Peering Into The Gloom

In an article published on this website on 11th November, 2018, ‘The mystery of the missing peer review’ (read in full here), the importance of freedom of information (FOI) requests as an aid to journalism was highlighted.

It investigated the background to an alleged ‘cover-up’ by the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police over well-publicised allegations of misconduct and criminality within his Counter Corruption Unit (CCU). The wider public might better recognise the CCU as the equivalent of the AC12 department in the hugely popular television drama, Line of Duty.

As that article explored, ‘The mystery’ centred on the silence that followed  a front page splash in the local newspaper trumpeting, what many believed, was to be a root and branch investigation that would settle, once and for all, whether his Professional Standards Board (PSB) was responsible for corrupt investigation outcomes. Read article in full here.

Within GMP, as with most other police forces, the secretive CCU operates under the overarching PSB umbrella. It also includes the departments that control disclosure under both the Freedom of Information Act and Data Protection Act. The newspaper described Manchester’s versions as “feared and loathed“.

The previous article posited three possible explanations for the ‘missing’ peer review report, and why the chief constable, or his deputy, who has portfolio responsibility for PSB, was refusing to be drawn into any statement, and stubbornly resisted publishing the findings of the review.

In summary, they were:-

– The peer review didn’t take place.

– The peer review did take place, but was a complete sham.

– The peer review did take place, but there was never any intention to produce a closing report.

Five days after the article appeared – and drew widespread attention on social media – a response to a FOI request made to GMP in August, 2018 was finally provided. All efforts, over the previous three months, to persuade the police force to even acknowledge the request had failed. They had broken the law, repeatedly, to prevent a journalist getting to the truth of this increasingly vexed matter.

The unlawful conduct of the Met is similarly grounded: Significant disclosure to a request first made in July, 2018 is still withheld, as excuse after excuse is given for the delay. None of them, taken at their face, appear remotely credible. It has spawned a separate, excoriating article on this website, ‘Your Cheque Is In The Post’ (read here).

An enforcement notice issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) expired on Wednesday 12th December, 2018. Which, potentially, places the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service in contempt of court. On any view, a very serious matter indeed.

Over, and above, the Met’s precarious legal postion, even holding the country’s largest, and most important, police force to ridicule, on social media, has failed to squeeze out the requested peer review documents before the expiry of that ICO notice.

Without a doubt, something very important is at stake here and, when routinely dealing with the police, that usually amounts to only two things: Covering up their own wrongdoing, and protecting the reputations of senior officers whose fingerprints are on the misconduct.

The delays by both police forces to the requests for disclosure, very much in the public interest, give the impression that they are connected, and co-ordinated, at very senior officer level, whilst hard-pressed civilian disclosure officers, and lawyers, are placed in the firing line, to take the inevitable flak.

The partial disclosure of documents connected to the Peer Review, eventually made by GMP on 16th November, 2018, do not, readily, answer any of the three hypotheses expounded in the previous article. Indeed, they actually pose more questions about both the intent of the review – plainly not designed to be any sort of interrogative process, focused on alleged corruption, and the provenance of the documents provided.

The disclosure consists of, firstly, the Terms of Reference (ToR) for the Peer Review, a two page document, with an Appendix of the same length. It is headed ‘Transforming Professional Standards in Greater Manchester Police‘ and dated 31st March, 2016 (read in full here). Secondly, a report titled ‘MPS Peer Review of Greater Manchester Police Professional Standards Branch‘. The date on the cover sheet is 9th/10th May, 2016. There are thirteen pages, with four appendices, which include the ToR, totalling a further twenty pages.

The ToR’s are disclosed, almost in full, but, curiously, the names of Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling and Chief Superintendent Annette Anderson are redacted from the document. There is certainty that they are the officers involved, as their names were freely provided by GMP, in response to a separate FOI request made in September, 2016. It is a founding principle of the Freedom of Information Act that disclosure is ‘to the world’, not to an individual requester and, in those circumstances, one must question the motive of of Pilling and Anderson for not wanting to put names to their own work.

Information volunteered to the author of this piece, by Detective Constable Christopher Prince, himself attached to GMP’s PSB, that the same Annette Anderson is the directing mind behind the latest peer review freedom of information request to GMP, simply underscores the concern over the validity of the disclosure, the time it has taken to finalise, and the foreboding, and repeating, sense of yet another GMP ‘cover-up’.

The marked reluctance of the otherwise ineffective, inefficient DC Prince, presumably under the same senior officer direction, to conduct an appropriate investigation – or any investigation at all it seems – into the wrongdoings associated with this disclosure fiasco, is also seriously troubling. Particularly, as it is against every tenet of the applicable statutory framework, and regulatory guidance, that a lowly detective constable, with what appear to be seriously limited competencies, and a notably poor attitude, should be tasked with investigating the two most senior officers, a chief superintendent and a deputy chief constable, in the very same department.

A further concern is that in another freedom of information response made by Greater Manchester Police, in June 2017, they said, unequivocally, that the Terms of Reference were set by the Met, and NOT by GMP. Which, in the event, has now been proved to be yet another blatant lie in this increasingly troubled matter.

It is worth repeating here, from the previous article, that another GMP lie concerning the Peer Review was also uncovered by collateral freedom of information requests. In one made by Neil Wilby, finalised on 29th November, 2016 no disclosure was made regarding the existence of the Met’s Peer Review when the request specifically required them to do so. This goes directly to the heart of the deceit, and double-speak, that has been an ever-present feature of the Review, since its existence was first broadcast over three years ago.

Analysis of the ToR, which, the force want the public to believe, were finalised four months after the sensational newspaper article, reveals a very different framework to the process anticipated, deliberately or otherwise, from the narrative on the Manchester Evening News front page. The focus of which was the persistent corruption allegations made by police officers, past and present, against GMP’s PSB and, particularly, their CCU, and the sweeping derogation of those claims by their chief constable who, essentially, branded the complainants embittered troublecausers.

It was, very plainly, NOT planned to be an adversarial ‘go where the evidence takes us’ investigation that would unearth, and address, the persistent allegations of GMP wrongdoing, aired regularly in the media.

DCC Pilling, instead, wanted the peer review to be ‘neutral, inquisitorial and supportive‘.  Its guiding theme was to be ‘meaningful insight, common understanding and to value how GMP PSB was operating‘ at the time of the review.

Pilling develops that theme in the Appendix to the Terms of Reference, titled ‘Methodology’. In summary, he cites ‘consistency in [severity] assessments’; ‘supervisory oversight and scrutiny’; ‘detail and quality of [senior management] decision-making’ as the key points of focus of the review.

None of the words ‘phone-hacking’, ‘evidence-tampering’. ‘wrongdoing’, ‘malpractice’, ‘negligent’, ‘unlawful’, ‘unethical’, ‘unprofessional’, ‘abuse’, ‘subversion’, or ‘failure’ appear anywhere in the TOR, or the Appendix.

An independent commentator might well view the plenteous management-speak guff, together with a marked lack of cutting-edge to the process, as a conventional, behind closed doors, Greater Manchester Police box-ticking ‘whitewash‘. Mutually-aided, of course, by both the Metropolitan Police and the much-maligned College of Policing.

Crucially, Pilling allocated just two days for the on-site review, not the six week duration that the local press reported. Although, a closer reading, and a liberal interpretation of the agreed terms of the review, might, just might, persuade the public that the six weeks included post-review consultations and report writing. A far cry from the impression given by Hopkins in his newspaper interview, inadvertently or otherwise.

It was anticipated that the four review team officers, led by the Met’s Superintendent Gary Randall, under the overarching command of Deputy Assistant Commissioner Fiona Taylor, would have unfettered access to all case files, live or closed; PSB officers and staff, including shadowing investigators; and would be appropriately vetted and security cleared. The names of the other Met officers are redacted from the disclosures.

It is also worth noting that the ‘peer review’ was carried out by a detective superintendent from the Met, liaising with a chief superintendent and a deputy chief constable from the force under scrutiny. A ‘Subordinate Review‘ might, therefore, have been a more appropriate handle. DAC Taylor was not part of the ‘away’ team playing in North Manchester and is not mentioned anywhere in the report.

Also, whilst not directly applicable, under Statutory Guidance issued by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, the much-maligned police watchdog, officers investigating allegations against other police officers should be of at least equal rank. That is not to derogate Supt Randall’s ability, or experience, only his standing in the police hierarchy. He is a key player in Operation Winter Key, the Metropolitan Police investigation set up alongside the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse, and as a detective inspector led a robbery squad, with some notable successes, in North London.

Fiona Taylor, for her part, sensationally quit the Met after the announcement, earlier this year, that Sir Stephen House had been brought in over her head as assistant commissioner. ‘Bleak’ House, as he was known to colleagues (he was called much worse during his time as Divisional Commander in Bradford), reportedly retired from Police Scotland under a cloud, when other senior officers threatened to resign if he stayed. His reign as chief constable was never less than controversial.

Taylor thus returned to policing in Scotland in July, 2018, as deputy chief constable, days before the first information request was made about the Peer Review. She had previously served with both the Lothian and Strathclyde forces before they were merged into Police Scotland. She started her career with Lincolnshire Police 24 years ago and owes her meteoric rise in the police service, at least in part, to the accelerated fast track management programme introduced in 1998.

She will, again, have portfolio responsibility for professional standards in her new role, which may well concern some. Interestingly, she was also the Met’s lead on the discredited Public Inquiry into Undercover Policing (UCPI) in which the force remain utterly determined to conceal wrongdoing, and criminality, of their officers from both the victims and the public. Which concerns a great many more.

The Peer Review Final Report, as noted previously, amounts to just thirteen pages. It can be read, together with the four appendices, in full here.

The key points to be drawn from it are that the exercise was to be ‘non-threatening’ and the self-expressed role of the leader of the review was that of ‘critical friend’. That is to say, in police parlance, anything that can harm the reputation of the force, or the wider police service, is not to be exposed, or reported upon.

A vivid example of that is the approach to what was in the GMP PSB files, selected by a dip-sampling method. The only matters concerning the Met review team was the structure and formulation of a file, not the content, or how an investigation outcome had been reached. Whether that be lawfully, or unlawfully. Or, for example, by hacking an innocent bystander’s phone as happened in the infamous John Buttress case (read here). A second phone hack was carried out by the notorious CCU in 2014, but that remains covered up by GMP to this day.

The two day peer review, consisting mainly of informal focus group chats between the Met’s four officer team and low-ranking, and civilian, GMP professional standards officers, included a hot debrief, and peer review team debrief, that took up the afternoon of the second day. During which the review team also travelled back to London.

The report from that hot debrief forms part of the appendices to the final report. It amounts to very little. Unsurprising, given the actual reviewing amounted to less than a day’s discussions with junior officers.

Another appendix is an infographic, set out with the look of a school timetable. It is a stark, visual reminder of how pitiful this review was. A far cry from promises either made, or implied, in the Manchester Evening News.

It is clear from the ‘timetable’ that the Met Peer Review team spent almost as much time talking amongst themselves as they did with GMP officers. They did NOT shadow PSB investigators as the Terms of Reference indicated they would. There was no contact, at all, between the Met team and the CCU.

There also was no contact whatsoever, it seems, with any officer above the rank of chief inspector, after the brief introductions on the Monday morning, at which DCC Pilling and C/Supt Anderson may have been present. We do not know because GMP are not saying.

Remarkably, GMP claim that neither Pilling, nor Anderson, nor any other officer present, made any notes in their pocket, or day, books during the debrief. They are also refusing to reveal who was involved in that process.

One officer not involved was the Discipline Lead for Greater Manchester Police Federation, Aidan Kielty, whom, it might be argued, was crucial to any understanding, by the Met’s peer review team, of the inner workings of the force’s professional standards, and counter corruption, operations. Perhaps he knew too much?

Randall’s report was clearly set up to be a ‘whitewash’ and, unsurprisingly, amongst all the management-speak gobbledegook, that is exactly what it is. Not one single word of criticism of Greater Manchester Police’s Professional Standards Board is to be found in the Metropolitan Police final report. It is risible on any view, but, more particularly, in the context of the welter of criticism of GMP on network television and radio, and in regional and national newspapers.

It is also noteworthy, that such a report, containing little or nothing of substance, took seven and a half months to deliver to GMP – and raises the spectre of there having been, initially, no intention of producing one until questions were asked of GMP about its whereabouts in September, 2016. But even the date claimed by GMP, for delivery of the report, 22nd December, 2016 appears to be false. The sharp-eyed will notice that the report is dated 6th January, 2017. Perhaps it was delivered by a time machine similar to Dr Who’s Tardis.

GMP in response to a request to provide post-report correspondence with the Met have disclosed nothing. The inference being, that it was filed away in the ‘Boxes Ticked‘ drawer in DCC Pilling’s office and has never been seen since.

In that drawer, there will, undoubtedly, be a number of others where the police investigated the police and found nothing wrong.

Once the final Peer Review disclosures are eventually made by the Met, a third article will be published that looks in detail at the shocking performance of both the Met and GMP professional standards units, since that report was written. This will add significant further context to the efficacy, or otherwise, of the Peer Review.

A request for a statement from the chief constable was made to the GMP press office on 11th November, 2018. It asked to address the disconnect between what appeared to be promised in the Manchester Evening News in 2015, and what was revealed by freedom of information disclosures three years later. A lengthy narrative was provided on the same day, attributed to a force spokesperson, that will require further analysis and questions.

The gist of the GMP response is that there has been a number of other scrutinies apart from the peer review, which was foreshortened due to a variety of factors, and the present day functionality of their PSB is, essentially, given the all-clear.

Further questions were put to GMP’s press office seeking substantiation of some of the assertions made in their statements. Several of which appeared, taken at their face, to be falsely grounded. Unsurprisingly, no reply has been, as yet, forthcoming.

A seperate article will cover the GMP statement and those subsequent questions. A further freedom of information request will also be necessary as GMP claim, without any supporting evidence, that other external, independent scrutinies took place before and after the Peer Review.

Police Scotland’s press office has also been approached with a request for a statement from DCC Fiona Taylor concerning her part in the alleged ‘whitewash’. As has the Met’s Gary Randall.

DC Prince was also offered right of reply. The email was not acknowledged.

 

Page last updated on Wednesday 12th December, 2018 at 2220hrs

Picture credit: World Productions

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2018. 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.

When the ‘cover-up’ becomes the story

Hi, Mabs. Ian Hopkins speaking.”

So began the search for a new member of the most troubled command team in British policing. Even before the post was advertised. In footballing parlance, Chief Superintendent Maboob “Mabs” Hussain from the neighbouring West Yorkshire force (WYP) had been “tapped up”.

Hopkins, the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) chief constable, ultimately, and he thought seamlessly, secured the transfer of Mabs from a rival team across the Pennines. Even though the tapping up did cause some discomfort within the GMP command team, emails disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act reveal.

The phone call was made on the same day that Hopkins and his deputy, Ian Pilling, claim they decided that another assistant chief constable was needed to bolster their dwindling team: 19th July, 2018. But no notes in day books were made, no meeting or briefing notes, no team discussion, no decision rationale, no disclosable data at all. Just a spur of the moment, informal discussion it seems.

It also appears that the police and crime commissioner was not consulted, either, as required by law.

But, those not so minor issues apart, all seemed fine and dandy; slick dresser Mabs had got a promotion, some might say well-deserved, and a pay rise of around £40,000, including benefits; Hopkins had been able to disguise the fact that no other senior police officer in the country wanted to work for him AND he had a black minority ethic (BAME) face in his leadership team, to underscore his commitment to the police service’s obsession with diversity. Smiles and handshakes all round.

Except that Hopkins had the dubious distinction of having, at that time,  TWO disgraced assistant chief constables on long-term absence from the force, with neither expected to return. The cost to the taxpayer was around £250,000 per annum. Which, in terms the man, or woman, on the crime-riddled, poverty-stricken streets of Manchester might understand, would pay for ten bobbies on the beat. Or, more than adequately feed fifteen families of five for a year.

The first of those, ACC Steve Heywood, is presently awaiting a charging decision from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) after an investigation by The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC, but perhaps better known as the IPCC). The latter said, in May 2018:

“Our investigation looked at the evidence given by ACC Steven Heywood at the [Anthony Grainger] inquiry, particularly in relation to how he recorded information in his police (sic) log book.

Heywood has been dogged by other major policing scandals since his full promotion to the command team in April, 2013. He had been in a temporary ACC role for eighteen months prior. He has been absent from the force for eighteen months on full pay. Again, a six figure salary plus benefits.

On 14th November, 2018, after almost a week of rumours swirling around social media, news was released to the press, by GMP, of Heywood’s retirement. Apart from his own failings, that led, at least in part, to the needless death of Anthony Grainger, Heywood has always sought to conceal his role in the handling of notorious villain, Dale Cregan, who eventually, and tragically, shot and killed two young Manchester police officers. The subsequent, and some say, contrived, sale of Heywood’s house also developed into a murky scandal centred around whether he was at risk from Cregan, at the time locked up in the Category AA wing (known as The Cage) of Strangeways jail. The artful financial wangling was followed by the inevitable, long-running, multi-layered GMP ‘cover-up’. The troubled ACC was also Head of Public Protection in GMP for at least some of the period covered by the Rochdale grooming scandal. The vexed question of ‘who knew what’ within the police force is presently being addressed via an inquiry run by the Greater Manchester Mayor.

The infamous ‘Boobgate’ scandal claimed the second of the miscreant ACC’s: Rebekah Sutcliffe, whom many believe owes her continued, if pointless, place in the police service to the astute advocacy of John Beggs QC. Who, somehow, managed to persuade a disciplinary panel, that included Sir Thomas Winsor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, to conclude proceedings with a written warning, rather than dismissal. A remarkable achievement, in the light of the allegations against her and a previous chequered history with the force. Sutcliffe, who infamously told colleague, Superintendent Sarah Jackson, that she would be “judged on the size of her tits” is presently seconded to Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council, where she is overseeing a project to encourage exercise, healthy living and healthy eating (watch short video clip here) . A demeaning ‘non-job’ costing taxpayers £109,000, plus benefits, per annum. She was reprimanded in 2010 for trying to pull rank and gatecrash a Labour party conference hotel, to attend a drinks junket when she had no accreditation to enter the secure site. There was also an IPCC ivestigation into her failure to declare a relevant relationship with chief superintendent, Paul Rumney, when chairing a disciplinary panel. Rumney, never far from controversy himself, was Head of GMP’s Professional Standards Board at the material time, thus creating a clear conflict of interest. That neither, oddly enough, appeared to notice at the time.

49 year old Sutcliffe’s secondment to Oldham council was due to end in September, 2018, but a spokesperson for the latter recently told Police Oracle: “There is no agreed end date for the secondment at this time. Rebekah is still the Strategic Director of Reform”. GMP refused to comment on if, or when, she would be returning to the force. It is believed she has five years of police service remaining before she becomes eligible for retirement. Her biography has been deleted from the GMP chief officer team webpage.

At a time when the police service cannot give away deputy and chief constable roles, another ACC, Debbie Ford, recently secured a rare neutral-rank transfer from GMP back to her former force, Cumbria Police. Having told at least one former senior colleague, retired superintendent Pete Jackson, she was uncomfortable with being associated with scandal after scandal that routinely engulfs the force. As the former murder detective wryly observes: “Challenging the unethical, unprofessional conduct of her peers was an option she might have considered, rather than heading for the exit door”. There may be other personal, or professional, reasons why Ford left GMP, of course. But, if there are, the public is in the dark. Ford joins Sarah Jackson at Cumbria, after the latter also sought a transfer from the troubled Manchester force.

Garry Shewan was another who walked away from an ACC role in the UK’s fourth largest force, doing a ‘moonlight flit’ as GMP’s £27 million iOPS technology upgrade, for which he had portfolio responsibility, crashed and burned. The budget for the project is believed to have roughly doubled. “Honest Cop” Shewan, like Heywood and Sutcliffe, had also been dogged by scandal over the previous four years as both the author of this piece, and an increasing number of well respected police whistleblowers, rounded on him and exposed a number of troubling, alleged misdemeanours. Some of them very well evidenced. In one particular case, that resulted in the controversial, and many say unjust, dismissal of a junior officer, ex chief constable Sir Peter Fahy allowed Shewan to investigate complaints about himself. They had been made by the discipline lead of the local police federation, no less. In another case, Shewan wanted to manage a conduct complaint about him outside the statutory framework and through a restorative justice process in which he was the controlling influence. He had admitted giving a misleading statement about knowledge, or otherwise, of an investigation being carried out by Fahy into another chief constable. The issue being that Shewan had withheld crucial information that could have significantly informed that probe. The Operation Redbone outcome was signbificantly flawed as a result.

Hate crime champion, Shewan, was also not slow to complain about feeling ‘harassed’ when tackled about his conduct.

Yet another Manchester assistant chief constable to head for the exit door, as trouble rained down on him, was Terry Sweeney. His retirement triggered an angry response from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC, now IOPC).  He was under investigation by the IPCC for two separate allegations, after being served with a gross misconduct notice in relation to the disposal of body parts by GMP from victims of the notorious Harold Shipman. In addition, he was served with a criminal and gross misconduct notice in respect of his role in an allegedly poorly-handled investigation into a now-convicted child sex offender, Dominic Noonan. Sweeney was also involved in the alleged ‘cover-up’ of the unauthorised bugging of offices, occupied by senior leadership team members, by Superintendent Julian Snowball, who had purchased equipment for his illegal activities on the internet. Terry Sweeney was also formerly a Commander of GMP’s Rochdale Division and is yet another part, however small, of the ‘who knew what’ police mystery concerning child sex abuse in the town.

One of Sweeney’s sycophantic clique, during this troubled period, was Detective Chief Inspector (as he was then) John Lyons, latest holder of the poisoned chalice that is Head of Ethics and Standards at troubled Cleveland Police. Lyons is remembered well by former GMP peers for a discreditable, unpleasant, early morning drunken incident in Bolton town centre, in which subordinate officers were verbally abused. Sweeney is said to have smoothed the path so that his friend faced no meaningful sanction.

The IPCC Commissioner overseeing the Sweeney investigations, said at the time: “Greater Manchester Police has informed the IPCC that ACC Terry Sweeney is retiring on 31 October, 2014. The IPCC cannot prevent that happening, but we have been assured that ACC Sweeney will cooperate with our investigations after his departure.

“A police officer resigning or retiring when they are subject to investigation does not serve anyone’s purpose and can frustrate our investigations leaving important questions unanswered. Such a practice can only be damaging to public confidence in policing. We will continue pursuing all lines of enquiry before publishing our findings and evidence so that the public can decide for themselves.”

Sweeney faced no further action. Strangely, the IPCC report can no longer be located on their website.

Against this alarming, and continuous, backdrop, Chief Constable Hopkins has also been under heavy siege for the past twelve months, as a series of national newspaper front page splashes, in depth exposés, and a call for a public inquiry, has kept both him, and his scandal-rocked force in the headlines. For all the wrong reasons, it must be said. He was also lambasted over the Boobgate scandal, and some squarely put the blame on him for not nipping Becky Sutcliffe’s drunken antics in the bar, whilst stood with her at the boozy women’s policing function. Instead he delegated that unpleasant, hazardous task to a subordinate, whilst he sloped off to enjoy another ‘freebie’ at a nearby luxury hotel (read more here). Which might readily explain why no-one wanted to work for him as an assistant chief constable and end up with a reputation tarnished in the manner of Heywood, Shewan, Sutcliffe or Sweeney. Or have to backtrack to their home force in the manner of Debbie Ford.

An independent observer might also conclude that, given the present circumstances, and sensing there may be even worse to come, you would have to be desperate to walk into that firestorm.

Nevertheless, Hussain took up the role of Assistant Chief Constable at GMP on 1st October, 2018. He was the only candidate who applied, after the approach from Hopkins, and it is said, the only candidate interviewed; although no documented evidence of such an event has been disclosed to the author of this piece, after what have been quite exhaustive enquiries: Two freedom of information requests (one each to GMP and WYP) concerning the appointment; enquiries made of both police force press offices; fairly lengthy correspondence with GMP Deputy Chief Constable (DCC) Ian Pilling and one way correspondence with WYP Chief Constable, Dee Collins. Whom, it must be said, has this unappealing, unethical, unprofessional, and repeating habit of burying her head in the sand at the first sign of trouble. Particularly, when it is one of her ‘favourites’ under scrutiny. Mabs was, most certainly, in that group.

Documents disclosed by WYP under FOIA reveal the usual inconsistencies. Collins claims the matter of Mabs’ ‘tapping-up’ on 19th July, 2018 by Hopkins and subsequent application to GMP, was first discussed amongst her own command team the day after he was appointed (4th September, 2018). The only record in her day book, she says, is on that same date and a copy has been disclosed.

Yet, Collins had assisted in Mabs’ application, in early August, to the extent that, in section 11 of the application form (a blank form can be viewed here) it was required to be completed by the applicant’s chief constable, she filled it in and sent it back to Hussain, via email, with the jolly message: ‘If it is not what you want, alter it to suit’. 

No note in her day book about that event. Or, if there is, it has not been disclosed. A retired WYP command team member has revealed that, under Dee Collins’ leadership, the priority is what to EXCLUDE from notes of their meetings, rather than maintain an auditable record.

Taken at its face, and by reference to the disclosures made, so far, by both forces, Hopkins did not contact Collins. Which, given the recent history of each of those two police forces covering up for the other, and the fact that they are neighbours, with a large shared border, is difficult to contemplate.

There is no documented record, either, of Mabs contacting his own chief constable, or vice versa, after the Hopkins phone call.

The fact it was public knowledge, broadcast by Collins, no less, that Mabs was in line for the next ACC role in his home force, where he had served his entire 22 year police career, simply adds to the intrigue as to why a popular, high achieving, Bradford council estate lad made good, would take such a risk with this move to GMP.

At the time of his appointment as ACC, this is what a gushing Mabs said on the GMP website: “I’m thrilled to have been given this opportunity. I have great admiration for the work GMP has done for some time, knowing they are a similar size to WYP and respecting the way they have responded to particularly challenging times over the years. Their commitment to public service and the demands I can expect to face in my new role were all things which appealed to me to join the GMP family.”

So, let us look at this statement in more detail:

He was certainly correct about being ‘given’ the opportunity. Gift-wrapped, with a ribbon on top.

But then his fresh-from-the-strategic-command-course-sycophantic-management-speak sets the alarm bells ringing (Mabs had successfully negotiated the necessary College of Policing test six months earlier):

Firstly, he does not explain what it is he admires about GMP that places it above his former force. Both have a dreadful history of covering up industrial scale child sex abuse Rochdale, Oldham, Bradford (Mabs’ home city for all his life), Dewsbury, Keighley, Halifax, Huddersfield, Manchester Curry Mile, Mirfield. Similarly, their failures to tackle volume crime, particularly burglarly, are legion. Both have gun, and knife, crime that is out of control. Is all this ‘the [GMP] commitment to public service’ to which he refers? But, moving on, both have professional standards departments and counter-corruption units that are perennially inept, and, arguably, corrupt. Both have ACPO teams, past and present, mired in scandal. Both have chief constables that are, quite plainly, out of their depth. Both have the unenviable reputation for outrageous, high profile cover-ups. So what is it that makes GMP ‘admirable’, one has to wonder: The debacle in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing; the Operation Grantham stored body parts scandal; or a multi-million pound organised crime investigation that collapsed after allegations of police officer corruption? These three examples are drawn from a lengthy list that also includes Operations Poppy 1 and 2, and Operation Leopard, of which more will be heard in a separate articles.

Secondly, no-one who knows even a little about policing, or reads the national newspapers, or watches police documentaries on TV, or listens to radio programmes such as File on 4, could conclude anything other than, in its present form, run by Hopkins, Greater Manchester Police is a scandal-hit shambles. Perhaps Mabs, an alert thief-taker, missed all that?

Thirdly, he describes Greater Manchester Police as ‘a family’. The implication is happiness, cohesion and belonging. Which couldn’t be further from the truth. There is a rush for the exit door into careers such as train, or tram, driver;  officers count the hours and days to retirement; morale in the force is at rock bottom says the GMP Police Federation; faith in the leadership team is correspondingly low, and, so stressed are the frontline officers with the working environment, record numbers are calling in sick. Add to that the internal strife caused by over-promotion of on-message sycophants, who have never seen an angry man; obsessive internal witch-hunts conducted against officers prepared to call out wrongdoing, and then draw your own conclusions as to whether this den of skulduggery, and two-faced-gittery, is a family of which anyone sensible would really want to newly marry into. Especially, if it means uprooting your own family from an area in which you’ve lived all your life, and leaving an organisation in which you started your career, progressed at a pleasing rate, and have always been well regarded.

For his part, and at the same time, Chief Constable Hopkins said of his new recruit: “I’m delighted to welcome Mabs to the GMP family. He is an extremely experienced officer and he will help us to continue to drive the force forward”. Over a cliff, presumably? As for police ‘family’, Hopkins is on his fourth, having previously worked in three of the smaller county forces before making the quantum leap to Manchester in 2008.  Becoming chief constable of GMP, by default, in 2015, as no-one else applied for that job, either.

As one might expect, the Manchester Evening News (MEN), in what police whistleblowers say is their adopted role as the public relations arm of GMP, ran a ‘Welcome to Mabs’ puff piece, as Hussain gave his first exclusive ‘interview’, just one day after joining the force (read full MEN article here).

Despite controversy over the appointment, broadcast widely on social media, MEN avoided asking any difficult questions. It all had the look, and feel, of a pre-planned ‘corporate comms’ operation, with softball questions, and answers, agreed in advance, to avoid any embarassing issues surfacing, inadvertently.

There was, however, one interesting passage: Mabs was, presumably, well prepared when asked this question by award-winning MEN reporter, Neal Kealing:

– Is it true you and your family get stopped routinely when you fly abroad?

“Yes. I do get stopped regularly, in particular flying to the States – my brother lives in America – and I do visit him regularly. I have been taken off a flight, because they forgot to check me getting onto a flight, which was rather embarrassing. It does frustrate me. I can understand the reason for checking people who fit a certain age group, ethnicity, and profile. But it does annoy me that it is happening so often.

“As a result I did write to Homeland Security. The Director General replied saying they couldn’t confirm or deny if I was on any international list. I have what they call a redress number, which I can use when I fly, which they say should hopefully limit the level of inconvenience caused. You have to go with the flow.

“It is frustrating. But people have a job to do. Flying out of America I still get stopped. I usually get told my name has been flagged up, and to expect some delay. I don’t mind security checks, it shows we are taking terrorism seriously.”

Even more interestingly, Mabs was not asked these questions by “Killer”, as Kealing is known to friends and colleagues:

– What, or who, persusaded you to apply to join GMP?

– Why uproot your family and leave a force where you have served all your career?

– Was the competition for the job, and the interview, tough?

– Are you concerned about the welter of bad publicity that has engulfed GMP recently, particularly in The Times and The Sunday Times, and on BBC television and radio?

– What do you think of two serving ACC colleagues being removed from the force? One of whom may be facing criminal proceedings and the other who brought national shame and ridicule on GMP and the city of Manchester.

– Are you concerned about another ACC retiring in what was, effectively, a moonlight flit after grotesquely failing on a major infrastructure project?-

– Has this poisoned chalice been handed to you?

– Have you questioned why and how the ACC vacancy arose?

– Have you spoken to ACC Debbie Ford about why she left?

– Joining from another force that has history of ‘problem’ senior officers (Norman Bettison and Mark Gilmore being very high profile examples), has this better equipped you to deal with a low calibre command team such as GMP?

– Will you robustly challenge inappropriate conduct of senior colleagues. Or look the other way, or walk away, as is the tradition in GMP?

– Were you asked in interview about the persistent allegations, circulating on social media, made by WYP whistleblowers against you?

– Have you been asked by either Mr Hopkins, or Mr Pilling, about them since you joined?

– Is there any truth in those allegations? Which include the proposition of failing counter terrorist unit vetting for a number of years.

– Were the whistleblower allegations robustly, and thoroughly, investigated by WYP, before you left, so that the air could be cleared and you could deal with any residual issues. If, indeed, there are any at all, on your application form and vetting declaration?

Whilst the MEN was giving Mabs the VIP treatment, Questions were being asked, by two investigative journalists, of the police press offices in Manchester and West Yorkshire about the allegations against Mabs. One of which, it is said, has been the subject of a complaint made by a serving WYP superintendent (also served as a detective chief inspector in professional standards for several years) and close working colleague.

Essentially, (i) have they been investigated – and (ii) what was the outcome?

Straighforward enough, and not at all unreasonable to expect honest answers from two of the country’s law enforcement agencies. But, no, all questions have been glibly deflected by both press offices, to both journalists, in a manner that seemed calculated to cause further exasperation.

Both those journalists, the author of this piece and the BBC’s Neil Morrow, readily accept that, if the wall of silence is maintained by both police forces, it is almost impossible to get to the truth of the issue of whether an investigation took place, or not. But, it can be said, with some certainty, that had one taken place, and cleared Mabs, then neither force would have been slow to trumpet that fact; discrediting the whistleblowers and those adopting their cause.

There has been email correspondence between Ian Pilling and Neil Wilby that appears to confirm that no checks have been made by GMP over the vetting issue and they had not asked, as of 14th September, 2018 any questions of WYP, at all, concerning the allegations against Mabs. The announcement of his appointment as the new GMP ACC had been made ten days earlier. The following day, 5th September, 2018, Pilling was passed, in strict confidence, correspondence between Neil Wilby, the WYP press office and Dee Collins dating back to January/February, 2018. The serving superintendent is copied into that correspondence. Which is shortly after the latest of the alleged incidents concerning Mabs. DCC Pilling cannot claim not to know the identity of that officer.

The official GMP line, says Pilling, is that if there has been any allegations concerning misconduct, during his service with WYP, then they were matters for the Appropriate Authority of that force, Chief Constable Collins, to deal with, not himself or Ian Hopkins. He was confident such an investigation would have been undertaken, but was not going to ask the question – and still hasn’t, on the evidence available. On 14th September, 2018, DCC Pilling says that he forwarded the concerns over the allegations to the West Yorkshire chief constable.

Following freedom of information request to both GMP and WYP, it appears that Ian Pilling did NOT contact Dee Collins, by email or letter, at least, to make enquiries as to whether that investigation into Mabs did, in fact take place. He didn’t contact DCC John Robins or Head of Professional Standards, Osman Khan, either. Neither did Ian Hopkins, nor his own Head of Professional Standards, Annette Anderson, contact any of the WYP officers named here.

It was also established, from the disclosure arising from those same requests, that there appears to have been no contact between any of the same three GMP senior officers and either the College of Policing or the National Police Chiefs Council, concerning Mabs’ appointment or any vetting concerns. The College’s senior selection team were made aware in January, 2018 of the whistleblower concerns, but no email correspondence between the College of Policing and either WYP, or GMP, has been disclosed upon request.

Dee Collins begins a three month secondment to the College of Policing in January, 2019.

A separate information request to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority seeking disclosure of correspondence between the de facto police and crime commissioner, Deputy Mayor of Manchester, Beverley Hughes, and her chief constable has, so far, been stonewalled.

By way of section 40 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, 2011, the chief constable must consult the Police and Crime Commissioner (the Deputy Mayor in the case of GMCA) before appointing a person as an assistant chief constable of the force.

The response to the information request provided by the PCC is highly questionable. She claims that in respect of the appointment of deputy and assistant chief  constables, her oversight responsibility is confined to private chats between herself and the chief constable. No notes, or minutes, taken and no email traffic between the two. Indeed, no retrievable data is held says Baroness Hughes.

Material disclosed by GMP contradicts that position. Internal email correspondence between Ian Hopkins and Ian Pilling say she was sent a copy of Mabs’ application form, plus background papers, on 29th August, 2018. Put another way, the Deputy Mayor of Manchester has lied to journalist, Neil Wilby.

The stated position of the Deputy Mayor, according to her written response to the information request, has been robustly challenged. But no response had been provided by her within the required four week period under FOIA and the Information Commissioner’s guidance.

A complaint has been lodged with the Information Commissioner’s Office concerning the handling of the request, and a further complaint is being submitted to the appropriate authority alleging honesty and integrity breaches by Beverley Hughes. In this case, the Greater Manchester Police and Crime Panel.

Baroness Hughes, another living, breathing example of the abuse of the ‘honours’ system does, of course, have ‘previous’ for lying. Having resigned as a Labour government minister, in 2004, for doing just that – and in very similar circumstances to those prevailing here: Denying she’d received a memorandum when it was readily proved that she had not only received the document, but acted on it.

Whether, or not, it is possible to get to the truth of the WYP whistleblower allegations against Mabs Hussain is a moot point, without an unequivocal statement from either Ian Hopkins, Dee Collins, or Mabs himself. But, as with so many policing issues over the years, it is now the ‘cover-up’ that becomes the story.

In this particular case, without the ever-lengthening mystery, and the lies that inevitably follow, surrounding this matter, there simply is no story. It could have been put to bed by a two paragraph statement from WYP in February or March, 2018.

This cover-up may yet claim some very high profile scalps, even if the new GMP assistant chief constable emerges untarnished and free to get on with his new job.

The press offices of GMP, WYP and the Deputy Mayor’s Office have all declined to comment. Indeed, the latter two have not even acknowledged the request.

The enquiry to the GMP press office ends thus: “For the avoidance of doubt, and this has been made clear, previously, to DCC Pilling and WYP chief constable Collins, I [Neil Wilby] have no personal, or professional, issues with ACC Hussain. Other than the whistleblower allegations, he is known inside and outside of WYP to be a popular, professional, high achieving police officer. I am more than content for those views to be shared with Mabs.”

Statements had been specifically requested from Mabs Hussain, and Dee Collins, that directly address the issue of whether the police whistleblower allegations have been appropriately recorded, referred and subsequently investigated.

From the ensuing silence, inference can be drawn as to whether the answer is in the affirmative, or otherwise. Not one journalist or police officer, serving, ex-, or retired, spoken to believes it has.

The lay reader is invited to draw their own conclusion as to where that leaves the GMP chief constable and his latest command team recruit.

There is no ACC Maboob Hussain biography on the GMP chief officer team webpage, which was last updated on 29th October, 2018. A month after mabs joined the force (read here).

 

Page last updated on Saturday 24th November, 2018 at 1725hrs

Picture credit: Greater Manchester Police

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 2015-2018. 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.

Mystery of the ‘missing’ peer review

An important part of an investigative journalist’s armoury is the Freedom of Information Act, 2000. The essential principle being that public authorities, unless they can provide a good, and lawful, reason not to do so, must disclose information, upon request, by a member of the public. Or, indeed, a reporter chasing down an ‘exclusive’.

‘Public authorities’ includes police forces and policing bodies. With only one or two notable exceptions, the Act is routinely abused by the latter two.

For emphasis that is repeated, in terms: Law enforcement agencies disregard the dictates of Parliament and gang together, under the auspices of the National Police Chiefs Council, no less, to do so.

Unchallenged, it has to be said, by the very MP’s who are the country’s legislators. Or, by Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC’s) who are elected at the ballot box to provide oversight to chief constables. The latter may be connected to the fact that some PCC’s are also serial, and serious, FOI offenders. Aided and abetted by a woefully weak statutory regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and an even less efficient ‘inn of last resort’, the General Regulatory Chamber, First Tier Tribunal.

In short, policing bodies know, all too well, that there is no easy remedy if they set out to frustrate a journalist in his, or her, quest for disclosure of documents that may underpin a vital public interest exposé, or search for the truth in, for example, the case of a miscarriage of justice.

One glaring, and increasingly high profile example of police forces abusing the Act, is the matter of a ‘peer review’ that was allegedly undertaken by the Metropolitan Police Service (the Met) on behalf of the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police (GMP).

A peer review is a process, guided by the College of Policing, by which police forces frequently invite counterparts, and specialists, from neighbouring constabularies to evaluate their operational performance. Peer reviews, it is said, completely absent of evidence, support the principle of police interoperability, continuous improvement and information sharing.

Management-speak aside, a peer review is also a soft alternative to a robust, thorough investigation of wrongdoing in which ‘bad apples’ in police forces are plucked from the barrel and cast aside.

Shortly after his appointment as chief of the Manchester force, Ian Hopkins, trumpeted loudly about his intention to invite the Met to look into his troubled Professional Standards Board (PSB), which had been dogged by scandal after scandal over the preceding three years, or so. Including, for example, unlawful hacking of phones belonging to members of public; alteration of witness statements; failure to disclose evidence in civil and criminal court proceedings. All very topical, and serious criminal offences, to boot.

He told the Manchester Evening News: “I have asked for a peer review, by another force, to look at how the Professional Standards Branch and Counter Corruption Unit operate – and to see if there is any learning from other parts of the country about the way we operate that maybe we can be doing differently.”

Both departments had been inspected by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) ‘about three times’ in the last few years and concluded they are ‘very good’, the chief added. It is relevant to point out that HMIC is another policing body that abuses the Act and, quite separately, there is considerable doubt, across a much wider spectrum, as to the effectiveness and efficiency of their inspections. The Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Thomas Winsor, is deeply disrespected, and subjected to childish ridicule, by very many serving, and retired, police officers across the country. If the general public was more widely aware of the concerns over the Queen’s representative, there would be a huge outcry.

Hopkins went on to defend the work of the department – feared and loathed by some inside GMP, it is said – and added: “What we are increasingly seeing is that, rather than people accounting for their own actions, they are attacking those people who are told to do that investigation.”

The chief constable pointed to ‘a number of individuals who are disgruntled and have raised issues’. He was, no doubt, referring to such as ex-Superintendent John Buttress, whom, on many independent views, was the subject of what amounted to a crudely executed, disproportionately pursued ‘witch-hunt’ by GMP – and Paul Bailey, the very well-respected former Chair of the National Black Police Association, who was a constant thorn in the side of the command team in GMP.

“We want to make sure, if we get things wrong, or if people have behaved badly, or broken the law, then they are held to account for it,” the chief constable concluded.

Fine words but the reality is very, very different, as anyone close to GMP knows.

So, put shortly, the view advanced by Hopkins was that GMP’s PSB was functioning well, there was not really a problem – and he would ask another police force to carry out a review to prove his point. Which is, in terms, that the issue is confined to disgruntled officers making a lot of white noise.

The peer review, Hopkins said, would last SIX WEEKS. Note that carefully. But, to some, that might have seemed short enough, given the nature and scale of the corruption allegations made against GMP’s troubled PSB.

That was the last public pronouncement made by Hopkins and there has been no visible follow up by the local newspaper, or its crime reporter, John Scheerhout. Whom a number of GMP’s critics perceive to be too close to the force to effectively perform the “social watchdog” role of a journalist. Underpinned, at least in part, by the appearance of a string of stories in The Times and Sunday Times, sourced by the country’s most visible, and effective, police whistleblower, ex-GMP Superintendent Pete Jackson.

This series of front page splashes, and double page spreads, led to a leader being run by the country’s ‘newspaper of record’, in February 2018, calling for a public inquiry into the many high profile failings of Greater Manchester Police. Since then, there has been another two pieces run by The Times, in June 2018, the second of which, effectively, calls out Hopkins for a dishonest response to the first. Times reporter, Fiona Hamilton, pulled no punches as she ripped into the cornered chief constable.

It is a quite extraordinary state of affairs. In both cases the source was, again, Pete Jackson. Manchester’s best detective, and head of the Major Enquiry Team, when he retired from the force.

GMP has also been under constant attack by the BBC, who have produced a number of radio and television programmes featuring alleged wrongdoing by the force. Inside Out producer, Neil Morrow, is a strong, articulate, well-reasoned critic of the running of the force, particularly on social media. ITV’s award-winning presenter, Matt O’Donoghue, is another. Having worked at close quarters with the bereaved families of Jordon Begley and Anthony Grainger, Matt knows a great deal more than most about the inner workings, and ‘cover-up’ mentality, of GMP.

A piece highlighting the shenanigans over this peer review was due to appear in Private Eye on Wednesday 7th November, 2018. That has been written by another highly respected journalist, presenter and producer, Mark Gregory. It may yet appear, of course. Even in a modified form, once the final piece of police disclosure fits into this increasingly complex jigsaw.

Returning to the peer review, the significance of which will unfold, there has been a good deal of activity via freedom of information requests: The first on this topic was made in August, 2016 by William Crow. The response was “GMP can confirm that a peer review was undertaken by the MPS and the report is currently being drafted by them, with the lead being Supt Gary Randall.  The report will include the terms of reference and findings, and will be presented to GMP when completed”. It was supplemented, following a complaint, by this explanation: “Apologies – I did not think we held this information. It has now been confirmed to me that the review took place on the 9th-10th May 2016”.

That disclosure was important. It revealed, taken at its face, that a six week review had taken just TWO DAYS. But as will become clear, the disclosure officer’s addendum will assume much greater significance “I did not think we held this information

A second request on this topic to GMP, made by the author of this piece, in August, 2016, and not finalised until the end of November, 2016 ran counter to that first request. A list of outside police force investigations, and peer reviews, belatedly provided by GMP in its response, did NOT include the Met peer review requested by chief constable Hopkins. It disclosed just two investigations: one each by Kent and Durham constabularies. The former almost certain to be the inquiry into corruption allegations made by John Buttress. That stated absence of data held, concerning the ill-starred Metropolitan Police peer review, also assumes importance as this story unfolds.

A similar request was made, simultaneously, to the three Yorkshire police forces, concerning outside force investigations, all of which can be characterised as troubled and time consuming. Including the perennially hopeless North Yorkshire Police being forced, by formal notice, to respond by the ICO, and, as such, amidst this maelstrom, the significance of the GMP misrepresentation was, regrettably, overlooked.

In June 2017, Mr Crow returned to the fray and the matter of the peer review was raised again via a FOI request. The GMP output was helpful to a degree, and disclosed that Supt Randall was part of a team of four; the GMP officers said to be involved were Head of PSB, Chief Superintendent Annette Anderson, Randall’s direct contact, and Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling. The terms of reference for the review had been drafted by the Met, and were part of the final report. GMP concluded by saying that “there is no intended date for publication of this document”. Which, may yet, prove to be a particularly clever choice of words.

At this point, there is still no intervention by the local newspaper, almost two years after their front page splash. Which now looked, increasingly, like a hollow GMP public relations exercise, in which Hopkins had tossed the local ‘social watchdogs’ (as journalists are sometimes dubbed) a tasty bone to keep them quiet.

After the furore over the Hopkins ‘lie’ about the first of the two The Times articles in June, 2018 it was decided, by the author of this piece and Pete Jackson, to re-visit the matter of the Hopkins/Met peer review. The lack of output by the force, and the local newspaper, was suspicious – and a quick assessment of the information available, via both open source and other documents sourced by each of the two, warranted a more in-depth investigation. This was to be assisted by drawing on the knowledge of a network of police and journalist sources – and another two FOI requests. One to the Met (in the event, it actually became two) and one to GMP.

The peer review ‘net’ was closing on Hopkins and GMP. It was not realised at the time that some big Metropolitan Police ‘fish’ might became snared, too.

The first request was made to the Met on 23rd July, 2018 and the second to GMP on 29th August, 2018. The latter is much the simpler to report upon: GMP have ignored the request completely. No acknowledgement, no finalisation, no explanation, no apology. NOTHING. The Independent Office for Police Conduct has, effectively, forced GMP to record a conduct complaint against their head of the information disclosure unit – and the ICO will shortly be issuing an enforcement notice compelling GMP to answer the request.

The inference being, of course, that to respond to the request is almost certain to disclose wrongdoing by very senior officers within GMP. Notably, the two Ians, Hopkins and Pilling.

This is the request in full:

“Dear Greater Manchester Police (GMP),

Please disclose, by way of the Freedom of Information Act, the following information:

1. Date of hot debrief given by Supt Gary Randall of Metropolitan Police (Met) and copies of notes taken at that meeting and/or reports made afterwards.

2. Pocket note book, or day book, entries of GMP officers present at debrief that relate to their attendance at/participation in the debrief.

3. Copy of Peer Review Terms of Reference (ToR) agreed between DCC Ian Pilling and DAC Fiona Taylor, together with email and/or letter correspondence between those two officers pertaining to the Peer Review ToR’s.

4. Copy of Peer Review report delivered by Met to GMP. If it is intended to rely on any exemptions under the Act then I request that the following information is disclosed pending appeal against such exemption(s).
a. Date of report
b. Date received by GMP
c. Copy of Met’s covering letter that accompanied the report.
d. Number of pages that comprise the report, excluding any annex, appendices.

5. Copy of any post-Peer Review report correspondence between DCC Pilling and/or DAC Taylor and Supt Randall.

Yours faithfully,

Neil Wilby
Investigative journalist”

The reader is invited to draw their own conclusions of the efficacy of that request and the likelihood of the dire consequences in responding.

The responses to information request to the Met, and its subsequent follow-up request, have also been, on any view, disappointing and frustrating. A sorry tale of deceit and subterfuge that exposes the country’s largest police force, once revered as ‘Scotland Yard‘, as a dishonest, incompetent shambles who will, it seems, go to any lengths, and put, often unsuspecting, junior officers in the firing line to avoid the exposure of senior officer misconduct.

This is the full text of the first request:

“Dear Metropolitan Police Service (MPS),

In November, 2015 there was widespread press, and broadcast, publicity concerning an announcement by the chief constable of GMP that he had invited the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) to conduct a review of the operations of his PSB.

https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/…

In this regard, please provide the following information:

1. Date the Peer Review commenced.

2. The name(s)/rank(s) of the Gold Commander or Gold Command Group.

3. Date the Peer Review ended.

4. Date the Peer Review report was delivered to the GMP chief constable.

5. The operational name given to the Peer Review.

Yours faithfully,

Neil Wilby
Investigative journalist”

The sharp-eyed will spot that the answers to questions 1 and 3 were already available as open source material. But they were asked again as a ‘test’ of the veracity of the police responses. It was allocated a Met Freedom of Information Request Reference Number of 2018070000913. The response from the Met was suspiciously speedy and an Information Manager, Ian Burgess, said they did NOT hold ANY information about the GMP Peer Review at all. NOTHING.

At the time, that was viewed, understandably, as an outrageous lie and challenged accordingly. After all, GMP had provided responses ‘to the world’ (as all FOI responses are) that confirmed the existence of the peer review; named the investigating officer, the size of his team and the date it had taken place. But, as already discovered, all is not as it seems with this peer review. Nevertheless, the willingness of the police to lie about it is deeply troubling.

After receiving the complaint, the Met upheld it, changed their position and disclosed that information about the peer review is, in fact, held. Or, so they say.

The name of the person dealing with the complaint was, quite extraordinarly, redacted from the response. However, the Met now aligned themselves with earlier GMP responses and said that the peer review took place on 9th/10th May, 2016. There was no Gold Commander (or Gold Group) nominated and, it follows, no operational codename given to the investigation. The peer review report, or outcome, or both, was delivered to GMP on 22nd December, 2016, they said.

The officer who dealt with the internal review was Yvette Taylor, another Information Manager. Not, in any way, independent from the officer finalising the request, which places the Met in breach of the College of Policing’s Authorised Professional Practice and the same organisation’s Code of Ethics. Ms Taylor mis-spelled the name of the requester and, apart from that fundamental error, her response can be safely characterised as overly bullish; saying it was all just a mistake and denying that the Met had lied about not having any information about the peer review. On any independent review of the two responses, it would be hard to conclude otherwise. The first says one thing, the second says the complete opposite.

Having eked out of the Met that information was admitted as held, the second, ‘killer’, information request was made on 23rd August, 2018:

“Dear Metropolitan Police Service (MPS),

Having now established that disclosable information concerning the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) Peer Review is held by MPS DPS, may I please make a further request? I accept and understand that this second request will carry a different reference number and may attract exemptions, redactions under the Act. However, given the nature of the materials requested to be disclosed, and my experience as an information rights practitioner dealing almost exclusively with policing bodies, it is anticipated that the effects of such exemptions would be very limited indeed.

1. a. Copy of all email and letter correspondence between DAC Fiona Taylor and DCC Ian Pilling where the communication contains reference to the Peer Review.
b. Copy of all email and letter correspondence between Supt Gary Randall and any GMP officer where the communication contains reference to the Peer Review.

NB: In response to journalistic enquiries made of GMP’s press office, it has been confirmed that DAC Taylor and DCC Pilling were the two senior officers whom, between them, agreed the Terms of Reference for the Peer Review. In a previous FOI request finalisation on the WhatDoTheyKnow website, GMP disclosed that Supt Randall was the officer who carried out the Peer Review.

2. Copy of Terms of Reference

3. Copy of Final Report delivered by MPS to GMP on 22nd December, 2016.

4. Copy of any response(s) received by MPS from GMP after the delivery of the Peer Review.

5. Copy of amended Peer Review, if any such amendments were made.

Yours faithfully,

Neil Wilby
Investigative journalist”

The drafting of the information request was greatly aided by the response to a query put to the GMP press office immediately prior to submission of the FOI request. That had informed that Deputy Assistant Commissioner Fiona Taylor was the Met officer who set the terms of reference for the peer review, and had corresponded with Ian Pilling in so doing.

The FOI request is tightly drawn and involves, one might believe, information readily retreivable and disclosable. A report concerning a peer review that lasted just two days, which may have included travel to London and back, and, they say, a ‘hot debrief’, cannot amount to a great deal in terms of either content, or substance.

A well-informed police source has posited that the hot debrief might well have been an Oldham Road curry, and a few pints of lager, to send the Londoners on their way. It has also been hypothesised, on a more serious note, that if there was a hot debrief then it is likely that there was no intention by the Met to put anything to paper, subsequently.

GMP are a force, as seen in the recent ‘body parts’ scandal, acutely aware of the dangers of holding documents that could be disclosed under freedom of information law. They are prepared to burn them, it seems, rather than damage reputations of senior officers.

But a two day jaunt up to Manchester, a bit of ‘lessons learned’ patter, a jolly on the second night, and there you go: Job done. Peer reviewed. No paper trail, if awkward questions asked later by prying journalists.

Since the 23rd August, 2018 FOI submission, the Met has made a variety of excuses that, like the parallel GMP request, has necessitated the involvement of the IOPC and the ICO. A separate article on this website, ‘Your cheque is in the post‘ covers, in detail, the chronology and full extent of the deceit engaged in, by the Metropolitan Police, to avoid disclosure of the requested peer review information (read here).

Tension between requester and public authority is now palpable. The request is also, by now, attracting considerable attention, and comment, on the Twitter social media platform. The Times, meanwhile, contacted the author of this piece, and Pete Jackson, and said they wanted to run the story. But still no interest from the supine Manchester Evening News.

It is now clear that, without the intervention of third parties, the Met has no intention of complying with the law, and thus disclosing the requested information. On 26th October, 2018 the matter was reported to the ICO. Apart from an auto-response, that has drawn no reaction, whatsoever, from the toothless ‘watchdog’.

So, at the date this article is first published, on Sunday 11th November, 2018,  and as the nation stands silent to honour our fallen, particularly those in the Great War that ended one hundred years ago, so too does the Metropolitan Police and Greater Manchester Police. Over disclosure of the materials that will reveal one of three things:

1. The peer review never took place at all. Previous responses by GMP to requests about it were deliberately false and, correspondingly, the first response by the Met was, in fact, correct: They did not hold any information about the peer review, as stated in their information request finalisation on 8th August, 2018. It should also be noted that GMP in one of their first finalisations also said they didn’t hold any information. The request finalised in November, 2016 also made no mention of a peer review supposedly undertaken by the Met five months earlier.

2. The peer review did take place, but was a complete sham. A six week investigation, promised very loudly by chief constable Hopkins, was cut down to just two days. It is said to have taken place in May 2016. Six months after the ‘all guns blazing’ press announcement. The report of that review then took over SEVEN months to deliver from the Met to GMP. It can amount to very little, or nothing. Apart from the usual, all pals at the Palais, police investigating themselves, ‘whitewash’.

3. The peer review did take place, but there was never any intention to produce a closing report. The hot debrief was all that was planned, and then executed on the second of the two days that the Met were said to be carrying out the review. Supt Randall may also never have left his New Scotland Yard office. It may have been a systems review that was conducted electronically, with a debrief via video conference. A tick-in-a-box exercise that is a long, long way short of what GMP’s chief splashed on the front page of the local evening newspaper in November, 2015.

Manchester’s finest have already said they have no intention of publishing the report, yet GMP’s PSB is now engulfed in far worse scandals than they were in 2015. The Metropolitan Police, and almost certainly by now, the National Police Chiefs Council, are very likely colluding with GMP as to how reputational damage can now be limited, and the jobs of Ian Hopkins, and potentially, Ian Pilling can be saved.

If the peer review didn’t take place at Manchester HQ, and a large number of police sources cannot find a single GMP officer that can say that it did, then the only feasible redress is resignation by at least one of the big two chief officers, plus at least one senior Met officer who has taken part with GMP in the charade over the past three months. The list of suspects is small.

If the peer review did take place, then it could still prove the straw that breaks the proverbial back of Hopkins. His standing as a public figure, and, more crucially, as a warranted police officer, has been seriously undermined by the series of stories in The Times. He stands accused of lying about the infamous Operation Poppy investigations. In the circumstances outlined in this piece, he would have conned the public of Greater Manchester over another promised investigation. Whilst all the time the dire situation in PSD – whatever spin he might try to put on it – just goes from very bad to even worse. The chief constable’s position would, on any view outside of the police service, be untenable. Within his own force, and on the fringes, the private view of a significant number officers, past and present, is that he does not have the requisite competencies, and unimpeachable integrity, to lead the Manchester police. The peer review debacle very much underscores that view.

But the real losers in this sorry saga are the taxpaying public, whose confidence in the country’s two largest police forces is certain to receive another knock and their belief in MP’s, and other elected officials, such as the Mayors of both Manchester and London, further undermined as they all stand idly by whilst Acts of Parliament are ransacked by those they are paid to hold to account.

This is a story that, quite obviously, has still some way to run.

 

Page last updated on Monday 26th November, 2018 at 0650hrs

Picture credit: The Guardian Media Group

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