The long-running Operation Hyson saga is finally set to reach its conclusion on Tuesday 26th and Wednesday 27th July, 2016 at Leeds County Court.
Hyson is the codename given to a wide ranging NorthYorkshire Police-funded civil harassment claim that originally involved nine claimants against three defendants. The documents produced for the first hearing, in February 2015, needed fourteen lever arch files to contain them.
Amongst the claimants were the Chief Constable, Dave Jones, and Deputy Chief Constable, Tim Madgwick; Chief Superintendent Lisa Winward and recently retired Superintendent Heather Pearson.
Two of the defendants, who are no longer part of the claim, were Grandma B justice campaigner, Peter Hofschröer, and citizen journalist, Timothy Hicks. Mr Hofschröer had judgment entered against him last November when he refused to take any further part in the proceedings – and Mr Hicks had an agreed consent order sealed by the Court on 30th June, 2016.
This sealing of the Hicks consent order was confirmed in open court by the trial judge, HHJ Mark Gosnell, at an application hearing on 7th July, 2016 which concerned some housekeeping issues upon which the two legal teams acting for the remaining parties to the action were unable to agree.
It is understood that undertakings have been given by Tim Hicks to all the claimants, which includes other members of the Hofschröer family. To the effect that there would be no future contact with the claimants for at least two years – and some of the 150+ articles published by Mr Hicks would be requested to be taken down from the two internet news websites to which he has contributed. Namely, Real Whitby (nineteen articles) and the North Yorkshire Enquirer (twenty-six articles). Fourteen of the articles have URL’s common to both websites.
No order for costs or damages was made against Mr Hicks.
It was also confirmed by the judge that eight of the claimants originally ranged against Nigel Ward, another citizen journalist, had discontinued their harassment claims against him. The claimants, including the four serving and retired police officers, are now all liable to pay the legal costs of Mr Ward incurred in defending his reputation.
The one remaining claimant against Mr Ward is Jane Kenyon-Miller, a former Borough and County Councillor but, perhaps, more widely known as the former Chair of North Yorkshire Police Authority.
Pictured above: Nigel Ward and Jane Kenyon-Miller
The application hearing before HHJ Gosnell on 7th July was to decide on two issues: Firstly, a relatively straightforward point as to whether Mr Ward’s second witness statement in the claim could be filed out of time, following a change of legal team in May of this year. Ever the pragmatist, the judge ruled that the one remaining claimant was not prejudiced by late service, the overriding objective under Part 1.1 Court Procedure Rules (CPR) was met, and the evidence was relevant to the issues to be tried at the final hearing. Accordingly, the statement was allowed into the claim.
The second issue was much more controversial: It was said that investigative journalist, Neil Wilby, had conspired to breach a consent order that had been agreed by the legal teams acting for the original nine claimants and Messrs Ward and Hicks. It was also alleged in court that Mr Wilby had ‘re-published’ or ‘re-advertised’ material about some of the claimants in collusion with Mr Ward. By so publishing, it was further alleged that they had adversely affected the credibility of Mrs Kenyon-Miller. The means of doing so was alleged to be by Mr Ward passing information to Mr Wilby that gave him ‘special knowledge’.
A declaration was sought from the court over the alleged breach of undertaking – a very serious matter indeed – and permission was also sought to for the claimants to access all emails and text messages between Ward and Wilby concerning Operation Hyson.
The two articles at the heart of the controversy were Crompton and Jones: Two of a Kind and Inn of last Resort (read in full here) which both appear on this website. Two of a kind has never been published, and still remains password protected, the Inn of Last Resort makes no mention at all of Mrs Kenyon-Miller, the one remaining claimant.
Counsel for Nigel Ward, Ian Brownhill, instructed by Dave Holley and Neil Heffey of DDE Law in Liverpool, made submissions to the Court on the basis that the order sought was too broad; there was no nexus between the issues to be tried and the materials sought; Article 8 convention rights were engaged; there is no viable argument under CPR upon which to ground such an application and it amounted to nothing more than a ‘fishing expedition’ by the claimants. It was further submitted that the application made on behalf of Mrs Kenyon-Miller ‘was completely without merit’.
Hannah Lynch, the junior barrister representing the former Police Authority Chair, instructed by solicitor Nick Collins of Weightmans in Leeds, appeared to visibly wilt under the pressure of attempting to rescue what always seemed, from the press seats, to be a lost cause. The leading barrister retained by North Yorkshire Police, Simon Myerson QC, did not appear.
In the event, HHJ Gosnell ruled that neither the conduct of Mr Ward, nor the two articles in issue, ‘doesn’t go anywhere near showing that he was in breach of the undertaking’. He also ruled in favour of Mr Ward on the disclosure of text messages, emails issue and said what was sought by the claimants was neither ‘relevant’ nor ‘proportionate’.
Accessing text messages was always a red herring, anyway, as Nigel Ward doesn’t own a mobile telephone.
Costs of the second application were awarded against Mrs Kenyon-Miller, who remains publicly funded at the behest of her long-time political ally, PCC Julia Mulligan. The costs of the first application will be determined by the outcome of the final hearing. In legal parlance, ‘costs in the cause’.
In an unusual step, at the end of the hearing, the judge directly addressed Mr Ward, who was sat in the public gallery watching proceedings unfold. His Honour explained about the Hicks settlement and reminded both Mr Ward, his legal team and the lawyers representing Mrs Kenyon-Miller (who was not in court), that it might be the best solution for all to consider a pragmatic settlement being negotiated by the parties, and their representatives, as opposed to the significant expense of a trial being incurred.
HHJ Gosnell observed that, whilst the trial might well devolve into ‘a two day mud-slinging exercise‘ between the two remaining protagonists, he was not the one paying for it. His role was simply to ensure a fair trial took place. The not inconsiderable costs would fall to the ‘loser’ at the end of the final hearing. Whichever of the two that might be.
Nothwithstanding the fact that Mr Ward and the two legal teams were invited to think about this point very carefully by the judge, it seems that the trial will go ahead on the 26th after all.
A very interesting two days in store, as it all appears to boil down to this: A police force using one of its former top officials, its own force solicitor as a supporting witness, and a wholly disproportionate amount of public funds, to front a civil court claim that seeks to silence one of its main critics.
Page last updated: Monday 22nd July, 2016 at 1830hrs
© Neil Wilby 2015-2016. Unauthorised use or reproduction of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from and links to the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Photo credits: North Yorkshire Enquirer