When the ‘cover-up’ becomes the story

Hi, Mabs. Ian Hopkins speaking.”

So began the search for a new member of the most troubled command team in British policing. Even before the post was advertised. In footballing parlance, Chief Superintendent Maboob “Mabs” Hussain from the neighbouring West Yorkshire force (WYP) had been “tapped up”.

Hopkins, the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) chief constable, ultimately, and he thought seamlessly, secured the transfer of Mabs from a rival team across the Pennines. Even though the tapping up did cause some discomfort within the GMP command team, emails disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act reveal.

The phone call was made on the same day that Hopkins and his deputy, Ian Pilling, claim they decided that another assistant chief constable was needed to bolster their dwindling team: 19th July, 2018. But no notes in day books were made, no meeting or briefing notes, no team discussion, no decision rationale, no disclosable data at all. Just a spur of the moment, informal discussion it seems.

It also appears that the police and crime commissioner was not consulted, either, as required by law.

But, those not so minor issues apart, all seemed fine and dandy; slick dresser Mabs had got a promotion, some might say well-deserved, and a pay rise of around £40,000, including benefits; Hopkins had been able to disguise the fact that no other senior police officer in the country wanted to work for him AND he had a black minority ethic (BAME) face in his leadership team, to underscore his commitment to the police service’s obsession with diversity. Smiles and handshakes all round.

Except that Hopkins had the dubious distinction of having, at that time,  TWO disgraced assistant chief constables on long-term absence from the force, with neither expected to return. The cost to the taxpayer was around £250,000 per annum. Which, in terms the man, or woman, on the crime-riddled, poverty-stricken streets of Manchester might understand, would pay for ten bobbies on the beat. Or, more than adequately feed fifteen families of five for a year.

The first of those, ACC Steve Heywood, is presently awaiting a charging decision from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) after an investigation by The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC, but perhaps better known as the IPCC). The latter said, in May 2018:

“Our investigation looked at the evidence given by ACC Steven Heywood at the [Anthony Grainger] inquiry, particularly in relation to how he recorded information in his police (sic) log book.

Heywood has been dogged by other major policing scandals since his full promotion to the command team in April, 2013. He had been in a temporary ACC role for eighteen months prior. He has been absent from the force for eighteen months on full pay. Again, a six figure salary plus benefits.

On 14th November, 2018, after almost a week of rumours swirling around social media, news was released to the press, by GMP, of Heywood’s retirement. Apart from his own failings, that led, at least in part, to the needless death of Anthony Grainger, Heywood has always sought to conceal his role in the handling of notorious villain, Dale Cregan, who eventually, and tragically, shot and killed two young Manchester police officers. The subsequent, and some say, contrived, sale of Heywood’s house also developed into a murky scandal centred around whether he was at risk from Cregan, at the time locked up in the Category AA wing (known as The Cage) of Strangeways jail. The artful financial wangling was followed by the inevitable, long-running, multi-layered GMP ‘cover-up’. The troubled ACC was also Head of Public Protection in GMP for at least some of the period covered by the Rochdale grooming scandal. The vexed question of ‘who knew what’ within the police force is presently being addressed via an inquiry run by the Greater Manchester Mayor.

The infamous ‘Boobgate’ scandal claimed the second of the miscreant ACC’s: Rebekah Sutcliffe, whom many believe owes her continued, if pointless, place in the police service to the astute advocacy of John Beggs QC. Who, somehow, managed to persuade a disciplinary panel, that included Sir Thomas Winsor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, to conclude proceedings with a written warning, rather than dismissal. A remarkable achievement, in the light of the allegations against her and a previous chequered history with the force. Sutcliffe, who infamously told colleague, Superintendent Sarah Jackson, that she would be “judged on the size of her tits” is presently seconded to Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council, where she is overseeing a project to encourage exercise, healthy living and healthy eating (watch short video clip here) . A demeaning ‘non-job’ costing taxpayers £109,000, plus benefits, per annum. She was reprimanded in 2010 for trying to pull rank and gatecrash a Labour party conference hotel, to attend a drinks junket when she had no accreditation to enter the secure site. There was also an IPCC ivestigation into her failure to declare a relevant relationship with chief superintendent, Paul Rumney, when chairing a disciplinary panel. Rumney, never far from controversy himself, was Head of GMP’s Professional Standards Board at the material time, thus creating a clear conflict of interest. That neither, oddly enough, appeared to notice at the time.

49 year old Sutcliffe’s secondment to Oldham council was due to end in September, 2018, but a spokesperson for the latter recently told Police Oracle: “There is no agreed end date for the secondment at this time. Rebekah is still the Strategic Director of Reform”. GMP refused to comment on if, or when, she would be returning to the force. It is believed she has five years of police service remaining before she becomes eligible for retirement. Her biography has been deleted from the GMP chief officer team webpage.

At a time when the police service cannot give away deputy and chief constable roles, another ACC, Debbie Ford, recently secured a rare neutral-rank transfer from GMP back to her former force, Cumbria Police. Having told at least one former senior colleague, retired superintendent Pete Jackson, she was uncomfortable with being associated with scandal after scandal that routinely engulfs the force. As the former murder detective wryly observes: “Challenging the unethical, unprofessional conduct of her peers was an option she might have considered, rather than heading for the exit door”. There may be other personal, or professional, reasons why Ford left GMP, of course. But, if there are, the public is in the dark. Ford joins Sarah Jackson at Cumbria, after the latter also sought a transfer from the troubled Manchester force.

Garry Shewan was another who walked away from an ACC role in the UK’s fourth largest force, doing a ‘moonlight flit’ as GMP’s £27 million iOPS technology upgrade, for which he had portfolio responsibility, crashed and burned. The budget for the project is believed to have roughly doubled. “Honest Cop” Shewan, like Heywood and Sutcliffe, had also been dogged by scandal over the previous four years as both the author of this piece, and an increasing number of well respected police whistleblowers, rounded on him and exposed a number of troubling, alleged misdemeanours. Some of them very well evidenced. In one particular case, that resulted in the controversial, and many say unjust, dismissal of a junior officer, ex chief constable Sir Peter Fahy allowed Shewan to investigate complaints about himself. They had been made by the discipline lead of the local police federation, no less. In another case, Shewan wanted to manage a conduct complaint about him outside the statutory framework and through a restorative justice process in which he was the controlling influence. He had admitted giving a misleading statement about knowledge, or otherwise, of an investigation being carried out by Fahy into another chief constable. The issue being that Shewan had withheld crucial information that could have significantly informed that probe. The Operation Redbone outcome was signbificantly flawed as a result.

Hate crime champion, Shewan, was also not slow to complain about feeling ‘harassed’ when tackled about his conduct.

Yet another Manchester assistant chief constable to head for the exit door, as trouble rained down on him, was Terry Sweeney. His retirement triggered an angry response from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC, now IOPC).  He was under investigation by the IPCC for two separate allegations, after being served with a gross misconduct notice in relation to the disposal of body parts by GMP from victims of the notorious Harold Shipman. In addition, he was served with a criminal and gross misconduct notice in respect of his role in an allegedly poorly-handled investigation into a now-convicted child sex offender, Dominic Noonan. Sweeney was also involved in the alleged ‘cover-up’ of the unauthorised bugging of offices, occupied by senior leadership team members, by Superintendent Julian Snowball, who had purchased equipment for his illegal activities on the internet. Terry Sweeney was also formerly a Commander of GMP’s Rochdale Division and is yet another part, however small, of the ‘who knew what’ police mystery concerning child sex abuse in the town.

One of Sweeney’s sycophantic clique, during this troubled period, was Detective Chief Inspector (as he was then) John Lyons, latest holder of the poisoned chalice that is Head of Ethics and Standards at troubled Cleveland Police. Lyons is remembered well by former GMP peers for a discreditable, unpleasant, early morning drunken incident in Bolton town centre, in which subordinate officers were verbally abused. Sweeney is said to have smoothed the path so that his friend faced no meaningful sanction.

The IPCC Commissioner overseeing the Sweeney investigations, said at the time: “Greater Manchester Police has informed the IPCC that ACC Terry Sweeney is retiring on 31 October, 2014. The IPCC cannot prevent that happening, but we have been assured that ACC Sweeney will cooperate with our investigations after his departure.

“A police officer resigning or retiring when they are subject to investigation does not serve anyone’s purpose and can frustrate our investigations leaving important questions unanswered. Such a practice can only be damaging to public confidence in policing. We will continue pursuing all lines of enquiry before publishing our findings and evidence so that the public can decide for themselves.”

Sweeney faced no further action. Strangely, the IPCC report can no longer be located on their website.

Against this alarming, and continuous, backdrop, Chief Constable Hopkins has also been under heavy siege for the past twelve months, as a series of national newspaper front page splashes, in depth exposés, and a call for a public inquiry, has kept both him, and his scandal-rocked force in the headlines. For all the wrong reasons, it must be said. He was also lambasted over the Boobgate scandal, and some squarely put the blame on him for not nipping Becky Sutcliffe’s drunken antics in the bar, whilst stood with her at the boozy women’s policing function. Instead he delegated that unpleasant, hazardous task to a subordinate, whilst he sloped off to enjoy another ‘freebie’ at a nearby luxury hotel (read more here). Which might readily explain why no-one wanted to work for him as an assistant chief constable and end up with a reputation tarnished in the manner of Heywood, Shewan, Sutcliffe or Sweeney. Or have to backtrack to their home force in the manner of Debbie Ford.

An independent observer might also conclude that, given the present circumstances, and sensing there may be even worse to come, you would have to be desperate to walk into that firestorm.

Nevertheless, Hussain took up the role of Assistant Chief Constable at GMP on 1st October, 2018. He was the only candidate who applied, after the approach from Hopkins, and it is said, the only candidate interviewed; although no documented evidence of such an event has been disclosed to the author of this piece, after what have been quite exhaustive enquiries: Two freedom of information requests (one each to GMP and WYP) concerning the appointment; enquiries made of both police force press offices; fairly lengthy correspondence with GMP Deputy Chief Constable (DCC) Ian Pilling and one way correspondence with WYP Chief Constable, Dee Collins. Whom, it must be said, has this unappealing, unethical, unprofessional, and repeating habit of burying her head in the sand at the first sign of trouble. Particularly, when it is one of her ‘favourites’ under scrutiny. Mabs was, most certainly, in that group.

Documents disclosed by WYP under FOIA reveal the usual inconsistencies. Collins claims the matter of Mabs’ ‘tapping-up’ on 19th July, 2018 by Hopkins and subsequent application to GMP, was first discussed amongst her own command team the day after he was appointed (4th September, 2018). The only record in her day book, she says, is on that same date and a copy has been disclosed.

Yet, Collins had assisted in Mabs’ application, in early August, to the extent that, in section 11 of the application form (a blank form can be viewed here) it was required to be completed by the applicant’s chief constable, she filled it in and sent it back to Hussain, via email, with the jolly message: ‘If it is not what you want, alter it to suit’. 

No note in her day book about that event. Or, if there is, it has not been disclosed. A retired WYP command team member has revealed that, under Dee Collins’ leadership, the priority is what to EXCLUDE from notes of their meetings, rather than maintain an auditable record.

Taken at its face, and by reference to the disclosures made, so far, by both forces, Hopkins did not contact Collins. Which, given the recent history of each of those two police forces covering up for the other, and the fact that they are neighbours, with a large shared border, is difficult to contemplate.

There is no documented record, either, of Mabs contacting his own chief constable, or vice versa, after the Hopkins phone call.

The fact it was public knowledge, broadcast by Collins, no less, that Mabs was in line for the next ACC role in his home force, where he had served his entire 22 year police career, simply adds to the intrigue as to why a popular, high achieving, Bradford council estate lad made good, would take such a risk with this move to GMP.

At the time of his appointment as ACC, this is what a gushing Mabs said on the GMP website: “I’m thrilled to have been given this opportunity. I have great admiration for the work GMP has done for some time, knowing they are a similar size to WYP and respecting the way they have responded to particularly challenging times over the years. Their commitment to public service and the demands I can expect to face in my new role were all things which appealed to me to join the GMP family.”

So, let us look at this statement in more detail:

He was certainly correct about being ‘given’ the opportunity. Gift-wrapped, with a ribbon on top.

But then his fresh-from-the-strategic-command-course-sycophantic-management-speak sets the alarm bells ringing (Mabs had successfully negotiated the necessary College of Policing test six months earlier):

Firstly, he does not explain what it is he admires about GMP that places it above his former force. Both have a dreadful history of covering up industrial scale child sex abuse Rochdale, Oldham, Bradford (Mabs’ home city for all his life), Dewsbury, Keighley, Halifax, Huddersfield, Manchester Curry Mile, Mirfield. Similarly, their failures to tackle volume crime, particularly burglarly, are legion. Both have gun, and knife, crime that is out of control. Is all this ‘the [GMP] commitment to public service’ to which he refers? But, moving on, both have professional standards departments and counter-corruption units that are perennially inept, and, arguably, corrupt. Both have ACPO teams, past and present, mired in scandal. Both have chief constables that are, quite plainly, out of their depth. Both have the unenviable reputation for outrageous, high profile cover-ups. So what is it that makes GMP ‘admirable’, one has to wonder: The debacle in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing; the Operation Grantham stored body parts scandal; or a multi-million pound organised crime investigation that collapsed after allegations of police officer corruption? These three examples are drawn from a lengthy list that also includes Operations Poppy 1 and 2, and Operation Leopard, of which more will be heard in a separate articles.

Secondly, no-one who knows even a little about policing, or reads the national newspapers, or watches police documentaries on TV, or listens to radio programmes such as File on 4, could conclude anything other than, in its present form, run by Hopkins, Greater Manchester Police is a scandal-hit shambles. Perhaps Mabs, an alert thief-taker, missed all that?

Thirdly, he describes Greater Manchester Police as ‘a family’. The implication is happiness, cohesion and belonging. Which couldn’t be further from the truth. There is a rush for the exit door into careers such as train, or tram, driver;  officers count the hours and days to retirement; morale in the force is at rock bottom says the GMP Police Federation; faith in the leadership team is correspondingly low, and, so stressed are the frontline officers with the working environment, record numbers are calling in sick. Add to that the internal strife caused by over-promotion of on-message sycophants, who have never seen an angry man; obsessive internal witch-hunts conducted against officers prepared to call out wrongdoing, and then draw your own conclusions as to whether this den of skulduggery, and two-faced-gittery, is a family of which anyone sensible would really want to newly marry into. Especially, if it means uprooting your own family from an area in which you’ve lived all your life, and leaving an organisation in which you started your career, progressed at a pleasing rate, and have always been well regarded.

For his part, and at the same time, Chief Constable Hopkins said of his new recruit: “I’m delighted to welcome Mabs to the GMP family. He is an extremely experienced officer and he will help us to continue to drive the force forward”. Over a cliff, presumably? As for police ‘family’, Hopkins is on his fourth, having previously worked in three of the smaller county forces before making the quantum leap to Manchester in 2008.  Becoming chief constable of GMP, by default, in 2015, as no-one else applied for that job, either.

As one might expect, the Manchester Evening News (MEN), in what police whistleblowers say is their adopted role as the public relations arm of GMP, ran a ‘Welcome to Mabs’ puff piece, as Hussain gave his first exclusive ‘interview’, just one day after joining the force (read full MEN article here).

Despite controversy over the appointment, broadcast widely on social media, MEN avoided asking any difficult questions. It all had the look, and feel, of a pre-planned ‘corporate comms’ operation, with softball questions, and answers, agreed in advance, to avoid any embarassing issues surfacing, inadvertently.

There was, however, one interesting passage: Mabs was, presumably, well prepared when asked this question by award-winning MEN reporter, Neal Kealing:

– Is it true you and your family get stopped routinely when you fly abroad?

“Yes. I do get stopped regularly, in particular flying to the States – my brother lives in America – and I do visit him regularly. I have been taken off a flight, because they forgot to check me getting onto a flight, which was rather embarrassing. It does frustrate me. I can understand the reason for checking people who fit a certain age group, ethnicity, and profile. But it does annoy me that it is happening so often.

“As a result I did write to Homeland Security. The Director General replied saying they couldn’t confirm or deny if I was on any international list. I have what they call a redress number, which I can use when I fly, which they say should hopefully limit the level of inconvenience caused. You have to go with the flow.

“It is frustrating. But people have a job to do. Flying out of America I still get stopped. I usually get told my name has been flagged up, and to expect some delay. I don’t mind security checks, it shows we are taking terrorism seriously.”

Even more interestingly, Mabs was not asked these questions by “Killer”, as Kealing is known to friends and colleagues:

– What, or who, persusaded you to apply to join GMP?

– Why uproot your family and leave a force where you have served all your career?

– Was the competition for the job, and the interview, tough?

– Are you concerned about the welter of bad publicity that has engulfed GMP recently, particularly in The Times and The Sunday Times, and on BBC television and radio?

– What do you think of two serving ACC colleagues being removed from the force? One of whom may be facing criminal proceedings and the other who brought national shame and ridicule on GMP and the city of Manchester.

– Are you concerned about another ACC retiring in what was, effectively, a moonlight flit after grotesquely failing on a major infrastructure project?-

– Has this poisoned chalice been handed to you?

– Have you questioned why and how the ACC vacancy arose?

– Have you spoken to ACC Debbie Ford about why she left?

– Joining from another force that has history of ‘problem’ senior officers (Norman Bettison and Mark Gilmore being very high profile examples), has this better equipped you to deal with a low calibre command team such as GMP?

– Will you robustly challenge inappropriate conduct of senior colleagues. Or look the other way, or walk away, as is the tradition in GMP?

– Were you asked in interview about the persistent allegations, circulating on social media, made by WYP whistleblowers against you?

– Have you been asked by either Mr Hopkins, or Mr Pilling, about them since you joined?

– Is there any truth in those allegations? Which include the proposition of failing counter terrorist unit vetting for a number of years.

– Were the whistleblower allegations robustly, and thoroughly, investigated by WYP, before you left, so that the air could be cleared and you could deal with any residual issues. If, indeed, there are any at all, on your application form and vetting declaration?

Whilst the MEN was giving Mabs the VIP treatment, Questions were being asked, by two investigative journalists, of the police press offices in Manchester and West Yorkshire about the allegations against Mabs. One of which, it is said, has been the subject of a complaint made by a serving WYP superintendent (also served as a detective chief inspector in professional standards for several years) and close working colleague.

Essentially, (i) have they been investigated – and (ii) what was the outcome?

Straighforward enough, and not at all unreasonable to expect honest answers from two of the country’s law enforcement agencies. But, no, all questions have been glibly deflected by both press offices, to both journalists, in a manner that seemed calculated to cause further exasperation.

Both those journalists, the author of this piece and the BBC’s Neil Morrow, readily accept that, if the wall of silence is maintained by both police forces, it is almost impossible to get to the truth of the issue of whether an investigation took place, or not. But, it can be said, with some certainty, that had one taken place, and cleared Mabs, then neither force would have been slow to trumpet that fact; discrediting the whistleblowers and those adopting their cause.

There has been email correspondence between Ian Pilling and Neil Wilby that appears to confirm that no checks have been made by GMP over the vetting issue and they had not asked, as of 14th September, 2018 any questions of WYP, at all, concerning the allegations against Mabs. The announcement of his appointment as the new GMP ACC had been made ten days earlier. The following day, 5th September, 2018, Pilling was passed, in strict confidence, correspondence between Neil Wilby, the WYP press office and Dee Collins dating back to January/February, 2018. The serving superintendent is copied into that correspondence. Which is shortly after the latest of the alleged incidents concerning Mabs. DCC Pilling cannot claim not to know the identity of that officer.

The official GMP line, says Pilling, is that if there has been any allegations concerning misconduct, during his service with WYP, then they were matters for the Appropriate Authority of that force, Chief Constable Collins, to deal with, not himself or Ian Hopkins. He was confident such an investigation would have been undertaken, but was not going to ask the question – and still hasn’t, on the evidence available. On 14th September, 2018, DCC Pilling says that he forwarded the concerns over the allegations to the West Yorkshire chief constable.

Following freedom of information request to both GMP and WYP, it appears that Ian Pilling did NOT contact Dee Collins, by email or letter, at least, to make enquiries as to whether that investigation into Mabs did, in fact take place. He didn’t contact DCC John Robins or Head of Professional Standards, Osman Khan, either. Neither did Ian Hopkins, nor his own Head of Professional Standards, Annette Anderson, contact any of the WYP officers named here.

It was also established, from the disclosure arising from those same requests, that there appears to have been no contact between any of the same three GMP senior officers and either the College of Policing or the National Police Chiefs Council, concerning Mabs’ appointment or any vetting concerns. The College’s senior selection team were made aware in January, 2018 of the whistleblower concerns, but no email correspondence between the College of Policing and either WYP, or GMP, has been disclosed upon request.

Dee Collins begins a three month secondment to the College of Policing in January, 2019.

A separate information request to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority seeking disclosure of correspondence between the de facto police and crime commissioner, Deputy Mayor of Manchester, Beverley Hughes, and her chief constable has, so far, been stonewalled.

By way of section 40 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, 2011, the chief constable must consult the Police and Crime Commissioner (the Deputy Mayor in the case of GMCA) before appointing a person as an assistant chief constable of the force.

The response to the information request provided by the PCC is highly questionable. She claims that in respect of the appointment of deputy and assistant chief  constables, her oversight responsibility is confined to private chats between herself and the chief constable. No notes, or minutes, taken and no email traffic between the two. Indeed, no retrievable data is held says Baroness Hughes.

Material disclosed by GMP contradicts that position. Internal email correspondence between Ian Hopkins and Ian Pilling say she was sent a copy of Mabs’ application form, plus background papers, on 29th August, 2018. Put another way, the Deputy Mayor of Manchester has lied to journalist, Neil Wilby.

The stated position of the Deputy Mayor, according to her written response to the information request, has been robustly challenged. But no response had been provided by her within the required four week period under FOIA and the Information Commissioner’s guidance.

A complaint has been lodged with the Information Commissioner’s Office concerning the handling of the request, and a further complaint is being submitted to the appropriate authority alleging honesty and integrity breaches by Beverley Hughes. In this case, the Greater Manchester Police and Crime Panel.

Baroness Hughes, another living, breathing example of the abuse of the ‘honours’ system does, of course, have ‘previous’ for lying. Having resigned as a Labour government minister, in 2004, for doing just that – and in very similar circumstances to those prevailing here: Denying she’d received a memorandum when it was readily proved that she had not only received the document, but acted on it.

Whether, or not, it is possible to get to the truth of the WYP whistleblower allegations against Mabs Hussain is a moot point, without an unequivocal statement from either Ian Hopkins, Dee Collins, or Mabs himself. But, as with so many policing issues over the years, it is now the ‘cover-up’ that becomes the story.

In this particular case, without the ever-lengthening mystery, and the lies that inevitably follow, surrounding this matter, there simply is no story. It could have been put to bed by a two paragraph statement from WYP in February or March, 2018.

This cover-up may yet claim some very high profile scalps, even if the new GMP assistant chief constable emerges untarnished and free to get on with his new job.

The press offices of GMP, WYP and the Deputy Mayor’s Office have all declined to comment. Indeed, the latter two have not even acknowledged the request.

The enquiry to the GMP press office ends thus: “For the avoidance of doubt, and this has been made clear, previously, to DCC Pilling and WYP chief constable Collins, I [Neil Wilby] have no personal, or professional, issues with ACC Hussain. Other than the whistleblower allegations, he is known inside and outside of WYP to be a popular, professional, high achieving police officer. I am more than content for those views to be shared with Mabs.”

Statements had been specifically requested from Mabs Hussain, and Dee Collins, that directly address the issue of whether the police whistleblower allegations have been appropriately recorded, referred and subsequently investigated.

From the ensuing silence, inference can be drawn as to whether the answer is in the affirmative, or otherwise. Not one journalist or police officer, serving, ex-, or retired, spoken to believes it has.

The lay reader is invited to draw their own conclusion as to where that leaves the GMP chief constable and his latest command team recruit.

There is no ACC Maboob Hussain biography on the GMP chief officer team webpage, which was last updated on 29th October, 2018. A month after mabs joined the force (read here).

 

Page last updated on Saturday 24th November, 2018 at 1725hrs

Picture credit: Greater Manchester Police

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2018. 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.

Scandal-hit police stonewall ‘sex ring’ allegations

A major sex scandal has been brewing at Cleveland Police for almost two years.

The lid was partially prized open by John Beggs QC at a disciplinary tribunal that attracted widespread media attention in late 2016. Sensationally, the troubled force abandoned proceedings against an officer, Sergeant Waseem Khan, who had been suspended for three and a half years, at the start of the second week of the hearing.

But, during the first week, Beggs had probed a personal relationship between Superintendent Beverley Gill and Chief Superintendent Jon Green which the ‘attack-dog’ barrister characterised as “exceptionally close“. Green had been moved sideways from his role as Head of Professional Standards Department (PSD) as scandal after scandal dogged him and his disgraced department. The replacement Head was his “personal friend“, Bev Gill. Her evidence at the hearing had troubled the Panel chairman.

On 7th November, 2018 Gill was suspended by the force, at the outset of an investigation codenamed Gosport, over allegations she subdued an investigation into former colleague and ‘dirty detective’, Simon Hurwood. The latter was officially outed, at another disciplinary hearing in October, 2018, at which Beggs QC was again heavily involved, as a manipulative sex fiend.

Cleveland Police is very clear that they are not naming the officer, and their head of communications confirmed this in response to a press enquiry in which Beverley Gill was named, and a request made for her length of police service with Cleveland to be provided. The force continues to rely on the press briefing given the previous day.

Hurwood was found guilty of eight allegations of gross misconduct, plus a number of other misconduct allegations, after the inquiry found he had groomed and pestered 21 female Cleveland Police colleagues, most of them of junior rank, for sex and other indecent acts, over a 14-year-period.

Leeds barrister, Simon Mallett, Chair of the police disciplinary panel which heard the complaints, said: ‘Simon Hurwood was treating the professional standards department as a personal recruitment centre for his own sexual gratification.’ Nevertheless, Hurwood was allowed to retire with a pension pot of £1.1 million, according to a report in the Sunday Times.

On Friday 2nd March 2018, Hurwood was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault offences,  interviewed, released under investigation and, subsequently, suspended from duty later the same day.

Following further enquiries, early consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) complex case unit in London took place. This was in relation to four victims. Subsequently, Detective Chief Inspector John Wrintmore made the decision that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with either the alleged sexual offences, or misconduct in public office. This left police disciplinary proceedings as the only course of action available.

Described as ‘creepy and sleazy’ by his victims, Hurwood abused his position as a management rank officer to have sex in police cars, and in his own office in PSD, the department charged with holding up the highest standards of conduct amongst all the force’s officers. He also persuaded female officers to send him sexually explicit pictures and videos of themselves. He was obsessed with the colour of females’ underwear, and having explicit photos and videos sent to him on his mobile phone.  One witness alleged Hurwood forced her into ‘non-consensual sexual intercourse’ and others complained of being coerced into performing sex acts.

There are also allegations surfacing that Hurwood threatened to blow the whistle on other senior officers if he was prosecuted. The name of an alleged ‘go-between’ that allegedly brokered a deal is circulating on social media. If true, this cover-up was conducted at a senior level in Cleveland Police.

There was no public appeal for witnesses, internally or externally, and some complainants were instructed to sign confidentiality agreements. Police have offered up the rationale that it was to prevent cross-contamination of evidence, but, to the more enquiring mind, it simply fuels belief in a senior management cover-up. Particularly in the light of the most recent revelations.

When approached by a Sunday Times reporter at Hurwood’s £400,000 home last week, his wife, Kimberly, said: “We are not answering any questions.” Her husband has completely denied any misconduct or sexual assaults. He has been married twice previously.

Force spokesperson, Xanthe Tait, a former Chief Crown Prosecutor for North Yorkshire, said the suspension of Bev Gill was a ‘neutral act’ and the presumption of innocence remains.

There are other allegations on social media, made by a regular and very well informed, critic of the force, Michael Carey, which, no doubt, Operation Gosport will explore, that Bev Gill was also “close” to Hurwood, in a similar way to her friendship with Jon Green. There are, it is said, other senior officers who enjoy similar relationships as part of a friends group.

After the Hurwood disciplinary hearing, and it may not necessarily be connected, it was said that Deputy Chief Constable Simon Nickless, who had portfolio responsibility for PSD at the material time, was leaving Cleveland Police to join the College of Policing as Senior Policing Adviser. Which has, one might say, the look and feel of the situation pertaining to ex-West Yorkshire Police chief constable, Mark Gilmore, who was sent off to do a ‘non-job’ at the National Police Chiefs Council, for over a year, in an attempt to disguise the fact that he was on gardening leave.

On 7th November, 2018 it was announced by Cleveland Police that a new deputy chief had been appointed for a temporary six month period. It was Helen McMillan, drafted in from Northumbria Police, who suspended Beverley Gill. Helen previously worked with Durham Constabulary, based in Hartlepool. She would be well advised to make a trawl of the public complaints made against Gill and re-visit them. There are at least two shocking cases that should be the subject, at the very least, of gross misconduct investigation. One made by the aforementioned Michael Carey and the other by Karim Allison, who succeeded in a substantial civil claim against Cleveland Police, and has been relentlessly persecuted by the force since. Including an unsuccessful prosecution against him. Carey has also been arrested and all his computer devices seized, but very recently informed by the police, after an eighteen month hiaitus, that the CPS will not prosecute.

On 17th September, 2018, six weeks before the Hurwood disciplinary hearing became public knowledge, a series of questions was put to Cleveland Police, and its Police Commissioner, Barry Coppinger:

“A statement is requested from PCC Coppinger regarding a report that is circulating on social media concerning an alleged ‘sex ring’ operating in the upper echelons of Cleveland Police.
The reports states, inter alia:
1. Insp Simon Hurwood, whose arrest was reported in the press earlier this year, may have assaulted, harassed up to 30 female officers, staff.
2. Insp Hurwood and Insp [name redacted] (whom it is said are involved in a physical relationship) are part of a police sex ring that may include five other named officers of managerial rank, including the present [name redacted] . It is also said that Insp Hurwood was present in the vehicle when Insp [name redacted]  was found to be OPL (subsequently convicted).
3. The sex-ring has operated for many years and those involved ‘cover-up’ for each other if misconduct or criminal matters are reported against them.
4. Insp [name redacted] has discussed publicly how ‘sex-corruption’ is rife in the force and institutional sexual assault is commonplace.
5. The chief constable and PCC are actively seeking to conceal these matters from public scrutiny.”

It took almost four weeks, and several reminders, for this response to be provided:

I take any allegations of misconduct within Cleveland Police very seriously and I have developed a small Complaints Triage team to assist the newly established Directorate of Standards and Ethics in investigating concerns raised by the public.

I will not, however, comment on unsolicited and unsubstantiated reports appearing on social media. An appropriate complaints process is in place, details of which can be found on the Cleveland Police website.

The statement glosses over the fact that since Mr Coppinger was elected as PCC in 2012, the force over which he has oversight has staggered from crisis to crisis, with scandals, across the misconduct spectrum, featuring routinely in the national press. He previously served on Cleveland Police Authority, under the chairmanship of David McLuckie, who was jailed in 2013 for perverting the course of justice.

In the light of the suspension of Bev Gill on 7th November, 2018, a request was made for an updated statement. The response was almost immediate:

Cleveland Police has informed the Police & Crime Commissioner of the suspension of an officer. This matter is within the remit of the Chief Constable and the PCC is assured that the necessary investigation will be carried out thoroughly, promptly and fairly.

It would not be appropriate for the PCC to comment further at this time.”

The statement carefully, and ironically, avoids the point that this routinely scandalised police force has proved almost entirely incapable of carrying out any thorough, prompt or fair investigation when its own PSD (now re-badged as Standards and Ethics) has been involved. There is also the collateral issue that Mr Coppinger employs a chief constable who is a proven liar, twice over. An  unsatisfactory situation, by any measure, and one that the PCC defends with extraordinary zeal.

If there are two officers already suspended, and the working hypothesis is that is the minimum number, it also suggests that the force may be drip-feeding information to Mr Coppinger, and his PCC team, to minimise the risk of ‘leaks, or for other operational reasons.

Operation Gosport is an investigation that should, quite properly, and on any independent view, have started out as a criminal investigation, not one of gross misconduct, and been referred by its chief constable, Mike Veale, to another police force for investigation.

Veale, unusually, and bizarrely, given his recent history, is the portfolio holder for Standards and Ethics. A role undertaken by the deputy chief constable in most other police forces. However, he is said by a well placed police source to be ‘furious’ over what is now being revealed and is ‘wielding the knife’ in an attempt to cut out deep-seated cancer of corruption in that department. Whatever his recent history in Wiltshire Police, this is an important, and most welcome, step in the right direction for Cleveland and its constituents.

But, until the Veale ‘surgery’ is complete and the integrity of the force recovered, Cleveland Police simply cannot be trusted to investigate itself. But, there is some light at the end of what must have been a very dark tunnel for Hurwood’s victims, as their press office provided me with this statement on 9th November, 2018.

Cleveland Police fully supports any victim’s right to review (VRR) such decisions and is currently supporting a review in this case by another police force. It is important that there is transparency in decision making and that any such decision is rigorously tested in the best interests of victims and the public.”

On 12th November, 2012, it was confirmed that Northumbria Police had been appointed to assist with the VRR. No timescale has been given.

That police force, however, could not have been West Yorkshire Police, headed by chief constable, Dee Collins. From the start of her police service in 1987 until the end of 2005 she served with Cleveland Police, including a spell in its ill-starred PSD. In the offices where Hurwood would later have illicit sex and be pleasured orally. She was also a Police Federation representative as an inspector.

She was a superintendent when she left the force to join Cumbria Police in December, 2005. Hurwood had begun his sex spree against female colleagues almost two years earlier.

Ms Collins was asked for a statement on 7th November, 2018 – the day Bev Gill was suspended –  and has ignored the request (a routine occurence, it must be said).

She has also been, subsequently, invited to comment on well sourced information that she is ‘very, very good friend‘ of 50 year old Bev Gill (a couple of years younger than Dee Collins).

The point to these questions is that the WYP chief was honoured recently by the Queen, and quite rightly, as a champion of women in policing. But that does not sit easily with any knowledge, at all, of what was happening to her junior ranked female colleagues, in what is a relatively small police force. Hurwood, Gill and Collins all have similar lengths of police service and would, at the very least, it is reasonable to infer, have been well known to one another as they progressed up the ranks.

Despite his predatory behaviour, after he became a sergeant in 2003, Hurwood was promoted and moved to the professional standards department, where most of the offences took place. Even after complaints were made against him, he was put on a recruitment panel where he could choose potential victims, implying to one woman that he could help her get a job.

Two detective inspectors were informed about Hurwood’s sexual encounters at the material time, and one victim was at a rank of chief inspector, or higher. Yet the misconduct continued, not just unabated, but even more blatantly.

It may well be that Dee Collins didn’t know, and there cannot be any presumption, at all, of wrongdoing by her, without probative evidence. But if she didn’t know, then serious questions need to be asked ‘why not‘ given her various, and highly relevant, roles in the Cleveland Police.

It’s the same question asked by many others about what she does, or doesn’t know, about alleged misconduct and criminality of her own West Yorkshire Police officers: Apart from the selfie-loving, teddy-bear hugging, gushing, heavily sentimental, fluffy, public relations role which she enthusiastically adopts, it is difficult to see, from an investigative journalist’s perspective, what contribution she makes to maintaining the requisite ethical and professional standards in the force.

In January, 2019, Dee Collins takes up a three month role at the College of Policing in Surrey. There is speculation, explored in an earlier article on this website (read here), that she will only return to WYP to say her goodbyes and then retire. That is denied by the force, but in terms sufficiently vague to leave that open as more than a possibility.

An approach has been made to the WYP press office for comment or a statement from the chief constable. In their routine, unethical, unprofessional manner, and taking their lead from the chief constable, who conducts herself in much the same way, it has not even been acknowledged, so far.

 

Page last updated on Saturday 10th November, 2018 at 2050hrs

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

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2018. 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.

Crash landing as helicopter boss returns to work

Following the exclusive published on this website last month – and subsequently picked up by the national press – more startling revelations have come to light.

After a period away from his office, reportedly on sick leave, Chief Superintendent Tyron Joyce returned to work at West Yorkshire Police headquarters in Laburnum Road, Wakefield, on Monday 15th October, 2018.

WYP HQ is also the administrative base for the National Police Air Service (NPAS), of which Joyce is Chief Operating Officer (COO).

Last month, Joyce was given notice of a large number of complaints made against him by NPAS staff. He was, at the time, reportedly denied access to his office and police computer systems. Captain Oliver Dismore took over as temporary COO.

Joyce’s return to work was not at all welcomed by some members of NPAS staff, particularly those who had made complaints against him. They had been promised by officers in WYP’s Professional Standards Department (PSD) that, if Joyce returned to work in police HQ, it would be in a location remote from them.

The return to his office had been agreed between PSD and the Superintendents’ Association, who are providing both professional and pastoral support to Joyce.

Complaints about Joyce’s proximity were made to Captain Dismore by NPAS staff involved in the misconduct allegations. Dismore, in turn, made representations to Deputy Chief Constable, John Robins. The latter has had portfolio responsibility for PSD since 2014.

On Tuesday morning, having been tasked by Robins, Assistant Chief Constable Angela Williams went to Tyron Joyce’s office and asked him to leave. A confrontation ensued between the two. The upshot is that Joyce is now working remotely from his staff.

Both WYP and NPAS were approached with a series of questions concerning what has been reported by a police whistleblower. Neither WYP, nor NPAS, even provided an acknowledgement. Both press offices have previously declined to confirm that C/Supt Joyce was under investigation, or what class of misconduct was alleged.

The Superintendents’ Association responded promptly with a statement from Victor Marshall, Professional Standards Co-ordinator:

We are supporting a member who is under investigation for alleged misconduct.

We await full details of the allegations“.

Under the overall control of Robins, WYP PSD has staggered from crisis to crisis, over the past four years. On any independent view, and, from the limited details known to date, the Tyron Joyce investigation is another cack-handed debacle.

The complainants are angry; Joyce is not having the benefit of a fair, impartial, well-managed disciplinary process and his professional body is, quite plainly, frustrated at the lack of specification of the complaints.

Little wonder that whistleblowers are coming forward, in increasing numbers, as they lose any remaining faith in the leadership of both the force and NPAS. Interestingly, Dee Collins is in charge of both.

In another exclusive article on this website, her intention to retire early next year is forecast (read here). The force, and Ms Collins, have repeatedly refused to confirm, or deny, that it will be April 2019 when she goes.

It cannot come one day too soon for a force conspicuously absent of visible leadership and, seemingly, bereft of the requisite ethical and professional standards.

Page last updated on Sunday 31st October, 2018 at 19.50

 

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

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2018. 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.

Chief constable set to take flight?

A well-placed source says West Yorkshire Police chief constable, Dee Collins, is set to retire.

Rumours have been circulating for some time, but it seems that Ms Collins will pass day-to-day control of the force to her deputy, John Robins, at the end of this year.

It is said that the chief will complete her police service at the College of Policing headquarters, in the early part of 2019, as Course Service Director for the next cohort of strategic command candidates. Read more here.

The incumbent deputy chief constable (DCC), John Robins, will take over as temporary chief constable, with ACC Russ Foster promoted to T/DCC and Chief Superintendent Mark Ridley also promoted, to assistant chief constable.

Ms Collins was appointed as WYP chief constable in November, 2016. She was the only candidate for the post. During her tenure, the force’s tarnished reputation has been further damaged by a number of high profile scandals. There are at least three more in the making. All concerning matters on her watch.

She also holds the post of Air Operations Certificate Holder at the National Police Air Service (NPAS). Her effectiveness in that role was again called into question recently, following the, as yet, unexplained departure of the Chief Operating Officer, Tyron Joyce.

In November 2017, NPAS was the subject of blistering criticism by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) who described the management of the service as ‘inept‘ and its financial model ‘unsustainable‘. The NPAS response to Matt Parr‘s withering report is due next month (November 2018). A NPAS insider suggests that the answers are unlikely to satisfy HMIC.

West Yorkshire’s Police Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson, chairs the NPAS Strategic Board. He was also responsible for appointing Dee Collins as chief constable. His second failure in a row in selecting a police leader, as the Mark Gilmore debacle cost the county’s precept payers around £750,000.

Burns-Williamson is understood to be facing problems of his own, as a major media organisation is said to be presently conducting an enquiry into alleged serious wrongdoing by the PCC’s office. It is understood to concern the hot topic of non-disclosure.

Both the chief constable, privately, and the police press office were approached for comment. The latter responded promptly. They confirmed the chief’s posting to the College of Policing, DCC Robins taking day to day control of the force in January, 2019, but deny she is retiring. The reader is, accordingly, invited to make up her, or his, own mind. Dee Collins did not reply.

In doing so, it should be noted that Mark Burns-Williamson has not published a Decision Notice regarding the change of leadership on his PCC website. He is required to do so by law (Elected Local Policing Bodies [Specified Information] Order, 2011).

The PCC’s office has not been approached. Their press officer, Dee Cowburn, routinely ignores such requests.

BBC Look North, in a short package put out on Friday 5th October, 2018, adopted their routine role as a public relations facility for WYP and the PCC. The state broadcaster confirmed that Dee Collins was going to the College of Policing on secondment and that John Robins was taking over control of the force. Other highly newsworthy matters in this article were, unsurprisingly, not followed up.

Ends

Page last updated: Saturday 6th October, 2018 at 1910 hrs

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 2015-2018. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Police helicopter boss goes off the radar

Over the past two decades, airborne capability for the police service has become increasingly important in the fight against ‘cross-border’ crime.

Helicopters are run on a shared basis, across 43 forces, under the National Police Air Service (NPAS) banner.

Operational headquarters of NPAS is situated in Wakefield city centre and there is an air base within West Yorkshire Police’s £100 million complex at Carr Gate, Wakefield. There are fourteen other police aircraft bases around the country.

NPAS is the first truly National Police Collaboration created under a Lead Force model and is widely regarded as a major accomplishment in that context.

Much of the credit for the initial success of NPAS is down to a retired WYP chief superintendent, Ian Whitehouse, who undertook extensive due diligence from August 2011 and managed the complex Programme to create the service. He then became Accountable Manager, from January, 2013 until his retirement in March, 2016. Effectively building a class-leading airline, from scratch, against a backdrop of having to migrate to new European regulations.

C/Supt Whitehouse retired from WYP, and NPAS, after losing confidence in his chief constable, Dee Collins, who also holds the role of Air Operations Certificate Holder in NPAS. Whitehouse and Collins, by a quirk of fate, actually trained together at Durham, at the start of their police service. Whitehouse from West Yorkshire and Collins from the Cleveland force. Collins had also been East Midlands lead for NPAS before joining WYP from Derbyshire Police in early 2014.

Many who know both are surprised that Collins outranked Whitehouse at the end of the latter’s police career. There cannot have been many chief constables in history who failed their sergeant’s exam four times, and then later fell into the chief’s role without a single candidate in opposition.

Following the retirement of Ian Whitehouse, the vacancy as NPAS Accountable Manager was filled by a WYP supertintendent, Tyron Joyce. The title of the role was also changed to Chief Operating Officer and there was also a promotion to chief superintendent. Joyce had previously worked under Whitehouse, within NPAS, as National Programme Manager.

Within weeks of Joyce’s promotion, however, problems with staff began to surface at Carr Gate. Dee Collins was aware of the very serious issues, but continued to back her new appointment. To do otherwise would disrupt her ‘diversity’ narrative.

The culmination was, some eighteen months later, Joyce was served with misconduct papers by WYP’s Professional Standards Department (PSD) earlier this month (September, 2018). It is believed that there are, at present, eleven allegations with, potentially, twenty more to follow. He has not been in post at NPAS since that time, and is now prevented from accessing police force computer systems until the disciplinary process is completed.

Both the force, and NPAS press office, have refused to confirm that the alleged misconduct features bullying. Or, that two civil claims made by complainants have been compromised by way of a financial settlement. At least three other named members of staff are believed to have made complaints. A national newspaper, following up on this exclusive article, claims that Joyce is “obsessed with political correctness and minority issues”. Openly referring to staff in his “abrasive style” as “male, pale and stale”.

Joyce’s stock phrase is said to be: “I will manage terrorists out of my organisation”.

A questionnaire sent to NPAS staff, by the force, may lead to more. Viewed objectively, the way that document is framed could lead to arguments of unfairness by those representing Tyron Joyce at any future proceedings.

The chief constable has also been made aware that Joyce, a former Cambridgeshire and Metropolitan Police officer, who joined WYP in 2008, received words of advice from his line manager over conduct towards staff in 2013. She has refused to comment.

A retired officer has come forward to say that, in a meeting with Joyce, the latter said: “I’ve been in trouble before with PSD. They tried to do my legs, so I  have to be careful what I say to staff”. The retired officer found him pleasant and polite, in spite of the contentious subject in issue.

A source close to Joyce insists that any, or all, misconduct allegations are emphatically denied. He believes the complaints are motivated by malice from staff he criticised for poor performance. Support is being provided to him by the Superintendents’ Association.

His competencies listed on his LinkedIn profile include coaching of BME and female officers. He completes 28 years service as a police officer next month (October 2018).

He is presently on sick leave. Assurances have been sought privately from the WYP chief constable that appropriate welfare, and safeguarding, arrangements are in place for Tyron Joyce and his family. Specific concerns were raised. Ms Collins has not responded.

The post of Accountable Manager/Chief Operating Officer is presently filled, during Joyce’s absence, by NPAS Director of Operations, Oliver Dismore. According to Dismore’s LinkedIn profile he took over the role, temporarily, earlier this month (September 2017).

Deputy chief constable of West Yorkshire Police, John Robins, whose command team portfolio includes the force’s troubled PSD, is reported to be furious about the information ‘leaks’ concerning this matter.

One of those leaks concerns an allegedly racist remark made by Robins to Tyron Joyce (a BME officer), in 2013, when he is said to have described his support for Joyce, on a senior officer national accreditation course, as ‘a tick in a diversity box‘. His chief constable has refused to confirm whether this matter has been referred, as part of a mandatory reporting obligation, to the Independent Office for Police Conduct for an investigation decision.

Police Aviation News, in their October edition, say that ‘various sources have alleged that the base problem is wholesale bullying highlighted by rampant political correctness. In the wake of the [Cheshire chief constable] Simon Byrne bullying allegations, it seems that too many sections of NPAS are riddled with both’.

Page last updated: Saturday 6th October, 2018 at 1325 hrs

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

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2018. 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.

Black woman in fear of local police forced to leave Bradford

On 22nd April 2014, Oluwatoyin Azeez, a British black woman of Nigerian origin,  was at her home in Bradford with her young children (aged between 1 – 13), when officers from West Yorkshire Police arrived at her property, demanding to speak to Ms Azeez’s lodger (the teenage son of a family friend), who was living with the family at the time. Previous visits to Ms Azeez’s home, by the police, to check on the lodger, who was at the time under a curfew order, had passed entirely peacefully. But on this occasion the lead officer, PC 521 Hirst, forced his way into the premises as soon as Ms Azeez answered the door to him, pushing her to the floor in the process.

Ms Azeez is a law-abiding person, of good character, with no previous convictions, or adverse interactions with the police. She had willingly answered the door to PC Hirst, and the violence which he then displayed, in bursting past her into the house, was completely unjustified.

Ms Azeez, in a state of considerable distress, protested to PC Hirst that he had no right to enter her house in such a manner. She was at the time, dressed only in a loose-fitting kaftan, having been in the shower when the police officers first knocked at the door. At this point, she asked PC Hirst to leave, whereupon he pushed her in the chest, making contact with her breast, and again knocked her to the floor. Now even more distressed, Ms Azeez got to her feet and asked, again, that PC Hirst leave. In response he assaulted her, grabbing her by the neck and pushing her against the wall. All of this was unfolding in front of Ms Azeez’s young children.

The Azeez children pleaded with PC Hirst to release their mother, to no avail. As Ms Azeez began to choke and feel lightheaded, PC Hirst then escalated the assault by spraying CS incapacitant gas into her face at close range, and without warning. The gas spread throughout the close confines of the house, and also began to affect the  young children, one of whom was a one year old infant.

PC Hirst then dragged Ms Azeez outside, and onto the pavement, causing her to fall and strike her head on the ground. Forcing Ms Azeez to keep her head down by kneeling on her back, PC Hirst then handcuffed her arms behind her back and left her lying in the street. Added to the pain and degradation she was already suffering, was the further humiliation that she was wearing only loose-fitting clothing and felt exposed to the public view of her neighbourhood.

PC Hirst then returned and renewed his assault upon Ms Azeez, pulling her to her feet by her handcuffs and then pushing her back down, causing her to bang her head against her garden wall, and vomit. PC Hirst then further tormented Ms Azeez by informing her that, not only was she to be taken into police custody (for no specified reason and in breach of PACE), but, also, Social Services would be called and her children taken away from her.

Ms Azeez was then transported in the caged rear section of a police van to Bradford’s notorious Trafalgar House Police Station, still without any explanation as to why she had been arrested, or even confirmation that she, was, technically, under arrest.

At the police station, PC Hirst falsely asserted that Ms Azeez had assaulted him. But, after listening to his account, the custody sergeant refused to authorise detention of Ms Azeez, on the grounds that PC Hirst had not been acting in the course of his duty. He had, in truth, no lawful right to enter Ms Azeez’s premises, uninvited.

Ms Azeez was then told by the custody sergeant that she was free to go, but was offered no explanation, or apology.  Given her obvious injuries, the custody sergeant advised that he would arrange for her to be given a lift to the local hospital.  She was directed to wait in the police station public waiting area.  She did, for over an hour, before eventually just leaving the police station and walking home, partially clothed and in custody slippers, injured and without any money. After walking some distance, she eventually had to accept a lift from a stranger to get back home.

Fortunately, she discovered that her children had not been taken by Social Services and were, in fact, being looked after by a friend. But all of the family were deeply traumatised by what had happened, and the children, as well as Ms Azeez, were still suffering from the effects of the CS gas spray which PC Hirst had discharged in their home.

PC Hirst is known to have worked in the Bradford City NPT team in 2015 and 2016 as part of their ‘off-road’ motorcycle unit. His current deployment within the force is not known.

Ms Azeez, understandably, brought an official complaint against the police, but found the Professional Standards Department (PSD) officers handling her complaint to be generally unhelpful, rude and dismissive.  Following their ‘investigation’ (the term is used loosely), it was concluded that although the officer did not have a lawful power of entry  he had “an honestly held belief” that he did. Accordingly, the officer did not have a case to answer in misconduct, or gross misconduct, but would “be given words of advice and appropriate training”.

Ms Azeez felt deeply hurt, not only because of the serious and sustained assault she had suffered at the hands of PC Hirst, but because of the total lack of help, or sympathy, offered to her by West Yorkshire Police as a whole, and who, rather than supporting her as a victim, seemed to rally behind, and protect, PC Hirst. She subsequently instructed Iain Gould [1], one of the country’s leading lawyers in police misconduct actions, who commenced court proceedings on behalf of Ms Azeez against West Yorkshire Police for assault and battery, false imprisonment, trespass to property and breaches of the Human Rights Act.

Leading police complaints lawyer, Iain Gould of DPP Law in Liverpool

Following the issue of those proceedings, and just two weeks before trial, West Yorkshire Police agreed at a Joint Settlement Meeting on 29th September 2017 to a payout of £25,000 in damages, plus Ms Azeez’s legal costs and, perhaps, most importantly, and very rarely seen even in successful actions against the police, a formal apology from an Assistant Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police:

“I write on behalf of West Yorkshire Police to offer my sincere apologies for the way in which you were treated by our officers on 22nd April 2014.

Having reviewed the incident, I can see that there were significant failings on the part of the officers involved, both in terms of their knowledge of their lawful powers and then the way in which the situation developed. It is also unacceptable that you (Ms Azeez) were not provided with a proper explanation for the custody officer’s decision to release you from custody on the night of the incident.

I fully appreciate how distressing this whole event must have been for you, and acknowledge that the consequences of the incident, for both you and your children, have been serious and prolonged. 

As outlined in the report of the Professional Standards Department, both PC Hirst and PC Nkasu received words of advice and appropriate training as a result of this incident to ensure the same mistakes are not made again.

West Yorkshire Police aim to ensure the safety of all members of the community and, on this day, I very much regret that the standards we set were not met.

The settlement terms achieved should go a long way to helping Ms Azeez put her life back together after this highly distressing incident, the memories of which had caused her to have to relocate her family from the Bradford area to London”.

What happened to Ms Azeez and her family is truly outrageous and the settlement does not take away the fact that two officers, one a perpetrator, and the other failing to challenge the unlawful behaviour, have been present at a serious assault on a mother, in front of her young children. Then continued to taunt and humiliate her, in a most calculating and appalling fashion. Yet, they remain serving officers with West Yorkshire Police.

Iain Gould concludes; “Obviously the assault perpetrated upon her by an armed officer in front of her young children was absolutely unconscionable, but to me equally shocking and deplorable was the way in which West Yorkshire Police as an organisation callously turned their backs on Ms Azeez once they determined that they in fact had no grounds to arrest her. 

It would have been a simple and straightforward matter at that stage for a senior officer to have offered an apology, some words of kindness and  arrange immediate medical treatment and, thereafter, a lift home.  Even just an explanation as to what had happened. 

As it was Ms Azeez was left completely in the dark both as to the reason for her arrest and the reason for her release.  But it seems that the Force was only interested in her if they could classify her as a villain; they had no concern for her as a victim – the victim of one of their own officers, indeed.  Having been assaulted in her home, effectively abducted, separated from her children and taken across town against her will, and without any just cause, she was now ‘thrown out’ onto the street to make her own way home. 

Further insult to injury was added by the forces’ usual approach to a complaint against its officers:  Treating the complainant with contempt, and carrying out an investigation motivated by the desire not to discover the truth, but to shield their own officers.  Eventually, they have done the right thing, but only because my client had the courage and conviction to pursue a court claim to enforce her rights”.

Whilst it might be difficult for the reader to comprehend, the conduct of the two constables is not at all out of the routine for West Yorkshire Police, and they feel empowered to act this way because they are certain that, backed by the powerful police officers’ ‘union’, the Police Federation, there will be no meaningful sanction from the force’s entirely discredited Professional Standards Department.

West Yorkshire Police chief constable, Dee Collins. Pictured on duty with “PC Edward Walker”.

Meantime the force’s chief constable, Dee Collins is happy to broadcast, on social media, pictures of her carrying a teddy bear around and, at the same time, pushing out PR guff about how she puts victims at the heart of her police work. That, on the evidence of the Azeez case, is simply not true.

The chief constable also boasts about providing statements in support of her officers who are assaulted (‘he touched my arm‘ was the basis of one ‘assault on constable’ charge) but was nowhere in sight in Oluwatoyin Azeez’s hour of need. It is also noteworthy that PC Hirst made an allegation of assault against Ms Azeez that the custody sergeant, to his credit, wouldn’t entertain.

That is double standards at its very worst. Ms Collins’ past role as a ‘Fed rep’ has, perhaps, never really left her?

The reality, as I know much better than most, when dealing with West Yorkshire Police, and particularly their notorious PSD [2], is very different from the ‘caring’ PR face they try to project. The unofficial force motto, famously immortalised by author David Peace in his seminal Red Riding trilogy, perhaps sums them up best: “Where we do what we want“. [3]

Ms Azeez’s elected policing representative, PCC Mark Burns-Williamson, and the chief constable, Ms Collins, were approached for comment.

The question put to both was: “In all the circumstances of this case, is the Chief Constable satisfied that ‘words of advice’ was the appropriate disciplinary sanction for PC’s Hirst and Nkatsu?”

The force press office provided a response that was almost identical to the gist of the letter of apology sent to Ms Azeez. When pressed for a comment attributable to the chief constable they, surprisingly, declined.

The PCC’s press officer, Dolores Cowburn, did not even acknowledged the email sent to her.

 

[1] Contact Iain Gould, via his website, at http://www.iaingould.co.uk

[2] Unprofessional Standards website at http://www.upsd.co.uk

[3] The Guardian: ‘Northern Exposure’ https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2009/feb/28/david-peace-red-riding-tv

Page last updated Friday 17th November, 2017 at 1710hrs

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.

 

When reputation management trumps safeguarding risk

If a citizen commits a crime then they can expect to face the full force of the law and an appropriately scaled punshment. Either by penalty notice at one end of the scale, or a lengthy prison sentence at the other. That is one of the foundation stones of a free, democratic society.

We are told, often, that police officers are citizens in uniform. But the reality is, they largely face a different set of rules, if they are found to break the law. Processing through the criminal justice system is seen, in many cases, by their force, as a last resort. Particularly, if the case is likely to cause harm to the reputation of the police service and there is an available compromise.

That may involve a ‘plea bargain‘ that amounts to a miscreant officer resigning from the force and no criminal charge. That, it must be said, saves money on misconduct and criminal proceedings – and also avoids the police’s dirty washing being aired in public.

Another exit route is the ‘not in the public interest‘ argument that forms part of the Crown Prosecution Service‘s Full Code Test [1]. The evidence may be there, but for reasons of proportionality, for example, the matter doesn’t proceed to court.

Other factors include the Police Federation’s input and the, mainly, benign approach of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) towards police wrongdoing.

The Fed are, of course, the police officer’s ‘union’ for all ranks up to chief inspector – and provide pastoral support, legal advice and, more crucially, funding for the latter. They are, beyond doubt, a powerful and very wealthy organisation (in West Yorkshire alone Fed has over £2 million in reserves). Their default position is that police forces (by definition, as appropriate authority, chief constables) should deal with miscreant officers ‘in-house’ and the Fed should be free to cut deals (or the ‘plea bargains’) with chief officers that suit them and their members – and, more likely than not, the force.

However cosy, and pragmatic, this arrangement may seem, the public, and in some cases, the press, are very often left perplexed by the system – and the unavoidable perception that a police officer has ‘got away with it‘. More crucially, victims in these cases can be left isolated, humiliated and with their confidence in the police shredded.

One small consolation is that police officers can no longer retire to avoid disciplinary proceedings. A route taken by thousands over the years, with gold-plated pensions intact.

Which brings us to two very recent West Yorkshire cases that, whilst not yet finalised, have ‘cover-up‘ written all over them. They have come to attention through whistleblowers brave, and public-spirited, enough to put their head above the parapet.

As criminal charges may follow in at least one of the two cases (probably as a result of this exposé), care has to be taken not to prejudice any contemplated proceedings and the names and ranks of the officers involved are, for the present time, not being revealed.

Curiously, both these officers have previously faced criminal proceedings for assault on members of the public. Neither was convicted:

The most senior of the two, of managerial rank, was cleared by a jury after a controversial trial concerning an incident that happened off-duty. The on-line report of those proceedings has, fairly recently, been wiped from the newspaper website that had carried it for some years. Presumably, after the officer came under increasing fire in a series of complaints made against him by members of the public who felt his conduct had fallen below the standards expected from a senior policeman.

The more junior officer, a police constable, was charged with assault, but the case did not proceed beyond the plea hearing due to witness issues. He resumed normal duties as a neighbourhood patrol officer in one of the many former mining communities in the county. He is said to be a likeable lad, but lacking in common sense. The assault charge was described as one of a number of disciplinary ‘near misses’.

On 21st July, 2017, the constable was arrested and detained over suspicion of improper contact with a young girl. She was a resident of a care home at the material time. It is said that there were inappropriate remarks made to the girl, by the constable, during a visit to the care home. This allegedly sparked further messages, and the sending of at least one photograph of an indecent nature. His locker was searched and police mobile phone siezed. Suspension from duty quickly followed, once the deputy chief constable’s sanction had been obtained.

The matter is further complicated by separate allegations that, when the first contact was flagged up to the constable’s supervision, no safeguarding measures were put in place to prevent an escalation. The suspicion persists that this management failing, and how to scrub around it, will be occupying the attention of the force’s decision makers.

Having received information about the incidents, and allegations, from three separate sources – which included being provided with the officer’s name, rank and collar number – the press office at West Yorkshire Police was contacted for comment, or a statement, early on 26th July, 2017. They were also asked to confirm if criminal charges were laid and, if so, when the officer would next appear before a court. For a variety of reasons, which will become clear as this matter unfolds, it is a case I would want to report upon. Preferably, exclusively.

Two and a half days later, the press office reverted with a refusal to comment, grounded in the fact that there were legal proceedings in process. They have been asked to clarify whether those proceedings are criminal, misconduct, or both. No response has, so far, been provided over three days later.

At the same time, the press office of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) was also contacted. The question put to them concerned a mandatory referral of the matter as an abuse of the police officer’s powers to procure a sexual relationship. A form of corruption that the police watchdog has emphasised as one of their priorities. There has been no response at all from the IPCC, despite being pressed to do so on social media. Which gives rise to the genuinely held, and well grounded, suspicion that no referral had taken place prior to the press enquiry and a scramble is now under way as to how best to present that failure without appearig critical of WYP or their own lack of oversight.

To journalists dealing with the press offices of policing bodies this will come as no surprise; they are routinely opaque. To the public, who may have young girls as part of their family, this will be alarming. The victim, and the care home staff, may also be in the dark and not receiving appropriate liasion. The constable himself may need welfare assistance and support; often this type of offending is part of a matrix of troubled circumstances. For example, a chaotic home, or professional, life.

We can only speculate, until the police and the IPCC emerge from their ‘hidey-hole’ and inform precept payers, and the press, with sufficient information to maintain public confidence, but without prejudice to any ongoing proceedings.

The situation with the senior officer, and safeguarding risks associated with him, whilst very different in its circumstance and context, is also not being managed in a way that maintains public confidence in West Yorkshire Police. Indeed, it could be said that this officer has also led a charmed existence for a number of years now, whilst enjoying the patronage of one very senior officer in particular, ACC Andy Battle. An officer whose career has not been one without its own controversies – and one with whom I have clashed, personally.

Beginning in 2011, their have been a number of well evidenced complaints against the officer at the centre of the safeguarding concerns. During which time, he has held two significant, high profile roles. One of which may surprise and shock many members of the public. Whilst I am familiar with this officer’s career, to specify those roles, or indeed his rank, may present a risk of jigsaw identification.

The complaints which are known about – and the presumption is that there are more that the force seeks to conceal – include those made by a highly-regarded former police officer.

Other complaints were made by two well-connected West Yorkshire businessmen whose cases, for different reasons, attracted widespread press and broadcast attention. Two of the complaints concerned anger management issues, which was a feature of the evidence heard against him at the criminal trial. One of the complaints involved three successive witness statements being given by the officer, each different – and all inconsistent with independent evidence.

Another concerned a covert surveillance operation on me, mounted by WYP, in 2013. In October of that year, a group of my justice campaigning friends and myself met, not for the first time, socially, at the White Horse public house in Emley. Unknown to us WYP had placed at least one officer in the bar to observe the group. As we left, an unmarked grey BMW 5 series estate car tailed one of my guests as he left the pub and drove towards home. After less than two miles the errant officer and a uniformed colleague stopped my friend’s car, an expensive and very distinctive vehicle. The two officers proceeded to invent reasons for the stop – and asked the driver to take a breath test. It blew negative, as my friend is a virtual tee-totaller. The police had followed him because he had been the ‘carrier’ in the pub for other guests’ drinks and, as a result, the police watcher inside the pub had fingered the ‘wrong’ man. Not that if they had fingered the ‘right’ man would it have made a difference. I had been picked up at my home, nearby, and driven to (and from) the pub by a teetotal, retired police officer with 31 years exemplary service.

The most extraordinary part of this episode is that the unmarked police vehicle had been ‘borrowed’ from the force’s Carr Gate operational services complex, for the purpose, when the errant officer was based elsewhere and his duties, at the time, would certainly not have included covert policing. Quite the opposite, in fact. When he was identified at the scene. he put his head in his hands, over the steering wheel, like a man who knew the game was up.

One of the two businessman has now issued a wide-ranging civil claim, being handled by one of the top police complaints solicitors in the country, Iain Gould [2]. A without prejudice offer made by the force, in an attempt to settle matters, was countered by a more realistic sum that the complainant would agree to. At first, the force solicitor, Mike Percival, claimed this counter-offer had never been received by him, but had to retract when West Yorkshire Police disclosed materials, by way of a data subject access request, that included the very letter that Mr Percival stated he had not received. A routine day at the office for those unfortunate enough to have to deal with the smoke and mirrors world of WYP on a regular basis.

The complaints made by the former police officer have also been a thorn in both the side of the force and the errant policing manager. They are very well articulated and properly evidenced. At first, the force attempted to deal with them ‘off-system’ by way of a ‘fob-off’ letter from a crony of the officer being complained about.

Subsequent attempts to deflect the complaints do not reflect well on the force, either. The consistent thread of the complaints is of flouting regulations, poor interpersonal skills and intemperate responses to any form of challenge. The risk he posed to others was set out in stark detail by a highly respected, hugely experienced individual by way of close observation.

During this process, it was also revealed that the officer in question had applied for a transfer, from his previous force, to both Humberside and Lincolnshire Police, and turned down, before joining WYP. Which raises another set of questions as to how low the latter force set the bar for in-service recruits. Particularly relevant, at the present time, as WYP embark on a drive to attract over 600 officers to their ranks.

For my own part, I wrote to Chief Inspector Michelle Martin on 30th March 2015, highlighting the risk her miscreant fellow manager posed. She obviously didn’t agree, as she never even acknowledged the email, let aone provided a substantive response. It was copied to ACC Battle (and two other recipients), so it is not open to either CI Martin or ACC Battle to say they were not warned, in very bleak terms, that here was an accident (or worse) waiting to happen.

As night follows day, happen it has. The troubled officer has, it seems, imploded and suffered what is described to me as a ‘mental breakdown’. Surrounding this trauma, there have been a series of unappealing incidents about which I cannot, at this time, go into detail. They, allegedly, involve three females, two of them young, one of whom has been removed from his home by a council-run agency. It is said that the local authority had also, previously, been contacted with concerns over the risks this officer posed.

The overwhelming feeling is that what has happened in the case could well have been prevented with a more enlightened approach to officer welfare, and safety of the public, by the force and, equally, investigating public complaints proportionately and heeding the clear safeguarding warnings that were being given to senior managers. Most notably, ACC Battle.

The reaction to this crisis from WYP is much the same as with the constable at the centre of the grooming scandal. Lock down on information, keep colleagues and affected members of the public in the dark – and hope their luck holds out with no further serious incidents.

The present chief constable of West Yorkshire Police, Dee Collins, has been in post now for over three years (the first two and a bit as temporary post holder, in the enforced absence of the errant Mark Gilmore). She certainly talks the on-message safeguarding and victim priority talk, but it is time to walk the walk when the misconduct, or criminality, is within her own force.

Ms Collins is nobody’s fool, as her track record shows. Lots of sharp-end operational policing experience and, more unusually, spells as a Fed rep, and a Superintendents’ Association rep, to boot. Which may be unprecedented in the history of the post of chief constable, but decidedly useful tools for a chief officer to have in her bag.

Chief Constable Dee Collins, pictured in the famous Oak Room at West Yorkshire Police HQ, has endeared herself to many with an easy communication style.

Reputations, both amongst the ranks as well as the public, can be made, or lost, by dealing with these cases in the prescribed manner – and with an appropriate level of openness and transparency.

It would be a major step forward if the force, finally, had a leader that could shed the decades-old perception of a policing organisation where ‘cover-up‘ is the reflex reaction to a management incompetence, or investigative failure.

Over to you, Ma’am.

 

Page last updated: Sunday 30th July, 2017 at 1825hrs

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.