st March 1997, the Commission has operated with the power to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice and refer convictions and sentences to the relevant appeal court for a new appeal. Its remit extends to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Commission replaced functions that were previously carried out by the Secretary of State. Parliament established the Commission specifically to be a body that is independent of the Government.

“A Commission review is rightly a long and thorough process. If Mr Elam’s application to the Commission concerns all the criminal proceedings to which he has been subject over a number years, the review will be complex and lengthy.

“It should be noted that the Commission has strong statutory powers to enable it to discharge its functions. It can direct and supervise investigations; approve the appointment of officers to carry investigations on its behalf; and gain access to documents and other relevant materials. I draw the Hon. Gentleman’s attention to the power in section 17 of the 1995 Act, under which the Commission can reasonably require any person serving in any public body to produce to the Commission any document or other material that can assist it in the exercise of any of its functions.

“Of course, “public body” includes the police, so the Commission’s powers pursuant to section 17 operate irrespective of any duty of confidentiality and allow the Commission access to information of the highest sensitivity. Accordingly, as I am sure the House can see, the Commission has the power to obtain and review the papers and materials held by West Yorkshire Police, provided the Commission believes it reasonable to do so, in connection with its review of Mr Elam’s conviction. I hope that that reassures the Hon. Gentleman that, when the time comes, the Commission can access and consider all material relevant to the review of Mr Elam’s application.

“The Commission has confirmed that an application from Mr Elam was received in January 2013. Mr Elam is now at liberty and, as I understand it, the case is not yet under active review. The Commission has informed me that it recently wrote to advise Mr Elam that the estimated date for the allocation of his case for review is January 2015. I appreciate that that is some 2 years after the original application was made and that, given the complexity of the case, it is likely to be some time before an outcome is reached once the review is under way.

“In addition, the commission has explained to me that it operates a system of priority for applicants who are in custody. For cases requiring a substantial review, the review is generally started 12 months earlier when applicants are in custody than when somebody is at liberty. Currently, the wait for those in custody is unduly long. The Commission is concentrating on allocating those cases to reduce the maximum waiting time.

“As I have said, although the Commission prioritises applications from people in custody, I am advised that it has a policy for affording priority to any individual case when appropriate. Perhaps Mr Elam wishes to pursue that, or perhaps the Hon. Gentleman can discuss with Mr Elam whether that is an appropriate course of action in his case. I should take the opportunity to repeat that the Government should not, and indeed cannot, in any way intervene or be seen to be intervening in a matter for the Commission and, if appropriate, the appeal courts.

“On the West Yorkshire Police investigation, I understand from them that Mr Elam’s solicitor contacted them at the end of last year to make a complaint about an officer involved in the 2005 investigation. West Yorkshire Police’s Professional Standards Department is currently in correspondence with Mr Elam’s solicitor about the matter and currently awaits a response. As the Hon. Gentleman has said, Detective Chief Superintendent Andy Brennan, the Head of the West Yorkshire Police Professional Standards Department, has spoken to him and informed him of the sequence of events surrounding the original complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

“The complaint was thoroughly reviewed, and the response was sent on 18 September advising that there was no evidence to support the allegation. A formal complaint was recorded by West Yorkshire Police’s Professional Standards department and, although Mr Elam and his representatives have been advised that the complaint will be subject to disapplication on two occasions, there has been no response to the letters.

“I understand that the Hon. Gentleman was advised that the process would not stop West Yorkshire Police’s Professional Standards Department from taking action on the information, especially if there is a suggestion of misconduct or criminality. I believe that Detective Chief Superintendent Brennan has also offered to meet the Hon. Gentleman to go through any outstanding allegations or suggestions of misconduct. As well as that offer—it is obviously a matter for him to decide whether to take that up—the Professional Standards Department strongly encourages Mr Elam, or any other person, to contact it should they have information that they believe may be relevant or of value. I think that that is all I can appropriately say at this stage.

“If after those stages Mr Elam is not satisfied with how his complaint to West Yorkshire Police was dealt with, or how he was notified of the outcome, he can appeal a decision to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which is the statutory guardian of the police complaints system. There are, therefore, further steps that he can take if he wishes to do so.

“The Hon. Gentleman raised three important specific points at the end of his speech. Let me address them as far as I can. The issue of the production order to Yorkshire Bank and the role of Mr Shires is specific to one or more of the criminal cases brought against Mr Elam. If that is a case he has asked the Criminal Cases Review Commission to consider, it will investigate the issues fully. It is therefore not appropriate for me to speculate on them. Information on the costs and diversion of police resources for the purposes of Operation Teddington is an operational matter for West Yorkshire Police, so I refer the Hon. Gentleman to it for the answer to that. On the question of where Mr Elam served his custodial sentences, the decision on which custodial facility a convicted prisoner is sent to is made by the National Offender Management Service. Its decision is informed by information and intelligence from various sources, and the Directorate of High Security has a responsibility to act on that information. It is not within its remit to investigate the details of the information provided by the sources it uses.

“It is clear from the important matters raised by the Hon. Gentleman that there are issues that need to be looked into further. As I have explained, the relevant and appropriate bodies are looking into those matters now. I therefore think that the sensible way forward is to allow the application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission to take its course. I hope that that satisfies the important points raised by the Hon. Gentleman.

Damian Green sat down at 5.18pm having given a polished and, patently, well briefed response, 22 minutes after the debate opened. The obvious, and legitimate question, is what has happened since? Is everything as straightforward as he makes out with regard to the various statutory bodies and the police in their treatment of miscarriage of justice victims and did the case pan out as he said it would. What follows here is a damning condemnation of all four: The Criminal Case Review Commission, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, West Yorkshire Police and Mr Green himself.

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Former Policing Minister, Damian Green pictured alongside family friend, Kate Maltby

Green was later sacked by Prime Minister, Theresa May, as First Minister after he admittted making misleading statements following the discovery of pornography found on his Commons computer in 2008. Those listening to the swish sound of whitewash being smoothly applied during his response to Gerry Sutcliffe wouldn’t have been too surprised at this turn of events. Mrs May was, of course, Green’s ‘boss’ at the Home Office at the time of the adjournment debate. She did not call for a review of any matters with which he had been involved as a result of his admission of dishonesty.

Other allegations raised against him by Kate Maltby, were found to be “plausible”, but no definitive conclusion could be reached about them as a result of “the competing and contradictory accounts” of the Minister and a female family friend who is nearly 30 years his junior, regarding inappropriate sexual behaviour.

Mrs May was heavily critical of the police in the way they carried out the raid on Green’s parliamentary office in 2008, when the pornography was discovered. One might fairly say that the former Home Secretary was not quite so robust when members of the public were victims of unlawful, high-handed and/or heavy-handed treatment by cops.

The first port of call for a member of the public having difficulties with the police should be his elected policing representative, the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), voted in by the public for that very purpose. Regrettably, the PCC for West Yorkshire is Mark Burns-Williamson, one of the worst in the country, in a field of plenty. His approach throughout the Elam fight for justice has been nothing short of disgraceful: He firstly lobbied his Labour colleague, Gerry Sutcliffe, to drop his involvement with the miscarriage of justice case. Burns-Williamson then, as he invariably does in other complaint cases, simply adopted the police postion without making independent enquiries: So, in the PCC’s eyes, Elam is a notorious Russian mafia gangster and unworthy of the assistance of the officer paid to perform that function. But when asked by Mr Sutcliffe to provide evidence, or substantiation, of that position  he could provide none. In fact, he refused to answer correspondence.

For a series of investigations into John Elam and others, that Gerry Sutcliffe believed had cost, in total, approaching £100 million of taxpayers money, and, at times, occupied up to 300 officers, the PCC ought really have been a great deal more rigorous in challenging the police narrative.

As far as West Yorkshire Police is concerned, their treatment of John Elam continues to be highly questionable. Despite almost ten years of intensive covert surveillance, of the most intrusive nature one can imagine, there was not one scrap of evidence that he fits their bizarre description as an international drug-running, money laundering, Russian mafia gangster produced at his trials. Despite many requests from Elam, his legal representatives, his MP’s, there has not been any evidence of the same genre produced in the intervening 11 years, either. Which makes the Burns-Williamson stance even more inexplicable.

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John Elam, in his office in Leeds, sizing up the next land development project.

He looks a long, long way from that, sloshing about on a brownfield construction site in Bradford in torrential rain on a cold, sleeting December morning rallying his workers from the front. Yet still the police pursue him; smearing him with banks and professional associates, making life as difficult as they possibly can to put his undoubted, almost unequalled, business acumen to use as a property developer. Very few would be able to start with less than nothing, from gypsy stock, and legitimately turn that into a £multi-million fortune.

There is also this troubling whiff of racism, and all the resentment infecting people of such unpleasant disposition, that appears to permeate into almost all of WYP’s actions. Is it the gypsy blood and the ability to wheel and deal, making ‘easy money’ by putting ‘back to back’ land packages together that gets their goat?

One senior WYP officer is alleged to have said at the time of the Sutcliffe adjournment debate: “How did that gypsy f****r get his case on the telly like that”.

Every complaint made on behalf of John Elam (he is in the later stages of his life, having made and lost several fortunes, getting to grips with reading and writing) is airily batted away by the police. Then kicked further into the long grass by the thoroughly disgraced IPCC (now the similarly disgraced IOPC). Aided and abetted by a police complaints system deliberately re-designed, in 2011, to hamper the public at every turn.

Two long-serving officers turned up to meet Elam at Gerry Sutcliffe’s office in Bradford in 2014, Simon Bottomley and Osman Khan. Both DCI’s at the time, who have gone on to be Heads of PSD at WYP. Bottomley is the present incumbent, having succeeded Khan last year. Both have a chequered history amongst those members of the public who have had the misfortune to complain against their local police force. Their disposition towards John Elam and Mr Sutcliffe was agressive and confrontational throughout. They had turned up in place of Andy Brennan, who had done a ‘moonlight flit’ and left WYP shortly before he was due to meet with the MP and Elam, as Damian Green had indicated he would. When Elam spoke to Brennan by phone he could offer no explanation for his ‘retirement’ from WYP. The meeting produced nothing of use to the fight for justice. The barriers were up and stayed up.

The stigma of the 7/7 bombings, and the effect of the withdrawal of WYP’s specialist counter-terror officers onto what appeared to be an almost wholly disproportionate vendetta, also rankles deeply with the force’s hierarchy. Further discrediting Elam is one of the only ways they can salve their conscience after 56 people died at the hands of three radicalised suicide bombers from Leeds, and one from Kirklees.

The CCRC did, eventually respond in April, 2016, three years and three months after the submission of the Elam appeal to them. Their detailed findings, and the flaws inherent within them, including what appears strongly as ‘verification bias’ and a lack of basic investigative rigour will be the subject of a separate, but linked, article on this troubling miscarriage of justice case.

The CCRC provided no satisfactory answers on the key issues concerning:

(i) Richard Shires and his dual and contemporaneous role with Yorkshire Bank and WYP.

(ii) The provenance of the Production Order which took nine years for WYP to eventually produce (in the end to Gerry Sutcliffe) and the Yorkshire Bank are adamant was never served on them at any time.

(iii) The true status of the alleged police informant, Andrew John Rudd. Whom it is said was acting as agent provocateur.

(iv) The classification of John Elam as a Category AA prisoner. Extraordinarily, and quite independently as an investigative journalist, I have obtained access to that information and about which there will be a seperate article naming the officer who provided what appears to be false and malicious information to HMP’s Director of High Security.

(v) The identity of the police officer who turned up at John Elam’s home in Scarcroft and demanded £150,000 in cash up front, and £30,000 per annum thereafter, ‘to make your [John Elam’s] problems go away’. No enquiries were made as to the whereabouts of the film from a covert camera situated in a bird box in a tree opposite (in the garden of a former Leeds United goalkeeper, Nigel Martyn).

(vi) The continued smearing of him as a very serious organised drug-running, money laundering, Russian mafia criminal, absent of even the smallest scrap of evidence.

What they did do, incredibly, was have at least one face-to-face briefing with West Yorkshire Police, the very organisation whose serious, and proven, wrongdoing was at the heart of the Elam CCRC appeal. It appears to have escaped the attention of the CCRC that WYP has the worst record of any police force in the country when it comes to serious, high profile miscarriages of justice. Dating back to the 1970’s and the deeply shocking Stefan Kiszko and Judith Ward cases (read more here). They are a police force that simply cannot be trusted to tell the truth or not tamper with evidence and/or witnesses. That is not fanciful speculation, it is an inalienable fact.

Most crucially, what they CCRC didn’t do was exercise their extraordinary powers to obtain disclosure independent of the police and prosecution filters or barriers. If they had, they would have discovered, as I have done, that covert surveillance on John Elam began accidentally in 1998 when an operation (my informant who worked on the case cannot recall the name) was mounted in East Leeds targetting other persons of interest to the police. Elam was a business associate of one of them. West Yorkshire Police say they have not been able to trace the operational name either, despite very specific information being provided to them that should make it a straighforward task

An operation that followed, codenamed Primary, did target John Elam but yielded nothing after three years of intensive, intrusive surveillance as they tried to link him to WYP’s ‘most wanted man’, Dennis Slade. A career armed robber whom the police fitted up in 2010 for a murder conspiracy he wasn’t part of. There was never any connection to find between the two men, socially or in business dealings, except for a fleeting introduction in a Leeds pub one evening. Slade’s conviction on that murder count was quashed by the Court of Appeal and the charged dropped one week into the re-trial in April, 2019 (read more here).

West Yorkshire Police misled Damian Green when they stated that surveillance on John Elam only began in 2005. It would have seriously harmed their case if the obsessive vendetta had been found to have begun five years earlier.

For my own part I can say this: I’ve known John Elam for seven years and either I am blind and stupid or he is a hard-working family man, unfailingly courteous, would walk a mile to do a man a good turn, would turn around rather than do him a bad one. His office is on one of the busiest corners in Leeds, he operates in a highly competitive business arena but appears to have the respect of his peers. Deals get done, and the wheels of the diggers and trucks turn. He is in the public eye insofar as he regularly takes his daughter and grandson out for meals and spends many weekends with them at their caravan at the East Coast seaside. That is not the lifestyle of a mafia gangster.

Like me, he abhorrs any form of narcotics and will not tolerate their use in his presence.

What I can’t say: That there is any evidence at all that he is the major criminal portrayed by the police. He is a one man band and has no association with any gang, apart from those carrying out groundworks on construction sites. He has the same computer in his office that he has had all the time that I’ve known him; he freely gives me access to that. He has just one ancient mobile Nokia phone that, apart from making and receiving calls, he struggles to use. There are no burner phones or SIM cards; no sophisticated means of encrypted communication used routinely by criminals, even the not-so-serious ones these days; no firearms; no weapons (and he wouldn’t even try to beat me in a fist fight). Nothing at all to support the notion of a criminal lifestyle and enforcer. His mode of transport is a 4 year old Ford Ranger open-backed pick-up truck. Not ideal if you are transporting illicit goods, cash or weapons.

What John Elam does have is a burning sense of injustice. It will never leave him. Why else, nine years after he was released from prison would he still be battling the police and the criminal justice system, spending whatever money he can raise on lawyers, trying to clear his name. The reader is invited to draw their own conclusion from that and look out for the follow-ups to this article which will appear in the coming weeks. This is a story that will run and run.

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Alex Sobel, MP for Leeds North West

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. 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 adjourment debate in order to fill the gaps from the first one six years ago. They are, however, difficult to come by and Alex has not been at all lucky in the ballots that take place when pursuing other issues on behalf of constituents.

Alex secured a resounding victory at the recent General Election, securing a third term in office with a substantially increased majority. Very much against the trend for the Labour Party. John Elam, as a constituent campaigned strongly amongst his family, friends and associates for an elected representative he holds in high personal and professional regard.

 

Page last updated at 1650hrs on Saturday 11th April, 2020.

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Lamp fails to light the way

Seven years ago today, The Times newspaper informed its readers that Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary had appointed Greater Manchester Police (GMP) to investigate corruption allegations involving a neighbouring force (read the article in full here).

The notorious West Yorkshire Police (WYP), whose miscarriage of justice history stretches back almost 50 years, are accused of a widescale force-wide ‘cover-up’ in the case of ex-PC Danny Major, a graduate probationary officer who was jailed for an assault on a teenaged prisoner, held in Leeds Bridewell, after WYP colleagues testified against him in three criminal trials.

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PC Danny Major pictured as a young officer in Leeds

The first trial, in 2005, was stayed as an abuse of process; the second, in April 2006, declared a mis-trial after the jury could not reach a majority verdict; the third in November, 2006, saw Major convicted of two counts of common assault and sentenced to 15 months in prison. He served 4 months before being released on licence in March, 2007. The offences took place in September, 2003. The victim, Sean Rimmington, was a lairy 6’4″ amateur rugby league player who had drunk himself senseless and was found at around 4am propped against the old Millgarth Police Station in central Leeds.

After an inexplicable delay of over five years, Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire’s perenially ineffective Police and Crime Commissioner, finally referred the case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) after complaints that officers’ testimonies were unreliable and that other key evidence, including closed-circuit television footage, was withheld from the defence during those trials.

Like the PCC, in his former life of Police Authority Chairman, the IPCC had also previously rejected the complaints made by Danny’s mother, Bernadette Major, after what appeared to be a closed, compromised, rigour-free, highly partial assessment of the issues raised against the police, in 2007. Those were, of course, the police watchdog’s familiar trademarks and, many years too late, they were eventually dissolved in December, 2018 after a lengthy series of national scandals, often involving loss of life at the hands of the police, and of which the Major enquiry was just one relatively minor part. No life was lost, but many were ruined.

I was namechecked in The Times article and freely credited, at the time, by both the Major family and GMP, as the campaigner singularly responsible for the reluctant change of heart by the two Commissioner bodies and the instigation of the ‘outside force’ investigation. Sampson and Burns-Williamson had branded the Major family ‘persistent complainants’ (a fate that has befallen many others, including myself) and the IPCC had previously placed them in ‘special measures’ with a single point of contact (SPOC) stonewalling their enquiries and entreaties. The SPOC, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had a vested personal interest in maintaining the status quo.

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An extract from The Times article of 26th January, 2013. It was headlined ‘Police force accused of cover up faces corruption inquiry’

WYP, and the IPCC, for their part, maintained a resentful silence after the referral but I was, over the succeeding three years to be attacked by both those policing organisations claiming harassment against officers whom I’d named as failing in their public duties. Neither succeeded; the IPCC via the civil courts and WYP via a lengthy criminal investigation, but the attrition, undoubtedly, left a lasting toll. To this day, I am continually harassed by WYP as they regularly instruct lawyers to seek to have me removed from courtrooms from which I am reporting as an accredited journalist. So far, those lawyers, and the police force, have only succeeded in making even bigger fools of themselves.

GMP, in the guise of ACC Garry Shewan, the Gold Commander, also pulled a harassment rabbit out of the hat when he was caught out, telling at least one lie, just six months into the Danny Major investigation, randomly codenamed Operation Lamp. That complaint also came to naught, except that I refused to have anything further to do with him. I was widely reviled for calling out Shewan on social media, and in articles written at the time, as he enjoyed a high profile and appeared to be a very popular senior policing figure. In my own experience he was a pompous, shallow and, at times, quite ludicrous individual.

The succeeding years saw Shewan fall into disgrace as police whistleblowers came forward to reveal both his own integrity shortcomings and the wider, and deeply entrenched, ‘cover-up’ culture cascading down from the top of the Greater Manchester force of which he was, of course an integral (and some say central) part. The best read article on this website, even though it was only published a few months ago, covers in some detail that propensity. It can be read in full here.

Shewan was also very largely responsible for one of the biggest in-house disasters the UK police service has ever encountered. A £27 million IT transformation project, nicknamed iOPS, which he formulated, procured and implemented has turned into an £80 million (and rising) nightmare for the Manchester force. I’ve written thousands of words on the topic (read more here) and appeared on an ITV Granada Reports programme that put the extent of the scandal into the public domain for the first time (view here).

When the terms of reference for Manchester’s Danny Major investigation were set. Shewan acted on behalf of his force and I represented the Major family in that process as their on-record complaint advocate. Fraser Sampson, the PCC’s slippery chief executive completed that particular triangle. He was the public official whom, it is generally acknowledged by insiders, was mainly responsible for continually blocking the Major family’s fight for justice prior to 2013. For Sampson, a man whom I have found to be a stranger to the truth on more than one occasion, and called him out on it face to face, it very probably comes down to money: Danny Major would be entitled to £millions in compensation for malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, loss of status, reputation, salary, pension and associated benefits if his name is eventually cleared at the Court of Appeal. Every year that goes by compounds the figure dramatically. It would fall to Sampson, as WYP’s general counsel, to settle the claims and sign the cheques.

It was at my dogged insistence that the term “go where the evidence takes you” was included for reference by the Operation Lamp investigators. The relevance of that demand was to unfold dramatically just under three years later.

In December, 2015, a redacted version of the Operation Lamp investigation outcome was finally released to the Major family. Shewan and another officer with whom I had clashed, C/Supt Paul Rumney, had sat on that report for 12 months. There was no credible explanation for the delay. The Lamp outcome ran to 506 pages, with seven additional volumes of evidence.

Although I have not seen that version of the report, from what was reported in the media elsewhere, it completely vindicated what I had said to crime reporter (now crime and security editor), Fiona Hamilton, at The Times in January, 2013.

The Major family and I split in the days before the publication of the Lamp report, although cracks in the relationship had appeared a little earlier, once Ian Hanson, the Chairman of the GMP Police Federation had become involved with them. His mission, it seemed at that time, was to drive a wedge between us, by promising the earth to the Major family, provided I was kept at arm’s length and any media activity involving me very much muted.

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Ex-GMP Federation Chair, Ian Hanson

Later events, including the emerging fact of Hanson’s close friendship with the present chief constable, the now disgraced Ian Hopkins, considerably fortify that belief. This is an article I first published in December, 2015 in response to Hanson’s ‘deal’ with the Majors (read in full here). It was later updated to reflect information that had become publicly available in the meantime.

In my certain knowledge, Hanson was viewed by well-known and well-respected police whistleblowers as an over-promoted, self-regarding, under-achieving, and, perhaps ungenerously, as a ‘command team quisling’. His standing does not appear to be overly high with his successor at the Fed, either, if one reads closely into the election publicity of Stuart Berry. Interestingly, Berry’s relationship is, reportedly, very different when it comes to dealing with the chief constable and the new Chairman is prepared to forcibly stand his ground, where necessary, to protect the interests of his Members.

But, for all that, Hanson achieved what he set out to do and the Majors were now isolated and at the mercy of the same institution, the police service, that, apparently, ‘fitted-up’ Danny and then, and about this there is no doubt, engaged in a persistent, long-running, grotesque, multi-agency ‘cover-up’. Personally, and professionally, I found that action by GMP, and its tame acceptance by the Major family, profoundly disappointing. Not least because I had been asked to write the book about the Danny Major miscarriage of justice – and it was always understood that I would manage media relations exclusively on their behalf once the Lamp report was published.

In the event, I was dropped like a stone and it is as though I never had any part to play in the family’s fight for justice. Nevertheless, life goes on and the Lamp report produced some sensational headlines in the local, regional and national media. It also received extensive coverage on network television. Danny Major thought the battle was won and he was about to be cleared and return to work as a police officer (he was promised a job with GMP as part of the Hanson ‘package’). But to me, given my inside knowledge, the Lamp report was fundamentally flawed. There had not been a single arrest or prosecution. Or, so it seems, not even one interview, under caution, of any suspect. Greater Manchester Police had NOT gone where the evidence took them, as they were required to do under the terms of reference. It would impact on everything that follows.

At least two officers escaped justice during that near three year investigation period. The most obvious was ex-PC Kevin Liston, a serial criminal whom had been protected for almost 10 years by West Yorkshire Police (read more here in a piece I first published in 2012). He was the main prosecution witness against Danny Major. Without Liston maintaining the stance he took before and at trial, however weak and implausible that was, then the whole case against Major falls apart. The Lamp report describes his evidence at trial as: ‘either deliberately, or inadvertently, misleading the court’.

As can be seen from that Liston article, and prior to the commencement of the Lamp investigation, a list of fifteen criminal offences committed by the miscreant officer had been compiled by the family, and myself, using a variety of police and other insiders. The Manchester detectives were to tell Eric Major, himself a retired police officer with 31 years service, that the schedule was 70% correct: The Lamp team had compiled their own list of 22 offences. There is no evidence in the public domain that Liston has been prosecuted for any of them. The readers of this article are invited to form their own view on that bizarre situation.

By a curious coincidence, my family owned a property in Baghill Lane, Pontefract for many years, less than 200 yards from Liston’s home in an adjacent street. It was sold 3 years ago.

No other journalist has ever questioned why a police officer has been given such licence to commit an alarmingly long list of criminal offences and enjoy complete immunity from prosecution. Neither has the role of the IPCC been questioned in this long running scandal, as it quite properly should. Their officers were complicit in the ‘cover-up’ from a very early stage. A point I made repeatedly to Operation Lamp detectives in the early stages of their investigation in 2013. There is no mention of this in the investigation outcome, yet the evidence examined by Lamp should, most certainly, have taken them there.

The other WYP officer to evade meaningful investigation and sanction during the Lamp investigation was former detective inspector Michael Green. As the architect of the apparently malicious Danny Major prosecution, that has regularly been described since as a ‘fit-up’ and, at the very least, one of the instigators of a 10 year police ‘cover-up’, he should, very arguably, have been charged with at least one of two criminal offences: Misconduct in public office or perverting the course of justice.

The Lamp report, disappointingly, limited comment on Green to ‘poor investigative rigour and a mindset that could be described as verification bias’.  It reveals that he failed to recover four out of the six video tapes containing the CCTV output in Leeds Bridewell and failed to interview the officer who was in charge of the control room and monitored that CCTV on the fateful night. The two VHS tapes that were used at trial had been edited in a way that did not assist the defence team at all. Green is alleged to have been the officer who scripted those cuts. He also admitted under cross-examination that he had never viewed either of the tapes. There was also a fairly lengthy list of other disclosure failings uncovered by the Manchester detectives.

At Danny Major’s trial at Bradford Crown Court HH Judge Roger Scott stated that Green was, in his estimation, ‘Inefficient, incompetent and ineffective – and that just covers the i’s, the rest of the alphabet may follow later’. The learned judge was being generous. To those insiders, including myself, who have had access to the relevant case materials, the letter ‘c’ would have been a better place to start: ‘Criminal, corrupt and contempt (of court)’

The same judge also told West Yorkshire Police at the outcome of the trial that he anticipated a full investigation to be carried out in relation to events at the Leeds Bridewell on the night of the assault and, further, expected that several police officers should face criminal charges as a result of the evidence presented at trial. That criminal investigation never took place and the sham misconduct proceedings, that were put in its place instead, were abruptly shut down immediately after Green was interviewed as part of that process by another serial Professional Standards rogue, ex-detective inspector Damian Carr. As a result, not one WYP officer had a single misconduct finding against them as a result of the Danny Major ‘fit-up’. Carr was also, effectively, Kevin Liston’s PSD ‘minder’ for a period of around 5 years during which a significant amount of offending occured.

In another coincidence, Michael Green was in the twilight of his rugby career at Wakefield RUFC as I was beginning mine at neighbouring Sandal. He contacted me several times in 2012 and 2013, protesting his innocence and claiming the Majors were not telling the truth, and asked to meet me at Sandal for a pint (of beer) and a chat. I declined his offer. The case against him, on my reading, was incontrovertible and, indeed, the uPSD (un-Professional Standards Department) website (www.upsd.co.uk), launched in 2012 was named with Green very much in mind.

In February, 2016, West Yorkshire Police referred the ‘explosive’ Operation Lamp report back to the IPCC (now re-badged as the IOPC) who promptly returned it to WYP for ‘local investigation’. They said, in a statement at the time, that Greater Manchester Police had been invited to carry out a second review in February “to investigate whether, in their view, there are any criminal and/or misconduct matters to answer”. The force, curiously, declined to provide the terms of reference for the second investigation, codenamed Operation Redhill.

A third coincidence, if indeed it is one, is that both PCC Burns-Williamson and myself were brought up in the area of Castleford (Glasshoughton), adjacent to Redhill, and Eric Major served for a part of his career at Pontefract police station, just a couple of miles away.

Will Danny Major ever be cleared? I sincerely hope so, but we are now one month into a new decade, seventeen years after the assault on Sean Rimmington took place in Leeds Bridewell; thirteen years since Major was released from jail; seven years to the day since the article in The Times that promised to light the way to justice. To date, no-one has been prosecuted for the offences for which PC Major was tried and cleared and, more particularly, those for which he was convicted. Without the perpetrator(s) being identified, and either cautioned or convicted, then his name can never be cleared. That is how the criminal justice system works. With the passage of time, and the almost four years now taken by the Operation Redhill team on the follow up to Lamp, it strongly suggests that the two police forces are simply running down the clock. Aided and abetted, of course, by the ‘police watchdog’ in the game of pass the ‘explosive’ parcel.

Will the convictions be quashed? Nine years ago, when I was first given access to the case files and the family’s own quite brilliant investigative work, I was confident that goal was achievable, even though it requires a very high evidential and legal bar to be overcome. More so, when I was able to obtain other materials for the family, including the ‘breakthrough’ disclosure from the IPCC, via a data subject access request, that ultimately led to Operation Lamp. After the investigation report was published, everyone involved in the case assumed it was a formality – and I would place myself in that category. But the Criminal Case Review Commission ended their second review of the Major file some time ago (it began in March 2016) with no plans to re-visit until after the conclusion of the Opertion Redhill investigation. They refused a referral to the Court of Appeal after their first review which began in, or around, 2009.

It is, in my informed submission, now unlikely the CCRC will ever make that crucial referral back to the Court of Appeal, without the necessary conviction of the officer(s) in Leeds Bridewell that night who did assault Sean Rimmington. The list of suspects is small, but the evidence necessary to prove it is now, very likely, inaccessible. Also, the will of both the Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire police forces to instigate such a prosecution simply appears not to be there. How else can a second investigation, to simply review the first (which over-ran by two years), take four years, unless there are political machinations being ground out in the background?

Some of those political machinations will, doubtless, involve such as Angela Williams (famously described as “thick as a brick” by Bernadette Major) who is now an assistant chief constable in WYP. As a superintendent in PSD she was the first officer to make adverse decisions concerning the Major family’s complaints.

John Robins, the present WYP chief constable has twice held the command team portfolio for Standards (District) or Professional Standards (HQ) since July 2012 when he was promoted from chief superintendent.

Five heads of WYP’s Professional Standards Department all participated, to some degree at least, in the ‘cover-up’ of the Danny Major scandal and the persistent offending of Kevin Liston: They are Mark Bradley, Ian Kennedy, Sarah Brown, Andy Battle, Marc Callaghan. Kennedy labelled me “a crackpot” and Battle told me to my face, at police HQ, I was “a security risk”. Bradley I had nothing to do with. Brown I found lacking in integrity; ineffective and inefficient, Callaghan styled himself “Big Boss Hogg” on social media and the Dukes of Hazzard TV characterisation of “ineffectual, amusing bad guy”  did seem to fit in with my own dealings with him.

The IPCC casework manager who rejected the appeal against Williams’ decision is now a senior figure within the disgraced police watchdog which was forced to change its name in 2018 to the IOPC.

The pivotal roles of Fraser Sampson and Mark Burns-Williamson in the Major ‘cover-up’ will also be a political factor in what is an election year for police and crime commisssioners.

Finally, would it have made any difference if the Major family had continued to have me at their side, rather than trading me out in exchange for Ian Hanson and what appears to be a bag full of empty promises?

Personally, I think it would:

  • More searching questions would have been asked over Operation Lamp than appeared to be the case at the time, notably the ‘where the evidence takes you’ issue and why GMP had ducked out of it.
  • The Major case would have been a platform – and pinch point – from which to help expose other serious corruption matters within West Yorkshire Police and visibly assist others in bitter struggles for justice.
  • The terms of reference and timescale for Operation Redhill would have been fought over tooth and nail – and both GMP and WYP left in no doubt that private prosecutions would be laid against Kevin Liston and Michael Green if the police were not prepared to see the job through inside twelve months. 
  • The Redhill investigation would not have taken almost four years, either, because , after one year, there would have been a group of us camping outside GMP HQ in North Manchester, accompanied by video cameras broadcasting daily on social media.
  • Pressure would have been brought to bear in Parliament. Most notably with an evidence session at the Home Affairs Select Committee.

But, regrettably, we are where we are, and the last words, of course, must go to Danny Major himself:

“This case has been all-consuming. I still wake up in the night thinking about it,’

“But I am very determined to clear my name. I will never stop. In fact, everything that I worked so hard for is based upon me clearing my name.”

 

Page last updated at 1445hrs on Sunday 26th January, 2020.

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Hero police officer sues chief constable over racial and religious discrimination

On Thursday 16th January, 2020, at the Leeds Employment Tribunal centre, a final hearing into claims of racial and religious discrimination against West Yorkshire Police will open. A serving police sergeant, Umer Saeed, is the claimant. An accomplished individual, with a BSc degree in Business Administration and Management and over 20 years experience as a police officer; a large part of that in specialist roles.

The hearing is expected to last for twelve court days with some highly-charged evidence expected to be heard from the witness box. Cross-examination is likely to be a lively affair as WYP’s ‘go-to’ counsel, Olivia Checa-Dover, yet again takes the stage. She has recently represented the police in two other high profile civil court cases, featuring a Bradford doctor, Abdul Rashid (read more here) and a retired police constable, Kerry Perkins (read more here).

Umer Saeed is represented by Rebian Solicitors and their instructed barrister is Adam Willoughby of Broadway House Chambers.

As many have done before him, Saeed alleges that the ‘cover-up’ of discrimination, both against him and others in the force area, goes to the very top of the force’s hierarchy. It is anticipated that around twenty witnesses will give testimony to the tribunal, unless their witness statements are admitted into evidence in the meantime. It is customary in these proceedings for the police to turn up with a small army of lawyers, witnesses and observers, regardless of cost to the taxpaying public.

The well-informed might, quite rightly, muse as to why the chief constable did not take steps to compromise the Saeed claim, with its high potential for serious reputational and financial damage to the force. But it may well be that he was overruled by the Police and Crime Commissioner’s highly litigious chief executive, Fraser Sampson. A noted wastrel when public funds are in issue. His wider role also encompasses general counsel to the police, giving him overall control of the force’s legal department. Indeed, from personal experience, I can say that he regards the WYP Head of Legal Services with scarcely concealed disdain.

The PCC signs off all cheques for the police, of course, as part of his statutory remit. His office has not responded to a press enquiry on the subject of diversity and inclusion – and how they come to be facing the class, and scale, of allegations made by Sergeant Saeed.

Interest in the case is, undoubtedly, heightened when one takes into account the standing of Umer Saeed as a nationally known figure in Black and Muslim staff associations. He is Chair of the West Yorkshire Black Police Association, and General Secretary and a Cabinet Member of the National Black Police Association.

He is also a trained Police Federation representative and speaks four languages; Arabic, Punjabi, Slovak, Urdu. He joined the police service in June, 1999.

In February 2015, he received national prominence when he broke into the kitchen window of a burning house and saved the lives of a mother and two young children in Ireland Wood, Leeds. It was an outstanding act of bravery and Saeed had this to say of his heroism: “The smoke was acrid and I couldn’t breathe but I was focused on finding them and getting them out in one piece. It was quite a disorientating situation with the smoke alarm going off.”

His District Commander, Temporary Chief Superintendent Mabs Hussain, quite rightly commended the officer’s work: “PC Saeed clearly displayed the qualities of bravery and professionalism that we so often see from our officers and staff in situations where people are in danger.

“He could see this family needed immediate help and his training gave him the confidence to assess the situation and intervene to bring them to safety from a potentially life-threatening situation.”

Hussain has since moved onto Greater Manchester Police, in controversial circumstances (read more here), and a well placed source on his old patch tells me he has not sustained that support for his fellow BME officer over Saeed’s discrimination claims. This would surprise few close to the seat of the action at both GMP and WYP, as ‘top brass’ closing ranks at the first sign of trouble for them, either individually or as as a police force, is de rigeur. Indeed, Hussain has been reported recently as claiming that well-evidenced and highly publicised criticism of his present chief constable, Ian Hopkins, by some distance the worst in the country (read more here), constitutes ‘a hate campaign‘.

As a footnote, and by way of balance, it should be noted that, back in 2013, Umer Saeed also featured in the high profile Anthony Ramsden case, involving WYP and the thoroughly disgraced Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), following an assault at Leeds United football ground in 2011. A widescale, dishonestly grounded  ‘cover-up’ by both the police force and watchdog was, eventually, exposed.

A High Court case that followed is now an oft-cited legal authority in police complaints cases. Saeed was one of six Police Support Unit (PSU) officers giving evidence whom the force, and the IPCC, claimed ALL corrobated one another. When disclosure was eventually wrested from WYP, not ONE single statement corroborated ANY other. The judgment (read in full here) did not reflect the full transcipt of the proceedings which, at very considerable expense, Mr Ramsden took the trouble to obtain. Another demonstration of the seemingly unwritten public policy of at least some of the local judiciary that demands every conceivable accommodation be granted to West Yorkshire Police when determining matters potentially adverse to the public’s confidence in them.

No criticism of PC Saeed (as he was then) should be inferred: Even though he was the only officer who admitted striking a member of the public, in the subject area outside the Elland Round ground, with his long baton, and, therefore, the one most likely to have hit Mr Ramsden, his witness statement was easily the most frank, and credible, of the six.

I declare a professional interest, having acted as police complaints advocate for Mr Ramsden, and being adjacent to the facts throughout. I also assisted in the placement of widespread local, regional and national media coverage of the case.

Over the past ten years there has been persistent, and often very damaging, publicity over the way West Yorkshire Police treats its black and minority ethnic (BME) officers and, on the evidence of some troubling civil court cases, members of the public of colour, too.

In May 2009, the Sunday Telegraph published an article following the leaking of a dossier that was highly critical of the force’s notorious Professional Standards Department and their discriminatory handling of complaints against BME’s. This followed a series of accusations from the officials at the local branches of the Police Federation and the National Black Police Association. The WYP talking head was Deputy Chief Constable, David Crompton, later to fall into repeated disgrace as chief constable at beleagured South Yorkshire Police (read more here). He denied there was a problem.

In March 2011, PC Kashif Ahmed had all ten charges against him dismissed by a judge at Bradford Crown Court after revelations about the seriously flawed way officers had investigated the case. HHJ Peter Benson, ruling in his favour to stay the prosecution, found that there was a “very significant irregularity and impropriety at the root of the investigation” and the whole process was “tarnished”.

Judge Benson described two police witnesses, Detective Sergeant Penny Morley and Detective Constable Karen Wade who gave evidence in court during Ahmed’s application to dismiss the case, as “evasive.” He went on to say that Morley, who opened a CD document containing privileged contact between Mr Ahmed and his solicitor, had not told the truth. It is beyond incredible that Morley remained a much-favoured officer in WYP’s Professional Standards Department until ‘retiring’ late last year. Her personal friendship with ACC Angela Williams, who has publicly described Morley as ‘wonderful’, enabled her to re-start at WYP as a civilian officer immediately after her warrant card was handed in. Obviously, on this evidence, being called a liar and rubbish at the job, by a circuit judge, is no handicap in the ranks of West Yorkshire Police.

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Kash Ahmed later issued a civil claim against the police alleging a “witch hunt” against him by the PSD officers, led by another disgraced officer, DCI Steve Bennett (read more here). Having to represent himself in court against the force solicitor, experienced counsel and a small army of officers giving evidence against him, his claim, perhaps understandably, only succeeded in part and he had a sizeable costs award ordered against him.

Dr Rashid, whose civil claim is referred to in the second paragraph of this article, is a highly respected professional, of Asian origin, who also claims, with considerable justification, that he was the subject of a “witch hunt” by WYP and that, in the particular circumstances of his case, if he had been a white, middle-class doctor he would not have been subjected to the same degrading, disproportionate, disgraceful treatment. His civil claim was dismissed after a extraordinarily one-sided hearing, but he was recently given permission to appeal the decision of Mr Recorder Nolan QC, by a High Court judge. The hearing of the appeal is presently listed for 13th February, 2020 in the High Court in Leeds.

Olivia Checa-Dover unsuccessfully sought to have me removed from the press seats during the Rashid hearing, questioning my accreditation and claiming (unspecified) inaccuracies in the reporting of the case (read in full here). The other two articles flowing from that ten day court hearing stand unchallenged. One exposes a prima facie case of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by six WYP officers (read the damning details here). Miss Checa-Dover also objected, unsuccessfully, to my presence in the press seats at the hearing of the Kerry Perkins claim, telling opposing counsel that I had a “vendetta” against her. Yet another in an increasingly long line of ludicrous and unsubstantiated submissions. Unsurprisingly, that gained no traction, either. Miss Perkins has also robustly appealed the judgment of HHJ Neil Davey QC, whose decision did not appear to reflect what I heard from the press box. Indeed, one might say that Miss Checa-Dover might well have written it for him.

Dismissing the remaining parts of the Kashif Ahmed claim against the police, which had included negligence, false imprisonment and theft, HHJ Mark Gosnell said: “I fully accept that Mr Ahmed was convinced in his belief that he had been the victim of a witch hunt, but I consider the officers involved merely carried out their jobs to the best of their ability and were not motivated by any ulterior motive in dealing with the claimant.”

West Yorkshire Police then sought to bankrupt the promising young officer, who holds two law degrees and a diploma in policing. Ahmed now works in Bradford as a legal consultant. The genesis of the entire dispute between force and BME officer was over the use of a car parking space behind Millgarth Police Station, in central Leeds, to which DCI Bennett took exception. The same Bennett whom three years earlier had called a junior Asian officer into his office to verbally abuse him, including calling him a c**t, in an attempt to bully the constable into pulling back on an investigation.

That action was later to unravel in the conjoined Operations, Lamp and Redhill, into the ex PC Danny Major miscarriage of justice (read more here). An allegation has been made that Bennett perverted the course of justice in an attempt to protect PC Kevin Liston, arguably one of the worst officers to ever wear a police uniform (read more here) and the key witness against Major.

After the Ahmed and Danny Major ‘investigations’ (the term is used loosely), in which he was senior investigating officer, Bennett was rewarded with promotion to superintendent. I declare a further interest, insofar as I was the on-record complaints advocate for the Major family betwen 2012 and 2015.

A close working colleague of Bennett’s was Chief Superintendent Sarah Brown. In fact, from 2010 to 2011 she was head of WYP’s Professional Standards Department. I had significant dealings with her and found her unreliable and lacking in integrity. Like Bennett, she had also been city commander of Leeds, with its dreadful history of racism, in the earlier part of her career (read more here). Whilst in that role, and under her previous name and rank of Chief Inspector Sarah Sidney, she was at the forefront of a racial discrimination case involving Detective Sergeant Raham Khan that ultimately reached the House of Lords (the senior appellate court in those days) where a damages award to Sgt Khan, upheld in the Court of Appeal, was set aside by three Law Lords. The full judgment can be read here. Put plainly, Khan alleged that Sidney did not promote him on account of his skin colour. A matter she, of course, denied.

In March, 2011 a Bradford minority ethnic, Anwar Gillespie (whom I have met in his home), received substantial damages and an apology from WYP after the intervention of specialist police complaints lawyer, Iain Gould (read more here). Whilst racism was not alleged, Mr Gillespie told me at the time that he felt the colour of his skin was a factor in him being singled out for an unprovoked, unwarranted and brutal attack upon him, outside of his home and in front of his neighbours.

In June 2012, BBC Radio’s File on 4 reported on alleged widespread and serious racism within WYP. The least impressive of the six serving and former police officers interviewed on the programme was Temporary Chief Constable, John Parkinson. He did little, or nothing, to allay concerns. Of the six officers, past and present, interviewed by the BBC, Parkinson came across as the least impressive. Listen to the full broadcast here.

Karma was to visit Ajaz Hussain, who was the force solicitor (later promoted to Legal Services Director) who drove the Raham Khan case all the way to the Lords. In early 2012, there was a reshuffle of the top management in West Yorkshire Police and he lost his job. The roles of Legal Services Director and Force Solicitor (at that time carried out by Mike Percival) both disappeared. A new role was created and Percival was selected to fill it. Hussain then alleged racial discrimination against David Crompton and issued a claim form in the employment tribunal (read more here). The outcome of that claim has never been made public, but it did not pass without controversy and resulted in the suspension of Hussain’s ‘ACPO police friend’, Neil Rhodes, whom at the time was the chief constable of Lincolnshire Police (read more here) and had fallen foul of the duplicity of Fraser Sampson.

In 2013, two police whistleblowers opened up a can of worms into how certain aspects of vital police operations were badly run and lives put at risk by their superior officers within West Yorkshire Police. One of those was a minority ethnic. They were both then subjected to a series of detriments in what appeared to be a concerted campaign to humiliate and smear them. Because of the roles that the officers undertook, for at least parts of their careers, it is unwise to do any more than make reference to the tribunal appeal finding, available in the public domain, which forensically sets out the matters in issue (read more here). It does not make pretty reading for WYP.

In April, 2014 a Bradford woman of African descent, Oluwatoyin Azeez, was viciously assaulted by a police officer who had unlawfully entered her home on the pretext of checking on her lodger. The force went to the most extraordinary, and sustained, lengths to cover up for the perpetrator, who falsely alleged that he had been asaulted by Ms Azeez. That miscreant officer, instead of being drummed out of the force, didn’t even face a misconduct meeting, let alone a criminal court. But, once more, the intervention of solicitor, Iain Gould, was pivotal. At the end of a bitterly fought three year legal battle – again irregardless of the cost to the public purse – Ms Azeez finally received a substantial damages payment and, much more crucially to her, an apology (read the full harrowing story here).

In April 2016, the incumbent chief constable, Dionne Collins, appointed an Asian police constable as the force’s Positive Action Co-Ordinator. The following month Amjad Ditta, a trained firearms officer, was alongside her giving evidence at the Home Affairs Parliamentary Select Committee.

Following publication of the Committee’s Inquiry Report, which called for “urgent and radical” action, Collins acknowledged more needed be done to increase diversity and inclusion among the workforce and said she was determined that the organisation should be more representative of its communities.

“We are currently recruiting police officers for the first time in five years and this gives us an excellent opportunity to increase our workforce not just by people from black and minority ethnic communities, but from all diverse groups, such as people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual.

“The police service has been in the media headlines a lot recently, often for negative reasons. My challenge to people who may be put off by that is, come and find out what West Yorkshire Police is about in 2016. A career with West Yorkshire Police offers genuinely exciting opportunities, but we can only properly serve all our communities by building a truly representative Force and I am determined to do that.”

West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson added: “I have worked with the Temporary Chief Constable (Ms Collins) to ensure we are doing all we can to ensure communities are aware of my commitment to equality and diversity within the organisation and in the police service”.

Whilst Collins and Burns-Williamson were shamelessly uttering these shallow words, before MP’s and the television cameras, they were jointly, ludicrously and very cynically, frustrating the civil claim of Oluwatoyin Azeez. In reality, and grounded in hard evidence, what West Yorkshire Police is about is lying and covering-up – and the commitment to equality and diversity is an expensive box-ticking sham.

Eighteen months after his televised appearance in Parliament, PC Ditta disappeared without trace. With both the force press office and the chief constable refusing to answer my questions regarding his whereabouts or his reason for the removal both from his diversity role and other front line duties. He dramatically re-appeared, over two years later, at Bradford Magistrates Court charged with sexual touching. Supported by his staff association, he is expected to plead not guilty at a plea and trial preparation hearing at the city’s Crown Court on 20th January, 2020. He now answers to the name of Amjad Hussain.

In December, 2017 another race and religious discrimination claim against West Yorkshire Police was compromised on the second day of the final hearing. It is assumed that a confidentiality clause was part of the settlement. No others details are available at present, but enquiries are ongoing. Again, this is on the watch of Dionne Collins: On the one hand preaching diversity and inclusion, on the other officers having to go to court as the force continues to discriminate against them.

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At least two other WYP BME officers appeared Tribunal with racial discrimination claims during this period. Both were, regrettably, unrepresented and had their claims dismissed. One was yet another Collins favourite, PC Tayyaba Afzal, having designed the force’s specialist niqab headwear for Muslim female officers. The other was an applicant for a role as a Driver Trainer.

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PC Amjad Ditta (now known as Hussain) and PC Tayyaba Afzal pictured together in Bradford in 2017.

Dionne Collins was approached for comment. She did not even have the courtesy to acknowledge the communication.

In September, 2018, another case involving a BME officer surfaced as an exclusive on this website, later picked up from here by the national press. The officer concerned, C/Supt Tyron Joyce, was also another favourite of the now retired Collins. Joyce was peremptorily removed from his post as Chief Operating Officer at the National Police Air Service, which shares headquarters in Wakefield with West Yorkshire Police, amidst bullying claims. The complaints investigation into the allegations against Joyce was, unsurprisingly given the incompetents that populate the force’s Professional Standards Department, described as ‘a cack-handed debacle’. He also told a junior colleague at the time: “I’ve been in trouble before with PSD. They tried to do my legs, so I have to be careful what I say to staff” (read more here).

Joyce does, however, always have a trump card to play: In 2013, after the present chief constable, John Robins, (at the time an assistant chief constable) had recommended him for the Police National Accreditation Course (PNAC) it was said by Robins to Tyron Joyce; “You are now my tick in the diversity box“. That may explain why, at the end of the disciplinary process, Joyce was handed the plum chief supers role within WYP: Commander – Operational Support based at, and in charge of, the entire Carr Gate Complex on the outskirts of Wakefield.

I will be reporting from the opening of the Umer Saeed hearing. It promises to be an interesting case: A retired and highly decorated WYP officer told me recently that, whatever the outcome of the tribunal proceedings, the force may well be set back at least a decade in terms of BME recruitment as a result of the adverse publicity the case will attract. As a well-connected person of Asian origin, and one who has defeated WYP in court several times, it is taken as read that he knows exactly what he is talking about.

Finally, it should be remembered that the ‘mother’ of all tribunal claims is a West Yorkshire Police case. Angela Vento, a probationer BME officer, took her force to tribunal following serious discrimination against her in the late 1990’s. Her claim form pleaded racial and sexual discrimination, but the former allegation was dismissed at an early stage by the tribunal.

Eventually the Court of Appeal ruled on the matter and the framework for tribunal awards – and the scales of damages accounting for different levels of detriment – is still in use today. Albeit, the figures have been adjusted upwards to reflect inflation. For the legal nerds amongst my readers they may wish to check out the full CoA judgment (read here).

Page last updated at 1320hrs on Friday 15th January, 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: Asian Express

© 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.

 

Chickens come home to roost

On 3rd February, 2019, during a pre-trial hearing held in Bradford Combined Court Centre, a barrister, Olivia Checa-Dover, made several quite remarkable submissions to the judge, His Honour Neil Davey QC.

One of those was to the effect that West Yorkshire Police had, incredibly, instructed her to say they did not know where to locate one of their former officers.

More experienced, right-minded counsel might have told the instructing solicitor, Alison Walker, Deputy Head of Legal Services at WYP, not to place her in such a compromising position.

At the final hearing of a controversial, high profile civil claim, seven months later, Miss Checa-Dover denied making such a submission. The transcript of those earlier proceedings will tell a different story, as does the contemporaneous reporting of them, that has stood unchallenged by WYP, and their legal team, since its publication (read in full here).

The man in question, Mark Lunn (pictured above), was the lead investigator, and the only officer working full time, on a police operation codenamed Thatcham: The largest fraud investigation in WYP history, and one that ultimately led to the arrests of 91 men, and convictions for 45 of them, over ‘crash for cash’ insurance claims.

He was the arresting officer of a number of those men. One of which was a Bradford doctor, Abdul Rashid, who ran two general practice surgeries and a private medico-legal practice in the city.

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Dr Abdul Rashid, arrested by Mark Lunn in March 2012

On 7th March, 2012, Lunn turned up at the doctor’s home with fifteen other officers at 6.15am. His wife and three children were asleep when the knock was made.

Dr Rashid was not, subsequently, charged with any offence and he had issued a civil claim against WYP on the grounds that his arrest and detention by the police was unlawful. As such, Lunn was at the very centre of those legal proceedings and the police were doing all they could to justify not producing him as a witness.

The reason the police say they ‘couldn’t locate’ Lunn is because he had, by a catalogue of dishonest actions, tainted Operation Thatcham and placed the entire investigation in jeopardy. If this was revealed by way of cross-examination of Mark Lunn, in open court, the public and the press would come to know that the 45 ‘crash for cash’ convictions are, very arguably, unsafe.

Appropriate disclosure of Lunn’s misdemeanours would have also greatly aided Dr Rashid’s claim for unlawful arrest.

It has only very recently been discovered, by a painstaking journalistic investigation (read more here), that by November, 2012, the police knew about the extent, and effect, of Lunn’s wrongdoing and its devastating impact on Thatcham. They chose to conceal that disclosure from the Crown Prosecution Service, and the suspects’ criminal defence lawyers, and thus began a sustained and far reaching WYP ‘cover-up’ that is now well into its seventh year.

The first stage of that audacious cover-up was to conceal Lunn’s wrongdoing from all except a small group of officers who had been involved in the internal misconduct investigations.

The second stage was not to prosecute him for what appears, arguably, to be at least one criminal matter (a second offence of computer misuse and associated data, licence breaches) and to apply no disciplinary sanctions at the end of that process, so that the misconduct investigation would attract no undue attention amongst the rest of the police force (at that time, misconduct findings against officers were published on police notice boards every Monday). A prosecution of Lunn would have also blown the cover-up.

The third stage was to keep Lunn under the WYP cloak, and out of harm’s way, until Operation Thatcham suspects were charged and the prosecutions of the ‘crash for cash’ perpetrators, and beneficiaries, were in chain. He is regarded as a loose cannon and his record both in the police and, subsequently, bears that out.

The fourth stage was to allow him, in August 2013, to resign from West Yorkshire Police with little, or no, adverse disciplinary record that would be a barrier to future employment. A reasonable hypothesis is that a deal had been cut with Lunn on this basis: Salary paid, and pension preserved, for at least another year; no adverse notes on his Human Resources (HR) file (the court heard during the civil trial that Lunn’s HR file had been ‘weeded’ and that disciplinary records had gone missing).

There is no other reason that WYP could justify overlooking a catalogue of serious misconduct issues, compounded by the fact that there is incontrovertible evidence that he repeatedly lied to two senior officers when confronted by some of the misdemeanours.

Mark Lunn’s lying did not stop when he left West Yorkshire Police. Before he had even left the force his name had already appeared, according to Companies House, on the list of Directors of a firm called Quo Vadis Investigation Services Ltd (QV). His biography on the company website was a fiction and he was forced to resign from QV after less than 3 months service. Lunn’s ‘success’ on Operation Thatcham was, apparently, the leverage for the appointment and the main feature of the bio, which included the claim he had been a detective for 20 years. The truth was he had been a CID officer for less than 5 years before forcibly removed from Thatcham, almost 2 years before the trial at which the men were convicted.

By 2014, Lunn was again attempting again to trade on Thatcham in a private venture. This time the vehicle was to be ‘Pennine Investigations‘. But a company of that name has never been registered and a Google search draws a blank.

In January, 2015 Mark Lunn started work at the Wakefield office of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). But, true to form, that is not what it says on his LinkedIn biography. Enigmatically, he is recorded as working for the Home Office as ‘an investigator’ and is still listed as working there.

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Justice campaigners protest outside Pioneer House, Woolpacks Yard, Wakefield. The IPCC’s regional base in the North East.

This, on any view, was an extraordinary turn of events: An ex-police officer who has a string of misconduct investigations against his name turns up at the policing body charged with maintaining public confidence in the police complaints system. The IPCC purported to do that by oversight of the investigation of complaints made by members of the public against police officers. It is hard to imagine someone less suited to such a role as Mark Lunn.

These are just some of his misdemeanours that have been uncovered so far: He was subject to a large number of misconduct investigations whilst a serving police officer, including what appears to be a major covert operation codenamed Waffleedge; another covert operation codenamed Wademere; seriously compromised WYP’s largest ever fraud investigation; has twice been found to have misused police computers and software (many police officers are sacked after a first offence); appeared to obtain £183,000 from a major motor insurance company using a bogus company as an investment vehicle whilst a serving police officer; discussed details of a sensitive police operation with unconnected third parties; is an obsessive and persistent liar; a fantasist who invents competencies and past vocational experience on his CV’s and biographies: and has confessed, in police interview, to having a very bad memory.

Lunn’s complaints record includes allegations of unlawful arrest (four); assault (four); neglect of duty (three); incivility (two); oppressive conduct and harassment of a female; and false imprisonment.

It is also more likely than not he was part of the conspiracy, along with a number of other police and civilian officers, to conceal his wrongdoing from the Operation Thatcham suspects. The driving force for that conspiracy appears to be the present Head of WYP’s Homicide and Major Enquiry Team (HMET), Chief Superintendent Nick Wallen. He was a detective inspector in the force’s notorious Professional Standards Department at the time.

It is anticipated that, when the full story eventually emerges, the list of Lunn’s misdemeanours may well be longer. Two former high ranking WYP colleagues describe him as “thick as a brick” and, not uncontroversially, lacking in the necessary integrity and intelligence to have ever been selected as a detective. Their actual words were much more direct and colourful.

Examination of documents authored by Lunn, and some of his emails, appear to bear that out. He is also given to inaccuracies, wild exaggeration and disparaging remarks about members of the public, and in one case a criminal defence solicitor, where and whenever it suited.

So the BIG questions are, how did Mark Lunn wangle a job with the IPCC in the first place, and why did he want to conceal that appointment from his LinkedIn connections, first and foremost, and anyone else amongst the wider public, curious enough to know what the miscreant officer was up to?

A subsidiary question is why did he leave the IPCC (now IOPC) fairly recently with, apparently, no other permanent employment to go to? Lunn is currently self-employed as a jobbing builder and free range egg vendor in rural Huddersfield, where he lives. Connexions Property Maintenance, ‘a family run business owned by Mark Lunn’, trades on the fact that he is a former police officer.

In what appears to be a regular ploy, Lunn sought external funding for Golcar Free Range Eggs. He raised £50 out of a crowdfunding target of £3,000. Rather less than the £183,000 he sought from 1st Central Motor Insurance to fund his private investigation business in 2012.

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A further question is why did the police tell a circuit judge that they couldn’t locate him when he was working at the IPCC, amongst other former police officers, less than 300 yards from WYP headquarters in Wakefield?

Press enquiries have been made of the Independent Office for Police Conduct, the successor organisation to the IPCC. Contact has also been made with Derrick Campbell, the IPCC Commissioner who controlled the Wakefield office at the material time.

The Home Office and West Yorkshire Police have also been approached for comment. The latter has been asked why a circuit judge was also told by Miss Checa-Dover that Mark Lunn was not the man leading the Operation Thatcham, before he was forcibly removed. Evidence heard, and documents exhibited at the final hearing of the civil claim last month plainly showed that he was (read more here).

The Police Federation press office has also been contacted. The present Chairman of their West Yorkshire branch, Brian Booth, is a friend of Mark Lunn. Mr Booth has been contacted previously but has not replied.

Enquiries have also been made of West Yorkshire Trading Standards regarding Connexions Property Maintenance. The Trading Standards mission is to aim to ensure that the people of West Yorkshire are well informed and empowered consumers who have the confidence to interact with businesses safely and securely. Mark Lunn’s history of misrepresentation and his naked attempt to solicit business by purporting to be an honest, ethical, professional police office is concerning to say the least.

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A series of questions has been put to Mark Lunn. He has also been offered right of reply.

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Page last updated at 1620hrs on Thursday 3rd October, 2019

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: Telegraph & Argus

© Neil Wilby 2015-2019. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Smoking Gun

Earlier this week, an exclusive article revealed to an unsuspecting public the known misdemeanours of a ‘bad apple’ West Yorkshire Police detective (read in full here).

It is an important story because the reckless and, at times, dishonest actions of former Huddersfield based detective constable, Mark Lunn, may have placed the convictions of 45 men at risk.

Lengthy and forensic, the piece was almost entirely grounded in police emails and reports, together with notes from nine days of court reporting from the hearing of a high profile, high value civil claim in Bradford (read more here).

But, within the most explosive and damning piece of evidence, it has emerged that Lunn is only a bit part player: On 28th November, 2012, at the conclusion of an internal inquiry into his wrongdoing, Detective Inspector Nick Wallen, as he was then, wrote to a number of WYP colleagues in these terms:

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Chief Superintendent Nick Wallen (centre) receiving an award recently at the Police Superintendents’ Association

“Subject: DC 3602 Mark Lunn

“Ladies/Gents. Our investigation. is now concluded, there is no need for me to re-iterate what is in this report.

“My own view is that Kirklees SMT and PSD were right to remove DC Lunn from the investigation [Operation Thatcham] and to investigate respectively (sic). There is no doubt that had this issue been raised, in the first instance, at Crown Court, that the case would have been seriously compromised and may have lead (sic) to the prosecution being withdrawn.

“Mark will have undoubtedly learnt lessons from this, and his removal from CID duties to his current post [Huddersfield South Neighbourhood Police Team] may be the most suitable sanction for him.

“So, I thank everyone for their efforts regarding this matter, PSD will contact DCI Jeffrey regarding any other sanction for Mark that might be considered appropriate.

“Regards, Nick W”

The internal inquiry was one of a number of investigations carried out into Lunn’s misconduct. Another followed a complaint raised by Opus Law, a leading firm of Bradford solicitors, on 14thMay, 2012. Opus were not made aware of the internal investigation, or its outcome. It is understood, from a lawyer formerly employed by Opus, that their complaint was not concluded before Lunn left the force in August, 2013.

The most senior of the recipients of the Wallen email, Detective Chief Inspector Paul Jeffrey (as he was then), retired in July 2017 at the rank of superintendent and was central to the previous article about Lunn.

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Paul Jeffrey – who retired from West Yorkshire Police in 2017

Jeffrey hails from a family of police officers (read more here) and had first been made aware of the concerns over Lunn’s conduct, and the Opus Law letter, at a meeting on 8thJune, 2012. He instructed the local Professional Standards Department officers to carry out a scoping exercise. He was not aware that a covert police operation, codenamed Waffleedge, was already investigating Mark Lunn.

Nick Wallen is now a chief superintendent and Head of WYP’s Homicide and Major Enquiry Team: A remarkable rise for an officer whose career is littered with controversial investigations and faux pas. Not least the murder of Leeds schoolteacher, Ann Maguire, about which her widowed husband, Don, has repeatedly and justifiably complained and the ‘Bradford 4’ acid attack murder in which clear, and unchallenged, findings of evidence tampering forms part of the miscarriage of justice case of Andrew Feather Jnr, who was found on that evidence to be the secondary getaway driver. Mr Feather’s case presently rests with the Criminal Case Review Commission. He and his family has received widespread and positive publicity from a large number of regional and national newspaper articles, plus broadcast packages from the BBC and Sky.

The author of this piece has spent many hundreds of hours, collectively, on both cases. In the Maguire case there is a bizarre restriction on access to documents that were used in the inquest touching on Ann’s death, that Don has scrupulously observed, much to the frustration of both of us. Those include such as the investigation policy book (or log).

In the Feather case, unrestricted access was given to all the materials disclosed to the family, and the fruits of the remarkable post-conviction sleuthing of Andrew Feather Senior, which drew warm praise from no less than the bench at the Court of Appeal.

To be clear, there is no direct evidence that links Nick Wallen to any wrongdoing, but he was the senior investigating officer (SIO) in both cases and, as such should have signed off every action and decision in the policy book. If, indeed, actions that led to grotesque incompetence, or wrongdoing, were ever recorded there, about which there has to be considerable doubt, given the force’s very long and troubled history where policy logs and similar procedural or evidential requirements are concerned.

It can, however, safely be said that, in both cases, the timings relating to the murders, and the movements of those at or near the scene, now meticulously plotted and at variance to the police version, give rise to suspicion about the integrity of the rest of the investigation. Only a robust, thorough, independent enquiry, by another police force or policing body, can begin to allay those doubts.

The internal investigation into Mark Lunn, and the Wallen email at its conclusion, is concerning, to say the least. Taken at its face, it appears that a conscious decision was made not to disclose material, either to the Crown Prosecution Service or the criminal defence teams of the defendants, in a trial in which Lunn was centrally involved. As he was ‘officer in the case’ in only two investigations, Operation Thatcham and the one that preceded it, the field is very narrow.

The Criminal Procedures and Investigation Act, 1996 is explicit about what should be disclosed in criminal trials and failure to meet those statutory obligations could amount to an offence of perverting the course of justice. Or a conspiracy of the same, as this decision to deliberately conceal disclosure appears to involve at least five officers, including Paul Jeffrey.

West Yorkshire Police has said, in writing, that it is not investigating the matters exposed in the first Lunn article and, in those circumstances, a copy of the Wallen email was sent to Gerry Wareham, Chief Prosecutor for the Yorkshire and Humber Region, with a request that the matter be further examined by him and then referred to an appropriate policing body for a more complete investigation.

Mr Wareham, who features elsewhere on this website in a seriously troubling case (read more here), responded promptly and to the effect that he had no locus to investigate any offences that may be disclosed within the Wallen email. He has written to West Yorkshire Police, effectively passing the buck back to them, knowing they have no intention of progressing a matter that would cause the force huge reputational damage.

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CPS lawyer Gerry Wareham pictured outside Bradford Combined Court Centre

Mr Wareham expressed no alarm, or even mild concern over what had been disclosed to him which, put shortly, was that the police had duped the CPS in high profile trials, leading to the conviction of 45 men, that now appear, on their face, to be unsafe.

He also appears to be unaware of the Attorney General’s robust, zero-tolerance stance on this very issue (read more here).

As expected, following the publication of the first Lunn article other material has emerged: A former Kent, Essex and Metropolitan Police officer, Darren Jones, says that the account of their interaction, given by Lunn in police interview, is false. They did meet in London on one occasion, but ‘Operation Thatcham was never discussed’ says Jones.

It has also been revealed that, in 2014, Lunn renewed contact with Mr Jones.  He told him that he was still looking to start up his own fraud investigation company. This time the trading style was set to be Pennine Investigations. There is no such company registered at Companies House.

Materials relating to the now defunct Quo Vadis Investigation Services Ltd (QV) have also been disclosed. They show that Mark Lunn was listed as ‘Operations Director’ and made several outlandish claims in his biography on the company website. Not least that he had ‘over 20 years of experience as a CID officer with West Yorkshire Police’. In truth, he only served as a police officer for 19 years, and less than 5 of those were as a detective.

Companies House records show that Lunn became registered was a Director of QV on 31st July, 2013. He didn’t leave West Yorkshire Police until the following month. By October of that same year he had resigned, following a letter sent to QV, by Opus Law, pointing out why he had been removed from Operation Thatcham and the falsehoods on his biography.

A fraud investigator who made fraudulent claims about his own credentials was more than the other directors could countenance.

A consultant to QV, Peter Taylor joined and left on the same days as Mark Lunn, so there appears to have been a link between the two and Lunn was, very likely, leveraging the ‘success’ of Operation Thatcham to make these connections and secure positions that appeared well above his station. Taylor, rather immodestly, describes himself as ‘a highly regarded Counter Fraud professional with over 25 years experience’. He currently runs a company called Peter Taylor Consultants Ltd. Mr Taylor has been invited to prove further insight into his apparent association with the disgraced Mark Lunn.

In 2015, according to Lunn’s LinkedIn page, he joined the Home Office as an investigator. At the civil trial in Bradford the court heard that the belief of the claimant’s legal team was that he was working for the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) at their Wakefield office. On that same CV, Lunn lists ‘well versed in police misconduct procedures’ as one of his self-stated competencies. That appears to support that hypothesis.

There is an unexplained gap 16 month gap in his LinkedIn CV, from when Lunn left WYP until he joined the Home Office. There is no mention of the ill-starred association with QV Fraud Investigation Services or Pennine Investigations. He is still listed as working at the Home Office up to the present time, but also now runs a jobbing builder business and sells free range eggs in the village where he lives. A man of many parts.

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The press office of the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) was approached on 20th September, 2019 to confirm, or otherwise, whether Mark Lunn had worked for their predecessor organisation, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and, if so, how would public concerns over such an appointment be addressed. No response has been received from the ‘police watchdog’. Adverse inference can, of course, be drawn from that silence from an organisation that lists openness and transparency as two of its core values.

John James, a Leeds solicitor, has not responded to the email sent to him seeking an account of his interaction with Lunn. It was claimed, in police interview, by Lunn, that James was a ‘prospective co-director’ of a bogus company ‘Insurance Fraud Consultants Ltd’. It was also claimed in that interview that the two had met during police investigations upon which Lunn was engaged.

The Chairman of the perpetually noisy West Yorkshire Police Federation, Brian Booth, also failed to respond to the enquiries made of him and his association with Mark Lunn.

The Insurance Fraud Bureau (IFB) promised answers to these questions put to them concerning their involvement in Operation Thatcham: 1. A short statement from Insurance Fraud Bureau, covering the police decision to, effectively, conceal the serious misdemeanours of the lead investigator in Operation Thatcham from the CPS, and the defendants’ legal teams, would be helpful. 2. It would also assist, also, to know if WYP received any funding from IFB for Operation Thatcham.

After an inexplicable delay, they provided this statement which ducked both issues: ‘IFB’s role is to provide evidence of insurance fraud to UK police forces and to assist forces with their investigations into this criminal activity. In these circumstances, the relevant police force takes the lead with IFB providing information in an administrative role’.

A series of questions was put to the press office of 1st Century Motor Insurance in connection with the business plans for ‘Insurance Fraud Consultants Ltd’ that Lunn had compiled on police computers. After a series of meetings with two of their Directors at their Sussex HQ, he was asking the insurance company to make an investment of £183,000 in the bogus company. Police documents appear to show that at least some of that money was paid to Lunn. Clarification over the questions put to 1st Century was sought by their press officer and, following receipt, answers to at least some of the questions are promised in the near future.

In response to a freedom of information request that asked if West Yorkshire Police had undertaken a risk assessment, or a process whereby the they would have confirmed the authenticity and legal standing of the IFB, WYP said: ‘We hold no information. The Insurance Fraud Bureau has been contacted for basic information about the car insurance industry. They are not funding any aspect of the enquiry, it was a police-initiated operation. No risk assessment has been undertaken’. 

Of greater concern is that the police gave what appear to be false answers to other questions in that same request. Firstly, about the transfer of officers from other duties to run Operation Thatcham: They say there were none, Mark Lunn was certainly one as he was transferred from Huddersfield CID to the Proceeds of Crime Team at Batley Police Station to run Thatcham. Secondly, when asked whether any complaints had been received as a result of this investigation, they said there were none. In reality, there appears to be, from documentary evidence, at least three against Lunn, one of which it is known was from Opus Law.

The West Yorkshire Police press office has not repsonded to questions put to them about Mark Lunn and Operation Thatcham. Or provided a statement, as requested.

Nevertheless, and in spite of the obfuscation and false trail left by the police and the stonewalling by their perenially disgraced ‘watchdog’ and the ultra-defensive CPS, enquiries from this quarter are continuing, The next ports of call are the Police Superintendents’ Association, the Home Office, the Attorney General and the Justice Parliamentary Select Committee to test whether any amongst them has the resolve to tackle this disgraceful situation.

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Page last updated at 1130hrs on Saturday 28th September, 2019

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: Telegraph & Argus

© Neil Wilby 2015-2019. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.