Democracy dies another death

Just a few short weeks after publication of one of the most damning civil court judgments I’ve read in recent times, the council at the centre of that legal storm are in the news again: For all the wrong reasons.

North Yorkshire County Council, based in sleepy Northallerton , is the host Authority for the North Yorkshire Police and Crime Scrutiny Panel. It receives a substantial Home Office grant for its trouble.

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Constructed in the early 1900’s by architect Walter Brierley, the Grade 2 listed County Hall at Northallerton has, also, previously seen service as a Red Cross hospital and as a temporary wartime home for the local grammar school.

The senior officer in charge of the Panel Secretariat is Barry Khan, a qualified solicitor who also fulfils other roles within the county council: Assistant Chief Executive; Head of Legal and Democratic Services; and Monitoring Officer. He moved to North Yorkshire in 2014 after previously working for Stockport Council.

Khan’s short incumbency at Northallerton has not been without controversy. Apart from the desperately shocking Jeanine Blamires case [1], there has been an alleged ‘stonewalling’ over child safeguarding failures in at least one school in the quaint seaside town of Whitby.

His previous role as Solicitor and Monitoring Officer at Stockport Borough Council was not plain sailing, either. Most notably, over peaceful protester Michael Parnell, who died following a period where he had been repeatedly arrested, detained but was, eventually, cleared after a three day Crown court trial [2].

Khan’s role in the mistreatment of Parnell, particularly in securing a restraining order against Mr Parnell to prevent him protesting, has not been subject to complaint or application, as far as can be traced. But Mr Parnell’s supporters, including democracy campaigner, Sheila Oliver, continue to express disquiet over the council’s contribution to the illness that led to his death. On any view, it is a troubling case.

In my own sporadic, direct dealings with Khan there have been no notable communication issues. But, that is definitely not the case with the staff deployed beneath him in the Secretariat hierarchy:

I have been lied to by Ray Busby (for which I received an apology); addressed inappropriately by the same officer (for which I received another apology); had personal data released onto a public forum by Diane Parsons (a matter denied by the Secretariat and currently under investigation by the Information Commissioner) and treated to a display of ignorance and stubbornness over the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 2000, by the same officer, that simply beggars belief. To the extent that it would be a relatively easy step, given the history, to infer that the intention of the Secretariat was to vex, annoy and harass.

That history also includes a complaint that I made against Julia Mulligan, in July 2015, that concerned the failure of the Police Commissioner to hold the Chief Constable, Dave Jones, to account over a number of issues that included inter alia:

The £1 million funding of failed harassment prosecutions and a civil claim mounted by four very senior police officers and a political crony, Jane Kenyon [2a]; Poor communication/engagement: 101 service; Non-compliant Freedom of Information Act finalisations; Failure to publish Decision Notices:

The complaints were not upheld by the Panel, despite subsequent events proving, beyond doubt, that each one of those matters was, in fact, validly raised. In most cases, accompanied by seriously adverse publicity for the Commissioner, or the force. Or both.

The fact that I succeeded in a county court claim against the Police Commissioner, in February 2017, over data protection breach, has never appeared in Panel minutes either. Neither has reference to the £20,000 plus of public funds expended on defending that claim, and a parallel one against the Chief Constable.

More recent Panel failings include the chief executive farrago. Again, costing precept payers a fortune (latest estimates suggest a figure close to £80,000). Substantive post holder, Joanna Carter, is believed not to have been in post since very early in 2016. There have been two temporary ‘replacements’ variously imported from other PCC’s as acting, or interim, chief executive. Both Simon Dennis and Fraser Sampson, it is fair to say, arrived on the scene with ‘baggage’. Sampson and I clashed, repeatedly, during his tenure at, firstly, the disgraced West Yorkshire Police Authority and, later, the Office of the Police and Commissioner for West Yorkshire.

All questions to the North Yorkshire Commissioner’s office, concerning the absence of Ms Carter, are resolutely stonewalled: Even when they are legally obliged to provide answers, by way of an FOIA request [2b]. An insider has said that questions put by the Panel to the Commissioner, and Sampson, about Ms Carter’s unavailability have been fobbed off (unreported in the minutes it must be said). Another well-placed source says that Ms Carter signed off ill with stress, as a result of a series of disagreements with her ‘high-handed’ employer.

With Sampson now in post until 2019, the presumption is that Joanna Carter is not returning and, quite possibly, in legal dispute with Julia Mulligan. If this is the case, and absence of hard information only fuels speculation, then either a compromise agreement, or Tribunal proceedings, is going to cost the precept payer a mighty sum. Which would, of course, explain the wall of silence around the issue.

These are precisely the issues over which the Panel should be holding the PCC to account but, yet again, the meeting minutes (and Decision Notice) are silent on the fate of Ms Carter, a statutory appointment, and, as such, open to particular scrutiny.

It was a similar situation over the appointment of Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, Will Naylor. It is established, beyond doubt, that Naylor embroidered his employment history and had little, or no, relevant experience in taking on the role. Other than as a Conservative Party policy wonk [3].

There were also serious concerns about the recruitment process for the Deputy role, which had all the appearance of a well-orchestrated sham. The upshot was that, in a rare flexing of scrutiny muscle, the Panel decided that the confirmation of Naylor’s appointment was conditional of sight of a personal development plan, and a six month trial period, after which he would appear before the Panel. Which all sounded fine, until Mrs Mulligan unilaterally decided that the plan wouldn’t be produced after all – and Naylor didn’t appear before the Panel as scheduled to have his capabilities, qualifications, performance further examined [4].

Another scandal to surface very recently, unscrutinised, is the dramatic increase in office costs of the profligate PCC. In one year, ending March 2017, they have risen from £741,000 to £908,000. Over 20%. Which does not include the legal costs referred to above, which are tucked away elsewhere in the accounts. This flies in the face of what Mrs Mulligan told the Panel when the decision to have a Deputy was thrust upon them, unannounced, last September. There has been nothing, whatsoever, noted in the Panel meeting minutes, or any warning given by the PCC, that such a steep rise was on the cards.

NYPCC office costs 2016-17

But the most recent scrutiny fail concerns a remarkable refusal to accept a public question, from myself, at the Panel meeting which took place on 20th July, 2017. This was the question exactly as framed:

Freedom of Information Act compliance
 
(A) Statement
In July and September 2015, in response to a complaint and a public question made by me, these were amongst the submissions made by Joanna Carter, the chief executive at the time.
(i) At page 18 of the complaint response it was said:
“The Commissioner would agree that the FOI performance could improve, and that the quality of answers given on occasion could also improve….”
(ii) At page of the PQT response it was said:
“All FOIA’s, including any relating to this issue (Operations Rome and Hyson) are routinely published on the NYP/NYPCC website”.
Since those answers were provided,
(i) It is evident that not all requests relating to Operation Hyson and Rome were not published on the force disclosure log. Indeed, it is the regular practice of the force to conceal requests that may be perceived as causing reputational damage.
(iv) The force has refused an information request from me to establish the extent of the issue. A matter presently before the Information Commissioner (see attached WhatDoTheyKnow file).
(v) FOIA performance has worsened. To the extent that over 500 requests per annum are finalised unlawfully (See attached FOIA finalisation). That is a quantitative analysis, the figure would be much higher addressed qualitatively. Poor quality finalisations still feature regularly.
(vi) The Information Commissioner has indicated within Tribunal proceedings that the Civil Disclosure Unit are now under a monitoring regime as a result of poor performance (I have requested disclosure from them of more complete details).
(vii) If the oral and written submissions of the police lawyer running the CDU, to both the County Court and the First Tier Tibunal, are to be believed there are now less staff deployed in that Unit, than two years ago.
(viii) The Commissioner and the Chief Constable are both spending substantial amounts of public funds defending civil claims and Tribunal proceedings concerning FOIA where, on their face, the prime motivation is to avoid scrutiny and reputational harm, rather than the preservation of information rights. In the past year that figure, in my own knowledge exceeds £30,000 with the potential for that figure to double in the present financial year.
(B) Question
What steps has the Commissioner taken to:
(i)   Apprise herself of the extent of the non-compliance issues extant within the Civil Discloure Unit?
(ii)  Hold the Chief Constable to account over these long-term, repeated failings to comply with the law and use of public funds?
(iii) Keep the Panel informed?

Firstly, the email sending the question and supporting documents was intercepted and quarantined.

The Panel Secretariat, in the form of the aforementioned Diane Parsons, came back the following day and refused permission to ask the question. She said: “Having consulted the Panel Chair on your submission, I regret that the Panel are therefore unable to take your questions at the meeting this week.  However, I have passed your correspondence and attachments to the OPCC so that they are aware of the concerns you have raised“.

The rationale appeared to be that these were not matters with which the Scrutiny Panel need concern themselves: “To clarify, the purpose of PQT is to enable members of the public who live, work or study in North Yorkshire to engage directly with the Panel and pose questions on its remit and functions.  I have attached, if helpful, a copy of the Panel’s guidelines on PQT.  Any statements or concerns which you feel require the attention of the Commissioner would need to be directed through her office“.

The email from Ms Parsons, unusually, was comprised of three different fonts, and had obviously passed through a number of hands before she was elected as message bearer. The unseen hand of Barry Khan was, no doubt, part of the behind-the-scenes subterfuge.

As a card-carrying member of the press, the residency issue is a non-starter; I have previously posed a question to the same Panel: complaints against the PCC have also been considered by the same Panel; and on any reasonable, independent view the questions I posed met the Panels own guidelines or, even if the Panel felt they did not, modification was a very simple process.

But that, plainly, did not suit the Panel, or its Secretariat’s, purpose. To conceal their own failings as a scrutiny body, yet again, was clearly paramount. There was also what some might view as an unattractive element of childishness implicit within the response – and the intercepting of the email even before it reached the intended recipient. Which rather suggests that North Yorkshire County Council are interfering with my communications.

Following the re-direction of the public questions to the Police Commissioner’s office there has been a deathly silence. Which has also been the case from Deputy Chair of the Panel, Ashley Mason, who was passed full details of the questions prior to the Panel meeting taking place, by a well-known local democracy campaigner. Cllr Mason was rather more loquacious when, as if on cue, another unmitigated 101 disaster befell NYP during the first week of August, 2017 [4a].

This is a story that has some way to run yet as more information is passed to me by a source close to the Panel. This includes the claim, surprising to me at least, that the Panel chair, Cllr Carl Les, and the PCC do not see eye to eye, and that at least one conscripted Panel Member is very reluctant to take on her duties, having been pressed into service following the abrupt departure of another Member last year. A situation that chimes with a number of senior Conservative figures turning on Mrs Mulligan over her ‘crazy’ plans to take control of the North Yorkshire fire service [5].

There are also, it is said, serious frustrations at the PCC’s frequent refusal to provide requested documents, information to the Panel Secretariat. Again, a matter unreported in the minutes. There is also another controversy concerning the minutes as they are sometimes not, according to my source, a true record of what actually transpired at the Panel meetings. That would fit, certainly, with the known modus operandum of Fraser Sampson.

North Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel is, obviously, not a happy ship and needs an rapid overhaul, tip to stern.

The Police Commissioner’s office and the Panel Secretariat have both been approached for comment. Neither acknowledged the request.

Page last updated: Wednesday 2nd August, 2017 at 1745hrs

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[1] Leeds County Court, 21st June, 2017: Judgment of District Judge Joanna Geddes in Jeanine Blamires -v- Local Government Ombudsman

[2] Manchester Evening News, 19th September, 2013: ‘Protester who held three year vigil outside Stockport Town Hall dies

[3] Neil Wilby, 22nd October, 2016: ‘Where there’s a Will there’s a way

[4] Neil Wilby, 23rd November, 2016: ‘Pick of the crop’

[4a] York Press: 4th August, 2017: Police apologise after telling public NOT to call 101

[5] Harrogate Advertiser, 25th July, 2017: ‘Police tsar plan for fire service branded ‘crazy”

© 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.

In the Eye of the storm

In July of last year I wrote a lengthy, forensic piece setting out a list of professional and business failings of a noted public figure in North Yorkshire, Jane Kenyon [1]. The thrust of it was opposition to her upcoming nomination as an Alderman of the Scarborough Council.

It also detailed the ways our respective paths have intersected for over forty years, personally and professionally – and the business dealings of our fathers many years before then. The disgraced Sir Bernard Kenyon had left his role as Clerk to West Riding County Council in 1968 following a Yorkshire Post exposé connected to the infamous John Poulson corruption scandal. My late father was contracts manager for a well known public works contractor at the time.

There have been several articles since in which she has featured, including a shorter, scything piece [2] over her lying in a witness statement in a criminal investigation known as Operation Rome, instigated by North Yorkshire Police with the intention of silencing her critics, who had uncovered an expanding web of her shady expense claims, business dealings and several potential offences under the Localism Act.

Miss Kenyon, as she was known then, was chair of the police authority for over seven years and, plainly, still exercises considerable power over the force. After the Rome investigation, headed up by her friend, DCC Tim Madgwick, had twice failed to persuade the Crown Prosecution Service to charge any of the three suspects with alleged harassment offences, she was able to influence the police sufficiently for them to launch an elaborate and hugely expensive civil claim at Leeds High Court – at the public’s expense. This was styled Operation Hyson.

Interestingly, Madgwick made the seamless transition from Gold Commander on the spectacularly failed Operation Rome to whimpering claimant, and recipient of a huge amount of free legal fees, in Operation Hyson. In which, it was later found that he had produced false evidence in his witness statement to boost his ‘hurt feelings’ claim. A matter over which North Yorkshire Police, and the Police Commissioner, are presently doing everything in their power to sweep under the carpet.

A few months before Rome collapsed and Hyson was launched, Jane Kenyon married her long term partner and fellow shady dealer, Thomas William (Bill) Miller, with whom she had been associated in the business scandals involving, notably, the failed Belvedere Computers (both in California and Scarborough) and Dales Timber companies.

Mrs Kenyon-Miller, as she now styles herself, was “furious” that the CPS had “let her down” by not charging the journalists Tim Hicks and Nigel Ward. Her venom being particularly stinging in the case of the latter, who lives a relatively short distance away from her and is blamed for the loss of her seat as a borough councillor at the 2015 local elections. Conveniently ignoring the fact that fifteen others on the same council also lost their seats.

Curiously absent from the Hyson civil proceedings were any claims by Mrs Kenyon-Miller against Private Eye for harassment, despite there being repeated explicit and implicit attacks on both her morals and integrity by the magazine’s investigative reporters.

It was such similar attacks that formed the main grounds for the Hyson proceedings against Real Whitby (and North Yorks Enquirer) journalists. An injunction, damages and costs were sought against both in the police-funded action. In the event, neither an injunction nor damages was granted against either, no costs were awarded against Mr Hicks and all of Mr Ward’s costs were actually awarded against the police.

At the time of the issue of the Hyson claim, in February 2015, there had been more than sufficient material published in Private Eye to constitute a ‘course of conduct’ as defined by the Protection from Harassment Act, 1997. Two articles would have sufficed. There were three that mentioned her specifically by name, and five others in which inference could be drawn against her by way of her position as Scarborough’s best known councillor, most influential Conservative party member, or the aforementioned position as police authority chair. In some cases, all three. These are the articles, together with a brief synopsis of all eight:

Wooden excuse‘ (August 2012) attacked Jane Kenyon, and her now husband Bill Miller, over the Dales Timber Ltd and Belvedere Computers business collapses and, more crucially, their failures to declare their interests in these companies on council registers. Particularly the former, as Dales Timber was a supplier to councils to which they were elected. The article notes that such registration failures are a criminal offence and can attract a maximum penalty of £5,000 and disqualification from office for up to five years. [PE1]

Double-dipping‘ (September 2012) repeats the register of interests allegations against Jane Kenyon and then piles on the agony with revelations concerning claims for the same expense from two different authorities to which she was elected. One of those being the police authority, no less. [PE2]

Rotten Borough Awards 2012‘ (December 2012) singled out Scarborough Borough Council and the ‘double-dipping’ scandal in their Highly Commended section. This is clearly a reference to Miss Kenyon in an earlier issue. [PE3]

Lisa Majesty‘ (April 2013) Whilst it was Head of Legal Services, Lisa Dixon, that was mentioned by name, the person driving the legal action to close the hated Real Whitby website was none other than the Council’s portfolio holder for Finance, Procurement and Legal, Jane Kenyon. Not mentioned in the article was the fact that a sum of £100,000 of taxpayers’ money was set asisde by Dixon and Kenyon to fund the ‘libel’ action. [PE4]

Rotten Borough Awards 2013‘ (December 2013) saw Scarborough Borough Council singled out as Legal Bullies of the Year on the back of the Lisa Majesty piece. Any libel action was never likely to succeed against Real Whitby, as the articles written about Jane Kenyon and Scarborough Council were all true. [PE5]

Congratulations‘ (February 2014) was a short eulogy about the successes gained by the Real Whitby citizen journalists on their website, and the stories that had been repeated in the Eye, over scandals involving the councils and police force with which Jane Kenyon was closely involved. A BBC Inside Out programme had endorsed the website’s reporting in an episode that was most notable for all of the councils, and the police, not responding to the BBC requests for interviews. The eminently quotable Jane Kenyon was notable by her absence, also. [PE6)

Scarred Borough‘ (May 2014) is a hugely damaging piece for the Kenyon-Millers as it reveals details of what appears to be a palpably false claim for disability benefit made by the able-bodied Bill in 1996. This followed malicious reporting of Real Whitby contributor, Nigel Ward, to the DWP over alleged benefit fraud. The report emanated from someone at Scarborough Town Hall, according to the DWP. Mr Ward was able to quickly, and fully, satisfy the DWP investigator that he was not involved in any fraud. [PE7]

Knacker Foxed‘ (December 2014) is a damning condemnation of Scarborough Conservatives (which must, of course, include their leading light Jane Kenyon) over failure to report suspicions of fellow Conservative councillor Peter Jaconelli‘s widescale abuse of children over a period of decades. The Eye says that ‘half the town now claims to have known what was going on’. [PE8]

The fact is that the Private Eye has not been subject to a single complaint – or application – by Jane Kenyon, Bill Miller, Scarborough Borough Council, North Yorkshire County Council or North Yorkshire Police over any of the articles. Nor, for that matter, have I, over the articles written about the Kenyon-Millers.

The question that follows must be: Will Jane Kenyon-Miller be persuading the police (or the council) to reach for the public purse yet again after another scathing article appeared in the satirical magazine at the end of August, 2016 and, of course, this one?

North Yorkshire Boors‘ is the Eye’s lengthiest effort yet – and much the most damaging for Jane Kenyon and her council and police cronies. The article claims that the total cost to North Yorkshire Police in pursuing what has been an almost entirely fruitless five year campaign against two citizen journalists has been ‘well over £1 million‘. [PE9]

As Private Eye would say, ‘Kerching!’

 

Page last updated on Wednesday 7th September, 2016 at 1025hrs

© 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.

 

 

 

Deceit and subterfuge underpinned PCC’s decision to fund chief’s civil claim

Much has been written elsewhere, almost exclusively by me, concerning the North Yorkshire Police investigations codenamed Operations Rome and Hyson. The satirical magazine Private Eye did, however, break mainstream media ranks and publish an article in the last week of August, 2016 [1].

The Eye piece is a scathing condemnation of the failed criminal investigation (Rome), then the civil action (Hyson), mounted by Dave ‘Knacker’ Jones, North Yorkshire Police’s chief constable, against citizen journalists who were criticising his force.

This latest article of mine looks more closely at the deceit and subterfuge that surrounded the formal decision by Julia Mulligan, the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire, to use a huge amount of public funds to allow three high ranking police officers,  including Jones, one retired detective superintendent and a former Chair of North Yorkshire Police Authority in pursuit of harassment claims against two citizen journalists and a justice campaigner.

The civil court case, which is currently estimated to have cost the taxpayer £450,000 (Private Eye reckons it is higher than that), also featured four members of the Hofschröer family. Three as police funded claimants, Robert, Diane and Martin, and Peter (Robert’s brother) as defendant, with no funding.

It serves no useful purpose to rehearse here the infamous ‘Grandma B‘ campaign, mounted by Peter Hofschröer, over allegations that the other family members involved in the court case deprived his mother Barbara of the family home in Acomb, York with nefarious motive. My single contribution to this wholly unsatisfactory affair is to say that, on the face of the documents and evidence I have access to (which is not all of them, of course), the police picked the wrong side in the argument over the alleged property fraud.

The presence of Hofschröer family members on opposing sides of the claim gives the whole matter the bizarre feel of a family dispute gone terribly wrong. Whereas, the real motivation behind the civil claim was, say Private Eye, to silence the police force’s critics, once and for all. The Hofschröer family dispute just provided a convenient ‘cover story’ for that principal aim.

One of the many extraordinary aspects of the Hyson civil claim is that it was launched two months after Peter Hofschröer was arrested and held on remand, with no access to legal advice or his paper or electronic files. He has not been at liberty since and was convicted at Teesside Crown Court in July 2016 on indecent image charges [2].

Hofschröer now faces Part 1 extradition proceedings by the Austrian authorities at a Westminster Magistrates Court hearing listed for 15th September, 2016 on charges relating to stalking, child pornography and defamation under sections 107, 207 and 297 of the Austrian criminal code. It is also reported that he is appealing the paedophilia conviction, although how that could be grounded is not entirely clear, given that the trial was conducted by one of the North East Circuit’s longest serving judges, HHJ Tony Briggs QC.

The net effect of all this, as far as the police, and the rest of the Hofschröer family is concerned, is that none of the offensive articles about which they complained have yet been removed from the internet, nine months after an injunction prohibited their publication – and the likelihood of ever collecting the costs awarded against Peter Hofschröer are almost non-existant.

Put shortly, and given his continued incarceration over the criminal matters, the civil claim against him was a complete waste of time and money.

Which brings us to the decision to spend a vast amount of public money, made by the PCC and published on her website [3], some twelve months after she was required to do so, by law.

Despite being asked a number of times the PCC refuses to explain the delay between the first of the lawyers’ Hyson invoices pouring in (July 2015) and the Decision Note being put up, unannounced, on her website fifteen months later. What follows in this article will go a long way to unlocking that mystery.

To facilitate this analysis, the text of the formal Decision Note dated 29th September, 2015 is taken verbatim from the NYPCC website and highlighted below in blue. My comments, grounded mainly in responses to correspondence with the police and the PCC’s office, freedom of information request finalisations and public accounts access disclosures, are in black type beneath each section.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 13.50.10

Executive Summary and Recommendation

The Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) is ultimately responsible for representing the public in all matters, as well as overseeing  the policing budget to ensure good value for money for the taxpayer.

Many would submit, along with myself, that allocating around £50,000 each in free legal fees to the Chief Constable, Deputy Chief Constable and the Head of Uniformed Services (whose combined total salaries of around £340,000 per annum plus benefits totalling another £60,000pa ) would not pass any known Value For Money test.

It should also be said that, in my extensive investigative experience, the PCC in North Yorkshire puts her unquestioning support of the police – and particularly Dave Jones – well ahead of any representation of the interests of the public. 

This Decision Notice will demonstrate that the PCC is holding the Chief Constable to account by monitoring the financial support of a specific case which is currently a matter of ongoing civil proceedings.

The one significant feature of the PCC’s tenure has been her complete failure to hold the Chief Constable to account. This was a key strand of argument from those opposing her in the PCC elections in May 2016, when Julia Mulligan was elected on a much reduced majority. The shambles surrounding this Decision Notice is a further example of that.

The PCC is satisfied that supporting the action by individuals is a lawful and proportionate use of public money and is in line with her priority of supporting victims and ensuring an efficient and effective police service. This Decision Notice will explain the scrutiny process.

In the Hofschröer case there has been one victim who stands out above all others: Disabled World War 2 veteran, Barbara Hofschröer, who was displaced from her home and now languishes in a council run care home, cut off from her chosen carer. Whilst no right thinking person could condone the appalling manner in which the campaign for justice for Grandma B (as Barbara is widely known) was run by her son and carer, Peter, at the heart of this issue is a grave miscarriage of justice.

In order to be as open and transparent as possible, the PCC publishes all Decision Notices so they are available to the press and the public.  This happens whenever a decision is in the public interest, of which there are several tests. In addition, the PCC expects the Chief Constable (CC) to draw to her attention issues which (amongst other things) are sensitive, contentious, novel or repercussive or where there is a real risk that the Commissioner or Chief Constable could be exposed to public criticism.

This Decision Notice was only published after considerable pressure was brought to bear by me, both via social media and a complaint to the Police Scrutiny Panel. Almost a full year after the PCC was legally obliged to do so.

In making this decision publicly and formally, through a published Decision Notice, the PCC will demonstrate that:

  • She is holding the Chief Constable to account by monitoring the financial support provided to a specific legal case, which is in the public interest

On any reasonable view it is difficult to see how the public interest is satisfied by granting huge benefits, by way of free legal fees, to very highly paid senior police officers over ‘hurt feelings’.

  • She is satisfied that supporting the action is a lawful and proportionate use of public money in line with her priority of supporting victims, and is in the best interests of the public purse

There are thousands of victims of serious crime in North Yorkshire who have received no financial support, whatsoever, from either the state in general, or North Yorkshire Police in particular. To allocate huge sums of money to alleged victims of harassment without violence is preposterous. Away from North Yorkshire, I draw the stark example of the families of the twenty-one victims of the Birmingham pub bombings who are desperately seeking public funding for legal representation at the new inquests. They have, so far, been refused legal aid and an appeal direct to the Home Secretary has been made. Perhaps they might get  more joy from Julia Mulligan?

She is upholding her commitment to being open and transparent.

The repeated use of the expression ‘open and transparent’ is troubling (they are underlined for emphasis). It has been proven beyond any doubt, whatsoever, that the PCC’s office is anything but. To the extent that Julia Mulligan is due to appear in Huddersfield County Court on 11th October, 2016 over her persistent breaches of Data Protection and Freedom of Information Acts. Much of the withheld information that forms the grounds for my claim concerns Operations Rome and Hyson.

1. Introduction and Background

Over the last seven years an individual has been involved in a complex family dispute.  Some of the allegations made have been investigated for possible criminal offences.  During the course of the investigation, members of the public and several professionals involved in the case, including former and serving police officers, have sustained alleged harassment.  The alleged harassment has included an amount of comment about their personal integrity and has been experienced through correspondence with the force and the Office of the PCC (OPCC), in formal complaints and on various social media outlets including websites and blogs.

The individual concerned was Peter Hofschröer. In an ‘open and transparent’ Decision Notice it seems odd that he has not been named. Six months after court proceedings were opened in a public hearing. Similarly, the websites referred to were Real Whitby and the North Yorks Enquirer. The blog in question was the previously mentioned Grandma B.

Criticism of North Yorkshire Police is of course accepted as fair comment and complaints are dealt with in accordance with procedures.  North Yorkshire Police strives to encourage engagement and debate with the public it serves, and in no way seeks to “close down” legitimate criticism that is helpful in improving the service response.  However, some of the comments have been so personal as to have affected the health of some of the recipients.  Police officers are used to dealing with difficult situations, they have broad shoulders and they are certainly not above criticism. 

There can be few, if any, other public bodies that are as sensitive to any criticism as North Yorkshire Police. It only encourages debate if they are able to control the agenda. Similarly, if the force is tackled on any area where their service falls below the required standard they are simply not interested in engaging with those who highlight shortcomings.

Similarly, the assertion that complaints about NYP officers are dealt with according to procedures is risible. A growing portfolio of cases to which I now have access has proved, beyond any doubt, that abuse of the complaints system by the force is on an industrial scale.

There has however been years of unwarranted harmful personal abuse that has tied up police time.  If the behaviour had been physical then there may have been a variety of different solutions to stop the behaviour and the Chief Constable has a statutory Duty of Care to look after the health and safety of his employees no matter how any distress is caused. Along with the health and safety of individuals, the effectiveness and efficiency of the police service is paramount and must be protected.  Over a considerable period of time the contact of individuals has impacted greatly on police resources in a way that is not sustainable.

The three officers concerned here are Chief Constable Jones, Deputy Chief Constable Tim Madgwick and Chief Superintendent Lisa Winward (since promoted to Assistant Chief Constable). The harassment, according to the claim’s particulars and their own witness evidence, comprised of emails and articles on two websites. It is very doubtful that the two chief officers saw the emails and even more doubtful that they read the articles on what are two niche websites. Indeed, the pleadings made it clear that a lot of the ‘harassment’ complained of required a Google search by a team of expensive lawyers, working on their behalf, building a case.

The Chief Constable took the decision to proceed based on clear advice from a leading Barrister.  Based on that advice, the Chief Constable took the view that civil litigation was a necessary step to exercise his duty of care to members of his own organisation and to protect members of the public.

The leading barrister is Simon Myerson QC, who had also been advising on the spectacularly failed criminal investigation, Operation Rome. It is unclear why, in an ‘open and transparent’ Decision Notice why such a high profile lawyer would not be named. He had already appeared in court in the matter twice by the time the Decision Notice was published.

The decision by the Chief Constable to fund legal action to support individuals – both former and serving officers, and others connected with the case – attempting to prevent further alleged harassment was considered at great length.  Legal advice was proactively sought. 

Alongside that formal legal advice, both the PCC’s and Chief Constable’s Chief Finance Officers were consulted and provided their professional opinion.  Financial regulations were also checked. 

The External Auditors have also scrutinised the rationale and confirmed that North Yorkshire Police has the powers to undertake the actions that it has.

An employer has a statutory duty of care to the employees of the organisation.  Responsibilities include matters of health and safety and well-being.  Supporting this case seeks to addresses this.  Along with this duty on the employer there is a legal power and duty upon the PCC to maintain an efficient and effective police force for the area.  Supporting this action seeks to contribute to this in relation to the significant time and resource that has already been spent on this matter.

As is often the case in legal proceedings, most of the cost is frontloaded as evidence has had to be filed at the beginning.  This Decision Notice is being considered before the proceedings move towards any possible further hearings.

Two hearings had already taken place at Leeds High Court and a third hearing was already listed, before the Decision Notice was published. On 9th February, 2105; 25th June, 2015.  and 27th November, 2015 respectively

The position at this time is that the defendants can now decide whether to contest the case brought.  If they do so, a final hearing timetabled by the Judge would then be required.  It is of course hoped that a lengthy hearing can be avoided by the defendants agreeing to proposals made.

By the time the Decision Notice was issued it was clear that the two journalists were not going to go down without a fight and that a lengthy and costly legal battle was inevitable.

The final cost of the civil case will depend at what stage the case is finalised. Any early settlement will avoid a contested final hearing.  So far (to the date of this report), external legal advice and representation in the civil proceedings has cost £162,406. Most of the cost is frontloaded in this type of proceedings, as evidence has had to be filed at the beginning.

An estimate for the anticipated costs was made before the start of the proceedings and was estimated at around £202,000.  This is set against the cost of over £400,000 which the matter had already cost the force in dealing with the activities of those against whom the civil claim is made.  There was no apparent end to the case without positive action and other solutions had already been exhausted, which was a key factor in determining the course of action through the civil court.

It must have also been clear at that time that the estimate for the legal costs was going to be well in excess of the £202,000 estimate referred to in the Notice. The claim of £400,000 being the cost of dealing with the ‘activities’ of the defendants has been proved beyond any doubt to be far-fetched in a highly forensic article I wrote on the subject earlier this year. Read ‘409,970 reasons not to trust North Yorkshire Police’ [4].

In addition, the victims of the alleged harassment need to be able to seek relief from the alleged harassment they have felt and the PCC felt it appropriate to support them as victims in these proceedings.

A freedom of information request has been submitted to the PCC’s office to establish how money other victims of crime have been granted access to police funds to pursue civil claims.

2. Other Options Considered

It is for the Court to find, on consideration of evidence put before it, whether the issues and behaviour concerned have amounted to legal harassment of the individuals concerned. However, North Yorkshire Police felt obligated to take positive action to try to protect its staff.  Therefore it was decided to support the officers to commence civil proceedings as individuals.  In addition, as all solutions in the criminal arena had been exhausted for other claimants, a decision was taken to combine all actions of all individuals concerned from the start.  This was considered to be the most operationally and administratively effective solution saving both financially and court time (and therefore further public money) to combine all actions of the individuals concerned from the start.  It is hoped that the final outcome will reduce the distress felt by all those party to the action.

Citizen journalist Nigel Ward was included in the action despite none of the police officers (serving or retired) having any evidence against him, whatsoever. The Hofschröer family and their social worker had none either. That meant eight of the nine claimants had nothing against Mr Ward. Yet, the police officers held him in the claim until June, 2016 before discontinuing their claims and agreeing to pay Mr Ward’s costs. At the final hearing, Mr Ward was also awarded his costs against the ninth claimant, Jane Kenyon-Miller. This is likely to add over £100,000 to the police bill and raises huge public interest and misfeasance questions about the funding, by the police, of an action that, in the end, amounted to a wealthy public figure trying to crush a penniless pensioner into silence over her dodgy business dealings.

3. Contribution to Police and Crime Plan Priorities

The action supports the Policing Priorities in the Police and Crime Plan.

This statement is a nonsense. There is nothing at all in the Plan that supports senior police officers being granted huge sums of public money to pursue journalists over alleged harassment. Especially, after the CPS had twice ruled against the police on charging decisions over those same allegations.

4. Implementation and Resourcing Implications

The proceedings will continue in line with Directions made by the Court and regular meetings will be held to monitor progress and plan for different outcomes depending on any Orders or Judgment.

A freedom of information request has been made concerning the notes of those meetings. The decision to proceed to trial in a one versus one situation was very high risk for the police – and so it proved. The officers involved in that decision should be named and shamed.

5. Consultations Carried Out

Professional consideration and advice has been provided by: 

Department
Office of the PCC
Financial Services
Local Policing
Human Resources
Joint Corporate Legal Services
Corporate Communications

 5. Compliance Checks

Financial Implications/Value for money: 

Comments of the Commissioner’s Chief Finance Officer
Prior to any expenditure being undertaken on the work to support funding this case the PCC CFO and CC CFO were consulted and their authorisation sought to spend public money in the way proposed. As PCC CFO, and therefore advisor to the PCC on financial matters, it was my opinion at the time, and continues to be my opinion that the organisation has the ‘power’ to incur expenditure in this way based on 2 reasons from a financial perspective.

This is patently untrue. Work was in train on Hyson as soon as Rome ended in July, 2014. The earliest recorded discussions taking place over funding was three months later, in October 2014. There are also significant breaches that have been exposed, by freedom of information requests,  over procurement regulations in force. Solicitors and barristers were awarded contracts for over £200,000 without any tendering protocol being observed. Requests for sight of the Single Tender Access documents, upon which the police later relied as an explanation, have fallen on stony ground.

The first reason is that an employer has a statutory duty of care to their staff in matters of health and safety and well-being, which is something that supporting this case looked to address. The second reason is that the PCC has a legal power and duty to maintain an efficient and effective police force for the police area. Given the amount of time and resources that has been spent on this matter previously, an estimate of which is set out within this Decision Note, then to protect the effectiveness and efficiency of the Force and to enable scare resources to be directed to the most appropriate areas of policing then the power exists to spend the money in the way outlined within this Decision Note.

It has been demonstrated beyond any doubt that the figure of £400,000 relied upon for expenditure on Operation Rome – and used as justifaction for spending £200,000 on Hyson – was largely an invention.

As mentioned elsewhere, legal advice has been sought and received in relation to the power of the organisation to spend public money in this way which supports the views of the statutory officers employed by the PCC and CC. In addition to this the External Auditors for North Yorkshire Police and the PCC have looked separately into this matter, to satisfy themselves that the organisation had the power to spend the public’s money in this way. While their formal opinion has not been received on the 2014/15 Statement of Accounts it has been communicated that they are satisfied that the ‘powers’ that the organisation has relied upon to incur this expenditure are lawful.

The External Auditors, Mazars, were not even aware of Operation Hyson until I raised it with North Yorkshire Police during the public accounts access period in July, 2015. Exactly a year after the first invoice connected to Hyson was raised by Simon Myerson QC. Mazars have not produced any evidence of independent legal opinion concerning the lawful ‘powers’ of a chief constable authorising himself £50,000 of free legal fees.

Comments of the Chief Constable’s Chief Finance Officer
I am in full agreement with the remarks made by the Commissioners Chief Finance Officer. 

I have submitted a freedom of information request to North Yorkshire Police seeking all meeting, briefing notes, internal and external emails connected to the decision (and the rationale behind it) by the force (and the PCC) to fund the civil action.

Legal Implications:
External expert legal advice has been sought (which is legally privileged) and there has been significant consideration of the ‘vires’ (lawful power) to use public money to support the funding of this case.  The T/Force Solicitor and Head of Legal Services is satisfied that this report does not ask the PCC for North Yorkshire to make a decision which would (or would be likely to) give rise to a contravention of the law.

It has been proved conclusively, by me, that the PCC received no independent legal advice concerning ‘vires’ – and none was ever sought. At first, Force Solicitor, Jane Wintermeyer, falsely claimed to me, in writing, that legal opinion had been sought on 13th January, 2015. She later retreated from that position and said the opinion was given in conference with Simon Myerson QC on 15th October, 2014. Myerson has never been instucted by the PCC on this (or any other) issue – and neither has any other solicitor or barrister according to a freedom of information response.

Human Resources Implications:
Welfare provision has been considered throughout in relation to those directly affected, due to the duration of this case, ongoing assessments should continue as part of our duty of care as an employer.

No medical evidence was adduced at any stage in the claim to support the proposition that the three serving police officers have been affected in a way, beyond hurt feelings, that would justify the spending of public funds to the tune of £450,000.

Public Access to information
As a general principle, the Commissioner expects to be able to publish all decisions taken and all matters taken into account when reaching the decision.  This Notice will detail all information which the Commissioner will disclose into the public domain.  The decision and information will be made available on the Commissioner’s website.

This is patently untrue. This was a Decision Notice that should have been published in October, 2014 when the decision was allegedly made to dip into the public purse to fund this legal free-for-all. It was admitted to me, in writing, by the North Yorkshire Police Force Solicitor that there was no intention to publish a Decision Notice about this grotesque waste of public money without a formal complaint being made to the Police and Crime Scrutiny Panel concerning its absence. The failure to publish placed the PCC in breach of The Elected Local Policing Bodies (Specified Information) Order 2011.

In summary, it can now be seen that this Decision Note was a lame attempt to cover over a number of defects in due process and slack accounting procedures at the very least.

During my investigations into the Hyson case I have been variously and regularly been obstructed, lied to, smeared and even threatened with legal action by either the Force Solicitor, or those working on her behalf.

The Chief Financial Officer failed to comply with her disclosure obligations under the during the public accounts inspection in 2015.

The ‘open and transparent’ Police Commissioner consistently refused to answer questions over the funding – or even whether she had read the particulars of claim or statement of case – during proceedings by citing potential prejudice. Then, incredibly, airily dismissed fifteen public interest questions put to her in an open letter published on both this and the North Yorks Enquirer websites [5]. She went further and, incredibly, asked me not to repeat that costs had been awarded against Jane Kenyon-Miller and the other eight claimants. Nothwithstanding the fact that I was in court when the draft orders to that effect were agreed between counsel for the parties and nodded through by the presiding judge.

It is not known, as yet, whether, Mrs Mulligan and ‘Knacker’ as the satirical irreverently refer to her chief constable will be suing Private Eye over the article. Using public funds, of course.

This is a story that still has some way to run and if those officials, elected or employed, who have treated both the public and the law with utter contempt may well find that their seeming sense of invincibility will be shattered in a way they might not have considered possible. A study of section 6(1) of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 might well be prescriptive.

 

Annotations

[1] Private Eye, August 2016: ‘Police 5 – North Yorkshire Boors’.

[2] York Press, 11th July, 2016: ‘Historian who had 36,000 indecent images gets two and a half years’

[3] North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, 29th September, 2015: ‘Decision Notice 011/2015 – Formal support and explanation from the Police and Crime Commissioner regarding funding of ongoing civil litigation action (sic) to protect officers and members of the public against alleged personal harassment’.

[4] Neil Wilby, 20th March, 2016: ‘409,970 reasons not to trust North Yorkshire Police’

[5] Neil Wilby, 29th July, 2016: ‘Open letter to Julia Mulligan’

Page last updated on Monday 5th September, 2016 at 0845hrs

© 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.

There are more questions than answers

So goes the 1970’s song by reggae artiste, Johnny Nash, from his iconic, chart-topping album ‘I Can See Clearly Now’. And so it is with my dealings with the slightly less famous Julia Mulligan, North Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner. Who is now recognisable to at least 10% of the populace at the rural end of God’s Own County.

For the past eighteen months, Julia has ducked my every question over the funding and conduct of a controversial civil harassment claim, brought by the police force to which she was elected to provide oversight. Indeed, her reputation as a ‘question dodger’ extends far beyond my own domain. Even the nodding placemen on the local Police and Crime Scrutiny Panel have admonished her over poor community engagement.

But, back to the matter in hand. Her reasoning was that by commenting on the court case it might prejudice proceedings. Which, actually, has little merit given that it was heard by a very experienced single judge sitting firstly in the High Court and, latterly, in the County Court in Leeds.

If ever a day comes when His Honour Judge Gosnell is influenced by anything said outside of his courtroom that is exactly the moment when the sky falls in on the entire civil justice system.

On 29th July, 2016, three days after the case concluded at a final hearing, I posted an open letter on this website which posed fifteen public interest questions about the case, the way  it had been handled, the conduct of Julia’s two most senior police officers and, of course, the funding. That letter can be read here in full. It is by no means an exhaustive list and there at least as many more yet to be posed.

On the same day, I emailed Julia’s Chief of Staff, Will Naylor, and invited a response from the Commissioner. With a promise that an appropriate reply to the questions would be published in full.

What was provided, almost exactly a week later, could scarcely be described as adequate. Or, in any way appropriate, in the present circumstances.

Indeed, the letter has been passed to my solicitors for appraisal. As to publish it may well be defamatory of well known Whitby citizen journalist, Nigel Ward. It is understood that Mr Ward has also passed the letter to his own solicitors, who will be seeking clarification over some of the remarks made by the disengaged Commissioner. Particularly, as Julia contends that Mr Ward has ‘harassed’ some of the claimants, which is not the finding of the court. She has also made what appear to be similarly misinformed comments concerning the matter of costs that have been ordered, by the court, against the claimants.

I have the overwhelming advantage over the Commissioner by not only being in court for every hearing of this case except the first (when I was ill) but also having read, with appropriate care, all the relevant court pleadings and orders.

There are also concerning references in her letter to my ‘close’ association with the three defendants in the civil claim. This is the latest in a lengthening number of attempts to smear me, by association with Grandma B campaigner and military historian, Peter Hofschröer, who was recently sentenced at Teesside Crown Court to two and a half years in prison over thousands of indecent images found on computer equipment connected to him (read York Evening Press coverage here).

The plain facts are: I have never met Mr Hofschröer; never spoken to him on the telephone; and never emailed him, as far as I can trace. The only time I have ever seen him is when he has twice given evidence, via video link from HMP Hull, whilst I have been sat on the press benches in Court 19 at Leeds Combined Court Centre.

It matters little – and I certainly didn’t scream ‘harassment’ – that Mr Hofschröer has also been abusive towards me in open forum. Simply because I wouldn’t assist in his campaign. That is not to say that the Grandma B crusade was without merit. It certainly raises many questions about the conduct of a number of NYP officers, but it was the manner in which the campaign was being handled that caused me deep concern. A view shared by everyone else I represented at the time, as police complaints advocate.

My friendship with Nigel Ward is not a secret. I respect him as a courteous and helpful man, and a relentless warrior in the battle against public sector misconduct and criminality in his local area. Interestingly, he has just registered another notable success against the notorious Scarborough Borough Council over the ‘whitewash’ of yet more corruption within that ‘Rotten Borough’, part of which entailed the victimisation of a whistleblower.

All this came to light this week in Employment Tribunal proceedings in Hull, before Judge Humphrey Forrest, in a case that saw whistleblower, Ben Marriott, succeed in his claim against the Council. North Yorkshire Police are very tightly aligned with Scarborough Borough Council and the latest corruption exposure will not have gone down well with the boys in blue who, on past experience, will be happy to look the other way.

As far as the third claimant goes, I have not spoken to, or heard from, Luxembourg-based Tim Hicks via email or phone since May, 2016 and have met him just the once, apparently surveilled by North Yorkshire Police, at the Hilton Hotel in Leeds in February, 2015. I discovered that Mr Hicks claim with NYP had reached a compromised settlement at the end of June, via my own enquiries and sources. Not from him. That is entirely his prerogative, of course, but scarcely supports the PCC’s assertion that we are ‘close’.

Turning now to the fifteen questions that were asked of Julia Mulligan in the open letter. They can be usefully grouped together so that it is easy to see just what the Police and Crime Commissioner wants to bury out of public sight:

Operation Rome

Questions 1,2,3 and 4 all concerned the ill-starred criminal investigation that sought to prosecute Messrs Hicks, Hofschröer and Ward for harassment. The whole episode has been shrouded in deceit and my questions essentially sought to identify the senior officer driving it and publication of the investigation report. If, as Julia has consistently maintained, £409,970 was spent by North Yorkshire Police then the public are entitled to see what they got for their money.

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 12.31.30

In her letter, Julia makes no reference whatsoever to Operation Rome and does not address ANY of the questions, let alone provide the answers.

Much more background on Operation Rome can be found in earlier articles by me here and here.

Operation Hyson

Questions 5,6,7 and 8 (part) all concerned Operation Hyson. The codename given by North Yorkshire Police to the civil harassment claim. All four questions are not only ignored by Julia in her reply she doesn’t rate Operation Hyson worthy of mention. The pointed question as to how much she, herself, knew about the civil action is, of course, ducked as well. Just as she ducked the same question repeatedly throughout the proceedings.

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 12.33.33

The public, quite rightly, expect their elected representative to not only know about key issues affecting finance and performance of the police force serving their constituency, but to report on them openly and honestly as well and where necessary challenge them.

Much more on Hyson can be read here and here.

Finance and budget

Questions 8 (part), 9, 10 and 11 all concern public funding with particular focus on the grotesque sums allocated to Julia’s Conservative Party crony, Jane Kenyon-Miller, whose evidence against Nigel Ward in both the civil claim and the failed criminal prosecution before it, left a great deal to be desired and appeared, on its face, highly vulnerable to forensic cross-examination.

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 12.35.06

In her letter, Julia makes no reference whatsoever to the financing of the claim, except a vague threat about me not repeating that costs had been awarded against the claimants. In short, she does not address ANY of these four questions, let alone provide the answers.

Misconduct matters

Questions 12, 13, 14 and 15 all concern alleged misconduct by her most senior officers. The matters cited in the questions are well evidenced and would not have been introduced in a public forum, otherwise. Julia has, not only a duty as the elected policing representative to deal openly and effectively with these issues, but a statutory duty as well. One in which, she has performed less than satisfactorily of late, and her reply to my open letter leaves the very strong impression that she is perfectly prepared to tolerate any sort of behaviour from the senior ranks of North Yorkshire Police, provided their, and her, reputation doesn’t get damaged in the process.

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 12.36.40

Having not answered one single question out of fifteen, Julia signs off her letter by imploring that I do not challenge her again on the subject of Operations Hyson and Rome. She doesn’t want any more well-founded journalist’s questions about her senior officers making false statements in court proceedings, scandalous frittering away of public funds, and cronyism.

This, from a Police and Crime Commissioner who freely, and persistently, proclaims that she is ‘open and transparent‘ in everything she does. Readers of this article are invited to form their own view on that. They may even be minded to hum, or sing, Johnny Nash’s ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ whilst musing on that question.

In the meantime, I will conduct further, legitimate enquiries in order to winkle out the answers that so many in North Yorkshire are keen to learn. This will include another round of freedom of information requests, involving further needless expense both to me, and to North Yorkshire Police.

It is, of course, also my prerogative (or that of anyone else) to ask public questions at successive ‘open and transparent’ North Yorkshire Police Scrutiny Board meetings over the next year or so. Or, who knows, some bright spark may ask all fifteen at once?

All because the public’s elected policing representative can’t face unpalatable truths about the way her own staff, and the police force she monitors, go about their work.

 

Page last updated: Saturday 6th August, 2016 at 1945hrs

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Open letter to North Yorkshire Police & Crime Commissioner, Julia Mulligan

PCC-Julia-Mulligan-3

Dear Julia

We have met twice over the past two years and conducted discussions amicably on topics connected with your role as Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire and the City of York.

Particularly, related to the oversight of the Chief Constable that forms one of the three core strands of responsibility of a Police Commissioner. The other two being, of course, firstly, setting a budget and, secondly, agreeing a Policing Plan with the force.

I write to you in connection with the recently concluded Operation Hyson, and its predecessor investigation, Operation Rome, which engages two of those key strands, oversight and budget, and remind you that the ground upon which you persistently stonewalled any previous questions – ‘it may prejudice an on-going legal case’ – has now fallen away.

The following public interest questions, therefore, are now put to you in open letter and you are most cordially invited to respond in the same manner.

 

  1. When you were elected in November 2012, were you made aware by the Chief Constable of the attempts by North Yorkshire Police to silence two citizen journalists via criminal prosecution by way of Operation Rome?

 

  1. Did you know that one of the two journalists, Nigel Ward, was not contacted by police, even once, during a two-year investigation into the allegations of harassment?

 

  1. Will you please publish the Operation Rome investigation report (suitably redacted to protect personal information) in the interests of openness and transparency?

 

  1. Who was the driving force within NYP for those failed prosecution attempts?

 

  1. Was that same officer the lead for converting an inept and, ultimately, failed criminal investigation into a publicly-funded civil court claim?

 

  1. Did you ever read the pleadings in the civil court case and satisfy yourself that the inclusion of Nigel Ward in the claim was merited on the evidence?

 

  1. I have asked you repeatedly if you had read the papers but you claimed it would prejudice the case if you answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Do you stand by that as a credible rationale, bearing in mind this was a civil court claim heard before a single (very senior) judge?

 

  1. Eight claimants, including CC Jones, DCC Madgwick, C/Supt (now ACC) Winward, held Mr Ward in the claim until only one month before the trial despite having no evidence, whatsoever, against him. Will you be holding CC Jones to account over this conduct and, particularly, the grotesque waste of public money as once costs issues are resolved – either between the parties or by the court – it is very likely to mean a further significant drain on police funds?

 

  1. Whilst the matter of costs is also still extant in the case of the ninth claimant, your long term political ally Jane Kenyon-Miller, these are likely to be very substantial – and another scandalous waste of public money. Will you also be holding the Chief Constable (or Acting Chief Constable as the case may be) to account over the decision to take the matter to a final hearing on 26th July, 2016 (from which I reported), against the judge’s specific advice at an earlier hearing on 7th July, 2016 (at which I was also present) for both parties to seek a compromised settlement?

 

  1. Will you be holding the Chief Constable to account over the fact that he was funding no less than seven lawyers, including a QC, to be present at the final hearing (albeit two of those were trainee solicitors) representing Jane Kenyon-Miller, a member of the public, in what was, after all, an uncomplicated County Court claim between two members of the public?

 

  1. Please explain your rationale for continuing to sanction the Acting Chief Constable’s public funding of Mrs Kenyon-Miller, an independently wealthy individual, in her claim against Mr Ward, a penniless pensioner, after the other eight Operation Hyson claimants (including the Acting Chief Constable himself) had, belatedly, discontinued their claims?

 

  1. Please also explain your rationale for sanctioning the spending by A/CC Madgwick of what may well be around £20,000 of public money on a failed, largely misconceived application hearing held on 7th July, 2016 at which (i) permission was sought to access emails and text messages of Mr Ward and myself (ii) criminalise myself and Mr Ward over alleged contempt of court?

 

  1. Will you be holding Acting Chief Constable Madgwick fully to account over the false evidence he gave in his witness statement in the civil claim – and the manner in which he conducted himself when publicly challenged over some of it?

 

  1. Will you be holding your own employee, Temporary Force Solicitor Jane Wintermeyer, similarly to account over why significant parts of her witness evidence concerning Mr Ward were palpably false, the rest of it concerning Mr Ward of little apparent evidential value?

 

  1. Finally, will you be holding the Chief Constable to account over the smears he caused to be published against Mr Ward in local and regional newspapers suggesting that he – in concert with the two other defendants – persistently harassed ALL nine of the claimants in a most unpleasant manner? The finding of the court is that he has not harassed ANY of the claimants.

 

I look forward to your response.

Kind regards

 

Neil Wilby

 

 

Page last updated: Saturday 30th July, 2016 at 1015hrs

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Photo credit: NYPCC

The Day of Reckoning

The civil harassment claim originally known as Hofschröer and others -v- Hofschröer and others finally reached its conclusion on 26th July, 2016.

Launched and funded by North Yorkshire Police in January 2015, under the codename Operation Hyson, it originally featured nine claimants and three defendants. One of the defendants, Peter Hofschröer, had judgment entered against him in November, 2015 and another, Timothy Hicks, reached a compromised settlement last month.

The last two remaining protagonists were former police authority Chair, Jane Kenyon-Miller, and well known citizen journalist, Nigel Ward. Mrs Kenyon-Miller who was represented by Simon Myerson QC and junior barrister, Hannah Lynch, sought a declaration from the court that Mr Ward, represented by well known London-based human rights barrister Ian Brownhill, had harassed her – and relief by way of a wide-ranging injunction which will include the removal of articles written about her from two internet news websites to which Mr Ward has contributed.

The trial was heard before HHJ Mark Gosnell, who is the senior civil court judge for both the Leeds and Bradford court centres. It was listed for two full days in Leeds County Court, although there was always doubt as to whether it would go the full distance. There were just three witnesses due to give evidence: Mrs Kenyon-Miller, Mr Ward and NYP Force Solicitor, Jane Wintermeyer.

Mr Myerson in his opening address appeared to confirm the likelihood of an early finish, as he set out a trial timetable. Mrs Wintermeyer was not mentioned in the schedule to appear in the witness box.

HHJ Gosnell responded by saying that he maintained the view underscored at a recent application hearing that this matter really ought to have been settled by amicable resolution and he questioned why a two day trial, to resolve what he described as relatively narrow issues, was actually necessary. His Honour referred, particularly, to arguments advanced by Mr Brownhill in his skeleton which posited the question: if the issue over injunction failed then the remaining harassment claim was entirely disproportionate.

Against this background, Mr Myerson rather surprisingly told the court that ‘the reality is that resolution (from his client’s point of view) is not possible‘.

He was interrupted by the judge who told the court he was quite frustrated by this situation and enquired as to the sticking point between the parties, such that they might be discussed in open court without prejudicing the trial if, in fact, it proceeded. With a smile, he said ‘I’m an experienced judge, with many years on the bench, and in the old days I would have invited counsel into my chambers and banged heads together‘. He did, however, stress the need for transparency in a trial in which so many were interested in its outcome.

Mr Myerson and Mr Brownhill then both agreed that legal privilege could be waived and that it would not, later, affect HHJ Gosnell’s ability to try the matter if negotiations to settle the claim failed.

The judge then asked the question, more generally: ‘Why are we all here?’

He mused that the alleged harassment matters took seed some years ago and he was persuaded that the two factions started off with good intentions. But his overriding view was that a settlement should be possible and that any costs issues shouldn’t stand in the way of that.

Both counsel then accepted the judge’s invitation to ‘spend half an hour kicking ideas around‘ in his chambers. He felt that a little ‘judicial encouragement‘ might be prescriptive in all the circumstances of the case. Court was, accordingly, adjourned at 10.50am.

Following a 66 minute adjournment the court resumed sitting at 11.56am. A draft consent order has been agreed between the parties. Mr Myerson’s tightly drawn assertion that ‘resolution is not possible’ had taken just over an hour to unravel.

The terms, essentially, are that certain articles will be taken down from the North Yorkshire Enquirer website, the Real Whitby website will be approached to take down some others, although there is no guarantee that the Editor of the latter website will agree – and Mr Ward will not write further about Mrs Kenyon-Miller for a period of two years, or unless she returns to public life.

Mr Myerson stated that it was accepted on all sides that Mrs Kenyon-Miller was an Alderman and such status would not affect the undertaking but, oddly, excluded mention of other roles that suggest that she has not, in fact, left public life at all.

For example, it is well known that she is still a leading light in the organisation of Whitby Regatta (see here), an event that has dominated the social and tourist calendar in the seaside town for over a century; a Governor at Caedmon College in Whitby (see here) and a Director of the Whitby Fishing Industry Training School (see here). She is also still the ‘go-to’ spokesperson for the local press on policing matters as this Scarborough News article bears testimony (read here).

Interestingly, the above article in which she is quoted extensively, was published nine months after Mrs Kenyon-Miller issued proceedings against Mr Ward.

There is, most probably, an innocent explanation as to these omissions as Mr Myerson (or his client) would, surely, not wish to deliberately mislead the court?

Mr Ward’s costs in defending the claim are to be paid by Mrs Kenyon-Miller (or, more accurately, North Yorkshire Police), either on an agreed basis between the parties or, failing that, HHJ Gosnell will list a short hearing at which the issue of quantum will be determined by him.

HHJ Gosnell commended both parties for coming to an amicable solution without the matter being tried and the undoubted ordeal of the two witnesses giving witness box evidence.

The hearing closed shortly after 12 noon with some gratuitous remarks from Mr Myerson, directed at the press bench, and concerning the number of lawyers (or aspiring lawyers) appearing for Mrs Kenyon-Miller. Including himself, there appeared to be seven in the courtroom. Mr Myerson claimed they were not all being paid to be there.

Interestingly, no costs schedule for the claimant had been filed with the court, or served on Mr Ward, as is customary practice. This, at least for the time being, concealed the value of public funds allocated to Mrs Kenyon-Miller.

The matter of what has actually been spent on this almost entirely fruitless pursuit of Mr Ward will be subject to further enquiries of both North Yorkshire Police and its Police Commissioner.

 

Page last updated: Wednesday 27th July, 2016 at 1555hrs

© 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.

And then there were two……

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.

Nigel Ward pic                    kenyon_jane

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.

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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