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

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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

© 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 credit: NYPCC

Chief Constable and Police Commissioner face court action over persistent data and information breaches

County Court claims have been filed naming Julia Mulligan, the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire and her Chief Constable, Dave Jones, as defendants over persistent breaches of both the Data Protection Act, 1998 and the Freedom of Information Act, 2000.

The court action in both cases has been taken out by investigative journalist, Neil Wilby.

Recovery of costs of the time spent dealing with both the PCC’s office, and the police force’s Civil Disclosure Unit, over their failure to comply with the law over two data subject access and eleven freedom of information requests is claimed.

One information request made by Mr Wilby took 373 days before a response was given. The request simply asked for the number of sergeants in the force with the surname ‘Smith’.

A court order compelling the Commissioner and the Chief Constable to lawfully dispose of the data and information requests within 14 days is also sought.

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The PCC’s acting Chief Executive, Simon Dennis, initially instructed Joint Corporate Legal Services, which serves both the police force and the PCC’s office, to respond to the claim.

Acting Force Solicitor and Head of Legal Services, Jane Wintermeyer, confirmed receipt of those instructions from the PCC and intimated that her department would also deal with the claim against the Chief Constable, once it has been served on him by the court.

Mrs Wintermeyer also says: “The Civil Disclosure Unit are (sic) continuing to deal with the  outstanding Subject Access Request, FOI’s and Reviews and will revert as soon as they can”. Which is, on any reasonable view, a frank admission that the PCC and the force are operating outside of the law in dealing with Mr Wilby’s requests.

However, following objections raised by Mr Wilby to both Mr Dennis and the Chief Constable, Mrs Wintermeyer was replaced by an outside firm of solicitors. Leeds law firm, Weightmans, has filed the acknowledgement of service with the court. The protest against the involvement of Mrs Wintermeyer was grounded in the fact that she is presently the subject of two serious, and unresolved, conduct complaints.

The involvement of Weightmans has already proved controversial. Their senior partner, Nick Collins, who is handling the claim had, in early skirmishes, made the quite astonishing assertion that ALL of Mr Wilby’s freedom of information requests were classified by both North Yorkshire Police and the PCC’s office as “vexatious”. He has since withdrawn the allegation, confirmed that NONE of the requests were in fact vexatious, and offered a retraction and an apology. He claims that he was NOT acting on instructions from the police or the Commissoner’s office when making this outrageous and offensive claim – and that he simply made it up himself.

Unperturbed, the errant lawyer then ventures into the area of “vexatious” data subject access requests. Data access is governed by S7 of the Data Protection Act and the concept of a “vexatious” request under the Act would test even the most experienced data practitioners. There is certainly no legal precedent that is readily accessible and, despite being invited to provide one, Mr Collins has so far declined to do so.

As Mr Wilby has only ever made one data request each to North Yorkshire Police and the PCC – neither of which are finalised appropriately several months later – it is difficult to see where Mr Collins is going with this inference.

There has, however, been no retraction of another wild, unevidenced assertion by Mr Collins to the effect that the “large” number of information requests made by Mr Wilby (a total of nineteen in two years by an investigative journalist to two different data controllers) was a significant factor in causing 500+ other requests per year to be finalised outside of the statutory period. Made all the more incredible by that fact that published data shows non-compliance was at its worst before Mr Wilby made his first of those requests in September 2014.

To top that all off, Mr Collins asserts that his clients have not broken the law: In the face of the most compelling and overwhelming evidence. He is refusing to say whether he is acting on instructions from the police, and the PCC, in order to make such claims or, as with the false ‘vexatious’ submission, he has simply made this up himself, as well.

But the biggest difficulty of all faced by Mr Collins is that he has signed Statements of Truth, below the two Defence documents filed on behalf of the Chief Constable, and the Police Commissioner, that are both palpably false. It would also be difficult to persuade a judge that he had an honest belief in their truth, given what he has alleged and then later admitted.

He is presently the subject of a complaint to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority – and Mr Wilby has invited the court, in his Reply to Defence, to apply sanctions against Mr Collins under Civil Procedure Rule 32.14 which deals with false witness evidence (see below).

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All these shenanigans, which have also included peremptory, dark threats as to the financial consequences to Mr Wilby of not abandoning the claims, have already cost the North Yorkshire precept payer a sum estimated to be in excess of £20,000. Weightmans were invited, as a matter relevant to the issues in dispute, and to the proportionality of their defence, to state exactly how much has been charged. They have, so far, declined to do so. Indeed, they didn’t even have the courtesy to acknowledge the email bearing the request.

Poor communication, and lack of candour, by Mr Collins is a recurrent feature of Mr Wilby’s interaction with him, which reflects poorly on the professionalism of that law firm. That is also, it seems, reflected higher up the Weightmans food chain. In an increasingly tetchy interchange with their partner responsible for regulatory matters, James Holman, the firm refused to tell Mr Wilby, even when pressed on the subject, whether Mr Collins faced sanction internally over his conduct. In those circumstances, the working hypothesis has to be that there is nothing of this nature in the offing.

Mr Holman also insisted that having to be nudged for a response over a complaint of this seriousness did not constitute discourtesy. Mr Wilby has, sensibly, agreed to disagree with him.

Weightmans have, however, pledged to co-operate with the SRA’s investigation into the conduct of Mr Collins.

Freedom of information requests were made necessary to establish how much is being spent on defending these claims, by the police and the PCC, via their big city lawyers. Full details of both of these requests can be read here and here. The information requests also sought to establish which senior NYP and NYPCC officers are giving instructions to Mr Collins. Which, in itself, was expected to be revelatory. No information has been forthcoming. The original requests were the subject of an internal review prior to the matter being referred as a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Some weeks ago, in an effort to resolve matters, Mr Wilby suggested that the total sum sought, in both of his claims, for his loss of earnings and disbursements (the grand total of £385), be donated to a charity of the Chief Constable’s choice. That, so far, has proved unacceptable to the profligate Chief, and his Commissioner, as a means of settling the matter.

There is also an issue with the form of words concerning the declaration of the court, sought by Mr Wilby, to the effect that the police and the PCC have both acted unlawfully, and the future remedy for such conduct. The fact that both the police and the PCC have continued to routinely break the law SINCE court proceedings were issued only serves to exacerbate the issue.

Interestingly, a complaint made by Mr Wilby in July, 2015 concerning Mrs Mulligan’s failure to hold the Chief Constable to account over Freedom of Information Act failings was NOT upheld by the Police and Crime Scrutiny Panel for North Yorkshire (PCP).

Between April 2012 and June 2015, NYP’s Civil Disclosure Unit failed to determine 1,558 (One thousand five hundred and fifty eight) freedom of information requests within the statutory 20 working day period. These figures, although known at the time by Mrs Mulligan, were not disclosed to the PCP in her formal response to Mr Wilby’s complaint. That matter will be re-addressed at the conclusion of the present court proceedings. Alongside a complaint from another journalist, Nigel Ward, who has an unfinalised information request dating back to 22nd February, 2015. Yes, 2015.

Mrs Mulligan now also has the unenviable record of a 100% failure rate over compliance in finalising data access requests. Over the past three years, there have also been a staggering 103 non-compliant data access requests finalised by the force. That might be a tough one for the PCP to find a workaround, when that fact is put to them formally about their ‘open and transparent’ PCC.

At a hearing on Monday 10th October, 2016, in  Huddersfield County Court, applications by the two policing chiefs to (i) transfer the claims to Leeds County Court before HHJ Gosnell (ii) strike out the claims or, (iii) alternatively, grant summary judgement in their favour were all dismissed.

The district judge found that there was a case to answer on the alleged breach by the chief contsable; an admission of breach by the police commissioner. It was also a finding that the matters concerning the information requests fell away, as their had been no formal application to allow in amended particulars, filed and served on 1st September, 2016, that went beyond the police chiefs’ defence grounded in S56 of the Freedom of Information Act. The judge did make the point that it was open to Mr Wilby to make a new claim against either police chief (or both), grounded in breach of duty, negligence and discrimination, rather than a breach of the Act per se.

The present claims against both the Chief Constable and the Police Commissioner were listed as back-to-back final hearings on the following morning before the same judge. They were represented by junior barrister, Sophie Mitchell, of St Paul’s Chambers in Leeds.

As on the previous day, Ms Mitchell did not distinguish herself. At the applications hearing she had attempted to hand a 16 page skeleton argument over to both the judge, and Mr Wilby, six minutes before the hearing. It was not accepted by either.

At the substantive hearings, Ms Mitchell produced a thick volume of legal authorities, of approximately 200 un-numbered pages, as the hearing was about to start. Whilst that was not, in itself, fatal to the administration of justice, the very late service – and unsatisfactory composition – of the trial bundle was. It had not reached the judge having only been despatched from Weightmans late on the previous Friday afternoon.

Mr Wilby was able to retrieve two sizeable lever arch files from his neighbour’s house (to where they had been delivered by the postal service on Saturday afternoon) at 7.30pm the previous evening. It is unclear when Ms Mitchell received her copy of the trial bundle but she claimed, to the astonishment of most of those present in the courtroom, that she hadn’t read it. In particular, Mr Wilby’s witness evidence around which the whole trial centred. At that point, the judge allowed a short adjournment for Ms Mitchell to read up on the case.

When court resumed, Ms Mitchell attempted to cross examine Mr Wilby over materials upon which the defence relied, but were not exhibited in the trial bundle. It was clear that proceedings could not continue in this fashion. The judge, accordingly, stood both of the cases down and made Orders for case management and re-listing.

The performance of both Mr Collins, in terms of the preparation for the trial and Ms Mitchell in how she prepared and advocated for her clients, both fell some way short of the professional standards that courts and litigation opponents can rightly expect. On this subject the last word goes to well known York-based governance adviser, Gwen Swinburn, who attended the adjourned final hearings:

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The Chief Constable, Mrs Mulligan and Mr Collins have all been approached for specific comment on this article. None of the three even had the courtesy to acknowledge the email carrying the request.

Mr Holman was also approached and his views have been taken into account when detailing the interaction with him, concerning the complaint against Mr Collins. He has asked Mr Wilby not to contact him further.

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Page last updated Thursday 13th October, 2016 at 1435hrs

© 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.

 

The Code of Ethics Confidence Trick

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The College of Policing‘s Code of Ethics has often been described via my Twitter feed (@Neil_Wilby) as an Emperor’s New Clothes fairy tale, straight from the Hans Christian Andersen portfolio.

It is a joke, a confidence trick, a scam or any other similar name you would like to call it.

The only function for the ethics code, that I can realistically identify, is as a counter-offensive to the constant battering given to the reputation of policing in the relatively new internet age of social media and weblogs. Major corruption scandals have followed one after another over the past four years and, whatever the surveys might show, confidence and trust in the police has never been lower. Most people expect things to go wrong after contact with the police, in one form or another.

Whatever bright face they may wish to put on the posters, this reputational damage has rocked the police service to its core. It has also led to the total discrediting of the police complaints system – and action to rescue a sinking ship was urgently needed. This is where the Code of Ethics plugs the leak, according to the College of Policing. But it is nothing more than a convenient re-painting of the same old hulking wreck.

Chief Constables and their Heads of Communications can no longer rely on cosy, or in some cases coercive, relationships with local and regional editors to ensure the media stay ‘on message’. The police misconduct cat is now, more often than not, well and truly out of the bag, and up on the internet, long before it hits the columns of the local newspaper and their cumbersome, advertisement-riddled websites.

I base my views in this article on extensive scrutiny of the four police forces within my immediate locality. They are Greater Manchester, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and North Yorkshire. As a justice campaigner, investigative journalist and complaint advocate I have almost daily contact with all four.

Whilst not, on weight of evidence, the worst offenders, this article focuses on the Code of Ethics failings of the smallest, and only county force, in that grouping: North Yorkshire Police (NYP).

A key part of the Ethics problem at NYP rests fairly and squarely with the Chief Constable, Dave Jones. He is old school, with a large city force background and, like many of his era and chief officer rank, deeply resents any form of scrutiny and, essentially, regards himself above any law, regulation or code. His force’s hapless, hopeless Professional Standards and Civil Disclosure departments serve only to amplify that point.

Chief Constable Jones also happens to run a police force that has a history of failure hanging over it like a black cloud, at almost every level. Operation Essence is the most recent, visible and high level example of that, where the murderer(s) of Claudia Lawrence still remain undetected after seven years. Alienating the locals who knew Claudia best – not to mention her family – was always going to present difficulties for NYP, and so it has proved. The police are derided and mistrusted in the Heworth area of York. The chances of obtaining crucial information from that vital source is, correspondingly, diminished.

Under that same dark sky are the Jimmy Savile and Peter Jaconelli scandals that were only brought into the light by the assiduous, and relentless, work of two citizen journalists. Before the exposure by Nigel Ward and Tim Hicks – together with a BBC Inside Out programme that exclusively featured their investigation – NYP’s position was that neither of these prolific child sex abusers were known to them and two whitewash probes had been produced by the force to, specifically, underscore that position. It was a shameful passage in the history of North Yorkshire Police.

Down at the basement level things are no better in this badly run, shambolic police force. The 101 contact centre service operated by NYP is, on any independent view, deplorable. Tens of thousands of calls to the force are abandoned each year. Yet it has taken several years of relentless criticism for the force to actually begin to rectify the problem.

Again, like others of his ilk, Jones relies heavily on his press and public relations team to cover those failings. I can think of no other force, even outside of the four with whom I am most closely involved, that indulges itself with as much gratuitous self-congratulation. Anyone with two hours to spare once a month to watch the podcast of the so-called NYP Scrutiny Board will see the living proof of that (click here).

Much of my recent involvement with NYP has concerned two of their investigations which are codenamed Operation Rome and Operation Hyson. Rome was another of the force’s costly, spectacular and well-publicised failures and, it seems, Hyson may yet go the same way.

During my own probe into the workings of Rome and Hyson it has already been necessary to make three Code of Ethics complaints. The first, in December 2015, was against the Force Solicitor, Jane Wintermeyer, following interaction connected to a contemplated judicial review application. The full complaint can be viewed here and it alleges amongst other failings that she was discourteous, disrespectful and derelict in her duties. The complaint also sets out the harassing aspect of her conduct throughout our dealings.

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The filing of the Wintermeyer complaint was followed by another NYP farce. It was not recorded by Professional Standards and an appeal was made to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). They upheld the non-recording appeal, but by that time NYP were claiming that the complaint had been recorded, after all. The evidence very much suggests otherwise. A trivial point but one that illustrates the troubling lack of candour that taints almost every communication with NYP.

The Wintermeyer complaint is presently the subject of a second appeal to the IPCC (read in full here). Amongst other serious matters, it leaves the police with a stark choice: They either admit to breach of my Article 8 convention rights by interfering with emails and letters sent via Royal Mail, or have their own Force Solicitor marked as dishonest about her claim that she didn’t receive them. It is, also, almost certain that the way the complaint was dealt with by Joanna Carter, the Chief Executive of the Police Commissioner’s office, will lead to a breach of ethics complaint being filed against her once the investigation into her colleague is complete.

A second complaint was filed on 9th March, 2016 against another very senior NYP officer, Jane Palmer. She is the Chief Financial Officer and Chief Accountant for the police force. A full copy of the complaint can be read here. The allegations are similar to those made against Ms Wintermeyer and a clear pattern begins to emerge as to how NYP view their responsibilities under the Code of Ethics. The particulars of the complaint also set out the rationale for a concerted attempt to subvert process by the two most senior civilian officers in the force, encouraged by none other than the Chief Constable. The latter has a clear personal interest in the concealing of information by Ms Palmer as he is the recipient of taxpayer funded legal fees of around £30,000 and rising from Operation Hyson.

The complaint against Ms Palmer was acknowledged on the same day by the IPCC and forwarded to the Professional Standards Department of NYP. A ludicrous determination of the complaint by T/DCI Steve Fincham, via an entirely inappropriate local resolution process, is now the subject of a further appeal to the IPCC.

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A third Code of Ethics complaint has now been lodged against the Chief Constable himself. It also enjoins the Deputy Chief Constable, Tim Madgwick and Chief Superintendent, Lisa Winward. The allegations include breaches of honesty and integrity, and discreditable conduct and the full text of the complaint can be read here.

This complaint against Jones was submitted to the PCC for North Yorkshire, Julia Mulligan, who is the Appropriate Authority for complaints of this nature on Tuesday 12th April, 2016. Those against Madgwick and Winward fall to be determined by the force’s Professional Standards Department.

This is a policing story with some way to run, yet. In the meantime, if you spot a police officer in North Yorkshire ask him (or her) if he (or she) (i) has ever heard of the Code of Ethics (ii) he/she understands what it required of him (or her) under the Code (iii) the disciplinary consequences of being found in breach of the Code?

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Page last updated Thursday 14th April, 2016 at 2040hrs

© 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: College of Policing and Office of Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire