Commissioners in denial

Two high profile public figures suffered an embarassing defeat in Barnsley Law Courts this week.

Elizabeth Denham, a Canadian ‘expert’ brought in last year to head up the troubled Information Commissioner’s office (ICO) and Julia Mulligan, the disaster-prone Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire (NYPCC).

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Elizabeth Denham (left) and Julia Mulligan (right).

At a First Tier Tribunal hearing held in the iconic South Yorkshire town, an information rights appeal lodged by journalist Neil Wilby was upheld.

The Tribunal, chaired by Judge David Farrer QC, with experienced panellists, Jean Nelson and Henry Fitzhugh, alongside, found that both Commissioners were wrong to rely on a ‘neither confirm nor deny’ (NCND) response to an information request made to NYPCC, by Mr Wilby, in August, 2016.

The request principally concerned information regarding litigation costs associated with a civil court claim brought by Mr Wilby, against NYPCC, in June 2016.

The claim, citing Data Protection and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) breaches by NYPCC, succeeded at a final hearing in February, 2017. The journalist was awarded nominal damages and costs.

A complaint to the ICO, by Mr Wilby in October, 2016, eventually resulted in a Decision Notice (FS50652012) which upheld the NCND position, but on a different exemption under FOIA: Section 45(5)(a), instead of 45(5)(b) as relied upon by NYPCC.

The ‘investigation’ by the ICO’s caseworker, Carolyn Howes, has been the subject of withering criticism. As has the handling of a so-called internal review of the information request, and the conduct of the defence of the appeal, by NYPCC solicitor, Ashley Malone. The latter was also a witness for NYPCC in the civil claim successfully brought against her employer by Mr Wilby.

The Panel made its finding on the crucial NCND point during the Tribunal hearing, but the full judgment on the appeal has been reserved, pending written submissions from the ICO. Who sent a young, talented, but relatively inexperienced barrister to court, Elizabeth Kelsey, without instructions to deal with the matters that were plainly in issue. She was unable, therefore, to make oral submissions on other exemptions relied upon by NYPCC’s counsel, Alex Ustych, once the cloak of NCND had fallen away (sections 32, 40 and 42 of the Act for the FOIA ‘nerds’). The Panel found that section 32 could not apply, in any event.

Miss Kelsey was fortunate to be before an arbiter as benevolent (and worldly wise) as Judge Farrer. She will, no doubt, learn from the experience. In other jurisdictions she would have been sent away with a flea in her ear.

There was also learning to be had for Mr Ustych: Knowing where, and when, not to flog a dead horse. Whilst his persistence was admirable, trying to teach David Farrer QC ancient law was not.

It was not a good day for the two high profile public servants, in truth. Particularly, as it was revealed in open court that instructions given to both of their barristers was ‘to concede nothing’. Those instructing Miss Kelsey and Mr Ustych might also bear in mind that information rights tribunals are inquisitorial, rather than adversarial. Not a good look for either Commissioner, it must be said, as tens of thousands of pounds of public funds have been wasted. With more to follow, no doubt.

Not one word of apology has been given to Mr Wilby over the significant expense he has been put to and the enormous amount of unnecessary time he has spent dealing with a quite ludicrous, and entirely disproportionate, approach to this appeal by both Commissioners.

Both Ms Denham and Mrs Mulligan have been approached for comment on this article. Neither even acknowledged the email c arrying the invitation.

Which doesn’t sit well with this quote, reproduced from the Information Commissioner’s blog on her website: “And that’s where transparency comes in. People have a right to know how their services and communities are run. And in an era when people are increasingly looking for answers, protecting this right to Freedom of Information (FOI) is a crucial part of my job”.

Or with instructions to her barrister to ‘concede nothing’. It might also be connected to the fact that Ms Denham’s new deputy is James Dipple-Johnstone, a former leading light with another discredited regulator, the Independent Police Complaints Commission – and with whom Mr Wilby has had a number of running battles in his justice campaigner role.

As for Mrs Mulligan, who was a marketing strategist in a former life, she simply staggers from one crisis to another – and no amount of spin can conceal the ever widening cracks in her reputation as an effective elected representative.

 

Page last updated Saturday 14th October, 2017 at 1620hrs

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Information rights regulator faces moment of truth

Investigative journalist, Neil Wilby, takes on the Information Commissioner (ICO) in court this week in the first of four First Tier Tribunal hearings. A fifth appeal is set to be determined on the papers.

The hearing is listed for 10am on Thursday 28th September, 2017 in Court 4 at Barnsley Law Courts. A concrete carbuncle that blights the landscape of this finest of South Yorkshire towns.

It is a public hearing and, as such, open to anyone to attend. The venue, and the associated arrangements, for this showdown has been changed no less than FIVE times in the last two months, before being finally settled upon less than a week before the listed date.

Each change has been as a result of repeated challenges to listing notices by Mr Wilby. There have been two attempts to have the appeal heard in London, for example. When parties to the appeal are based in Wakefield, Wilmslow and Northallerton.

“Plain daft” as they would say in Barnsley.

The composition of the three strong Panel has not yet been disclosed to Mr Wilby. It usually comprises of one tribunal judge and two lay members.

Julia Mulligan, the troubled Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire (PCC), has been joined as a party to the action on application by the ICO.

The appeal, lodged with the Tribunal in May, 2017 concerns a freedom of information (FOI) request made to the PCC on 8th August, 2016. The request sought disclosure of information connected to a civil court case involving the PCC and Mr Wilby. That claim was filed in June, 2016 and eventually settled in February, 2017.

Mr Wilby’s claim against the PCC, brought in his role as a journalist rather than a private individual, succeeded. He was awarded nominal damages, and costs, on that very basis.

It was a bitterly contested action and the PCC spent a five figure sum defending a claim that could – and should – have been disposed of for a fraction of the sum it cost the taxpayer in the end.

The PCC’s principal tactic was, not for the first time, to smear a journalist who had exposed yet more governance failings both in the running of her office – and her routine lack of oversight of the police force in her area.

Disclosure of the requested information was refused on the grounds that the PCC ‘could not confirm or deny‘ (often shortened to NCND) that she held any information on the civil court case.

For the FOI ‘nerds’ the exemption relied upon was section 40(5)(b). It would be ‘unfair’ to disclose the information sought because it was ‘personal data’.

The PCC didn’t state whether sub-section (i) or (ii) applied. A failing she was to repeat when asked to review the outcome of the request. Which strongly suggested that no meaningful review ever took place. It is alleged to have been undertaken by an information rights solicitor working for the PCC, Miss Ashley Malone, who sat next to Mr Wilby in court for two of the three hearing days.

There is other collateral evidence that supports that proposition that no proper review ever took place. No materials relating to it were disclosed in a data subject access request that was finalised in April, 2017.

Following Mr Wilby’s complaint to the ICO, the PCC changed her mind and decided that she would rely on section 40(5)(a). This moved the goalposts insofar as disclosing the information would breach data principles but still maintained ‘NCND’.

The ICO then upheld that revised view in a Decision Notice (FS50652012) published on her website. She completely ignored representations made to her by Mr Wilby three weeks before the decision was made.

The so called ‘investigation’ undertaken by the ICO was, on any independent view, a charade. As many others have found in their dealings with her, this is not a regulator at all minded to go looking for evidence, or test some of the wilder assertions of public authorities when refusing information requests.

In the course of his own interaction with the Information Commissioner, a level of laziness, incompetence and deceit has been uncovered by Mr Wilby that simply beggars belief. This is ‘public service’ at its very worse – and the regulator has become very uncomfortable with the level of scrutiny under which she is now placed.

The hearing on Thursday will reveal some of the defects within the organisation. It will take several more hearings for the entirety of the failings now uncovered to be made public.

Since the first appeal was launched there have been THREE other exemptions introduced by the ICO (s43, s32 and s45(5)(b)(i)), and FIVE more by the errant PCC (s32, s40(1) and (2), s42(1) and (2)). Only ONE is common to both.

The sharp eyed might note that the ICO are now looking to rely on an exemption they persuaded the PCC to abandon in January, 2017.

In all truth, you couldn’t make it up.

Yet, each of the two respondents is due to turn up in Barnsley with barristers hired in from London; Elizabeth Kelsey (Monckton Chambers) for the ICO and Alex Ustych (5 Essex Court) for NYPCC – and, of course, an in house solicitor each, Nicholas Martin and the aforementioned Miss Malone.

Another complete waste of a lumpy five figure sum from the public purse, plus an incalculable amount of time and expense incurred by a freelance journalist simply trying to follow his vocation as a ‘public watchdog’. In the process, being messed around from pillar to post – and not just by his opponents either: The Tribunal has also failed to case manage appropriately and gives such leeway to the ICO, and to a lesser extent public authorities, that leaves the strong impression of lay litigants, pursuing information rights appeals, not being at all welcomed.

Miss Malone was, of course, Mrs Mulligan’s star witness in the civil claim in which her employer was soundly defeated by Mr Wilby. Her evidence bordered on the comical, within those proceedings, and certainly did not assist the PCC’s cause: For example, a police solicitor couldn’t explain to the court whether a chief constable was a controller, or processor, of data entered onto or extracted from the Police National Computer (PNC).

A second round of civil proceedings against Mrs Mulligan is presently in the course of preparation by Mr Wilby. They are even more strongly grounded than the first, and seem certain to succeed. Notwithstanding, the power-crazy PCC has already indicated, via another of her in-house solicitors, Jane Wintermeyer, that she will waste tens of thousands more public money in defending the indefensible.

With two more information rights tribunal hearings yet to be arranged, involving Mrs Mulligan and Mr Wilby, this is a story that will run for some time yet. With a little luck, it will end with the resignation of the errant, and profligate, Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire.

Both the Information Commissioner and the PCC were approached for comment on this article. Neither even acknowledged the email carrying the request.

 

Page last updated Wednesday 26th September, 2017 at 1920hrs

 

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 2015-2017. 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.

 

Seaside shenanigans over ‘council corruption’ report

There can be few Borough Councils that have found themselves criticised so roundly and persistently, over the past few years, as Scarborough’s Town Hall incumbents.

Local, regional and national press stories abound over a string of democracy failings, and a BBC Inside Out programme also took them to task over trying to close down a local internet news website.

A well-named ‘Rotten Borough’, as Private Eye regularly describes them.

For journalists, the job of squeezing out information from Scarborough Borough Council (SBC) is one that would test the patience of Job. Press enquiries go largely unheeded, and freedom of information requests are non-compliant, more often than not. Disclosure, if given, can be months late, or provided in such a form as to be worthless.

The latest battle concerns a Council whistle blower scandal that has been doing the rounds for over four years. Despite desperate attempts by senior council officials, aided by a large sum of public money, to keep the lid on corruption allegations, an employment tribunal claim, heard in Hull in July last year, blew it clean off.

Former Council employee, Ben Marriott, succeeded, to a large extent, in a constructive dismissal claim against SBC and received a pay out of £95,000, plus costs. The (now retired) tribunal judge, Humphrey Forrest, described the council ‘investigation’ into Mr Marriott’s whistle blowing allegations as a ‘whitewash’.

Eventually, after much huffing and puffing, and a great deal of pressure applied by the local media, SBC agreed to an external investigation into corruption allegations made by Mr Marriott. To the surprise of most, the police did not investigate what were, taken at their face, serious allegations.

Instead, the Council instructed Mazars, a private company specialising in audit, accountancy, tax and consulting services, to undertake a ‘review’. The company has an existing commercial relationship with the Council as their financial auditors.

Mazars are better known as sponsors of Yorkshire’s county cricket team: But, most definitely, not as criminal investigators.

Mazars partner, Ian Wrightson (left), pictured at Headingley Stadium with Yorkshire County Cricket Club chief executive, Mark Arthur.       Picture credit: Mazars

Unusually, the scope of the ‘review’ was not made public and it was clear, from a leaked email sent by SBC’s head of legal services to Councillors in December, 2016, that the Town Hall was still in almost complete denial over the court’s findings.

A false claim was also made in the same email concerning a confidentiality agreement (NDA) allegedly sought by Mr Marriott: No such clause was ever considered by him. As a whistle blower it would have been unenforceable, in any event.

A local newspaper reported, after the remedy hearing in December, 2016, that the total cost of the Marriott claim, including legal fees and ancillary expenses, would be in the order of £250,000.

Mr Marriott also told the media that he was still waiting for an apology from SBC: “Not once has anyone said sorry to me. All I did was to raise some potentially serious issues with them and I was forced to leave my job and fight through the courts.

The Mazars review was delivered to the Council in June, 2017 and was quickly followed, in the same month, by a freedom of information (FOI) request seeking disclosure of the report; its terms of reference; the budgeted cost and the actual cost [1].

The review was months overdue: The Council Leader, Derek Bastiman, was quoted in the local press in December, 2016 as saying: ‘The external investigation we have instigated with our external auditors, Mazars, the investigation’s findings are expected shortly’.

As expected, the FOI request has developed into the usual blood out of a stone exercise. The finalisation of the request, on the very last day stipulated by law, produced no information at all. The Council relied on a section 22 exemption under the Freedom of Information Act (the Act). The officer dealing with the request did not put his (or her) name to it.

In layman’s terms, a section 22 exemption means the public authority (SBC) does not have to disclose the requested information, because they intend to publish it at a later date. The main problem with the Council’s response is that they did not say how, or when, that intention was made.

A challenge against the SBC decision (called an internal review request under the Act) was submitted shortly afterwards. It was an eleven point challenge, carefully set out and annotated with the relevant case law and recommended reading.

The key points of complaint were:

– By reference to local/regional media, social media and, more crucially,
council minutes, there appeared to be no settled intention to publish any,
or all, of the requested information. To rely on a s22 exemption, a
refusal to disclose is required to be accompanied by evidence.

– No timeframe is given for publication, other than ‘in the near future’.
Given the Council’s routine (and defensive) approach to disclosure that
could, readily, be interpreted months, or years. Previous
experiences with the Council concerning information requests, and press
enquiries, are relevant in this regard (answered very late or not at all).

– It is accepted that a definite date is not required to be given (or
indeed possible to give). However, the Information Commissioner takes the view that timing is a key factor when deciding whether withholding the information is “reasonable in all the circumstances”.

It was also contended that the refusal to disclose the information engaged the requester’s Article 10 convention rights:

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Magyar 
Helsinki Bizottság v Hungary [18030/11] stipulated four ‘threshold
criteria’ to better define the circumstances under which a denial of
access to information constitutes an interference (to a requester’s
Article 10 rights) in a given case:

The purpose of the information requested: contribution to a public
debate.

The nature of the information sought: public interest nature

The role of the applicant: social watchdogs and  the like.

Whether the information is ready and available to the public
authorities.

In the Mazars request there has already been considerable public debate:
(a) the Council has conceded the public interest argument (b) the
requester is an NUJ accredited journalist (c) it is known  (and conceded
by the Council) that all of the requested information is ready and
available.

The Council’s refusal to disclose the information, therefore, clearly
engages the requester’s Article 10 rights, by reference to Magyar.

The Council were urged to deal with the internal review request ‘promptly’.

In the event, it appears that the Council would not have dealt with the internal review at all, but for a threat of judicial review proceedings made on 21st August, 2017. After the deadline for response to the internal review request had passed.

Briefly, the Council were told: ‘The refusal to disclose the requested information arguably constitutes a breach of Article 10 convention rights.  Further, the refusal to undertake an internal review in accordance with section 45 of the Act and the Information Commissioner’s Guidance would tend to aggravate such a breach’.

This had the desired effect as a finalisation to the review request was received the following day. Again, it was anonymised.

The main thrust of the Council’s response was that they continued to rely on the section 22 exemption in order not to disclose three of the four parts of the information request.

They did, however, disclose that the budgeted cost of the Mazars review was £14,000. Which, at their rate of charging, buys you very little. The oily smell of ‘whitewash’ has again reached the nostrils.

Six of the eleven points of complaint were not addressed at all, including the breach of convention rights contention, but there were some interesting revelations amongst the narrative provided by the Council:

– The scope of the review is set out as part of the report itself.

– The intention to publish the report derives from the decision of a cross party panel of elected Members, who met privately to consider the report and next steps. They unanimously decided that the report should be disclosed.
– The Council say that there is already an amount of incomplete and incorrect information circulating in the public domain about this matter, releasing the scope in isolation from the remainder of the report would do nothing to assist public understanding, and would result in questions being raised that could be addressed by the content of the complete report.

– The actual cost of the investigation is not known at this time because the Council has not received a final bill.

– As stated in the Council’s initial response, there is clearly a public interest in this information being disclosed into the public domain. There is also a public interest in the information being published in a manner that aids understanding.

– The reliance on section 22 of the FOIA is nothing to do with political inconvenience as stated in the request for review. In fact quite the contrary is true, in that it would be more politically convenient for the information to be disclosed as soon as possible.

– There is a strong public interest in the Council operating in a lawful manner – to do otherwise would put the Council at risk of legal challenge. One relevant aspect of the requirement to operate lawfully is to ensure that the Council complies with its duty of care towards staff, and the common law duty of mutual trust and confidence. In this respect the Council must ensure that it meets such duties towards those staff who have been involved in and may be affected by the matter prior to releasing the report into the public domain.

– Another aspect of acting lawfully is that the Council has entered into a contractual agreement with the external auditor for the provision of an independent review. As part of that contractual agreement, the external auditor has stipulated that their written permission must be obtained prior to the report being disclosed more widely. To publish the report without obtaining written permission would likely be a breach of contract and put the Council and the public purse at risk, and it is entirely
reasonable from a public interest perspective to allow the Council opportunity to comply with this requirement.

As ever with SBC, when information is eventually prised from their grasp there are more questions than answers:

From the vague terminology it appeared that no tightly drawn terms of reference were set for the review. ‘Scope’ suggests a rather more loose narrative.

The public now know that a small group of councillors has met, on an unspecified date and without announcement, before or after, and decided to publish the Mazars report.

Without any preamble, it was published on 30th August, 2017 on the Council’s website [2]. Members received an email after the event. The Council leader made this accompanying announcement:

I have instructed officers to publish a copy of the Mazars report with the unanimous support of the cross party panel of councillors to whom the report was delivered”,

Unfortunately, Mazars was unwilling to grant the council permission to disclose the report publicly, however I have taken the decision that there is a significant overriding public interest in doing so. Indeed it has always been my intention that this report would be publicly available.”

The working hypothesis is that the furore over the freedom of information request, and the accompanying threat of legal action, forced the Council’s hand.

As suspected, there were no terms of reference, and, incredibly, Mazars were allowed to determine their own scope for the review.

The report is unattributed; no Mazars employee has put his, or her, name to it. The review simply adds gloss to the original whitewash applied by the Council to Mr Marriott’s allegations.

The report notes that a meeting between senior Council officials and senior North Yorkshire Police (NYP) officers took place in November, 2016. Based on information provided to them, NYP decided not to investigate the allegations.

The same police force that sent five officers, within minutes, to the Town Hall to prevent a section of the electorate from expressing their views from the public gallery at a recent Council ‘no confidence’ meeting which had devolved into a democracy shambles [3].

The Council leader boldly claims: “The report followed an independent and comprehensive investigation and I fully accept the outcome of this process”.

It is unclear as to how Cllr Bastiman has arrived at the conclusion that it was ‘comprehensive’. To say it was ‘independent’ is also a misnomer.

Mr Marriott is, understandably, upset at the outcome: “Like the judge said at the Tribunal, a complete ‘white wash’. It really is embarrassing to read, the total lack of professional standards and lack of respect for the whole country and its people”.

He added: “In court, the judge stated that Scarborough Borough Council had not done any investigations into my allegations for fear of upsetting people”.

More than three months after delivery of the report, the Council say Mazars haven’t sent in a bill for the work. Many people would take the view that, if an invoice does eventually materialise, it should be returned unpaid.

The Mazars report does not feature on the Agenda for the full Council meeting scheduled for Monday 4th September, 2017 at 2pm. A briefing of all Members on the Mazars report was scheduled for 11am on that day. It is unclear whether that will now proceed.

The complaint to the Information Commissioner proceeds – and appropriate action will be taken against the Council concerning any finding of Article 10 breach.

A second freedom of information request was made to the Council on 31st August, 2017 seeking disclosure of materials that will give context to the Mazars report and decisions taken within and around it [4].

Scarborough Borough Council’s press office has declined to comment.

 

 

Page last updated Friday 1st September, 2017 at 1930hrs

[1] Neil Wilby: What Do They Know FOIA request to Scarborough Borough Council 23rd June, 2017

[2] Mazars: Review of Scarborough Borough Council’s investigation of whistleblowing allegations received in October 2014

[3] Scarborough News: ‘Police called to no confidence meeting after public gallery clapped’ 26th June, 2017

[4] Neil Wilby: What Do They Know FOIA request to Scarborough Borough Council 31st August, 2017

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 2015-2017. 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.

Convicted York paedophile extradited to face further charges

Former York resident, Peter Hofschröer, who was convicted of child sex abuse offences last year, has been extradited to Austria after lengthy legal proceedings which concluded last month.

A jury at Teesside Crown Court found him guilty of 16 counts relating to the downloading over 36,000 images and videos.

Screen Shot 2017-07-13 at 09.07.58
Peter Hofschröer, now in the hands of the Austian authorities awaiting trial.

Judge Tony Briggs QC, in his sentencing remarks, described Hofschröer’s defence, in which he tried to blame many others including his own family, a fellow military historian and the police for the illegal images, as “quite outrageous”. He was jailed for 30 months and placed on the sex offenders register for life.

It was, originally, understood that Hofschröer left the Highgate, North London address, to which he had been bailed, on July 6th, 2017, a short time before he was due to attend Kentish Town police station and went AWOL. He had been summoned to appear there as part of arrangements to transfer him to Austria later that day .

The owner of the property, Belinda McKenzie, a child abuse campaigner, has since deleted her Facebook post relating to the ‘disappearance’ and has subsequently posted that her house guest did, in fact, surrender to the authorities on the 6th July. That was, apparently, in response to a report of a 5 year old girl being assaulted within 200 yards of her home on 9th July, 2017.

Hofschröer failed last month, at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, to either stay, or overturn, an extradition Order over allegations relating to a raft of further sex abuse offences, slander, threatening a judge and firearm possession. Judgment was given against him at Westminster Magistrates Court in November, 2016 following proceedings brought by the Office of the State Attorney of Austria (the Staatsanwaltschaft).

A former associate of Hofschröer has claimed that the alleged firearm offences may concern a de-commissioned AK47 assault rifle and several Napoleonic muskets.

Another close associate of Hofschröer’s, Andy Peacher, posted on social media that none of his other friends were aware of his whereabouts – and neither were the Metropolitan Police. Nor the solicitors instructed in the matter of his extradition. But, as with Ms McKenzie, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction in this vexed case. She is, also, currently subject to attention from the Metropolitan Police having been the subject of a warrant that enabled the force to sieze her computer.

Other Hofschröer ‘campaigners’, including Norman Scarth, exiled in Ireland to frustrate arrest warrants in force against him, claim he is not a paedophile at all – and that downloading indecent images does not count as child sex abuse. He ended a series of tirades over this article with “You expose yourself as a lying Quisling – and ignorant with it“.

Hofschröer was wearing an electronic tag on his ankle when he allegedly absconded. An alarm would have sounded at a monitoring station once his absence exceeded the terms of his licence. He had, previously, been recalled to HMP Preston in February, 2017 following a licence breach of the sentence received at Teesside Crown Court.

Despite a ban on use of social media (and email), as part of his bail conditions (and a civil injunction), Hofschröer made a posting on Facebook the night before he disappeared. Within that posting he claimed that police were among the suspects who may have hacked his ‘Justice for Grandma B’ website.

His Twitter account is still active but there have been no tweets since January, 2017. His Facebook campaigning page has been removed from the public area of the website.

No statement was been issued by North Yorkshire Police, despite Hofschröer’s strong connections to York: His 89 year old mother, Barbara (widely known as Grandma B) is in Haxby Hall care home, he was formerly a resident in Rosedale Avenue, Acomb – and other members of his family, against whom he bears considerable ill-will, still live in the city.

The Grandma B case was one that occupied North Yorkshire Police for a number of years: Hofschröer’s fight for justice for his mother was bitterly fought, both amongst his own family, the local council and the police. It is reported to have cost taxpayers well over £1 million and centred on a dispute over who owned the property occupied latterly by Barbara.

Two police operations were ultimately mounted against Peter Hofschröer: Operation Rome, a criminal investigation that was a notable failure to criminalise him over harassment allegations and Hyson, a civil claim in which Hofschröer elected to take no part, claiming his Article 6 convention rights were engaged. There was also a dramatic moment in court (I was present on the press bench) when he asked, via the prison to court video link, for the presiding judge to be arrested. HHJ Mark Gosnell successfully resisted the challenge to his liberty.

There was no report of Hofschröer’s alleged disappearance in the local, regional or national press. The extradition and appeal proceedings also went unreported.

Replies to press enquiries made of the Metropolitan Police and the Bundespolizei in Austria are still awaited.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Page last updated at 1835hrs on Tuesday 4th September, 2017

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 2015-2017. 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.

‘Open and transparent’ Police & Crime Commissioner stonewalls questions over public misconduct hearings

There are few words in the policing lexicon that crop up more often than ‘open’ and ‘transparent’. Some luminaries, such as North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Julia Mulligan, use it so often that they actually begin to believe in the myth.

There are few words in the policing lexicon that crop up more often than ‘open’ and ‘transparent’. Some luminaries, such as North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Julia Mulligan, use it so often that they actually begin to believe in the myth.

The latest example cropped up only yesterday with a story run by the usually police-friendly York Press [1]. The thrust of the piece is that a reporter from their sister newspaper, The Northern Echo, was denied entry to a police disciplinary hearing due to open at police HQ at Newby Wiske, near Northallerton.

Up pops Mrs Mulligan and immediately pledges to “put transparency at the heart of this process”. Conveniently forgetting that it is already a statutory requirement to do so under Police (Conduct) Regulations [2].

But that is only half the story. Misconduct hearings against North Yorkshire Police (NYP) officers alleged to be in breach of Standards of Professional Behaviour [3] fall under the remit of their Professional Standards Department (PSD). It is a part of NYP’s operations that has come under stinging criticism over the past few years. Not least from myself in other articles on this website.

insp-sarah-sanderson

Prior to the current proceedings, involving gross misconduct allegations against Inspector Sarah Sanderson (with whom I had a brief and uncontroversial professional interchange in August 2012, just before her promotion to T/Chief Inspector), there has only been one other misconduct meeting heard in public involving a NYP officer. This was the widely reported ‘I love weed‘ case involving ex-PC Simon Ryan [4].

Having accidentally discovered it was taking place whilst researching for another article, I actually registered via the NYP website for the Ryan hearing, although as a press card carrying journalist it galled me to do so.

A response came two days later from an unidentified PSD officer (no name, no collar number which is, of itself, a breach of the Code of Ethics) who informed me that ‘a seat had been allocated‘.

There were also other myriad conditions which were set out at this weblink [5]. The sum of it was, there were no facilities at all for reporters, and they were also being asked to leave the building every time the hearing adjourned. Which for proceedings of this type is usually frequently.

I asked PSD by email if a small room with just a table and some chairs could be provided, so that reporters could do their job. An anonymous responder (again) informed me: “I’m afraid that we do not have the available space in order to facilitate your request“.

No catering or drink facility was to be provided to attendees at the hearing – press or otherwise – and I didn’t get as far as asking about toilet facilities.

For my part, I decided that three 140 mile round trips, at my own expense, with no guarantee that my two battery powered devices would last the day without infusion of mains electricity, added to the prospect of flask and sandwiches in the car, and trying to work my laptop on my knee during the hearing, was not at all an appealing combination. I concentrated on other work and hoped one of the local or regional newspapers, who covered NYP matters, would report on the proceedings.

In the event, the hearing only lasted two days and only Tom Wilkinson from the Press Association was in attendance. As such, he still holds the distinction of being the one journalist ever to attend a NYP misconduct hearing.

Unless there is an entirely different approach taken towards the press, after Mrs Mulligan has spoken to the Chief Constable, then Tom might hold that record for some time yet. It is also interesting that he hasn’t ventured to Newby Wiske Hall for a second time.

The PCC and the chief could make a start by changing the venue from Newby Wiske Hall for a start. If it doesn’t have the requisite facilities then why hold hearings there? A question that has been put to both Mrs Mulligan and Dave Jones.

In the interests of ‘openness’ and ‘transparency’ neither even responded to the email seeking comment. Two questions were put to both police chiefs:

1. Why are card-carrying journalists required to register to attend disciplinary hearings?
2. Why is Newby Wiske Hall used as a venue when it is plainly unsuitable?
Readers are invited to draw their own conclusions as to whether they are in the public interest and it was reasonable of Mr Jones and Mulligan to stonewall them.

 

Page last updated: Wednesday 21st September, 2016 at 1750hrs

[1] York Press 19th September, 2016: ‘North Yorkshire PCC will speak to Chief Constable after reporter refused entry’.

[2] Police (Conduct) Regulations 2012.

[3] North Yorkshire Police: Ethics and Standards.

[4] BBC News 14th June, 2016: ‘I love weed hat PC Simon Ryan sacked from North Yorkshire Police’.

[5] North Yorkshire Police: Misconduct hearings.

 

Photo credit: Northern Echo

 

Madgwick goes for Gold

North Yorkshire Police’s longest serving Command Team officer is Timothy Madgwick. He was promoted to ACPO rank in 2009. Three years later he was leading the force after the departure of disgraced chief constable, Grahame Maxwell [1].

Elevation to the top job completed an astonishing, meteoric rise through the ranks for Madgwick that saw five promotions in ten years, following a spell as staff officer to the then chief constable, David Kenworthy and, later, a chief of staff role with Maxwell shortly after the latter had joined NYP from the troubled South Yorkshire Police. Maxwell had spent the previous twenty three years at two other deeply corrupt police forces: Cleveland and West Yorkshire.

Kenworthy, awarded the Queen’s Police Medal (QPM) in 1996, whilst serving with Avon and Somerset Police, has held a post as one of fifty Deputy Lord Lieutenants in North Yorkshire since 2004. The Lord Lieutenant is, of course, The Queen’s personal representative. Establishment frippery at its most prolific. It is, therefore, not unreasonable to deduce that the regally connected Kenworthy may have had a hand in the nomination for an award of the same gong to his former protegé, and near Easingwold neighbour, last year.

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As the same medal is held by the likes of the aforementioned Maxwell – and other shamed chief constables with connections to Yorkshire, such as Sir Norman Bettison, Sir Stephen House, David Crompton, Meredydd HughesDavid Westwood, Mark GilmoreSean Price and York-born Nick Gargan, it is not worth the rag to which is attached. There are certain to be other bemedalled chief officers outside of God’s Own County, who have shamed the police service, for those with the time to search.

Mark Gilmore is hoping to salvage his damaged reputation in civil proceedings against his police commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson, that are currently lodged with the High Court.

At the time Tim Madgwick took over as temporary chief in May 2012, his predecessor and mentor, Maxwell, had told the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), during a gross misconduct investigation [2], that “he could do what he wanted because he was the Chief Constable”. Looking at the number and scale of controversies that had dogged the force over the previous ten years that was obviously the mindset of the force’s leaders and those closest to them. Few being closer, of course, than the high-flying Madgwick.

Six months prior to his elevation to the top job, an investigation had been launched by NYP in which Madgwick had been appointed Gold Commander by Maxwell. This was codenamed by the force ‘Operation Rome‘ and is one that has been dogged by controversy from its early days. Much has been written about the probe already, including on this website [3] and [4], and, for the last twelve months, there has been a running battle between myself and a police force obsessed with covering up the truth.

Rome was an investigation of such mind-numbing mediocrity that the public has every right to see the audit trail of the decision-making, in an operation that the force themselves claim cost over £400,000. The mandatory lessons learned reporting should also be made public, even though in this particular case, on present evidence, there appears to be just one: Don’t trust Tim Madgwick with anything more complex than operating a dashboard-mounted speed camera.

In the near three years that the investigation lasted, it appears there were just three suspects and the alleged criminal activity was harassment without violence. One of the suspects, well known citizen journalist Nigel Ward, was never interviewed and no harassment warnings (PIN’s) were issued. Another citizen journalist, Tim Hicks, was interviewed at Fulford Road police station in York, but harassment scarcely featured in the police questioning. The detectives seemed much more concerned with protecting the reputation of NYP and preventing articles being written about the force. The suspect’s London solicitor, David Niven of Penningtons wrote to NYP’s Head of Legal Services, Simon Dennis, after the police interview in the most scathing terms [5].

Dennis, on whose watch the Maxwell debacle (and a number of others) unfolded and who now works for the Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner, is also roundly criticised elsewhere on this website [6]. Including over the way he has handled complaints about Madgwick.

Following the investigations into alleged harassment by the heavyweight Operation Rome team, two seperate evidence packages were sent to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for charging decisions. Both were rejected by the CPS. Given the relatively low evidential threshold for this type of offence that is noteworthy failure by NYP.

The latest skirmish between myself and the force in the quest for the truth over the Rome debacle was a freedom of information request submitted in August, 2016. Answers were sought to these five questions:

1. Name(s)/rank(s) of Gold Commander of this operation.
2. Name(s)/rank(s) of Senior Investigating Officer(s).
3. Policy log (sometimes described as the policy book)
4. Final investigation report
(it is accepted that items 3. and 4. will be redacted to protect exempted personal information).
5. All documents connected with collection, classification and codifying of financial information that produced the alleged final investigation cost of £409,970.

NYP’s answer to the first question has already been incorporated into this piece, but poses several more queries as a result: Why was an assistant chief constable (as Madgwick was at the time) involved leading an investigation of this type? When he became chief constable, albeit temporarily, why did he continue in the role? In September, 2012 Madgwick gave a witness statement in the investigation alleging how he was a victim of harassing emails and on-line articles and images. At that point why did he not, properly and in accordance with all known approved policing practice, recuse himself from any further involvement in the investigation? The friendship of Madgwick with the police authority chair at the time, Jane Kenyon, another key figure driving the harassment allegations, should also have been sufficient reason for Madgwick to walk away. Miss Kenyon, regularly ridiculed in the satirical magazine Private Eye [6], and Madgwick’s wife Delia also have an association, previously undisclosed, through St Hilda’s School in Whitby, dating back to 1996.

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The stunted answer to the second question also poses even more questions: It is now disclosed by NYP that there were not one, but two SIO’s. A detective superintendent and the head of the professional standards department. The force has refused to name them. They claim it is ‘personal information’. From other materials I have obtained in the course of my own investigations into Operation Rome I can say, with a reasonable amount of certainty, that the officers concerned were Detective Superintendent Heather Pearson (better known as a murder investigator) and Steven Read, a former assistant chief constable who, curiously, held the role as Head of PSD as a post-retirement, jobs-for-the-boys civilian. Which begs the obvious question: why were two officers of this seniority, working under the strategic command of a temporary chief constable, investigating harassment without violence allegations?

Pearson was later to be a recipient of an estimated £50,000 of free legal fees, provided by the force (along with Madgwick), in pursuing the same three suspects through the civil courts. Read, for reasons unknown, declined the force’s offer of the same benefit. It was also Pearson who portentiously told Hicks on 27th July, 2012 that she would bring civil action (beyond her police powers as it happens) on behalf of senior officers named in an article about the expenses scandal that was eventually to prove the downfall of Maxwell. Others named in that article included Madgwick, over police expenses allegedly claimed in pursuit of one of his many laudable hobbies and interests, the Special Olympics Group Board. Hicks, apart from his amateur journalism role, is also a chartered accountant, and certified fraud examiner, so is likely to know much more than the man in the street about such things. For their part, ‘open and transparent’ NYP stonewalled every legitimate enquiry made to establish the legitimacy of the claims.

The third and fourth questions produced a blank refusal. Relying, mainly, on the premise that releasing the policy log and investigation report would assist criminals in avoiding detection and give away police operational secrets. The reader is invited to bear in mind (again) this was a harassment without violence investigation in which the complaints centred around emails and articles published on the internet (as were a number of the emails). One of the purposes of the freedom of information request was to obtain an admission that these documents actually exist. Their response does this. However, until such times as they are disclosed – albeit in redacted form – I remain sceptical.

The fifth question received a similarly ludicrous response. NYP claim that they cannot disclose the requested documents, and audit trail of investigation costs, that was, at best, a contrived, back-of-the-envelope job produced with a pre-ordained figure in mind. Claiming that such documents could be protected by legal professional privilege has no basis in fact or law. As with the policy log and investigation report, I remain sceptical as to whether the documents actually exist and put that forward as a realistic hypothesis as to why they cannot be disclosed. Interestingly, the officer who allegedly compiled the figures, Force Solicitor Jane Wintermeyer, also heads up the department that deals with NYP’s FOI requests. She is another with connections to the Easingwold area.

A challenge to the unanswered questions, by way of an internal request, has been submitted to NYP [7] and will, doubtless be followed by a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). My submissions to the ICO will include this quote from Chief Constable Dave Jones and Police Commissioner, Julia Mulligan, in December, 2013 when issuing a statement concerning the efforts to procure repayment of monies allegedly owed to force by Grahame Maxwell and his former deputy, Adam Briggs:  “It will be the first time North Yorkshire Police will have published a report of this nature, and is in stark contrast to the old way of doing business and keeping reports like these under lock and key.”

The sharp eyed may have noted in my request for internal review that reference was made to the NYP civil disclosure unit (or much more likely Mrs Wintermeyer) putting FOI requests concerning Operation Rome (and the follow up Operation Hyson) into ‘special measures’ – and asking requesters to provide ID. Some of my other requests/internal reviews on Rome (and/or Hyson) are months overdue, which appears to bear that out.

In the meantime, Tim Madgwick will no doubt be treating his Twitter followers to his view of himself and North Yorkshire Police which range, generally, between ‘amazing‘, ‘great‘ and ‘fantastic‘. For my part, I will plod away, quietly and methodically, determined to get to the bottom of this shambles and expose the culpability of those involved in it, their propensity for deceit, and the true motive behind pursuing this Operation Rome beyond all sense or reason.

The last words for now go to Dave Jones. This is what he said at the time of the award of the QPM to his colleague: ‘Tim has led teams through some of the most serious incidents North Yorkshire Police has dealt with in recent years in an exemplary way‘.

 

Annotations:

[1] Daily Mail, 17th May 2012: Disgraced chief constable who tried to help relative get a job is given £250,000 golden goodbye

[2] Independent Police Complaints Commission report, May 2011 ref 2010/005240

[3] Neil Wilby, 14th February, 2015: Complete capitulation follows fall of Rome

[4] Neil Wilby, 20th March, 2016: 409,970 reasons not to trust North Yorkshire Police

[5] Penningtons letter to North Yorkshire Police, 9th August, 2012

[6] Neil Wilby, 6th September, 2016: In the Eye of the storm

[7] WhatDoTheyKnow, 8th August, 2016: Request Neil Wilby to NYP ref 350296-9eeb 1fd1

 

Page last updated Tuesday 13th September, 2016 at 1650hrs

© Neil Wilby 2015-2016. Unauthorised use or reproduction of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from and links to the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Police refuse to come clean over sexual risk order

Over the past two years it has been my considerable misfortune to have the job of holding North Yorkshire Police up to some sort of scrutiny. I have been hanging on to the baton, largely, for my North Yorks Enquirer colleague, Nigel Ward, who found himself shackled, until recently, by a grotesque and ultimately failed civil harassment claim launched against him by his local police force [1].

It is a thankless task, made doubly difficult by the complete absence of support from the more conventional oversight bodies such as the Police and Crime Commissioner, the Independent Police Complaints Commission and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.

Add in a tame, under-resourced local and regional press and it emphasises the uphill nature of the work the back-in-harness Nigel and myself carry out.

One of our stock-in-trade tools as journalists is the freedom of information (FOI) request. A device that used expediently can winkle out information to build an exclusive story.

One such request has been finalised recently by NYP and provides further insight into a force completely averse to any form of criticism – most especially from either Nigel or myself – and utterly obsessed with containing damage to its reputation.

The request, quite remarkably, was finalised within the statutory twenty working day period for information requests. But that may have more to do with me taking the chief constable to court over previous FOI failures [2] than a desire to please an investigative journalist. Particularly one who has already taken them severely to task over the subject matter of the request, which concerns a Sexual Risk Order handed out to York-based, John O’Neill. The questions put to the force sought to add flesh to this article I published on the topic in August, 2016 [3].

The response from NYP (and a full list of the questions) is now in the public domain and can be viewed in full here [4].  It is characterised, as ever, by defensiveness.

They refuse to name the solicitor(s) acting for the Chief Constable in this high profile matter that for days dominated national newspapers and was a lead story on network television. In the face of this, and the fact that there have been two public hearings in York Magistrates Court, a Section 40 (2) exemption is relied upon by the force (breach of personal data). Which is, of course, now being challenged by way of a review and then, very probably, a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The next question concerning the selection process received a vague answer that didn’t really go to the heart of the issue, except to confirm that the selection of barrister Oliver Thorne was not subject to any competitive element. It is true to say that, on any reasonable view, he has not covered himself in glory as counsel in this particular case.

After admitting in their response to the third question that the controversial – and heavily criticised – Sexual Risk Order was drafted by a North Yorkshire Police in-house solicitor, they refuse to name him (or her). It should be noted, however, that the NYP Force Solicitor and Head of Legal Services, Jane Wintermeyer, is also in charge of the Civil Disclosure Unit that is responsible for finalising FOI requests. There appears to be no recognition of the potential conflict of interest in NYP’s response to this particular information request.

The response to the first part of the fourth question takes us into the realms of the far-fetched. A familiar landing place for a number of FOI outcomes from this source. NYP claim that it would take in excess of 18 hours (around two and a half working days) to calculate the amount spent internally on the John O’Neill case. Which begs the question: what sort of financial systems/controls are in place at NYP? The response to the second part of the question also leaves me scratching my head as the total cost externally (presumably the value of Mr Thorne’s fees), up to and including the latest court hearing, was £2284.32. Which seems on the low side for the services of a barrister of thirteen years call from a leading Leeds-based set (KBW).

In their response to the fifth and last question NYP say that the John O’Neill case has never been given an operational name.

The internal review has now been filed with NYP and they have twenty working days to respond [5]. However, their record in this area of operation is not good. I have a number of reviews of information requests that are overdue. The golden rule for NYP plainly being: The more damaging the disclosure might be to the force, the longer finalisation of a request or a review will take.

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The next instalment of the saga played out at York Magistrates Court on 22nd September, 2016. An amended Order was handed down by the judge to John O’Neill that listed twelve restrictions. The ‘unpoliceable’ 24 hour notice before sex has gone, as has the restriction on electronic equipment and internet use. Albeit the latter can be monitored by police. However, District Judge Lower remained in no doubt about the risk that O’Neill posed to women.

O’Neill told ITV News, outside the court, that he was considering an appeal against the Order. He claims it breaches his human rights and that he has ‘no chance of forming a relationship’ with the SRO in place.

It has emerged that at least fifty others are presently the subject to a Sexual Risk Order in this country.

[1] Private Eye: Article published 31st August, 2016 ‘North Yorkshire Boors

[2] Neil Wilby: Article published 10th June, 2016 ‘Chief constable and PCC face court action

[3] Neil Wilby: Article published 22nd August, 2016 ‘Between a rock and a hard place

[4] North Yorkshire Police: FOI response to Neil Wilby (475.2016.17)

[5] What Do They Know: Audit trail for FOI request 353604-479ad2a5

Page last updated Friday 23rd September, 2016 at 0745hrs

© Neil Wilby 2015-2016. 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.

Picture credit: York Press