An affront to open justice

Last Friday I reported on an appeal judgment handed down in the Leeds Registry of the High Court of Justice (read more here). It was a civil claim in which the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police and his legal team were defeated by a Bradford GP and medico-legal practitioner, Dr Abdul Rashid.

It was an expensive loss, in terms of reputation of the police, public confidence in them, as well as the consequential costs and, as yet unquantified, damages. Four chief officers, Norman Bettison, Mark Gilmore, Dionne Collins and John Robins have overseen this debacle from its genesis in October, 2011 and an unlawful dawn arrest five months later, involving no less than sixteen officers. The former two chiefs would have known very little about the case. Both left the force under dark clouds. The latter two deeply involved because of the huge sums of money at stake, potentially topping £5 million. Dee Collins, as she likes to be known, authorised a ‘Part 36’ offer of just £10,000 plus costs to settle the claim.

Robins has been on the scene throughout as divisional commander of the arresting officer and his cohort; temporary deputy, deputy and then chief constable. He has a great deal to answer for:

Criminal offences have been committed by officers, on the clearest of evidence (read more here), and the level of misconduct and gross misconduct by a number of other officers in the force, not least to perpetuate a grotesque ‘cover-up’ has been simply breathtaking. Pursuit of satellite interests, instinctive lying, data breaches, police computer misuse, concealing or destroying documents, suppressing witness evidence, grotesque smearing of a hard-working professional man and the pursuit of a zealous, persistent, long-running vendetta by the police, designed not only to ruin him but, principally, to defeat the civil claim.

Selective memory, of course, comes as standard with WYP in court proceedings and their main witness answered no less than 13 times in terms of ‘I don’t remember’ or ‘I don’t recall’ when questioned by defence counsel about key events or missing documents. The same officer, Sergeant Mark Taylor (as he was then) was present at the arrest and has been involved continuously in the case as exhibits and disclosure officer ever since. He should know the case backwards and have logged and preserved every single piece of evidence. That was his principal duty. Some of the key documents he couldn’t produce were his own notebooks and emails. Taylor is still a serving inspector in Bradford CID.

With, it must be said, the aid of a judge whose verdict has now been quite properly overturned, but not quite in the terms it should have been (read more here), the police very nearly got away with it. Rounding off a bad week for Mr Recorder Nolan QC as he was at the centre of a complaint outcome upon which I exclusively reported here. The complaint was not upheld, but is presently the subject of appeal to the Judicial Conduct Investigation Office.

The standing of the legal team deployed by the chief constable, in this most unpleasant of debacles, is also diminished and their own conduct, it can be argued, might well be the subject of a regulatory investigation, at the very least, in order to maintain public confidence in the civil justice system. Litigation is not for snowflakes, but what has been allowed to pass here as professional conduct is seriously troubling.

The instructing solicitor, Alison Walker, Deputy Head of Legal Services for West Yorkshire Police, is said to be already under investigation over other civil proceedings, but neither her own force or the force to whom, I am told, the matter has been referred (Cleveland) will confirm or deny. Mrs Walker will, doubtless, deny any allegations of impropriety in that particular case, and no imputation, beyond the fact that an investigation may be taking place, is made, but she has a much greater difficulty in the Rashid claim as I (and others) have witnessed it, recorded it in my notebook, reported upon it assiduously and have the complete trial transcript (running to 1166 pages) and trial bundle (electronic version of 12 lever arch volumes) to back up those scribblings. Not one word of which has been challenged by the police, or anyone else.

It is also not clear whether it was on instructions from her client, or of her own motion, but Olivia Checa-Dover of counsel sought to have me removed from the substantive hearing of the claim brought by Dr Rashid on the beginning of the fourth day (of ten). At a hearing in the same court building seven weeks later, she objected to my presence in the press box during another civil claim against West Yorkshire Police brought by a former officer, Kerry Perkins (read more here). The latter case cost the taxpayer over £80,000 in costs shortfall; the Rashid case could well cost the same taxpayers over £1 million in costs and damages. That is on Olivia’s opinion and advice. Seemingly, she, and the police, would much rather these matters, of huge public interest, were not reported and the foundation principle of open justice defeated. Not to mention the routine WYP disclosure failings, questionable witness box testimony, and the ‘cover-ups’ referred to earlier in this piece.

That, from my position in the press seats, diminishes her standing as both counsel and an officer of the court – and those instructing her, including other police forces such as Durham Constabulary (read more here) and Staffordshire Police to name but two, might, in future, consider anxiously whether she is an appropriate guardian of public funds. Or able to contain her innate bullishness.

Nothwithstanding those criticisms, I am an admirer of Miss Checa-Dover’s undoubted talent as a courtroom advocate, her ability to charm the bench and enviable case preparation skills.

As a footnote I would add that, having been adjacent to the Perkins case for over two years, from its very first public hearing in Wakefield County Court, if Kerry had not been worn down mentally, physically and financially by her former employers during the legal process, and forced to withdraw her own appeal to the High Court, she would also have ultimately succeeded in her data protection, privacy claim. A view shared by her legal team, including Sarah Hemingway of counsel, which would have been bolstered by the addition of the formidable Stephen Cragg QC to the legal team at appeal. That would have added around £175,000 to the West Yorkshire taxpayer bill, by way of costs and damages.

The spectacular oversight failings in this case of such as West Yorkshire’s hapless, hopeless Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson and his slippery chief executive and string-puller, Fraser Sampson, will be the subject of a separate article. The Independent Office for Police Conduct and Crown Prosecution Service also feature strongly in the facilitation of this grotesque debacle.

The IOPC, in particular, can expect to be put to the sword. They concealed a former WYP detective constable, Mark Lunn, in their Wakefield office for over three years and refuse to confirm that a full review of every case to which he was a party. He just happened to be the arresting officer of Dr Rashid. Even the most basic of checks by the police watchdog would have raised sufficient concerns for him not to be employed in an organisation where flawless integrity should be an absolute necessity.

Lunn is described by a former senior IOPC colleague as “lazy and corrupt, spending more time pursuing his own business interests (selling free range eggs) than his job here”. Given what is written extensively, elsewhere on this website (read here), about the wayward and dishonest Lunn, that observation has the necessary ring of truth.

Page last updated: Monday 28th September, 2020 at 1535 hours

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