Cost of silencing police force critics now approaches £1 million

Tuesday 9th February marked the first anniversary of the initial hearing of a civil harassment claim that is known, curiously, as Hofschröer and others –v- Hofschröer and others. On the face of it, a family dispute gone wrong concerning title to a property formerly owned by a deceased father and an ailing mother.

But behind that domestic façade lies three other matters of significant public interest:

Firstly, this dispute principally concerns the widely publicised ‘Grandma B’ case in which both North Yorkshire Police and York City Council have been criticised heavily over the treatment of disabled World War Two veteran, Barbara Hofschröer. Her son, Peter, has been fighting for justice, on behalf of his mother, since 2008.

Secondly, two citizen journalists who write for the website news magazine, North Yorkshire Enquirer, are also defendants in what appears to be an attempt to silence them from publicising the shortcomings of the police, and other public authorities. The two scribes, Tim Hicks and Nigel Ward are best known for their work exposing scandals involving the late Peter Jaconelli, for many years the face of the seaside town of Scarborough, and the country’s most notorious sex offender, Sir Jimmy Savile.

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Thirdly, this civil action has been publicly funded on the authority of Julia Mulligan, the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire (NYPCC). This move, which many believe is unlawful, and a grotesque waste of public money, has allegedly cost taxpayers a sum approaching a million pounds already.

There are nine claimants listed on court papers accessible to the public. They have been identified as three serving police officers and six civilians (one retired police officer, a former Police Authority chair, a former Council social worker and three Hofschröer family members). The direct legal funding this group has received already is believed to be in excess of £300,000 or £33,333 each, give or take small change. The precise figures have been requested from both the police, and the NYPCC, but they have elected to break freedom of information law rather than disclose the latest invoices from their lawyers. An earlier disclosure put the lawyers’ fees at £164,919 up to mid-September, 2015 (Read FoI outcome here).

The three serving police officers involved in the harassment claim are the Chief Constable, Dave Jones; the Deputy Chief Constable, Tim Madgwick and Head of Uniformed Operations, C/Supt Lisa Winward. The retired officer is ex-Supt Heather Pearson and the former NYPA chair is Jane Kenyon-Miller (pictured below alongside Mr Madgwick). A very powerful group indeed, who have allegedly already spent £450,000 internally in trying to stem the flow of criticism against their police force, by pursuing a criminal ‘investigation’ codenamed Operation Rome. The Crown Prosecution Service twice rebuffed approaches by North Yorkshire Police to permit charges to be made against Mr Hofschöer and Mr Hicks. Mr Ward was not, at any time, interviewed or even contacted by police in connection with this matter.

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On 20th January 2015 civil court papers were, ostensibly, served on the three defendants without any prior notice. The Court’s own strict rules demand that such a step is taken under what is known as pre-action protocol. Clearly, this requirement was not followed and there is no explanation yet available why the police, the NYPCC and their legal team chose to act in such a way. On any independent view, it had the appearance of an ambush.

By this time, Peter Hofschröer was on remand in HMP Wandsworth having been arrested by North Yorkshire Police detectives outside the magistrates court in York on 4th December, 2014 whilst trying to file papers against other members of his family that he believed would protect the interest of his mother. He claims, quite reasonably, that court papers concerning the civil claim made by the nine defendants – including his brother, sister-in-law and nephew, did not reach him prior to his transfer from Wandsworth to HMP Hull.

In Nigel Ward’s case, the court papers were sent to the wrong address and left on the doorstep outside an empty property for forty-eight hours, accessible to public inspection. North Yorkshire Police, surprisingly, did not refer themselves to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) over this calamitous data protection breach, including personal data concerning their own two most senior officers. Mr Ward has, quite correctly, reserved all rights concerning the unlawful disclosure of his own personal data.

At the first hearing in Leeds High Court on 9th February, 2015 the claimants sought an interim injunction against the two journalists – and Mr Hofschröer – that effectively ordered the defendants to take down articles published about the nine claimants, and prevented each of the three defendants from contacting the claimants by phone, email or in person. It was a draconian move, and the police-funded claimants were represented at court by two barristers, Simon Myerson QC and Hannah Lynch. These legal heavyweights were instructed by leading Leeds law firm Ford and Warren (since taken over by Weightmans).

This second phase of the North Yorkshire Police action, codenamed Operation Hyson, was launched following advice given to them by ‘a leading, specialist barrister’, believed to be Mr Myerson (pictured below) after Rome had fallen.

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The two journalists were both represented by London human rights barrister, Ian Brownhill, instructed by Nottingham solicitors, Bhatia Best. Recruited at very short notice, the lawyers performed a minor miracle in reading a huge volume of paperwork, and preparing a defence, over the weekend before the first hearing.

The outcome of that court hearing was in two parts: An interim injunction was granted against the absent, and unrepresented, Mr Hofschröer and a consent order was sealed by the judge, His Honour Mark Gosnell, which effectively maintained the status quo between the claimants and the two journalists. It meant, in real terms, that none of the articles complained about, by the claimants, were taken down by any of the defendants, including Mr Hofschröer who has no access to a computer whilst held in jail.

Mr Brownhill had also raised the issue of ultra vires that, in layman’s terms, means there is serious doubt in his mind about the legality of public funding being used, by the police, to finance civil litigants in a harassment claim.

Subsequent hearings over Operation Hyson took place at Leeds Combined Court, before HHJ Gosnell, in June and November, 2015. The matter was transferred from the High Court to the County Court at the first of these hearings, at which directions were given to all parties in preparation for a trial that was scheduled to begin on 7th December, 2015. At the later hearing – which was listed as a pre-trial review – summary judgment was granted in favour of the nine claimants against Mr Hofschröer after he elected not to take part in the proceedings citing breaches of his Article Six convention rights. This left the two journalists as the remaining defendants in the claim. The judge ordered that the December trial date be vacated and a further case management hearing to be listed for 20th January, 2016. HHJ Gosnell also advanced the view to counsel representing both sides that every effort to settle the matter should have been made by that date.

The January hearing, conducted in the judge’s chambers by telephone conference, resulted in no settlement being reached and, as a consequence, a trial window opened by HHJ Gosnell between April and July, 2016 with a time estimate for the final hearing of seven days. This is to allow an additional period for the claimants to file further evidence in support of their claim against the journalists, a year to the day since they issued proceedings. The Court have recently confirmed that the trial is set to open on 20th July, 2016.

A trial of this duration is likely to place a further burden on the taxpayer of around £100,000, given that there is no reasonable prospect, based on recent legal precedent, of the litigation achieving its two-tier objective. A harassment finding for each of the nine claimants against each of the two remaining defendants, is the first hurdle. Only if that threshold is reached could the court consider that an injunction against two journalists was the appropriate remedy.

A press statement concerning the outcome of the January 2016 hearing was requested, from the PCC and the Chief Constable, during a recent Police Scrutiny Board meeting held a few days afterwards, but the opportunity was declined by both police chiefs. The reasons for doing so bear no examination (see Scrutiny Board podcast here).

There are also the substantial internal costs incurred by the North Yorkshire Force Solicitor, Jane Wintermeyer, and her staff, to consider. Marshalling nine claimants and instructing the two Weightmans solicitors dealing with the matter, over a period of fifteen months, would not come cheap. Mrs Wintermeyer also canvassed other high profile public officials, including Rebecca Reed, a senior manager engaged with the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), prior to the issue of proceedings in order to add substance to the North Yorkshire Police’s Rome and Hyson investigations.

During the January 2016 case management hearing, the issue of ultra vires and abuse of process was raised again by Mr Brownhill. He was told by HHJ Gosnell that the question of whether this claim falls to be determined as vires or ultra vires, is in his view, an arguable case. But, not one that would be heard before him in the County Court. A separate public law challenge would have to be mounted in the Administrative Court. One of the defendants, Mr Ward has confirmed that this process will soon be in train.

The Police and Crime Commissioner originally claimed to have sought ‘independent legal advice’ on the vires issue on 12th January, 2015 (read her formal statement here) but has, so far, not disclosed the invoices from her solicitor and counsel that would prove that point, following a freedom of information request. Mrs Mulligan was prepared to break the law rather than either disclose the information, or admit it doen’t actually exist. Her latest claim is that the advice was not provided in writing by the ‘leading barrister’ involved in January 2015, but given verbally in a meeting on 15th October, 2014. A meeting at which it is known Mr Myerson was present, by reference to his invoice sent to NYP that covers the day in question.

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Mrs Mulligan (pictured above with Chief Constable Jones) undoubtedly faces a difficult few weeks ahead as both the merits of Operations Rome and Hyson, the subsequent civil court trial, and the source of it’s funding, come under intense scrutiny during the forthcoming PCC election campaign.

Since this article was first published on 7th February, 2016 information has been obtained about a referral from the Parliamentary Committee for Public Accounts to the National Audit Office concerning the legality of the decision to spend public money financing private claims (read more here).

The press officers for both North Yorkshire Police and the Police Commissioner have been offered the opportunity to comment but none has been forthcoming, so far.

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Page last updated on Sunday 1st May, 2016 at 0945hrs

© 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.

Photo credits: Twitter (@SCynic1), North Yorkshire Enquirer and Office of Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire

 

Former Police Authority Chair in fresh Alderman storm

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To many in the picturesque coastal towns of Scarborough and Whitby, and an even larger number across the broader acres of North Yorkshire, the very thought that Jane Margaret Kenyon could be worthy of a special civic honour would be anathema.

Miss Kenyon endured a chequered history during her political career as a councillor in Scarborough; whilst in her seat on North Yorkshire County Council; and in her role as Chair of North Yorkshire Police Authority (NYPA). She was also a failed Parliamentary candidate, having stood for Huddersfield West as a Conservative nominee in 1991.

As Chair of NYPA, she was in post when the force failed to net the country’s most notorious sex abuser, Jimmy Savile and it is inconceivable that she was one of the very few people in the area who were not aware, however obliquely, of the serial sex offending of Council colleague, and former Mayor of Scarborough, Peter Jaconelli. Indeed, it has been recently revealed that Jaconelli was actually charged with sexually abusing a Spanish waiter during his mayoral year. The case was later mysteriously dropped.

Miss Kenyon was also in the NYPA hot seat during the Grahame Maxwell and Adam Briggs scandals that brought national media attention of the worst kind to North Yorkshire Police.

It was also Jane Kenyon who abused her role as Chair in attempting to have journalist Tim Hicks arrested, on entirely spurious claims of criminal harassment, which resulted in a lengthy post-interview state of hiatus but no arrest, no disclosure of any offence committed, or any further action by the police except a senior detective telling Hicks his articles were ‘damaging the reputation of North Yorkshire Police‘.

It was a spiteful, vindictive act by Miss Kenyon (whom police officers referred to throughout the Hicks interview as ‘Jane’) designed only to intimidate a reporter trying to do his job exposing misconduct in public authorities. What has now belatedly emerged is that Miss Kenyon lied in her witness statement as part of those police enquiries (read more here)

Calls for Miss Kenyon to resign as Chair of the Police Authority stretch as far back as 2005 when, unsurprisingly in the light of what was to follow, financial irregularities were uncovered by auditors in the accounts management of the police. A full York Evening Press report can be read here. It is a a damning indictment of her stewardship at NYPA.

There was a further, widely reported call for Kenyon to resign in 2007: This time the scandal centred on the waste of hundreds of thousands of pounds for 27 luxury cars, for which the senior police officers using them had not received appropriate training. (Scarborough News coverage here ). Another sorry tale of financial mismanagement.

There was, in between times, the Chief Constable Della Cannings profligacy scandal, particularly when the cost of a shower next to her office cost £28,000. Phil Willis, Liberal Democrat MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough at the time, accused her of turning the local police into “a laughing stock”, while the Yorkshire Post revealed further details of Cannings’ extravagant and self-glorifying behaviour, including a HQ sculpture garden and a building to be named in her honour. Not to mention her cock-a-doodle-do telephone ringtone, and the poor-taste joke about her ‘vibrator’. All this, again, on Kenyon’s watch at the Police Authority. The fact that Ms Canningswas a regular vistor to Miss Kenyon’s home between Scarborough and Whitby would, of course, be entirely unconnected. They are both pictured below.

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It is also in my own certain knowledge, following a lengthy interchange with Dr Judith Heeley, who was then Treasurer for both West Yorkshire Police Authority (WYPA) and the NYPA, prior to her retirement, that certain cross-Authority ‘deals’ and staffing arrangements were not at all to the advantage of NYPA, yet had been signed off by Kenyon.

Interestingly, shortly after election as Police & Crime Commissioner, Julia Mulligan ended some, if not all, of those financial arrangements.

As a County and Borough councillor, Kenyon has featured in the national press over a number of scandals, which include the infamous ‘double-dipping’ farrago where elected North Yorkshire representatives were shamelessly drawing allowances for exactly the same item from two different public purses. Her association as Chief Financial Officer with Belvedere Computers Inc in the United States, where a trail of debt and unpaid employees was left in its wake along with the whiff of a ‘long firm fraud’, and the similarly ill-starred Dales Timber Ltd which left creditors nursing £250,000 of debt headaches, do not chime well with Kenyon’s role in charge of oversight of a police force, or her legal and financial portfolio responsibilities as a councillor. Neither do failure to register interests appropriately, as a public official, as required under the Localism Act 2011.

Brought up in Huddersfield, and a graduate of the exclusive, fee-paying Wakefield Girls High School, the charismatic Kenyon holds a special interest to the author of this piece. Not least because her father, Sir Bernard Kenyon, was Clerk of the former West Riding County Council based in Wakefield. He was a formidable figure in the area, but fell from grace through his improper association with the famously corrupt architect, John Poulson. The modernistic palace named ‘Manasseh’ that Poulson built on the edge of his home village, Carleton on the outskirts of Pontefract, was actually directly opposite my first ever home, ‘West Haugh’, after fleeing my parents’ nest.

Jane Kenyon and I actually met at a charity function in the Royal Hotel during my time as managing director of the now defunct Scarborough Evening News. She was charm and grace personified.

Her marriage in January 2014, after a long term adulterous relationship, to another Scarborough councillor noted for financial chicanery, Thomas William Miller, does leave the independent observer with the view that scandal is never far from Jane Kenyon’s door. Or, as she is sometimes now known: Jane Kenyon-Miller. The corporate and financial dealings of Bill Miller (as he is more commonly known), over a very long period, don’t bear too much scrutiny – but it serves no useful purpose to rehearse them here. It is not ‘Nine Dollar Bill’ that is being lined up for an ill-deserved civic honour.

Which brings the reader, neatly, to the thrust of this piece: Jane Kenyon was given the considerable honour of becoming a Honorary Alderman of the Borough of Scarborough at a specially convened meeting on 23rd October, 2015, despite some vigorous objections raised by me, and others more local to the Borough. In the course of my interchange with the Council’s press officer, Gabrielle Jandzio, on this subject, it has become clear that I was deliberately misled by none other than the Council’s Legal Services Manager, Lisa Dixon, and her subordinate, David Kitson, who set out to falsely misrepresent the contents of correspondence concerning a previous complaint made against Mrs Dixon to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

This is the same Lisa Dixon who tried to prevent local journalists Nigel Ward, and the aforementioned Tim Hicks, uncovering a series of embarrassing stories about her and Scarborough Council by threatening to have their website closed down. The website is still functioning normally, today, when I checked. Indeed, this is one of the more interesting pieces I found concerning Jane Kenyon (click here).

The Real Whitby material on Scarborough Council’s frequent misdemeanours is also, as far as I can see, replicated on the more recent North Yorks Enquirer website. There has been no challenge by Mrs Dixon to the content of that website, thus far.

The SRA are now aware that a complaint will be lodged over this issue once my enquiries into the matter are complete and, it has emerged, that there is already a previous complaint against Mrs Dixon on file. Although this was misrecorded by the SRA, as a complaint against Scarborough Borough Council, rather than Mrs Dixon. A matter, presently, the subject of an appeal by the complainant.

Several freedom of information requests were made to the Council concerning the process leading to the nomination of Jane Kenyon for Alderman status. Unsurprisingly, the Council failed to respond within the statutory twenty working day period with the information and it soon become clear that significant tranches of material had been deliberately withheld by Mr Kitson, who signed off the disposal letter. A review of that decision requested in September has failed to draw any response whatsoever and the matter is now with the Information Commissioner’s office for determination. Both regulatory and civil action is contemplated over Kitson’s conduct of these matters: His disposition in flagrantly circumventing the law of the land does not sit well with his status as a solicitor, and more crucially, an Officer of the Court

Having recently faced the ignominy of obliterating Peter Jaconelli (who would have been prosecuted for multiple child sex offences were he still alive) from the honours boards in the Town Hall at Scarborough, it is difficult to gauge the rationale for the Council bringing down another firestorm of criticism upon itself.

However, in a sensational twist to the Kenyon tale, another seriously damaging allegation has had further light shed upon it. New and probative evidence has been passed to me, anonymously, concerning an alleged fraudulent benefit fraud claim made by Bill Miller. This was the subject of an article in Private Eye magazine in May 2014 and followed an attempt by Scarborough Council to smear Nigel Ward. This backfired spectacularly when Ward was able to hand the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) investigator a copy of the able-bodied Miller’s 1996 ‘disability claim’ which had been leaked to him from the Town Hall. Now, there is an audio recording in which a leading Borough and County Councillor, David Jeffels, is heard, very clearly, to discuss a fraudulent claim by a local Councillor which, allegedly, was settled at a tribunal by payment of a sum, thought to be £25,000, by the alleged benefits cheat. Incredibly, if all this is true, and can be linked to the Private Eye story on Miller (and by default Kenyon) it would leave Council lawyer Mrs Dixon scratching her head: She is already supposed to have investigated this matter – and presumably filed it in the ‘nothing to see here’ box. It also puts the Council in another tight spot and, potentially, facing the eradication of another name from the Alderman honours board.

I have also very recently seen documents that confirm that Bill Miller is, in fact, under investigation by the DWP and there is a hearing scheduled for early Summer 2016.

In this regard, it is worth noting that her local electorate in the Mayfield ward turfed Kenyon off the Council at the last election, in May 2015. Not inconceivably, as a result of all the negative publicity she had visited upon the town over her scandalous conduct. It is reported that she left the election count in tears, after the result was announced. She is also reportedly furious with the Real Whitby and North Yorkshire Enquirer journalists for exposing scandal after scandal about her, as if they had no right whatsoever to do so

Following the blanking out of Jaconelli’s name there were 26 Honorary Aldermen remaining on the board in the Town Hall at Scarborough. It now seems certain, as more and more allegations surface about Jane Kenyon, that sometime in the coming months there will be another blank space after the rubbing out of another disgraced civic figure.

Another interesting, and high profile, past nomination was that of Cllr Eileen Bosomworth (whom I have also met). She was the Leader of the Council during the nationally notorious £56 million High Point Rendel scandal, but despite the strong stench of corruption and lawlessness around the whole affair, and only serving fourteen years rather than the requisite sixteen, less than two years later Mrs Bosomworth was conferred with the honour of Alderman.

Just as strange as the 2013 decision by North Yorkshire County Council to make Jane Kenyon an Alderman of the County. But, of course, at that time knowledge of her misdemeanours was not no widespread – and the efforts to silence her critics not quite so frantic. Or, as well funded via the public purse.

Mrs Kenyon-Miller was not available for comment prior to publication of this article. I am presently trying to track down Bill Miller: last seen emerging from his Mercedes motor car  (Reg no TWM 1) parked on double yellow lines outside Scarborough Town Hall. He appeared remarkably sprightly for a man reputedly disabled for the past twenty years.

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Follow me on Twitter: @Neil_Wilby

Page last updated on Monday 29th February, 2016 at 1415hrs

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