‘Are we all equal under the law, Dave?’

In June 2013, when David Graham Jones took charge of North Yorkshire Police for the first time, he probably thought that he had ‘landed on his feet’ as we say oop t’North. A rambling, old country hall as HQ, miles from anywhere, it truly is far from the madding crowd

lfordPolicing the genteel and largely rural acres of Harrogate, Ripon and York (the latter two the only cities on his patch) would also be a far cry from his previous career postings in the rough, tough gun-toting, knife-wielding districts of Salford and Belfast.

Newby Wiske Jones Mulligan

Add to that a charming, equable and unchallenging employer, in the form of Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Julia Mulligan, and a Command Team deeply committed to self congratulation and backslapping, and it all must have seemed very agreeable

Top all that off with a largely tame local and regional media and what could possibly go wrong for the Jones boy?

Much has been written elsewhere about the Jimmy Savile and Peter Jaconelli child abuse scandal in the seaside town of Scarborough. In brief, the investigative efforts of two citizen journalists – Tim Hicks and Nigel Ward – led to a BBC Inside Out programme aired in April 2014. It showed NYP in a poor light and Jones didn’t put either himself, or any of his officers, up for interview.

The bottom line is, that without the sterling efforts of Messrs Hicks and Ward, the many victims of the two, now notorious, child sex offenders would have received no recognition, apology or closure. Their reward by North Yorkshire Police? To be hounded through the civil courts for eighteen months.

A Google search of ‘Operation Rome’ and ‘Operation Hyson’ will link to a number of forensic articles I have written about these two disastrous, and very costly, NYP investigations that now span almost five years. They have brought significant reputational damage to both Jones, and his police force .

Much worse publicity is yet to come as Hyson, a civil harassment claim against the two journalists responsible for the exposure of the Savile and Jaconelli scandal, lurches towards a trial at Leeds County Court on 20th July, 2016. Eighteen months to the day since proceedings were issued. The press benches will, no doubt, be overflowing to report on the unfolding proceedings.

Jones, as lead claimant in that civil case, felt it necessary to award himself free legal fees, courtesy of the public purse, before approving the launch of the claim. At a figure currently estimated at £40,000, come the end of the trial. He also authorised two of his very senior officers, Deputy Chief Constable Timothy Madgwick and C/Supt Lisa Winward (pictured below) to access the same legal fees benefit.

C-Supt Lisa Winward

On top of that estimated £120,000 diminution of the public purse by three serving police officers, Jones – in a grand gesture of munificence – also granted free access to the public purse to one of his retired police officers, ex Superintendent Heather Pearson and former Police Authority Chair, Jane Kenyon. That leap of faith then takes the bill up to an estimated £200,000.

But Jones didn’t stop there. In the best traditions of past North Yorkshire Police ACPO officers such as Della Cannings, Grahame Maxwell, Dave Collins and Adam Briggs, and their liberal approach to the spending of police funds, he awarded the same amount of free legal fees to four members of the public. Taking the total estimated bill to the North Yorkshire precept payer for the private court claim up to around £350,000.

Curiously, Jones is a leading light in the Chief Police Officers Staff Association (CPOSA) who might, reasonably, have been expected to provide support for one of their members pursuing legal action, rather than Jones using police funds as a personal piggy bank. Jones’ Deputy, Tim Madgwick, is also a CPOSA member. A copy of the CPOSA legal expenses policy can be viewed here. Similarly, Lisa Winward and Heather Pearson are covered by legal expenses insurance as members of the Police Superintendents’ Association of England and Wales (PSAEW). Whilst the insurance is more regularly used as an aid to defending claims against officers, Hyson was grounded, allegedly, in health, safety and welfare issues connected to the police officers.

Even more curiously, Mrs Mulligan (supported by Jones) contemplated embarking on legal action to recover monies from Maxwell and Briggs but abandoned the idea, because it might have cost too much in legal fees (and the Maxwell and Briggs personnel files had reportedly and mysteriously ‘disappeared’). In the context of the huge sum of public money spent on Hyson, and what is likely to be achieved, letting the errant chiefs off the hook looks a very poor judgement call indeed, by comparison.

Put shortly, it was “inappropriate” according to Jones and Mrs Mulligan to chase two former NYP Command Team officers for £100,000 they owe (read more here), but no problem at all to spend around £350,000 of public money hunting down two journalists.

Which makes this joint statement of Chief Constable Jones and PCC Mulligan in the wake of the Maxwell, Briggs farrago sound very hollow indeed: “The commissioner and the chief constable are determined that issues of this kind shall never be allowed to occur again”.

But an issue of exactly that kind has occurred, just over a year after that solemn pronouncement was made – and the two people at the very heart of the scandal – and some of the attempts to conceal it from the public, are the very same Dave Jones and Julia Mulligan.

The unauthorised removal (or theft if you like) of the Briggs and Maxwell personnel files also has a troubling ring to it. Are NYP saying to the wider world that sensitive materials stolen from their own police HQ go completely undetected? This has shades of the Sir Norman Bettison scandal, when renewed allegations of platinum wire theft against the former Merseyside and West Yorkshire Police chief constable (pictured below) could not be progressed, as the original criminal and disciplinary files has ‘disappeared’ from South Yorkshire Police HQ by the time outside investigators were appointed.

bettb

Returning to Chief Constable Jones, he made one of his rare public, questions from the floor, appearances in October 2013, alongside Julia Mulligan, at St Joseph’s Theatre in Scarborough. He fielded this polite and seemingly innocuous query from Nigel Ward, who was in the audience:

Are we all equal under the law, Dave?

The response was reported as: ‘I bloody well hope so’.

But what Chief Constable Jones didn’t share with Nigel Ward, or the rest of the Scarborough audience that day, is that he runs a police force that recklessly, relentlessly and calculatingly breaks the law almost every single day. I have spent over a year peering into some of the dark corners of North Yorkshire Police and the issues upon which I can now shine light make for bleak reading:

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA):

Chief Constable Jones is registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office as the data controller for North Yorkshire Police. One of the key requirements in that role is to lawfully dispose of information requests within 20 working days. They catastrophically fail to do so, as the image below graphically depicts.

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 14.48.54

The situation was unacceptable when Jones arrived at NYP, early in the 2013/14 financial year, but it has plainly got WORSE under his leadership. The Information Commissioner’s office has, allegedly, been ‘monitoring’ the situation for the past five years as a York Evening Press article from 2011 discloses (read in full here).

On NYP’s own website they claim that their philosophy is one of an ‘open and transparent’ approach to disposal of FOIA requests. They further claim that they follow the processes and guidelines set out in the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) FOIA manual. A weblink to the manual is helpfully provided by NYP. Except, I have had to write to NYP’s civil disclosure unit and point out that their link is defective. They have been provided with the correct one (click here). However, my email has not drawn a response at the time of publication and the link has not been repaired.

More crucially, I have read the ACPO guidance and I can find very little corrrelation between how North Yorkshire Police deal with information requests (I have made 19 in the last two years) and what the manual directs them to do. So, not only is the law routinely broken, Jones sticks up two fingers to his fellow chief constables.

The dishonesty doesn’t stop there, either. NYP publish a disclosure log on their website but its usefulness is, actually, very limited because it is apparent that some of the FOIA outcomes that damage the police force’s reputation do not make it onto that log. A classic example being the one revealing the numbers of out of time requests over the past three years. So much then for the ‘open and transparent’ philosophy.

Data Protection Act

As with information requests, so it is with data subject access requests. The Act provides for all personal information to be disclosed from the force’s files.

Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 09.10.32

In the case of my own two subject access requests (SAR’s), NYP have broken the law by failing to dispose of one of them appropriately within the stipulated 40 day period. Even after being given the generous option of a simplified form of response (a schedule of documents held, rather than full disclosure of all of them) what was provided was a deeply unsatisfactory shambles that looks as though it has been put together over a disclosure officer’s lunch break. The schedule arrived on the fortieth day, precluding any possibility of the contemplated inspection of the documents within the statutory period.

The other SAR, concerning my data held by Mrs Mulligan’s PCC office, has still not even been acknowledged, let alone determined. It fell due on 31st May, 2015. NYP are responsible, under a joint corporate services arrangement, for dealing with SAR’s and FOIA requests on behalf of the PCC’s office.

Following this latest breach of the law, a further FOIA request has been submitted to NYP requesting details of how many SAR’s the force have dealt with over the past three years, and how many were properly determined to the requester’s satisfaction within the statutory 40 day period. Full details here.

Many may say, and justifiably so, that catching murderers and organised criminals – and keeping the streets clear of drugs, guns and knives is much more important to the public, and its police force, than keeping journalists happy with a stream of information requests. But the principle of operating within the law is exactly the same: Cutting corners with sloppy detective work, outside the recognised investigative framework, will lead to some perpetrators either not being caught (the mistakes by NYP at the outset of the Claudia Lawrence case is a classic and most tragic example), or being acquitted at court if they are arrested and charged.

Police Reform Act (PRA)

Enshrined in the Act at Section 22 is the Independent Police Complaint Commission’s Statututory Guidance. Which is, effectively, a comprehensive manual setting out how complaints against police officers should be handled by the forces by whom they are employed. The person ultimately responsible for ensuring NYP compliance with the law, guidance and police regulations is Chief Constable Jones. In the terms of the Act and Guidance he is known as the ‘Appropriate Authority’. He is, quite rightly, allowed to delegate some of his powers as it would be impossible for a police chief to be embroiled in the day to day minutiae of hundreds of complaints against his officers at any one time.

But here’s the rub: Jones has selected as his delegate an officer who has shown clearly that he is not at all familiar with Statutory Guidance and, even if he was, would not feel at all bound by it. Former Leeds Drug Squad ‘hard man’ DI Steve Fincham‘s view, on all the evidence I have seen, is that the Police Reform Act and Statutory Guidance might apply to other forces when dealing with the public, but not to NYP. Why should it? It’s just another law, amongst many, to flout as and when it suits.

Jones has been subject to thirteen complaints since he took up the post in 2013. Only two were recorded and investigated. The outcomes, in both cases, were that the complaints were not substantiated. NYP did not fully comply with a FOIA request in terms of disclosing the nature of the complaints (read here). Two of the complaints have been made against Jones since the publication of the FOIA outcome. They are both, presently, subject to non-recording appeals to the IPCC.

Civil Procedure Rules

Civil Court Procedure Rules (CPR) are taken very seriously by the courts and, generally, most of the lawyers practising there. So they should. High Court judges, with greater powers than a chief constable, take a very dim view of breaches of the precisely laid out legal framework – and sanction accordingly. But Jones’ North Yorkshire Police appear unconcerned by such issues and appear to regard CPR as merely a rough guide to civil litigation that applies to everyone else but not to them. Why should it? They are above the law.

Accounts and Audit (England) Regulations

The procedure for public inspection of accounts for a larger relevant body, mentioned in Regulation 22, is that it must make the documents mentioned in that regulation available for public inspection for 20 working days. North Yorkshire Police are such a body, but do not feel bound by the Regulations.

Not just unbound, but prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid compliance. In August, 2015 it was agreed, in writing, with NYP’s Chief Financial Officer, Jane Palmer, that certain invoices would be disclosed to me via pdf files carried by email, rather than visit NYP HQ in person (a 140 mile, 3 hour round trip) and pay for them to be photocopied. Almost a year later – and amidst much correspondence and two formal complaints I am still waiting. Those invoices that are being unlawfully withheld unsurprisingly concern Operations Rome and Hyson.

Police Act (Code of Ethics)

In 2014, and pursuant to S39A (5) of the Police Act 1996 (amended by S124 of the Anti Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, 2014), the College of Policing introduced a Code of Ethics.

Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 20.11.18

The public relations narrative from NYP is they they are taking every reasonable step to embed the Code Of Ethics into all operations within the force. Indeed, every email received from NYP includes the message “Committed to the Code of Ethics“.

But, setting apart the lengthy, routine and serious breaches of statute, guidance and regulations, NYP have, on the face of the extensive evidence I have collected, no interest whatsoever in complying with either the Ethics Code, or Nolan Priciples, or Standards of Professional Behaviour. This is a police force that has had all its own way, without any form of worthwhile scrutiny or oversight, since time immemorial.

Here are just some examples that involve four very senior officers, and their complete disregard for any standards that one might associate with those in public life, let alone a Policing Code of Ethics.

(i) Many more emails than not remain unacknowledged, let alone answered. The two worst offenders in my own experience are Head of NYP’s Professional Standards Department, Superintendent Maria Taylor and Press/Communications Officer, Greig Tindall. Which, by any measure, is extraordinary: The department head charged with upholding high ethical standards of all other officers in the force  – and a Communications Officer who doesn’t communicate very well, if at all – both routinely place themselves outside the Code of Ethics.

(ii) There is a strong likelihood that if a response is eventually received from a senior officer, after being prompted, then it may be sent simply with the intention to obfuscate or deceive. That is the documented experience of my direct contact with the aforementioned Jane Palmer and Force Solicitor, Jane Wintermeyer. That may well be how they view their respective roles or, indeed, how they are instructed to respond by their masters, but it doesn’t sit well within an ethical or professional framework.

The two Janes are both, presently, the subject of ongoing misconduct complaints. Apologies have been received from both of them, but that is not the remedy now sought. The issues at stake require much stronger action from the force. But instead of dealing with the core issues and moving on, the drive to cover up misdemeanours of senior officers in North Yorkshire Police is all-pervading and very much extends to Mrs Mulligan’s own PCC office.

David Jones has recently been seconded to the equally shambolic South Yorkshire Police: Ostensibly, to temporarily replace his former Greater Manchester Police colleague, David Crompton, as a pair of ‘clean hands’.

image

Now, the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire, Dr Alan Billings, must decide whether he has simply replaced one David, albeit on an interim basis, with another David who is a copper out of the same flawed mould.

_________________________________________________________________

Page last updated Tuesday 7th June, 2016 at 2135hrs

© 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.

Photo credits: NYP, NYPCC, SYPCC, Liverpool Echo

 

 

409,970 reasons not to trust North Yorkshire Police

The old-fashioned notion that honesty was an integral part of policing in the UK has been comprehensively swept away over the past few years, as corruption scandal after corruption scandal has emerged into the public domain.

Many of the worst public outrages concern police forces in Yorkshire. The Hillsborough Disaster, the Battle of Orgreave and Rotherham Abuse failings will forever stain those who wear the South Yorkshire Police uniform.

Their neighbours in West Yorkshire (WYP) have an unenviable record of ‘fitting-up’ innocent people for serious crimes they didn’t commit and this stretches back for decades to Stefan Kiszko and Judith Ward. Investigative and prosecutorial misconduct come easily to this force and one of the worst case ever to come before the courts was also down to them. Never before – or since – has a police force been so roundly and completely condemned by law lords as they were in the Karl Chapman supergrass case. Probably better known now as Operation Douglas.

Most recently, the confirmation that the jailing of one of their own most promising young constables, PC Danny Major, was corruptly grounded, takes WYP to depths in policing criminality rarely plumbed before.

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 10.58.11

The discredited West Yorkshire Police also share with North Yorkshire Police (NYP) the unenviable distinction of allowing the country’s most notorious child sex offender, Jimmy Savile, to go unchecked for almost 50 years on his home patches of Leeds and Scarborough.

North Yorkshire Police were, of course, out on their own in allowing another notorious and prolific paedophile, Peter Jaconelli to offend at will for a similar period.

Worse still, NYP tried very hard indeed, by way of two bogus investigations into themselves, to rubbish any claims that they knew about the nefarious activities of either of these hideous individuals. Indeed, but for the intervention of two citizen journalists, writing for a North Yorkshire internet news magazine, the police would have got clean away with hoodwinking the public over both Savile and Jaconelli.

This report by ACC Sue Cross (a former West Yorkshire Police officer and pictured below) took just nine days – and zero interviews – to dismiss over forty years of relentless sex offending by a man widely known as “Mr Scarborough”. It’s tone and content is directed much more to discrediting the two journalists than addressing the core issues. A trait much favoured by senior officers in the police service.

North Yorkshire Police were subsequently, and quite rightly, exposed as an incompetent, embarrassing and humiliated shambles. It seems more than a coincidence, therefore, that those same two journalists – Tim Hicks and Nigel Ward – have for the past fifteen months been facing civil court action both mounted and funded by the police (or more accurately the precept payer). This is the article by Mr Hicks that effectively dismantled the now discredited Cross Report.

imgID30394762.jpg-pwrt3

I have investigated this matter of the claim concerning alleged harassment by the two journalists, extensively, since the issue of the court papers in January 2015 and have written a number of articles as a result:

Cost of silencing police force critics now approaches £1 million (click here)

Complete capitulation follows Fall of Rome (click here)

Key witness in police funded civil action is a proven liar (click here).

The North Yorkshire Police dilemma: Find a murderer or pursue journalists over harassment (click here)

This latest article focuses on just one single aspect of those investigations, upon which a large amount of time and money has already been spent:

North Yorkshire Police and the Police Commissioner, Julia Mulligan, have both quoted a figure of £409,970.90 as the alleged cost of a criminal investigation into the two journalists, and one other. The police investigation was styled Operation Rome and this is the published breakdown of their estimate:

  • Police officer time from December 2011 to September 2014;  94.6 months – £386,347
  • Legal services work from October 2010 to June 2014;  243.1 hours – £7,424.73
  • Civil disclosure work from September 2011 to October 2014; 352 hours – £5,181.44
  • Related complaints matters;  82 hours – £1,708.88
  • Chief Officer time; 259.08 – £9,308.85
  • TOTAL £409,970.90

This costing of what is, at best, a notional spend was the cornerstone that underpinned the decision by the Chief Constable and the Police Commissioner to go ahead and disburse an estimated £202,000 of the public’s money in legal fees, pursuing the civil harassment claim via the senior partner of one of the most expensive law firms in Leeds, and two barristers. One of whom is a well-known QC, with charge rates to match.

Indeed, Mrs Mulligan is quoted as saying: “Dealing with the actions of those involved in the civil case has tied up police resources to a significant extent, and it seemed reasonable to expect that further time and expense would be incurred if no action were taken“.

In layman’s terms, the PCC’s muddled hypothesis appears to be: (i) We have come up with some notional, and fanciful, figures to say it has ‘cost’ North Yorkshire Police £409,970 trying to silence these people, by criminalising them via an embarrassingly bad investigation. (ii) Now, we can save a bit of face by actually spending £202,000 of hard cash, and chase the same three men through the civil courts at the public’s expense. But, with no certainty of achieving anything more than the original failed police investigation (iii) It has actually cost a lot more than £202,000 so far, but we are keeping the lid tightly screwed down on that.

My investigations go a long way to proving that reliance on that particular foundation of the £409,970 calculation will bring the whole Operation Rome edifice to the ground:

  • The inclusion in the calculations of 94.6 months of police officer time, allegedly costing £386,347, to pursue three members of the public on a harassment without violence investigation stretches the bounds of credibility, far beyond breaking point.
  • That is the type of sum you would normally expect to see spent on a murder investigation where the perpetrator(s) remain undetected after six months.
  • Compare Operation Rome’s “£409,970” harassment enquiry, for example, with the recently wound up Operation Essence, a major crimes review of the Claudia Lawrence disappearance and murder. As many as 20 detectives and police staff worked full time for two and a half years. Cost: £800,000 Source: NYP.
  • Even 94.6 hours would be well beyond the routine for a harassment investigation of this type. That would bring the ‘cost’ in at a more realistic £2,240.34.
  • A harassment investigation would normally involve a neighbourhood police constable overseen by a sergeant, or possibly an inspector. The police hear what the complainant(s) have to say, speak to the suspects and make a charging decision based on the evidence. There is no forensic science involved, or complex issues to unravel. Even Heartbeat‘s PC Geoff Younger (pictured below) would shine in such probes.
  • The police have declined to say how many detectives were actually involved. They rely on a total of 14 people including lawyers, civil disclosure officers, PSD officers and staff from the PCC’s office as their answer.
  • The link between the cost of dealing with complaints against the police, freedom of information requests, reported at £6890.32, and a harassment investigation would also appear very tenuous at best. The complaints against NYP officers and information requests either had merit, or not. No evidence has been produced to me to suggest they were outside the scope of the legislation under which such issues could, quite properly, be raised.
  • The other ‘big ticket’ items on the costs estimate for Operation Rome also have the fishy odour of red herring. £16,733.58 is the combined total allegedly spent on Chief Officer time and the cost of Legal Services support. It begs the question as to what Chief Officers (who are most unhelpfully not identified by either name or job title) were actually doing that was connected to a criminal harassment investigation and involved 259.08hrs of their time?
  • The same comment applies to lawyers who are employed by the police force to deal with civil claims, not criminal investigations. How did they manage to spend 243.1 hours on a criminal harassment probe and what were they actually doing?
  • The bottom line here is that the TOTAL of £409,970 has very much the appearance of a figment of the imagination – and appears to be a figure largely plucked out of the air to justify raiding the public purse so that senior officers, including the Chief Constable and his Deputy could get their hands on free legal fees.

heartbeat3

The next step in the process is to look at how the Operation Rome investigation was conducted and what it actually achieved:

  • None of the three suspects have ever been issued with a Police Improvement Notice (PIN), more commonly known as a harassment warning. More on PIN’s here.
  • Only one of three suspects, Mr Hicks, was interviewed by the police. The focus of that 2012 interview was alleged damage to the reputation of North Yorkshire Police by his work as a citizen journalist, rather than harassment.
  • No disclosure was made to Mr Hicks, or his solicitor who was present throughout, that would persuade an independent reviewer that the police claims of harassment were credible.
  • The letter from Mr Hicks’ solicitor to NYP following the interview can be read here. It amounts to another humiliation of those police officers involved in Operation Rome.
  • Mr Ward, meanwhile, was completely unaware that any such investigation was in progress that involved him. He was never contacted by either a police officer, or any alleged ‘victim’, at any time concerning harassment allegations.
  • There was no mention of Mr Ward in the interview conducted with Mr Hicks at Fulford Road police station.
  • Meanwhile North Yorkshire Police actively canvassed other public officials from parish, borough and county councils, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission, to make complaints against the two citizen journalists.
  • One of the public officials, York City Council social worker, Mark Bednarski, was found to have misled police in his own witness statement by withholding information that damaged his claim.
  • Another public official, County and Borough Councillor Jane Kenyon lied in her CJA statement. A fact she has recently admitted after being cornered by documentary evidence.
  • No arrest was made at any time during Operation Rome.
  • The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) twice refused to authorised the arrest and charging of Mr Hicks under Section 3 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
  • The CPS guidance on issue of harassment warnings can be read here.
  • Following the second refusal by the CPS a ‘leading specialist barrister’, believed to be Simon Myerson QC, was consulted in an effort to make criminal charges stick. That was also a failure.
  • With Bednarski and Kenyon as star witnesses there would be little prospect of a prosecution succeeding, in any event.

At the end of a near three year investigation, Operation Rome was closed down as an incompetent, embarrassing and humiliating shambles.

But there are a number of questions, asked via appropriate legal channels, that remain unanswered by North Yorkshire Police which cast further and serious doubt on the provenance of the information already supplied about the harassment investigation and its ‘cost’.

  • NYP have stated in response to a FoIA request that none of the elements of the £409,970 costings are broken down for the years 2011,2012, 2013 and 2014
  • On the same request, the force cannot provide details of the incident that triggered the Operation Rome investigation. That suggests there is no policy log (sometimes called the policy book) in existence. The first sign of a poorly led, and badly directed, investigation
  • It is further claimed by NYP that Operation Rome was led by an inspector. Yet, I have in my files letters written by CI Heather Pearson (to Tim Hicks) and DCC Tim Madgwick (to Jane Kenyon) concerning this investigation.
  • Why was the Force Solicitor, Jane Wintermeyer, who essentially concerns herself with legal disputes in the civil courts tasked with collecting financial estimates for a three-year criminal investigation?
  • Why is there no written request to Mrs Wintermeyer to carry out this work –  upon which so much rested – in existence? The costing exercise was, allegedly, instigated following a verbal request from PCC Julia Mulligan and Chief Constable Dave Jones. Who both, separately, employ a highly qualified, and commensurately paid, Chief Financial Officer (Mike Porter and Jane Palmer respectively).
  • How could a back of the envelope exercise, delivered in such sloppy form, take over three months to produce?
  • Why did NYP reply to a FoIA request on 1st December, 2014 (almost at the centre point of the Wintermeyer cost collection exercise according to information she supplied to me by letter) saying that they could neither ‘confirm nor deny’ that such information existed?
  • Why are NYP dragging their feet on a FoIA request asking them to justify the breakdown of hourly rates used in the calculations?
  • More crucially, and in the interests of openness and transparency much touted by Mrs Mulligan, why does the Chief Constable, and the PCC, not simply publish the workings of Mrs Wintermeyer with the names of anyone lower than the managerial rank of inspector (or its civilian equivalent) redacted?

This all has the look of a third incompetent, embarrassing and humiliating shambles for North Yorkshire Police. Yet the mindset of its Chief Constable, and his lap dog Police Commissioner, is to dig both him, her and themselves ever deeper into a hole. Rather than confront the fact that they have been caught with their fingers in the till, so to speak, and deal with it in an honest, ethical and professional manner

Newby Wiske Jones Mulligan

More importantly, for a police force and a police commissioner to be prepared to relentlessly break the law to try, in vain, to cover its tracks over some distinctly shady territory mean that questions need to be urgently asked, at the Home Office: How can Dave Jones and Julia Mulligan justify conducting police operations in this manner – and for whose benefit are these ‘investigations’ actually being run?

There are, currently, at least 409,970 reasons for the Secretary of State, or the Home Affairs Select Committee, to seek answers to these questions.

Both Chief Constable Jones and Mrs Mulligan have been approached for comment on this article. None has yet been forthcoming from Jones, but a spokesman for the Commissioner said: ‘It would be inappropriate to comment on an ongoing legal matter‘.

North Yorkshire Enquirer‘s Nigel Ward said this: “At the material time, I was passing North Yorkshire Police a large volume of information regarding SAVILE and JACONELLI and was profusely thanked, by detectives, for my contributions. But during that same period, it seems, the police were plotting (unsuccessfully) to nail me on criminal harassment allegations made by Jane Kenyon. I refute those accusations made by her, entirely“.

But the last words should belong to Lord Maginnis of Drumglass who most presciently commented in Parliament, about North Yorkshire Police, in 2012:

That particularly dubious Constabulary merits careful investigation”.

_________________________________________________________________

Page last updated Tuesday 10th May, 2016 at 1205hrs

© 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.

Photo credits: North Yorkshire Enquirer, Yorkshire Television, Darlington and Stockton Times and Office of Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire

 

‘Complete capitulation’ follows the fall of Rome

The decision of the North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Julia Mulligan, to use a blank cheque drawn on policing funds to finance a civil harassment claim is one that has already attracted a good deal of controversy. With more certain to follow as the case unravels.

maxresdefault

Efforts at unpicking both the history and the rationale behind this extraordinary and unprecedented decision have so far met with obfuscation, obstruction and downright lies from the police and the PCC’s office. Paint in a gratuitous smear, or two, and the picture is complete of a police force and an elected policing representative deeply resenting any form of scrutiny.

This report draws on information from a variety of sources. Most of it routine for an investigative journalist – published articles, freedom of information requests, Google searches, trawls of court and public records, telephone or face-to-face interviews with those involved who are willing, or able, to talk.

But this particular probe has also ventured into the less usual: clandestine meetings with informants, unannounced telephone calls from ‘no caller ID’ numbers, correspondence with a prisoner in jail, materials pushed through the letterbox or sent anonymously via post.

It is also clear, upon their own admission, that emails and letters sent to police HQ and the PCC’s office in connection with a legal challenge to the funding have either been interfered with, or disappeared. An extraordinary situation by any measure and one which the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) were asked to examine. Unsurprisingly, the IPCC completely avoided any mention the issue in a recent appeal assessment that ranks as one of the worst I have ever seen.

The pleadings in the civil court dispute, the merits of the case, or the people involved in it, form only a peripheral part of this report. It is the funding decision, and the actions leading up to it, that is the core subject of scrutiny. The formal Decision Notice was published by Mrs Mulligan on 29th September, 2015, almost twelve months after one of her employees authorised expenditure of a huge amount of taxpayer cash on a private legal matter – and exactly four months after the absence of the notice was drawn to the attention of her staff.

Indeed, it would not have been published at all were it not for considerable pressure exerted on social media (see example below); or by way of a formal complaint to the Police Scrutiny Panel in July 2015 concerning the absence of the notice from her website and via email communications between the Chief Constable’s Finance Officer, Jane Palmer, and myself in August 2015 regarding inspection of the police force’s annual accounts.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 11.16.55

The complaint raised against Julia Mulligan also particularised, amongst a number of other issues, concerns about the PCC not holding her chief constable to account over serial failings in the disposal of freedom of information requests (read more here). Despite the Scrutiny Panel, incredibly, not upholding the complaints concerning either the missing Decision Notice or the FoI failings, it has become clear that nine information requests made prior to October 2015 concerning the harassment claims are still unfulfilled. This nugget came from the North Yorkshire Police’s own Civil Disclosure Unit in an outcome dated 8th January, 2016 to Ms Angela Snodgrove, via the What Do They Know website (see NYP outcome here), and gives a clear indicator of the police mindset in seeking to conceal the truth over this financial farrago. A check on NYP’s FoI disclosure log suggests that they are all still unfulfilled.

The police investigation that led to the issuing of the civil harassment claim is styled Operation Hyson. It has been established that Hyson began almost as soon as its predecessor, Operation Rome, ended on 17th July, 2014. Rome was a criminal investigation which focused on two of the three defendants in the civil claim. Opened at the end of 2011, it was a complete, embarassing, and very costly failure for the force. It cannot be judged any other way when detectives spend 31 months attempting to prosecute three people for harassment, without even issuing a singe Police Improvement Notice (PIN) and interviewing only one of the three ‘suspects’?

The fall of Rome was also a major blow to former Police Authority Chair, Jane Kenyon, who was a prime mover behind Operation Rome and reportedly livid when the Crown Prosecution Service refused, on two separate occasions, to prosecute the ‘suspects’ of allegedly harassing her.

Miss Kenyon is also a central figure in the civil claim and, of course, a long term political ally of the Police Commissioner who is funding the legal fees.

A clue to the timings is found on an invoice from barrister Simon Myerson QC in which he refers to both Rome and Hyson (named after a Chinese green tea called Lucky Dragon). The first Hyson conference appears to be a near five hour marathon at Newby Wiske police HQ on 6th August, 2014 which plainly featured Mr Myerson. This meeting took place just over two weeks after Deputy Chief Constable Tim Madgwick had written to the alleged harassers saying there would be no criminal action taken against them. DCC Madgwick (pictured below) is another pivotal claimant in the civil case who is benefiting from – and presumably voted for – a huge amount of public funds to finance his private legal claim over his hurt feelings. He is also a friend of Miss Kenyon and corresponds with her in familiar terms.

tim_madgwick_worried_portrait

From documents disclosed to me it is also clear that following the initial Hyson meeting  Mr Myerson’s junior barrister, Hannah Lynch, spent every day for two weeks at police HQ in Northallerton, beginning 11th August, 2014, in conference about the newly instigated investigation. Whilst it is not known who else was present at these daily conferences we do learn from Miss Lynch’s invoices to NYP that Operation Hyson was the subject matter.

It was abundantly clear that, from its outset, Hyson was a major financial undertaking for the police force. It is also reasonable to infer that the police decision to proceed with the civil harassment claim – and fund it – had been taken at the 6th August meeting between the police and Mr Myerson. If not, before.

On October 3rd, 2014 it is claimed that the PCC and the Chief Constable say that they verbally tasked the Force Solicitor, Jane Wintermeyer, with collecting what are described as ‘manual estimates’ from five different departments that had allegedly incurred costs in pursuing Operation Rome. Four days later, the senior partner of Leeds solicitors Ford and Warren, Nick Collins, began billing North Yorkshire Police.

Another recent freedom of information request has revealed that Mrs Wintermeyer was Mr Myerson’s instructing solicitor prior to 7th October. Enquiries have also revealed that no lawyers ‘beauty parade’ took place before the awarding of a very substantial legal engagement to Mr Collins’ firm. NYP tell me that a process called a Single Access Tender (SAT) was invoked after Mr Myerson recommended Ford and Warren as his preferred instructing solicitor. Further details of that SAT, and the supporting documents behind it, have now been requested from NYP. The chronology put forward previously, concerning the events surrounding these legal arrangements, give rise to the strong suspicion that those documents may not exist.

An estimate of £202,000 was given to the police for the cost of the legal action fronted by Ford and Warren. This would, of course, also include the services of counsel, Mr Myerson and Miss Lynch, but exclude Value Added Tax (VAT), the treatment of which may yet become a controversial issue for the force if it has been reclaimed by them as input tax.

By 8th October, 2014 Miss Lynch had clearly started billing for preparation work on the civil harassment claim and another conference – the twelfth in just two months – took place at police HQ, involving her, two days later.

According to Mrs Wintermeyer, yet another conference took place soon after – on October 15th, 2014 –  at which the PCC’s Chief Financial Officer, Michael Porter, was asked to ‘authorise expenditure that would allow proactive legal action in respect of the alleged harassment of persons including NYP officers and staff‘. Mr Porter splits his role under Mrs Mulligan with similar duties for the Cleveland PCC. Mr Myerson was also present at this meeting.

CachedImage.axd

The ‘manual estimates’ for the Operation Rome costings were delivered on 12th January, 2015. The total put forward by Mrs Wintermeyer was £409,970.90 (the breakdown of her costings can be viewed here).

Fourteen officers had, allegedly, been involved in the Rome investigation and whilst the legitimacy of some of the number of hours, days and months actually dealing with harassment – as opposed to other viable complaints, correspondence or criminal enquiries – need to be clarified, the hourly rates used in the calculations appear highly questionable. To the extent that NYP have been tasked via another Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) request to provide substance to their figures. For example, the rate for an hour of a chief officer’s time is £35.93 whilst detectives investigating harassment (presumably at detective constable and sergeant rank) are rated at £23.24. Common sense suggests that both cannot be correct.

North Yorkshire Police have broken the law (yet again) in failing to determine that FoIA request within the statutory 20 working day period.

It would also strike the independent observer as odd that ‘back of the envelope’ cost calculations should take over three months to collect and collate, by the Force Solicitor, when both Mrs Mulligan, and the Chief Constable, each employ a highly remunerated and professionally qualified Chief Financial Officer. Both of whom might, reasonably, be expected to have such details at their fingertips.

Another curiosity is that a FoIA request determined jointly by NYP and the PCC on 1st December, 2014 stated that they could ‘neither confirm nor deny’ that the same financial information being collected by Mrs Wintermeyer actually existed (read FoI decision here).

A more recent FoIA outcome (1oth March 2016) delivered by NYP via the WhatDoTheyKnow website (read in full here) casts even further doubt onto the authenticity of the £410,000 estimate. NYP say that Mrs Wintermeyer’s costings were not even broken down year by year (2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014) which any book-keeper, with an ‘O’ level in mathematics, would deem to be a basic requirement. How can some officers have analysed their time down to the minute and, yet, not know the date they allegedly did the work on Operation Rome? The whole Wintermeyer exercise lacks a ring of truth. A remark that can also be made about a number of her contributions to Operation Hyson. To the extent that she is now the subject of formal Code of Ethics complaint (read more here)

On the same day as Mrs Wintermeyer’s ‘costings’ were delivered to her employers (12th January), she says ‘advice was provided to the PCC regarding the lawfulness of expending money from the police force budget for Operation Hyson’. She doesn’t say from whom, but goes on to say ‘On or about January 13th, 2015 advice was provided from a leading barrister‘. It is not clear upon whose instructions that the ‘leading barrister’ was acting, what those instructions actually were, or the advice given, or to whom, as Mrs Wintermeyer is claiming legal privilege. Curiously, Mr Myerson on his detailed invoice for the day in question makes no mention of providing such opinion.

Following publication of this article, Mrs Wintermeyer has backtracked from her 13th January claim and has now put forward another unlikely proposition: That Mr Myerson gave the Police Commissioner his professional opinion over the vires of the funding of the civil claim in open meeting on 15th October, 2014. Whilst, seemingly, not instructed by solicitors retained by her.

Less than a week after the highly questionable Operation Rome costings and purported legal advice were given to Mrs Mulligan and the Chief Constable, Mrs Wintermeyer says the decision was made to issue civil proceedings against the subjects of the Rome criminal investigation.

But the date given for that decision – on or about 19th January, 2015 – cannot be true, for a number of reasons. It must been taken been taken months earlier. Operation Hyson, as we know from Mr Myerson’s invoices, was underway almost as soon as Rome collapsed in July 2014. Hyson is, to all intents and purposes the collection of evidence for, and the pursuit, of the civil litigation. Another clue is that, according to a very reliable source, three of the claimants’ witness statements were drawn up and signed before 19th January. Another clue from Mr Myerson’s accounts is that he was working on his skeleton argument and a draft order on 13th January.

But the most compelling reason is that the huge amount of materials exhibited with the harassment claim form could not have possibly been assembled, printed, collated, boxed and sent to the court, the nine claimants and three defendants on the following day. It takes a porter’s trolley to wheel them into court. Included in those boxes full of lever arch files is a witness statement from Mrs Wintermeyer that names twelve other individuals as potential claimants in the harassment proceedings, including the Temporary Chief Constable of Cleveland Police, Iain Spittal (pictured below); retired NYP ACC Steve Read and five other NYP officers. Two of them at managerial rank. Four of them still serving and one retired.

JS70328136

That statement also makes clear that approaches had been made by Mrs Wintermeyer to councillors and officers of North Yorkshire County Council, City of York Council, Scarborough Borough Council and Leeming Parish Council, amongst others, to canvass backing for NYP’s harassment claims. This is a process that must have taken weeks and months, not hours.

It is not clear upon whose instructions Mrs Wintermeyer was acting, in what appears to be unethical touting using the temptation of free legal funding, courtesy of the unwitting taxpayer, in the name of North Yorkshire Police. It is unprecedented and scandalous conduct by a police force, or any other public authority for that matter, following extensive searches to find a similar example. For a solicitor (and an officer of the Court) to indulge herself in such practices may also pose regulatory, or court procedural, issues.

Significantly, the number of claimants has seemingly reduced by one, not increased: Retired Superintendent Heather Pearson (pictured below) no longer appears on formal court documents, including the Consent Order agreed on 9th February, 2015. The fact that her witness statement was not signed, or dated, at the time of service may have a bearing on that. Ms Pearson was a senior officer on the failed Rome investigation under DCC Madgwick’s direction. By contrast, none of the twelve named by Mrs Wintermeyer, or the many other and so far unnamed public officials, have come forward to join in the financial free-for-all.

police.jpg-pwrt3

But it was at the end of January 2015 where it all started to go wrong for the police, its PCC and all the others involved in Operation Hyson. Having taken almost six months gathering information for their legal claim, the decision was taken to abandon the Court’s strict requirement for pre-action protocol to be followed. This involves a letter before claim being served on defendants so that they can marshall their own resources and attempt to narrow issues between the parties, before the expense of court costs is incurred. A decision made all the more extraordinary insofar as the principal target of the litigation, Mr Peter Hofschröer, was incarcerated in HMP Wandsworth, having been arrested by NYP in York city centre six weeks earlier.

The court papers show that they were sealed on 20th January and it has been established that process servers were engaged to hand them to the defendants the day after. The cost of that exercise was over £1,000 for delivering two boxes containing fourteen oversized lever arch files to three addresses.

An interim hearing date at Leeds High Court had already been set for 9th February, 2015 by the time proceedings were filed and served. Whether the defendants were available to put their case to the judge, or not.

On the face of it, the action of the police gave every appearance of a legal ambush. It is also a fair assumption that they either did not expect the two journalist defendants, Tim Hicks and Nigel Ward (pictured below), to turn up at court – or they would attend unrepresented and find themselves facing a leading QC and a junior barrister.

nigel-ward-300x3001

In the event, after a hasty scramble, representation was arranged for the journalists via Nottingham law firm, Bhatia Best, and London human rights barrister, Ian Brownhill. It was a smart move as no injunctive relief was granted for the nine claimants and there was no order for costs. The Daily Mirror journalist in court at the time, Mark Lister, described the Consent Order agreed by Mr Brownhill and Mr Myerson as ‘a complete capitulation‘ by the police’s lay claimants.

Mr Brownhill also raised the moot point that, in his opinion, the funding of the civil action by the police was potentially ultra vires or in layman’s terms, in breach of common law. NYP’s legal team had, at first, tried to conceal from the defendants’ lawyers that the police were, in fact, financing the claim. Nowhere, in fourteen lever arch files of pleadings, could a certificate of funding be found. Which hardly suggests that NYP were brimful of confidence that such an arrangement would withstand judicial scrutiny.

Neither did the fact that Julia Mulligan had opted not to inform the North Yorkshire taxpayers about the fact that she had committed well over £200,000 of their money, taking sides in what her solicitor describes, disingenuously, as a ‘family dispute’. No formal Decision Note was published in October 2014 when the agreement to spend this money was allegedly made with the Chief Constable and, as rehearsed in some detail above, the public would not have been informed at all without my intervention. A fact admitted by Mrs Wintermeyer in correspondence between us.

This refusal to publish details of the decision to fund a private legal claim does not sit easily with the PCC’s repeated assertion of ‘openness and transparency’ in her approach to her elected representative role or, indeed, her lawful obligations under the Elected Local Policing Bodies (Specified Information) Order, 2011 at Schedule Part 1 5(d) which states: ‘a record of each decision of significant public interest arising from the exercise of the elected local policing body’s functions, whether made by the body at or as a result of a meeting or otherwise

Mrs Mulligan, Mrs Wintermeyer and the PCC’s Chief Executive, Joanna Carter, are all silent over what they knew about Operation Hyson – and they are all also currently claiming it is uncosted as far as NYP internal charges are concerned – from its inception at the beginning of August 2014 until the meeting on 15th October, 2014, where it is said that Mr Porter approved the expenditure of Ford and Warren’s budget estimate of £202,000.

Ms Carter was Treasurer to the defunct North Yorkshire Police Authority (NYPA) from 2005 to its cessation. A very troubled period in which there were repeated scandals over alleged misuse of public funds by senior police officers. Throughout that period Jane Kenyon was, significantly, Chair of NYPA.

Piece by piece, the picture on the front of the Lucky Dragon jigsaw box begins to shape up.

By May 18th, 2015 the legal costs incurred by solicitors and counsel retained by NYP on Operation Hyson had run up to £141,737.94, almost 75% of the budget. On 29th May I first raised my disquiet with Mrs Mulligan, and her staff, about the missing Decision Notice and lack of other information to which taxpayers were entitled. Those legitimate concerns were studiously ignored.

Poor engagement with constituents, and journalists, has been a consistent feature of the PCC’s tenure and she has twice been upbraided by the Police and Crime Scrutiny Panel (PCP) on this issue. On one of those occasions, in December 2013, she was asked by the PCP to apologise to one of the two journalists involved in this action as defendant, Tim Hicks. Mrs Mulligan has steadfastly refused to do so ever since. Not only undermining her own credibility, bringing the complaints system into disrepute but, most crucially, calling into question her own personal motivation for funding the costly harassment action against Mr Hicks, with the public’s cash.

A case management hearing on 26th June, 2015 was the next court outing for the police’s high-powered and hugely expensive legal battalions, which no doubt contributed to the uplift in the lawyers’ bills to £164,602 by the end of September. This was the figure published in the long-overdue Decision Notice which appeared, unheralded, on the PCC’s website on the 29th of that month.

Submissions made by Mr Myerson in his skeleton argument ahead of the June hearing included the false claim that I had been in Leeds High Court on 9th February (rather than in my sick bed at home) and an equally ludicrous assertion that I had ‘harassed’ Chief Constable David Jones and eight other claimants by posting articles and messages on behalf of Messrs Hicks and Ward. This harassment claim was not particularised, which was unsurprising as there are no such harassing articles or messages. Significantly, there has been no contact from either Mr Jones or his police force, since the hearing, that remotely concerns such allegations. It amounted to nothing more than a blatant attempt by North Yorkshire Police to smear.

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 17.45.51

The Decision Notice makes no attempt to account for the delay in publication, or the unusual circumstances in which Mrs Mulligan was compelled to comply with her lawful obligations. Most crucially, it does not mention that her two most senior officers, the Chief Constable and his Deputy, were to benefit by at least £24,000 each from the arrangement. We are back, it seems to the bad old North Yorkshire Police days of the Della Canning, Grahame Maxwell and Adam Briggs style of management.

The whole matter of the PCC’s Decision Notice has the uncomfortable feel of sleight of hand and historical revisionism, not assisted by Mrs Wintermeyer’s refusal to provide documentary evidence to back up the claims made in the notice. Such as email communications between the PCC and Mr Porter or Joanna Carter between August and October, 2014. Mrs Wintermeyer’s preoccupation with attempting to smear me over a similar civil harassment case, in which I recently succeeded against the IPCC and their three publicly funded lay claimants, did more to undermine her credibility than mine. A link between the two cases is that one of the IPCC’s claimants against me, Senior Oversight Manager Rebecca Reed, was also approached to join in with NYP’s harassment action. This information was taken from the Miss Reed’s own witness evidence in a third money-no-object, publicly funded harassment action which concluded on 18th February, 2016 at Leeds County Court. The defendant refused to participate in the proceedings claiming that his Article 6 convention rights were being breached by the Court.

Less than three weeks after publication of the Decision Notice, on October 16th 2015, Mrs Mulligan was telling a former local councillor at a Whitby Rotary Club lunch that ‘the spending tap has been turned off‘ as far as Hyson and the civil claim was concerned. She was, it seems, either being economical with the truth or was being misled by police’s chief officer team.

Notwithstanding the PCC’s claim, there have been two more court hearings in Leeds since the Decision Notice appeared. On 27th November 2015 and 20th January, 2016. At the first of those hearings judgment was awarded against Mr Hofschröer which leaves the two journalists as the remaining defendants and legal costs spiralling out of control – and very likely well beyond the budget figure of £202,000.

With a trial date now set for 20th July, 2016 legal costs are likely to run over to £400,000 with another large chunk of senior police officer time occupied on top of the financial burden.

The one saving grace as far as the PCC’s legal costs are concerned is that the police QC, Simon Myerson (pictured below), has absented himself from the latest two hearings, although he is still on record at the court as leading barrister for the claimants. When approached on the Twitter social media website as to why a QC was running a county court harassment claim he stated that ‘the law is complex and the point is novel’. That was taken to mean whether the funding decision was vires or ultra vires. When this was put to Mrs Wintermeyer in subsequent correspondence between us she claimed the issue of vires was not at all novel.

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 12.34.05

Mr Myerson charges the police £300 an hour to give opinions and advocate in their cause. Even when he is travelling in his car, with expenses on top. Yet, he is happy to spend an inordinate amount of time on Twitter ‘arguing’ for free, and ‘losing’ on a surprising number of occasions.

Two freedom of information requests concerning sight of the up to date bills from Mr Myerson, his junior colleague, Miss Lynch, and Weightmans have not yet produced a response from NYP. The first of those was made on 8th January, 2016 and the police have, to the surprise of no-one, been prepared for the umpteenth time to break the law rather than comply.

A separate freedom of information request, concerning the independent legal advice received by Mrs Mulligan about the legality of the civil claim funding, also remains unfulfilled. It simply asks for sight of the invoices from the solicitor and barrister who provided the opinion. A similar request was made concerning the ‘opinion’ sought by the PCC’s auditors, Mazars LLP, that enabled them to pronounce, belatedly, that the use of public funds to fund private litigation is lawful. They are also now overdue for disposal.

So much then for Mrs Mulligan’s and the Chief Constable’s approach to openness and transparency. A phrase that is repeated no less than four times in the PCC’s Decision Notice. Doth the lady protest too much?

An update to the PCC’s Decision Notice and a sharp upward revision of the budget for the legal expenditure is eagerly awaited, as is requested comment on this report from the two police chiefs.

A clarification on the position regarding Value Added Tax and P11D benefits in kind for the police employees named in the civil claim, would also be most welcome by the taxpayers of North Yorkshire and beyond.

The cost of silencing journalists via the civil courts doesn’t come cheap, as the IPCC recently discovered, and neither is it guaranteed to succeed.

_________________________________________________________________

Page last updated Thursday 19th May, 2016 at 0745hrs

© 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.

Photo credits: Twitter (@SCynic1), BBC Inside Out, North Yorkshire Enquirer and Office of Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire

 

Cost of silencing police force critics now approaches £1 million

Tuesday 9th February marked the first anniversary of the initial hearing of a civil harassment claim that is known, curiously, as Hofschröer and others –v- Hofschröer and others. On the face of it, a family dispute gone wrong concerning title to a property formerly owned by a deceased father and an ailing mother.

But behind that domestic façade lies three other matters of significant public interest:

Firstly, this dispute principally concerns the widely publicised ‘Grandma B’ case in which both North Yorkshire Police and York City Council have been criticised heavily over the treatment of disabled World War Two veteran, Barbara Hofschröer. Her son, Peter, has been fighting for justice, on behalf of his mother, since 2008.

Secondly, two citizen journalists who write for the website news magazine, North Yorkshire Enquirer, are also defendants in what appears to be an attempt to silence them from publicising the shortcomings of the police, and other public authorities. The two scribes, Tim Hicks and Nigel Ward are best known for their work exposing scandals involving the late Peter Jaconelli, for many years the face of the seaside town of Scarborough, and the country’s most notorious sex offender, Sir Jimmy Savile.

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 11.56.30

Thirdly, this civil action has been publicly funded on the authority of Julia Mulligan, the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire (NYPCC). This move, which many believe is unlawful, and a grotesque waste of public money, has allegedly cost taxpayers a sum approaching a million pounds already.

There are nine claimants listed on court papers accessible to the public. They have been identified as three serving police officers and six civilians (one retired police officer, a former Police Authority chair, a former Council social worker and three Hofschröer family members). The direct legal funding this group has received already is believed to be in excess of £300,000 or £33,333 each, give or take small change. The precise figures have been requested from both the police, and the NYPCC, but they have elected to break freedom of information law rather than disclose the latest invoices from their lawyers. An earlier disclosure put the lawyers’ fees at £164,919 up to mid-September, 2015 (Read FoI outcome here).

The three serving police officers involved in the harassment claim are the Chief Constable, Dave Jones; the Deputy Chief Constable, Tim Madgwick and Head of Uniformed Operations, C/Supt Lisa Winward. The retired officer is ex-Supt Heather Pearson and the former NYPA chair is Jane Kenyon-Miller (pictured below alongside Mr Madgwick). A very powerful group indeed, who have allegedly already spent £450,000 internally in trying to stem the flow of criticism against their police force, by pursuing a criminal ‘investigation’ codenamed Operation Rome. The Crown Prosecution Service twice rebuffed approaches by North Yorkshire Police to permit charges to be made against Mr Hofschöer and Mr Hicks. Mr Ward was not, at any time, interviewed or even contacted by police in connection with this matter.

KENYON_MADGWICK

On 20th January 2015 civil court papers were, ostensibly, served on the three defendants without any prior notice. The Court’s own strict rules demand that such a step is taken under what is known as pre-action protocol. Clearly, this requirement was not followed and there is no explanation yet available why the police, the NYPCC and their legal team chose to act in such a way. On any independent view, it had the appearance of an ambush.

By this time, Peter Hofschröer was on remand in HMP Wandsworth having been arrested by North Yorkshire Police detectives outside the magistrates court in York on 4th December, 2014 whilst trying to file papers against other members of his family that he believed would protect the interest of his mother. He claims, quite reasonably, that court papers concerning the civil claim made by the nine defendants – including his brother, sister-in-law and nephew, did not reach him prior to his transfer from Wandsworth to HMP Hull.

In Nigel Ward’s case, the court papers were sent to the wrong address and left on the doorstep outside an empty property for forty-eight hours, accessible to public inspection. North Yorkshire Police, surprisingly, did not refer themselves to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) over this calamitous data protection breach, including personal data concerning their own two most senior officers. Mr Ward has, quite correctly, reserved all rights concerning the unlawful disclosure of his own personal data.

At the first hearing in Leeds High Court on 9th February, 2015 the claimants sought an interim injunction against the two journalists – and Mr Hofschröer – that effectively ordered the defendants to take down articles published about the nine claimants, and prevented each of the three defendants from contacting the claimants by phone, email or in person. It was a draconian move, and the police-funded claimants were represented at court by two barristers, Simon Myerson QC and Hannah Lynch. These legal heavyweights were instructed by leading Leeds law firm Ford and Warren (since taken over by Weightmans).

This second phase of the North Yorkshire Police action, codenamed Operation Hyson, was launched following advice given to them by ‘a leading, specialist barrister’, believed to be Mr Myerson (pictured below) after Rome had fallen.

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 12.34.05

The two journalists were both represented by London human rights barrister, Ian Brownhill, instructed by Nottingham solicitors, Bhatia Best. Recruited at very short notice, the lawyers performed a minor miracle in reading a huge volume of paperwork, and preparing a defence, over the weekend before the first hearing.

The outcome of that court hearing was in two parts: An interim injunction was granted against the absent, and unrepresented, Mr Hofschröer and a consent order was sealed by the judge, His Honour Mark Gosnell, which effectively maintained the status quo between the claimants and the two journalists. It meant, in real terms, that none of the articles complained about, by the claimants, were taken down by any of the defendants, including Mr Hofschröer who has no access to a computer whilst held in jail.

Mr Brownhill had also raised the issue of ultra vires that, in layman’s terms, means there is serious doubt in his mind about the legality of public funding being used, by the police, to finance civil litigants in a harassment claim.

Subsequent hearings over Operation Hyson took place at Leeds Combined Court, before HHJ Gosnell, in June and November, 2015. The matter was transferred from the High Court to the County Court at the first of these hearings, at which directions were given to all parties in preparation for a trial that was scheduled to begin on 7th December, 2015. At the later hearing – which was listed as a pre-trial review – summary judgment was granted in favour of the nine claimants against Mr Hofschröer after he elected not to take part in the proceedings citing breaches of his Article Six convention rights. This left the two journalists as the remaining defendants in the claim. The judge ordered that the December trial date be vacated and a further case management hearing to be listed for 20th January, 2016. HHJ Gosnell also advanced the view to counsel representing both sides that every effort to settle the matter should have been made by that date.

The January hearing, conducted in the judge’s chambers by telephone conference, resulted in no settlement being reached and, as a consequence, a trial window opened by HHJ Gosnell between April and July, 2016 with a time estimate for the final hearing of seven days. This is to allow an additional period for the claimants to file further evidence in support of their claim against the journalists, a year to the day since they issued proceedings. The Court have recently confirmed that the trial is set to open on 20th July, 2016.

A trial of this duration is likely to place a further burden on the taxpayer of around £100,000, given that there is no reasonable prospect, based on recent legal precedent, of the litigation achieving its two-tier objective. A harassment finding for each of the nine claimants against each of the two remaining defendants, is the first hurdle. Only if that threshold is reached could the court consider that an injunction against two journalists was the appropriate remedy.

A press statement concerning the outcome of the January 2016 hearing was requested, from the PCC and the Chief Constable, during a recent Police Scrutiny Board meeting held a few days afterwards, but the opportunity was declined by both police chiefs. The reasons for doing so bear no examination (see Scrutiny Board podcast here).

There are also the substantial internal costs incurred by the North Yorkshire Force Solicitor, Jane Wintermeyer, and her staff, to consider. Marshalling nine claimants and instructing the two Weightmans solicitors dealing with the matter, over a period of fifteen months, would not come cheap. Mrs Wintermeyer also canvassed other high profile public officials, including Rebecca Reed, a senior manager engaged with the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), prior to the issue of proceedings in order to add substance to the North Yorkshire Police’s Rome and Hyson investigations.

During the January 2016 case management hearing, the issue of ultra vires and abuse of process was raised again by Mr Brownhill. He was told by HHJ Gosnell that the question of whether this claim falls to be determined as vires or ultra vires, is in his view, an arguable case. But, not one that would be heard before him in the County Court. A separate public law challenge would have to be mounted in the Administrative Court. One of the defendants, Mr Ward has confirmed that this process will soon be in train.

The Police and Crime Commissioner originally claimed to have sought ‘independent legal advice’ on the vires issue on 12th January, 2015 (read her formal statement here) but has, so far, not disclosed the invoices from her solicitor and counsel that would prove that point, following a freedom of information request. Mrs Mulligan was prepared to break the law rather than either disclose the information, or admit it doen’t actually exist. Her latest claim is that the advice was not provided in writing by the ‘leading barrister’ involved in January 2015, but given verbally in a meeting on 15th October, 2014. A meeting at which it is known Mr Myerson was present, by reference to his invoice sent to NYP that covers the day in question.

Chief-Constable-Dave-Jones-and-Commissioner-Julia-Mulligan-380x254

Mrs Mulligan (pictured above with Chief Constable Jones) undoubtedly faces a difficult few weeks ahead as both the merits of Operations Rome and Hyson, the subsequent civil court trial, and the source of it’s funding, come under intense scrutiny during the forthcoming PCC election campaign.

Since this article was first published on 7th February, 2016 information has been obtained about a referral from the Parliamentary Committee for Public Accounts to the National Audit Office concerning the legality of the decision to spend public money financing private claims (read more here).

The press officers for both North Yorkshire Police and the Police Commissioner have been offered the opportunity to comment but none has been forthcoming, so far.

______________________________________________________

Page last updated on Sunday 1st May, 2016 at 0945hrs

© 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.

Photo credits: Twitter (@SCynic1), North Yorkshire Enquirer and Office of Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire