Disabled protesters unpick litany of lies

When it comes to calculated deception, witch-hunts and cover-ups, Greater Manchester Police (GMP) are generally in the vanguard of police forces in the UK.

A recent article on this website, ‘Scandals that shame the two-faced Mayor of Manchester’ (read in full here), highlights a significant number of them, grounded in protected disclosures by the country’s best known police whistle blower, Peter Jackson.

At the foot of that article there was reference to another GMP scandal involving surveillance of disabled protesters and the passing of data to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

What has come to light since is truly shocking: GMP has admitted that it has a written agreement to share information with the DWP about disabled persons, and other activists, who take part in protests. This revelation came about despite previous denials by both the police force, and the Government’s permanently under-siege Department, that any such agreement existed.

In December, 2018, the DWP told The Independent on-line newspaper that there was “no formal arrangement” between their Department and “any police force” that encouraged officers to pass on information.

Their spokesperson said, at that time, that the DWP “could not discuss the details of any on-going cases or provide further details”. In the light of what GMP are now saying either they, or the DWP, are not telling the truth.

In a recent article published by the Disability News Service (DNS), written by John Pring, the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) said it was “extremely concerned” that its local police force was “spying on disabled protesters and passing on their details onto the DWP”. GMCDP said the agreement was “yet another example of the punitive and unwarranted targeting of disabled people”.

Concerns about links between DWP and police forces such as GMP – and the impact on disabled people’s right to protest – first emerged last December after DNS reported that forces had been targeting disabled protesters taking part in peaceful anti-fracking protests across England.

The Independent piece had also set out how neighbouring Lancashire Police had admitted passing on details, and video footage, of disabled anti-fracking protesters to the Department for Work and Pensions.

“The DWP are a partner agency and where we have information to suggest that fraud may be being committed we have a duty to pass that on, including video footage if we have it,” a spokesperson for Lancashire Police said in a statement.

“They are the appropriate agency and it is their decision what, if any, action should be taken. We will, of course, facilitate the right of anyone to protest lawfully.”

Police officers supervising protests at the Cuadrilla shale gas (fracking) site at Preston New Road, near Blackpool, claimed they became suspicious of some disabled protesters who temporarily got out of wheelchairs.

In response to their enquiries late last year and earlier this year, GMP told DNS that it had passed to the DWP information about protesters taking part in anti-fracking protests at Barton Moss, Salford. These took place in 2013 and 2014. GMP were regularly criticised over their heavy-handed approach to protesters. The force also confirmed that it had shared information with DWP from protests not connected with shale gas extraction.

This disclosure raised further concerns that GMP might have passed information to the DWP about disabled persons who protested in Manchester about the government’s austerity-related social security reforms, particularly during high-profile actions around the Conservative Party conferences held in the city in 2015 and 2017. GMP later claimed that it had not shared any information with DWP about disabled activists who had taken part in those particular protests. The heavy-handed approach of the city’s police force towards protesters was also widely reported on social media.

It is a matter of considerable concern that GMP has previously denied, in response to a freedom of information request, having a written agreement to share data with DWP. The resort to deceit, on an almost routine basis, by this police force has been well rehearsed elsewhere. Whilst their permanent approach to the Freedom of Information Act (and Data Protection Act) is utterly deplorable. A matter upon which the author of this piece can report with absolute certainty.

As referred to above, the DWP has said that it has no such “formal arrangement” with “any police force”. GMP’s press office had initially suggested that it did have an agreement with DWP, before later denying there was one.

Greater Manchester’s beleaguered Deputy Mayor for Policing, Bev Hughes, told DNS in February this year that she had “consulted with senior officers within GMP, who have assured me that there is no formal ‘sharing agreement’ in place, and that the police act on a case by case basis, sharing information in accordance with the Data Protection Act”.

The Deputy Mayor has legal proximity to one police officer within GMP, the chief constable Ian Hopkins: Whose approach to the truth can safely be described as haphazard. Not least, over another emerging scandal involving the catastrophic failings of GMP’s Integrated Policing Operations System (better known as iOPS).

But, after DNS submitted a second freedom of information request to the force, a member of its information management team confirmed that there was such an agreement. Asked if GMP had an agreement to share information from various protests with DWP, he said he had “located a multi-agency agreement to which DWP are one of many partners”, but he said this had “not yet been assessed for disclosure to you”.

He added that most of the agreement “relates to controls/rules partners must adhere to when handling information”.

The disclosure officer later told DNS, on 17th April, 2019 that he had “identified the area of the force that is responsible for the sharing agreement” and had “posed your question to them, and am awaiting a reply”.

The force, as they so often seem to do, then failed to respond to further emails – which placed them in breach of the Freedom of Information Act – until late July, 2019 when a member of GMP’s information management team said he would “risk assess the agreement next week for disclosure” to DNS.

At the same time, the force’s press office refused to comment or explain why it had previously claimed there was no such agreement.

A disclosure request by information rights activist, Edward Williams, is visible, via open source. It is lawfully due for finalisation on 27thAugust, 2019 (follow its progress on the What Do They Know website here).

  1. Provide the written agreement with GMP to share information about disabled people and other activists who take part in protests.
  2. How many people has GMP provided information about under the agreement?
  3. State the protests or other events where information was gathered and sent to you in last 12 months. By this, I mean the place the event happened, and the date(s).

This may well duplicate some or, indeed, all of the request already made by the DNS, as part of their persistent, determined and highly commendable investigation. It is unlikely that Mr Williams will receive information before the end of this year: As yet, the information request has not even been acknowledged by the force.

Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) coordinator, Kevin Blowe, pulled no punches as he told on-line, independent news magazine, The Canary:

“The police decision to collaborate with the DWP is about disrupting people’s ability to take part in protest and campaigns. It’s a perfect example of this type of disruption. It’s bad enough that the DWP already humiliates people who claim benefits. But if it’s going to go out of its way to find ways to stop people’s benefits – if they exercise what is supposed to be a fundamental human right – then I can see why people would be reluctant to potentially participate in something that may have a really terrible effect on their life.

Blowe continued: “This is a really worrying development, that I think is entirely vindictive. The suggestion that anyone who… takes part in protest if they’re disabled is likely to be committing fraud – which is what’s implied by the police getting involved in this – is about trying to make sure that the effectiveness of protest is undermined”.

Nationally known whistle blower, and retired murder detective, Peter Jackson, offers this view of his former force: “I have recently written to the Greater Manchester Mayor highlighting a large number of scandals concerning the leadership of GMP. This is a police force that is repeatedly gaining media attention for all the wrong reasons. Serious operational failings, senior officer misconduct, lies, cover-ups, deceit: Scandal after scandal. I was proud to have completed 31 years service with the force where my focus was on crime, locking up criminals and keeping people safe. Spying on disabled protesters, and reporting them to the DWP, was not what we were about during my time. I blame the leadership. GMP urgently needs a clear-out at the top, starting with the chief constable. We need proper ‘coppers’ in charge, inspirational leaders who command respect. People who can bring about changes to the embedded rotten cultures that now infest the force. We need openness, honesty, integrity and transparency. We need someone who can inspire their officers and restore confidence in policing. Sadly, for a number of years now GMP has had shockingly bad leadership and it is a broken force, failing the people of Manchester.’

Neil Wilby concludes: It is time for change, the Chief Constable is hanging on to his job by a thread, as droves of his own frontline officers lose confidence in him, and there is little or no oversight from those elected to provide it. Notably, the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Greater Manchester. The region must also have the most supine group of MP’s in the country.

Page last updated: Wednesday 21st August, 2019 at 1005 hours

Photo Credit: Disabled News Service

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

Right of reply: If you are mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let me have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory it will be added to the article.

© Neil Wilby 2015-2019. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

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, and their imputations of dishonesty, also stand unchallenged (read here and here). 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. Which 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.

Screen Shot 2019-02-15 at 16.43.39

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

 

 

Page last updated on Friday 22nd February, 2019 at 0030hrs

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

Right of reply: If you are mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let me have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory it will be added to the article.

© Neil Wilby 2015-2019. 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.