The Old Pals Act, 2016

There can be few more frustrating exercises for a journalist than trying to elicit straight answers from police forces. Legions of press officers are, mostly, conditioned to stonewall newshounds in search of the truth behind a story.

Too often they are briefed by senior officers to provide obfuscating, misleading or, on more rare occasions, untruthful answers to the media. The latter invariably to either avoid, or at least minimise, reputational damage to the force or wider police service.

So, the opportunity to ask direct questions of chief officers in open forum is a vanishingly rare one in the post-Leveson era, and is not one that should be passed up lightly.

Every month or so, North Yorkshire Police and its Police and Crime Commissioner hold a meeting of senior warranted and civilian officers which goes by the grand title of Corporate Performance, Delivery and Scrutiny Board. It is live podcasted, and even has a Twitter hashtag, #NYPScrutiny.

Except that virtually no-one watches the podcast. Either live, or by way of catch-up on YouTube, and there is little, or no, public interaction on social media about the Scrutiny Board.

Those that have watched the podcast probably wouldn’t repeat the exercise, as it is a complete waste of time as far as scrutiny goes – there is none – and the self-indulgent backslapping over performance and delivery, by those officers present around the meeting table, verges on nauseating.

Indeed, it is true to say that the exercise may now be all a tad too tedious, even for Chief Constable Dave Jones and PCC Julia Mulligan, as the former has been absent on holiday for the last two meetings (he also missed the previous three whilst away on secondment) and Julia has also missed two of the last three meetings. The latest because she was also on annual leave, we are told.

As part of the theatre of the occasion and, they say, in the interests of ‘transparency’, the Scrutiny Board invite public questions. These can be emailed in beforehand, or tweeted using the #NYPScrutiny hashtag whilst the meeting is in session.

As yet, they have not excluded journalists from the process so I have availed myself of the opportunity several times in the past. Indeed, it is rare for anyone other than myself, or uPSDNYP, to ask a question.

Just before the most recent Board meeting, I was contacted by a complainant for whom I have advocated informally for almost four years. She is a rape and fraud victim – and there are long standing issues with both NYP and their big city cousins, West Yorkshire Police over failures to successfully prosecute the perpetrator.

She told me that her two most recent conversations with a senior officer in NYP’s professional standards unit, Detective Chief Inspector Steve Fincham, had resulted in him losing his temper on both occasions including, in one of them, slamming the phone down.

Mr Fincham is an officer about whom I already know a great deal. He has dealt with a large number of complaints with which I have been directly, or indirectly, involved. Apart from an increasing portfolio of case files, I also hold a significant amount of credible, anecdotal evidence concerning the way this particular officer approaches his professional standards role. The criticism is not all from the public making complaints, either. There has also concern amongst serving officers about his uncultured, bullying approach to the job.

A decision was quickly reached between the rape victim and myself that a public question to the Scrutiny Board about DCI Fincham’s conduct might be more prescriptive than a formal incivility complaint against an officer who has delegated Appropriate Authority powers from the Chief Constable under the Police Reform Act. How prescient that turned out to be.

This is the question, faithfully reproduced in picture form, on screen, during the section of the meeting devoted to public questions:

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What was not reproduced, specifically at my request, was background material given to the Police Commissioner’s office that was relevant to the question.

– That I have acted informally for the past four years for the complainant. We meet regularly, speak often on the telephone and share documents – and confirmation that I am strongly committed to doing everything in my power to see that she secures justice.

– It was asserted on her behalf that officers at managerial rank who cannot maintain self-control should not have public facing roles.
– It was also pointed out that, like me, the complainant is astounded at the lack of knowledge of due process that DCI Fincham appears to exhibit at almost every contact. That is much more concerning to both of us than inappropriate behaviour on the telephone.
– Finally, it was drawn to the attention of those present at the meeting that the rape victim will not be complaining to the force formally about DCI Fincham’s conduct because again, like me, she feels there is absolutely no point. He is, seemingly, protected by the Command Team and is likely to remain so. Also, like me, she has also much more important issues to address with NYP.
From the response given in this short excerpt from the podcast it is clear that Deputy Chief Constable Timothy Madgwick had read the email. He claims, as you will hear, that DCI Fincham is not protected by senior officers:
What has happened since that Board meeting ended has played out rather differently to what the rape victim, myself and now, it seems, the wider public on social media might have expected.
The day after the Board meeting I contacted the Police Commissioner’s office by email and this was the final paragraph of that message:
In the meantime, we will await the formal response to yesterday’s public question. If DCC Madgwick requires witness accounts from other members of the public with whom DCI Fincham has interacted, please do let me know. That may give enquiries into the matter a much more solid evidential base. 
An answer was provided swifly by the Commissioner’s office, but it was unexpected to say the least: I don’t think there is an intention for a further response to be sent to you.  The matter was raised and responded to (in the meeting).
Further exchanges have taken place with NYPCC, conducted in the familiar cordial manner, to the effect that if DCC Madgwick is not minded to investigate or respond to either myself, or the rape victim, then a more detailed complaint will be submitted via the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Supported by at least four witness accounts previously referred to.
Which, on any independent view, would place a further burden on the police complaints system which is already overloaded and beset by lengthy delays. So, why doesn’t DCC Madgwick, who ran the force’s professional standards unit in 2003 to 2004, just answer the question, ‘look into it‘ as he says on the video clip and tell those affected by Fincham’s behaviour, and the wider public, exactly what he has found and if he has disciplined the errant officer? Is that really so difficult to do?
Well, it seems the reluctance of Mr Madgwick to investigate the matter, and censure DCI Fincham, might be found in a senational development two days beyond the Scrutiny Board meeting. In a letter to Tim Thorne, the owner of the North Yorks Enquirer internet news magazine it turns out that – wait for it – DCI Fincham is to ‘investigate’ DCC Madgwick over a complaint made about him by Mr Thorne in June, 2016.
You couldn’t make it up, except this is the Alice Through The Looking Glass world of North Yorkshire Police where everything is ‘amazing’, ‘fantastic’ or ‘great’ and no-one in #TeamNYP (another Twitter hashtag) can possibly be the subject of criticism, let alone found out over wrongdoing.
BBC Inside Out corruption busters pic
Mr Thorne’s complaint concerned false evidence that DCC Madgwick had made in a witness statement in the well-chronicled Operation Hyson investigation, wherein it was claimed that ‘Tim Thorne’ was an alias used by Luxembourg-based chartered accountant, Tim Hicks. Madgwick had failed to correct the false assertion when first challenged by rebuttal evidence in October, 2015 and more publicly by me on Twitter in May, 2016 (see above picture).
Given that the complaint is now approaching three months old and is already non-compliant in a number of areas (failure to provide updates, wrong correspondence address used, wrong type of investigation ordered, officer of insufficient rank or hierarchal independence appointed to deal with the complaint) DCC Madgwick is hardly rushing to correct the mistake and front up with a public apology.
DCC Madgwick (pictured above) is also the subject of another police complaint concerning a further alleged falsehood in that same witness statement. That issue is presently in the hands of the IPCC, by way of an appeal against a decision not to record the complaint by – you may have guessed it – DCI Fincham. A third complaint against Madgwick also rests with the IPCC over allegations connected with alleged attempts to criminalise me by way of contempt in the Hyson court proceedings. Fincham also refused to record this complaint.
This is another classic case of the police, and a compliant Police and Crime Commissioner, managing to make any complaint situation, however straightforward, into a publicity disaster.  The story will run and run for some time yet. Particularly, as Fincham, just three days after the Scrutiny Board meeting, flew off the handle yet again and put the phone down on a vulnerable and intimidated female for a third time. He lost his temper, yet again, when he was asked politely to behave properly and, particularly, as the complainant made Fincham aware of her having viewed the podcast. This was the tipping point, it seems, for PSD’s errant ‘golden boy’.
Both the North Yorkshire Police press office and the Police Commissioner’s office have been approached for comment but have yet to respond. These are the questions put to both:
1. The appropriateness of officers each investigating the other, over public complaints, at one and the same time.
2. The persistent and flagrant disposal of complaint issues by NYP/NYPCC outside the appropriate legislative framework.
3. The suitability of police officers at managerial rank, who exhibit repeated failures of self-control, to hold public facing roles.
The silence is, so far, deafening. As it is from DCC Madgwick, who has so far refused to respond to these matters put to him via Twitter:
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Four days after this article was re-published on the North Yorks Enquirer news website, a member of the public came forward to give his own views on the PSD officer at the centre of this storm. Nigel Rush from Tadcaster, in a letter to the editor of the NYE, describes detective, Steve Fincham, variously as “aggressive, “boastful” and “frightening”. Mr Rush’s phone call with Fincham also ended with the phone being slammed down on him. He is, however, at pains to point out that interaction with other NYP officers was of a much more pleasant and professional tenor. I have heard another family group of complainants against NYP – all highly respectable people – use almost identical words when describing Fincham. Except that they have met him, as opposed to speaking on the telephone. Another complainant, whose lawyers are presently prosecuting a civil claim against North Yorkshire Police on his behalf, says: “I found him (Fincham) totally untrustworthy and full of artifice. He turned my complaint against an officer who had assaulted me on its head”.
On the very same day, well known governance campaigner, Gwen Swinburn, who mainly – and successfully – holds City of York Council to account, stepped into the ‘NYP let’s investigate each other’ debate on Twitter. Gwen asked Julia Mulligan if she could intervene in what she felt was a situation that was an affront to democracy whereby police officers could investigate each other at one and and the same time.
Despite the snub to a request for comment on this article, the NYPCC twitter account jumped in on Gwen’s tweet and answered on Julia’s behalf by saying they would ‘look into’ the situation. Quite what that amounts to is unclear, given that both the creation and the escalation of this bizarre situation is all down to the Commissioner’s office.
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The fact that the ‘look into’ promise is exactly the same as used by DCC Madgwick at the Scrutiny Board meeting might be seen by some as ominous.With exactly the same outcome?

Page last updated: Friday 2nd September, 2016 at 1445hrs

© 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.

Chief Constable and Police Commissioner face court action over persistent data and information breaches

County Court claims have been filed naming Julia Mulligan, the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire and her Chief Constable, Dave Jones, as defendants over persistent breaches of both the Data Protection Act, 1998 and the Freedom of Information Act, 2000.

The court action in both cases has been taken out by investigative journalist, Neil Wilby.

Recovery of costs of the time spent dealing with both the PCC’s office, and the police force’s Civil Disclosure Unit, over their failure to comply with the law over two data subject access and eleven freedom of information requests is claimed.

One information request made by Mr Wilby took 373 days before a response was given. The request simply asked for the number of sergeants in the force with the surname ‘Smith’.

A court order compelling the Commissioner and the Chief Constable to lawfully dispose of the data and information requests within 14 days is also sought.


The PCC’s acting Chief Executive, Simon Dennis, initially instructed Joint Corporate Legal Services, which serves both the police force and the PCC’s office, to respond to the claim.

Acting Force Solicitor and Head of Legal Services, Jane Wintermeyer, confirmed receipt of those instructions from the PCC and intimated that her department would also deal with the claim against the Chief Constable, once it has been served on him by the court.

Mrs Wintermeyer also says: “The Civil Disclosure Unit are (sic) continuing to deal with the  outstanding Subject Access Request, FOI’s and Reviews and will revert as soon as they can”. Which is, on any reasonable view, a frank admission that the PCC and the force are operating outside of the law in dealing with Mr Wilby’s requests.

However, following objections raised by Mr Wilby to both Mr Dennis and the Chief Constable, Mrs Wintermeyer was replaced by an outside firm of solicitors. Leeds law firm, Weightmans, has filed the acknowledgement of service with the court. The protest against the involvement of Mrs Wintermeyer was grounded in the fact that she is presently the subject of two serious, and unresolved, conduct complaints.

The involvement of Weightmans has already proved controversial. Their senior partner, Nick Collins, who is handling the claim had, in early skirmishes, made the quite astonishing assertion that ALL of Mr Wilby’s freedom of information requests were classified by both North Yorkshire Police and the PCC’s office as “vexatious”. He has since withdrawn the allegation, confirmed that NONE of the requests were in fact vexatious, and offered a retraction and an apology. He claims that he was NOT acting on instructions from the police or the Commissoner’s office when making this outrageous and offensive claim – and that he simply made it up himself.

Unperturbed, the errant lawyer then ventures into the area of “vexatious” data subject access requests. Data access is governed by S7 of the Data Protection Act and the concept of a “vexatious” request under the Act would test even the most experienced data practitioners. There is certainly no legal precedent that is readily accessible and, despite being invited to provide one, Mr Collins has so far declined to do so.

As Mr Wilby has only ever made one data request each to North Yorkshire Police and the PCC – neither of which are finalised appropriately several months later – it is difficult to see where Mr Collins is going with this inference.

There has, however, been no retraction of another wild, unevidenced assertion by Mr Collins to the effect that the “large” number of information requests made by Mr Wilby (a total of nineteen in two years by an investigative journalist to two different data controllers) was a significant factor in causing 500+ other requests per year to be finalised outside of the statutory period. Made all the more incredible by that fact that published data shows non-compliance was at its worst before Mr Wilby made his first of those requests in September 2014.

To top that all off, Mr Collins asserts that his clients have not broken the law: In the face of the most compelling and overwhelming evidence. He is refusing to say whether he is acting on instructions from the police, and the PCC, in order to make such claims or, as with the false ‘vexatious’ submission, he has simply made this up himself, as well.

But the biggest difficulty of all faced by Mr Collins is that he has signed Statements of Truth, below the two Defence documents filed on behalf of the Chief Constable, and the Police Commissioner, that are both palpably false. It would also be difficult to persuade a judge that he had an honest belief in their truth, given what he has alleged and then later admitted.

He is presently the subject of a complaint to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority – and Mr Wilby has invited the court, in his Reply to Defence, to apply sanctions against Mr Collins under Civil Procedure Rule 32.14 which deals with false witness evidence (see below).

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All these shenanigans, which have also included peremptory, dark threats as to the financial consequences to Mr Wilby of not abandoning the claims, have already cost the North Yorkshire precept payer a sum estimated to be in excess of £20,000. Weightmans were invited, as a matter relevant to the issues in dispute, and to the proportionality of their defence, to state exactly how much has been charged. They have, so far, declined to do so. Indeed, they didn’t even have the courtesy to acknowledge the email bearing the request.

Poor communication, and lack of candour, by Mr Collins is a recurrent feature of Mr Wilby’s interaction with him, which reflects poorly on the professionalism of that law firm. That is also, it seems, reflected higher up the Weightmans food chain. In an increasingly tetchy interchange with their partner responsible for regulatory matters, James Holman, the firm refused to tell Mr Wilby, even when pressed on the subject, whether Mr Collins faced sanction internally over his conduct. In those circumstances, the working hypothesis has to be that there is nothing of this nature in the offing.

Mr Holman also insisted that having to be nudged for a response over a complaint of this seriousness did not constitute discourtesy. Mr Wilby has, sensibly, agreed to disagree with him.

Weightmans have, however, pledged to co-operate with the SRA’s investigation into the conduct of Mr Collins.

Freedom of information requests were made necessary to establish how much is being spent on defending these claims, by the police and the PCC, via their big city lawyers. Full details of both of these requests can be read here and here. The information requests also sought to establish which senior NYP and NYPCC officers are giving instructions to Mr Collins. Which, in itself, was expected to be revelatory. No information has been forthcoming. The original requests were the subject of an internal review prior to the matter being referred as a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Some weeks ago, in an effort to resolve matters, Mr Wilby suggested that the total sum sought, in both of his claims, for his loss of earnings and disbursements (the grand total of £385), be donated to a charity of the Chief Constable’s choice. That, so far, has proved unacceptable to the profligate Chief, and his Commissioner, as a means of settling the matter.

There is also an issue with the form of words concerning the declaration of the court, sought by Mr Wilby, to the effect that the police and the PCC have both acted unlawfully, and the future remedy for such conduct. The fact that both the police and the PCC have continued to routinely break the law SINCE court proceedings were issued only serves to exacerbate the issue.

Interestingly, a complaint made by Mr Wilby in July, 2015 concerning Mrs Mulligan’s failure to hold the Chief Constable to account over Freedom of Information Act failings was NOT upheld by the Police and Crime Scrutiny Panel for North Yorkshire (PCP).

Between April 2012 and June 2015, NYP’s Civil Disclosure Unit failed to determine 1,558 (One thousand five hundred and fifty eight) freedom of information requests within the statutory 20 working day period. These figures, although known at the time by Mrs Mulligan, were not disclosed to the PCP in her formal response to Mr Wilby’s complaint. That matter will be re-addressed at the conclusion of the present court proceedings. Alongside a complaint from another journalist, Nigel Ward, who has an unfinalised information request dating back to 22nd February, 2015. Yes, 2015.

Mrs Mulligan now also has the unenviable record of a 100% failure rate over compliance in finalising data access requests. Over the past three years, there have also been a staggering 103 non-compliant data access requests finalised by the force. That might be a tough one for the PCP to find a workaround, when that fact is put to them formally about their ‘open and transparent’ PCC.

At a hearing on Monday 10th October, 2016, in  Huddersfield County Court, applications by the two policing chiefs to (i) transfer the claims to Leeds County Court before HHJ Gosnell (ii) strike out the claims or, (iii) alternatively, grant summary judgement in their favour were all dismissed.

The district judge found that there was a case to answer on the alleged breach by the chief contsable; an admission of breach by the police commissioner. It was also a finding that the matters concerning the information requests fell away, as their had been no formal application to allow in amended particulars, filed and served on 1st September, 2016, that went beyond the police chiefs’ defence grounded in S56 of the Freedom of Information Act. The judge did make the point that it was open to Mr Wilby to make a new claim against either police chief (or both), grounded in breach of duty, negligence and discrimination, rather than a breach of the Act per se.

The present claims against both the Chief Constable and the Police Commissioner were listed as back-to-back final hearings on the following morning before the same judge. They were represented by junior barrister, Sophie Mitchell, of St Paul’s Chambers in Leeds.

As on the previous day, Ms Mitchell did not distinguish herself. At the applications hearing she had attempted to hand a 16 page skeleton argument over to both the judge, and Mr Wilby, six minutes before the hearing. It was not accepted by either.

At the substantive hearings, Ms Mitchell produced a thick volume of legal authorities, of approximately 200 un-numbered pages, as the hearing was about to start. Whilst that was not, in itself, fatal to the administration of justice, the very late service – and unsatisfactory composition – of the trial bundle was. It had not reached the judge having only been despatched from Weightmans late on the previous Friday afternoon.

Mr Wilby was able to retrieve two sizeable lever arch files from his neighbour’s house (to where they had been delivered by the postal service on Saturday afternoon) at 7.30pm the previous evening. It is unclear when Ms Mitchell received her copy of the trial bundle but she claimed, to the astonishment of most of those present in the courtroom, that she hadn’t read it. In particular, Mr Wilby’s witness evidence around which the whole trial centred. At that point, the judge allowed a short adjournment for Ms Mitchell to read up on the case.

When court resumed, Ms Mitchell attempted to cross examine Mr Wilby over materials upon which the defence relied, but were not exhibited in the trial bundle. It was clear that proceedings could not continue in this fashion. The judge, accordingly, stood both of the cases down and made Orders for case management and re-listing.

The performance of both Mr Collins, in terms of the preparation for the trial and Ms Mitchell in how she prepared and advocated for her clients, both fell some way short of the professional standards that courts and litigation opponents can rightly expect. On this subject the last word goes to well known York-based governance adviser, Gwen Swinburn, who attended the adjourned final hearings:


The Chief Constable, Mrs Mulligan and Mr Collins have all been approached for specific comment on this article. None of the three even had the courtesy to acknowledge the email carrying the request.

Mr Holman was also approached and his views have been taken into account when detailing the interaction with him, concerning the complaint against Mr Collins. He has asked Mr Wilby not to contact him further.


Page last updated Thursday 13th October, 2016 at 1435hrs

© 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.