Fourth time lucky?

This is the fourth in a series of six articles that comprise the deepest dive yet into the murder of Diana Garbutt, by her husband Robin, in March 2010. She was bludgeoned to death in the living quarters above Melsonby Village Store and Post Office as she lay sleeping in bed.

The first article, headlined ‘Don’t do anything stupid, we’ve got your wife‘ can be accessed here.

The second, ‘That particularly dubious constabulary merits careful investigationhere.

The third, which is an amplication of the list of investigative failings which forms a part of the second article, ‘A regrettable lack of professionalism’, here.

The fifth looks at the appalling conduct of the campaigners behind this innocence claim, here.

The sixth is an in-depth analysis of an interview by Dr Sandra Lean of the lead campaigner, Jane Metcalfe, here.

From his cell in HMP Frankland, 54 year old Robin Garbutt continues to vehemently deny the crime of which he was convicted at Teesside Crown Court in April, 2011. A stance he has never varied since the day he was arrested, three weeks after his wife was so tragically and brutally killed.

His protestations have spawned a well-publicised miscarriage of justice campaign, led by Garbutt’s close friend, the aforementioned Jane Metcalfe, and his sister and brother-in-law, Sallie Wood and Mark Stilborn.

Robin Garbutt campaigners - ITV package
Jane Metcalfe (left) discussing the case with fellow campaigners during a televised interview with ITV reporter, Jon Hill.

The catalyst for recent widespread coverage of the case is a third application to the miscarriage of justice watchdog, the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC). The first was submitted in 2015, the second believed to be in 2018. These applications followed an unsuccessful appeal to the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal in May 2012. Three senior judges, led by Lord Justice Hughes, ruled that the conviction was ‘safe’.

Details of the previous Garbutt applications, and the CCRC’s Statement of Reasons for rejection, are scarce. On the campaign website there is a brief mention of the 2015 application being made, but nothing thereafter. Curiously, there isn’t a single mention of the specific grounds upon which those two prior applications were made, or why they were dismissed, in any of the multitude of press and television reports. The suspicion is, absent of explanation from the campaigners, that the grounds were not strong enough for the CCRC to even launch an investigation.

That surprising omission is a case in point in an ‘exclusive’ given to The Metro newspaper on 6th March, 2020. But, it appears, from reading Sam Corbishley‘s piece, that the grounds for the latest Garbutt application are as follows:

(i) DNA evidence: When the murder weapon, a 58cm rusty iron bar, was first swabbed, it was found to contain a full DNA profile belonging to an unknown male, and another which later matched one of the police officers present when it was discovered, PC Darren Thompson. The campaigners now suggest, following further testing, that the same constable’s sample could potentially be among a mixed profile, of at least three unknown males, recovered from a rust mark on a pillowcase in the bedroom where she was killed – despite the officer not being on duty when the scene was examined – suggesting key evidence may have been contaminated.

~ This part of the application may meet the test for ‘fresh evidence’, not before the jury at the murder trial, if the techniques for DNA profiling have changed since. Otherwise, the CCRC will, quite legitimately, ask why the testing was not carried out pre-trial and the issue of alleged cross-contamination raised there by the defence team. They will, one presumes, also look at what evidence was presented to the jury regarding the murder weapon, the competing arguments during closing speeches and how they were directed on the law on that specific item and, most crucially, whether the campaigners’ fresh information would have impacted on the jury’s route to verdict. The answers to those questions appear to be (a) The weapon has been tested post-facto by a different scientist with results that do not go much further than speculation. (b) The jury was aware that there was no Garbutt DNA on the weapon and there was DNA of the police officer, and at least one other unidentified male identified on it. The defence argued strongly that this was a crucial strand supporting Garbutt’s claimed innocence. (c) The jury was also aware of rust specks on the pillow and cross-contamination onto Garbutt’s clothing. The judge directed them to disregard that piece of scientific evidence. (d) The jury’s finding was that the armed robbery alleged by Garbutt didn’t take place. Largely, as a result, one might fairly infer, of hearing Garbutt’s testimony in the witness box. Which led, immediately afterwards, to the judge revoking his bail mid-trial. This new DNA evidence, if that is how the CCRC classify it, would make no difference at all to the verdict. Particularly, in the light of the DNA on the murder weapon not matching any biometric data on the Police National Computer (PNC). It would be highly unlikely that perpetrators of such a brutal, random, murder and armed robbery would make the quantum transition from ‘clean skins’ to serious, highly dangerous criminals in a single leap. It would also be at least as remarkable that they would have returned to a law-abiding life, having escaped detection from the killing of Diana Garbutt and a successful £16,000 raid on a rural post office.

Conclusion: It is doubtful that this ground would persuade the CCRC that the ‘reasonable prospect of success’ test is met and a referral of the case back to the Court of Appeal would be appropriate. It does, however, raise further grave concerns about the conduct of the police investigation [see also ground (iv) below].

(ii) Time of death: The food digestion scientist who gave expert evidence at trial, Dr Jennifer Miller, has since, the campaigners say, been contradicted by a Home Office pathologist. Jurors heard her proposition that Diana may have died between 2.30am and 4.30am. Well before the Post Office central locking system de-acivated the alarm and allowed the safe to be woken up, at 8.30am. Dr Miller’s report may have further persuaded the jury that Garbutt’s claims of a robbery gone wrong was false, but given that it concerned, bizarrely, the rate of consumption of a fish and chip supper there can be no certainty about that. Especially in the light of the other more conventional scientific evidence put before the jury. The expert now instructed by Garbutt’s legal team, Dr David Rouse, has concluded the time of death may have been much later than 4.30am – possibly even after 6.45am.

~ The matter of the timing of Diana’s death was well ventilated at trial. The key evidence was from the pathologist who examined Diana’s body at the scene, Dr Stuart Hamilton. He was a prosecution witness and gave testimony to the effect that death occured at least one hour before Diana’s body was discovered, and possibly, in the early hours of the morning. Cross-examined by defence counsel, he said that it was “reasonably possible” for death to have occured later. It also emerged that a second pathology report had been commissioned by the Garbutt defence team – and its conclusions were, more or less, the same. A short time after retiring, the jury asked to see the statement of a witness, Brian Hird, who said he heard Diana speaking through a closed door at 6.45am, even though he didn’t know her. As a matter of law, the request was refused, but the jury was plainly alert to the significance, or otherwise, of that evidence and, more widely, the other expert assessments concerning time of death. The new opinion does not appear to alter the position at all.

Conclusion: For all those reasons set out above, it is more likely than not that the CCRC will reject this ground.

(iii) Horizon Software scandal:

Defects in the Post Office’s Fujitsu-driven IT system culminated in them recently settling a high profile High Court case. A consolidated claim, brought by over 500 former postmasters and, unoriginally, known as The Post Office Group Litigation, was heard before Mr Justice Fraser and, ultimately, after a bitter fight, resulted in an award of £58 million in damages (read full judgment here). Although Robin Garbutt is not one of the 60 postmasters and postmistresses who applied to the CCRC, regarding criminal prosecutions brought against them following thefts alleged by the Post Office, it is said that his campaigners hope the added weight of the scandal will help force the criminal justice watchdog into action. 39 cases have already been referred by the watchdog to the Court of Appeal.

~ The attempt to piggyback the scandal by the Garbutt campaigners has been successful to a degree: Their latest application to the CCRC has attracted more press and television coverage than it might otherwise have done. The downside to the strategy is that the resort to leveraging public support in this way simply invites closer attention to how weakly grounded the rest of the application really is. On the The Justice Gap website, they report that the campaigners now assert that similarities in the Horizon failings existed in the Melsonby post office accounts at the material time. That is to say, in simple terms, the software showing more cash deposited in the safe than was actually held there, and the assumption by the Post Office, in all cases, that the difference was pocketed by postmasters. The difficulty for the campaigners, within the terms of this application, is that Robin Garbutt asserted that the sum in the safe – and allegedly stolen by the armed robber – tallied with the accounts. There was no apparent discrepancy. If there was no armed robbery and an empty safe, then the only explanation left is that Robin helped himself to the cash. The CCRC will also be alert to fact that he admitted false accounting during the course of his evidence (“not all the business [receipts] went through the till” he said under cross-examination).

Conclusion: Based on what is set out in the Court of Appeal judgment, regarding the impact on the jury of the Post Office evidence at the murder trial, and the applicable law regarding the proving of motive, this ground appears to be misconceived.

(iv) Television footage of West Road, Melsonby on 24th March, 2010:

This, apparently, shows the wall outside Nixon’s Garage (see blue map pin) where the murder weapon was found the following day. The iron bar is not there. A fact, it is said, confirmed by at least one journalist who sat on the same wall, as a vantage point, on that day. Bill Nixon says he had never seen the bar before on his premises, and that members of the press were stood on that section of wall taking photos. On some television footage, there appears to be a mobile police cabin (from which a forensic science officer emerges) positioned as close as six to eight feet from where the bar was found. It was more or less opposite the rear entrance to the Village Store and Post Office premises.

Screenshot 2020-04-07 at 20.08.22

~ This, again, may meet the fresh evidence test. But the CCRC may adopt a counter argument and say: Why didn’t the defence team challenge more rigorously the peculiar circumstances in which the rusty iron bar was discovered? By, for example, obtaining police and press photographs, and TV film, between the pre-trial review on 28th September, 2010, when the existence of the weapon was first disclosed to them, and the start of the trial in March, 2011? The question is also likely to be asked by the watchdog as to why the journalist(s), or indeed the film crew, didn’t come forward with this vital information in the period between the time the discovery of the iron bar became public knowledge and the early part of 2020? A gap of over 9 years.

Nevertheless, the CCRC will have to anxiously consider these two competing arguments within their overall assessment of the application: (a) Campaigners rightly point to the flawed prosecution hypothesis regarding the murder weapon, in that Robin Garbutt had placed the iron bar on top of the wall after bludgeoning Diana, together with an oblique suggestion that he had scraped his knuckles, that morning, scaling the eight foot high wall. Those factors advance both the arguments that the case against him wasn’t entirely well grounded – and that he suffered further prejudice. (b) On the other hand, conversely and perversely, the absence of the iron bar, for two days after the murder, further undermines the claim, by Garbutt, that the murder was committed by an armed robber. It would be far-fetched in the extreme to expect a criminal of that class to, firstly, hold on to a weapon, with the victim’s DNA upon it (and possibly his own), then, secondly, stealthily return it to a position around 20 metres from the scene of the murder, two days later. Even without the latest evidence, the jury found that Garbutt had lied about the armed robbery and before that, the trial judge, Mr Justice Openshaw, was so concerned about his evidence in the witness box that he revoked his bail and had him remanded in custody for the remainder of the trial. There is, then, the matter of positioning this ‘new evidence’ in the matrix of (c) the overall police conduct of the investigation, which is covered in great detail in two earlier articles on this website: Is police impropriety a factor in the belated discovery of the iron bar so close to the murder scene? No doubt the North Yorkshire force will have plenty to say to the CCRC on that topic, with the considerable benefit of their submissions being made well away from public scrutiny.

Conclusion: This ground is the one that should trouble the independent reviewer the most, and is the only one that may go close to persuading the CCRC that the appropriate test is met. But, irrespective of the watchdog’s ultimate decision, as with ground (i) the latest mystery around the ‘discovery’ of the iron bar raises further serious concerns about the police investigation.

Will the CCRC refer the case back to the Court of Appeal

The key points the CCRC consider, in determining an application, are whether there is a ‘real possibility’ the appeal court would overturn a conviction, sentence or finding and whether this real possibility is due to evidence or argument (or in the case of sentences, evidence or information) which was not put forward in the trial or appeal. This is generally referred to as the need for ‘new [or fresh] evidence’.

‘Real possibility’ was assessed by the High Court in the case of R v CCRC ex
parte Pearson [2000] 1 Cr.App.R. 141 as being “more than an outside chance
or a bare possibility but which may be less than a probability or likelihood or a racing certainty. The Commission must judge that there is at least a
reasonable prospect of a conviction, if referred, not being upheld.”

The CCRC cannot perform a ‘re-run’ of a trial just because the evidence of the defence was not accepted by the jury and the evidence of the prosecution was. They have to be able to present to the appeal court a new piece of evidence or new legal argument, not identified at the time of the trial, that might have changed the whole outcome of the trial if the jury had been given a chance to consider it.

As set out in the previous Robin Garbutt articles on this website, the jury had two main points to resolve, the approximate time of the murderous attack and did the armed robbery actually take place? The Court of Appeal, in 2012, was asked to rule on new evidence brought before them. This was Post Office Ltd records dating back to 2004. At trial, only the records dating back to 2009 were made available to the defence. There was also new evidence, of marginal significance, in regard to variable limits for cash requests, made by postmasters to HQ, which would trigger an enquiry or request for justification. The appeal court ruled that the conviction was not unsafe, as the Garbutt legal team argued. Lord Justice Hughes underscored the jury decision, with comprehensive reasons set out in six lucid paragraphs (26 to 30 in the judgment), that the robbery did not take place, and was one in which they would be very slow to interfere. Those reasons included three generous assumptions in Garbutt’s favour.

Taken individually, or together, the grounds in the latest CCRC application do not appear, from what is in the public domain, to be compelling enough to meet the real possibility test of overturning that finding by both the jury and three law lords. It is also clear from the action taken mid-trial that Mr Justice Openshaw did not believe Garbutt was telling the truth, either.

The overall conclusion, therefore, is that Robin Garbutt and the campaign team face further disappointment. One that is completely at odds with the bullish statement of solicitor, and honorary QC, Glyn Maddocks: ‘The way in which the forensic work has been handled and dealt with is disgraceful. It’s absolutely disgraceful and no-one could possibly argue otherwise’. He adds, ‘It’s just such a shocking case. If it was you, or your relative, you’d be absolutely horrified.’ With the key planks of the original prosecution case having seemingly disintegrated, Mr Maddocks says he is not even sure the Court of Appeal would pursue a retrial if the case is referred back to them.

One thing is abundantly clear; either lawyer, Glyn Maddocks, or journalist, Neil Wilby, will have egg on their face when the CCRC make their decision. The reader can take their pick. But, either way, the public deserve to know, and understand fully, what went wrong with this investigation and why.

Oversight of North Yorkshire Police and the Robin Garbutt investigation

Two of the principal reasons that North Yorkshire Police staggers from crisis to crisis, and from one bungled major investigation to another is a complete lack of oversight from those either elected to provide it, or paid from public funds to do the job.

North Yorkshire’s Julia Mulligan is amongst the four worst police and crime commissioners in the country (two of her friends and policing area neighbours, Barry Coppinger and Mark-Burns-Williamson, also feature in the list) providing almost ZERO oversight. Since she was elected in 2012, in almost every serious situation requiring the holding of the chief constable to account, she has failed miserably. It is a startling dereliction of her statutory duty and one of the reasons that grandees in the Conservative Party decided to unceremoniously dump her as their candidate for the next election.

The top brass in NYP just do as they like, knowing that she has neither the basic knowledge of policing (she was a car salesperson and a media strategist before entering full-time politics) or, more crucially, the will to take strong action.

The so-called police watchdog, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), is already widely regarded as even worse than its failed and disgraced predecessor, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). There has always appeared to be a special relationship between the regional office of the IOPC/IPCC at Wakefield and North Yorkshire Police, whereby even the worst cases of misconduct, or even criminality, are whitewashed away.

Completely divorced from the latest CCRC application, and in order to maintain public confidence in the police, this murder investigation, codenamed Operation Nardoo, really ought to be referred, urgently, to the IOPC by the police commissioner, who should in turn request Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary to recommend an external metropolitan police force, such as Northumbria or West Yorkshire, to thoroughly review the case from start to finish – and re-open it at any time if that is where the evidence takes them.

Screenshot 2020-04-08 at 11.38.36
Interior view of HMP Frankland

When will Robin Garbutt be released from prison

In April 2011, he was sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommendation that he serve not less than 20 years. He will receive credit for the time he spent on remand at HMP Holme Hall between the committal hearing at Northallerton Magistrates Court and the pre-trial review at Teesside Crown Court. There will also be a credit allowed for the time he spent on remand, during the latter stages of the murder trial, after the judge dramatically revoked his bail.

Garbutt would be eligible for parole, therefore, near the end of 2030, under normal circumstances, and provided he had undertaken the necessary rehabilitation programme. The difficulty he faces is that, if he continues to protest his innocence, the parole option falls away and he faces the rest of his life in jail. He would also be denied the opportunity for his detention to be re-classified from the high security Frankland jail to a less rigid regime and, ultimately, an open prison in preparation for a phased release back into society. That prison holds some of the most dangerous offenders in the country.

After a failed criminal court appeal, and three subsequent applications to the CCRC, it is difficult to see how the campaign can sustain if the latest incarnation is also refused. As seems more than likely for all the reasons rehearsed in this article.

Timeline

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

Footnote

The Robin Garbutt Justice Campaign has been exposed, in the course of this investigation, as more white noise than substance. Jane Metcalfe, in particular, whose true attachment to Robin Garbutt she has yet to reveal, is very active on social media and her output is almost entirely confined, in terms, to ‘There is nothing left of the prosecution case’ (without, it seems, understanding what, precisely, it was); ‘Robin is such a nice man he couldn’t possibly have killed Di’ (every single person at trial spoke well of him so there is some substance to that) and, absurdly, ‘Robin Garbutt has always told the truth‘. The latter is, as Sir Peter Openshaw DL (as he is now styled) and senior Crown Prosecutor, Xanthe Tait, observed from their privileged vantage points, a grotesque misrepresentation: He lied to the police; he lied on oath in court and his evidence before the court was, in other aspects, repeatedly unimpressive. Particularly, the belated embellishment in court of accounts he had had given to the police, previously, over many hours of interviews, regarding Diana calling out to him through a closed door and the description of the weapon.

Those characteristics chime with the campaigners‘ modus operandus of ignoring and/or denigrating anything, or anybody, that doesn’t conform to the Garbutt innocence narrative. Including the author of this piece and the CCRC. This behaviour concerns me, having never encountered anything like it before (read more here). The unpleasantness and ready resort to personal abuse by such as Michael Naughton, a private investigator who describes Robin Garbutt as his client, simply adds an even bigger question mark to their activities. If a group is campaigning against a miscarriage of justice then a foundation stone has to be an open book policy, nothing to hide. There is only one version of the truth.

On another troubling tack, Mark Stilborn publicly claims that the Garbutt case is the worst miscarriage of justice he has ever seen. Which begs the question of how many has he actually studied, with the appropriate rigour and objectivity, and how is he is qualified to judge, in any event? On this website there is a very widely read and shared piece concerning a genuine miscarriage of justice that appears to have passed Mark by; the utterly tragic case of Stefan Kiszko (read in full here). A case that, for many years, has been recognised as one of the worst in criminal justice history. On any independent view, Robin Garbutt’s case comes nowhere close. He is, largely, the author of his own misfortune.

The adverse impact on Diana’s family caused by this style of campaigning, headed of course by her mother, Agnes Gaylor, is incalculable. They thought they had closure at the trial; Agnes is is no doubt, whatsoever, about the verdict that marked her son-in-law as the perpetrator of the murder of her daughter. She said recently that she attended every day at the trial and tried to put herself in the place of a juror with an open, independent mind considering only the evidence she had heard in court. The conclusion was inescapable.

This series of articles, of over 40,000 words, are the fruits of an open-minded, independent investigation. They have been almost entirely grounded in the summing up of the trial, running to 106 pages; the Court of Appeal judgment; and piecing together what key witnesses said, verbatim, from contemporaneous newspapers reports during the trial. The entry point was my unique knowledge of the shortcomings of the police force that investigated this shocking crime. The miscarriage of justice campaign seemed credible enough in the beginning, but that confidence soon ebbed away as straight answers to straight questions were repeatedly ducked.

After spending well over 400 hours on the case since January 2020, my conclusion is that Garbutt did not tell the truth about a number of key issues, the central one being the armed robbery. I cannot be quite so emphatic about whether he actually struck the fatal blows to his wife’s head. But if he didn’t, then he knows who did. Otherwise, why invent the robbery story?

Finally, the justice campaigners, and those that blindly support them without being adjacent to the facts, would do well to better understand that Robin Garbutt is not the victim in this case. That mantle, very tragically, falls to Diana and her close family. Nobody twisted an arm to invent the story of the robbery, without which he would probably not have been convicted of the murder of his wife.

Page last updated: Thurssday 2nd July, 2020 at 0810 hours

Photo Credits: ITV News, THIIS.

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.

‘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.Screenshot 2020-04-04 at 12.50.00

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 Coronavirus 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.

Screenshot 2020-04-04 at 12.53.15

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.

The CCRC press office has disclosed that the first appeal was closed in June, 2016 and the sceond appeal, submitted in February, 2017 was closed in July, 2017.

Nevertheless, neither application 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.  Screenshot 2020-03-23 at 16.42.02The 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 £11,000 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 ginnel 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. 

The 2009 reported armed robbery at Melsonby post office took place on the last day that Claudia was seen alive. The pre-occupation with her disappearance, reported by her father, Peter, on 20th March, 2009 may well have resulted in the investigation into the alleged robbery fizzling out quickly.

Operations Rome and Hyson (one flowed into the other) feature extensively on this website as one of the biggest investigation failures 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: Thursday 11th June, 2020 at 2035 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.

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.  

‘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 (or her) 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 for which they had paid £105,000. 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 and 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 his own 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 £1,200 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 through 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 in 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 taken by 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 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 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: Thursday 2nd July, 2020 at 0625 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.

More sex abuse failings uncovered in ‘House of Secrets’

Two weeks ago, the first of a series of five articles was published on this website that will shed more light on the unethical, unprofessional – and in some cases unlawful – conduct of Police and Crime Commissioner, Julia Mulligan, and her growing team of extravagantly rewarded senior officers, headquartered in what has previously been dubbed ‘The House of Secrets‘.

This second article re-opens the running sore of extracting disclosure from the PCC’s office and, in doing so, also re-visits two other long held concerns: Failing to hold the chief constable to account and Mrs Mulligan’s apparent distaste in addressing alleged senior police officer failings over child sexual exploitation.

A more recent concern, since he was appointed in 2017, is the ineffectiveness, duplicity and sleight of hand of her deputy, Will Naylor. That was explored in some detail in the first article in this series (read here).

On 24th January, 2019 a simple enquiry was sent by email to Naylor. It concerned matters already well ventilated in the public domain. The catalyst for the request was Mrs Mulligan’s extraordinary, and belated, claim that she had been raped as a 15 year old, together with inside information passed to me about her former chief constable. To the effect that he had, allegedly, not co-operated with the Greater Manchester Mayor’s inquiry into police failings around the Rochdale and Manchester ‘Curry Mile’ child sex abuse scandal.

That, of course, is his inalienable right. It was not a judicial, or even a Departmental inquiry, to which witnesses could be summonsed. Except that the State is funding his gold-plated pension, worth around £70,000 per annum. The reasonable expectation is, therefore, that he should have given evidence. Cleared the air. The corollary being that adverse inference may be drawn if he has not.

The request for information from the Deputy PCC was expressed in the following terms:

“You may recall that, at the last PCP meeting I attended, at Selby Civic Centre in January 2018, it was brought into public knowledge, by Cllr Peter Dew, that a complaint had been raised against the then chief constable [Dave Jones]. At the time, and my notebook records this, Julia told the Panel that there would be a robust, thorough investigation. The PCP minutes (see attached) do not reflect that, but I am sure that the tape recording of the meeting will.

“I am told, by a policing source, that there was a disapplication and no investigation by the PCC took place into Mr Jones’ alleged knowledge of child sex abuse and the shutting down of police investigation(s) by senior officers within GMP. No further mention of the matter is recorded in subsequent PCP minutes. Cllr Dew, of course, left the Panel last year over Julia’s unpleasant behaviour towards him, which further obscures the issue.

“In summary, and please forgive the convoluted route, can you please tell me [1] on what date a recording decision was made regarding the complaint raised by Cllr Dew in the PCP meeting against Mr Jones, and [2] the outcome?

“It is not possible to distil such knowledge from the scant information provided on NYPCC website.

https://www.northyorkshire-pfcc.gov.uk/how-can-we-help/complaints/complain-chief-constable/

The reply from Naylor, after the standard delaying tactics, was short and to the point:

“In response to your questions about the response to a Chief Constable complaint (sic), I am unable to share that information with you. We publish the overall number of complaints against the Chief Constable (current and past), and actions taken thereafter. We do not, and do not intend to, go into the detail of each of those with about (sic) individuals who were not part of that complaint.”

This email was sent by way of reply:

Screen Shot 2019-02-16 at 09.21.19

As of 22nd February, 2019 that email had been ignored by all the recipients. Not even the courtesy of an acknowledgement. A polite reminder, sent to Jane Wintermeyer, on 15th February, 2019 urging her to deal with the matter, at her earliest convenience has also remained unanswered.

In the meantime, other enquiries had revealed a troubling chain of events. It was discovered that the complaint against ex-chief constable, Dave Jones, had been made on 8th December, 2017 by Anthony Nixon, a retired solicitor and North Yorkshire resident. It followed the refusal by Jones to respond to a letter sent to him, by Mr Nixon, following the airing of the seminal BBC documentary series, Three Girls. 

Mr Nixon holds the view, shared by a number of others, including some very high profile Greater Manchester Police whistleblowers, that Jones, Head of the Criminal Investigation Division of GMP at the material time, may know more about the shutting down of complaints of child rape, within his operational area, than he is prepared to admit. Put shortly, the allegation is that either Jones (and others) was complicit, or he was incompetent and negligent in his duties with the most awful consequences for hundreds of victims in Rochdale and on the Manchester ‘Curry Mile’.

On 29th March, 2018, Dave Jones, less than three months after the complaint against him was aired at the Police and Crime Panel meeting by Cllr Dew, did what is described in Yorkshire as a ‘moonlight flit’. He was not seen again on duty after that date. He had booked annual leave until 9th April, 2018, then gave notice of his retirement on that day. In the same moment, he went on sick leave until the end of his notice period, 9th July, 2018. He collected over £40,000 from the taxpayer during that short time. Not a word has been heard of him since.

PCC Mulligan has never explained why she, at first, gave two misleading accounts over her chief constable’s shock exit and has not, since, pursued Jones over breach of the service contract he signed, that should have kept him in post at NYP HQ until 2020. A freedom of information request I made to her office confirms that no legal action was taken against him.

The reason she has given for Jones’ disappearance is that ‘he wants to spend more time with his family’. Giving up at least £350,000 in salary and benefits to do so. The reader is invited to draw their own conclusion as to the plausibility of that arrangement.

An underperforming chief constable, who failed miserably in the running of almost every single operational area of his police force, in the five years he was in post; had little regard for the law or other regulatory strictures; overspent his budget by over £1,000,000 in each of his last three years in post; scarcely faced a single word of criticism from the elected official, whose primary functions include setting the budget for the police force and holding the chief constable to account: PCC Julia Mulligan.

Conversely, and perversely, she made excuse after excuse after excuse, each more implausible than the last, to explain away a lengthy series of catastrophic failings. The only recorded criticism that can be traced is over the rating of North Yorkshire Police as ‘inadequate’ over the recording of crime. This finding was made by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary in March, 2018. 

Whether the complaint against Jones, by Mr Nixon, was a factor in the unexpected departure of Jones is still a matter of speculation, but the likelihood of that is diminished by the discovery that, on 26th January, 2018, a letter from the PCC’s office was received by Mr Nixon. It was signed off by Fraser Sampson, the chief executive, and set out the reason why the complaint against Jones would not proceed: Essentially, claims Mr Sampson, the complaint was a repeat of another made in 2015, over much the same matters. It ignores completely the issues raised by the complainant that could only have come to light since 2015.

There is another troubling feature, insofar as the four year investigation, relied on by Sampson (Operation Span), to dismiss the second of Mr Nixon’s complaints, did not cover either the relevant period, or the GMP senior management, of which Jones was, of course, a key player. An even more concerning aspect is that Span was a joint enterprise between the disgraced Independent Police Complaints Commission and GMP’s notorious Professional Standards Branch, the latter charged with investigating their own officers. Unsurprisingly, in spite of 1,000’s of preventable criminal and very serious offences of child rape, trafficking and exploitation, not one single GMP officer faced misconduct proceedings.

It has transpired that Mr Nixon was completely unaware, until I told him very recently, that his complaint had been raised in the PCP meeting by Cllr Dew, a retired North Yorkshire Police officer who served for 30 years, from 1971 onwards. Mrs Mulligan, Fraser Sampson and Will Naylor were all present in that meeting, but neglected to keep Mr Nixon informed. Indeed, there was no communication at all between him and the PCC’s office betwen his complaint being made on 8th December, 2018 and the Sampson decision letter seven weeks later. A recording decision should have been provided to Mr Nixon within 10 working days to comply with the applicable statutory framework.

In fact, on 15th January, 2019, as he was perfectly entitled to do, Mr Nixon made a complaint against Mrs Mulligan over her failure to respond to his complaint against Jones. He did, however, make that complaint to the IPCC, who by then had attempted to disguise their dreadful reputation with a name change to Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), rather than to the Police and Crime Panel, who are the ‘Appropriate Authority’, in terms of the legislation, for dealing with such matters.

Nevertheless, the IOPC forwarded the complaint to the PCP for them to deal with. The fate of that complaint, and the troubling manner in which it was dealt with, is the subject of a further article, yet to be published. Put shortly, the PCP did not even record the complaint against Mrs Mulligan, even though she has been criticised by Panel members, on a number of occasions, over her office’s handling of correspondence and dealing with complaints.

Mr Nixon maintains, and it is a strong argument, that without them being made aware, by the IOPC and then, in turn, the PCP, of the consequent complaint against Mrs Mulligan, his issues concerning Dave Jones would have been ignored altogether by both the PCC and Mr Sampson.  With, or without, the intervention of Peter Dew.

The Nixon hypothesis is supported strongly by the fact that no report to the PCP, over the fate of the complaint against Jones, was made at the meeting in February, 2018. Or, at any subsequent meeting. Cllr Dew has, helpfully, confirmed that he was not informed, either. He was aware that a matter raised by Mr Nixon had been referred to the IPCC (IOPC) at the time, but was, quite understandably, not clear as to either the substance, or its outcome. Particularly, as he resigned from the PCP in July 2018 before Mr Nixon’s IPCC/IOPC/PCP matter was settled.

It is fair to say that the failure to record Mr Nixon’s complaint, which taken at its face, and after filtering out the hyperbole, appears to have merit, was brushed under the carpet by PCC Mulligan. She plainly hoped that the matter would be forgotten about. As it very nearly was.

The allegations, in any event, decayed when Jones left North Yorkshire Police. The sex abuse victims in Rochdale and Manchester, and the police whistleblower who first brought the matter to light, Maggie Oliver, incensed at the outcome of Operation Span, were undoubtedly let down once again. This time by a police commissioner who portrays herself, quite wrongly in my own personal, and professional experience, as a victims’ champion.

This was not the first time child sex abuse victims were let down by senior officers within North Yorkshire Police and Julia Mulligan. The antics of both, as a large number victims of such abuse at the hands of former BBC celebrity, Jimmy Savile and ‘Mr Scarborough’, Peter Jaconelli, was painstakingly uncovered by two citizen journalists, Nigel Ward and Tim Hicks, contributing to the North Yorkshire Enquirer website, simply beggared belief.

The two journalists were subject to a £1 million pursuit by the police, enthusiastically funded by Mrs Mulligan, in order to silence the Enquirer’s stinging criticism of the force and the PCC whom, between them, had found not a single Jaconelli or Savile victim. The police, and its commissioner, went to extraordinary lengths to deflect rebuke, despite the fact that the two infamous perverts had offended, unchecked, for decades in North Yorkshire. There appears to be little, or no, trace of support for those victims and a reluctant, mealy-mouthed apology was eventually squeezed out of the now retired assistant chief constable, Paul Kennedy.

Dave Jones, chief constable at the time, remained silent on the topic, apart from leading the disgraceful criminal, then civil, action against the journalists (read more here). Others notably involved as claimants in that private civil action, fully paid from the public purse, were Jones’ deputy, Tim Madgwick, who is now, incredibly, Chair of York Safeguarding Board and, even more incredibly, the present NYP chief constable, Lisa Winward.

The Jaconelli and Savile ‘cover-up’, by the force and its beleagured PCC, repeatedly alleged by the Enquirer, is serious enough of itself. Many thousands of words have been written about the scandal by Messrs Hicks, Ward and other media outlets. Viewed in the light of what now may also be a second alleged ‘cover-up’ involving child sex abuse and North Yorkshire Police, or, at least its most recent ex-chief, and the PCC, and the well-publicised and catastrophic failings of the force’s Protecting Vulnerable Persons Unit (PVPU), also glossed over by Mrs Mulligan at the time (read more here), a deeply troubling pattern emerges.

On any view, it does not sit well with her own positioning as a victims’ champion. Nor does it chime with her recent ‘stage-managed’ claim to have been raped, as a 15 year old, and relating it to the desperate fate of the child sex abuse victims in Rotherham and the ‘Me Too‘ campaign. Absurd, given that all those victims have, very bravely, named their attackers and supported prosecutions, where appropriate.

A story, according to a very reliable source, that was published by the Yorkshire Post as a quid pro quo for that newspaper burying reports over Julia Mulligan’s association with convicted kidnapper, Mujeeb ur Rehman Bhutto. She is alleged to have asked a member of her PCC staff to trawl through her personal Facebook account and delete all references to Bhutto. A Conservative campaigner, and donor, that Mrs Mulligan now claims was just one of three hundred people working on her campaign to become an MP in 2010.

This Bhutto/Mulligan exclusive was published by the Northern Echo (read full story here), two days before the Post’s public relations exercise, and produced what is described by an insider as a ‘nuclear reaction‘ from the short-fused police chief. She had previously told a select group of journalists (which, of course, excluded myself) that she had been sexually assaulted in her earlier life, but asked them not to publish any details.

The police commissioner’s rape claim – and her insistence that it is not investigated and the alleged rapist not brought to book – is the subject of another searching article that will be published on this website in the very near future.

Julia Mulligan, Fraser Sampson, Jane Wintermeyer and Will Naylor have all been offered right of reply. As has the Police and Crime Panel.

Only Mrs Wintermeyer has responded: “No comment, thanks”

Page last updated on Wednesday 27th February, 2019 at 1030hrs

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 2015-2019. 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.

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).

“”

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

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.

 

 

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.

UPDATE:

Via his campaigning associate, Andy Peacher, a lengthy diatriabe was received from Peter Hofschröer on 25th July, 2018. Over a year after this article was first published. It purports to be a right of reply. He informs that he is currently held on an indeterminate sentence at Sigmund-Freud-Klinikum in Graz, Austria. This is a secure, psychiatric unit.

This is a precis of what Mr Hofschröer claims are ‘errors’ in the article:

  1. He is not a convicted paedophile. Teesside Crown Court is not a court of law in his view.
  2. The Austrian court in which he was convicted was also improperly constituted.
  3. His Article 6 convention rights were breached at both courts.
  4. There were serious police and/or prosecutorial defects in both courts.
  5. One psychologist has ‘demolished’ the report of another, who found that he suffered various mental illnesses and was a paedophile.
  6. Mr Hofschröer asserts, that according to this one professional opinion, he is perfectly sane and is not a paedophile.
  7. It is claimed that the eye-witness account by one of his own supporters, present for the hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice, is wrong. According to Mr Hofschröer there were no firearm offences, further sex abuse offences, and slander charges mentioned by the judge in that court.
  8. There was no valid reason to extradite Mr Hofschröer to Austria and sentence him to lifetime detention.
  9. The recall to HMP Preston was contrived.
  10. Mr Hofschröer’s ‘many supporters and various Human Rights organisations’ have, thus far, prevented ‘liquid cosh’ being administered to him.
  11. It is denied that Mr Hofschröer bears considerable ill-will towards certain of his family members.
  12. Mr Hofschröer asserts that there were over twenty separate ‘false’ allegations made against him. All were investigated by North Yorkshire Police and with the exception of one, all were ‘dropped due to lack of evidence’. He has, so far, declined the request to provide a schedule of those allegations.
  13. Mr Hofschröer asserts that he did not tell HHJ Gosnell that his Article 6 convention rights were engaged in the Operation Hyson proceedings and absented himself entirely from proceedings immediately thereafter (I was sat in the press seats immediately opposite the video screen upon which he appeared from HMP Hull).
  14. There are a series of other derogatory remarks made that thread through Mr Hofschröer’s document. It serves no useful purpose to engage the reader with those.

There will be no further engagement with Mr Hofschröer concerning his right of reply. With the notable exception of the list of allegations that has been requested.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

stream_img

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.

KENYON_MADGWICK

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.