Drowning in deceit

On this website rests a significant number of articles that robustly challenge the integrity, ethics and transparency of Julia Mulligan, the Conservative politician who has twice been elected as Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for North Yorkshire and the City of York. She has been offered right to reply to all of them. In almost every case the request for comment was ignored. They stand unchallenged.

There are also two exoriating articles written about the appointment of her deputy, Will Naylor, and the deceit and subterfuge surrounding the recruitment process.

Will’s credentials, and career history, regrettably, did not withstand scrutiny at that time – and still don’t. Described to me only last week, by an insider, as ‘chaotic‘, the PCC’s office perenially staggers from crisis to crisis. Neither does the Naylor record on providing a straight answer to a straight question. Those articles also stand unchallenged. He declined to comment on either of them, when approached.

He has, very recently, reverted to type: Deliberately ‘running down the clock’ then providing what, taken at its face, is a calculatingly fallacious response to two straightforward, but important, questions asked by a member of the public: In this particular case, the enquiry came from another experienced freedom of information requester, Edward Williams, whom, like myself, has tasted relatively rare success at the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights).

A second recent instance, involving Naylor, concerns the refusal to disclose very basic information held by the PCC’s office, in connection with complaints against ex-chief constable, Dave Jones. This is to be the subject of a separate article, which will follow shortly after the publication of this one.

On 26th October, 2018, Mr Williams made a simple, plainly expressed request to the PCC’s office via the What Do They Know website:

He referenced the PCC’s response to a report that had been published two days earlier by the North Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel. Its findings were that a complaint of bullying, made by one of Julia Mulligan’s staff, and supported by three others, had been been upheld. A significant public interest story that was, quite understandably, widely published and broadcast on TV and radio locally, regionally and nationally.

It is trite, therefore, to say that the PCC must know all about the bullying issues raised by four of her own staff. Any pretence to good standing as an elected policing representative, such as remained after exposure of a lengthy series of other failings, had been well and truly trashed by the adverse publicity.

The information request was promptly, and cheerily, acknowledged, by a junior member of the PCC’s staff, three days later.

Alex’s turn of phrase was notably impressive, but rather unfortunate as events unfolded. There was no ‘prompt’ response (as required by section 10 (1) of the Freedom of Information Act), and a coach and horses was driven through the statutory limits (a backstop of 20 working days). At the very latest, disclosure should have been made before 23rd November, 2018.

Indeed, there was a stony silence until Mr Williams prompted the PCC’s office on 10th January, 2019 by requesting an internal review of his unfulfilled information request. This elicited a reply from Holly Earnshaw, the PCC’s complaints caseworker and an officer whom, in my own experience, is always pleasant and helpful, if not a little exasperated at what goes on around her.

Holly does not say whom the ‘relevant person’ is. Or explain why this request, as are all others to North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, was not being dealt with by the specialist disclosure officers in the Civil Disclosure Unit (CDU), headed up by a police lawyer. It can be plainly inferred that the CDU had not been involved up to this point.

Supported by the fact that at least one freedom of information request, submitted well after the one from Mr Williams, had been finalised on 4th January, 2019. That originated from another journalist, Nigel Ward, very well known to Julia Mulligan (she spent £450,000 on legal fees trying to silence him, and a colleague, Tim Hicks). The Ward request, controversial on any view, was partially successful and dealt with by Liz Fryar in the Civil Disclosure Unit, albeit outside the statutory time limit by a couple of weeks, or so (read here).

There followed a further two weeks of unexplained silence from the PCC’s office. In spite of understandable frustration, Mr Williams cheerily wrote to Harrogate HQ on 25th January, 2019 and gave them five more days to disclose a minimal amount of readily retrievable information he had first requested three months ago. Failing that, he intimated, a report to the Information Commissioner’s Office would be made.

It was Holly Earnshaw who responded again, on the same day. Saying much the same thing as two weeks previously, but still not identifying whom the relevant person, or department, might be that was causing the delay. She did add, however, albeit belatedly, that she appreciated ‘this is a matter that needs to be prioritised

Ten days later, on 4th February, 2019, Mr Williams finally received his response. It was accompanied by an apologetic note from Will Naylor. There is no explanation offered as to the either the cause of the delay, or why Naylor has finalised a request when he has no apparent knowledge of freedom of information law:

This is the essential contents of the accompanying letter. The letter is, strangely, unattributed. If it had been determined by a disclosure officer within the CDU they, invariably, put their name to such finalisation letters, with an invitation to contact them to discuss the decision:

Decision 
I have today decided to disclose the located information to you. 

1) The Office of the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire (OPFCC) hold record of 1 complaint made against the PFCC, by staff, since 2014. 

2) The OPFCC has no record of any compensation being paid to any complainants, and should there ever be compensation paid, that information will appear in the end of year accounts. 

In spite of its brevity, and having taken 101 days to compile, the disclosure contains several grotesque errors:

The reply to Question 1 beggars belief given the information already in the public domain.

Question 2 should have contained an ‘information not held’ Refusal Notice in order to comply with Section 17 of the Freedom of Information Act which, again, supports the proposition that this request was dealt with by a person with very limited knowledge of the relevant statutory framework. As does the superfluous reference to annual accounts which has little, or no, bearing, on disclosure requested by way of the Act.

With regard to Question 1, the BBC, no less, has reported: 

(i) That four members of her staff have complained about PCC Julia Mulligan and their collective complaints of bullying were upheld by an independent panel. 

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-yo…

(ii) That, since the first round of bullying complaints were upheld, two others have surfaced. The panel’s finding on those is expected shortly. 

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-yo…

That makes six complaints, in total, that are already in the public domain. It is impossible to reconcile that number with the proposition that there are records of only one in the PCC’s office, according to Will Naylor. 

This is an extract from the complaint report published by the Police and Crime Panel: “The Panel received a complaint lodged by an individual who, in the interests of ensuring confidentiality, shall be referred to as “AB” for the purposes of this report. AB’s complaint alleged that in the course of their employment with the PCC, AB had been subjected to bullying behaviour by the PCC, which had impacted considerably on AB’s confidence, health and wellbeing. AB also provided supporting statements from three other individuals who similarly alleged that they had been subjected to bullying behaviour by the PCC“.

All the materials comprising the core complaint from AB, and three other members of the PCC staff who also made complaints of bullying by the PCC, in their statements supporting AB, were supplied to Julia Mulligan as part of the assessment undertaken by the Panel. It is inconceivable, to a right thinking person, that data relating to those complaints is not held in her office and properly characterised as complaints.

The Sub-Committee considers that the multiple accounts of staff perceiving themselves to being subjected to frequently irascible and intimidating behaviour by the PCC is sufficient to demonstrate a misuse of power or position and an overbearing approach to supervision of staff.

There is also the issue of the second wave of bullying complaints submitted to the Police and Crime Panel in early November, 2018. Details of Mrs Mulligan’s questionable association with a convicted kidnapper and gangster, and the alleged use of a member of her staff to erase records on Julia’s personal Facebook account, have also surfaced. Is the position of the PCC that she is unaware of those?

It has been suggested to Mr Williams that, in respect of any internal review of the information request that he may contemplate, he puts Will Naylor to proof over the data searches he has undertaken (when, where, how), and to also ask for disclosure of the internal emails within the PCC’s office where his information request is either the subject, or part of, the body text. 

The outcome of such an internal review would, if conducted appropriately by an experienced disclosure officer, or information rights lawyer, be highly revelatory. Developments are keenly awaited in that regard. Particularly, as Julia Mulligan recently made a statement to the same Panel that she was not sighted in freedom of information requests made to her office and played no part in their finalisation. I, for one, find that very hard to believe.

Mrs Mulligan retains her position as Ethics and Integrity Lead at the Association of Police Commissioners and continues to sit on its Board of Directors.

She robustly denies having bullied any of her staff and blames a politically motivated vendetta by those complaining about her. What cannot be denied, however, is that she told a public meeting, in December 2017, that she would “squeeze the pips of the civil disclosure officers harder”. This was in response to stinging criticism of the PCC’s abject performance, ever since she took office, regarding responses to information requests. I was sat less than a metre away from Julia Mulligan when she uttered those words. They were reported to the CDU the following day:

IMG_0262

Surprisingly, none of this collateral evidence found its way into the Police and Crime Panel’s bullying report, despite them being made aware of my email and the prima facie disclosure of that class of conduct . 

Both the PCC and her Deputy have been offered right of reply to the entirety of this article. Mrs Mulligan has previously declined to respond to questions regarding the email set out above.

A statement has also been requested from the Head of the Civil Disclosure Unit regarding their apparent exclusion from this freedom of information process.

The requests for comment and a statement did not even receive acknowledgement from Julia Mulligan or Jane Wintermeyer, Head of Legal Services, whose responsibilities include line management of the Civil Disclosure Unit. Will Naylor did respond but has not taken issue with any of the points raised in the article.

Holly Earnshaw was also invited to name the colleague, within the PCC’s office, to whom she passed on the communications from Mr Williams. No acknowledgement has been received to the email sent to her on 12th February, 2018. Indeed, this must have caused considerable discomfort to Will Naylor as access to Holly’s email address has now been blocked.

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All in the interest of ethics and transparency, of course.

 

 

Page last updated on Friday 15th February, 2019 at 1630hrs

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