Cover-up at all costs

There are many thousands of words written elsewhere on this website about the so-called ‘police watchdog’ in England and Wales, most recently here. Currently known as the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), having previously existed as the Independent Police Complaints Commission (2004-2018), the Police Complaints Authority (1985-2004) and the Police Complaints Board (1977-1985). Each of those ‘brands’ becoming more toxic than their predecessor (read more here).

The latest incarnation, the IOPC, is already regarded by those involved closely with the police complaints system as even worse than the thoroughly disgraced IPCC. Despite the high hurdle that undoubtedly presented, with its legacy of gratuitous self-congratulation, poor leadership, interminable delays, flawed decision making, and the inevitable partisan outcomes of ‘investigations’ carried out too frequently by inexperienced, under-qualified ‘casework managers’ or ‘lead investigators’ who had completed a six-week remote learning course to earn their badge.

Matters now made much worse by the controversial appointment of an inexperienced, under-qualified (in the police complaints arena) chief executive, Michael Lockwood, with, it appears, an unhealthy appetite for dining at the same table as those he is charged with holding to account. Most notably, his unctious currying of favour with the Police Federation of England and Wales, blowing an ill wind for those making complaints against the Fed’s members. Who just happen to account for over 80% of all warranted police officers.

Knowing whom the Home Office passed over for the job simply makes that situation almost unbearable. A no-nonsense, high-achieving criminal justice practioner with a proven track record of leadership and putting right great wrongs. Made to measure for an organisation so badly in need of a change in culture and the elimination of so many questionable practices.

It is a matter for that person to reveal how, and why, he was passed over. To do otherwise would necessitate an unconscionable breach of confidence.

Lockwood has, since his appointment, been embroiled in a ‘cronyism’ scandal over the appointment of Tom Whiting, his former number two at Harrow Council. Board minutes recorded that the £140,000 per annum appointment was ‘not previously budgeted for’ and Mr Whiting was not ‘financially qualified’.

A qualified accountant, Lockwood also hired his former personal assistant from the same council, but denied any impropriety in both cases.

He also lost his Deputy, Jonathan Green, in yet another embarrassing scandal after Green, who was recruited by the IOPC from the dental profession, was caught having an affair with a junior colleague. He headed up an inquiry that cleared five detectives of misconduct after Scotland Yard’s botched investigation into false claims made by jailed fantasist Carl Beech. The infamous Operation Midland.  One of the matters in issue was detectives misleading a judge in the course of obtaining search warrants.

In the face of well-rehearsed concerns of two prominent judges, the IOPC dismissed the misconduct allegations. The lead investigator on that probe, much younger than him, was said to be Green’s love interest. She admitted the relationship, but the married Green had denied it when first approached by The Times newspaper.

One of the main critics, retired High Court judge Sir Richard Henriques said he was ‘alarmed by the lack of knowledge of relevant criminal procedure’ of those within the IOPC, lamenting the fact that an ‘error-ridden’ criminal inquiry was ‘followed by such a lamentably slow and inadequate process’.

Green’s lover was replaced as lead investigator by another young female who had joined the IOPC, 16 months earlier, from Topshop, a leading clothing retailer. Not noted, of course, as a training ground for major police corruption investigations.

Against that troubled background, and being adjacent to current high profile and seriously unsatisfactory IOPC investigations involving such as the spectacularly failed Operation Resolve probe into the Hillsborough Disaster; outfall from the nationally known Anthony Grainger Inquiry; another high profile police shooting that resulted in the death of Yasser Yaqub on a slip road off the M62 near Huddersfield; and the death of Oldham man, Andre Moura, following a sustained beating in the back of a police van; a judgment was handed down at the Royal Courts of Justice this week in what appears, at first blush, to be a case of much lesser significance: A Section 18 search warrant, obtained by way of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, 1984 (PACE) was followed by the mishandling of the partially disabled detained person, by a group of Hertfordshire and Thames Valley officers, that resulted in relatively minor injuries.

The incident happened in 2013. It has taken seven years of determined struggle, against the police and their gatekeeping ‘watchdog’ for the complainant, Julian Watson, to reach the stage where matters are heard, for the first time, before an independent arbiter. Almost three of those years have been spent waiting for a hearing of his judicial review application. The decision challenged was made by the IPCC in December 2017, and permission was granted by noted police action lawyer, Clive Sheldon QC, sitting as a High Court Judge, in July 2019. No explanation is given in the judgment as to how such an interminable delay came to pass.

The IOPC had considered an appeal by Mr Watson against a decision of the Hertfordshire Constabulary (“Hertfordshire”). He had complained about two of their officers. The force had decided that one of them, Police Constable Lobendhan, should face disciplinary proceedings, but the other, Police Sergeant Jinesh Solankee, had no case to answer. The watchdog decided not to uphold the appeal against the decision in respect of PS Solankee.

The background to the case is taken almost verbatim from Mr Justice Chamberlain’s concise judgment: In the early hours of 24th December 2013, PC Lobendhan and PS Solankee went to Mr Watson’s home in Milton Keynes to conduct a PACE search. Mr Watson did not want to let them in. There was a scuffle at the door during which PS Solankee discharged PAVA spray. The officers then entered and arrested Mr Watson for obstructing a constable in the execution of his duty. They handcuffed him in what is known as the “front stack position”, that is to say with his hands in front of his body. Two officers from Thames Valley Police (“TVP”), Police Constable Morgan-Russell and Special Police Constable Badshah, came to assist. A search of the house was conducted. A small quantity of cannabis was found. Mr Watson was arrested on suspicion of possession of a class B drug with intent to supply.

PC Lobendhan and PC Morgan-Russell took him to the police car and then on to Milton Keynes police station. The other two officers also travelled to the station. The custody suite was in a temporary building, accessed by external metal steps with a sharp non-slip coating. Mr Watson suffers from sciatica and trapped nerves, having fractured five vertebrae in a fall. He told the officers that he could not get up the steps with his hands cuffed in front of him. PC Lobendhan and PC Morgan Russell dragged him up the steps by his arms. He was facing down the steps in a semi-seated position. He suffered cuts and scratches on his way up. PS Solankee observed these events and did not intervene. Mr Watson was then booked into a cell.

Mr Watson was never convicted of any offence arising out of the search and arrest. The only charge to proceed was one of obstructing a police officer in the execution of his duty. That charge was dismissed by the local magistrates.

In the meantime, on 31st December 2013, Mr Watson had made a written complaint about the conduct of the officers who arrested him. It covered several aspects of his treatment on 24th December, 2013. The one that matters for the purposes of the judicial review was “unnecessary brutality and injuries sustained in dragging me up steel nonslip sharp jagged steps to the Custody Office”. Mr Watson described what happened as follows:


“At the entrance to the Custody Office I told the police officers that my mobility disabilities would prevent me from being able to get up the ten steps with only one handrail and with handcuffs on. They refused to remove my handcuffs even though they were at least four officers present and, instead, one of them said: ‘If you don’t get up those steps we will drop you and drag you up and it will not be a pretty sight’. I again said that I could not negotiate the steps with the handcuffs on and that having told them of my disability is it was their responsibility to take care of that and act in an appropriate manner.


“The next thing I was aware of was being pushed backwards onto the steps and something (probably a foot or leg) put behind my legs making the trip over backwards and land heavily on the first few rungs of the steps. My dressing gown belt became undone so the front part of my body was exposed. They then proceeded to lift my arms above my head and pull on the handcuff central connector and drag me up the steps backwards. The steps are steel and finished on the step and nosing with very sharp gravel type non-slip finish.


“I was in considerable pain when I was dragged into the front desk area of custody, and after lashing out at their attempts to pull me to my feet, I was eventually allowed to kneel and pull myself up using a bench and wall. I notified the custody sergeant again of my disabilities and medication for it. I also asked for medical attention to my injuries that hurt very badly, but that I could not see as they were mostly to the back of my legs. During this time my dressing gown belt became loose and I was unable to gather the sides together and secure the belt with handcuffs on, so much to my embarrassment everyone was sniggering my immodest exposure.”


The complaint was considered by an investigating officer at TVP, Mick Osborne. He considered Mr Watson’s account, alongside those of PC Morgan-Russell, PS Solankee and PC Lobendhan. SPC Badshah had, by that time, left TVP and, he said, without explanation, it was not considered practical to obtain a statement from her. Mr Osborne also considered the custody record and viewed CCTV footage of the custody suite at the time when Mr Watson was brought into it. Mr Osborne produced a report on the basis of which a decision-maker in TVP decided that neither of the two TVP officers had a case to answer.


Mr Watson, unsurprisingly, exercised his right to appeal against that decision to the IOPC. On 29th March 2018, Philip Harrison, a Casework Manager at the IOPC, upheld the appeal. The letter containing Mr Harrison’s reasons included the following passage:


“…there is available CCTV which does show the top of the custody suite stairs, as well as the entry area of the custody suite. It is clear from this footage that you were dragged up the stairs and then into the custody suite. I have also reviewed photographs of the injuries he sustained while being dragged by the officers. The witness statement made by PC Morgan-Russell, following your arrest, confirms that he, along with PC Lobendhan, dragged you into the custody suite. However, as PC Lobendhan is not a TVP officer I cannot consider his actions or the outcome of the investigation into him as part of this appeal.


“PC Morgan-Russell does not appear to have provided any rationale, or justification, as to why he considered dragging you up an exterior set of stairs, while you were only dressed in a dressing gown, was the most appropriate use of force. There is no available evidence to demonstrate that he considered any other options, such as supporting you as you climbed the stairs or physically carrying you into the custody suite. There is also no evidence to suggest any consideration was given as to whether there were other more suitable access points that could be used.


“I have noted the comments the officers have made about your demeanour during this incident. While it is asserted you were aggressive at the outset in that you refused entry [into your home] by the Hertfordshire officers and used force to keep the door closed, it does not appear that this behaviour continued after entry was gained. After this point your behaviour is only described as abusive and uncooperative. I am also mindful that PC Morgan-Russell describes your resistance outside the custody suite as passive. In my opinion, these circumstances do not demonstrate a clear need to drag you backwards, rather than carry or support to you in another manner.


“In light of the lack of provided rational explanation as to why dragging you up the stairs was the most appropriate course of action, and the injuries he sustained while being dragged up the stairs, it is my view that there is sufficient evidence on which a reasonable tribunal properly directed, could find, on the balance of probabilities, misconduct in relation to PC Morgan-Russell’s use of force.


“The Police Standards of Professional Behaviour state under Equality and Diversity that ‘Police officers act with fairness and impartiality. They do not discriminate unlawfully or unfairly’. Home Office guidance further clarifies that ‘Police officers pay due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination and promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different groups.’


“PC Morgan-Russell records in his statement that you made him aware you were disabled prior to you leaving your home. PC Morgan-Russell further details that you stated you were unable to climb the custody stairs and would need to be carried up them. In light of this, and for the same reasons provided earlier in relation to PC Morgan-Russell’s use of force, I consider there is sufficient evidence on which a reasonable tribunal properly directed, could find, on the balance of probabilities, PC Morgan-Russell’s actions were discriminatory.”


Mr Harrison went on to say that the allegation that PC Morgan-Russell used excessive force would, if proven, be a breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour in respect of use of force and equality and diversity. The breach would not be so serious as to amount to gross misconduct (conduct warranting dismissal), but could justify a finding of misconduct. The appeal was therefore upheld and a recommendation made that PC Morgan-Russell be required to attend a misconduct meeting. The meeting took place and PC Morgan-Russell was found to have committed misconduct. The sanction imposed was “management advice”.


Separately, Mr Osborne’s report was sent to Hertfordshire for a decision on whether either of their two officers had a case to answer. It was referred to Detective Chief Inspector Beeby. She decided, on 26th July 2018, that PC Lobendhan would have had a case to answer for dragging Mr Watson up the steps to the custody suite. As he had left the force in 2016, however, there was no further action that could be taken under Police Regulations. The remainder of the allegations against PC Lobendhan and PS Solankee were not upheld. No reason was given for the latter conclusion, despite the fact that it was, on any independent view, a prima facie breach of Standards in respect of challenging inappropriate behaviour.

Six months earlier, after just 10 years as a police officer, PS Solankee had been promoted to inspector.


Mr Watson appealed to the IOPC against the Hertforshire decision. There were two parts to the complaint: The first concerned what Mr Watson said was the excessive use of force at his home. The second concerned the use of force to drag him up the steps to the custody suite at Milton Keynes police station.


The appeal was determined by Claire Parsons, an IOPC Casework Manager. In a letter dated 17th December 2019, she explained to Mr Watson her reasons for not upholding the appeal. Ms Parsons made clear that she had considered a range of information: Statements provided by PC Lobendhan, Inspector Solankee (who by this time had, of course, been promoted), PC Morgan-Russell and SPC Badshah (contrary to what Mr Osborne at TVP had said); contemporaneous records; the result of the misconduct meeting relating to PC Morgan-Russell; and CCTV footage. In relation to the allegation of excessive use of force in dragging Mr Watson up the steps to the custody suite, Ms Parsons said this:


“In relation to the second part of your complaint where you state that having got out of the police vehicle at Milton Keynes Police Station, you were dragged by the offices from the car park up a flight of stairs into the custody office. I note that PS Solankee confirms in his account that when you all arrived at Milton Keynes custody office you refused to exit the police vehicle, and informed the officers that you could not move. PS Solankee states that you were laughing as you were saying this and as a result the officers removed you from the vehicle by force. PS Solankee describes you as passively resisting as you began to walk up the stairs towards the custody office, and then you began to fall to the floor, telling the officers that you were disabled so they would have to carry you up the stairs. PS Solankee confirms that force was used to get you into the custody suite. I have also reviewed the two statements submitted by PC Lobendhan in December 2013 and 19 July 2015. I note that PC Lobendhan states that you had thrown yourself to the ground whilst leaving your property to enter the police vehicle, and had to be physically helped to the car. PC Lobendhan also states that when you all arrived at Milton Keynes custody office and exited the police vehicle you fell to the floor ‘in a controlled manner’ and then refused to get up, informing the officers that you could not walk. PC Lobendhan states that, as a result of this, he and PC Morgan Russell carried you up the stairs ‘causing minor scrapes and scratches to the DP (detained person in police parlance)’. However, it is of note that PC Lobendhan has not provided any rationale in regards to his decision to drag you up an exterior set of metal stairs with another officer, whilst you were only in your dressing gown. PC Lobendhan has also not provided an explanation as to whether or not he considered other potential options to get you into the custody office, such as using an entrance that is specifically designed for disabled individuals, or arranging for more offices to assist with actually carrying you up the stairs in a safe and more dignified manner.


“I have reviewed the CCTV footage which covers the top of the stairs to the custody office, as well as the corridor which leads to the entrance of the custody office. The footage clearly shows PC Lobendhan and PC Morgan Russell dragging you up the stairs by your arms, as you were in a seated position being pulled backwards. Both officers continued to drag you along the floor of the short corridor and then into the custody suite. In my view, you do not appear to be physically resisting the officers whilst they are doing this. I also note from the CCTV footage that the female officer from Thames Valley police walked in front of you being pulled up the stairs by PC Lobendhan and PC Morgan Russell and PS Solankee was then seen to be walking up behind you, but does not physically touch you. I have also considered the photographs of the injuries you sustained as a result of the officers dragging you up the metal stairs to the custody office.”

Ms Parsons then recorded and endorsed the investigating officer’s conclusion in relation to PC Lobendhan, before continuing as follows:

“In relation to PS Solankee, in my view, there is insufficient evidence that he used excessive force against you. However, I do acknowledge that he witnessed PC Lobendhan and PC Morgan-Russell dragging you up the stairs. Therefore, it is my opinion that it would have been good practice for PS Solankee to have intervened, and made an attempt to establish if there was an alternative entrance to use in order to access the custody block. However, I find that this does not constitute misconduct, but this observation should be relayed to PS Solankee as a learning point for any potential situations of this nature that may arise in the future. As a result, I concur with the findings of the IO (investigating officer) and accordingly this aspect of your appeal is not upheld.”

This is the conclusion that Mr Watson challenged by way of judicial review.

Ms Parsons also said she was unable to comment, or reach a decision on the part of Mr Watson’s complaint dealing with his treatment in custody at Milton Keynes Police Station, because that was for TVP to investigate. That conclusion is not challenged in these proceedings.

The legal authorities governing the principles to be applied on judicial review of a decision of the IOPC were helpfully drawn together by Stephen Morris QC, sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge, in R (Ramsden) v Independent Police Complaints Commission [2013] EWHC 3969 (Admin), at para [21] (read in full here). This is a case I know particularly well, as Tony Ramsden is a good friend and I drafted all the pleadings for that application and the subsequent permission appeal. West Yorkshire Police carried out five investigations into his complaints, each one progressively worse than its predecessor, four were upheld by the IOPC. The one taken to judicial review failed narrowly. The WYP investigator, DCI Osman Khan (as he was then), has recently been appointed to the rank of assistant chief constable in the same force.


During the hearing of Mr Watson’s application, Neil Moloney, an in-house IOPC barrister, drew the judge’s attention to other authorities: R (Chief Constable of Northumbria Police) v Independent Office for Police Conduct [2019] EWHC 3169 (Admin) (read in full here). At paras [54] to [56], HHJ Philip Kramer, sitting as a Judge of the High Court, relied on the decision of the Visitors of the Inns of Court in Walker v Bar Standards Board (19 September 2013), which considered the meaning of the word “misconduct”. In that particular case, a barrister prosecuting in a criminal case had been disciplined for asking an improper question imputing dishonesty on the part of a defence expert. Giving the judgment of the Visitors, Sir Anthony May said at para [16] that “the concept of professional misconduct carries resounding overtones of seriousness, reprehensible conduct which cannot extend to the trivial”. At para [32], he asked the question whether the conduct in issue was “sufficiently serious to be characterised as professional misconduct”. This required him to ask whether it was “particularly grave”. The Visitors said at para [37] that the barrister’s conduct was far from trivial, but was, nonetheless, “a momentary, an uncharacteristic lapse which did not cross the line of seriousness which, in the end, was a matter of judgment”.


In the Northumbria case, Judge Kramer applied this in the context of police misconduct, ruling at para [55] that “for behaviour to amount to misconduct it must fall below a recognised standard of probity or competence relating to the task in respect of which the misconduct is said to arise. If it does not, it cannot be characterised as particularly great. For an error judgement to amount to misconduct it must be the result of actions which fall below those standards.”

In the instant application, the judge summarised the competing arguments of Mr Watson and the IOPC thus:

Mr Watson’s case can be very simply put: Mr Harrison had found that PC Morgan-Russell had a case to answer for dragging Mr Watson up the steps to the custody suite. PC Morgan-Russell was later found guilty of misconduct by using excessive force. Hertfordshire had, itself, found that there would have been a case to answer against PC Lobendhan had he still been serving. There was evidence to show that the two had used force to drag Mr Watson up the steps into the custody suite when there were other ways of getting Mr Watson there. PS Solankee was senior in rank to the other officers. He saw what was happening and did not intervene to prevent it. This means that he participated in the unjustified use of force or, at least, may have been guilty of misconduct by failing to intervene. Ms Parsons’ conclusion that there was no case to answer was not properly open to her in the circumstances. Mr Watson also complained that the IOPC had been late in providing the CCTV footage it had to the court. He said that it appeared that some of it had not been disclosed. A submission that must have some merit, given that the police say that there was no footage of the exterior of what is one of their main stations.


For the IOPC, Mr Moloney submitted that Ms Parsons gave a reason why there was no misconduct on the part of PS Solankee: The CCTV footage did not show that he had, himself, used force. As to the other officers, it was important to note, he said, that no criminal proceedings had been brought against any officer. PC Morgan-Russell was found guilty of misconduct and PC Lobendhan would have had a case to answer had he still been serving. However, the conduct of each officer had to be considered separately; and that is what Ms Parsons did.


In his skeleton argument, Mr Moloney submitted that Ms Parsons’ conclusion was properly reasoned: “Having criticised PS Solankee to the extent that she inferred that it would have been good practice for him to have intervened, she explained why this criticism did not meet the threshold for a case to answer for misconduct.”

When pressed by the judge about where the explanation was to be found, Mr Moloney pointed to that same paragraph and submitted that, when read in context of the rest of the decision, Ms Parsons should be understood to have concluded, in line with the approach in Walker and the Northumbria case, that PS Solankee was guilty of a minor lapse which, even if not trivial, did not reach the threshold for misconduct. In any event, Mr Moloney submitted, there was no reason to assume that Ms Parsons’ conclusion was based on the legally erroneous conclusion that PS Solankee could not be guilty of misconduct unless he had personally participated in the excessive use of force.

The judge’s analysis of Ms Parsons’ decision was conducted by reading her reasons as a whole, whilst bearing in mind that she is not a lawyer or a judge. She was dealing with complaints about two aspects of the conduct of the officers who arrested Mr Watson on 24 December 2013 (the use of force in the initial arrest and the use of force in dragging Mr Watson up the stairs to the custody suite). She was considering the position of both PC Lobendhan and Inspector Solankee. Having viewed the CCTV footage, the judge found there was no basis for disagreeing with her description of the evidence He says that it shows no more and no less than she describes. Contrary to Mr Watson’s belief, he found there is no evidence that any other relevant CCTV footage ever existed but did not expand upon that finding.

Moreover, the central part of Mr Watson’s legal challenge is not to Ms Parson’s description of the evidence, but to her conclusion that PS Solankee had no case to answer. On the footing that he had failed to intervene to prevent the other officers from dragging Mr Watson up the stairs to the custody suite. Mr Watson framed his judicial review challenge as one based on rationality, but the judge noted that, in public law, rationality and adequacy of reasons are often overlapping grounds of review. In a case where the decision-maker has a duty to give reasons, and no adequate reason is given for a conclusion, the decision will be unlawful, at least in a case where the failure to give proper reasons gives rise to prejudice: For example, in the well-rehearsed case of South Buckinghamshire District Council v Porter (No. 2) [2004] 1 WLR 1953, at para [36].

Mr Moloney did not suggest the contrary. He maintained that the passage quoted from Claire Parson’s letter (para [13]) did convey an adequate reason, or that one could be inferred.


The judge told the court that he had read that passage carefully: ‘There is no legal error in Ms Parsons’ conclusion that “there is insufficient evidence that [PS Solankee] used excessive force against [Mr Watson]”. It is the next part that causes the difficulty, he said: Ms Parsons’ conclusion that PS Solankee’s failure to intervene “does not constitute misconduct” is simply that: A conclusion’.

Contrary to Mr Moloney’s submission, no reason at all is given for it. The absence of a reason might not be fatal in a case where the reason could be inferred, but Mr Justice Russell did not accept that it is possible, safely, to infer the reason in this case: Ms Parsons had concluded that PS Solankee’s failure to intervene was contrary to “best practice”. But this does not show that she had formed the view that PS Solankee’s conduct failed to meet the threshold for misconduct, still less that she had in mind the appropriate legal test. The difficulty with this inference, which Mr Moloney invited the judge to draw, is that it is not the only one that could be drawn. Another is that Ms Parsons thought (wrongly) that, if the officer himself neither uses force nor instructs another to use force, evidence of his failure to prevent an excessive use of force by another officer could never be grounds for misconduct. In the absence of any expressed reason for the conclusion that there was no case to answer, it is not possible to know which of these two approaches (one permissible if properly reasoned, the other unlawful) was being adopted by the IOPC.


If, as Mr Moloney suggested, Ms Parsons was expressing a conclusion that PS Solankee’s conduct, though contrary to “best practice”, was not serious enough to meet the threshold for misconduct, that conclusion called for a justification. Mr Moloney said, in some desperation, that it may have all happened too quickly for PS Solankee to intervene. If that is the case, the judge said, it is unclear why PS Solankee was criticised at all. Mr Moloney next suggested that PS Solankee, a Hertfordshire officer, rather than TVP, did not know Milton Keynes Police Station and so could not be expected to know about other ways of accessing the custody suite. There is, however, no trace of that explanation in Ms Parsons’ reasons; and in any event, it would not make sense, given that she appears to have endorsed the conclusion of the investigating officer that the conduct of PC Lobendhan (also from Hertfordshire) would have given rise to a case to answer had he still been serving.


Having considered both the decision itself and Mr Moloney’s submissions about it, Mr Justice Chamberlain concluded that the decision that PS Solankee had no case to answer was inadequately reasoned and is, on that basis, unlawful. Accordingly, Mr Watson’s claim succeeded.

He made clear, however, that nothing in his judgment should be taken to suggest that the IOPC is obliged to find that Inspector Solankee (as he is now) has a case to answer, far less that he is guilty of any misconduct. The IOPC will have to consider the first of these issues. The second issue will fall to be decided only if the IOPC decides the first is in the affirmative and misconduct proceedings are begun by his force.

According to the social media platform, LinkedIn, Jinesh Solankee fits his role as a police inspector around his job as Managing Director of London-based The Hush Group Limited (read here). He joined Herfordshire Police in 2007.

As for the IOPC, the complaint of Julian Watson has opened the window, once more, into their appalling incompetence, blame avoidance culture and a mindset that the maintaining reputation of the police service over-rides basic statutory requirements of fairness, diligence and independence. Not to mention careful husbandry of public funds.

It would be unfair to single out Claire Parsons, at the very bottom of the perenially hungry food chain. She is as good as the training with which she was provided, the professional support network around and above her, and the corporate culture within which she operates. Her decision would have been quality assured by an, as yet, un-named Senior Casework Manager. In the extant circumstances, it is almost certain that her decision would have been reviewed by her Regional Director, Sarah Green, and, presumably, the IOPC Director of Investigations, Steve Noonan. If so, they are the ones responsible for this debacle. Ms Green, an IPCC/IOPC long-termer, has plenty of previous in this regard. Notably, at the conclusion of Operation Poppy, one of the largest investigations ever undertaken by the watchdog (read more here). She was also one of the central figures in the Anthony Ramsden case.

The performance of in-house barrister Neil Moloney was, quite frankly, embarrassing. If he didn’t know he was on a hiding to nothing, confronted only by a litigant in person who appeared to make no oral submissions, then there is little in the way of salvation for him. Even with 21 years of call, it is hard to see how he would make a living in private practice. But, again, in fairness to Mr Moloney, he is, very likely, the victim of the IPCC/IOPC doctrine of pushing the foot soldiers into the firing line to protect the generals. In this case, that would include their most senior lawyers, the aforementioned Sarah Green and General Counsel (formerly Head of Legal Services), David Emery. Another IPCC/IOPC long-termer, having previously served with the Metropolitan Police Service, but, on the credit side, always approachable, helpful and, in my own professional experience, a likeable individual.

Similarly, the Professional Standards Departments (PSDs) of two police forces emerge with little or no credit. Their preoccupation with defeating any civil claims that may follow public complaints drives all their decisions, however irrational and contrary to the evidence they may be. That, very regrettably, is the same scenario throughout the police service, whatever may be said otherwise.

Will this court reversal bring change to either the IOPC or police force PSDs? Regrettably, history shows that the answer to that question has to be an emphatic ‘no’: Few, if any, other institutions have a less impressive portfolio when it comes to not absorbing and failing to learn lessons from past failures.

This is a developing news story and will be updated. Follow Neil Wilby on Twitter here, and on Facebook here.

Page last updated at 0815hrs on Monday 26th October, 2020.

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.

Photo credit: IOPC

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. 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.

Much ado about nothing?

An employment dispute that began in a glass fronted office block close to the Meadowhall Shopping Centre in Sheffield, was, eventually, played out in the hallowed halls of the Royal Courts of Justice on London’s Strand eleven months later.

It was no ordinary job, however, and the offices were those shared by the South Yorkshire Police (SYP) and its Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC). The Chief Constable of the beleaguered force was David Crompton and he was suspended from duty, by the PCC, Dr Alan Billings, on the afternoon of 27th April, 2016.

crompton-and-billings
South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, endorses his chief constable, David Crompton, within minutes of being elected to office in October, 2013.

Crompton ultimately resigned on 29th September, 2016 at the end of a process empowered by section 38 of the Police and Social Responsibility Act, 2011 (the Act).

At the time of his suspension, Crompton had already set his date for retirement from the force – which was planned to be 30th November, 2016.

A rolled-up permission and substantive judicial review hearing opened on 28th March, 2017 before Lady Justice Sharp and Mr Justice Garnham. David Crompton is the Claimant, the PCC, Dr Alan Billings, is Defendant and there are two interested parties: Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary (HMCIC), Sir Thomas Winsor, and the Police and Crime Scrutiny Panel for South Yorkshire (PCP).

Dr Billings was present throughout the hearing, as was Sir Thomas and David Crompton. The latter was accompanied by his wife and daughter, together with retired Lincolnshire Police chief constable, Neil Rhodes, who was there in his capacity as Chief Police Officers Staff Association (CPOSA) ‘friend’. CPOSA are funding the claim through a contributory insurance scheme.

Rhodes is no stranger to these type of proceedings and successfully overturned a controversial suspension by the then Lincolnshire PCC, Alan Hardwick, in 2013.

Submissions were heard, for most of the first day of the hearing, from counsel for the claimant and HMCIC (Hugh Davies QC and Clive Sheldon QC respectively) which amounted to much the same thing: The decision of the PCC was taken in haste, not properly thought through, was defective in process, failed to apply due weight to HMCIC’s findings and undertaken with a political, rather than a policing, agenda.

Further, the PCC chose to ignore the recommendation of HMCIC which, it was advanced, on his behalf, a considered, objective and expert review of the section 38 process that the PCC had set in train.

As such, the decision by the PCC to, effectively, dismiss the chief constable was born of ‘political imperative rather than objectivity’, ‘disproportionate‘ and ‘irrational’. He had also taken account of ‘irrelevant considerations‘ when later justifying the decision. It was further argued that the decision under challenge infringed on David Crompton’s Article 8 convention rights as it impacted on his family and future employability. Mr Davies had earlier described him as ‘a highly effective chief constable‘.

There were no allegations made by the PCC, against his chief constable, of breaches of Standards of Professional Behaviour which apply to all police officers.

A declaration by the court that the actions of the PCC were unlawful is sought by the claimant. Which, it is said, would go some way to restoring his ‘damaged reputation‘ [1].

In the submission of Mr Sheldon, the events that led to the suspension centred on the jury determinations at the new Hillsborough inquests – and two SYP press releases that followed. The second press release included the words ‘other contributory factors‘ as causes of blame for the stadium disaster. Much attention is focused on the meaning and intent behind those words. He said, with some force, that accountability – as called for by Andy Burnham – did not necessarily mean that ‘heads should roll‘.

When asked (not for the first time) by Lady Justice Sharp where – with a wide discretion of decision making – the boundaries were, Mr Sheldon submitted that ‘the correct test was the old-fashioned Wednesbury approach on reasonableness‘. There had, he said, been no damage to effectiveness and efficiency of the force as a result of the chief constable’s leadership, and common law recognises that the Wednesbury test is dependent in each case on the facts. Mr Sheldon also stated, with some emphasis, that ‘There was no loss of public confidence in South Yorkshire Police‘.

Although not a party to proceedings, the name of Andy Burnham, MP and Shadow Home Secretary, was mentioned more than any other by counsel. He had called for accountability from SYP following the findings of the new Hillsborough inquests. According to counsel, the chief constable was the main target of criticism. The significance of a telephone call from a male bereaved family member, and prominent Hillsborough campaigner, to Dr Billings, just ten minutes before the PCC suspended his chief constable, was also raised in court.

The advocate for the PCP, Adrian Phillips, made brief submissions to the effect that the Panel saw their role as peripheral to these proceedings, they were neutral on its outcome and, accordingly, their decision should not fall for scrutiny by this court. He also, helpfully, explained to the court the statutory composition of a scrutiny panel and how it came to be, in an area such as South Yorkshire, that the Labour Party would be almost entirely dominant. He rejected the proposition, advanced by the claimant, that the Panel’s decision was born of political bias.

Jonathan Swift QC spoke eloquently, and persuasively, on behalf the PCC. The main thrust of his submissions, which took up almost the entirety of the second day of the hearing, was that the decision taken by Dr Billings (to conclude the section 38 process by asking CC Crompton to resign) was one that was reasonably open to him to make, by way of his statutory responsibilty to hold the chief constable to account under section 1 of the Act. He also maintained that all necessary processes had been correctly followed, including the required consultations with HMCIC and the PCP.

In rejecting one of the claimant’s (and HMCIC’s) main thrusts of argument, Mr Swift said that their was no statutory requirement for the PCC to give special weight to the views of Sir Thomas. He had considered those carefully and, in his discretion, had rejected those views.

He also invited the court to view the decision to suspend the chief constable through a wider lens, that brought into view an increasing discontent with the running of the police force in South Yorkshire. Particularly, in the months prior to the announcement of the Hillsborough inquest verdicts. Most notably, with the ongoing controversy of the handling of the aftermath of the Jay Report.

It was not, Mr Swift advanced, a spur of the moment decision, triggered by events in Parliament during an exchange between Mr Burnham and the then Home Secretary, Theresa May.

There were also submissions from Mr Swift concerning both the timeliness and merits of three of the decisions challenged by the claimant:

(i) To suspend the chief constable

(ii) To reject the advice of HMCIC and continue with the section 38 process

(iii) To refer the matter to the PCP

In respect of the remaining decision – to finally ask the chief constable to resign –  Mr Swift agreed that permission for judicial review should be given to the claimant as the matter was, quite plainly, arguable. But, at the same time, invited the court to dismiss this fourth ground on its merits.

Mr Swift curtly also dismissed the alleged breach of Article 8 as being without merit.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Lady Justice Sharp told the court that judgment will be reserved on both the permission and substantive issues. The judgment is unlikely to be handed down before May 2017.

It is estimated that the two day hearing, with four legal teams representing the various parties, will end up costing either David Crompton’s insurers, or the South Yorkshire taxpayer, in the order of £150,000. And for what, the reader might legitimately ask? It seems, on the face of the submissions, that the claim was brought with two purposes in mind: To restore the reputation of David Crompton (there is no financial remedy either sought, or available, via this legal process) and to give HMCIC the final word in future section 38 processes as to whether a chief constable is dismissed, or not.

A preview of the court case, first published in January, 2017, in which the arguments of all parties is examined in some detail can be read on this website: ‘Bad on their merits‘ [2]

Page last updated Saturday 8th March, 2017 at 2055hrs

[1] Neil Wilby May 2015 – David Crompton: The South Yorkshire Years

 

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.

Copyright: 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.

 

‘Bad on their merits’

In April 2012, David Crompton stepped out of the shadow of Sir Norman Bettison and took up the post of chief constable of South Yorkshire Police (SYP). It is a matter of public record that, after being rejected in the first round of applications, and interviews, by the South Yorkshire Police Authority, he walked into the job because no-one else wanted it when the post was, subsequently, re-advertised. The only other officer shortlisted was Stuart Hyde, who took up a post with Cumbria Police instead.

David Crompton had been a controversial deputy chief of troubled West Yorkshire Police (WYP) since 2006 – and the much criticised Bettison resigned from that force in October, 2012 when faced with gross misconduct charges. Hyde, incidentally, was also a former WYP senior officer, having served there between 1997 and 2003. He later spent a lengthy period suspended whilst serving at Cumbria. An investigation report did find breaches of procedure, but Hyde was cleared of gross misconduct, misconduct and criminality shortly before retiring.

The Crompton police career had started in 1982 with another perpetually disgraced force, Greater Manchester Police, following the footsteps of his father, Sir Dan Crompton [1].

That career ended ignominously with his forced resignation from SYP on 29th September, 2016 – and marked the end of a turbulent period during which he was never far from heated debate.

Some of the low spots being his responses to the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report in September 2012; the publication of the Jay Report in August 2014 into the extent and nature of decades of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham; the Cliff Richard home search debacle earlier in the same month and the appearance before a Parliamentary committee that followed; and his response to the IPCC’s June 2015 publication of their scoping report into criminality and misconduct during the infamous Battle of Orgreave.

But his nemesis was, finally, to be the verdicts of the jury at the new Hillsborough inquests nearly four years after the Panel’s findings. Notably, that the fans of Liverpool Football Club bore no responsibility for the death of 96 of their fellow supporters in the stadium disaster on 15th April, 1989. That flew in the face of Crompton’s own entrenched views on the matter, as revealed in emails sent by him, and subsequently published in the national press, following a freedom of information request made by fellow investigative journalist, Jonathan Corke.

The controversy over Crompton’s reaction to the inquests verdicts – and two press statements he made on successive days in April 2016 – is still rumbling on and is set to be played out in the hallowed halls of the Royal Courts of Justice (RCJ) on London’s Strand. A two day hearing is listed for 28th and 29th March, 2017.

On 7th October, 2016 a judicial review (JR) permission application was filed at RCJ, on behalf of David Crompton, by Adam Chapman a former Treasury solicitor who is now a partner and Head of Public Law at Kingsley Napley (this firm also represented Bettison at the time of his resignation and for a period afterwards). The documents in support of the claim form run to over 1,000 pages and challenge four decisions made by South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Dr Alan Billings under Section 38 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, 2011 and, by which, the PCC first suspended his chief constable and then, ultimately, required him to resign.

crompton-and-billings
David Crompton with Dr Alan Billings following his election to PCC in October, 2014. Within minutes of being elected Billings was praising his chief constable in a BBC interview.     Photo credit: BBC

The statement of grounds has been drafted by well known police regulatory lawyer, Hugh Davies QC, and they take issue with the rationality and proportionality of the PCC’s decisions that, sequentially, led to the final sanction of, effectively, dismissal from his chief constable post. It also sets out four considerations that the claimant contends to be irrelevant in the decision making process: The conduct of the new Hillsborough inquests; the College of Policing led Peer Review conducted into the state of SYP after Crompton’s suspension, child sexual exploitation and the possible investigation into Orgreave.

Declaratory relief and/or a quashing order over the four decisions is sought, together with costs of the action.

It is set out that declaratory relief in this action would go some way to restoring the ‘grossly unfair’ destruction of the reputation of David Crompton, after what Davies says is some 30 years police service (it appears, by my reckoning, that he has over 34). The pleadings are, curiously, silent over the number of other high profile and well rehearsed failings that have, cumulatively, led to the demolition of his good standing as a police leader. They do advance the oblique proposition, however, that the PCC’s actions may have been influenced by ‘ill-informed public opinion‘.

The claim is heavily dependent on three documents produced by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Thomas Winsor, during the Section 38 process and in which the Police Commissioner is variously, and in parts, heavily criticised. They can all be viewed here: [2]

Indeed, joined as an Interested Party (IP) to the claim, Winsor has instructed Clive Sheldon QC and Christopher Knight to draft summary grounds in support of Crompton’s claim. These address the following areas: The wider importance to policing of the claim; the Section 38 process; the alleged irrationality and disproportionality of the PCC’s decision; and the rationale concerning the participation/role of HMCIC.

The submissions conclude by saying that the judicial review application should proceed to a substantive hearing, by way of permission from the Court, as it is ‘of real significance to David Crompton and of wider significance to the functioning of the police service of England and Wales’.

The sub-text is that Tom Winsor has taken exception to Dr Billings’ willingness to ignore HMIC’s input into the decision-making process that, ultimately, led to David Crompton’s removal. On any reasonable interpretation, Winsor would welcome a common law finding that would rein in the powers of PCC’s and, in effect, give him (or his HMCIC successor) the last word on whether a chief constable should be removed, or not.

But, that niggle aside, the submissions are meticulously set out and will, no doubt, be helpful not only to the court, but to those of us who are interested both in the deeper workings of police misconduct regulations and processes – and an important insight into the mindset of one of the nation’s most important ‘watchdogs’ who oversees just the one very specific part of them.

A robust defence to the claim has been mounted by the Police Commissioner and is being marshalled by Virginia Cooper, Litigation and Regulatory partner at Bevan Brittan (best known for her recovery of huge sums of public authority funds following the collapse of Icelandic banks). Summary grounds have been drafted by Jonathan Swift QC (assisted by experienced junior counsel, Joanne Clement).

It is, of course, entirely a matter for the court to assess the overall merits of the respective arguments put forward by the two main protagonists in this action, but one cannot fail to be attracted by the crispness of the presentation of summary grounds by counsel for the PCC: Particularly striking is the phrase employed in the curt dismissal of the claims concerning the first three of the decisions under challenge: ‘Bad on their merits‘. So much so, it has been adopted as the headline for this piece. The PCC’s position is that only the final decision (to formally call for resignation) falls for public law challenge. Counsel also maintain that ‘proportionality’ is not a recognised ground for judicial review.

There is also the moot point that the JR application concerning the first decision (to suspend Crompton) was filed outside of the three month time limit. Administrative courts are generally strict on this deadline and it may well be that part of the claim falls at the first hurdle. At first blush, the argument advanced on behalf of the claimant for late service does not strike the informed observer as particularly persuasive.

Apart from the arguments as to whether one, or four, decisions should be open to challenge by the claimant, the essential thrust of the PCC’s case is that the decision he made – and subsequently sanctioned by the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Scrutiny Panel (PCP) – was one fairly and properly open to him to make. Which is, of course, for those familiar with public law challenges, a routine public authority defence in judicial review proceedings.

Counsel deals with the HMCIC’s three contributions to the Section 38 process on the basis that he must take those into account, but is not in any way bound by them.

The evidence-free proposition by Tom Winsor that confidence in South Yorkshire Police had not been adversely affected by the second of Crompton’s two post-Hillsborough inquests press releases is also countered, firstly, by reference to local and regional feedback to the contrary. Secondly, by reference to pronouncements in Parliament by the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, who was blistering in her condemnation of the second Crompton media offering.

may-as-crompton-suspended
Home Secretary Theresa May tears into South Yorkshire Police over their response to the verdicts delivered by the Hillsborough inquests jury                                                              Photo credit: BBC TV

Former Shadow Home Secretary, Andy Burnham, also features strongly in pleadings from claimant, defendant and HMCIC (as first interested party). It was Burnham who called, in Parliament, the day after the Hillsborough inquests verdict, for SYP heads to roll over the controversial manner in which the police case had been presented at the Warrington courtroom. Most particularly, by the defence team of the SYP match commanders David Duckenfield, Roger Greenwood and Roger Marshall, and in whose cause the traditional lines of blaming drunk, ticketless and non-compliant Liverpool football plans was relentlessly, and ferociously, pursued by their ‘attack dog’ counsel, John Beggs QC [3].

The other named interested party is the aforementioned PCP but the lawyer who acts for the Panel’s host authority – Rotherham Borough Council – has indicated that they will, for now, adopt only a ‘watching brief’. Mainly, in the interests of proportionality and constraining legal costs funded by the public purse.

Dermot Pearson, the Council’s senior lawyer has, however, in a measured response, invited the court to note that ‘the claimant is not asking the court to adjudicate on the lawfulness of the PCP  recommendation, or the conduct of its procedures’. He goes on to submit, on behalf of the PCP, that there is no good reason why the court should scrutinise the actions of the PCP – and gives an allegation of risk of bias by way of the political composition of the Panel (All Labour Party councillors save for one independent Member), short thrift.

The Chief Police Officers Staff Association (CPOSA) has been approached regarding the source of funding of David Crompton’s claim. It is estimated that the services of his lawyers has cost somewhere in the region of £20,000, so far. The costs to the PCC were noted at the time of filing the defence as over £17,000. HMIC’s costs are likely to be in the order of £7,000, so far, as there appears to be no instructed solicitor. These costs, to all parties, will rise sharply, of course, at the end of what is likely to be at least a two day hearing.

Judicial review applications are normally determined by a single judge on the papers.  If permission is refused at the first stage then the losing party can apply for an oral renewal, which takes place in open court, normally within a short time afterwards. If permission is given for judicial review a substantive hearing takes place. In this particular matter, the hearing will be presided over by two judges: Lady Justice Sharp and Mr Justice Garnham.

Whichever way the court’s decision falls, this is a controversy that will very likely run for some time yet. Fuelled to some degree by the findings of the same two judges at a hearing at the beginning of the month, at which an application from representatives of five bereaved Hillsborough families (Dorothy Griffiths, Barry Devonside, Becky Shah, Wendy Hamilton and Charlotte Hennessy) to be joined to the action, as interveners, was rejected. It was submitted, on their behalf by barrister, Kate Stone, that the families could assist the court by giving evidence concerning the way SYP evidence was presented at the new inquests.

A costs order was also made against the families, reported to be in the region of £28,000. Crowdfunding has been set up in an attempt to alleviate the burden [4].

Page last updated Monday 27th March, 2017 at 1015hrs

[1] Neil Wilby May 2015 – David Crompton: The South Yorkshire Years

[2] Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary 29th September, 2016 – Section 38 South Yorkshire Police

[3] The Guardian 26th April, 1989 – Hillsborough: Deadly mistakes and lies that lasted decades

[4] Liverpool Echo 1st March 2017: Hillsborough familes told ‘YOU must pay ex-chief’s legal bill’

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.

Copyright: 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.