Democracy dies another death

Just a few short weeks after publication of one of the most damning civil court judgments I’ve read in recent times, the council at the centre of that legal storm are in the news again: For all the wrong reasons.

North Yorkshire County Council, based in sleepy Northallerton , is the host Authority for the North Yorkshire Police and Crime Scrutiny Panel. It receives a substantial Home Office grant for its trouble.

jobs_workingforus
Constructed in the early 1900’s by architect Walter Brierley, the Grade 2 listed County Hall at Northallerton has, also, previously seen service as a Red Cross hospital and as a temporary wartime home for the local grammar school.

The senior officer in charge of the Panel Secretariat is Barry Khan, a qualified solicitor who also fulfils other roles within the county council: Assistant Chief Executive; Head of Legal and Democratic Services; and Monitoring Officer. He moved to North Yorkshire in 2014 after previously working for Stockport Council.

Khan’s short incumbency at Northallerton has not been without controversy. Apart from the desperately shocking Jeanine Blamires case [1], there has been an alleged ‘stonewalling’ over child safeguarding failures in at least one school in the quaint seaside town of Whitby.

His previous role as Solicitor and Monitoring Officer at Stockport Borough Council was not plain sailing, either. Most notably, over peaceful protester Michael Parnell, who died following a period where he had been repeatedly arrested, detained but was, eventually, cleared after a three day Crown court trial [2].

Khan’s role in the mistreatment of Parnell, particularly in securing a restraining order against Mr Parnell to prevent him protesting, has not been subject to complaint or application, as far as can be traced. But Mr Parnell’s supporters, including democracy campaigner, Sheila Oliver, continue to express disquiet over the council’s contribution to the illness that led to his death. On any view, it is a troubling case.

In my own sporadic, direct dealings with Khan there have been no notable communication issues. But, that is definitely not the case with the staff deployed beneath him in the Secretariat hierarchy:

I have been lied to by Ray Busby (for which I received an apology); addressed inappropriately by the same officer (for which I received another apology); had personal data released onto a public forum by Diane Parsons (a matter denied by the Secretariat and currently under investigation by the Information Commissioner) and treated to a display of ignorance and stubbornness over the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 2000, by the same officer, that simply beggars belief. To the extent that it would be a relatively easy step, given the history, to infer that the intention of the Secretariat was to vex, annoy and harass.

That history also includes a complaint that I made against Julia Mulligan, in July 2015, that concerned the failure of the Police Commissioner to hold the Chief Constable, Dave Jones, to account over a number of issues that included inter alia:

The £1 million funding of failed harassment prosecutions and a civil claim mounted by four very senior police officers and a political crony, Jane Kenyon [2a]; Poor communication/engagement: 101 service; Non-compliant Freedom of Information Act finalisations; Failure to publish Decision Notices:

The complaints were not upheld by the Panel, despite subsequent events proving, beyond doubt, that each one of those matters was, in fact, validly raised. In most cases, accompanied by seriously adverse publicity for the Commissioner, or the force. Or both.

The fact that I succeeded in a county court claim against the Police Commissioner, in February 2017, over data protection breach, has never appeared in Panel minutes either. Neither has reference to the £20,000 plus of public funds expended on defending that claim, and a parallel one against the Chief Constable.

More recent Panel failings include the chief executive farrago. Again, costing precept payers a fortune (latest estimates suggest a figure close to £80,000). Substantive post holder, Joanna Carter, is believed not to have been in post since very early in 2016. There have been two temporary ‘replacements’ variously imported from other PCC’s as acting, or interim, chief executive. Both Simon Dennis and Fraser Sampson, it is fair to say, arrived on the scene with ‘baggage’. Sampson and I clashed, repeatedly, during his tenure at, firstly, the disgraced West Yorkshire Police Authority and, later, the Office of the Police and Commissioner for West Yorkshire.

All questions to the North Yorkshire Commissioner’s office, concerning the absence of Ms Carter, are resolutely stonewalled: Even when they are legally obliged to provide answers, by way of an FOIA request [2b]. An insider has said that questions put by the Panel to the Commissioner, and Sampson, about Ms Carter’s unavailability have been fobbed off (unreported in the minutes it must be said). Another well-placed source says that Ms Carter signed off ill with stress, as a result of a series of disagreements with her ‘high-handed’ employer.

With Sampson now in post until 2019, the presumption is that Joanna Carter is not returning and, quite possibly, in legal dispute with Julia Mulligan. If this is the case, and absence of hard information only fuels speculation, then either a compromise agreement, or Tribunal proceedings, is going to cost the precept payer a mighty sum. Which would, of course, explain the wall of silence around the issue.

These are precisely the issues over which the Panel should be holding the PCC to account but, yet again, the meeting minutes (and Decision Notice) are silent on the fate of Ms Carter, a statutory appointment, and, as such, open to particular scrutiny.

It was a similar situation over the appointment of Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, Will Naylor. It is established, beyond doubt, that Naylor embroidered his employment history and had little, or no, relevant experience in taking on the role. Other than as a Conservative Party policy wonk [3].

There were also serious concerns about the recruitment process for the Deputy role, which had all the appearance of a well-orchestrated sham. The upshot was that, in a rare flexing of scrutiny muscle, the Panel decided that the confirmation of Naylor’s appointment was conditional of sight of a personal development plan, and a six month trial period, after which he would appear before the Panel. Which all sounded fine, until Mrs Mulligan unilaterally decided that the plan wouldn’t be produced after all – and Naylor didn’t appear before the Panel as scheduled to have his capabilities, qualifications, performance further examined [4].

Another scandal to surface very recently, unscrutinised, is the dramatic increase in office costs of the profligate PCC. In one year, ending March 2017, they have risen from £741,000 to £908,000. Over 20%. Which does not include the legal costs referred to above, which are tucked away elsewhere in the accounts. This flies in the face of what Mrs Mulligan told the Panel when the decision to have a Deputy was thrust upon them, unannounced, last September. There has been nothing, whatsoever, noted in the Panel meeting minutes, or any warning given by the PCC, that such a steep rise was on the cards.

NYPCC office costs 2016-17

But the most recent scrutiny fail concerns a remarkable refusal to accept a public question, from myself, at the Panel meeting which took place on 20th July, 2017. This was the question exactly as framed:

Freedom of Information Act compliance
 
(A) Statement
In July and September 2015, in response to a complaint and a public question made by me, these were amongst the submissions made by Joanna Carter, the chief executive at the time.
(i) At page 18 of the complaint response it was said:
“The Commissioner would agree that the FOI performance could improve, and that the quality of answers given on occasion could also improve….”
(ii) At page of the PQT response it was said:
“All FOIA’s, including any relating to this issue (Operations Rome and Hyson) are routinely published on the NYP/NYPCC website”.
Since those answers were provided,
(i) It is evident that not all requests relating to Operation Hyson and Rome were not published on the force disclosure log. Indeed, it is the regular practice of the force to conceal requests that may be perceived as causing reputational damage.
(iv) The force has refused an information request from me to establish the extent of the issue. A matter presently before the Information Commissioner (see attached WhatDoTheyKnow file).
(v) FOIA performance has worsened. To the extent that over 500 requests per annum are finalised unlawfully (See attached FOIA finalisation). That is a quantitative analysis, the figure would be much higher addressed qualitatively. Poor quality finalisations still feature regularly.
(vi) The Information Commissioner has indicated within Tribunal proceedings that the Civil Disclosure Unit are now under a monitoring regime as a result of poor performance (I have requested disclosure from them of more complete details).
(vii) If the oral and written submissions of the police lawyer running the CDU, to both the County Court and the First Tier Tibunal, are to be believed there are now less staff deployed in that Unit, than two years ago.
(viii) The Commissioner and the Chief Constable are both spending substantial amounts of public funds defending civil claims and Tribunal proceedings concerning FOIA where, on their face, the prime motivation is to avoid scrutiny and reputational harm, rather than the preservation of information rights. In the past year that figure, in my own knowledge exceeds £30,000 with the potential for that figure to double in the present financial year.
(B) Question
What steps has the Commissioner taken to:
(i)   Apprise herself of the extent of the non-compliance issues extant within the Civil Discloure Unit?
(ii)  Hold the Chief Constable to account over these long-term, repeated failings to comply with the law and use of public funds?
(iii) Keep the Panel informed?

Firstly, the email sending the question and supporting documents was intercepted and quarantined.

The Panel Secretariat, in the form of the aforementioned Diane Parsons, came back the following day and refused permission to ask the question. She said: “Having consulted the Panel Chair on your submission, I regret that the Panel are therefore unable to take your questions at the meeting this week.  However, I have passed your correspondence and attachments to the OPCC so that they are aware of the concerns you have raised“.

The rationale appeared to be that these were not matters with which the Scrutiny Panel need concern themselves: “To clarify, the purpose of PQT is to enable members of the public who live, work or study in North Yorkshire to engage directly with the Panel and pose questions on its remit and functions.  I have attached, if helpful, a copy of the Panel’s guidelines on PQT.  Any statements or concerns which you feel require the attention of the Commissioner would need to be directed through her office“.

The email from Ms Parsons, unusually, was comprised of three different fonts, and had obviously passed through a number of hands before she was elected as message bearer. The unseen hand of Barry Khan was, no doubt, part of the behind-the-scenes subterfuge.

As a card-carrying member of the press, the residency issue is a non-starter; I have previously posed a question to the same Panel: complaints against the PCC have also been considered by the same Panel; and on any reasonable, independent view the questions I posed met the Panels own guidelines or, even if the Panel felt they did not, modification was a very simple process.

But that, plainly, did not suit the Panel, or its Secretariat’s, purpose. To conceal their own failings as a scrutiny body, yet again, was clearly paramount. There was also what some might view as an unattractive element of childishness implicit within the response – and the intercepting of the email even before it reached the intended recipient. Which rather suggests that North Yorkshire County Council are interfering with my communications.

Following the re-direction of the public questions to the Police Commissioner’s office there has been a deathly silence. Which has also been the case from Deputy Chair of the Panel, Ashley Mason, who was passed full details of the questions prior to the Panel meeting taking place, by a well-known local democracy campaigner. Cllr Mason was rather more loquacious when, as if on cue, another unmitigated 101 disaster befell NYP during the first week of August, 2017 [4a].

This is a story that has some way to run yet as more information is passed to me by a source close to the Panel. This includes the claim, surprising to me at least, that the Panel chair, Cllr Carl Les, and the PCC do not see eye to eye, and that at least one conscripted Panel Member is very reluctant to take on her duties, having been pressed into service following the abrupt departure of another Member last year. A situation that chimes with a number of senior Conservative figures turning on Mrs Mulligan over her ‘crazy’ plans to take control of the North Yorkshire fire service [5].

There are also, it is said, serious frustrations at the PCC’s frequent refusal to provide requested documents, information to the Panel Secretariat. Again, a matter unreported in the minutes. There is also another controversy concerning the minutes as they are sometimes not, according to my source, a true record of what actually transpired at the Panel meetings. That would fit, certainly, with the known modus operandum of Fraser Sampson.

North Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel is, obviously, not a happy ship and needs an rapid overhaul, tip to stern.

The Police Commissioner’s office and the Panel Secretariat have both been approached for comment. Neither acknowledged the request.

Page last updated: Wednesday 2nd August, 2017 at 1745hrs

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.

[1] Leeds County Court, 21st June, 2017: Judgment of District Judge Joanna Geddes in Jeanine Blamires -v- Local Government Ombudsman

[2] Manchester Evening News, 19th September, 2013: ‘Protester who held three year vigil outside Stockport Town Hall dies

[3] Neil Wilby, 22nd October, 2016: ‘Where there’s a Will there’s a way

[4] Neil Wilby, 23rd November, 2016: ‘Pick of the crop’

[4a] York Press: 4th August, 2017: Police apologise after telling public NOT to call 101

[5] Harrogate Advertiser, 25th July, 2017: ‘Police tsar plan for fire service branded ‘crazy”

© Neil Wilby 2015-2016. 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.

Pick of the crop?

On Monday 21st November, 2016 an item was posted on the website of the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire (NYPCC) [1]. It was unheralded elesewhere. No local press coverage. No announcement on the busy NYPCC Twitter feed. No mention on the ‘News’ section of the PCC’s website. Nothing.

The announcement concerned the beginning of a new era for the public of the county as Will Naylor was confirmed in his new role as Deputy to the Commissioner, Julia Mulligan.

will-naylor
William Naylor: Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire. This is the first picture of Will published on the internet after spending the entirety of his past career in virtual obscurity.                                Picture credit: NYPCC

An article published on this website in October, 2016 ‘Where there’s a Will there’s a way‘ has already covered some of the controversy surrounding the selection process. Since that exposé first appeared it now has the makings of a full-blown scandal – that may well bring about the downfall of some of those involved in this increasingly convoluted tale.

What has emerged is that the PCC’s chief of staff was, seemingly, the ‘chosen one’ some months ago, and a process subsequently devised with no other apparent purpose than to hoodwink both the public and the Police and Crime Scrutiny Panel for North Yorkshire (PCP).

The investigation that has followed the ‘Where there’s a Will there’s a way‘ article has pieced this picture together:

– The job of Deputy PCC was advertised by NYPCC externally just the ONCE: On the Guardian newspaper’s website [2], at a cost of just £900. Which buys very little, as can be seen from the publisher’s rate card [3].

– The job was promoted just ONCE by the PCC’s Twitter account (on 16th August, 2016). Compared, say, to activity connected with a recent ‘Tell Julia’ survey which was promoted regularly TEN times per DAY.

– The job was NOT advertised in the two conventional recruitment outlets in the area – The York Evening Press or the Yorkshire Post. Despite the fact that Mrs Mulligan was, apparently, insisting that the successful candidate would be required to live in North Yorkshire.

– The job was NOT advertised with either Police Oracle or Police Professional (PP) which, as their names imply, carry the overwhelming bulk of jobs connected to policing bodies. A fact not lost on NYPCC Interim Chief Executive, Fraser Sampson, as he and PP’s editor, Paul Lander, are former West Yorkshire Police contemporaries.

–  The recruitment advertising, minimal as it was, took place in the middle of the Summer school holiday period.

– Julia Mulligan arranged for what she describes as an INDEPENDENT recruitment process to take place. Except that there was nothing ‘independent’ about it at all. It was, to all intents and purposes, a sham managed by her former Acting Chief Executive, Simon Dennis.

– The composition of the selection panel is still unknown, even after a another freedom of information request made by York governance campaigner, Matthew Laverack. Despite the usual positing of Mrs Mulligan that the process was ‘open and transparent‘ [3A].

– The Naylor application was, taken at it’s face, unlawful. Section 18(6)(h) of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 sets out that a PCC cannot appoint a member of her own staff to the role of the Deputy PCC.

– There were sixteen ‘expressions of interest’ for the job. All ‘met the minimum standards’ according to Julia Mulligan in her report to the PCP.

– Only four of the sixteen applicants were selected for interview. Two dropped out prior to interview, leaving Will Naylor, complete with the doubts about the legitimacy of his application, to bid with just one other shortlisted candidate for the £45,000 – £50,000 role.

– No explanation has been provided as to why a further two candidates were not selected for interview from the remaining pool of twelve candidates.

– The interviewing panel comprised four people. Three of whom were either working with Will, or had been very recently: Julia Mulligan, Fraser Sampson and Simon Dennis. The fourth was York city councillor and former schoolteacher, Keith Aspden.

– None of the interviewing panel recused themselves, despite the glaring conflict of interest.

– Neither of the two solicitors on the interviewing panel, Messrs Dennis and Sampson, gave due consideration to the point that Will Naylor should not have even been there. No external opinion was sought according to disclosure via a freedom of information request.

– Will has falsely claimed in his biography on the NYPCC website that, before joining NYPCC in January, 2013, he was ‘Chief of Staff’ to Helen Grant MP. It is not known whether that falsehood was repeated in his job application.

– The false claim has now been removed. An updated bio says he was a SENIOR parliamentary assistant for Mrs Grant. Or, in other words, a Conservative party political researcher. A press enquiry has been sent to Mrs Grant; it seeks clarification on Will’s role in her office, the duration of his employment and whether she was asked to provide a reference to the selection panel.

– He has also claimed that he ‘worked in Parliament for two other MP’s‘ prior to working for Mrs Grant. There is no trace of this employment on the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) website. Clarification has been sought from IPSA, .

– On social media, NYPCC has steadfastly refused to answer the question as to whom these mystery MP’s are. The reason for not doing so, given via a direct message on Twitter is ‘because the answer could be perceived as political and the OPCC is politically independent, we feel that Twitter is not the place to respond‘. The provisional assumption is, therefore, that if Will has worked for MP’s other than Helen Grant, they were Conservatives and he doesn’t want the wider world to know that.

– There has been a protest from NYPCC’s Digital Engagement Officer, Simon Jones, that he has been misrepresented by the above (verbatim) quote. He claims that details that would support claims made by Will Naylor over his past employment history is a personal matter – and for Will to respond privately rather than in an open space such as Twitter. That use not a view that is widely shared by those paying both Simon and Will’s wages. Particularly, as the new Deputy PCC has been caught out in a lie once already.

– Will has also claimed that he has worked for ‘Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) based at the Home Office’. HMIC have ducked a press enquiry on the topic, after having been pressured to respond at all. It has now been necessary to submit a freedom of information request in an attempt to elicit the information [4].

Some other pieces of the jigsaw were fitted together following the response to a freedom of information request was submitted to the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cleveland (COPCC) on 2nd November, 2016 [5].

– The preamble to the response contained a palpable falsehood. It claimed that ‘the majority’ of the information sought had already been published by the PCP. A claim as ludicrous as it is untrue.

– It is now revealed that not a single piece of paper exists to formalise this ‘independent’ recruitment process – and it was organised on the back of what appears to be an off-the-cuff discussion between Simon Dennis and Mrs Mulligan in the period during which they were working together (April to mid-July 2016) as chief executive and commissioner, respectively.

– No invoice has been raised from COPCC to NYPCC in connection with that provision of services. Not even for the cost of the Guardian advertisement.

– The following information concerning the shortlisted candidates has now been revealed:
The four shortlisted candidates were all male.  Two held a Masters degree, one a BA (Hons), the fourth was not a graduate. Two were resident in North Yorkshire, one in Nottinghamshire and one in Sussex.

– Incredibly, it is claimed that COPCC who conducted the recruitment and selection process do NOT know the ages of the four shortlisted candidates. A decision that has already been appealed. Whilst there are guidelines that preclude employers discriminating on grounds of age it would be remarkable, indeed, if no date of birth was given on ANY of the CV’s of those men who made the ‘final four’.

– Similarly, they say that revealing the job titles (not their names, or the names of their employer) of the three unsuccessful candidates would constitute PERSONAL information and, as such, exempt from disclosure. Again, a decision that has already been appealed.

– As revealed above, four shortlisted candidates became two. No reason for withdrawal was given by one, the other backed out over the residency issue.

–  COPCC make the incredible claim that, as recruitment facilitors, they do NOT know if the three other candidates shortlisted were made aware of Will Naylor’s extant close working relationship with most of the other members of the interviewing panel: Julia Mulligan, Simon Dennis and Fraser Sampson? Even though Dennis is Chief Executive of COPCC.

– What steps were taken by COPCC to establish that the application of Will Naylor was lawful, given that he was already an employee of NYPCC and, as such, ineligible by way of Section 18 (6)(h) of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011.
b. If external advice/opinion was sought please provide name of solicitor/counsel.

The information request would, doubtless, have been finalised under the supervision of the aforementioned Simon Dennis, and in consultation with NYPCC as to what might give the game away, or otherwise.

As Simon, and doubtless, the others involved in it, now realise that the full nature and extent of this ‘sham’ recruitment process is on the cusp of being exposed, it is expected that issues over the remaining disclosure will end up before the Information Comissioner for determination.

Draft minutes have also been sought from the Police and Crime Scrutiny Panel, which are expected to shed further light on this increasingly troubled matter [6]. Their statutory report, and conditional confirmation of the appointment of the PCC’s ‘preferred candidate’, is now in the public domain and provides some interesting insight [7].

From the report it can be gleaned that at least some of the Panel member’s had reservations about the successful candidate’s relevant experience and ability. Or, rather, lack of it. His independence was also questioned, having been an employee of the Commissioner for almost four years.

In personal submissions made to the Panel, Will asserted his honesty and said that he was committed fully to the policing code of ethics, and to upholding the highest professional standards. Which present a condundrum in the face of the deceit and obfuscation over his own career history – and that fact that the office he has run for the past three years has little recognisable regard for either ethics, or professionalism. The most glaring, and public, examples are the perpetual non-compliance over information requests or data access – and routine chicanery over published Decision Notices. Compounded by the seeming inability of anyone at PCC HQ, including the Commissioner herself, to give a straight answer to a straight question.

But the question that needs answering most of all is: Was Will Naylor truly the pick of the crop of sixteen candidates, in a honestly held process, for the role of Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner? It is one that should be put to Mrs Mulligan, in public, at the next PCP meeting in January, 2017.

The new Deputy Commissioner, who cited a commitment to better public public engagement as part of his job pitch, has declined to respond to an invitation to comment on the article.

[1] North Yorkshire PCC: 21st November, 2016. ‘Deputy PCC – Will Naylor’

[2] The Guardian: 18th August, 2016. Situations vacant advertisement Deputy PCC for North Yorkshire

[3] The Guardian: Situations vacant rate card

[4] WhatDoTheyKnow: 23rd November, 2016. Deputy PCC for North Yorkshire’s previous employment with HMIC

[5] WhatDoTheyKnow: 2nd November, 2016. Appointment of Deputy PCC for North Yorkshire

[6] WhatDoTheyKnow: 26th November, 2016. Draft Minutes of Panel Meeting

[7] North Yorkshire Police & Crime Scrutiny Panel: 19th October, 2016. Report of Confirmation Hearing

Page last updated Thursday 1st December, 2016 at 1820hrs

Corrections: Please let us 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 2015-2016. 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.

Stories untold: A Disaster of a book

I thought long and hard about writing this piece.

Over the past four years I have made friendships that I deeply cherish amongst the bereaved families, survivors and vanguard campaigners of the Hillsborough Disaster – and I would never, ever contemplate putting that camararderie at risk.

On my visits to Warrington to hear sittings of the recently concluded inquests I was welcomed by them, sat with them, ate with them and shared the terrible anguish of images on TV screens in court that those present will never be truly able to put out of their minds.

I was also sat amongst the Hillsborough Justice Campaign (HJC) group when the Norman Bettison circus came to town and he gave his own version of events from the witness box .

The dilemna, therefore, was: Do I review a book published by one of the bête noirs of the police actions that followed the Disaster that will inevitably re-open scarcely healed wounds? Or, leave it shunned for the short shelf life it is likely to have, before its appearance in the remainder bin.

It was through my own battles with Bettison’s police force that I first came into contact with the Hillsborough campaigners (a phone call in 2011 to Yorkshire-based Trevor Hicks). He had been a person of very obvious interest to them for two decades; I first wrote to Norman Bettison in July, 2009 to tell him something was deeply wrong with my home force in West Yorkshire. He was chief constable from 2006, until the aftermath of the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report claimed it’s first high profile victim in October 2012. His Deputy throughout almost all that time was David Crompton. He, too, was eventually claimed by the outfall from the Hillsborough. This time, it was the way South Yorkshire Police had conducted themselves at the inquests that led to his suspension in May 2016, then resignation in September, 2016.

The consensus amongst those with whom the matter has been discussed, at some length, is that I am well placed to find holes in the Bettison story. Although, the fact that the book is published at all is a surprise. Sheila Coleman sums up the feelings of so many in this quote given to the Liverpool Echo: “I think it’s wholly inappropriate that he’s publishing a book whilst the Director of Public Prosecutions is still giving consideration to criminal prosecutions”. Bettison bizarrely contends: “This book might be the only way in which my own account of the Hillsborough aftermath will ever be heard. By the Crown Prosecution Service, as well as by the public.”

Changing the narrative

I have now read the 355 pages of the book twice. Firstly, cover to cover without a break. Then in a more studied mode and armed with marker pen. It is a well written tome, of that there is no doubt. Bettison is an educated, erudite and articulate man and he writes very much as he speaks. The book does, however, read more like a statement, or a report, than an autobiographical account. It’s several purposes appear very clear to me:

  • To create a lasting narrative, principally it seems, for the consumption of family and friends, concerning his role in the aftermath of the disaster – and one that aligns with his oral evidence given at the inquests.
  • To sweep away much of the organisational criticism that still attaches to South Yorkshire Police and land most of the opprobrium at the door of just four officers (David Duckenfield, Paul Middup and two Bettison doesn’t name whom were responsible for leaked information to the press, leading to The Sun’s infamous ‘The Truth’ front page).
  • To attack those that have given testimony against him, such as Clive Davis and John Barry. Or been, in his eyes, either partly, or largely, responsible for his fall from grace. These, surprisingly, include mild rebuke for Professor Phil Scraton, but at the other end of the scale his most poisonous attack is reserved for Deborah Glass, formerly of the IPCC, and a number of her colleagues still engaged with the police watchdog. For better or worse, it will leave the IPCC badly wounded if Bettison’s account of breathtaking incompetence and sloth is left unchallenged. Others to suffer badly are Maria Eagle MP, West Yorks PCC, Mark Burns-Williamson, and his chief executive, Fraser Sampson.
  • To reinforce his own view that he was one of the finest police officers ever to pull on a uniform. It remains a forceful, shameless, insensitive and excrutiating self-eulogy throughout. One shudders to think how the first draft manuscript would have read. Just a shred of humility may have assisted him both within policing circles and, more crucially, amongst those foolish enough to shell out £18.99 for what amounts to ill-judged propaganda.

It is decidedly not, as it says on the front cover, ‘The Untold Story’. Or, as the publisher’s blurb says: “This personal account describes how the Hillsborough disaster unfolded, provides an insight into what was happening at South Yorkshire Police headquarters in the aftermath, and gives an objective and compassionate account of the bereaved families’ long struggle for justice, all the while charting the author’s journey from innocent bystander to a symbol of a perceived criminal conspiracy“. Far, far from it. Neither does it fulfil the billing in the Preface of ‘openness and transparency’ (that utterly meaningless but perpetual line of policing spin). Or, the ‘nothing concealed’ labelling. That is arrant nonsense, for the reasons I set out in some considerable detail in this article.

It should also be borne in mind that, in his evidence to the inquests at Warrington, Bettison either answered ‘I don’t recall‘, or ‘No‘ to questions on the lines of ‘Do you recollect/remember, over TWENTY times. Is the reader of this book, therefore, expected to accept that these ‘untold’ revelations were either withheld from his evidence, or he has had some miracle restoration to the left side of his brain in the ensuing few months?

Hillsborough Untold MASTER jacket.indd

Subliminal thread that still smears the fans

It is beyond argument that Norman Bettison has never once lifted a finger to help the twenty-seven year fight by bereaved Hillsborough families, and the survivors of the caged hell that was pens 3 and 4 on the western terraces. Firstly, for the truth. Then, latterly, for justice. His ‘compassionate account‘ is, therefore, both unwelcome and paints him in an unattractive, self-serving light. Passing himself off as an ‘innocent bystander‘ in a force so deeply corrupt as South Yorkshire Police is also self-defeating and will, inevitably, backfire on him.

There is also this subliminal thread that runs through the book that places the traditional smears in the mind of the reader without them being stated head-on. The mention of Heysel, as early as page 10, sets the tone for that line of Bettison inculcation. The sly references to late arrival, touts, swaps, drunkenness – and the unruly behaviour of a small minority at the rear of the crush in front of the Leppings Lane turnstiles (he doesn’t make the important distinction of whether that is 0.1%, 1% or 10%*) inserted innocuously through successive chapters. (*The correct answer is 0.1%).

The contemporary audio-visual clips, and the 450 photographs, shown endlessly in evidence at Warrington is the true test, and one upon which the jury answered at the seminal question 7: Was there any behaviour on the part of the football supporters which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles? The jury answered ‘NO’, yet Bettison makes no reference to that point or, indeed, any other mention of the 14 – 0 verdict delivered by the nine battle-fatigued men and women who were left sitting at the end of the most gruelling test of endurance, and character, in British legal history. A nod to them might have softened the narrative a little.

Yes, of course, there are some interesting personal insights, pen portaits and caricatures and, in some places (surprisingly few as it happens) information that is not known to those campaigners and journalists who have variously read, or heard, all the inquests evidence and are familiar with the vast database contained within the Panel website, the texts of both of the Taylor Reports (interim and final) and the Stuart-Smith Scrutiny.

These new insights (to me at least) include Bettison being responsible for the headcount in pens 3 and 4, from a montage of photographs put together in preparation for the Taylor Inquiry; Comparison of command officer styles from the ‘military, shouty, authoritarian‘ police chief of the 70’s and 80’s to the ‘lily-livered, laissez-faire, dilettantes‘ of the 90’s and beyond; The mealy-mouthed praise of the late Brian Mole whom, we learn, was nicknamed ‘Soames’ after a ‘dapper, smooth, self-righteous‘ character from the Forsyte Saga TV drama. Bettison also contends that Mole was ‘not much favoured in HQ‘, particularly after the prank that, indirectly, led to the experienced match commander being stripped of duties on the fateful day.

On a wider view, the Bettison interpretation of the physical difficulties, and psychological effects, of the Bradford City Fire Disaster happening at ‘home’, as it were, versus the Hillsborough Disaster happening ‘away’ from Liverpool, was as interesting as the book got. But, even here, Bettison doesn’t burden his readers with the knowledge that, in the past year, the police force that he formerly commanded has been referred to the IPCC over its investigation of the aftermath of the Bradford fire. He also, curiously, refers throughout to Sheffield as a town, rather than a large city.

The cameo – and I place it no higher than that – striking me as the most odd in the book was the extraordinary revelation that Bettison had been a keen supporter of the Reds since he was eight years old. Playing keepy-uppy in his full Liverpool kit that had been bought as a Christmas present. Ergo, he couldn’t possibly hold a grudge against Liverpool fans, as he was one of them. The counter-arguments I advance to the concept of him being a Liverpool supporter are fourfold: Firstly, what was he doing sat in South Stand amongst Notts Forest supporters in 1989? Secondly, why was he not at the 1988 semi-final taking place a short distance from his home between the same two teams. Thirdly, why was this secret affiliation not mentioned as a key point in his contemporaneous witness accounts? Fourthly, and crucially, a declaration of that lifelong interest to ACC Stuart Anderson, when told he had been selected to join the Wain team should have, effectively, disqualified him from that process.

The love of Liverpool, as a city and a place to live, work and socialise, now also belatedly professed by Bettison, can be categorised similarly to his latent support of the Reds. It has emerged, by my own reckoning, only as part of a charm offensive to win over its citizens and, more particularly, bereaved families, survivors, campaigners and journalist critics. It could be paraphrased thus: ‘Look at me, lads and lasses, I’m one of you at heart. The wife cooks me a pan of scouse at least once a week‘. He misses the point, maybe, that only 37 who died were from Liverpool, although another 20 were from Greater Merseyside and the crusade for truth and justice is, and always has been, inextricably linked to the city.

The real truth is that, after only three years in post at Merseyside Police, he was hankering after leaving this great city. He was offered, and accepted, a post with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), but the move was called off after an argument with the Home Office over salary and pension. That, more accurately, sums up the narcissitic Bettison’s true love: Himself.

The Devil is in the detail

Looking at the book through a wider lens, what does come across as striking to me, at least, is the inconsistent manner in which content is presented. Where it suits the overall Bettison narrative, there is almost an excess of minutiae. In other places the reader is left, time and again, with the thought that important detail has been omitted by Bettison that he either knew, or could have very easily found out, if he is the ace thief taker/detective he would have everyone believe.

– Bettison in his witness account in May 1989 says he parked at the junction of Niagara Road and Claywheels Lane from where he walked to the football ground. There is no such junction, as it happens; Niagara Road is a service road that spurs off Beeley Wood Road. In the book he does not give the location of where he parked his car. The untold story is that he may have used the car park of the infamous Niagara Police Sports and Social Club. As did a number of other senior officers on the day. Bettison, it would appear, as he does in a other areas in the book, seeks to avoid mentioning controversial locations and individuals. There is another train of thought entirely – and that is Bettison did not park in, or near, Claywheels Lane at all. But at nearby Hammerton Road police station and walked to the game from there and returned by the same route, largely via Middlewood Road.

– In the book Bettison states that his account was prepared ‘in several sittings over seven or eight days’ after 17th April, 1989. It is a matter of record that his account (actually marked as a report) is dated 3rd May, 1989. What is described as his witness statement is dated 2nd June 1989 (often one simply became the other as they were typed onto the incident room HOLMES database). There is no reference to any pocket book (PNB) entry that he should have made when he put himself on duty at Hammerton Road at around 4pm on day of disaster and, again, when he was released from duty some twelve hours later at the gymnasium (or if we are to believe the statement at the time he joined Merseyside Police, sixteen hours). Those basic duty entries are an essential requirement for any policeman. The fact that it appears he chose, an an experienced, process-orientated, upwardly-mobile officer, not to make any entries concerning either what he had witnessed from seat NN28 in the South stand, which he himself identified as a major incident at 3.06pm, or his contact with what he describes as deceased casualties, on his exit from the ground, simply defies belief. In any properly run police force it would be a disciplinary offence. It also goes to the hypothesis that Bettison didn’t take that route to, or from, the ground at all.

– Bettison doesn’t make clear in the book whether that he filled in a police questionnaire before writing up his account. He did complete one and should, of course, declared his status as a supporter of Liverpool Football Club on that form. But he chose not to and doesn’t expand upon it in the book. The rest of the questionnare is absent of detail, particularly relating to timings. Another untold story?

– His account of the reason for leaving the ground has, crucially, changed from his first, contemporaneous, witness statement to the book. He, emphatically, says he left the ground to phone his wife in his statement. His arrival at nearby Hammerton Road police service was simply to facilitate that purpose after finding only phone boxes with queues around them, along the one mile journey. That has now been modified in the book to include the parallel thought that he could assist in the aftermath of the tragedy by reporting to the police station and relieving strained resources. Reading book and statement side by side paints an unattractive picture and, largely, undermines all what follows.

– The failure to identify the scouse-accented South Yorkshire Police officer who went to hospital as continuity officer, accompanying whom Bettison believed was a deceased casualty in his late 20’s or early 30’s, at the south west corner of the ground. How did the casualty get there at that early stage? How did the ambulance know to go there when the other police officers and the St John’s Ambulance officer attending the man, and one other casualty with an arm injury, had no radios, according to Bettison. Another untold story? Or several of them, in fact. I am, as they say on the TV, helping police (and the IPCC) with their enquiries.

– The failure to note whether there were ten, or twelve, casualties whom he described as deceased at the rear of the West Stand close to the River Don. It is not the difference between 100 or 200. Especially, if you are the self-proclaimed, quick-witted, multi-tasking, ace detective with an eye for detail that Bettison says he is. The books note that the majority were ‘in the recovery position’ but can’t specify how many. Crucial evidence for any investigation that followed, yet he has never been interviewed about it. There were in fact eleven bodies laid there, a fact I have subsequently established from the witness statement of the officer in charge of continuity at the temporary mortuary in the gymnasium, Inspector John Charles. The same number is also referred to in Brian Mole’s statement. Bettison then came across Chief Inspector Roger Purdy, but did nothing more than nod to him, without mentioning the RV point he says he had set up in the south west corner of the ground. He then hastened his exit and, en route, he says, mobilised some officers from Purdy’s serials to form a cordon preventing access to the scene where the bodies were located. Without identifying himself as a police officer. It does, as I have always contended, give the appearance of a rat leaving a sinking ship.

– In Bettison’s witness statement he claimed that ‘more than enough officers were doing everything they possibly could’ once the football match had been stopped by Supertindendent Roger Greenwood‘s belated intervention at 3.06pm. Bettison, unsurprisingly, doesn’t venture to repeat that in the book. Or, more crucially, correct it. The inquests established beyond doubt that a heroic minority were ripping at mesh, helping fans over fences, passing casualties out of the pens chain gang style, carrying them out through the tunnel, or attempting resucitation. Tragically, far too many of the rest either froze, were misdirected by senior officers or couldn’t raise an effort to help the hundreds of Liverpool fans desperately trying to stop death touching their fellow travellers.

– Bettison, although critical of cages (pens), barrier configuration and the policy of segregation over safety, persists with a line that the police only lost control of the crowd outside of the Leppings Lane turnstiles at 2.45pm. The inquests established beyond doubt that effective control had slipped away from the police by 2.20pm and all vestiges of control had gone by 2.30pm. He also makes several references to the beach ball being patted around in pen 3 to support his own view from the South Stand that the pens were not abnormally overcrowded and he ‘sensed no danger’ at that point. The last person known to have touched that beach ball was Jason Kenworthy at 2.40pm. He was stood with three teenaged friends who died in the crush. The families of those three, which include Barry Devonside, will be horrified at the inference Bettison seeks to make.

–  Bettison also puts a veiled construction on the circumstances of the removal of barrier 144 near the mouth of the tunnel. He says an unnamed chief inspector asked the club and their consulting engineers to ‘review’ its positioning. The inquests heard that the police requested the removal of the barrier. The officer to whom Bettison refers is John Freeman (at the time of the Disaster a Superintendent) and the omission of his name is both startling and alarming. ‘The Freeman Tactic’ was one devised by that officer, during his time as a match commander at the Sheffield Wednesday ground, to close the tunnel entrance to the pens as they became full. References to the Freeman tactic were removed from statements prepared by the Wain team for the Taylor Inquiry.

– Another pointless attempt at justification of the police’s actions on the day comes with the lengthy Bettison narrative over delaying kick-offs. A simple check of the inquests evidence of Kenneth Dalglish lays that to waste. As does the fact that the kick-off at a FA Cup semi-final at the same ground in 1987 was delayed due to crowd congestion. Many Leeds United fans had experienced crushing in the Leppings Lane turnstile area and central pens before and during the match.

– Analysis of the questionnaire and statement of Chief Inspector Les Agar (who is mentioned on page 41 of the book) reveals other inconsistencies with Bettison’s version regarding timings and who did what. That concern is amplified when also compared with the account of DC Bob Hydes (of catching Yorkshire Ripper fame) and what he did during his two visits to the gymnasium.

Dramatis personae

There are also the gaps in the ‘untold story’ that appear, on their face, designed to either downplay the role, or avoid scrutiny, of Bettison’s former colleagues in the upper echelons of policing. I give just four examples out of many:

– What was the substance of the email messages between Bettison, David Crompton and Sir Hugh Orde on the day of the publication of the Panel report and in the ensuing hue and cry?  West Yorkshire Police refused my freedom of information request on the topic many moons ago and this was Bettison’s opportunity to unlock the mystery. We know, because my journalist colleague, Jonathan Corke, eventually secured release of the emails between Crompton and Orde that the line being taken between those two that the families version of ‘the truth’ was not acccepted and was to be lobbied against. There is also no mention of the calls or text messages Bettison said he couldn’t have made, whilst in Sussex, that were later traced through analysis of his phone records.

– It is established beyond doubt that Bernard Hogan-Howe was managing the accommodation and pastoral care of relatives of missing persons at the boy’s club opposite Hammerton Road police station, from early in the evening until he went off duty at around 3.30am. Bettison appears to have put himself in charge of a temporary missing person’s bureau shortly after arriving at that police station. Bettison refers only to an inspector taking charge at the club which was, of course, the current Met Commissioner’s pip at that time. Hogan-Howe’s name is conspicious only for its absence from the ‘untold story’.

– The odious John Beggs QC also rates a mention late in the piece. But, in the context of his services being procured by the Police Authority in their bid to oust him from his role as chief constable of West Yorkshire Police in September and October, 2012. There is not a single word of criticism of Beggs’ relentless and unedifying antics at the inquests in Warrington, at which the drunk, ticketless, non-compliant line of questioning was pursued relentlessly on behalf of the police’s two match commanders. Prolonging the inquests and adding hugely to it’s cost. Not just in monetary terms but, much more crucially, in the emotional attrition ladelled onto to families and survivors sat in the galleries at either end of that vast courtroom. Over the duration of the inquests, I saw the physical and mental effects that was having. I also witnessed, for the only time in my lengthy career as newspaper publisher and journalist, Queen’s Counsel incandescent with rage once they had left the calmer confines of the courtroom. The source of their disquiet was Beggs’ conduct and blatant lies told by South Yorkshire Police officers in oral evidence.

– The input of HMIC is relied upon to sterilise Bettison’s account of the interview process that led to his appointment as chief constable of Merseyside. The HMIC officer involved was Sir Dan Crompton, father of the hapless David. Bettison has not sought to explain, or apologise, for Crompton senior’s appalling, deeply damaging and distressing remarks made at the time about the Hillsborough campaigners, whom were described as “vexatious, vindictive and cruel” to oppose the controversial appointment in their city. Bettison, with all his newly-avowed compassion towards the sufferers does not seek to denounce this outrageous slur. As with Crompton Snr, Crompton Jnr and now Bettison, it seems there is no need to correct those words, or profusely apologise for them.

– Of the few mysteries still remaining to be unlocked concerning the Disaster, and the one that probably interests me the most, is the whereabouts of David Duckenfield between finishing the match briefing at around 10.30am until having lunch in the gymnasium at 1.30pm. Bettison offers no clue as to the disgraced chief superintendent’s whereabouts. The inquests evidence from Duckenfield is that he couldn’t recall what he had been doing between the end of the early morning briefing and arriving in the police control box at 2pm. Or, in fact, where he had been. Another untold story.

Bettison’s anointing of his chief constable at the time, the late and highly autocratic Peter Wright, the cerebral deputy chief, Peter Hayes and, in particular, Terry Wain, may not have been calculated to vex, annoy and harass the bereaved, and the survivors of the Disaster, but that will be the inevitable effect. It is established beyond doubt that Wright and Hayes were at the heart of the thoroughly dishonest injustices perpetrated against the coal mining pickets at the Orgreave coking plant, just four years before the Hillsborough Disaster. Bettison’s unstinting praise of both further underscores his own fallibilty and completely undermines the credibilty of the rest of the book. As does his wholehearted endorsement of the heavily criticised Stuart-Smith Scrutiny. Similarly, his lack of any criticism, whatsoever, of the mini-inquests conducted by Dr Stefan Popper, one of the biggest, and most hurtful, travesties of justice in the modern era, does Bettison no credit at all.

The missing word

The eight letter word O-R-G-R-E-A-V-E does not appear on any of the 355 pages of Bettison’s book. It is a remarkable omission. The legal teams representing the Orgreave campaigners have put the view, most forcefully and persuasively, to the Home Secretary that the full truth and justice over Hillsborough cannot finally come unless there is a full independent investigation, or inquiry, into the events surrounding the miners’ strike which came to a head in the summer sunshine on June 18th, 1984. Bettison plainly does not agree, and that part of the contemporaneous, and highly relevant, history of South Yorkshire Police remains untold.

There was no cover-up

This is the most remarkable passage in the book and plainly expected to reach only a narrow, mostly uninformed, readership. Bettison paints a picture of the Wain Report being scrupulously prepared, by the team of which he was a pivotal part, with a single purpose in mind: To assist the police QC, William Woodward, in presenting submissions to the Taylor Inquiry and prepare counsel for what the police’s own witnesses might say in their oral evidence.

Over the years Bettison has consistently downplayed his role in the Wain team as ‘peripheral’ and ‘junior’. Similarly, in his consecutive role after being chosen as the chief constable’s eyes and ears at the Taylor Inquiry. In his oral evidence to the inquests at Warrington, the only light relief over four torturous days came when Bettison claimed that he was the ‘Butty Boy’ for the lawyers when they took their lunchtime break from proceedings – and he was despatched to Marks and Spencers for the sandwiches. He has not repeated that claim in the book, but supplanted it with the startling revelation that a man so humbly positioned took it upon himself to prepare, and send by fax, to Bill Woodward, an unsolicited overview of his own findings from listening to the entire 31 days of Inquiry evidence at Sheffield Town Hall. For better or worse, influenced or not by Bettison’s input, it remains a fact that Woodward’s submissions to the Inquiry contained no paragraph where blame was accepted by his clients, South Yorkshire Police.

Bettison’s book in seeking to label the cover-up  as ‘mythical’ not only offers no explanation for these crucial elements of it, he doesn’t mention them at all:

– Sampling blood alcohol levels of deceased, including children as young as 10yo

– Questioning bereaved families over alcohol consumption

–  Criminal record checks on the deceased

– Theft of CCTV tapes from football club control room

–  Removal of logs from police control box in West stand

– Instructions given to officers not to make entries in pocket note books (PNB’s)

–  Evidence gatherers and operational support units sent out looking for evidence of bottles and cans (and carafes) that had contained alcohol. Both around the ground and over the outlying road routes between Sheffield and Liverpool

The above all happened within hours of the Disaster. Those below were perpetrated as the cover-up mentality became more developed:

– Instructions to officers to write out undated ‘accounts’ on plain paper, rather than provide conventional S9 Criminal Justice Act statements, which carry a perjury warning

– Statement tampering that removed criticism of police operations (not closing the access tunnel to the West stand central terraces, faulty radios, displacement of serials etc) and ineffectiveness of senior officers

– Intimidation by West Midlands Police officers of key witnesses

– Keyword interrogation of HOLMES computers to identify and distil evidence relating to drunkenness or unruliness of fans

More recently, it became apparent that swathes of evidence had not been disclosed to the Independent Panel by South Yorkshire Police in 2009 and, in point of fact, the IPCC were still searching police premises for evidential materials as late as last month. That would tend to go further to the evidence of a ‘cover-up’.

Bettison claims to have followed the inquests every day and read the transcripts. If that is true, then all the above elements of the South Yorkshire Police cover-up were examined in great detail by counsel for the inquest, and those representing the families and the interested parties. Yet, still, it seems, Bettison wants to run the no cover-up narrative. He can expect little sympathy from a largely hostile media on that score. The BBC’s Evan Davis destroyed him within seconds in this seconds over his claim of being a “peripheral” part of the police cover-up:

The Mirror’s Brian Reade has described Bettison as a “duplicitious snake” and Channel 4’s Alex Thomson cornered him with a line that will enter broadcast journalism folklore: “Who made the changes, the statement fairies?” The Guardian’s David Conn has written a measured, but exoriating, piece ‘Hillsborough: Sir Norman Bettison is seeking to deny the truth’. The Liverpool Echo has carried a series of withering pieces that include the accusations that Bettison is ‘Evil and arrogant’ and ‘Patronising, pompous and self-serving.’

The Best of the Rest

Three other soon to be published articles will cover the remaining parts of the book that touch more on the events surrounding Bettison’s ignominous exit from the police service in 2012, rather than any untold story of the disaster. These will add important context to his ongoing battles with the IPCC – and other peripheral issues such as the Platinum Theft allegation, Bettison’s explanation for it and the very recent decision by South Yorkshire Police to lie to me over requests for information concerning that alleged theft. It is already swathed in further controversy as John Mann MP has rounded on Bettison accusing him of rubbishing the reputation of the wrong former police officer in the book, describing him as “a vindictive former police officer, himself sacked for dishonesty and sent to prison”

Mann is quoted in the Yorkshire Post as saying: “His character assassination on an unnamed South Yorkshire Police officer may well come back to bite Bettison. If he has knowledge of the source of the allegations then this can only have come through a criminal leak from within the police. If he has guessed wrongly at the source, which I strongly suspect, then he has launched an unwarranted and vicious attack on the wrong person and that has consequences. I will be pressing the IPCC on this matter”.

The IPCC have announced that they have no issues with the book as far as their own criminal investigations are concerned.

Now this really does start to have the look and feel of ‘The Untold Story’. Except it won’t come to light in Waterstones. Their buying decisions, they have told Alex Thomson, are based on ‘the quality of the book’ and they have rejected Bettison’s debut effort.

It is not unrealistic to hope that the publishers will soon withdraw the Bettison book, on the basis it now stands entirely discredited.

 

Page last updated: Saturday 19th November, 2016 at 0845hrs

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Where there’s a Will there’s a way

Over the past two years, I have had a considerable amount of dealings with Will Naylor in his role as Chief of Staff to the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) in North Yorkshire. He is a personable man, generally courteous and, mostly, helpful insofar as the limitations of his present role allow.

Will appears popular with both the PCC and the two of his staff with whom I have the most dealings, Digital Engagement Officer Simon Jones and Caseworker, Sheree Evans. It is also to Will’s credit that Simon and Sheree are a reflection of himself as polite, largely helpful public servants. There is also a good ‘feel’ as visitors walk into the their HQ in Harrogate, which is usually a sign of a happy, functioning team. (Since this article was first written Sheree has now left the PCC’s employment in a sudden, unexplained departure).

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‘House of Secrets’? Only a small sign on the front of the building reveals that it is the NYPCC headquarters in leafy Granby Road, Harrogate.

But, for all of that, it came as something of a shock when I saw that his name had been put forward as the preferred candidate for the newly created position of Deputy PCC. The concept of feather duster to peacock immediately sprung to mind.

Setting aside his present, or future, capabilities for the job, I couldn’t visualise the transition from a virtually anonymous, innocuous office manager role to the PCC’s Deputy. Type ‘Will Naylor‘ into Google and you learn nothing. No image, no background, no colour, no public persona. Nothing. It is as though he landed at PCC HQ from Mars.

Whereas, according to the perpetually unreliable PCC website, he arrived from the office of Helen Grant, MP for Maidstone, whose relatively short incumbency in Parliament has been dogged by controversy. It will come as no surprise that they have included expenses and staffing scandals [1].

Rather more surprising is that Will is described on the PCC’s website as Mrs Grant’s former chief of staff. The local Kent press described him as her parliamentary assistant. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority website clearly shows that there is no such recognised position as chief of staff in an MP’s office. So who is kidding whom?

Also, my understanding of the legislation (section 18 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011) is that a PCC cannot appoint a member of his/her own staff as a Deputy PCC, a point taken up by others, to some effect, later in the process.

There had been considerable controversy when a rather better known Labour policy wonk, and failed MP candidate, Isabel Owen, made the transition from working as a ‘consultant’ for the PCC, in neighbouring West Yorkshire, to Deputy PCC [2]. It didn’t harm Ms Owen’s cause that she is married to Peter Nicholson, the Regional Director of the Yorkshire and Humber Labour Party.

Interestingly, one of the key facilitators of Will Naylor’s candidacy, interim NYPCC chief executive, Fraser Sampson, was also closely associated with the Owen appointment in his role as WYOPCC’s substantive, and hugely rewarded, chief executive.

Some have argued strongly against the need for such a Deputy position in North Yorkshire, such as the Police Federation’s voice in the county, Mike Stubbs. He says the timing is ‘unfortunate‘ and there are ‘damaging perceptions of cronyism and jobs for the boys‘ around the appointments of Deputies.

I am not in that group. Having seen the level of her own personal commitment, and the number of hours Julia Mulligan puts into the job, I take the view that if she is able to weave such a role into her office costs budget there are significant operational benefits in having a reliable Deputy to take on some of the more time-consuming parts of the PCC’s remit, such as constituency surgeries.

Whether Will Naylor is the right man remains to be seen. A key reservation would be, in my own experience, is that, like Julia, awkward issues are invariably fudged away, or ducked altogether. A very vivid example of this is the nationally-known scandal over Operations Rome and Hyson. About which, much has been written elsewhere.

Between the two of them, I have never once heard, or read, any criticism whatsoever of the chief constable, or the shortcomings of his force, over whom they have holding to account responsibility. Either publicly, in meetings, or in correspondence.

chief-constable-dave-jones-and-commissioner-julia-mulligan
Chief Constable Dave Jones in a familar PR pose with PCC Julia Mulligan. Jones has escaped any criticism from Mrs Mulligan since his appointment in April 2013, but both face three emerging scandals concerning: the infamous  ‘Pink Gun’ tribunal case; a Court of Appeal judgment over a failed rape case that was scathing about both Jones’ and the force’s conduct; and a third matter, also concerning a failed rape case in which the victim has been treated poorly by both the force and PCC.

It is a statutory requirement that a confirmation hearing takes place, once a PCC decides on his/her preferred candidate for Deputy Commissioner. This is part of the remit of the Police and Crime Scrutiny Panel (PCP) and an agenda item was set aside for the purpose at their meeting on 6th October, 2016. The full agenda for that meeting, including some interesting background papers relating to the appointment process can be read here [3].

The report that flowed from that hearing, also a statutory requirement, was published on 19th October, 2016 [4]. It revealed a surprising amount of rigour, for a committee noted in the past only for its torpor, and the findings were very much in line with my own views.

Will Naylor was recommended by the Panel only by a majority verdict – and provided certain conditions are met. That is unsurprising, given some of the questions that were asked of him by the Members and the obvious flakiness of some of the material presented, both by Julia Mulligan in her own report on the recruitment process, and Will himself in his personal statement, which was absent, for example, of any substantive details of qualifications, previous employment and relevant experience.

It can be seen from their report that the Panel challenged the preferred candidate in a number of key areas. Particularly his professional competence, personal independence and experience in a public-facing role. The outcome being that there are considered to be  ‘gaps’ in his competencies and doubts about his independence – and the Panel require a Personal Development Plan (PDP) in place if the PCC can demonstrate that the appointment is, indeed, lawful and she formally offers the position to Will Naylor, once he has resigned his post as Chief of Staff.

However, to my eye there were also some obvious shortcomings in the Panel’s report: The number of candidates who applied and were then, subsequently, interviewed is not disclosed. Or declared by the PCC in her report. That is now the subject of separate information requests to both the PCC’s office and the PCP, after repeated refusal by Simon Jones (presumably acting on istructions from above) to provide that information via Twitter. This in spite of the written claim made by Julia Mulligan to the Panel that the recruitment process was ‘open and transparent’.

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Twitter interchange with Simon Jones (no relation to chief constable) who is the PCC’s Digital Engagement Officer and runs their Twitter account which has, since November 2012, accumulated just 2,350 followers. Many of them outside of North Yorkshire’s pool of  602,000 constituents and 1,500 police officers and staff.

There is also mention in the PCC’s report of a well qualified pool of candidates applying for the post, who met all the selection criteria, and Will being the best of the bunch. That on it’s face appears counter-intuitive, given the potential shortcomings in his candicacy highlighted in the confirmation hearing. Put shortly, it doesn’t add up.

There is also no mention of his CV, or previous employment references being taken up, or whether they were satisfactory. Although this may well be covered under the ‘vetting’ procedure.

The freedom of information finalisation [5], which came 26 days after the questions were first asked, has now opened up other interesting lines of enquiry into this selection process [6]. What is now known is that there were, allegedly, 16 candidates who responded to a single, small press advert in The Guardian, costing just £900. The job was not advertised in the conventional outlets for recruitment advertisements of this nature, the Yorkshire Post, Northern Echo or York Evening Press, which would strike most commentators as odd, to say the least.

Of the 16 whom expressed interest, 4 were selected for interview by an unnamed ‘Selection Panel’. Curiously, two did not appear before the interviewing panel. This left Will Naylor and one other. The rest, as they say, is history. Of the interviewing panel three were past or present close working colleagues of Will’s: Julia Mulligan, the aforementioned Fraser Sampson and Simon Dennis. The latter had orchestrated the entire selection process at the invitation of NYPCC. Simon is also featured in another article on this website [7]

So, it seems, where there’s a Will there’s a way to make him your Deputy if, of course, your name is Julia Mulligan and you have the backing of Chair, Carl Les, and the Conservative hardcore on the Panel. Even if it means bending the law – and not quite being as frank as you ought to be about the recruitment process.

But, good luck to Will. He may yet turn out to be the people’s champion on policing matters in North Yorkshire, and be the first to stand up to some of the wilder excesses of the chief constable. In his personal statement to the PCP he cited, quite oddly, that he wanted to ensure that harassment allegations were investigated much better by the police. Perhaps he was mindful of this case [8] which has caused the PCC’s office and the force so much damage to their good standing?

Page last updated Saturday 5th November, 2016 at 1150hrs

Annotations

[1] Wikipedia: Helen Grant MP

[2] Yorkshire Post 11th April, 2013: ‘Police role given green light after crony row’

[3] North Yorks PCP 6th October, 2016: Meeting agenda including Deputy PCC papers

[4] North Yorks PCP 19th October, 2016: Report on Deputy PCC confirmation hearing

[5] What Do They Know 12th October, 2012: ‘Appointment of Deputy PCC’

[6] What Do They Know 2nd November, 2016: ‘Appointment of Deputy PCC’

[7] Neil Wilby 22nd May, 2016: ‘The Inn of Last Resort’

[8] Private Eye 31st August, 2016: ‘North York Boors’

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