Licence to kill?

On 5th March, 2015 at Bradford Crown Court, Ralph Christie was sentenced to 7 years in prison at the end of a trial lasting almost 8 weeks. He had been found guilty on 5 counts of fraud by false representation relating to property business dealing on the Greek island of Crete (read more here). He was found not guilty on a further 14 counts.

The not guilty counts included those alleging money laundering and theft. The total of the sums listed on the indictment, in connection with fraud, theft and money laundering, amounted to a staggering sum approaching £50,000,000.

Born in Leeds in 1961, but domiciled on Crete since 2005, Christie has maintained his protests of innocence since the day he was convicted. He was released from prison on licence on 4th January, 2018 and, ever since, has campaigned vigorously to clear his name.

One significant success, along the way, is reducing his liability under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) from £1.4 million plus interest to £482,666 plus interest. The count on the indictment concerning an investment made by Howard Tenens plc in Christie’s land and properties has been called in to question. It now appears arguable that it should not have been put before the jury, as there was already a prior High Court court finding concerning the dealings between Tenens and Christie.

This part of the police’s Section 16 POCA application, to recover £987,000 connected to the Tenens charge, which led to him being jailed, rather than a suspended sentence, was deducted from the POCA liability by the judge, HHJ Durham Hall QC on April 26th, 2018, again at Bradford Crown Court.

In the event, Christie was ordered to pay back a total of £569,990.64, inclusive of interest, to the complainants in respect of the remaining four frauds for which he was convicted.

At the time of the original court case he was bailed to a Ripon address, although police referred to him at the POCA hearing as being ‘a Bradford man who had moved to Crete’. A point confirmed by the fact that he holds a class of Greek residency permit that can only be granted after living there for 10 years. The relevance of those matters unfolds later in this piece.

Ramona Senior, Head of the Economic Crime Unit (ECU) at West Yorkshire Police, said: “This was a complex confiscation hearing, but the Financial Investigator worked tirelessly to recover money from Christie”.

“At the centre, were the victims who lost a lot of money because of the fraud. Christie now has 3 months to pay the money back or face an additional 4 years imprisonment in default.

Ms Senior added: “The POCA Order will be robustly enforced and, if Christie fails to pay, not only will he will face a further 4 years in jail, the debt he owes to society will remain with him for life, until paid in full.”

She was silent on the reduction in the alleged value of the crimes from nearly £50 million on the indictment, to £1.4 million upon conviction, and then to £482,000 via POCA, and no questions were asked by the tame local press, who reported on the hearing, as to how this reconciled with a ‘complex hearing’ and such glowing praise for the ‘tireless’ financial investigator, Nigel Crowther. Or, how it impacted on the sentencing of Ralph Christie, receiving a 7 year prison sentence instead of a considerably lesser sentence, that may well have been suspended.

There was no mention, either, of the lengths that WYP would go to in order to frustrate Christie in his attempt to raise money in order to discharge the POCA obligation. Or, explain the final destination of funds that were in accounts frozen, or sequestered, in 2011, following their actions taken in conjuction with the Crown Prosecution Service’s David Levy and the Greek authorities. Other financial restrictions had been in force since 2009.

Christie had represented himself at the final POCA hearing, after his legal representatives withdrew at a late stage in proceedings, whereas the police had instructed a QC, Paul Reid, also involved in the diminishing claims debacle from the outset, whilst, it is right to observe, making a small fortune for himself along the way.

Operation Laggan, the bungled, meandering, six-year police investigation into Ralph Christie and his Greek property dealing, has cost the taxpayer well over £1 million; far more than will ever be recovered via POCA. If Christie is able to clear his name over the five counts upon which he was convicted, and there seems a reasonable chance he may do so, then WYP face a multi-million pound (or euros) payout in compensation to him and his investors. Probably, the largest in their history.

Cedric Christie, Ralph’s younger brother was a predecessor of Ramona Senior, as WYP’s Head of ECU, during his 30 years service with the force he had joined as a cadet. One of a number of remarkable coincidences and connections that form a labyrinthine thread through this article.

He retired in 2011 and became a vigorous, high-profile campaigner for justice for his brother, both in the press and on television; founding a campaign for election as West Yorkshire police and crime commissioner in 2012 on that very case, as part of a wider, and well justified, attack on police corruption in his home county. Arguably, the most peristently dishonest police force in the country.

On that solus anti-corruption platform, he was very nearly elected. Taking the hot favourite, the Labour Party-backed Mark Burns-Williamson, to a re-count. The author of this piece, Neil Wilby, was Cedric’s campaign manager. Burns-Williamson was, previously, the Chairman of West Yorkshire Police Authority for 9 years and through a period of some of the most grotesque failings of the police force in its history. The perennially failed PCC, a former gritter lorry driver, has provided no assistance, whatsoever, in holding the chief constable to account over the force’s failings, both in the Operation Laggan investigation and matters closely connected to it.

Just over a year later, Cedric had turned turtle and was, it appears, plotting with his former colleagues to convict his own brother, who had been on bail since 2009, with the police case against him, originally comprising of only 3 charges, now seemingly floundering. It is his elder brother’s strong contention that Cedric’s own private investigation work led to the additional counts upon which he was tried in Bradford during early 2015.

It has transpired very recently that, according to Cedric, West Yorkshire Police detectives have never been to Crete to pursue the investigation against Ralph. That appears to be borne out by conversations with property and land owners who were party to some of the transactions that led to the Bradford trial.

One plausible conclusion is that Cedric was visiting the island at the behest of WYP. A proposition he denies. It is clear, and well evidenced, however, that Cedric made visits to Crete in September/October, 2013; then in January, and April, 2014. On the latter visit, he was accompanied by Declan Christie, Ralph’s eldest son, who was acting as interpreter and local guide, being fluent in the Greek language.

The following month Cedric texted his brother to say that he was ‘going to go to the police and the courts’. At about the same time, he also issued civil proceedings against Ralph, knowing that, as he had been by this time arrested whilst on a visit to the UK, he would not be in a position to defend that claim.

The additional charges were made against Ralph in September, 2014.

During this same time period, Cedric was also meeting with another high profile miscarriage of justice proponent, Leeds property developer, John Elam. His case had been raised in an adjournment debate in Parliament at the end of January, 2014 by Gerry Sutcliffe, MP (read more here). Cedric met with Elam and Sutcliffe shortly afterwards, ostensibly to assist that campaign.

However, Cedric was covertly recording Elam and, it is claimed, reporting back to two senior police officers, C/Supt Andy Brennan and DCI Simon Bottomley (now chief superintendent). Cedric also lied about his own involvement in two covert operations into Elam, codenamed Operation Primary and Operation Teddington. Unaware that formal documents had been unearthed by Neil Wilby with Cedric’s spidery, but distinct, signature on them.

In another remarkable coincidence, towards the end of his prison sentence at HMP Hatfield, Ralph Christie came into close contact with Andrew John Rudd, whose covertly recorded evidence played a significant part in the conviction of John Elam. Rudd, for reasons that are still unexplained, was allowed to live the high life in Marbella, driving a distinctive Bentley motor car and residing in a £2 million villa for a number of years, by West Yorkshire Police, despite an arrest warrant being in place and claiming they couldn’t locate him for almost 8 years. A task that took an Andalusian private investigator less than a day, complete with photographs of Rudd, his car, and his luxury home.

Cedric Christie also lied to senior detectives, and at least one chief constable, about his involvement with the well-known police whistleblower website, unProfessional Standards Department (uPSD). This followed Operation Vertex, an investigation into ACC Ingrid Lee, following her catastrophic ‘whitewash’ of the force’s involvement with Jimmy Savile, in which Cedric was named as one of the two complainants against Lee. Neil Wilby was the other. The investigation outcome and report, compiled by Nick Gargan, the chief constable of Avon and Somerset Police at the time, was highly critical of WYP.

Cedric was, in fact, a significant contributor to uPSD at the time of its formation – and it is a matter of record that the Twitter account @uPSDWYP was opened with the main intention of supporting the PCC election campaign. It has never emerged why he went to such extraordinary lengths to conceal that involvement.

Ingrid Lee was Cedric’s boss, and nemesis, during the latter stages of his police career, removing him from his senior post in the Economic Crime Unit and allocating him a ‘non-job’, stripped of detective status, in the Safer Leeds community liaison team. It was a spectacular fall from grace. One that made him ill – and he retired from the force in 2011 having spent a considerable part of the last 2 years of his service on extended sick leave, whilst pursuing grievances against Lee and other senior officers.

This followed the discovery by the police of an investment of £100,000, by Cedric, into Ralph’s property business in 2008. He made a profit of over £7,000 in around 3 months on that investment. Cedric denied any impropriety concerning the fortuitous arrangement and, although interviewed at Wetherby Police Station, by a senior officer, DCI Frances Naughton (now a superintendent with the North Yorkshire force), he was not formally disciplined or charged over it.

Cedric Christie then tried to divert attention from his own troubles by publicly claiming that Neil Wilby was ‘a police informant‘ and, it seems, encouraging at least one other individual, who cannot be named for legal reasons, to do the same. That person is a rape victim, the perpetrator having admitted the crime in police interview, but not prosecuted, and another with well grounded, bitterly-fought, long-running miscarriage of justice issues with both West Yorkshire Police and their neighbours, and junior partners, in a grotsque and long-running ‘cover-up’, North Yorkshire Police.

During his incarceration, and as can be seen here in this piece, there was certainly no shortage of action surrounding the Ralph Christie case in his absence.

After his early release from HMP Hatfield Lakes on 4th January, 2018 he was ordered to attend the West Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Centre (WYCRC) in Wakefield the following day, where he produced his signed probation licence. It expires on 6th July, 2021. WYCRC is operated by Interserve plc, presently in serious financial difficulties. The supervising officer assigned to his case was Anne-Marie Carrott.

The main requirements of a licensee, for those not adjacent to the prison system, are:

– Good behaviour

– Not to commit any offence

– Keep in touch with supervising officer in accordance with instructions given by him/her

– Receive home visits from the supervising officer

– Reside at an approved permanent address and obtain approval for any overnight stay at a different address

– Only undertake work unless approved by supervising officer

– No travel outside of UK, except with permission

It appears, from correspondence between the two, that a good working relationship was established from the outset and maintained. Christie was licenced to an address in Wakefield where he had the permission of the owner to stay.

Because of concerns raised about his safety from retaliation by Halifax-based drug dealers, whom both Christie brothers had helped convict in two investigations codenamed Operation Godstone and Operation Facedome, West Yorkshire Police put in place risk assessments and security arrangements, at the behest of their chief constable, Dionne Collins. To whom a letter, setting out the perceived dangers and threats, had been sent by leading Bradford criminal defence solicitor, Simon Hustler.

Those safety concerns were raised again, by Christie, with Ms Carrott at WYCRC on 22nd March.

In early May 2018, Christie travelled to Greece and notified a permanent address in that country to Ms Carrott. He had been given permission to go there to attempt to realise assets on the island in order to raise funds to discharge the POCA Order.

A return to UK in October, 2018 was described as ‘a visit’ in correspondence with his supervising officer. By this time, Laura Martindale.

Ms Martindale tried to arrange a visit to the Wakefield address on 13th March, 2019. That was not progressed after she learned that permission to reside at the property had been withdrawn by its owner and Christie was still at his home in Crete.

In May, 2019 Christie received an email from the manager at WYCRC, Richard Brotton, who was about to leave his post. He copied in his colleague, Janine Pedley, who was to take over the matter, subsequently. Mr Brotton raised the conflict with his licence terms and residency in his home on Crete.

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Ralph Christie: “I will never stop fighting to clear my name”

After it was pointed out that Ralph Christie would be both homeless and jobless if he returned to the UK, correspondence from WYCMC appeared to lapse. It is a highly unusual case, where a Greek resident, convicted over offences committed on the island of Crete, is held on a prison licence in the UK. One that, no doubt, has perplexed a number of bright minds within the offender management system. It is made even more complex by the unresolved civil court case and the need to realise assets on Crete to discharge the POCA obligation.

That was the last correpondence from a supervising officer until early 2020. From the available correspondence, there were no home visits arranged, or attendances required at the WYCRC offices in Wakefield, during that period.

The reasonable inference to be drawn was that Ralph Christie was better served trying to repay the debt from his home base in Crete and, as he had caused no-one at the probation service any issues, there was no good reason to disturb that process: Necessarily slow, as the police still persist with the freezing orders they requested as far back as 2009 and other assets are, or have been, subject to other legal processes due to his protracted absence from the island.

At one point during his prison sentence, arrangements were made by the Home Office to deport Christie back to his home in Crete under the early release scheme for foreign offenders (often referred to by the acronym, ERSED). This was due to take place on 10th April, 2017. From the available documents, there appears to have been an unseen hand more adjacent to West Yorkshire, than London SW1, preventing that process from being fulfilled.

In the early part of 2020, there was an attempted reconciliation between the Christie brothers, at first in Athens, then in Crete, during which, it is said, Cedric admitted his role in the investigations that played a part in the conviction of his elder brother. A matter, Ralph says, he had always previously tried to conceal.

On 9th February, 2020 Cedric stormed out of a meeting with his brother and Geoffrey Brown, an investor in Ralph’s property business and a long-term supporter ever since, saying Ralph should be back in prison. The reason for the younger brother’s hasty departure was the revelation that his role in the conviction of Ralph, either actual or perceived, formed a significant part of the appeal documents that are in preparation for submission to the Criminal Case Review Commission.

Two days later, on 11th February, 2020 Ralph Christie received an email, out of the blue, from yet another WYCRC supervising officer, Shahid Ibrahim: A meeting was required to take place at their offices in Wakefield on 6th March, 2020.

That date is just a few weeks before an important civil trial was due to start in Chania, the capital of Crete, to settle disputes between Ralph Christie and his former business partner, the aforementioned Stephen Thomas. The latter, unexpectedly, failed appear in criminal proceedings on the island in which Christie was exonerated (read full verdict here).

That criminal trial took place in October, 2013. Thomas was the complainant and main prosecution witness. He claims that he was subjected to threats and forced to leave the island.

In spite of his evidenced status as a partner of Ralph Christie, and being the subject of very serious fraud allegations by his ex-wife, involving large sums of cash concealed from her during their divorce settlement, Stephen Thomas was not  arrested, or charged with any offences, during the Operation Laggan investigation. He was not called as a witness at the Christie trial in 2015, either, despite being the original complainant back in 2009.

His brother, Simon Thomas, is one of the victims of the Christie convictions.

Starting with the first email from Mr Ibrahim (who appears to be also employed by a company based in Bradford) until mid-March, there is a significant amount of correspondence between him and Ralph Christie. It encompasses a quite extraordinary travel odyssey that ended with Christie being arrested at Athens airport by Greek police when about to board a connecting flight to Heathrow, en route to the meeting at Wakefield. Following his release from custody at the airport, and a visit to the British Consulate in Athens, it transpires that Christie is subject to a travel ban from Greece (and Crete) until the completion of the civil trial. A matter confirmed fully by the consulate to Mr Ibrahim, both by telephone, and via email, and later by Christie’s Greek lawyers.

Christie also has pre-existing health conditions that would have rendered him vulnerable in the Corona Virus pandemic, particularly if he was returned to prison. In the face of all this, Mr Ibrahim’s response was to insist, very firmly, that the 6th March meeting in Wakefield was to go ahead. The virus, he said, was not an issue beyond washing of hands, which, to be fair to the supervising officer, was also the Government line at that time.

He did not, however, respond to emails sent by Christie on 8th and 11th March, asking for clarification in the light of the travel ban, and consequent difficulties leaving Greece, and, of course, by then, the worsening pandemic. Instead, he emailed on the day following the second email blankly stating that Christie’s prison licence had been revoked – and he was to make his way back to the UK, whereupon he would be arrested and taken back to prison. That would seem to indicate that the decision had already been made to revoke the licence, prior to the first Ibrahim email in February, 2020. The ‘meeting’ on 6th March in Wakefield was simply a convenient time and location at which to serve Christie with the notice and arrange for his arrest and detention.

Dated 12th March, 2020 the ‘Licence Revocation and Recall to Custody’ document sets out that Ralph Christie had:

– Failed to attend appointment(s) with supervising officer

– Failed to attend pre-arranged home visit(s)

– Failed to reside as approved

– Allegedly committed a further offence

– Displayed poor behaviour

– Other

It goes on to say that the Public Protection Casework Section (PPCS) will send a dossier, giving comfirmation of the reasons why the recall has been made, once the licencee is back in prison. Which, viewed independently, might appear a little harsh: “We’ll arrest you, put you back in prison, and then tell you why, in more detail, having just used a formulaic, scattergun approach to revoke the licence knowing that some, if not most, of the allegations have no basis in fact or evidence”.

Whatever the views about Ralph Christie, and there are, on occasions, very strong opinions at both ends of the spectrum, the fact remains that he is a white collar criminal, attempting to raise the money to repay his victims, who was of unblemished character (in the eyes of the law) prior to the 2015 trial at Bradford, and presents no flight risk. He was, for example, on unconditional police bail for 3 years, with free passage between his home in Crete and the UK – and has answered every call on his bail and never missed a court appearance.

Since the communication from Mr Ibrahim on 12th March, there has been extensive email correspondence with the aforementioned Janine Pedley. She is always responsive, professional, patient and courteous, if not a little exasperated, in her dealings with Ralph Christie.

She has also forwarded the file on to the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) in Petty France, London. Christie has previously had extensive dealings with NOMS regarding the controversy over credit for time served on remand, prior to conviction. The upshot of which is that the prison service has defied recommendations from two different circuit judges and added 84 days rather than deducted them. A total penalty of over 5 months. Ralph Christie, not unreasonably, maintains that in those circumstances he should have been released on licence in 2017 with his licence expiring at the beginning of 2021.

In answer to Christie’s requests for particulars of the allegations against him, Ms Pedley simply says, in an email dated 14th April, 2020: “Your licence was revoked because you were not given permission to leave the UK indefinitely¨.

That is very different to what is stated on the formal Revocation of Licence. It also chimes with enquiries made of West Yorkshire Police, who say that there are no complaints recorded on their crime systems that have been made since the issue of his licence and Christie has, certainly, not been contacted by them in connection with any allegations, or received any intimation from any person, or lawyer representing them, that such a complaint would likely be forthcoming.

There are no missed appointments at the WYCRC offices, apart from the very recent one on 6th March, 2020 or missed home visits, apart from the one on 13th March, 2019, which was not pursued by the supervising officer. That is clear from examination of email trails of all correspondence between the various supervising officers and the licencee.

Those same email trails reveal a cordial relationship between the parties at all times and it is difficult in those circumstances to reconcile such conduct with an allegation of ‘bad behaviour’.

On strict reading of the licence there has been a breach, there can be no argument about that. But, in the exceptional circumstances that prevail, on any number of legal and moral premises, it might seem to the man in the street that justice, fairness, the public interest and the public purse might all be better served by an amended licence, rather than a revocation. That would also reconcile with the Ministry of Justice’s aim to try to reduce the prison population during the pandemic.

Who will win the tug of war over Ralph Christie’s liberty remains to be seen. He cannot leave Greece and, even if no travel ban by the courts was in place, in the present circumstances of the virus pandemic it would not be advisable to do so, for the foreseeable future. The containment of Corona Virus will also determine the resumption of the civil court proceedings which appear to be the key to unlocking many of the doors presently barred.

This is, clearly, a story with some way to run. Indeed, very shortly after publication of this article, Christie received a letter from the PPCS, following several requests, setting out the formal position, absent of reasons or evidence, regarding the recall to prison.

(i) Be of good behaviour and not do anything which could undermine the purposes of the licence period;

(iii) Keep in touch with the supervising officer in accordance with instructions given by the supervising officer

This, again, is different to the Licence Revocation and, of course, not the same ground(s) as that given by Ms Pedley in earlier correspondence. Christie, meanwhile, is trying to raise funds to challenge the decision.

The eagle-eyed will also have spotted that, most curiously, there is no reason (ii).

It has now been clarified by PPCS that the recall was for 28 days, after which the Parole Board could consider re-licencing Ralph Christie. All of which, one might say, was an awful lot of work, for a considerable number of people, to put in danger not only the licencee but prisoners, prison officers, probation officers with whom he might come into contact after six hours in two aeroplanes during the journey back to the UK from Crete.

Questions have been put to the Ministry of Justice, the CPS and, of course, West Yorkshire Police. Any responses will be posted in a later update.

Cedric Christie was given specific right of reply.

“This article was published before the expiration of the period you gave me to reply. However that does not particularly concern me.

I do not consider that I have lied in either of the circumstances you have described.

There are also some points you make in the above article about Ralph’s case that imply that I’ve been mischievous in his regard. I do not agree. I have information and documents that I believe would support my view. It is my personal opinion that the WYP investigation into his Cretan financial affairs was inadequate.

Perhaps some communication may resolve the above aspects”.

The further communication is keenly awaited, particularly in respect of the, as yet, unanswered matters relating to his private investigations in Crete and his view that his brother should be back in prison.

 

Page last updated: Thursday 14th May, 2020 at 1825 hours

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

 

409,970 reasons not to trust North Yorkshire Police

The old-fashioned notion that honesty was an integral part of policing in the UK has been comprehensively swept away over the past few years, as corruption scandal after corruption scandal has emerged into the public domain.

Many of the worst public outrages concern police forces in Yorkshire. The Hillsborough Disaster, the Battle of Orgreave and Rotherham Abuse failings will forever stain those who wear the South Yorkshire Police uniform.

Their neighbours in West Yorkshire (WYP) have an unenviable record of ‘fitting-up’ innocent people for serious crimes they didn’t commit and this stretches back for decades to Stefan Kiszko and Judith Ward. Investigative and prosecutorial misconduct come easily to this force and one of the worst case ever to come before the courts was also down to them. Never before – or since – has a police force been so roundly and completely condemned by law lords as they were in the Karl Chapman supergrass case. Probably better known now as Operation Douglas.

Most recently, the confirmation that the jailing of one of their own most promising young constables, PC Danny Major, was corruptly grounded, takes WYP to depths in policing criminality rarely plumbed before.

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The discredited West Yorkshire Police also share with North Yorkshire Police (NYP) the unenviable distinction of allowing the country’s most notorious child sex offender, Jimmy Savile, to go unchecked for almost 50 years on his home patches of Leeds and Scarborough.

North Yorkshire Police were, of course, out on their own in allowing another notorious and prolific paedophile, Peter Jaconelli to offend at will for a similar period.

Worse still, NYP tried very hard indeed, by way of two bogus investigations into themselves, to rubbish any claims that they knew about the nefarious activities of either of these hideous individuals. Indeed, but for the intervention of two citizen journalists, writing for a North Yorkshire internet news magazine, the police would have got clean away with hoodwinking the public over both Savile and Jaconelli.

This report by ACC Sue Cross (a former West Yorkshire Police officer and pictured below) took just nine days – and zero interviews – to dismiss over forty years of relentless sex offending by a man widely known as “Mr Scarborough”. It’s tone and content is directed much more to discrediting the two journalists than addressing the core issues. A trait much favoured by senior officers in the police service.

North Yorkshire Police were subsequently, and quite rightly, exposed as an incompetent, embarrassing and humiliated shambles. It seems more than a coincidence, therefore, that those same two journalists – Tim Hicks and Nigel Ward – have for the past fifteen months been facing civil court action both mounted and funded by the police (or more accurately the precept payer). This is the article by Mr Hicks that effectively dismantled the now discredited Cross Report.

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I have investigated this matter of the claim concerning alleged harassment by the two journalists, extensively, since the issue of the court papers in January 2015 and have written a number of articles as a result:

Cost of silencing police force critics now approaches £1 million (click here)

Complete capitulation follows Fall of Rome (click here)

Key witness in police funded civil action is a proven liar (click here).

The North Yorkshire Police dilemma: Find a murderer or pursue journalists over harassment (click here)

This latest article focuses on just one single aspect of those investigations, upon which a large amount of time and money has already been spent:

North Yorkshire Police and the Police Commissioner, Julia Mulligan, have both quoted a figure of £409,970.90 as the alleged cost of a criminal investigation into the two journalists, and one other. The police investigation was styled Operation Rome and this is the published breakdown of their estimate:

  • Police officer time from December 2011 to September 2014;  94.6 months – £386,347
  • Legal services work from October 2010 to June 2014;  243.1 hours – £7,424.73
  • Civil disclosure work from September 2011 to October 2014; 352 hours – £5,181.44
  • Related complaints matters;  82 hours – £1,708.88
  • Chief Officer time; 259.08 – £9,308.85
  • TOTAL £409,970.90

This costing of what is, at best, a notional spend was the cornerstone that underpinned the decision by the Chief Constable and the Police Commissioner to go ahead and disburse an estimated £202,000 of the public’s money in legal fees, pursuing the civil harassment claim via the senior partner of one of the most expensive law firms in Leeds, and two barristers. One of whom is a well-known QC, with charge rates to match.

Indeed, Mrs Mulligan is quoted as saying: “Dealing with the actions of those involved in the civil case has tied up police resources to a significant extent, and it seemed reasonable to expect that further time and expense would be incurred if no action were taken“.

In layman’s terms, the PCC’s muddled hypothesis appears to be: (i) We have come up with some notional, and fanciful, figures to say it has ‘cost’ North Yorkshire Police £409,970 trying to silence these people, by criminalising them via an embarrassingly bad investigation. (ii) Now, we can save a bit of face by actually spending £202,000 of hard cash, and chase the same three men through the civil courts at the public’s expense. But, with no certainty of achieving anything more than the original failed police investigation (iii) It has actually cost a lot more than £202,000 so far, but we are keeping the lid tightly screwed down on that.

My investigations go a long way to proving that reliance on that particular foundation of the £409,970 calculation will bring the whole Operation Rome edifice to the ground:

  • The inclusion in the calculations of 94.6 months of police officer time, allegedly costing £386,347, to pursue three members of the public on a harassment without violence investigation stretches the bounds of credibility, far beyond breaking point.
  • That is the type of sum you would normally expect to see spent on a murder investigation where the perpetrator(s) remain undetected after six months.
  • Compare Operation Rome’s “£409,970” harassment enquiry, for example, with the recently wound up Operation Essence, a major crimes review of the Claudia Lawrence disappearance and murder. As many as 20 detectives and police staff worked full time for two and a half years. Cost: £800,000 Source: NYP.
  • Even 94.6 hours would be well beyond the routine for a harassment investigation of this type. That would bring the ‘cost’ in at a more realistic £2,240.34.
  • A harassment investigation would normally involve a neighbourhood police constable overseen by a sergeant, or possibly an inspector. The police hear what the complainant(s) have to say, speak to the suspects and make a charging decision based on the evidence. There is no forensic science involved, or complex issues to unravel. Even Heartbeat‘s PC Geoff Younger (pictured below) would shine in such probes.
  • The police have declined to say how many detectives were actually involved. They rely on a total of 14 people including lawyers, civil disclosure officers, PSD officers and staff from the PCC’s office as their answer.
  • The link between the cost of dealing with complaints against the police, freedom of information requests, reported at £6890.32, and a harassment investigation would also appear very tenuous at best. The complaints against NYP officers and information requests either had merit, or not. No evidence has been produced to me to suggest they were outside the scope of the legislation under which such issues could, quite properly, be raised.
  • The other ‘big ticket’ items on the costs estimate for Operation Rome also have the fishy odour of red herring. £16,733.58 is the combined total allegedly spent on Chief Officer time and the cost of Legal Services support. It begs the question as to what Chief Officers (who are most unhelpfully not identified by either name or job title) were actually doing that was connected to a criminal harassment investigation and involved 259.08hrs of their time?
  • The same comment applies to lawyers who are employed by the police force to deal with civil claims, not criminal investigations. How did they manage to spend 243.1 hours on a criminal harassment probe and what were they actually doing?
  • The bottom line here is that the TOTAL of £409,970 has very much the appearance of a figment of the imagination – and appears to be a figure largely plucked out of the air to justify raiding the public purse so that senior officers, including the Chief Constable and his Deputy could get their hands on free legal fees.

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The next step in the process is to look at how the Operation Rome investigation was conducted and what it actually achieved:

  • None of the three suspects have ever been issued with a Police Improvement Notice (PIN), more commonly known as a harassment warning. More on PIN’s here.
  • Only one of three suspects, Mr Hicks, was interviewed by the police. The focus of that 2012 interview was alleged damage to the reputation of North Yorkshire Police by his work as a citizen journalist, rather than harassment.
  • No disclosure was made to Mr Hicks, or his solicitor who was present throughout, that would persuade an independent reviewer that the police claims of harassment were credible.
  • The letter from Mr Hicks’ solicitor to NYP following the interview can be read here. It amounts to another humiliation of those police officers involved in Operation Rome.
  • Mr Ward, meanwhile, was completely unaware that any such investigation was in progress that involved him. He was never contacted by either a police officer, or any alleged ‘victim’, at any time concerning harassment allegations.
  • There was no mention of Mr Ward in the interview conducted with Mr Hicks at Fulford Road police station.
  • Meanwhile North Yorkshire Police actively canvassed other public officials from parish, borough and county councils, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission, to make complaints against the two citizen journalists.
  • One of the public officials, York City Council social worker, Mark Bednarski, was found to have misled police in his own witness statement by withholding information that damaged his claim.
  • Another public official, County and Borough Councillor Jane Kenyon lied in her CJA statement. A fact she has recently admitted after being cornered by documentary evidence.
  • No arrest was made at any time during Operation Rome.
  • The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) twice refused to authorised the arrest and charging of Mr Hicks under Section 3 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
  • The CPS guidance on issue of harassment warnings can be read here.
  • Following the second refusal by the CPS a ‘leading specialist barrister’, believed to be Simon Myerson QC, was consulted in an effort to make criminal charges stick. That was also a failure.
  • With Bednarski and Kenyon as star witnesses there would be little prospect of a prosecution succeeding, in any event.

At the end of a near three year investigation, Operation Rome was closed down as an incompetent, embarrassing and humiliating shambles.

But there are a number of questions, asked via appropriate legal channels, that remain unanswered by North Yorkshire Police which cast further and serious doubt on the provenance of the information already supplied about the harassment investigation and its ‘cost’.

  • NYP have stated in response to a FoIA request that none of the elements of the £409,970 costings are broken down for the years 2011,2012, 2013 and 2014
  • On the same request, the force cannot provide details of the incident that triggered the Operation Rome investigation. That suggests there is no policy log (sometimes called the policy book) in existence. The first sign of a poorly led, and badly directed, investigation
  • It is further claimed by NYP that Operation Rome was led by an inspector. Yet, I have in my files letters written by CI Heather Pearson (to Tim Hicks) and DCC Tim Madgwick (to Jane Kenyon) concerning this investigation.
  • Why was the Force Solicitor, Jane Wintermeyer, who essentially concerns herself with legal disputes in the civil courts tasked with collecting financial estimates for a three-year criminal investigation?
  • Why is there no written request to Mrs Wintermeyer to carry out this work –  upon which so much rested – in existence? The costing exercise was, allegedly, instigated following a verbal request from PCC Julia Mulligan and Chief Constable Dave Jones. Who both, separately, employ a highly qualified, and commensurately paid, Chief Financial Officer (Mike Porter and Jane Palmer respectively).
  • How could a back of the envelope exercise, delivered in such sloppy form, take over three months to produce?
  • Why did NYP reply to a FoIA request on 1st December, 2014 (almost at the centre point of the Wintermeyer cost collection exercise according to information she supplied to me by letter) saying that they could neither ‘confirm nor deny’ that such information existed?
  • Why are NYP dragging their feet on a FoIA request asking them to justify the breakdown of hourly rates used in the calculations?
  • More crucially, and in the interests of openness and transparency much touted by Mrs Mulligan, why does the Chief Constable, and the PCC, not simply publish the workings of Mrs Wintermeyer with the names of anyone lower than the managerial rank of inspector (or its civilian equivalent) redacted?

This all has the look of a third incompetent, embarrassing and humiliating shambles for North Yorkshire Police. Yet the mindset of its Chief Constable, and his lap dog Police Commissioner, is to dig both him, her and themselves ever deeper into a hole. Rather than confront the fact that they have been caught with their fingers in the till, so to speak, and deal with it in an honest, ethical and professional manner

Newby Wiske Jones Mulligan

More importantly, for a police force and a police commissioner to be prepared to relentlessly break the law to try, in vain, to cover its tracks over some distinctly shady territory mean that questions need to be urgently asked, at the Home Office: How can Dave Jones and Julia Mulligan justify conducting police operations in this manner – and for whose benefit are these ‘investigations’ actually being run?

There are, currently, at least 409,970 reasons for the Secretary of State, or the Home Affairs Select Committee, to seek answers to these questions.

Both Chief Constable Jones and Mrs Mulligan have been approached for comment on this article. None has yet been forthcoming from Jones, but a spokesman for the Commissioner said: ‘It would be inappropriate to comment on an ongoing legal matter‘.

North Yorkshire Enquirer‘s Nigel Ward said this: “At the material time, I was passing North Yorkshire Police a large volume of information regarding SAVILE and JACONELLI and was profusely thanked, by detectives, for my contributions. But during that same period, it seems, the police were plotting (unsuccessfully) to nail me on criminal harassment allegations made by Jane Kenyon. I refute those accusations made by her, entirely“.

But the last words should belong to Lord Maginnis of Drumglass who most presciently commented in Parliament, about North Yorkshire Police, in 2012:

That particularly dubious Constabulary merits careful investigation”.

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Page last updated Tuesday 10th May, 2016 at 1205hrs

© 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, Yorkshire Television, Darlington and Stockton Times and Office of Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire

 

Cost of silencing police force critics now approaches £1 million

Tuesday 9th February marked the first anniversary of the initial hearing of a civil harassment claim that is known, curiously, as Hofschröer and others –v- Hofschröer and others. On the face of it, a family dispute gone wrong concerning title to a property formerly owned by a deceased father and an ailing mother.

But behind that domestic façade lies three other matters of significant public interest:

Firstly, this dispute principally concerns the widely publicised ‘Grandma B’ case in which both North Yorkshire Police and York City Council have been criticised heavily over the treatment of disabled World War Two veteran, Barbara Hofschröer. Her son, Peter, has been fighting for justice, on behalf of his mother, since 2008.

Secondly, two citizen journalists who write for the website news magazine, North Yorkshire Enquirer, are also defendants in what appears to be an attempt to silence them from publicising the shortcomings of the police, and other public authorities. The two scribes, Tim Hicks and Nigel Ward are best known for their work exposing scandals involving the late Peter Jaconelli, for many years the face of the seaside town of Scarborough, and the country’s most notorious sex offender, Sir Jimmy Savile.

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Thirdly, this civil action has been publicly funded on the authority of Julia Mulligan, the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire (NYPCC). This move, which many believe is unlawful, and a grotesque waste of public money, has allegedly cost taxpayers a sum approaching a million pounds already.

There are nine claimants listed on court papers accessible to the public. They have been identified as three serving police officers and six civilians (one retired police officer, a former Police Authority chair, a former Council social worker and three Hofschröer family members). The direct legal funding this group has received already is believed to be in excess of £300,000 or £33,333 each, give or take small change. The precise figures have been requested from both the police, and the NYPCC, but they have elected to break freedom of information law rather than disclose the latest invoices from their lawyers. An earlier disclosure put the lawyers’ fees at £164,919 up to mid-September, 2015 (Read FoI outcome here).

The three serving police officers involved in the harassment claim are the Chief Constable, Dave Jones; the Deputy Chief Constable, Tim Madgwick and Head of Uniformed Operations, C/Supt Lisa Winward. The retired officer is ex-Supt Heather Pearson and the former NYPA chair is Jane Kenyon-Miller (pictured below alongside Mr Madgwick). A very powerful group indeed, who have allegedly already spent £450,000 internally in trying to stem the flow of criticism against their police force, by pursuing a criminal ‘investigation’ codenamed Operation Rome. The Crown Prosecution Service twice rebuffed approaches by North Yorkshire Police to permit charges to be made against Mr Hofschöer and Mr Hicks. Mr Ward was not, at any time, interviewed or even contacted by police in connection with this matter.

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On 20th January 2015 civil court papers were, ostensibly, served on the three defendants without any prior notice. The Court’s own strict rules demand that such a step is taken under what is known as pre-action protocol. Clearly, this requirement was not followed and there is no explanation yet available why the police, the NYPCC and their legal team chose to act in such a way. On any independent view, it had the appearance of an ambush.

By this time, Peter Hofschröer was on remand in HMP Wandsworth having been arrested by North Yorkshire Police detectives outside the magistrates court in York on 4th December, 2014 whilst trying to file papers against other members of his family that he believed would protect the interest of his mother. He claims, quite reasonably, that court papers concerning the civil claim made by the nine defendants – including his brother, sister-in-law and nephew, did not reach him prior to his transfer from Wandsworth to HMP Hull.

In Nigel Ward’s case, the court papers were sent to the wrong address and left on the doorstep outside an empty property for forty-eight hours, accessible to public inspection. North Yorkshire Police, surprisingly, did not refer themselves to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) over this calamitous data protection breach, including personal data concerning their own two most senior officers. Mr Ward has, quite correctly, reserved all rights concerning the unlawful disclosure of his own personal data.

At the first hearing in Leeds High Court on 9th February, 2015 the claimants sought an interim injunction against the two journalists – and Mr Hofschröer – that effectively ordered the defendants to take down articles published about the nine claimants, and prevented each of the three defendants from contacting the claimants by phone, email or in person. It was a draconian move, and the police-funded claimants were represented at court by two barristers, Simon Myerson QC and Hannah Lynch. These legal heavyweights were instructed by leading Leeds law firm Ford and Warren (since taken over by Weightmans).

This second phase of the North Yorkshire Police action, codenamed Operation Hyson, was launched following advice given to them by ‘a leading, specialist barrister’, believed to be Mr Myerson (pictured below) after Rome had fallen.

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The two journalists were both represented by London human rights barrister, Ian Brownhill, instructed by Nottingham solicitors, Bhatia Best. Recruited at very short notice, the lawyers performed a minor miracle in reading a huge volume of paperwork, and preparing a defence, over the weekend before the first hearing.

The outcome of that court hearing was in two parts: An interim injunction was granted against the absent, and unrepresented, Mr Hofschröer and a consent order was sealed by the judge, His Honour Mark Gosnell, which effectively maintained the status quo between the claimants and the two journalists. It meant, in real terms, that none of the articles complained about, by the claimants, were taken down by any of the defendants, including Mr Hofschröer who has no access to a computer whilst held in jail.

Mr Brownhill had also raised the issue of ultra vires that, in layman’s terms, means there is serious doubt in his mind about the legality of public funding being used, by the police, to finance civil litigants in a harassment claim.

Subsequent hearings over Operation Hyson took place at Leeds Combined Court, before HHJ Gosnell, in June and November, 2015. The matter was transferred from the High Court to the County Court at the first of these hearings, at which directions were given to all parties in preparation for a trial that was scheduled to begin on 7th December, 2015. At the later hearing – which was listed as a pre-trial review – summary judgment was granted in favour of the nine claimants against Mr Hofschröer after he elected not to take part in the proceedings citing breaches of his Article Six convention rights. This left the two journalists as the remaining defendants in the claim. The judge ordered that the December trial date be vacated and a further case management hearing to be listed for 20th January, 2016. HHJ Gosnell also advanced the view to counsel representing both sides that every effort to settle the matter should have been made by that date.

The January hearing, conducted in the judge’s chambers by telephone conference, resulted in no settlement being reached and, as a consequence, a trial window opened by HHJ Gosnell between April and July, 2016 with a time estimate for the final hearing of seven days. This is to allow an additional period for the claimants to file further evidence in support of their claim against the journalists, a year to the day since they issued proceedings. The Court have recently confirmed that the trial is set to open on 20th July, 2016.

A trial of this duration is likely to place a further burden on the taxpayer of around £100,000, given that there is no reasonable prospect, based on recent legal precedent, of the litigation achieving its two-tier objective. A harassment finding for each of the nine claimants against each of the two remaining defendants, is the first hurdle. Only if that threshold is reached could the court consider that an injunction against two journalists was the appropriate remedy.

A press statement concerning the outcome of the January 2016 hearing was requested, from the PCC and the Chief Constable, during a recent Police Scrutiny Board meeting held a few days afterwards, but the opportunity was declined by both police chiefs. The reasons for doing so bear no examination (see Scrutiny Board podcast here).

There are also the substantial internal costs incurred by the North Yorkshire Force Solicitor, Jane Wintermeyer, and her staff, to consider. Marshalling nine claimants and instructing the two Weightmans solicitors dealing with the matter, over a period of fifteen months, would not come cheap. Mrs Wintermeyer also canvassed other high profile public officials, including Rebecca Reed, a senior manager engaged with the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), prior to the issue of proceedings in order to add substance to the North Yorkshire Police’s Rome and Hyson investigations.

During the January 2016 case management hearing, the issue of ultra vires and abuse of process was raised again by Mr Brownhill. He was told by HHJ Gosnell that the question of whether this claim falls to be determined as vires or ultra vires, is in his view, an arguable case. But, not one that would be heard before him in the County Court. A separate public law challenge would have to be mounted in the Administrative Court. One of the defendants, Mr Ward has confirmed that this process will soon be in train.

The Police and Crime Commissioner originally claimed to have sought ‘independent legal advice’ on the vires issue on 12th January, 2015 (read her formal statement here) but has, so far, not disclosed the invoices from her solicitor and counsel that would prove that point, following a freedom of information request. Mrs Mulligan was prepared to break the law rather than either disclose the information, or admit it doen’t actually exist. Her latest claim is that the advice was not provided in writing by the ‘leading barrister’ involved in January 2015, but given verbally in a meeting on 15th October, 2014. A meeting at which it is known Mr Myerson was present, by reference to his invoice sent to NYP that covers the day in question.

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Mrs Mulligan (pictured above with Chief Constable Jones) undoubtedly faces a difficult few weeks ahead as both the merits of Operations Rome and Hyson, the subsequent civil court trial, and the source of it’s funding, come under intense scrutiny during the forthcoming PCC election campaign.

Since this article was first published on 7th February, 2016 information has been obtained about a referral from the Parliamentary Committee for Public Accounts to the National Audit Office concerning the legality of the decision to spend public money financing private claims (read more here).

The press officers for both North Yorkshire Police and the Police Commissioner have been offered the opportunity to comment but none has been forthcoming, so far.

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Page last updated on Sunday 1st May, 2016 at 0945hrs

© 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: Twitter (@SCynic1), North Yorkshire Enquirer and Office of Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire