When the ‘cover-up’ becomes the story

Hi, Mabs. Ian Hopkins speaking.”

So began the search for a new member of the most troubled command team in British policing. Even before the post was advertised. In footballing parlance, Chief Superintendent Maboob “Mabs” Hussain from the neighbouring West Yorkshire force (WYP) had been “tapped up”.

Hopkins, the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) chief constable, ultimately, and he thought seamlessly, secured the transfer of Mabs from a rival team across the Pennines. Even though the tapping up did cause some discomfort within the GMP command team, emails disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act reveal.

The phone call was made on the same day that Hopkins and his deputy, Ian Pilling, claim they decided that another assistant chief constable was needed to bolster their dwindling team: 19th July, 2018. But no notes in day books were made, no meeting or briefing notes, no team discussion, no decision rationale, no disclosable data at all. Just a spur of the moment, informal discussion it seems.

It also appears that the police and crime commissioner was not consulted, either, as required by law.

But, those not so minor issues apart, all seemed fine and dandy; slick dresser Mabs had got a promotion, some might say well-deserved, and a pay rise of around £40,000, including benefits; Hopkins had been able to disguise the fact that no other senior police officer in the country wanted to work for him AND he had a black minority ethic (BAME) face in his leadership team, to underscore his commitment to the police service’s obsession with diversity. Smiles and handshakes all round.

Except that Hopkins had the dubious distinction of having, at that time,  TWO disgraced assistant chief constables on long-term absence from the force, with neither expected to return. The cost to the taxpayer was around £250,000 per annum. Which, in terms the man, or woman, on the crime-riddled, poverty-stricken streets of Manchester might understand, would pay for ten bobbies on the beat. Or, more than adequately feed fifteen families of five for a year.

The first of those, ACC Steve Heywood, is presently awaiting a charging decision from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) after an investigation by The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC, but perhaps better known as the IPCC). The latter said, in May 2018:

“Our investigation looked at the evidence given by ACC Steven Heywood at the [Anthony Grainger] inquiry, particularly in relation to how he recorded information in his police (sic) log book.

Heywood has been dogged by other major policing scandals since his full promotion to the command team in April, 2013. He had been in a temporary ACC role for eighteen months prior. He has been absent from the force for eighteen months on full pay. Again, a six figure salary plus benefits.

On 14th November, 2018, after almost a week of rumours swirling around social media, news was released to the press, by GMP, of Heywood’s retirement. Apart from his own failings, that led, at least in part, to the needless death of Anthony Grainger, Heywood has always sought to conceal his role in the handling of notorious villain, Dale Cregan, who eventually, and tragically, shot and killed two young Manchester police officers. The subsequent, and some say, contrived, sale of Heywood’s house also developed into a murky scandal centred around whether he was at risk from Cregan, at the time locked up in the Category AA wing (known as The Cage) of Strangeways jail. The artful financial wangling was followed by the inevitable, long-running, multi-layered GMP ‘cover-up’. The troubled ACC was also Head of Public Protection in GMP for at least some of the period covered by the Rochdale grooming scandal. The vexed question of ‘who knew what’ within the police force is presently being addressed via an inquiry run by the Greater Manchester Mayor.

The infamous ‘Boobgate’ scandal claimed the second of the miscreant ACC’s: Rebekah Sutcliffe, whom many believe owes her continued, if pointless, place in the police service to the astute advocacy of John Beggs QC. Who, somehow, managed to persuade a disciplinary panel, that included Sir Thomas Winsor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, to conclude proceedings with a written warning, rather than dismissal. A remarkable achievement, in the light of the allegations against her and a previous chequered history with the force. Sutcliffe, who infamously told colleague, Superintendent Sarah Jackson, that she would be “judged on the size of her tits” is presently seconded to Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council, where she is overseeing a project to encourage exercise, healthy living and healthy eating (watch short video clip here) . A demeaning ‘non-job’ costing taxpayers £109,000, plus benefits, per annum. She was reprimanded in 2010 for trying to pull rank and gatecrash a Labour party conference hotel, to attend a drinks junket when she had no accreditation to enter the secure site. There was also an IPCC ivestigation into her failure to declare a relevant relationship with chief superintendent, Paul Rumney, when chairing a disciplinary panel. Rumney, never far from controversy himself, was Head of GMP’s Professional Standards Board at the material time, thus creating a clear conflict of interest. That neither, oddly enough, appeared to notice at the time.

49 year old Sutcliffe’s secondment to Oldham council was due to end in September, 2018, but a spokesperson for the latter recently told Police Oracle: “There is no agreed end date for the secondment at this time. Rebekah is still the Strategic Director of Reform”. GMP refused to comment on if, or when, she would be returning to the force. It is believed she has five years of police service remaining before she becomes eligible for retirement. Her biography has been deleted from the GMP chief officer team webpage.

At a time when the police service cannot give away deputy and chief constable roles, another ACC, Debbie Ford, recently secured a rare neutral-rank transfer from GMP back to her former force, Cumbria Police. Having told at least one former senior colleague, retired superintendent Pete Jackson, she was uncomfortable with being associated with scandal after scandal that routinely engulfs the force. As the former murder detective wryly observes: “Challenging the unethical, unprofessional conduct of her peers was an option she might have considered, rather than heading for the exit door”. There may be other personal, or professional, reasons why Ford left GMP, of course. But, if there are, the public is in the dark. Ford joins Sarah Jackson at Cumbria, after the latter also sought a transfer from the troubled Manchester force.

Garry Shewan was another who walked away from an ACC role in the UK’s fourth largest force, doing a ‘moonlight flit’ as GMP’s £27 million iOPS technology upgrade, for which he had portfolio responsibility, crashed and burned. The budget for the project is believed to have roughly doubled. “Honest Cop” Shewan, like Heywood and Sutcliffe, had also been dogged by scandal over the previous four years as both the author of this piece, and an increasing number of well respected police whistleblowers, rounded on him and exposed a number of troubling, alleged misdemeanours. Some of them very well evidenced. In one particular case, that resulted in the controversial, and many say unjust, dismissal of a junior officer, ex chief constable Sir Peter Fahy allowed Shewan to investigate complaints about himself. They had been made by the discipline lead of the local police federation, no less. In another case, Shewan wanted to manage a conduct complaint about him outside the statutory framework and through a restorative justice process in which he was the controlling influence. He had admitted giving a misleading statement about knowledge, or otherwise, of an investigation being carried out by Fahy into another chief constable. The issue being that Shewan had withheld crucial information that could have significantly informed that probe. The Operation Redbone outcome was signbificantly flawed as a result.

Hate crime champion, Shewan, was also not slow to complain about feeling ‘harassed’ when tackled about his conduct.

Yet another Manchester assistant chief constable to head for the exit door, as trouble rained down on him, was Terry Sweeney. His retirement triggered an angry response from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC, now IOPC).  He was under investigation by the IPCC for two separate allegations, after being served with a gross misconduct notice in relation to the disposal of body parts by GMP from victims of the notorious Harold Shipman. In addition, he was served with a criminal and gross misconduct notice in respect of his role in an allegedly poorly-handled investigation into a now-convicted child sex offender, Dominic Noonan. Sweeney was also involved in the alleged ‘cover-up’ of the unauthorised bugging of offices, occupied by senior leadership team members, by Superintendent Julian Snowball, who had purchased equipment for his illegal activities on the internet. Terry Sweeney was also formerly a Commander of GMP’s Rochdale Division and is yet another part, however small, of the ‘who knew what’ police mystery concerning child sex abuse in the town.

One of Sweeney’s sycophantic clique, during this troubled period, was Detective Chief Inspector (as he was then) John Lyons, latest holder of the poisoned chalice that is Head of Ethics and Standards at troubled Cleveland Police. Lyons is remembered well by former GMP peers for a discreditable, unpleasant, early morning drunken incident in Bolton town centre, in which subordinate officers were verbally abused. Sweeney is said to have smoothed the path so that his friend faced no meaningful sanction.

The IPCC Commissioner overseeing the Sweeney investigations, said at the time: “Greater Manchester Police has informed the IPCC that ACC Terry Sweeney is retiring on 31 October, 2014. The IPCC cannot prevent that happening, but we have been assured that ACC Sweeney will cooperate with our investigations after his departure.

“A police officer resigning or retiring when they are subject to investigation does not serve anyone’s purpose and can frustrate our investigations leaving important questions unanswered. Such a practice can only be damaging to public confidence in policing. We will continue pursuing all lines of enquiry before publishing our findings and evidence so that the public can decide for themselves.”

Sweeney faced no further action. Strangely, the IPCC report can no longer be located on their website.

Against this alarming, and continuous, backdrop, Chief Constable Hopkins has also been under heavy siege for the past twelve months, as a series of national newspaper front page splashes, in depth exposés, and a call for a public inquiry, has kept both him, and his scandal-rocked force in the headlines. For all the wrong reasons, it must be said. He was also lambasted over the Boobgate scandal, and some squarely put the blame on him for not nipping Becky Sutcliffe’s drunken antics in the bar, whilst stood with her at the boozy women’s policing function. Instead he delegated that unpleasant, hazardous task to a subordinate, whilst he sloped off to enjoy another ‘freebie’ at a nearby luxury hotel (read more here). Which might readily explain why no-one wanted to work for him as an assistant chief constable and end up with a reputation tarnished in the manner of Heywood, Shewan, Sutcliffe or Sweeney. Or have to backtrack to their home force in the manner of Debbie Ford.

An independent observer might also conclude that, given the present circumstances, and sensing there may be even worse to come, you would have to be desperate to walk into that firestorm.

Nevertheless, Hussain took up the role of Assistant Chief Constable at GMP on 1st October, 2018. He was the only candidate who applied, after the approach from Hopkins, and it is said, the only candidate interviewed; although no documented evidence of such an event has been disclosed to the author of this piece, after what have been quite exhaustive enquiries: Two freedom of information requests (one each to GMP and WYP) concerning the appointment; enquiries made of both police force press offices; fairly lengthy correspondence with GMP Deputy Chief Constable (DCC) Ian Pilling and one way correspondence with WYP Chief Constable, Dee Collins. Whom, it must be said, has this unappealing, unethical, unprofessional, and repeating habit of burying her head in the sand at the first sign of trouble. Particularly, when it is one of her ‘favourites’ under scrutiny. Mabs was, most certainly, in that group.

Documents disclosed by WYP under FOIA reveal the usual inconsistencies. Collins claims the matter of Mabs’ ‘tapping-up’ on 19th July, 2018 by Hopkins and subsequent application to GMP, was first discussed amongst her own command team the day after he was appointed (4th September, 2018). The only record in her day book, she says, is on that same date and a copy has been disclosed.

Yet, Collins had assisted in Mabs’ application, in early August, to the extent that, in section 11 of the application form (a blank form can be viewed here) it was required to be completed by the applicant’s chief constable, she filled it in and sent it back to Hussain, via email, with the jolly message: ‘If it is not what you want, alter it to suit’. 

No note in her day book about that event. Or, if there is, it has not been disclosed. A retired WYP command team member has revealed that, under Dee Collins’ leadership, the priority is what to EXCLUDE from notes of their meetings, rather than maintain an auditable record.

Taken at its face, and by reference to the disclosures made, so far, by both forces, Hopkins did not contact Collins. Which, given the recent history of each of those two police forces covering up for the other, and the fact that they are neighbours, with a large shared border, is difficult to contemplate.

There is no documented record, either, of Mabs contacting his own chief constable, or vice versa, after the Hopkins phone call.

The fact it was public knowledge, broadcast by Collins, no less, that Mabs was in line for the next ACC role in his home force, where he had served his entire 22 year police career, simply adds to the intrigue as to why a popular, high achieving, Bradford council estate lad made good, would take such a risk with this move to GMP.

At the time of his appointment as ACC, this is what a gushing Mabs said on the GMP website: “I’m thrilled to have been given this opportunity. I have great admiration for the work GMP has done for some time, knowing they are a similar size to WYP and respecting the way they have responded to particularly challenging times over the years. Their commitment to public service and the demands I can expect to face in my new role were all things which appealed to me to join the GMP family.”

So, let us look at this statement in more detail:

He was certainly correct about being ‘given’ the opportunity. Gift-wrapped, with a ribbon on top.

But then his fresh-from-the-strategic-command-course-sycophantic-management-speak sets the alarm bells ringing (Mabs had successfully negotiated the necessary College of Policing test six months earlier):

Firstly, he does not explain what it is he admires about GMP that places it above his former force. Both have a dreadful history of covering up industrial scale child sex abuse Rochdale, Oldham, Bradford (Mabs’ home city for all his life), Dewsbury, Keighley, Halifax, Huddersfield, Manchester Curry Mile, Mirfield. Similarly, their failures to tackle volume crime, particularly burglarly, are legion. Both have gun, and knife, crime that is out of control. Is all this ‘the [GMP] commitment to public service’ to which he refers? But, moving on, both have professional standards departments and counter-corruption units that are perennially inept, and, arguably, corrupt. Both have ACPO teams, past and present, mired in scandal. Both have chief constables that are, quite plainly, out of their depth. Both have the unenviable reputation for outrageous, high profile cover-ups. So what is it that makes GMP ‘admirable’, one has to wonder: The debacle in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing; the Operation Grantham stored body parts scandal; or a multi-million pound organised crime investigation that collapsed after allegations of police officer corruption? These three examples are drawn from a lengthy list that also includes Operations Poppy 1 and 2, and Operation Leopard, of which more will be heard in a separate articles.

Secondly, no-one who knows even a little about policing, or reads the national newspapers, or watches police documentaries on TV, or listens to radio programmes such as File on 4, could conclude anything other than, in its present form, run by Hopkins, Greater Manchester Police is a scandal-hit shambles. Perhaps Mabs, an alert thief-taker, missed all that?

Thirdly, he describes Greater Manchester Police as ‘a family’. The implication is happiness, cohesion and belonging. Which couldn’t be further from the truth. There is a rush for the exit door into careers such as train, or tram, driver;  officers count the hours and days to retirement; morale in the force is at rock bottom says the GMP Police Federation; faith in the leadership team is correspondingly low, and, so stressed are the frontline officers with the working environment, record numbers are calling in sick. Add to that the internal strife caused by over-promotion of on-message sycophants, who have never seen an angry man; obsessive internal witch-hunts conducted against officers prepared to call out wrongdoing, and then draw your own conclusions as to whether this den of skulduggery, and two-faced-gittery, is a family of which anyone sensible would really want to newly marry into. Especially, if it means uprooting your own family from an area in which you’ve lived all your life, and leaving an organisation in which you started your career, progressed at a pleasing rate, and have always been well regarded.

For his part, and at the same time, Chief Constable Hopkins said of his new recruit: “I’m delighted to welcome Mabs to the GMP family. He is an extremely experienced officer and he will help us to continue to drive the force forward”. Over a cliff, presumably? As for police ‘family’, Hopkins is on his fourth, having previously worked in three of the smaller county forces before making the quantum leap to Manchester in 2008.  Becoming chief constable of GMP, by default, in 2015, as no-one else applied for that job, either.

As one might expect, the Manchester Evening News (MEN), in what police whistleblowers say is their adopted role as the public relations arm of GMP, ran a ‘Welcome to Mabs’ puff piece, as Hussain gave his first exclusive ‘interview’, just one day after joining the force (read full MEN article here).

Despite controversy over the appointment, broadcast widely on social media, MEN avoided asking any difficult questions. It all had the look, and feel, of a pre-planned ‘corporate comms’ operation, with softball questions, and answers, agreed in advance, to avoid any embarassing issues surfacing, inadvertently.

There was, however, one interesting passage: Mabs was, presumably, well prepared when asked this question by award-winning MEN reporter, Neal Kealing:

– Is it true you and your family get stopped routinely when you fly abroad?

“Yes. I do get stopped regularly, in particular flying to the States – my brother lives in America – and I do visit him regularly. I have been taken off a flight, because they forgot to check me getting onto a flight, which was rather embarrassing. It does frustrate me. I can understand the reason for checking people who fit a certain age group, ethnicity, and profile. But it does annoy me that it is happening so often.

“As a result I did write to Homeland Security. The Director General replied saying they couldn’t confirm or deny if I was on any international list. I have what they call a redress number, which I can use when I fly, which they say should hopefully limit the level of inconvenience caused. You have to go with the flow.

“It is frustrating. But people have a job to do. Flying out of America I still get stopped. I usually get told my name has been flagged up, and to expect some delay. I don’t mind security checks, it shows we are taking terrorism seriously.”

Even more interestingly, Mabs was not asked these questions by “Killer”, as Kealing is known to friends and colleagues:

– What, or who, persusaded you to apply to join GMP?

– Why uproot your family and leave a force where you have served all your career?

– Was the competition for the job, and the interview, tough?

– Are you concerned about the welter of bad publicity that has engulfed GMP recently, particularly in The Times and The Sunday Times, and on BBC television and radio?

– What do you think of two serving ACC colleagues being removed from the force? One of whom may be facing criminal proceedings and the other who brought national shame and ridicule on GMP and the city of Manchester.

– Are you concerned about another ACC retiring in what was, effectively, a moonlight flit after grotesquely failing on a major infrastructure project?-

– Has this poisoned chalice been handed to you?

– Have you questioned why and how the ACC vacancy arose?

– Have you spoken to ACC Debbie Ford about why she left?

– Joining from another force that has history of ‘problem’ senior officers (Norman Bettison and Mark Gilmore being very high profile examples), has this better equipped you to deal with a low calibre command team such as GMP?

– Will you robustly challenge inappropriate conduct of senior colleagues. Or look the other way, or walk away, as is the tradition in GMP?

– Were you asked in interview about the persistent allegations, circulating on social media, made by WYP whistleblowers against you?

– Have you been asked by either Mr Hopkins, or Mr Pilling, about them since you joined?

– Is there any truth in those allegations? Which include the proposition of failing counter terrorist unit vetting for a number of years.

– Were the whistleblower allegations robustly, and thoroughly, investigated by WYP, before you left, so that the air could be cleared and you could deal with any residual issues. If, indeed, there are any at all, on your application form and vetting declaration?

Whilst the MEN was giving Mabs the VIP treatment, Questions were being asked, by two investigative journalists, of the police press offices in Manchester and West Yorkshire about the allegations against Mabs. One of which, it is said, has been the subject of a complaint made by a serving WYP superintendent (also served as a detective chief inspector in professional standards for several years) and close working colleague.

Essentially, (i) have they been investigated – and (ii) what was the outcome?

Straighforward enough, and not at all unreasonable to expect honest answers from two of the country’s law enforcement agencies. But, no, all questions have been glibly deflected by both press offices, to both journalists, in a manner that seemed calculated to cause further exasperation.

Both those journalists, the author of this piece and the BBC’s Neil Morrow, readily accept that, if the wall of silence is maintained by both police forces, it is almost impossible to get to the truth of the issue of whether an investigation took place, or not. But, it can be said, with some certainty, that had one taken place, and cleared Mabs, then neither force would have been slow to trumpet that fact; discrediting the whistleblowers and those adopting their cause.

There has been email correspondence between Ian Pilling and Neil Wilby that appears to confirm that no checks have been made by GMP over the vetting issue and they had not asked, as of 14th September, 2018 any questions of WYP, at all, concerning the allegations against Mabs. The announcement of his appointment as the new GMP ACC had been made ten days earlier. The following day, 5th September, 2018, Pilling was passed, in strict confidence, correspondence between Neil Wilby, the WYP press office and Dee Collins dating back to January/February, 2018. The serving superintendent is copied into that correspondence. Which is shortly after the latest of the alleged incidents concerning Mabs. DCC Pilling cannot claim not to know the identity of that officer.

The official GMP line, says Pilling, is that if there has been any allegations concerning misconduct, during his service with WYP, then they were matters for the Appropriate Authority of that force, Chief Constable Collins, to deal with, not himself or Ian Hopkins. He was confident such an investigation would have been undertaken, but was not going to ask the question – and still hasn’t, on the evidence available. On 14th September, 2018, DCC Pilling says that he forwarded the concerns over the allegations to the West Yorkshire chief constable.

Following freedom of information request to both GMP and WYP, it appears that Ian Pilling did NOT contact Dee Collins, by email or letter, at least, to make enquiries as to whether that investigation into Mabs did, in fact take place. He didn’t contact DCC John Robins or Head of Professional Standards, Osman Khan, either. Neither did Ian Hopkins, nor his own Head of Professional Standards, Annette Anderson, contact any of the WYP officers named here.

It was also established, from the disclosure arising from those same requests, that there appears to have been no contact between any of the same three GMP senior officers and either the College of Policing or the National Police Chiefs Council, concerning Mabs’ appointment or any vetting concerns. The College’s senior selection team were made aware in January, 2018 of the whistleblower concerns, but no email correspondence between the College of Policing and either WYP, or GMP, has been disclosed upon request.

Dee Collins begins a three month secondment to the College of Policing in January, 2019.

A separate information request to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority seeking disclosure of correspondence between the de facto police and crime commissioner, Deputy Mayor of Manchester, Beverley Hughes, and her chief constable has, so far, been stonewalled.

By way of section 40 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, 2011, the chief constable must consult the Police and Crime Commissioner (the Deputy Mayor in the case of GMCA) before appointing a person as an assistant chief constable of the force.

The response to the information request provided by the PCC is highly questionable. She claims that in respect of the appointment of deputy and assistant chief  constables, her oversight responsibility is confined to private chats between herself and the chief constable. No notes, or minutes, taken and no email traffic between the two. Indeed, no retrievable data is held says Baroness Hughes.

Material disclosed by GMP contradicts that position. Internal email correspondence between Ian Hopkins and Ian Pilling say she was sent a copy of Mabs’ application form, plus background papers, on 29th August, 2018. Put another way, the Deputy Mayor of Manchester has lied to journalist, Neil Wilby.

The stated position of the Deputy Mayor, according to her written response to the information request, has been robustly challenged. But no response had been provided by her within the required four week period under FOIA and the Information Commissioner’s guidance.

A complaint has been lodged with the Information Commissioner’s Office concerning the handling of the request, and a further complaint is being submitted to the appropriate authority alleging honesty and integrity breaches by Beverley Hughes. In this case, the Greater Manchester Police and Crime Panel.

Baroness Hughes, another living, breathing example of the abuse of the ‘honours’ system does, of course, have ‘previous’ for lying. Having resigned as a Labour government minister, in 2004, for doing just that – and in very similar circumstances to those prevailing here: Denying she’d received a memorandum when it was readily proved that she had not only received the document, but acted on it.

Whether, or not, it is possible to get to the truth of the WYP whistleblower allegations against Mabs Hussain is a moot point, without an unequivocal statement from either Ian Hopkins, Dee Collins, or Mabs himself. But, as with so many policing issues over the years, it is now the ‘cover-up’ that becomes the story.

In this particular case, without the ever-lengthening mystery, and the lies that inevitably follow, surrounding this matter, there simply is no story. It could have been put to bed by a two paragraph statement from WYP in February or March, 2018.

This cover-up may yet claim some very high profile scalps, even if the new GMP assistant chief constable emerges untarnished and free to get on with his new job.

The press offices of GMP, WYP and the Deputy Mayor’s Office have all declined to comment. Indeed, the latter two have not even acknowledged the request.

The enquiry to the GMP press office ends thus: “For the avoidance of doubt, and this has been made clear, previously, to DCC Pilling and WYP chief constable Collins, I [Neil Wilby] have no personal, or professional, issues with ACC Hussain. Other than the whistleblower allegations, he is known inside and outside of WYP to be a popular, professional, high achieving police officer. I am more than content for those views to be shared with Mabs.”

Statements had been specifically requested from Mabs Hussain, and Dee Collins, that directly address the issue of whether the police whistleblower allegations have been appropriately recorded, referred and subsequently investigated.

From the ensuing silence, inference can be drawn as to whether the answer is in the affirmative, or otherwise. Not one journalist or police officer, serving, ex-, or retired, spoken to believes it has.

The lay reader is invited to draw their own conclusion as to where that leaves the GMP chief constable and his latest command team recruit.

There is no ACC Maboob Hussain biography on the GMP chief officer team webpage, which was last updated on 29th October, 2018. A month after mabs joined the force (read here).

 

Page last updated on Saturday 24th November, 2018 at 1725hrs

Picture credit: Greater Manchester Police

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2018. 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.

Scandal-hit police stonewall ‘sex ring’ allegations

A major sex scandal has been brewing at Cleveland Police for almost two years.

The lid was partially prized open by John Beggs QC at a disciplinary tribunal that attracted widespread media attention in late 2016. Sensationally, the troubled force abandoned proceedings against an officer, Sergeant Waseem Khan, who had been suspended for three and a half years, at the start of the second week of the hearing.

But, during the first week, Beggs had probed a personal relationship between Superintendent Beverley Gill and Chief Superintendent Jon Green which the ‘attack-dog’ barrister characterised as “exceptionally close“. Green had been moved sideways from his role as Head of Professional Standards Department (PSD) as scandal after scandal dogged him and his disgraced department. The replacement Head was his “personal friend“, Bev Gill. Her evidence at the hearing had troubled the Panel chairman.

On 7th November, 2018 Gill was suspended by the force, at the outset of an investigation codenamed Gosport, over allegations she subdued an investigation into former colleague and ‘dirty detective’, Simon Hurwood. The latter was officially outed, at another disciplinary hearing in October, 2018, at which Beggs QC was again heavily involved, as a manipulative sex fiend.

Cleveland Police is very clear that they are not naming the officer, and their head of communications confirmed this in response to a press enquiry in which Beverley Gill was named, and a request made for her length of police service with Cleveland to be provided. The force continues to rely on the press briefing given the previous day.

Hurwood was found guilty of eight allegations of gross misconduct, plus a number of other misconduct allegations, after the inquiry found he had groomed and pestered 21 female Cleveland Police colleagues, most of them of junior rank, for sex and other indecent acts, over a 14-year-period.

Leeds barrister, Simon Mallett, Chair of the police disciplinary panel which heard the complaints, said: ‘Simon Hurwood was treating the professional standards department as a personal recruitment centre for his own sexual gratification.’ Nevertheless, Hurwood was allowed to retire with a pension pot of £1.1 million, according to a report in the Sunday Times.

On Friday 2nd March 2018, Hurwood was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault offences,  interviewed, released under investigation and, subsequently, suspended from duty later the same day.

Following further enquiries, early consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) complex case unit in London took place. This was in relation to four victims. Subsequently, Detective Chief Inspector John Wrintmore made the decision that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with either the alleged sexual offences, or misconduct in public office. This left police disciplinary proceedings as the only course of action available.

Described as ‘creepy and sleazy’ by his victims, Hurwood abused his position as a management rank officer to have sex in police cars, and in his own office in PSD, the department charged with holding up the highest standards of conduct amongst all the force’s officers. He also persuaded female officers to send him sexually explicit pictures and videos of themselves. He was obsessed with the colour of females’ underwear, and having explicit photos and videos sent to him on his mobile phone.  One witness alleged Hurwood forced her into ‘non-consensual sexual intercourse’ and others complained of being coerced into performing sex acts.

There are also allegations surfacing that Hurwood threatened to blow the whistle on other senior officers if he was prosecuted. The name of an alleged ‘go-between’ that allegedly brokered a deal is circulating on social media. If true, this cover-up was conducted at a senior level in Cleveland Police.

There was no public appeal for witnesses, internally or externally, and some complainants were instructed to sign confidentiality agreements. Police have offered up the rationale that it was to prevent cross-contamination of evidence, but, to the more enquiring mind, it simply fuels belief in a senior management cover-up. Particularly in the light of the most recent revelations.

When approached by a Sunday Times reporter at Hurwood’s £400,000 home last week, his wife, Kimberly, said: “We are not answering any questions.” Her husband has completely denied any misconduct or sexual assaults. He has been married twice previously.

Force spokesperson, Xanthe Tait, a former Chief Crown Prosecutor for North Yorkshire, said the suspension of Bev Gill was a ‘neutral act’ and the presumption of innocence remains.

There are other allegations on social media, made by a regular and very well informed, critic of the force, Michael Carey, which, no doubt, Operation Gosport will explore, that Bev Gill was also “close” to Hurwood, in a similar way to her friendship with Jon Green. There are, it is said, other senior officers who enjoy similar relationships as part of a friends group.

After the Hurwood disciplinary hearing, and it may not necessarily be connected, it was said that Deputy Chief Constable Simon Nickless, who had portfolio responsibility for PSD at the material time, was leaving Cleveland Police to join the College of Policing as Senior Policing Adviser. Which has, one might say, the look and feel of the situation pertaining to ex-West Yorkshire Police chief constable, Mark Gilmore, who was sent off to do a ‘non-job’ at the National Police Chiefs Council, for over a year, in an attempt to disguise the fact that he was on gardening leave.

On 7th November, 2018 it was announced by Cleveland Police that a new deputy chief had been appointed for a temporary six month period. It was Helen McMillan, drafted in from Northumbria Police, who suspended Beverley Gill. Helen previously worked with Durham Constabulary, based in Hartlepool. She would be well advised to make a trawl of the public complaints made against Gill and re-visit them. There are at least two shocking cases that should be the subject, at the very least, of gross misconduct investigation. One made by the aforementioned Michael Carey and the other by Karim Allison, who succeeded in a substantial civil claim against Cleveland Police, and has been relentlessly persecuted by the force since. Including an unsuccessful prosecution against him. Carey has also been arrested and all his computer devices seized, but very recently informed by the police, after an eighteen month hiaitus, that the CPS will not prosecute.

On 17th September, 2018, six weeks before the Hurwood disciplinary hearing became public knowledge, a series of questions was put to Cleveland Police, and its Police Commissioner, Barry Coppinger:

“A statement is requested from PCC Coppinger regarding a report that is circulating on social media concerning an alleged ‘sex ring’ operating in the upper echelons of Cleveland Police.
The reports states, inter alia:
1. Insp Simon Hurwood, whose arrest was reported in the press earlier this year, may have assaulted, harassed up to 30 female officers, staff.
2. Insp Hurwood and Insp [name redacted] (whom it is said are involved in a physical relationship) are part of a police sex ring that may include five other named officers of managerial rank, including the present [name redacted] . It is also said that Insp Hurwood was present in the vehicle when Insp [name redacted]  was found to be OPL (subsequently convicted).
3. The sex-ring has operated for many years and those involved ‘cover-up’ for each other if misconduct or criminal matters are reported against them.
4. Insp [name redacted] has discussed publicly how ‘sex-corruption’ is rife in the force and institutional sexual assault is commonplace.
5. The chief constable and PCC are actively seeking to conceal these matters from public scrutiny.”

It took almost four weeks, and several reminders, for this response to be provided:

I take any allegations of misconduct within Cleveland Police very seriously and I have developed a small Complaints Triage team to assist the newly established Directorate of Standards and Ethics in investigating concerns raised by the public.

I will not, however, comment on unsolicited and unsubstantiated reports appearing on social media. An appropriate complaints process is in place, details of which can be found on the Cleveland Police website.

The statement glosses over the fact that since Mr Coppinger was elected as PCC in 2012, the force over which he has oversight has staggered from crisis to crisis, with scandals, across the misconduct spectrum, featuring routinely in the national press. He previously served on Cleveland Police Authority, under the chairmanship of David McLuckie, who was jailed in 2013 for perverting the course of justice.

In the light of the suspension of Bev Gill on 7th November, 2018, a request was made for an updated statement. The response was almost immediate:

Cleveland Police has informed the Police & Crime Commissioner of the suspension of an officer. This matter is within the remit of the Chief Constable and the PCC is assured that the necessary investigation will be carried out thoroughly, promptly and fairly.

It would not be appropriate for the PCC to comment further at this time.”

The statement carefully, and ironically, avoids the point that this routinely scandalised police force has proved almost entirely incapable of carrying out any thorough, prompt or fair investigation when its own PSD (now re-badged as Standards and Ethics) has been involved. There is also the collateral issue that Mr Coppinger employs a chief constable who is a proven liar, twice over. An  unsatisfactory situation, by any measure, and one that the PCC defends with extraordinary zeal.

If there are two officers already suspended, and the working hypothesis is that is the minimum number, it also suggests that the force may be drip-feeding information to Mr Coppinger, and his PCC team, to minimise the risk of ‘leaks, or for other operational reasons.

Operation Gosport is an investigation that should, quite properly, and on any independent view, have started out as a criminal investigation, not one of gross misconduct, and been referred by its chief constable, Mike Veale, to another police force for investigation.

Veale, unusually, and bizarrely, given his recent history, is the portfolio holder for Standards and Ethics. A role undertaken by the deputy chief constable in most other police forces. However, he is said by a well placed police source to be ‘furious’ over what is now being revealed and is ‘wielding the knife’ in an attempt to cut out deep-seated cancer of corruption in that department. Whatever his recent history in Wiltshire Police, this is an important, and most welcome, step in the right direction for Cleveland and its constituents.

But, until the Veale ‘surgery’ is complete and the integrity of the force recovered, Cleveland Police simply cannot be trusted to investigate itself. But, there is some light at the end of what must have been a very dark tunnel for Hurwood’s victims, as their press office provided me with this statement on 9th November, 2018.

Cleveland Police fully supports any victim’s right to review (VRR) such decisions and is currently supporting a review in this case by another police force. It is important that there is transparency in decision making and that any such decision is rigorously tested in the best interests of victims and the public.”

On 12th November, 2012, it was confirmed that Northumbria Police had been appointed to assist with the VRR. No timescale has been given.

That police force, however, could not have been West Yorkshire Police, headed by chief constable, Dee Collins. From the start of her police service in 1987 until the end of 2005 she served with Cleveland Police, including a spell in its ill-starred PSD. In the offices where Hurwood would later have illicit sex and be pleasured orally. She was also a Police Federation representative as an inspector.

She was a superintendent when she left the force to join Cumbria Police in December, 2005. Hurwood had begun his sex spree against female colleagues almost two years earlier.

Ms Collins was asked for a statement on 7th November, 2018 – the day Bev Gill was suspended –  and has ignored the request (a routine occurence, it must be said).

She has also been, subsequently, invited to comment on well sourced information that she is ‘very, very good friend‘ of 50 year old Bev Gill (a couple of years younger than Dee Collins).

The point to these questions is that the WYP chief was honoured recently by the Queen, and quite rightly, as a champion of women in policing. But that does not sit easily with any knowledge, at all, of what was happening to her junior ranked female colleagues, in what is a relatively small police force. Hurwood, Gill and Collins all have similar lengths of police service and would, at the very least, it is reasonable to infer, have been well known to one another as they progressed up the ranks.

Despite his predatory behaviour, after he became a sergeant in 2003, Hurwood was promoted and moved to the professional standards department, where most of the offences took place. Even after complaints were made against him, he was put on a recruitment panel where he could choose potential victims, implying to one woman that he could help her get a job.

Two detective inspectors were informed about Hurwood’s sexual encounters at the material time, and one victim was at a rank of chief inspector, or higher. Yet the misconduct continued, not just unabated, but even more blatantly.

It may well be that Dee Collins didn’t know, and there cannot be any presumption, at all, of wrongdoing by her, without probative evidence. But if she didn’t know, then serious questions need to be asked ‘why not‘ given her various, and highly relevant, roles in the Cleveland Police.

It’s the same question asked by many others about what she does, or doesn’t know, about alleged misconduct and criminality of her own West Yorkshire Police officers: Apart from the selfie-loving, teddy-bear hugging, gushing, heavily sentimental, fluffy, public relations role which she enthusiastically adopts, it is difficult to see, from an investigative journalist’s perspective, what contribution she makes to maintaining the requisite ethical and professional standards in the force.

In January, 2019, Dee Collins takes up a three month role at the College of Policing in Surrey. There is speculation, explored in an earlier article on this website (read here), that she will only return to WYP to say her goodbyes and then retire. That is denied by the force, but in terms sufficiently vague to leave that open as more than a possibility.

An approach has been made to the WYP press office for comment or a statement from the chief constable. In their routine, unethical, unprofessional manner, and taking their lead from the chief constable, who conducts herself in much the same way, it has not even been acknowledged, so far.

 

Page last updated on Saturday 10th November, 2018 at 2050hrs

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Stories untold: A Disaster of a book

I thought long and hard about writing this piece.

Over the past four years I have made friendships that I deeply cherish amongst the bereaved families, survivors and vanguard campaigners of the Hillsborough Disaster – and I would never, ever contemplate putting that camararderie at risk.

On my visits to Warrington to hear sittings of the recently concluded inquests I was welcomed by them, sat with them, ate with them and shared the terrible anguish of images on TV screens in court that those present will never be truly able to put out of their minds.

I was also sat amongst the Hillsborough Justice Campaign (HJC) group when the Norman Bettison circus came to town and he gave his own version of events from the witness box .

The dilemna, therefore, was: Do I review a book published by one of the bête noirs of the police actions that followed the Disaster that will inevitably re-open scarcely healed wounds? Or, leave it shunned for the short shelf life it is likely to have, before its appearance in the remainder bin.

It was through my own battles with Bettison’s police force that I first came into contact with the Hillsborough campaigners (a phone call in 2011 to Yorkshire-based Trevor Hicks). He had been a person of very obvious interest to them for two decades; I first wrote to Norman Bettison in July, 2009 to tell him something was deeply wrong with my home force in West Yorkshire. He was chief constable from 2006, until the aftermath of the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report claimed it’s first high profile victim in October 2012. His Deputy throughout almost all that time was David Crompton. He, too, was eventually claimed by the outfall from the Hillsborough. This time, it was the way South Yorkshire Police had conducted themselves at the inquests that led to his suspension in May 2016, then resignation in September, 2016.

The consensus amongst those with whom the matter has been discussed, at some length, is that I am well placed to find holes in the Bettison story. Although, the fact that the book is published at all is a surprise. Sheila Coleman sums up the feelings of so many in this quote given to the Liverpool Echo: “I think it’s wholly inappropriate that he’s publishing a book whilst the Director of Public Prosecutions is still giving consideration to criminal prosecutions”. Bettison bizarrely contends: “This book might be the only way in which my own account of the Hillsborough aftermath will ever be heard. By the Crown Prosecution Service, as well as by the public.”

Changing the narrative

I have now read the 355 pages of the book twice. Firstly, cover to cover without a break. Then in a more studied mode and armed with marker pen. It is a well written tome, of that there is no doubt. Bettison is an educated, erudite and articulate man and he writes very much as he speaks. The book does, however, read more like a statement, or a report, than an autobiographical account. It’s several purposes appear very clear to me:

  • To create a lasting narrative, principally it seems, for the consumption of family and friends, concerning his role in the aftermath of the disaster – and one that aligns with his oral evidence given at the inquests.
  • To sweep away much of the organisational criticism that still attaches to South Yorkshire Police and land most of the opprobrium at the door of just four officers (David Duckenfield, Paul Middup and two Bettison doesn’t name whom were responsible for leaked information to the press, leading to The Sun’s infamous ‘The Truth’ front page).
  • To attack those that have given testimony against him, such as Clive Davis and John Barry. Or been, in his eyes, either partly, or largely, responsible for his fall from grace. These, surprisingly, include mild rebuke for Professor Phil Scraton, but at the other end of the scale his most poisonous attack is reserved for Deborah Glass, formerly of the IPCC, and a number of her colleagues still engaged with the police watchdog. For better or worse, it will leave the IPCC badly wounded if Bettison’s account of breathtaking incompetence and sloth is left unchallenged. Others to suffer badly are Maria Eagle MP, West Yorks PCC, Mark Burns-Williamson, and his chief executive, Fraser Sampson.
  • To reinforce his own view that he was one of the finest police officers ever to pull on a uniform. It remains a forceful, shameless, insensitive and excrutiating self-eulogy throughout. One shudders to think how the first draft manuscript would have read. Just a shred of humility may have assisted him both within policing circles and, more crucially, amongst those foolish enough to shell out £18.99 for what amounts to ill-judged propaganda.

It is decidedly not, as it says on the front cover, ‘The Untold Story’. Or, as the publisher’s blurb says: “This personal account describes how the Hillsborough disaster unfolded, provides an insight into what was happening at South Yorkshire Police headquarters in the aftermath, and gives an objective and compassionate account of the bereaved families’ long struggle for justice, all the while charting the author’s journey from innocent bystander to a symbol of a perceived criminal conspiracy“. Far, far from it. Neither does it fulfil the billing in the Preface of ‘openness and transparency’ (that utterly meaningless but perpetual line of policing spin). Or, the ‘nothing concealed’ labelling. That is arrant nonsense, for the reasons I set out in some considerable detail in this article.

It should also be borne in mind that, in his evidence to the inquests at Warrington, Bettison either answered ‘I don’t recall‘, or ‘No‘ to questions on the lines of ‘Do you recollect/remember, over TWENTY times. Is the reader of this book, therefore, expected to accept that these ‘untold’ revelations were either withheld from his evidence, or he has had some miracle restoration to the left side of his brain in the ensuing few months?

Hillsborough Untold MASTER jacket.indd

Subliminal thread that still smears the fans

It is beyond argument that Norman Bettison has never once lifted a finger to help the twenty-seven year fight by bereaved Hillsborough families, and the survivors of the caged hell that was pens 3 and 4 on the western terraces. Firstly, for the truth. Then, latterly, for justice. His ‘compassionate account‘ is, therefore, both unwelcome and paints him in an unattractive, self-serving light. Passing himself off as an ‘innocent bystander‘ in a force so deeply corrupt as South Yorkshire Police is also self-defeating and will, inevitably, backfire on him.

There is also this subliminal thread that runs through the book that places the traditional smears in the mind of the reader without them being stated head-on. The mention of Heysel, as early as page 10, sets the tone for that line of Bettison inculcation. The sly references to late arrival, touts, swaps, drunkenness – and the unruly behaviour of a small minority at the rear of the crush in front of the Leppings Lane turnstiles (he doesn’t make the important distinction of whether that is 0.1%, 1% or 10%*) inserted innocuously through successive chapters. (*The correct answer is 0.1%).

The contemporary audio-visual clips, and the 450 photographs, shown endlessly in evidence at Warrington is the true test, and one upon which the jury answered at the seminal question 7: Was there any behaviour on the part of the football supporters which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles? The jury answered ‘NO’, yet Bettison makes no reference to that point or, indeed, any other mention of the 14 – 0 verdict delivered by the nine battle-fatigued men and women who were left sitting at the end of the most gruelling test of endurance, and character, in British legal history. A nod to them might have softened the narrative a little.

Yes, of course, there are some interesting personal insights, pen portaits and caricatures and, in some places (surprisingly few as it happens) information that is not known to those campaigners and journalists who have variously read, or heard, all the inquests evidence and are familiar with the vast database contained within the Panel website, the texts of both of the Taylor Reports (interim and final) and the Stuart-Smith Scrutiny.

These new insights (to me at least) include Bettison being responsible for the headcount in pens 3 and 4, from a montage of photographs put together in preparation for the Taylor Inquiry; Comparison of command officer styles from the ‘military, shouty, authoritarian‘ police chief of the 70’s and 80’s to the ‘lily-livered, laissez-faire, dilettantes‘ of the 90’s and beyond; The mealy-mouthed praise of the late Brian Mole whom, we learn, was nicknamed ‘Soames’ after a ‘dapper, smooth, self-righteous‘ character from the Forsyte Saga TV drama. Bettison also contends that Mole was ‘not much favoured in HQ‘, particularly after the prank that, indirectly, led to the experienced match commander being stripped of duties on the fateful day.

On a wider view, the Bettison interpretation of the physical difficulties, and psychological effects, of the Bradford City Fire Disaster happening at ‘home’, as it were, versus the Hillsborough Disaster happening ‘away’ from Liverpool, was as interesting as the book got. But, even here, Bettison doesn’t burden his readers with the knowledge that, in the past year, the police force that he formerly commanded has been referred to the IPCC over its investigation of the aftermath of the Bradford fire. He also, curiously, refers throughout to Sheffield as a town, rather than a large city.

The cameo – and I place it no higher than that – striking me as the most odd in the book was the extraordinary revelation that Bettison had been a keen supporter of the Reds since he was eight years old. Playing keepy-uppy in his full Liverpool kit that had been bought as a Christmas present. Ergo, he couldn’t possibly hold a grudge against Liverpool fans, as he was one of them. The counter-arguments I advance to the concept of him being a Liverpool supporter are fourfold: Firstly, what was he doing sat in South Stand amongst Notts Forest supporters in 1989? Secondly, why was he not at the 1988 semi-final taking place a short distance from his home between the same two teams. Thirdly, why was this secret affiliation not mentioned as a key point in his contemporaneous witness accounts? Fourthly, and crucially, a declaration of that lifelong interest to ACC Stuart Anderson, when told he had been selected to join the Wain team should have, effectively, disqualified him from that process.

The love of Liverpool, as a city and a place to live, work and socialise, now also belatedly professed by Bettison, can be categorised similarly to his latent support of the Reds. It has emerged, by my own reckoning, only as part of a charm offensive to win over its citizens and, more particularly, bereaved families, survivors, campaigners and journalist critics. It could be paraphrased thus: ‘Look at me, lads and lasses, I’m one of you at heart. The wife cooks me a pan of scouse at least once a week‘. He misses the point, maybe, that only 37 who died were from Liverpool, although another 20 were from Greater Merseyside and the crusade for truth and justice is, and always has been, inextricably linked to the city.

The real truth is that, after only three years in post at Merseyside Police, he was hankering after leaving this great city. He was offered, and accepted, a post with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), but the move was called off after an argument with the Home Office over salary and pension. That, more accurately, sums up the narcissitic Bettison’s true love: Himself.

The Devil is in the detail

Looking at the book through a wider lens, what does come across as striking to me, at least, is the inconsistent manner in which content is presented. Where it suits the overall Bettison narrative, there is almost an excess of minutiae. In other places the reader is left, time and again, with the thought that important detail has been omitted by Bettison that he either knew, or could have very easily found out, if he is the ace thief taker/detective he would have everyone believe.

– Bettison in his witness account in May 1989 says he parked at the junction of Niagara Road and Claywheels Lane from where he walked to the football ground. There is no such junction, as it happens; Niagara Road is a service road that spurs off Beeley Wood Road. In the book he does not give the location of where he parked his car. The untold story is that he may have used the car park of the infamous Niagara Police Sports and Social Club. As did a number of other senior officers on the day. Bettison, it would appear, as he does in a other areas in the book, seeks to avoid mentioning controversial locations and individuals. There is another train of thought entirely – and that is Bettison did not park in, or near, Claywheels Lane at all. But at nearby Hammerton Road police station and walked to the game from there and returned by the same route, largely via Middlewood Road.

– In the book Bettison states that his account was prepared ‘in several sittings over seven or eight days’ after 17th April, 1989. It is a matter of record that his account (actually marked as a report) is dated 3rd May, 1989. What is described as his witness statement is dated 2nd June 1989 (often one simply became the other as they were typed onto the incident room HOLMES database). There is no reference to any pocket book (PNB) entry that he should have made when he put himself on duty at Hammerton Road at around 4pm on day of disaster and, again, when he was released from duty some twelve hours later at the gymnasium (or if we are to believe the statement at the time he joined Merseyside Police, sixteen hours). Those basic duty entries are an essential requirement for any policeman. The fact that it appears he chose, an an experienced, process-orientated, upwardly-mobile officer, not to make any entries concerning either what he had witnessed from seat NN28 in the South stand, which he himself identified as a major incident at 3.06pm, or his contact with what he describes as deceased casualties, on his exit from the ground, simply defies belief. In any properly run police force it would be a disciplinary offence. It also goes to the hypothesis that Bettison didn’t take that route to, or from, the ground at all.

– Bettison doesn’t make clear in the book whether that he filled in a police questionnaire before writing up his account. He did complete one and should, of course, declared his status as a supporter of Liverpool Football Club on that form. But he chose not to and doesn’t expand upon it in the book. The rest of the questionnare is absent of detail, particularly relating to timings. Another untold story?

– His account of the reason for leaving the ground has, crucially, changed from his first, contemporaneous, witness statement to the book. He, emphatically, says he left the ground to phone his wife in his statement. His arrival at nearby Hammerton Road police service was simply to facilitate that purpose after finding only phone boxes with queues around them, along the one mile journey. That has now been modified in the book to include the parallel thought that he could assist in the aftermath of the tragedy by reporting to the police station and relieving strained resources. Reading book and statement side by side paints an unattractive picture and, largely, undermines all what follows.

– The failure to identify the scouse-accented South Yorkshire Police officer who went to hospital as continuity officer, accompanying whom Bettison believed was a deceased casualty in his late 20’s or early 30’s, at the south west corner of the ground. How did the casualty get there at that early stage? How did the ambulance know to go there when the other police officers and the St John’s Ambulance officer attending the man, and one other casualty with an arm injury, had no radios, according to Bettison. Another untold story? Or several of them, in fact. I am, as they say on the TV, helping police (and the IPCC) with their enquiries.

– The failure to note whether there were ten, or twelve, casualties whom he described as deceased at the rear of the West Stand close to the River Don. It is not the difference between 100 or 200. Especially, if you are the self-proclaimed, quick-witted, multi-tasking, ace detective with an eye for detail that Bettison says he is. The books note that the majority were ‘in the recovery position’ but can’t specify how many. Crucial evidence for any investigation that followed, yet he has never been interviewed about it. There were in fact eleven bodies laid there, a fact I have subsequently established from the witness statement of the officer in charge of continuity at the temporary mortuary in the gymnasium, Inspector John Charles. The same number is also referred to in Brian Mole’s statement. Bettison then came across Chief Inspector Roger Purdy, but did nothing more than nod to him, without mentioning the RV point he says he had set up in the south west corner of the ground. He then hastened his exit and, en route, he says, mobilised some officers from Purdy’s serials to form a cordon preventing access to the scene where the bodies were located. Without identifying himself as a police officer. It does, as I have always contended, give the appearance of a rat leaving a sinking ship.

– In Bettison’s witness statement he claimed that ‘more than enough officers were doing everything they possibly could’ once the football match had been stopped by Supertindendent Roger Greenwood‘s belated intervention at 3.06pm. Bettison, unsurprisingly, doesn’t venture to repeat that in the book. Or, more crucially, correct it. The inquests established beyond doubt that a heroic minority were ripping at mesh, helping fans over fences, passing casualties out of the pens chain gang style, carrying them out through the tunnel, or attempting resucitation. Tragically, far too many of the rest either froze, were misdirected by senior officers or couldn’t raise an effort to help the hundreds of Liverpool fans desperately trying to stop death touching their fellow travellers.

– Bettison, although critical of cages (pens), barrier configuration and the policy of segregation over safety, persists with a line that the police only lost control of the crowd outside of the Leppings Lane turnstiles at 2.45pm. The inquests established beyond doubt that effective control had slipped away from the police by 2.20pm and all vestiges of control had gone by 2.30pm. He also makes several references to the beach ball being patted around in pen 3 to support his own view from the South Stand that the pens were not abnormally overcrowded and he ‘sensed no danger’ at that point. The last person known to have touched that beach ball was Jason Kenworthy at 2.40pm. He was stood with three teenaged friends who died in the crush. The families of those three, which include Barry Devonside, will be horrified at the inference Bettison seeks to make.

–  Bettison also puts a veiled construction on the circumstances of the removal of barrier 144 near the mouth of the tunnel. He says an unnamed chief inspector asked the club and their consulting engineers to ‘review’ its positioning. The inquests heard that the police requested the removal of the barrier. The officer to whom Bettison refers is John Freeman (at the time of the Disaster a Superintendent) and the omission of his name is both startling and alarming. ‘The Freeman Tactic’ was one devised by that officer, during his time as a match commander at the Sheffield Wednesday ground, to close the tunnel entrance to the pens as they became full. References to the Freeman tactic were removed from statements prepared by the Wain team for the Taylor Inquiry.

– Another pointless attempt at justification of the police’s actions on the day comes with the lengthy Bettison narrative over delaying kick-offs. A simple check of the inquests evidence of Kenneth Dalglish lays that to waste. As does the fact that the kick-off at a FA Cup semi-final at the same ground in 1987 was delayed due to crowd congestion. Many Leeds United fans had experienced crushing in the Leppings Lane turnstile area and central pens before and during the match.

– Analysis of the questionnaire and statement of Chief Inspector Les Agar (who is mentioned on page 41 of the book) reveals other inconsistencies with Bettison’s version regarding timings and who did what. That concern is amplified when also compared with the account of DC Bob Hydes (of catching Yorkshire Ripper fame) and what he did during his two visits to the gymnasium.

Dramatis personae

There are also the gaps in the ‘untold story’ that appear, on their face, designed to either downplay the role, or avoid scrutiny, of Bettison’s former colleagues in the upper echelons of policing. I give just four examples out of many:

– What was the substance of the email messages between Bettison, David Crompton and Sir Hugh Orde on the day of the publication of the Panel report and in the ensuing hue and cry?  West Yorkshire Police refused my freedom of information request on the topic many moons ago and this was Bettison’s opportunity to unlock the mystery. We know, because my journalist colleague, Jonathan Corke, eventually secured release of the emails between Crompton and Orde that the line being taken between those two that the families version of ‘the truth’ was not acccepted and was to be lobbied against. There is also no mention of the calls or text messages Bettison said he couldn’t have made, whilst in Sussex, that were later traced through analysis of his phone records.

– It is established beyond doubt that Bernard Hogan-Howe was managing the accommodation and pastoral care of relatives of missing persons at the boy’s club opposite Hammerton Road police station, from early in the evening until he went off duty at around 3.30am. Bettison appears to have put himself in charge of a temporary missing person’s bureau shortly after arriving at that police station. Bettison refers only to an inspector taking charge at the club which was, of course, the current Met Commissioner’s pip at that time. Hogan-Howe’s name is conspicious only for its absence from the ‘untold story’.

– The odious John Beggs QC also rates a mention late in the piece. But, in the context of his services being procured by the Police Authority in their bid to oust him from his role as chief constable of West Yorkshire Police in September and October, 2012. There is not a single word of criticism of Beggs’ relentless and unedifying antics at the inquests in Warrington, at which the drunk, ticketless, non-compliant line of questioning was pursued relentlessly on behalf of the police’s two match commanders. Prolonging the inquests and adding hugely to it’s cost. Not just in monetary terms but, much more crucially, in the emotional attrition ladelled onto to families and survivors sat in the galleries at either end of that vast courtroom. Over the duration of the inquests, I saw the physical and mental effects that was having. I also witnessed, for the only time in my lengthy career as newspaper publisher and journalist, Queen’s Counsel incandescent with rage once they had left the calmer confines of the courtroom. The source of their disquiet was Beggs’ conduct and blatant lies told by South Yorkshire Police officers in oral evidence.

– The input of HMIC is relied upon to sterilise Bettison’s account of the interview process that led to his appointment as chief constable of Merseyside. The HMIC officer involved was Sir Dan Crompton, father of the hapless David. Bettison has not sought to explain, or apologise, for Crompton senior’s appalling, deeply damaging and distressing remarks made at the time about the Hillsborough campaigners, whom were described as “vexatious, vindictive and cruel” to oppose the controversial appointment in their city. Bettison, with all his newly-avowed compassion towards the sufferers does not seek to denounce this outrageous slur. As with Crompton Snr, Crompton Jnr and now Bettison, it seems there is no need to correct those words, or profusely apologise for them.

– Of the few mysteries still remaining to be unlocked concerning the Disaster, and the one that probably interests me the most, is the whereabouts of David Duckenfield between finishing the match briefing at around 10.30am until having lunch in the gymnasium at 1.30pm. Bettison offers no clue as to the disgraced chief superintendent’s whereabouts. The inquests evidence from Duckenfield is that he couldn’t recall what he had been doing between the end of the early morning briefing and arriving in the police control box at 2pm. Or, in fact, where he had been. Another untold story.

Bettison’s anointing of his chief constable at the time, the late and highly autocratic Peter Wright, the cerebral deputy chief, Peter Hayes and, in particular, Terry Wain, may not have been calculated to vex, annoy and harass the bereaved, and the survivors of the Disaster, but that will be the inevitable effect. It is established beyond doubt that Wright and Hayes were at the heart of the thoroughly dishonest injustices perpetrated against the coal mining pickets at the Orgreave coking plant, just four years before the Hillsborough Disaster. Bettison’s unstinting praise of both further underscores his own fallibilty and completely undermines the credibilty of the rest of the book. As does his wholehearted endorsement of the heavily criticised Stuart-Smith Scrutiny. Similarly, his lack of any criticism, whatsoever, of the mini-inquests conducted by Dr Stefan Popper, one of the biggest, and most hurtful, travesties of justice in the modern era, does Bettison no credit at all.

The missing word

The eight letter word O-R-G-R-E-A-V-E does not appear on any of the 355 pages of Bettison’s book. It is a remarkable omission. The legal teams representing the Orgreave campaigners have put the view, most forcefully and persuasively, to the Home Secretary that the full truth and justice over Hillsborough cannot finally come unless there is a full independent investigation, or inquiry, into the events surrounding the miners’ strike which came to a head in the summer sunshine on June 18th, 1984. Bettison plainly does not agree, and that part of the contemporaneous, and highly relevant, history of South Yorkshire Police remains untold.

There was no cover-up

This is the most remarkable passage in the book and plainly expected to reach only a narrow, mostly uninformed, readership. Bettison paints a picture of the Wain Report being scrupulously prepared, by the team of which he was a pivotal part, with a single purpose in mind: To assist the police QC, William Woodward, in presenting submissions to the Taylor Inquiry and prepare counsel for what the police’s own witnesses might say in their oral evidence.

Over the years Bettison has consistently downplayed his role in the Wain team as ‘peripheral’ and ‘junior’. Similarly, in his consecutive role after being chosen as the chief constable’s eyes and ears at the Taylor Inquiry. In his oral evidence to the inquests at Warrington, the only light relief over four torturous days came when Bettison claimed that he was the ‘Butty Boy’ for the lawyers when they took their lunchtime break from proceedings – and he was despatched to Marks and Spencers for the sandwiches. He has not repeated that claim in the book, but supplanted it with the startling revelation that a man so humbly positioned took it upon himself to prepare, and send by fax, to Bill Woodward, an unsolicited overview of his own findings from listening to the entire 31 days of Inquiry evidence at Sheffield Town Hall. For better or worse, influenced or not by Bettison’s input, it remains a fact that Woodward’s submissions to the Inquiry contained no paragraph where blame was accepted by his clients, South Yorkshire Police.

Bettison’s book in seeking to label the cover-up  as ‘mythical’ not only offers no explanation for these crucial elements of it, he doesn’t mention them at all:

– Sampling blood alcohol levels of deceased, including children as young as 10yo

– Questioning bereaved families over alcohol consumption

–  Criminal record checks on the deceased

– Theft of CCTV tapes from football club control room

–  Removal of logs from police control box in West stand

– Instructions given to officers not to make entries in pocket note books (PNB’s)

–  Evidence gatherers and operational support units sent out looking for evidence of bottles and cans (and carafes) that had contained alcohol. Both around the ground and over the outlying road routes between Sheffield and Liverpool

The above all happened within hours of the Disaster. Those below were perpetrated as the cover-up mentality became more developed:

– Instructions to officers to write out undated ‘accounts’ on plain paper, rather than provide conventional S9 Criminal Justice Act statements, which carry a perjury warning

– Statement tampering that removed criticism of police operations (not closing the access tunnel to the West stand central terraces, faulty radios, displacement of serials etc) and ineffectiveness of senior officers

– Intimidation by West Midlands Police officers of key witnesses

– Keyword interrogation of HOLMES computers to identify and distil evidence relating to drunkenness or unruliness of fans

More recently, it became apparent that swathes of evidence had not been disclosed to the Independent Panel by South Yorkshire Police in 2009 and, in point of fact, the IPCC were still searching police premises for evidential materials as late as last month. That would tend to go further to the evidence of a ‘cover-up’.

Bettison claims to have followed the inquests every day and read the transcripts. If that is true, then all the above elements of the South Yorkshire Police cover-up were examined in great detail by counsel for the inquest, and those representing the families and the interested parties. Yet, still, it seems, Bettison wants to run the no cover-up narrative. He can expect little sympathy from a largely hostile media on that score. The BBC’s Evan Davis destroyed him within seconds in this seconds over his claim of being a “peripheral” part of the police cover-up:

The Mirror’s Brian Reade has described Bettison as a “duplicitious snake” and Channel 4’s Alex Thomson cornered him with a line that will enter broadcast journalism folklore: “Who made the changes, the statement fairies?” The Guardian’s David Conn has written a measured, but exoriating, piece ‘Hillsborough: Sir Norman Bettison is seeking to deny the truth’. The Liverpool Echo has carried a series of withering pieces that include the accusations that Bettison is ‘Evil and arrogant’ and ‘Patronising, pompous and self-serving.’

The Best of the Rest

Three other soon to be published articles will cover the remaining parts of the book that touch more on the events surrounding Bettison’s ignominous exit from the police service in 2012, rather than any untold story of the disaster. These will add important context to his ongoing battles with the IPCC – and other peripheral issues such as the Platinum Theft allegation, Bettison’s explanation for it and the very recent decision by South Yorkshire Police to lie to me over requests for information concerning that alleged theft. It is already swathed in further controversy as John Mann MP has rounded on Bettison accusing him of rubbishing the reputation of the wrong former police officer in the book, describing him as “a vindictive former police officer, himself sacked for dishonesty and sent to prison”

Mann is quoted in the Yorkshire Post as saying: “His character assassination on an unnamed South Yorkshire Police officer may well come back to bite Bettison. If he has knowledge of the source of the allegations then this can only have come through a criminal leak from within the police. If he has guessed wrongly at the source, which I strongly suspect, then he has launched an unwarranted and vicious attack on the wrong person and that has consequences. I will be pressing the IPCC on this matter”.

The IPCC have announced that they have no issues with the book as far as their own criminal investigations are concerned.

Now this really does start to have the look and feel of ‘The Untold Story’. Except it won’t come to light in Waterstones. Their buying decisions, they have told Alex Thomson, are based on ‘the quality of the book’ and they have rejected Bettison’s debut effort.

It is not unrealistic to hope that the publishers will soon withdraw the Bettison book, on the basis it now stands entirely discredited.

 

Page last updated: Saturday 19th November, 2016 at 0845hrs

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