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

Corrections: Please let me know if there is a mistake in this article — I will endeavour to correct it as soon as possible.

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[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.

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

 

‘Complete capitulation’ follows the fall of Rome

The decision of the North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Julia Mulligan, to use a blank cheque drawn on policing funds to finance a civil harassment claim is one that has already attracted a good deal of controversy. With more certain to follow as the case unravels.

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Efforts at unpicking both the history and the rationale behind this extraordinary and unprecedented decision have so far met with obfuscation, obstruction and downright lies from the police and the PCC’s office. Paint in a gratuitous smear, or two, and the picture is complete of a police force and an elected policing representative deeply resenting any form of scrutiny.

This report draws on information from a variety of sources. Most of it routine for an investigative journalist – published articles, freedom of information requests, Google searches, trawls of court and public records, telephone or face-to-face interviews with those involved who are willing, or able, to talk.

But this particular probe has also ventured into the less usual: clandestine meetings with informants, unannounced telephone calls from ‘no caller ID’ numbers, correspondence with a prisoner in jail, materials pushed through the letterbox or sent anonymously via post.

It is also clear, upon their own admission, that emails and letters sent to police HQ and the PCC’s office in connection with a legal challenge to the funding have either been interfered with, or disappeared. An extraordinary situation by any measure and one which the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) were asked to examine. Unsurprisingly, the IPCC completely avoided any mention the issue in a recent appeal assessment that ranks as one of the worst I have ever seen.

The pleadings in the civil court dispute, the merits of the case, or the people involved in it, form only a peripheral part of this report. It is the funding decision, and the actions leading up to it, that is the core subject of scrutiny. The formal Decision Notice was published by Mrs Mulligan on 29th September, 2015, almost twelve months after one of her employees authorised expenditure of a huge amount of taxpayer cash on a private legal matter – and exactly four months after the absence of the notice was drawn to the attention of her staff.

Indeed, it would not have been published at all were it not for considerable pressure exerted on social media (see example below); or by way of a formal complaint to the Police Scrutiny Panel in July 2015 concerning the absence of the notice from her website and via email communications between the Chief Constable’s Finance Officer, Jane Palmer, and myself in August 2015 regarding inspection of the police force’s annual accounts.

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The complaint raised against Julia Mulligan also particularised, amongst a number of other issues, concerns about the PCC not holding her chief constable to account over serial failings in the disposal of freedom of information requests (read more here). Despite the Scrutiny Panel, incredibly, not upholding the complaints concerning either the missing Decision Notice or the FoI failings, it has become clear that nine information requests made prior to October 2015 concerning the harassment claims are still unfulfilled. This nugget came from the North Yorkshire Police’s own Civil Disclosure Unit in an outcome dated 8th January, 2016 to Ms Angela Snodgrove, via the What Do They Know website (see NYP outcome here), and gives a clear indicator of the police mindset in seeking to conceal the truth over this financial farrago. A check on NYP’s FoI disclosure log suggests that they are all still unfulfilled.

The police investigation that led to the issuing of the civil harassment claim is styled Operation Hyson. It has been established that Hyson began almost as soon as its predecessor, Operation Rome, ended on 17th July, 2014. Rome was a criminal investigation which focused on two of the three defendants in the civil claim. Opened at the end of 2011, it was a complete, embarassing, and very costly failure for the force. It cannot be judged any other way when detectives spend 31 months attempting to prosecute three people for harassment, without even issuing a singe Police Improvement Notice (PIN) and interviewing only one of the three ‘suspects’?

The fall of Rome was also a major blow to former Police Authority Chair, Jane Kenyon, who was a prime mover behind Operation Rome and reportedly livid when the Crown Prosecution Service refused, on two separate occasions, to prosecute the ‘suspects’ of allegedly harassing her.

Miss Kenyon is also a central figure in the civil claim and, of course, a long term political ally of the Police Commissioner who is funding the legal fees.

A clue to the timings is found on an invoice from barrister Simon Myerson QC in which he refers to both Rome and Hyson (named after a Chinese green tea called Lucky Dragon). The first Hyson conference appears to be a near five hour marathon at Newby Wiske police HQ on 6th August, 2014 which plainly featured Mr Myerson. This meeting took place just over two weeks after Deputy Chief Constable Tim Madgwick had written to the alleged harassers saying there would be no criminal action taken against them. DCC Madgwick (pictured below) is another pivotal claimant in the civil case who is benefiting from – and presumably voted for – a huge amount of public funds to finance his private legal claim over his hurt feelings. He is also a friend of Miss Kenyon and corresponds with her in familiar terms.

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From documents disclosed to me it is also clear that following the initial Hyson meeting  Mr Myerson’s junior barrister, Hannah Lynch, spent every day for two weeks at police HQ in Northallerton, beginning 11th August, 2014, in conference about the newly instigated investigation. Whilst it is not known who else was present at these daily conferences we do learn from Miss Lynch’s invoices to NYP that Operation Hyson was the subject matter.

It was abundantly clear that, from its outset, Hyson was a major financial undertaking for the police force. It is also reasonable to infer that the police decision to proceed with the civil harassment claim – and fund it – had been taken at the 6th August meeting between the police and Mr Myerson. If not, before.

On October 3rd, 2014 it is claimed that the PCC and the Chief Constable say that they verbally tasked the Force Solicitor, Jane Wintermeyer, with collecting what are described as ‘manual estimates’ from five different departments that had allegedly incurred costs in pursuing Operation Rome. Four days later, the senior partner of Leeds solicitors Ford and Warren, Nick Collins, began billing North Yorkshire Police.

Another recent freedom of information request has revealed that Mrs Wintermeyer was Mr Myerson’s instructing solicitor prior to 7th October. Enquiries have also revealed that no lawyers ‘beauty parade’ took place before the awarding of a very substantial legal engagement to Mr Collins’ firm. NYP tell me that a process called a Single Access Tender (SAT) was invoked after Mr Myerson recommended Ford and Warren as his preferred instructing solicitor. Further details of that SAT, and the supporting documents behind it, have now been requested from NYP. The chronology put forward previously, concerning the events surrounding these legal arrangements, give rise to the strong suspicion that those documents may not exist.

An estimate of £202,000 was given to the police for the cost of the legal action fronted by Ford and Warren. This would, of course, also include the services of counsel, Mr Myerson and Miss Lynch, but exclude Value Added Tax (VAT), the treatment of which may yet become a controversial issue for the force if it has been reclaimed by them as input tax.

By 8th October, 2014 Miss Lynch had clearly started billing for preparation work on the civil harassment claim and another conference – the twelfth in just two months – took place at police HQ, involving her, two days later.

According to Mrs Wintermeyer, yet another conference took place soon after – on October 15th, 2014 –  at which the PCC’s Chief Financial Officer, Michael Porter, was asked to ‘authorise expenditure that would allow proactive legal action in respect of the alleged harassment of persons including NYP officers and staff‘. Mr Porter splits his role under Mrs Mulligan with similar duties for the Cleveland PCC. Mr Myerson was also present at this meeting.

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The ‘manual estimates’ for the Operation Rome costings were delivered on 12th January, 2015. The total put forward by Mrs Wintermeyer was £409,970.90 (the breakdown of her costings can be viewed here).

Fourteen officers had, allegedly, been involved in the Rome investigation and whilst the legitimacy of some of the number of hours, days and months actually dealing with harassment – as opposed to other viable complaints, correspondence or criminal enquiries – need to be clarified, the hourly rates used in the calculations appear highly questionable. To the extent that NYP have been tasked via another Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) request to provide substance to their figures. For example, the rate for an hour of a chief officer’s time is £35.93 whilst detectives investigating harassment (presumably at detective constable and sergeant rank) are rated at £23.24. Common sense suggests that both cannot be correct.

North Yorkshire Police have broken the law (yet again) in failing to determine that FoIA request within the statutory 20 working day period.

It would also strike the independent observer as odd that ‘back of the envelope’ cost calculations should take over three months to collect and collate, by the Force Solicitor, when both Mrs Mulligan, and the Chief Constable, each employ a highly remunerated and professionally qualified Chief Financial Officer. Both of whom might, reasonably, be expected to have such details at their fingertips.

Another curiosity is that a FoIA request determined jointly by NYP and the PCC on 1st December, 2014 stated that they could ‘neither confirm nor deny’ that the same financial information being collected by Mrs Wintermeyer actually existed (read FoI decision here).

A more recent FoIA outcome (1oth March 2016) delivered by NYP via the WhatDoTheyKnow website (read in full here) casts even further doubt onto the authenticity of the £410,000 estimate. NYP say that Mrs Wintermeyer’s costings were not even broken down year by year (2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014) which any book-keeper, with an ‘O’ level in mathematics, would deem to be a basic requirement. How can some officers have analysed their time down to the minute and, yet, not know the date they allegedly did the work on Operation Rome? The whole Wintermeyer exercise lacks a ring of truth. A remark that can also be made about a number of her contributions to Operation Hyson. To the extent that she is now the subject of formal Code of Ethics complaint (read more here)

On the same day as Mrs Wintermeyer’s ‘costings’ were delivered to her employers (12th January), she says ‘advice was provided to the PCC regarding the lawfulness of expending money from the police force budget for Operation Hyson’. She doesn’t say from whom, but goes on to say ‘On or about January 13th, 2015 advice was provided from a leading barrister‘. It is not clear upon whose instructions that the ‘leading barrister’ was acting, what those instructions actually were, or the advice given, or to whom, as Mrs Wintermeyer is claiming legal privilege. Curiously, Mr Myerson on his detailed invoice for the day in question makes no mention of providing such opinion.

Following publication of this article, Mrs Wintermeyer has backtracked from her 13th January claim and has now put forward another unlikely proposition: That Mr Myerson gave the Police Commissioner his professional opinion over the vires of the funding of the civil claim in open meeting on 15th October, 2014. Whilst, seemingly, not instructed by solicitors retained by her.

Less than a week after the highly questionable Operation Rome costings and purported legal advice were given to Mrs Mulligan and the Chief Constable, Mrs Wintermeyer says the decision was made to issue civil proceedings against the subjects of the Rome criminal investigation.

But the date given for that decision – on or about 19th January, 2015 – cannot be true, for a number of reasons. It must been taken been taken months earlier. Operation Hyson, as we know from Mr Myerson’s invoices, was underway almost as soon as Rome collapsed in July 2014. Hyson is, to all intents and purposes the collection of evidence for, and the pursuit, of the civil litigation. Another clue is that, according to a very reliable source, three of the claimants’ witness statements were drawn up and signed before 19th January. Another clue from Mr Myerson’s accounts is that he was working on his skeleton argument and a draft order on 13th January.

But the most compelling reason is that the huge amount of materials exhibited with the harassment claim form could not have possibly been assembled, printed, collated, boxed and sent to the court, the nine claimants and three defendants on the following day. It takes a porter’s trolley to wheel them into court. Included in those boxes full of lever arch files is a witness statement from Mrs Wintermeyer that names twelve other individuals as potential claimants in the harassment proceedings, including the Temporary Chief Constable of Cleveland Police, Iain Spittal (pictured below); retired NYP ACC Steve Read and five other NYP officers. Two of them at managerial rank. Four of them still serving and one retired.

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That statement also makes clear that approaches had been made by Mrs Wintermeyer to councillors and officers of North Yorkshire County Council, City of York Council, Scarborough Borough Council and Leeming Parish Council, amongst others, to canvass backing for NYP’s harassment claims. This is a process that must have taken weeks and months, not hours.

It is not clear upon whose instructions Mrs Wintermeyer was acting, in what appears to be unethical touting using the temptation of free legal funding, courtesy of the unwitting taxpayer, in the name of North Yorkshire Police. It is unprecedented and scandalous conduct by a police force, or any other public authority for that matter, following extensive searches to find a similar example. For a solicitor (and an officer of the Court) to indulge herself in such practices may also pose regulatory, or court procedural, issues.

Significantly, the number of claimants has seemingly reduced by one, not increased: Retired Superintendent Heather Pearson (pictured below) no longer appears on formal court documents, including the Consent Order agreed on 9th February, 2015. The fact that her witness statement was not signed, or dated, at the time of service may have a bearing on that. Ms Pearson was a senior officer on the failed Rome investigation under DCC Madgwick’s direction. By contrast, none of the twelve named by Mrs Wintermeyer, or the many other and so far unnamed public officials, have come forward to join in the financial free-for-all.

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But it was at the end of January 2015 where it all started to go wrong for the police, its PCC and all the others involved in Operation Hyson. Having taken almost six months gathering information for their legal claim, the decision was taken to abandon the Court’s strict requirement for pre-action protocol to be followed. This involves a letter before claim being served on defendants so that they can marshall their own resources and attempt to narrow issues between the parties, before the expense of court costs is incurred. A decision made all the more extraordinary insofar as the principal target of the litigation, Mr Peter Hofschröer, was incarcerated in HMP Wandsworth, having been arrested by NYP in York city centre six weeks earlier.

The court papers show that they were sealed on 20th January and it has been established that process servers were engaged to hand them to the defendants the day after. The cost of that exercise was over £1,000 for delivering two boxes containing fourteen oversized lever arch files to three addresses.

An interim hearing date at Leeds High Court had already been set for 9th February, 2015 by the time proceedings were filed and served. Whether the defendants were available to put their case to the judge, or not.

On the face of it, the action of the police gave every appearance of a legal ambush. It is also a fair assumption that they either did not expect the two journalist defendants, Tim Hicks and Nigel Ward (pictured below), to turn up at court – or they would attend unrepresented and find themselves facing a leading QC and a junior barrister.

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In the event, after a hasty scramble, representation was arranged for the journalists via Nottingham law firm, Bhatia Best, and London human rights barrister, Ian Brownhill. It was a smart move as no injunctive relief was granted for the nine claimants and there was no order for costs. The Daily Mirror journalist in court at the time, Mark Lister, described the Consent Order agreed by Mr Brownhill and Mr Myerson as ‘a complete capitulation‘ by the police’s lay claimants.

Mr Brownhill also raised the moot point that, in his opinion, the funding of the civil action by the police was potentially ultra vires or in layman’s terms, in breach of common law. NYP’s legal team had, at first, tried to conceal from the defendants’ lawyers that the police were, in fact, financing the claim. Nowhere, in fourteen lever arch files of pleadings, could a certificate of funding be found. Which hardly suggests that NYP were brimful of confidence that such an arrangement would withstand judicial scrutiny.

Neither did the fact that Julia Mulligan had opted not to inform the North Yorkshire taxpayers about the fact that she had committed well over £200,000 of their money, taking sides in what her solicitor describes, disingenuously, as a ‘family dispute’. No formal Decision Note was published in October 2014 when the agreement to spend this money was allegedly made with the Chief Constable and, as rehearsed in some detail above, the public would not have been informed at all without my intervention. A fact admitted by Mrs Wintermeyer in correspondence between us.

This refusal to publish details of the decision to fund a private legal claim does not sit easily with the PCC’s repeated assertion of ‘openness and transparency’ in her approach to her elected representative role or, indeed, her lawful obligations under the Elected Local Policing Bodies (Specified Information) Order, 2011 at Schedule Part 1 5(d) which states: ‘a record of each decision of significant public interest arising from the exercise of the elected local policing body’s functions, whether made by the body at or as a result of a meeting or otherwise

Mrs Mulligan, Mrs Wintermeyer and the PCC’s Chief Executive, Joanna Carter, are all silent over what they knew about Operation Hyson – and they are all also currently claiming it is uncosted as far as NYP internal charges are concerned – from its inception at the beginning of August 2014 until the meeting on 15th October, 2014, where it is said that Mr Porter approved the expenditure of Ford and Warren’s budget estimate of £202,000.

Ms Carter was Treasurer to the defunct North Yorkshire Police Authority (NYPA) from 2005 to its cessation. A very troubled period in which there were repeated scandals over alleged misuse of public funds by senior police officers. Throughout that period Jane Kenyon was, significantly, Chair of NYPA.

Piece by piece, the picture on the front of the Lucky Dragon jigsaw box begins to shape up.

By May 18th, 2015 the legal costs incurred by solicitors and counsel retained by NYP on Operation Hyson had run up to £141,737.94, almost 75% of the budget. On 29th May I first raised my disquiet with Mrs Mulligan, and her staff, about the missing Decision Notice and lack of other information to which taxpayers were entitled. Those legitimate concerns were studiously ignored.

Poor engagement with constituents, and journalists, has been a consistent feature of the PCC’s tenure and she has twice been upbraided by the Police and Crime Scrutiny Panel (PCP) on this issue. On one of those occasions, in December 2013, she was asked by the PCP to apologise to one of the two journalists involved in this action as defendant, Tim Hicks. Mrs Mulligan has steadfastly refused to do so ever since. Not only undermining her own credibility, bringing the complaints system into disrepute but, most crucially, calling into question her own personal motivation for funding the costly harassment action against Mr Hicks, with the public’s cash.

A case management hearing on 26th June, 2015 was the next court outing for the police’s high-powered and hugely expensive legal battalions, which no doubt contributed to the uplift in the lawyers’ bills to £164,602 by the end of September. This was the figure published in the long-overdue Decision Notice which appeared, unheralded, on the PCC’s website on the 29th of that month.

Submissions made by Mr Myerson in his skeleton argument ahead of the June hearing included the false claim that I had been in Leeds High Court on 9th February (rather than in my sick bed at home) and an equally ludicrous assertion that I had ‘harassed’ Chief Constable David Jones and eight other claimants by posting articles and messages on behalf of Messrs Hicks and Ward. This harassment claim was not particularised, which was unsurprising as there are no such harassing articles or messages. Significantly, there has been no contact from either Mr Jones or his police force, since the hearing, that remotely concerns such allegations. It amounted to nothing more than a blatant attempt by North Yorkshire Police to smear.

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The Decision Notice makes no attempt to account for the delay in publication, or the unusual circumstances in which Mrs Mulligan was compelled to comply with her lawful obligations. Most crucially, it does not mention that her two most senior officers, the Chief Constable and his Deputy, were to benefit by at least £24,000 each from the arrangement. We are back, it seems to the bad old North Yorkshire Police days of the Della Canning, Grahame Maxwell and Adam Briggs style of management.

The whole matter of the PCC’s Decision Notice has the uncomfortable feel of sleight of hand and historical revisionism, not assisted by Mrs Wintermeyer’s refusal to provide documentary evidence to back up the claims made in the notice. Such as email communications between the PCC and Mr Porter or Joanna Carter between August and October, 2014. Mrs Wintermeyer’s preoccupation with attempting to smear me over a similar civil harassment case, in which I recently succeeded against the IPCC and their three publicly funded lay claimants, did more to undermine her credibility than mine. A link between the two cases is that one of the IPCC’s claimants against me, Senior Oversight Manager Rebecca Reed, was also approached to join in with NYP’s harassment action. This information was taken from the Miss Reed’s own witness evidence in a third money-no-object, publicly funded harassment action which concluded on 18th February, 2016 at Leeds County Court. The defendant refused to participate in the proceedings claiming that his Article 6 convention rights were being breached by the Court.

Less than three weeks after publication of the Decision Notice, on October 16th 2015, Mrs Mulligan was telling a former local councillor at a Whitby Rotary Club lunch that ‘the spending tap has been turned off‘ as far as Hyson and the civil claim was concerned. She was, it seems, either being economical with the truth or was being misled by police’s chief officer team.

Notwithstanding the PCC’s claim, there have been two more court hearings in Leeds since the Decision Notice appeared. On 27th November 2015 and 20th January, 2016. At the first of those hearings judgment was awarded against Mr Hofschröer which leaves the two journalists as the remaining defendants and legal costs spiralling out of control – and very likely well beyond the budget figure of £202,000.

With a trial date now set for 20th July, 2016 legal costs are likely to run over to £400,000 with another large chunk of senior police officer time occupied on top of the financial burden.

The one saving grace as far as the PCC’s legal costs are concerned is that the police QC, Simon Myerson (pictured below), has absented himself from the latest two hearings, although he is still on record at the court as leading barrister for the claimants. When approached on the Twitter social media website as to why a QC was running a county court harassment claim he stated that ‘the law is complex and the point is novel’. That was taken to mean whether the funding decision was vires or ultra vires. When this was put to Mrs Wintermeyer in subsequent correspondence between us she claimed the issue of vires was not at all novel.

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Mr Myerson charges the police £300 an hour to give opinions and advocate in their cause. Even when he is travelling in his car, with expenses on top. Yet, he is happy to spend an inordinate amount of time on Twitter ‘arguing’ for free, and ‘losing’ on a surprising number of occasions.

Two freedom of information requests concerning sight of the up to date bills from Mr Myerson, his junior colleague, Miss Lynch, and Weightmans have not yet produced a response from NYP. The first of those was made on 8th January, 2016 and the police have, to the surprise of no-one, been prepared for the umpteenth time to break the law rather than comply.

A separate freedom of information request, concerning the independent legal advice received by Mrs Mulligan about the legality of the civil claim funding, also remains unfulfilled. It simply asks for sight of the invoices from the solicitor and barrister who provided the opinion. A similar request was made concerning the ‘opinion’ sought by the PCC’s auditors, Mazars LLP, that enabled them to pronounce, belatedly, that the use of public funds to fund private litigation is lawful. They are also now overdue for disposal.

So much then for Mrs Mulligan’s and the Chief Constable’s approach to openness and transparency. A phrase that is repeated no less than four times in the PCC’s Decision Notice. Doth the lady protest too much?

An update to the PCC’s Decision Notice and a sharp upward revision of the budget for the legal expenditure is eagerly awaited, as is requested comment on this report from the two police chiefs.

A clarification on the position regarding Value Added Tax and P11D benefits in kind for the police employees named in the civil claim, would also be most welcome by the taxpayers of North Yorkshire and beyond.

The cost of silencing journalists via the civil courts doesn’t come cheap, as the IPCC recently discovered, and neither is it guaranteed to succeed.

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Page last updated Thursday 19th May, 2016 at 0745hrs

© 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), BBC Inside Out, North Yorkshire Enquirer and Office of Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire