Seven years ago today, The Times newspaper informed its readers that Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary had appointed Greater Manchester Police (GMP) to investigate corruption allegations involving a neighbouring force (read the article in full here).
The notorious West Yorkshire Police (WYP), whose miscarriage of justice history stretches back almost 50 years, are accused of a widescale force-wide ‘cover-up’ in the case of ex-PC Danny Major, a graduate probationary officer who was jailed for an assault on a teenaged prisoner, held in Leeds Bridewell, after WYP colleagues testified against him in three criminal trials.
The first trial, in 2005, was stayed as an abuse of process; the second, in April 2006, declared a mis-trial after the jury could not reach a majority verdict; the third in November, 2006, saw Major convicted of two counts of common assault and sentenced to 15 months in prison. He served 4 months before being released on licence in March, 2007. The offences took place in September, 2003. The victim, Sean Rimmington, was a lairy 6’4″ amateur rugby league player who had drunk himself senseless and was found at around 4am propped against the old Millgarth Police Station in central Leeds.
After an inexplicable delay of over five years, Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire’s perenially ineffective Police and Crime Commissioner, finally referred the case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) after complaints that officers’ testimonies were unreliable and that other key evidence, including closed-circuit television footage, was withheld from the defence during those trials.
Like the PCC, in his former life of Police Authority Chairman, the IPCC had also previously rejected the complaints made by Danny’s mother, Bernadette Major, after what appeared to be a closed, compromised, rigour-free, highly partial assessment of the issues raised against the police, in 2007. Those were, of course, the police watchdog’s familiar trademarks and, many years too late, they were eventually dissolved in December, 2018 after a lengthy series of national scandals, often involving loss of life at the hands of the police, and of which the Major enquiry was just one relatively minor part. No life was lost, but many were ruined.
I was namechecked in The Times article and freely credited, at the time, by both the Major family and GMP, as the campaigner singularly responsible for the reluctant change of heart by the two Commissioner bodies and the instigation of the ‘outside force’ investigation. Sampson and Burns-Williamson had branded the Major family ‘persistent complainants’ (a fate that has befallen many others, including myself) and the IPCC had previously placed them in ‘special measures’ with a single point of contact (SPOC) stonewalling their enquiries and entreaties. The SPOC, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had a vested personal interest in maintaining the status quo.
WYP, and the IPCC, for their part, maintained a resentful silence after the referral but I was, over the succeeding three years to be attacked by both those policing organisations claiming harassment against officers whom I’d named as failing in their public duties. Neither succeeded; the IPCC via the civil courts and WYP via a lengthy criminal investigation, but the attrition, undoubtedly, left a lasting toll. To this day, I am continually harassed by WYP as they regularly instruct lawyers to seek to have me removed from courtrooms from which I am reporting as an accredited journalist. So far, those lawyers, and the police force, have only succeeded in making even bigger fools of themselves.
GMP, in the guise of ACC Garry Shewan, the Gold Commander, also pulled a harassment rabbit out of the hat when he was caught out, telling at least one lie, just six months into the Danny Major investigation, randomly codenamed Operation Lamp. That complaint also came to naught, except that I refused to have anything further to do with him. I was widely reviled for calling out Shewan on social media, and in articles written at the time, as he enjoyed a high profile and appeared to be a very popular senior policing figure. In my own experience he was a pompous, shallow and, at times, quite ludicrous individual.
The succeeding years saw Shewan fall into disgrace as police whistleblowers came forward to reveal both his own integrity shortcomings and the wider, and deeply entrenched, ‘cover-up’ culture cascading down from the top of the Greater Manchester force of which he was, of course an integral (and some say central) part. The best read article on this website, even though it was only published a few months ago, covers in some detail that propensity. It can be read in full here.
Shewan was also very largely responsible for one of the biggest in-house disasters the UK police service has ever encountered. A £27 million IT transformation project, nicknamed iOPS, which he formulated, procured and implemented has turned into an £80 million (and rising) nightmare for the Manchester force. I’ve written thousands of words on the topic (read more here) and appeared on an ITV Granada Reports programme that put the extent of the scandal into the public domain for the first time (view here).
When the terms of reference for Manchester’s Danny Major investigation were set. Shewan acted on behalf of his force and I represented the Major family in that process as their on-record complaint advocate. Fraser Sampson, the PCC’s slippery chief executive completed that particular triangle. He was the public official whom, it is generally acknowledged by insiders, was mainly responsible for continually blocking the Major family’s fight for justice prior to 2013. For Sampson, a man whom I have found to be a stranger to the truth on more than one occasion, and called him out on it face to face, it very probably comes down to money: Danny Major would be entitled to £millions in compensation for malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, loss of status, reputation, salary, pension and associated benefits if his name is eventually cleared at the Court of Appeal. Every year that goes by compounds the figure dramatically. It would fall to Sampson, as WYP’s general counsel, to settle the claims and sign the cheques.
It was at my dogged insistence that the term “go where the evidence takes you” was included for reference by the Operation Lamp investigators. The relevance of that demand was to unfold dramatically just under three years later.
In December, 2015, a redacted version of the Operation Lamp investigation outcome was finally released to the Major family. Shewan and another officer with whom I had clashed, C/Supt Paul Rumney, had sat on that report for 12 months. There was no credible explanation for the delay. The Lamp outcome ran to 506 pages, with seven additional volumes of evidence.
Although I have not seen that version of the report, from what was reported in the media elsewhere, it completely vindicated what I had said to crime reporter (now crime and security editor), Fiona Hamilton, at The Times in January, 2013.
The Major family and I split in the days before the publication of the Lamp report, although cracks in the relationship had appeared a little earlier, once Ian Hanson, the Chairman of the GMP Police Federation had become involved with them. His mission, it seemed at that time, was to drive a wedge between us, by promising the earth to the Major family, provided I was kept at arm’s length and any media activity involving me very much muted.
Later events, including the emerging fact of Hanson’s close friendship with the present chief constable, the now disgraced Ian Hopkins, considerably fortify that belief. This is an article I first published in December, 2015 in response to Hanson’s ‘deal’ with the Majors (read in full here). It was later updated to reflect information that had become publicly available in the meantime.
In my certain knowledge, Hanson was viewed by well-known and well-respected police whistleblowers as an over-promoted, self-regarding, under-achieving, and, perhaps ungenerously, as a ‘command team quisling’. His standing does not appear to be overly high with his successor at the Fed, either, if one reads closely into the election publicity of Stuart Berry. Interestingly, Berry’s relationship is, reportedly, very different when it comes to dealing with the chief constable and the new Chairman is prepared to forcibly stand his ground, where necessary, to protect the interests of his Members.
But, for all that, Hanson achieved what he set out to do and the Majors were now isolated and at the mercy of the same institution, the police service, that, apparently, ‘fitted-up’ Danny and then, and about this there is no doubt, engaged in a persistent, long-running, grotesque, multi-agency ‘cover-up’. Personally, and professionally, I found that action by GMP, and its tame acceptance by the Major family, profoundly disappointing. Not least because I had been asked to write the book about the Danny Major miscarriage of justice – and it was always understood that I would manage media relations exclusively on their behalf once the Lamp report was published.
In the event, I was dropped like a stone and it is as though I never had any part to play in the family’s fight for justice. Nevertheless, life goes on and the Lamp report produced some sensational headlines in the local, regional and national media. It also received extensive coverage on network television. Danny Major thought the battle was won and he was about to be cleared and return to work as a police officer (he was promised a job with GMP as part of the Hanson ‘package’). But to me, given my inside knowledge, the Lamp report was fundamentally flawed. There had not been a single arrest or prosecution. Or, so it seems, not even one interview, under caution, of any suspect. Greater Manchester Police had NOT gone where the evidence took them, as they were required to do under the terms of reference. It would impact on everything that follows.
At least two officers escaped justice during that near three year investigation period. The most obvious was ex-PC Kevin Liston, a serial criminal whom had been protected for almost 10 years by West Yorkshire Police (read more here in a piece I first published in 2012). He was the main prosecution witness against Danny Major. Without Liston maintaining the stance he took before and at trial, however weak and implausible that was, then the whole case against Major falls apart. The Lamp report describes his evidence at trial as: ‘either deliberately, or inadvertently, misleading the court’.
As can be seen from that Liston article, and prior to the commencement of the Lamp investigation, a list of fifteen criminal offences committed by the miscreant officer had been compiled by the family, and myself, using a variety of police and other insiders. The Manchester detectives were to tell Eric Major, himself a retired police officer with 31 years service, that the schedule was 70% correct: The Lamp team had compiled their own list of 22 offences. There is no evidence in the public domain that Liston has been prosecuted for any of them. The readers of this article are invited to form their own view on that bizarre situation.
By a curious coincidence, my family owned a property in Baghill Lane, Pontefract for many years, less than 200 yards from Liston’s home in an adjacent street. It was sold 3 years ago.
No other journalist has ever questioned why a police officer has been given such licence to commit an alarmingly long list of criminal offences and enjoy complete immunity from prosecution. Neither has the role of the IPCC been questioned in this long running scandal, as it quite properly should. Their officers were complicit in the ‘cover-up’ from a very early stage. A point I made repeatedly to Operation Lamp detectives in the early stages of their investigation in 2013. There is no mention of this in the investigation outcome, yet the evidence examined by Lamp should, most certainly, have taken them there.
The other WYP officer to evade meaningful investigation and sanction during the Lamp investigation was former detective inspector Michael Green. As the architect of the apparently malicious Danny Major prosecution, that has regularly been described since as a ‘fit-up’ and, at the very least, one of the instigators of a 10 year police ‘cover-up’, he should, very arguably, have been charged with at least one of two criminal offences: Misconduct in public office or perverting the course of justice.
The Lamp report, disappointingly, limited comment on Green to ‘poor investigative rigour and a mindset that could be described as verification bias’. It reveals that he failed to recover four out of the six video tapes containing the CCTV output in Leeds Bridewell and failed to interview the officer who was in charge of the control room and monitored that CCTV on the fateful night. The two VHS tapes that were used at trial had been edited in a way that did not assist the defence team at all. Green is alleged to have been the officer who scripted those cuts. He also admitted under cross-examination that he had never viewed either of the tapes. There was also a fairly lengthy list of other disclosure failings uncovered by the Manchester detectives.
At Danny Major’s trial at Bradford Crown Court HH Judge Roger Scott stated that Green was, in his estimation, ‘Inefficient, incompetent and ineffective – and that just covers the i’s, the rest of the alphabet may follow later’. The learned judge was being generous. To those insiders, including myself, who have had access to the relevant case materials, the letter ‘c’ would have been a better place to start: ‘Criminal, corrupt and contempt (of court)’
The same judge also told West Yorkshire Police at the outcome of the trial that he anticipated a full investigation to be carried out in relation to events at the Leeds Bridewell on the night of the assault and, further, expected that several police officers should face criminal charges as a result of the evidence presented at trial. That criminal investigation never took place and the sham misconduct proceedings, that were put in its place instead, were abruptly shut down immediately after Green was interviewed as part of that process by another serial Professional Standards rogue, ex-detective inspector Damian Carr. As a result, not one WYP officer had a single misconduct finding against them as a result of the Danny Major ‘fit-up’. Carr was also, effectively, Kevin Liston’s PSD ‘minder’ for a period of around 5 years during which a significant amount of offending occured.
In another coincidence, Michael Green was in the twilight of his rugby career at Wakefield RUFC as I was beginning mine at neighbouring Sandal. He contacted me several times in 2012 and 2013, protesting his innocence and claiming the Majors were not telling the truth, and asked to meet me at Sandal for a pint (of beer) and a chat. I declined his offer. The case against him, on my reading, was incontrovertible and, indeed, the uPSD (un-Professional Standards Department) website (www.upsd.co.uk), launched in 2012 was named with Green very much in mind.
In February, 2016, West Yorkshire Police referred the ‘explosive’ Operation Lamp report back to the IPCC (now re-badged as the IOPC) who promptly returned it to WYP for ‘local investigation’. They said, in a statement at the time, that Greater Manchester Police had been invited to carry out a second review in February “to investigate whether, in their view, there are any criminal and/or misconduct matters to answer”. The force, curiously, declined to provide the terms of reference for the second investigation, codenamed Operation Redhill.
A third coincidence, if indeed it is one, is that both PCC Burns-Williamson and myself were brought up in the area of Castleford (Glasshoughton), adjacent to Redhill, and Eric Major served for a part of his career at Pontefract police station, just a couple of miles away.
Will Danny Major ever be cleared? I sincerely hope so, but we are now one month into a new decade, seventeen years after the assault on Sean Rimmington took place in Leeds Bridewell; thirteen years since Major was released from jail; seven years to the day since the article in The Times that promised to light the way to justice. To date, no-one has been prosecuted for the offences for which PC Major was tried and cleared and, more particularly, those for which he was convicted. Without the perpetrator(s) being identified, and either cautioned or convicted, then his name can never be cleared. That is how the criminal justice system works. With the passage of time, and the almost four years now taken by the Operation Redhill team on the follow up to Lamp, it strongly suggests that the two police forces are simply running down the clock. Aided and abetted, of course, by the ‘police watchdog’ in the game of pass the ‘explosive’ parcel.
Will the convictions be quashed? Nine years ago, when I was first given access to the case files and the family’s own quite brilliant investigative work, I was confident that goal was achievable, even though it requires a very high evidential and legal bar to be overcome. More so, when I was able to obtain other materials for the family, including the ‘breakthrough’ disclosure from the IPCC, via a data subject access request, that ultimately led to Operation Lamp. After the investigation report was published, everyone involved in the case assumed it was a formality – and I would place myself in that category. But the Criminal Case Review Commission ended their second review of the Major file some time ago (it began in March 2016) with no plans to re-visit until after the conclusion of the Opertion Redhill investigation. They refused a referral to the Court of Appeal after their first review which began in, or around, 2009.
It is, in my informed submission, now unlikely the CCRC will ever make that crucial referral back to the Court of Appeal, without the necessary conviction of the officer(s) in Leeds Bridewell that night who did assault Sean Rimmington. The list of suspects is small, but the evidence necessary to prove it is now, very likely, inaccessible. Also, the will of both the Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire police forces to instigate such a prosecution simply appears not to be there. How else can a second investigation, to simply review the first (which over-ran by two years), take four years, unless there are political machinations being ground out in the background?
Some of those political machinations will, doubtless, involve such as Angela Williams (famously described as “thick as a brick” by Bernadette Major) who is now an assistant chief constable in WYP. As a superintendent in PSD she was the first officer to make adverse decisions concerning the Major family’s complaints.
John Robins, the presennt WYP chief constable has twice held the command team portfolio for Standards (District) or Professional Standards (HQ) since July 2012 when he was promoted from chief superintendent.
Five heads of WYP’s Professional Standards Department all participated, to some degree at least, in the ‘cover-up’ of the Danny Major scandal and the persistent offending of Kevin Liston: They are Mark Bradley, Ian Kennedy, Sarah Brown, Andy Battle, Marc Callaghan. Kennedy labelled me “a crackpot” and Battle told me to my face, at police HQ, I was “a security risk”. Bradley I had nothing to do with. Brown I found lacking in integrity; ineffective and inefficient, Callaghan styled himself “Big Boss Hogg” on social media and the Dukes of Hazzard TV characterisation of “ineffectual, amusing bad guy” did seem to fit in with my own dealings with him.
The IPCC casework manager who rejected the appeal against Williams’ decision is now a senior figure within the disgraced police watchdog which was forced to change its name in 2018 to the IOPC.
The pivotal roles of Fraser Sampson and Mark Burns-Williamson in the Major ‘cover-up’ will also be a political factor in what is an election year for police and crime commisssioners.
Finally, would it have made any difference if the Major family had continued to have me at their side, rather than trading me out in exchange for Ian Hanson and what appears to be a bag full of empty promises?
Personally, I think it would:
- More searching questions would have been asked over Operation Lamp than appeared to be the case at the time, notably the ‘where the evidence takes you’ issue and why GMP had ducked out of it.
- The Major case would have been a platform – and pinch point – from which to help expose other serious corruption matters within West Yorkshire Police and visibly assist others in bitter struggles for justice.
- The terms of reference and timescale for Operation Redhill would have been fought over tooth and nail – and both GMP and WYP left in no doubt that private prosecutions would be laid against Kevin Liston and Michael Green if the police were not prepared to see the job through inside twelve months.
- The Redhill investigation would not have taken almost four years, either, because , after one year, there would have been a group of us camping outside GMP HQ in North Manchester, accompanied by video cameras broadcasting daily on social media.
- Pressure would have been brought to bear in Parliament. Most notably with an evidence session at the Home Affairs Select Committee.
But, regrettably, we are where we are, and the last words, of course, must go to Danny Major himself:
“This case has been all-consuming. I still wake up in the night thinking about it,’
“But I am very determined to clear my name. I will never stop. In fact, everything that I worked so hard for is based upon me clearing my name.”
Page last updated at 1445hrs on Sunday 26th January, 2020.
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