Fourth time lucky?

This is the fourth in a series of six articles that comprise the deepest dive yet into the murder of Diana Garbutt, by her husband Robin, in March 2010. She was bludgeoned to death in the living quarters above Melsonby Village Store and Post Office as she lay sleeping in bed.

The first article, headlined ‘Don’t do anything stupid, we’ve got your wife‘ can be accessed here.

The second, ‘That particularly dubious constabulary merits careful investigationhere.

The third, which is an amplication of the list of investigative failings which forms a part of the second article, ‘A regrettable lack of professionalism’, here.

The fifth looks at the appalling conduct of the campaigners behind this innocence claim, here.

The sixth is an in-depth analysis of an interview by Dr Sandra Lean of the lead campaigner, Jane Metcalfe, here.

From his cell in HMP Frankland, 54 year old Robin Garbutt continues to vehemently deny the crime of which he was convicted at Teesside Crown Court in April, 2011. A stance he has never varied since the day he was arrested, three weeks after his wife was so tragically and brutally killed.

His protestations have spawned a well-publicised miscarriage of justice campaign, led by Garbutt’s close friend, the aforementioned Jane Metcalfe, and his sister and brother-in-law, Sallie Wood and Mark Stilborn.

Robin Garbutt campaigners - ITV package
Jane Metcalfe (left) discussing the case with fellow campaigners during a televised interview with ITV reporter, Jon Hill.

The catalyst for recent widespread coverage of the case is a third application to the miscarriage of justice watchdog, the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC). The first was submitted in 2015, the second believed to be in 2018. These applications followed an unsuccessful appeal to the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal in May 2012. Three senior judges, led by Lord Justice Hughes, ruled that the conviction was ‘safe’.

Details of the previous Garbutt applications, and the CCRC’s Statement of Reasons for rejection, are scarce. On the campaign website there is a brief mention of the 2015 application being made, but nothing thereafter. Curiously, there isn’t a single mention of the specific grounds upon which those two prior applications were made, or why they were dismissed, in any of the multitude of press and television reports. The suspicion is, absent of explanation from the campaigners, that the grounds were not strong enough for the CCRC to even launch an investigation.

That surprising omission is a case in point in an ‘exclusive’ given to The Metro newspaper on 6th March, 2020. But, it appears, from reading Sam Corbishley‘s piece, that the grounds for the latest Garbutt application are as follows:

(i) DNA evidence: When the murder weapon, a 58cm rusty iron bar, was first swabbed, it was found to contain a full DNA profile belonging to an unknown male, and another which later matched one of the police officers present when it was discovered, PC Darren Thompson. The campaigners now suggest, following further testing, that the same constable’s sample could potentially be among a mixed profile, of at least three unknown males, recovered from a rust mark on a pillowcase in the bedroom where she was killed – despite the officer not being on duty when the scene was examined – suggesting key evidence may have been contaminated.

~ This part of the application may meet the test for ‘fresh evidence’, not before the jury at the murder trial, if the techniques for DNA profiling have changed since. Otherwise, the CCRC will, quite legitimately, ask why the testing was not carried out pre-trial and the issue of alleged cross-contamination raised there by the defence team. They will, one presumes, also look at what evidence was presented to the jury regarding the murder weapon, the competing arguments during closing speeches and how they were directed on the law on that specific item and, most crucially, whether the campaigners’ fresh information would have impacted on the jury’s route to verdict. The answers to those questions appear to be (a) The weapon has been tested post-facto by a different scientist with results that do not go much further than speculation. (b) The jury was aware that there was no Garbutt DNA on the weapon and there was DNA of the police officer, and at least one other unidentified male identified on it. The defence argued strongly that this was a crucial strand supporting Garbutt’s claimed innocence. (c) The jury was also aware of rust specks on the pillow and cross-contamination onto Garbutt’s clothing. The judge directed them to disregard that piece of scientific evidence. (d) The jury’s finding was that the armed robbery alleged by Garbutt didn’t take place. Largely, as a result, one might fairly infer, of hearing Garbutt’s testimony in the witness box. Which led, immediately afterwards, to the judge revoking his bail mid-trial. This new DNA evidence, if that is how the CCRC classify it, would make no difference at all to the verdict. Particularly, in the light of the DNA on the murder weapon not matching any biometric data on the Police National Computer (PNC). It would be highly unlikely that perpetrators of such a brutal, random, murder and armed robbery would make the quantum transition from ‘clean skins’ to serious, highly dangerous criminals in a single leap. It would also be at least as remarkable that they would have returned to a law-abiding life, having escaped detection from the killing of Diana Garbutt and a successful £16,000 raid on a rural post office.

Conclusion: It is doubtful that this ground would persuade the CCRC that the ‘reasonable prospect of success’ test is met and a referral of the case back to the Court of Appeal would be appropriate. It does, however, raise further grave concerns about the conduct of the police investigation [see also ground (iv) below].

(ii) Time of death: The food digestion scientist who gave expert evidence at trial, Dr Jennifer Miller, has since, the campaigners say, been contradicted by a Home Office pathologist. Jurors heard her proposition that Diana may have died between 2.30am and 4.30am. Well before the Post Office central locking system de-acivated the alarm and allowed the safe to be woken up, at 8.30am. Dr Miller’s report may have further persuaded the jury that Garbutt’s claims of a robbery gone wrong was false, but given that it concerned, bizarrely, the rate of consumption of a fish and chip supper there can be no certainty about that. Especially in the light of the other more conventional scientific evidence put before the jury. The expert now instructed by Garbutt’s legal team, Dr David Rouse, has concluded the time of death may have been much later than 4.30am – possibly even after 6.45am.

~ The matter of the timing of Diana’s death was well ventilated at trial. The key evidence was from the pathologist who examined Diana’s body at the scene, Dr Stuart Hamilton. He was a prosecution witness and gave testimony to the effect that death occured at least one hour before Diana’s body was discovered, and possibly, in the early hours of the morning. Cross-examined by defence counsel, he said that it was “reasonably possible” for death to have occured later. It also emerged that a second pathology report had been commissioned by the Garbutt defence team – and its conclusions were, more or less, the same. A short time after retiring, the jury asked to see the statement of a witness, Brian Hird, who said he heard Diana speaking through a closed door at 6.45am, even though he didn’t know her. As a matter of law, the request was refused, but the jury was plainly alert to the significance, or otherwise, of that evidence and, more widely, the other expert assessments concerning time of death. The new opinion does not appear to alter the position at all.

Conclusion: For all those reasons set out above, it is more likely than not that the CCRC will reject this ground.

(iii) Horizon Software scandal:

Defects in the Post Office’s Fujitsu-driven IT system culminated in them recently settling a high profile High Court case. A consolidated claim, brought by over 500 former postmasters and, unoriginally, known as The Post Office Group Litigation, was heard before Mr Justice Fraser and, ultimately, after a bitter fight, resulted in an award of £58 million in damages (read full judgment here). Although Robin Garbutt is not one of the 56 postmasters who applied to the CCRC, regarding criminal prosecutions brought against them, following thefts alleged by the Post Office, it is said that his campaigners hope the added weight of the scandal will help force the criminal justice watchdog into action. 39 cases have already been referred by the watchdog to the Court of Appeal.

~ The attempt to piggyback the scandal by the Garbutt campaigners has been successful to a degree: Their latest application to the CCRC has attracted more press and television coverage than it might otherwise have done. The downside to the strategy is that the resort to leveraging public support in this way simply invites closer attention to how weakly grounded the rest of the application really is. On the The Justice Gap website, they report that the campaigners now assert that similarities in the Horizon failings existed in the Melsonby post office accounts at the material time. That is to say, in simple terms, the software showing more cash deposited in the safe than was actually held there, and the assumption by the Post Office, in all cases, that the difference was pocketed by postmasters. The difficulty for the campaigners, within the terms of this application, is that Robin Garbutt asserted that the sum in the safe – and allegedly stolen by the armed robber – tallied with the accounts. There was no apparent discrepancy. If there was no armed robbery and an empty safe, then the only explanation left is that Robin helped himself to the cash. The CCRC will also be alert to fact that he admitted false accounting during the course of his evidence (“not all the business [receipts] went through the till” he said under cross-examination).

Conclusion: Based on what is set out in the Court of Appeal judgment, regarding the impact on the jury of the Post Office evidence at the murder trial, and the applicable law regarding the proving of motive, this ground appears to be misconceived.

(iv) Television footage of West Road, Melsonby on 24th March, 2010:

This, apparently, shows the wall outside Nixon’s Garage (see blue map pin) where the murder weapon was found the following day. The iron bar is not there. A fact, it is said, confirmed by at least one journalist who sat on the same wall, as a vantage point, on that day. Bill Nixon says he had never seen the bar before on his premises, and that members of the press were stood on that section of wall taking photos. On some television footage, there appears to be a mobile police cabin (from which a forensic science officer emerges) positioned as close as six to eight feet from where the bar was found. It was more or less opposite the rear entrance to the Village Store and Post Office premises.

Screenshot 2020-04-07 at 20.08.22

~ This, again, may meet the fresh evidence test. But the CCRC may adopt a counter argument and say: Why didn’t the defence team challenge more rigorously the peculiar circumstances in which the rusty iron bar was discovered? By, for example, obtaining police and press photographs, and TV film, between the pre-trial review on 28th September, 2010, when the existence of the weapon was first disclosed to them, and the start of the trial in March, 2011? The question is also likely to be asked by the watchdog as to why the journalist(s), or indeed the film crew, didn’t come forward with this vital information in the period between the time the discovery of the iron bar became public knowledge and the early part of 2020? A gap of over 9 years.

Nevertheless, the CCRC will have to anxiously consider these two competing arguments within their overall assessment of the application: (a) Campaigners rightly point to the flawed prosecution hypothesis regarding the murder weapon, in that Robin Garbutt had placed the iron bar on top of the wall after bludgeoning Diana, together with an oblique suggestion that he had scraped his knuckles, that morning, scaling the eight foot high wall. Those factors advance both the arguments that the case against him wasn’t entirely well grounded – and that he suffered further prejudice. (b) On the other hand, conversely and perversely, the absence of the iron bar, for two days after the murder, further undermines the claim, by Garbutt, that the murder was committed by an armed robber. It would be far-fetched in the extreme to expect a criminal of that class to, firstly, hold on to a weapon, with the victim’s DNA upon it (and possibly his own), then, secondly, stealthily return it to a position around 20 metres from the scene of the murder, two days later. Even without the latest evidence, the jury found that Garbutt had lied about the armed robbery and before that, the trial judge, Mr Justice Openshaw, was so concerned about his evidence in the witness box that he revoked his bail and had him remanded in custody for the remainder of the trial. There is, then, the matter of positioning this ‘new evidence’ in the matrix of (c) the overall police conduct of the investigation, which is covered in great detail in two earlier articles on this website: Is police impropriety a factor in the belated discovery of the iron bar so close to the murder scene? No doubt the North Yorkshire force will have plenty to say to the CCRC on that topic, with the considerable benefit of their submissions being made well away from public scrutiny.

Conclusion: This ground is the one that should trouble the independent reviewer the most, and is the only one that may go close to persuading the CCRC that the appropriate test is met. But, irrespective of the watchdog’s ultimate decision, as with ground (i) the latest mystery around the ‘discovery’ of the iron bar raises further serious concerns about the police investigation.

Will the CCRC refer the case back to the Court of Appeal

The key points the CCRC consider, in determining an application, are whether there is a ‘real possibility’ the appeal court would overturn a conviction, sentence or
finding and whether this real possibility is due to evidence or argument (or in
the case of sentences, evidence or information) which was not put forward in
the trial or appeal. This is generally referred to as the need for ‘new [or fresh] evidence’.

‘Real possibility’ was assessed by the High Court in the case of R v CCRC ex
parte Pearson [2000] 1 Cr.App.R. 141 as being “more than an outside chance
or a bare possibility but which may be less than a probability or likelihood or a
racing certainty. The Commission must judge that there is at least a
reasonable prospect of a conviction, if referred, not being upheld.”

The CCRC cannot perform a ‘re-run’ of a trial just because the evidence of the defence was not accepted by the jury and the evidence of the prosecution was. They have to be able to present to the appeal court a new piece of evidence or new legal argument, not identified at the time of the trial, that might have changed the whole outcome of the trial if the jury had been given a chance to consider it.

As set out in the previous Robin Garbutt articles on this website, the jury had two main points to resolve, the approximate time of the murderous attack and did the armed robbery actually take place? The Court of Appeal, in 2012, was asked to rule on new evidence brought before them. This was Post Office Ltd records dating back to 2004. At trial, only the records dating back to 2009 were made available to the defence. There was also new evidence, of marginal significance, in regard to variable limits for cash requests, made by postmasters to HQ, which would trigger an enquiry or request for justification. The appeal court ruled that the conviction was not unsafe, as the Garbutt legal team argued. Lord Justice Hughes underscored the jury decision, with comprehensive reasons set out in six lucid paragraphs (26 to 30 in the judgment), that the robbery did not take place, and was one in which they would be very slow to interfere. Those reasons included three generous assumptions in Garbutt’s favour.

Taken individually, or together, the grounds in the latest re-application do not appear, from what is in the public domain, to be compelling enough to meet the real possibility test of overturning that finding by both the jury and three law lords. It is also clear from the action taken mid-trial that Mr Justice Openshaw did not believe Garbutt was telling the truth, either.

The overall conclusion, therefore, is that Robin Garbutt and the campaign team face further disappointment. One that is completely at odds with the bullish statement of solicitor, and honorary QC, Glyn Maddocks: ‘The way in which the forensic work has been handled and dealt with is disgraceful. It’s absolutely disgraceful and no-one could possibly argue otherwise’. He adds, ‘It’s just such a shocking case. If it was you, or your relative, you’d be absolutely horrified.’ With the key planks of the original prosecution case having seemingly disintegrated, Mr Maddocks says he is not even sure the Court of Appeal would pursue a retrial if the case is referred back to them.

One thing is abundantly clear; either lawyer, Glyn Maddocks, or journalist, Neil Wilby, will have egg on their face when the CCRC make their decision. The reader can take their pick. But, either way, the public deserve to know, and understand fully, what went wrong with this investigation and why.

Oversight of North Yorkshire Police and the Robin Garbutt investigation

Two of the principal reasons that North Yorkshire Police staggers from crisis to crisis, and from one bungled major investigation to another is a complete lack of oversight from those either elected to provide it, or paid from public funds to do the job.

North Yorkshire’s Julia Mulligan is amongst the four worst police and crime commissioners in the country (two of her friends and policing area neighbours, Barry Coppinger and Mark-Burns-Williamson, also feature in the list) providing almost ZERO oversight. Since she was elected in 2012, in almost every serious situation requiring the holding of the chief constable to account, she has failed miserably. It is a startling dereliction of her statutory duty and one of the reasons that grandees in the Conservative Party decided to unceremoniously dump her as their candidate for the next election.

The top brass in NYP just do as they like, knowing that she has neither the basic knowledge of policing (she was a car salesperson and a media strategist before entering full-time politics) or, more crucially, the will to take strong action.

The so-called police watchdog, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), is already widely regarded as even worse than its failed and disgraced predecessor, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). There has always appeared to be a special relationship between the regional office of the IOPC/IPCC at Wakefield and North Yorkshire Police, whereby even the worst cases of misconduct, or even criminality, are whitewashed away.

Completely divorced from the latest CCRC application, and in order to maintain public confidence in the police, this murder investigation, codenamed Operation Nardoo, really ought to be referred, urgently, to the IOPC by the police commissioner, who should in turn request Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary to recommend an external metropolitan police force, such as Northumbria or West Yorkshire, to thoroughly review the case from start to finish – and re-open it at any time if that is where the evidence takes them.

Screenshot 2020-04-08 at 11.38.36
Interior view of HMP Frankland

When will Robin Garbutt be released from prison

In April 2011, he was sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommendation that he serve not less than 20 years. He will receive credit for the time he spent on remand at HMP Holme Hall between the committal hearing at Northallerton Magistrates Court and the pre-trial review at Teesside Crown Court. There will also be a credit allowed for the time he spent on remand, during the latter stages of the murder trial, after the judge dramatically revoked his bail.

Garbutt would be eligible for parole, therefore, near the end of 2030, under normal circumstances, and provided he had undertaken the necessary rehabilitation programme. The difficulty he faces is that, if he continues to protest his innocence, the parole option falls away and he faces the rest of his life in jail. He would also be denied the opportunity for his detention to be re-classified from the high security Frankland jail to a less rigid regime and, ultimately, an open prison in preparation for a phased release back into society. That prison holds some of the most dangerous offenders in the country.

After a failed criminal court appeal, and three subsequent applications to the CCRC, it is difficult to see how the campaign can sustain if the latest incarnation is also refused. As seems more than likely for all the reasons rehearsed in this article.

Timeline

An at-a-glance timeline of events leading up to the murder and all that happened since can be viewed here.

Footnote

The Robin Garbutt Justice Campaign has been exposed, in the course of this investigation, as more white noise than substance. Jane Metcalfe, in particular, whose true attachment to Robin Garbutt she has yet to reveal, is very active on social media and her output is almost entirely confined, in terms, to ‘There is nothing left of the prosecution case’ (without, it seems, understanding what, precisely, it was); ‘Robin is such a nice man he couldn’t possibly have killed Di’ (every single person at trial spoke well of him so there is some substance to that) and, absurdly, ‘Robin Garbutt has always told the truth‘. The latter is, as Sir Peter Openshaw DL (as he is now styled) and senior Crown Prosecutor, Xanthe Tait, observed from their privileged vantage points, a grotesque misrepresentation: He lied to the police; he lied on oath in court and his evidence before the court was, in other aspects, repeatedly unimpressive. Particularly, the belated embellishment in court of accounts he had had given to the police, previously, over many hours of interviews, regarding Diana calling out to him through a closed door and the description of the weapon.

Those characteristics chime with the campaigners‘ modus operandus of ignoring and/or denigrating anything, or anybody, that doesn’t conform to the Garbutt innocence narrative. Including the author of this piece and the CCRC. This behaviour concerns me, having never encountered anything like it before (read more here). The unpleasantness and ready resort to personal abuse by such as Michael Naughton, a private investigator who describes Robin Garbutt as his client, simply adds an even bigger question mark to their activities. If a group is campaigning against a miscarriage of justice then a foundation stone has to be an open book policy, nothing to hide. There is only one version of the truth.

On another troubling tack, Mark Stilborn publicly claims that the Garbutt case is the worst miscarriage of justice he has ever seen. Which begs the question of how many has he actually studied, with the appropriate rigour and objectivity, and how is he is qualified to judge, in any event? On this website there is a very widely read and shared piece concerning a genuine miscarriage of justice that appears to have passed Mark by; the utterly tragic case of Stefan Kiszko (read in full here). A case that, for many years, has been recognised as one of the worst in criminal justice history. On any independent view, Robin Garbutt’s case comes nowhere close. He is, largely, the author of his own misfortune.

The adverse impact on Diana’s family caused by this style of campaigning, headed of course by her mother, Agnes Gaylor, is incalculable. They thought they had closure at the trial; Agnes is is no doubt, whatsoever, about the verdict that marked her son-in-law as the perpetrator of the murder of her daughter. She said recently that she attended every day at the trial and tried to put herself in the place of a juror with an open, independent mind considering only the evidence she had heard in court. The conclusion was inescapable.

This series of articles, of over 40,000 words, are the fruits of an open-minded, independent investigation. They have been almost entirely grounded in the summing up of the trial, running to 106 pages; the Court of Appeal judgment; and piecing together what key witnesses said, verbatim, from contemporaneous newspapers reports during the trial. The entry point was my unique knowledge of the shortcomings of the police force that investigated this shocking crime. The miscarriage of justice campaign seemed credible enough in the beginning, but that confidence soon ebbed away as straight answers to straight questions were repeatedly ducked.

After spending well over 400 hours on the case since January 2020, my conclusion is that Garbutt did not tell the truth about a number of key issues, the central one being the armed robbery. I cannot be quite so emphatic about whether he actually struck the fatal blows to his wife’s head. But if he didn’t, then he knows who did. Otherwise why invent the robbery story?

Finally, the justice campaigners, and those that blindly support them without being adjacent to the facts, would do well to better understand that Robin Garbutt is not the victim in this case. That mantle, very tragically, falls to Diana and her close family. Nobody twisted an arm to invent the story of the robbery, without which he would probably not have been convicted of the murder of his wife.

Page last updated: Thurssday 2nd July, 2020 at 0810 hours

Photo Credits: ITV News, THIIS.

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

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

Staring into the abyss

As an eight year old lad, I was hit by a car whilst crossing the main road near the tied colliery cottage in Whitwood, Castleford that was my family home at that time (number fifteen, the house with the unkempt gable in the picture).

The injuries were not life threatening, but I was detained in hospital for five days. I retain little, or no, memory of what was, most fortunately, a glancing blow impact.

When consciousness returned the next day, a policeman from the now defunct West Riding Constabulary was soon at my bedside, along with my parents. They were, of course, anxious to hear an account of what had happened. I told them about my errand to the newsagents, almost opposite the landmark Rising Sun public house, coming out of the shop, looking both ways before attempting to cross, seeing a car coming from my left, nothing from my right. Judging that I could beat the car, as a notably fast runner, I sped across the road.

It wasn’t possible to say whether the car, later identified as a Wolseley sedan used in a post office robbery in neighbouring Normanton, had hit me with its offside or nearside wing. It, very obviously, hadn’t struck me head on. The driver may have stopped, briefly, to ascertain my condition, but he didn’t remain at the scene and was never caught.

All I could usefully report was that it appeared grey in colour with a large chrome radiator grille and bumpers. My elder, much loved, and now sorely missed, sister found me in the road, nearer the centre than the far kerb. It was Jacqueline that had despatched me to the shop with the usual inducement of a penny for sweets. By the time she was at the scene, other cars had stopped and an ambulance, called for from the nearby pub, was on its way.

After the police officer left, my father robustly challenged my account and suggested I had been reading the evening newspaper, the purpose of my errand, or had my nose in my bag of Sports Mixtures, and not looked before crossing the A655.

It was my fault – according to my father – and I’ve never forgotten the words he said, thereafter: “If you tell one lie, you will end up telling five or six more to cover up the first one”. They are quoted by me, often, to this day.

To a young lad lying in hospital, with broken bones and crushed pride, when, in reality, he should have been on a mortuary slab, the accusation was deeply wounding. The pain is still felt over 50 years later. More excruciating because there was no apology from my father when, a couple of weeks later, our local bobby told my parents about the escaping villains in a stolen vehicle. Which appeared to support my account, in part, at the very least.

I had told the truth, and had been caught out by the speed of the car, but that flawed, and summary, parental guilty verdict was etched in the front of my mind. As was the fact, that I learned over the years, my father very rarely explained or apologised for anything, up to the day he died in 2014. But, in that regard, he was no different to most other men hewn from coal mining stock in the many surrounding pit villages.

Latterly, I’ve been drawn into another ‘car-crash’ investigation, this time in North Manchester, the site of the region’s police headquarters, rather than a quiet West Riding backwater, just off the M62. There has also been a second incident in Central London, at New Scotland Yard, as the country’s largest police force has failed to apply the brakes and prevent a slow-motion collision with a pedestrian, plodding investigative journalist unnaturally driven to uncover the truth.

Again, allegations of lying, lack of explanation or apology are the central themes. Its aftermath has already spawned three articles on this website.

Mystery of the missing peer review

Your cheque is in the post

Peering into the gloom

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) is a force that has attracted a lot of adverse media attention over the past few years and, in particular, its seeming ability not to come clean about its shortcomings, explain them, learn lessons, apologise and move on. Instead, it has a senior leadership team that is perenially mired in deceit and ‘cover-up’.

The present chief constable, Ian Hopkins, having joined GMP in 2008 as one of Sir Peter Fahy’s assistant chiefs, promoted to deputy in 2011, then taking over the top job, unopposed, in 2015, has been at the scene of much of the controversy.

This latest, and still expanding, investigation into alleged GMP impropriety started with a notion that the force was, once again, hiding the truth over internal failures. But, taken at its face, appeared relatively innocuous at the outset, compared to those by other newspaper, radio and TV journalists covering, for example, death or industrial scale rape and trafficking of children.

On any view, it is a quite extraordinary tale and GMP has now dragged the Metropolitan Police Service under the bus with them. It began, in November, 2015, with an entire front page of a newspaper taken up with a photograph of a newly invested chief constable, accompanying a hard-hitting story of a repeatedly called for, long-overdue corruption inquiry.

The once-mighty Met was, it was said, to spend six weeks in Manchester investigating GMP’s much-criticised internal affairs department, otherwise known as the Counter Corruption Unit (CCU). A root and branch process that would settle the ‘corruption’ argument one way or the other. Hopkins vigourously denies any wrongdoing of his police force and, by implication, himself.

Of some concern at the time, but not, apparently, to the newspaper’s reporter or editor, the Met invasion was designated to be a process known within policing as a ‘peer review’. A long way short of a misconduct or criminal investigation, by another police force, that many deemed essential.

The CCU, a secretive, undercover investigative unit, forms one limb of GMP’s Professional Standards Branch (PSB). Another is the PSBi, known as the Professional Standards Investigation Unit, which, ostensibly, deals with overt resolution of public complaints. A third is the Force Vetting Unit, and, lastly, Legal Services.

The role, and importance, of the latter is often misunderstood by the public, as the primary function of the PSBi is to prevent, at source, civil claims being successfully mounted by complainants. That applies to the professional standards departments of every police force in the country. If they came clean to the public, and properly explained the dynamics, it would save so much time and frustration to those wronged by the police.

An unseen, and too often unseemly, activity of the CCU is to target officers who become a problem to the reputation of the force by speaking out against wrongdoing by other officers. They are subject to intensive and, often, seriously intrusive scrutiny in order to discredit and ultimately drive them out of the police service.

Ex-Superintendent John Buttress is the highest profile example of this tactic as the CCU were, for example, permitted, without sanction, to seriously tamper with witness evidence and criminally hack the phone of his partner as part of a grotesque, highly-publicised witch-hunt. By contrast, Assistant Chief Constable Steve Heywood was allowed to retire after the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute him on the most compelling evidence. The working hypothesis is that the CCU attack dogs were not unleashed on Heywood to dig up other dirt, just in case the CPS ‘bottled it’ over his lying in oral evidence to a public inquiry, and forging a document disclosed to it.

The Met’s peer review team did not look at the Buttress file. Nor is their any suggestion in their final written report that any of the other controversial files were examined, either.

The three previous ‘peer review’ articles covered the genesis, execution and aftermath of the Met’s visit to Manchester, in forensic detail. A fifth article will follow this one, demonstrating that GMP’s professional standards function, post peer review, is as deplorable as ever.

The focus of this fourth article is the huge gap between expectation and delivery: What the local newspaper projected as a robust, thorough, warts and all investigation and the pale imitation, talking-shop that actually took place at Manchester police HQ.

After the third article, a highly critical take down of what can only be described as an inter-force ‘whitewash’, a statement from the GMP chief constable was sought, via his press office, in order to explain the difference. This is the lengthy response, attributed to a force spokesperson.

“In late 2015 a programme of work to transform Greater Manchester Police’s Professional Standards Branch was put in place. As part of this work a range of activities were undertaken including a full, in depth independent review, a peer review and oversight from an external group.

“The Peer Review by the Metropolitan Police originally planned for 6 weeks in late 2015 had been delayed due to operational matters. This was rescheduled to May 2016 by which time substantial work was already underway as part of the independent review. The peer review therefore was focused as an assessment of the progress that had been made and changes which were planned. This was reduced from the initial scope to two days as this was sufficient for its revised purpose – to support the independent review and transformational change programme which had started in Nov 2015. The Peer report was provided to GMP in December 2016.

“The external reference group was established in Feb 2016 with an independent chairperson. Representatives on the group included a wide range of individuals with expertise and views about the work around professional standards. They continued to provide support and advice until June 2017.

“The programme of work has led to changes being made to the way professional standards operates in GMP and we are continuing to review and develop this work. Since then there have been reviews by HMICFRS (Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Service) and the IOPC (Independent Office for Police Conduct) who have raised no issues of significant concern.”

There was no comment, as specifically requested, from the normally voluble chief constable.

A request for clarification of a press statement that, plainly and unexpectedly, introduced a tranche of what appears to be significant new information, regarding the alleged review of GMP’s PSB was, however, plainly necessary. There is no open source material available to support any of the assertions made by the press office about independent and external scrutiny, other than the Met’s peer review. A search of the two police watchdog websites was not immediately fruitful, either.

The second press request was thus formulated:

“There is no wish to be a burden to a busy press office but this is a matter directly affecting public confidence, not only in GMP, but in the wider police service.

Independent review: Who carried it out, when did it start and end, was there a closing report (the latter would be subject of an FOIA request, of course)?

External reference group: Please provide details of name of the group, and its constituent members, and, also, direct me to any publications made either by GMP, or the group, before, during or after the review. This is necessary to establish their credentials for carrying out the work. Only the Chair would be named in the article, unless the other Members raised no objection to being named, or their names are already in the public domain.

HMICFRS and IPCC (IOPC): Can you please direct me to the ‘watchdog’ reports referenced in your press statement?

“These require scrutiny, and further comment from them, as my own extensive experience of PSB (which is the subject of the next in the series of peer review articles) leaves me in no doubt, whatsoever, that the department is still quite shockingly run, with little or no discernible commitment to the requisite ethical or professional standards. A matter I have articulated, at some length, to DCC Pilling, over a lengthy period, including the email dated 24th March, 2018 which is attached as a pdf.”

 

The press office replied as follows:

“We have nothing further to add to the statement and report you have received on this. If you wish to seek further information then please put in an FOI request.

“With regards to where the reports are, you will need to speak to those respective organisations if you want to find/access their reports.”

This, from a police force that jumps on any ‘open and transparent’ bandwagon that rolls past. Even by press office standards, and GMP are one of the better ones it must be said, it is a woeful abdication of ethical and professional responsibilty.

Quite apart from which, it could safely be argued, the information sought, via the press office, should be part of a police force’s publication scheme on their own website, or that of the elected policing body that provides oversight. That is the effect of guidance given to public authorities by the Information Commissioner, a statutory regulator.

In any event, the questions, as framed, should have posed no difficulties at all if there is nothing to hide: Who undertook the reviews, when did they start and finish, where are the reports?

The irony is, also, completely lost on the press office that the peer review, and the transformational change programme within which it was embedded, was designed to improve the experience of those engaging directly with the force, and stakeholders who had lost confidence in GMP as a result of swathes of adverse publicity connected to corruption allegations.

A sub-optimal response, as this one can safely be characterised, is simply an open invitation to a journalist for the delivery of more stinging criticism. Kicking off with the wasting of substantial amounts of not only my time, but those dealing with freedom of information (FOI) requests within GMP, HMICFRS, IOPC, College of Policing, National Police Chiefs Council and the Greater Manchester Mayor’s office. All avoidable, with a minimal amount of effort from a GMP press officer and one GMP PSB administration assistant, or low ranking detective.

What follows, by way of further investigation, is a piece by piece dismantling of the GMP press office statement, with, almost inevitably, more deceit and double-speak exposed. It will be re-assembled after the disclosures from the various FOI requests are received, around the end of January, 2019. A delay which appears to be the only motivation for GMP providing a statement of such obviously poor quality.

The starting point has to be the introduction, by the press office, or the directing mind behind their statement, into the peer review ambit, of the “independent review” and the “external reference group”. In a five month, fairly intensive, journalistic investigation of the peer review, this is the first heard of this additional form of scrutiny.

I was alert to the possibility that they could be one and the same, but the press office would have made that clear, surely? So, this analysis proceeds taking the force spokesperson’s words at their ordinary meaning.

Returning to the genesis of this saga, there was no mention by Chief Constable Hopkins of anything other than a peer review on the now infamous Manchester Evening News front page. The Metropolitan Police were put up as the solution to the problem, and no-one else. It also begs the question that if GMP have the country’s largest, and much the most important, police force giving an organisational problem the ‘once over’ during a six-week review, why would anyone else be needed?

In an article published by the MEN in September, 2016, it was noted that the peer review by the Met had taken place, but attributes no source and, most certainly, does not mention either of the other two reviews. The working hypothesis being that the local newspaper was also blissfully unaware of their existence:

“The peer review by the Metropolitan Police was carried out at the request of Chief Constable Ian Hopkins, in a bid to draw a line under the [corruption] allegations which stretch back at least two years and which it vigorously denies.

“A separate investigation has been carried out by Kent Police into 17 allegations of corruption made by sacked former chief inspector John Buttress.”

The thrust of the MEN article was that a member of GMP’s counter-corruption team was under investigation for alleged fraud. The CCU officer, believed to be of managerial rank, is one of several being investigated after the force received information from a whistleblower concerning the alleged inappropriate disposal of £100,000 worth of vehicles.

* Since this article was first published on 18th December, 2018 information has come to light that the CCU officer, an inspector (whose name is known), was cleared of any wrongdoing. He was formerly a covert officer in GMP CID and the alleged fraud concerned members of his team selling vehicles previously used in undercover operations at below book value. *

The next stop in the search for the peer review truth was a trawl of the Manchester Mayor’s website. He, and his Deputy, are the de facto police commissioner for the region, with a statutory remit to appoint, dismiss and provide oversight of the chief constable. It did shed some light, but does not assist either Mr Hopkins, or his press office. Quite the opposite, in fact.

This is an extract from the Deputy Mayor’s Independent Ethics Committee meeting on 28th January, 2016 tucked away under Any Other Business:

“Ian Hopkins gave the Committee a brief update with regards to the general review of the Professional Standards Branch in GMP, and in relation to individual cases. Reports in relation to this are expected within the next few months.”

No questions relating to the ‘general review’ were raised by any Ethics Committee Member and, it appears, no advance notice of the Manchester Evening News article, loudly trumpeting the Metropolitan Police peer review, was given to the Committee by Mr Hopkins, at their previous meeting on 15th November, 2015. Even though it occupied the whole of the front page of that newspaper just four days later.

Neither the words ‘independent review’ or ‘external reference group’ were mentioned to the committee on either occasion. On that basis, the Ethics Committee, led by the Bishop of Manchester, Right Reverend David Walker is dismissed as having partaken in any meaningful ‘independent’, or ‘external’, review of GMP’s PSB or CCU. The Bishop has previously served as a human rights panel member at the College of Policing. Which would make for an interesting brainwashing competition.

The Ethics Committee was the brainchild of the previous Police and Crime Commissioner, Tony Lloyd, who instituted it in early 2015. In a letter to HMICFRS talking head, Zoe Billingham, Lloyd signalled that a process of reform in GMP was already under way, with particular focus on both PSB and CCU (read in full here). This, of course, differs from the press statement wherein it states the process began in November 2015.

In the months after the Met’s peer review was said to be delivered to GMP, there were two meetings of the Ethics Committee. Attended, respectively, by Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling and Ian Hopkins. The minutes of those meetings reveal that there is no mention of the peer review, or any other review of PSB.

After elimination of the Ethics Committee as a reviewing body for PSB transformation, the College of Policing and HMICFRC websites were the next locations searched for open source data connected to the various alleged reviews of GMP’s PSB and CCU. It was a short process. There is none. Freedom of information requests have, subsequently, been submitted to both.

Chief Superintendent Annette Anderson, who played a key liaison role with the Met, before and during the peer review, served for two years with HMIC, prior to its change of name, after they took over inspections of fire and rescue services. During her time with the inspectorate, a report was published that bears the title ‘Police Integrity and Corruption – Greater Manchester Police’ and is dated November 2014 (read here). It is a largely unimpressive piece of work, given the most serious of subject matter, that appears to be lacking in the necessary investigative rigour.

My own experience of dealing with HMIC, on disclosure and press issues, is memorable only for that organisation’s underwhelming mediocrity, led by a man with a chronic over-estimation of his own ability and judgement. Sir Thomas Winsor’s characterisation of the disgraced David Crompton, a former senior officer with GMP, and later chief constable of South Yorkshire Police (SYP), as ‘an exceptional police officer’, in civil proceedings fought out in the Royal Courts of Justice, defied comprehension. I sat in the press seats, a few feet away from both, quite simply agog.

HMICFRS has, also, fairly recently formed an External Reference Group to advise on policing protests (read here). Incredibly, its panel includes another disgraced ex-SYP chief, Meredydd Hughes, who gave, arguably, the worst evidence ever, to a Parliamentary Select Committee, when questioned over his knowledge of industrial scale rape and trafficking of children, over the entirety of his period in charge of that disgraced force (view video here). Hughes is also on the list of discredited ex-GMP senior officers, having served there as an assistant chief constable from 1999 until 2002.

The suspicion is now raised over the efficacy of such groups, if this is a sample of the selection of its constituents. It may well explain why the GMP press office were reluctant to reveal more details of their own?

A FOI request has also been submitted to the IOPC, seeking details of their alleged involvement in the subject reviews. Whilst not attributable to the IPCC (as they were then known) an undated, 22 page document did surface. It appears to have been produced internally by un-named officers in GMP’s professional standards team for the consumption of the police commissioner at the time, Tony Lloyd (read here). It is largely statistical, but in one interesting paragraph it reveals the appointment in 2014, by Lloyd, of a Greater Manchester Complaints Ombudsman, retired judge William Morris, to work alongside Lloyd’s deputy, Jim Battle, dip sampling PSB files. It appears that files were inspected, and reviewed, on this basis once, but there is no trace of further activity, records or minutes, via open source. Battle continued to sit on the Ethics Committee until recently.

Absent of substantive responses to the FOI requests, the preliminary view is that the ‘independendent review’ and ‘external oversight group’ activities, relied upon by the GMP press office, amount to much the same as the fabled Emperor’s New Clothes.

Attention is now turned to the other anomalies in the GMP statement:

Firstly, it is claimed that the peer review report was delivered by the Met to GMP on 22nd December, 2016. But the document is clearly dated on its front cover, 7th January, 2017.

Secondly, it is claimed that the peer review was delayed by ‘operational matters’. The reality is that, the terms of reference, a two page document, was not drafted by DCC Pilling until the end of March, 2016. The Met responded extraordinarily quickly after that. GMP had previously claimed, in writing, that the terms were drafted by the Met, not by Pilling. They have not responded to a request for an explanation of that anomaly.

Thirdly, the GMP claim that the work of the Met’s peer review team could be reduced from six weeks to two days, on the basis of the other claimed reviews, simply has no evidence base and appears fanciful, at best: The Met’s peer review report and appendices, within its 42 pages, make no mention at all of the work, or findings, of any other reviewer, or how their own task was related, or joined, to them.

Fourthly, as alluded to earlier in this piece, an informed insight into the inner workings of GMP’s PSB, post peer review, is that it is still in a desperate state. Not assisted in any way by its two principals, Anderson and Pilling, lacking the necessary grasp of the applicable statutory framework. Or, failing to adhere to it, if they do. Also, deploying a hopelessly incompetent Complaints Manager, Mike Thornton, whose very presence blights the whole department.

Thornton, unbelievably, is a delegate of the chief constable in a role known as Appropriate Authority. Which more than anything, informs on the importance, or lack of, that GMP attaches to ethics, professionalism and the effective, efficient resolution, or disposal, of public complaints.

Following the email sent to DCC Pilling in March, 2018 – a blistering, fully evidenced condemnation of the PSB under his leadership – and sent to the press office to assist their reply, I wrote again to Pilling, in early November, 2017, following the exposure of subsequent calamities. He was invited to reflect on the wisdom of having the key role of complaints manager filled by an officer plainly unsuited to the role. His reply, which, I believe, was drafted by Thornton, was both vacuous and peurile, and, as is usual in my dealings with him, fails to address the core issue.

Any implication of improvement in PSB following the various reviews, as alluded to in the press statement, is simply untrue. A matter put to them, with some force, in my follow up questions. To which, of course, they declined to answer, at all. On any independent view, a continuation of the organisational lack of truthfulness which has characterised this investigation from the very outset.

My father’s body was cremated in April, 2014 after a short, poignant, private service. When the coffin was touched in a last farewell, I wanted to believe he may have gone to a better place. The last few years of a life that lasted almost 86 years were blighted by the most terrible dementia, having previously survived bowel cancer, first diagnosed in 1980-81. At that time, he was given only 6 months to live, but he was a proud Yorkshireman, with the love of a wife, Vera, utterly devoted to him for all their adult lives, to cling to. He survived 33 more years, although his propensity for evidence-free, snap judgements did, thankfully, diminish over the years. It is also true to say that my own indulgence of them increased, correspondingly, with advancing maturity.

Alan Wilby may look down on his son, or up, who knows, and say to himself: ‘Might have been a bit hard on the lad, but he certainly learned the difference between right and wrong, truth and lies’.

My promise to the old man is that I will get to the bottom of this peer review farrago, and change for the better, for the taxpaying public in Manchester, will be brought about, one way or another.

As a footnote, my dear mother, who passed away in January, 2018, did not approve of anything that was critical of the police. Including my own investigative journalism. She had this unswerving, old-fashioned faith in their efficiency, effectiveness, fairness and honesty. As so many of her generation did. The liars and deceivers in the present day police service should deeply reflect upon where all that went wrong.

 

Page last updated on Sunday 23rd December, 2018 at 0720hrs

Picture credit: Roy Hampson and Shirley Schofield

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