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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 13.50.10

Executive Summary and Recommendation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She is upholding her commitment to being open and transparent.

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

1. Introduction and Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Other Options Considered

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

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

3. Contribution to Police and Crime Plan Priorities

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

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

4. Implementation and Resourcing Implications

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

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

5. Consultations Carried Out

Professional consideration and advice has been provided by: 

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

 5. Compliance Checks

Financial Implications/Value for money: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Annotations

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Neil Wilby 2015-2016. Unauthorised use or reproduction of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from and links to the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

‘Are we all equal under the law, Dave?’

In June 2013, when David Graham Jones took charge of North Yorkshire Police for the first time, he probably thought that he had ‘landed on his feet’ as we say oop t’North. A rambling, old country hall as HQ, miles from anywhere, it truly is far from the madding crowd

lfordPolicing the genteel and largely rural acres of Harrogate, Ripon and York (the latter two the only cities on his patch) would also be a far cry from his previous career postings in the rough, tough gun-toting, knife-wielding districts of Salford and Belfast.

Newby Wiske Jones Mulligan

Add to that a charming, equable and unchallenging employer, in the form of Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Julia Mulligan, and a Command Team deeply committed to self congratulation and backslapping, and it all must have seemed very agreeable

Top all that off with a largely tame local and regional media and what could possibly go wrong for the Jones boy?

Much has been written elsewhere about the Jimmy Savile and Peter Jaconelli child abuse scandal in the seaside town of Scarborough. In brief, the investigative efforts of two citizen journalists – Tim Hicks and Nigel Ward – led to a BBC Inside Out programme aired in April 2014. It showed NYP in a poor light and Jones didn’t put either himself, or any of his officers, up for interview.

The bottom line is, that without the sterling efforts of Messrs Hicks and Ward, the many victims of the two, now notorious, child sex offenders would have received no recognition, apology or closure. Their reward by North Yorkshire Police? To be hounded through the civil courts for eighteen months.

A Google search of ‘Operation Rome’ and ‘Operation Hyson’ will link to a number of forensic articles I have written about these two disastrous, and very costly, NYP investigations that now span almost five years. They have brought significant reputational damage to both Jones, and his police force .

Much worse publicity is yet to come as Hyson, a civil harassment claim against the two journalists responsible for the exposure of the Savile and Jaconelli scandal, lurches towards a trial at Leeds County Court on 20th July, 2016. Eighteen months to the day since proceedings were issued. The press benches will, no doubt, be overflowing to report on the unfolding proceedings.

Jones, as lead claimant in that civil case, felt it necessary to award himself free legal fees, courtesy of the public purse, before approving the launch of the claim. At a figure currently estimated at £40,000, come the end of the trial. He also authorised two of his very senior officers, Deputy Chief Constable Timothy Madgwick and C/Supt Lisa Winward (pictured below) to access the same legal fees benefit.

C-Supt Lisa Winward

On top of that estimated £120,000 diminution of the public purse by three serving police officers, Jones – in a grand gesture of munificence – also granted free access to the public purse to one of his retired police officers, ex Superintendent Heather Pearson and former Police Authority Chair, Jane Kenyon. That leap of faith then takes the bill up to an estimated £200,000.

But Jones didn’t stop there. In the best traditions of past North Yorkshire Police ACPO officers such as Della Cannings, Grahame Maxwell, Dave Collins and Adam Briggs, and their liberal approach to the spending of police funds, he awarded the same amount of free legal fees to four members of the public. Taking the total estimated bill to the North Yorkshire precept payer for the private court claim up to around £350,000.

Curiously, Jones is a leading light in the Chief Police Officers Staff Association (CPOSA) who might, reasonably, have been expected to provide support for one of their members pursuing legal action, rather than Jones using police funds as a personal piggy bank. Jones’ Deputy, Tim Madgwick, is also a CPOSA member. A copy of the CPOSA legal expenses policy can be viewed here. Similarly, Lisa Winward and Heather Pearson are covered by legal expenses insurance as members of the Police Superintendents’ Association of England and Wales (PSAEW). Whilst the insurance is more regularly used as an aid to defending claims against officers, Hyson was grounded, allegedly, in health, safety and welfare issues connected to the police officers.

Even more curiously, Mrs Mulligan (supported by Jones) contemplated embarking on legal action to recover monies from Maxwell and Briggs but abandoned the idea, because it might have cost too much in legal fees (and the Maxwell and Briggs personnel files had reportedly and mysteriously ‘disappeared’). In the context of the huge sum of public money spent on Hyson, and what is likely to be achieved, letting the errant chiefs off the hook looks a very poor judgement call indeed, by comparison.

Put shortly, it was “inappropriate” according to Jones and Mrs Mulligan to chase two former NYP Command Team officers for £100,000 they owe (read more here), but no problem at all to spend around £350,000 of public money hunting down two journalists.

Which makes this joint statement of Chief Constable Jones and PCC Mulligan in the wake of the Maxwell, Briggs farrago sound very hollow indeed: “The commissioner and the chief constable are determined that issues of this kind shall never be allowed to occur again”.

But an issue of exactly that kind has occurred, just over a year after that solemn pronouncement was made – and the two people at the very heart of the scandal – and some of the attempts to conceal it from the public, are the very same Dave Jones and Julia Mulligan.

The unauthorised removal (or theft if you like) of the Briggs and Maxwell personnel files also has a troubling ring to it. Are NYP saying to the wider world that sensitive materials stolen from their own police HQ go completely undetected? This has shades of the Sir Norman Bettison scandal, when renewed allegations of platinum wire theft against the former Merseyside and West Yorkshire Police chief constable (pictured below) could not be progressed, as the original criminal and disciplinary files has ‘disappeared’ from South Yorkshire Police HQ by the time outside investigators were appointed.

bettb

Returning to Chief Constable Jones, he made one of his rare public, questions from the floor, appearances in October 2013, alongside Julia Mulligan, at St Joseph’s Theatre in Scarborough. He fielded this polite and seemingly innocuous query from Nigel Ward, who was in the audience:

Are we all equal under the law, Dave?

The response was reported as: ‘I bloody well hope so’.

But what Chief Constable Jones didn’t share with Nigel Ward, or the rest of the Scarborough audience that day, is that he runs a police force that recklessly, relentlessly and calculatingly breaks the law almost every single day. I have spent over a year peering into some of the dark corners of North Yorkshire Police and the issues upon which I can now shine light make for bleak reading:

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA):

Chief Constable Jones is registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office as the data controller for North Yorkshire Police. One of the key requirements in that role is to lawfully dispose of information requests within 20 working days. They catastrophically fail to do so, as the image below graphically depicts.

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 14.48.54

The situation was unacceptable when Jones arrived at NYP, early in the 2013/14 financial year, but it has plainly got WORSE under his leadership. The Information Commissioner’s office has, allegedly, been ‘monitoring’ the situation for the past five years as a York Evening Press article from 2011 discloses (read in full here).

On NYP’s own website they claim that their philosophy is one of an ‘open and transparent’ approach to disposal of FOIA requests. They further claim that they follow the processes and guidelines set out in the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) FOIA manual. A weblink to the manual is helpfully provided by NYP. Except, I have had to write to NYP’s civil disclosure unit and point out that their link is defective. They have been provided with the correct one (click here). However, my email has not drawn a response at the time of publication and the link has not been repaired.

More crucially, I have read the ACPO guidance and I can find very little corrrelation between how North Yorkshire Police deal with information requests (I have made 19 in the last two years) and what the manual directs them to do. So, not only is the law routinely broken, Jones sticks up two fingers to his fellow chief constables.

The dishonesty doesn’t stop there, either. NYP publish a disclosure log on their website but its usefulness is, actually, very limited because it is apparent that some of the FOIA outcomes that damage the police force’s reputation do not make it onto that log. A classic example being the one revealing the numbers of out of time requests over the past three years. So much then for the ‘open and transparent’ philosophy.

Data Protection Act

As with information requests, so it is with data subject access requests. The Act provides for all personal information to be disclosed from the force’s files.

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In the case of my own two subject access requests (SAR’s), NYP have broken the law by failing to dispose of one of them appropriately within the stipulated 40 day period. Even after being given the generous option of a simplified form of response (a schedule of documents held, rather than full disclosure of all of them) what was provided was a deeply unsatisfactory shambles that looks as though it has been put together over a disclosure officer’s lunch break. The schedule arrived on the fortieth day, precluding any possibility of the contemplated inspection of the documents within the statutory period.

The other SAR, concerning my data held by Mrs Mulligan’s PCC office, has still not even been acknowledged, let alone determined. It fell due on 31st May, 2015. NYP are responsible, under a joint corporate services arrangement, for dealing with SAR’s and FOIA requests on behalf of the PCC’s office.

Following this latest breach of the law, a further FOIA request has been submitted to NYP requesting details of how many SAR’s the force have dealt with over the past three years, and how many were properly determined to the requester’s satisfaction within the statutory 40 day period. Full details here.

Many may say, and justifiably so, that catching murderers and organised criminals – and keeping the streets clear of drugs, guns and knives is much more important to the public, and its police force, than keeping journalists happy with a stream of information requests. But the principle of operating within the law is exactly the same: Cutting corners with sloppy detective work, outside the recognised investigative framework, will lead to some perpetrators either not being caught (the mistakes by NYP at the outset of the Claudia Lawrence case is a classic and most tragic example), or being acquitted at court if they are arrested and charged.

Police Reform Act (PRA)

Enshrined in the Act at Section 22 is the Independent Police Complaint Commission’s Statututory Guidance. Which is, effectively, a comprehensive manual setting out how complaints against police officers should be handled by the forces by whom they are employed. The person ultimately responsible for ensuring NYP compliance with the law, guidance and police regulations is Chief Constable Jones. In the terms of the Act and Guidance he is known as the ‘Appropriate Authority’. He is, quite rightly, allowed to delegate some of his powers as it would be impossible for a police chief to be embroiled in the day to day minutiae of hundreds of complaints against his officers at any one time.

But here’s the rub: Jones has selected as his delegate an officer who has shown clearly that he is not at all familiar with Statutory Guidance and, even if he was, would not feel at all bound by it. Former Leeds Drug Squad ‘hard man’ DI Steve Fincham‘s view, on all the evidence I have seen, is that the Police Reform Act and Statutory Guidance might apply to other forces when dealing with the public, but not to NYP. Why should it? It’s just another law, amongst many, to flout as and when it suits.

Jones has been subject to thirteen complaints since he took up the post in 2013. Only two were recorded and investigated. The outcomes, in both cases, were that the complaints were not substantiated. NYP did not fully comply with a FOIA request in terms of disclosing the nature of the complaints (read here). Two of the complaints have been made against Jones since the publication of the FOIA outcome. They are both, presently, subject to non-recording appeals to the IPCC.

Civil Procedure Rules

Civil Court Procedure Rules (CPR) are taken very seriously by the courts and, generally, most of the lawyers practising there. So they should. High Court judges, with greater powers than a chief constable, take a very dim view of breaches of the precisely laid out legal framework – and sanction accordingly. But Jones’ North Yorkshire Police appear unconcerned by such issues and appear to regard CPR as merely a rough guide to civil litigation that applies to everyone else but not to them. Why should it? They are above the law.

Accounts and Audit (England) Regulations

The procedure for public inspection of accounts for a larger relevant body, mentioned in Regulation 22, is that it must make the documents mentioned in that regulation available for public inspection for 20 working days. North Yorkshire Police are such a body, but do not feel bound by the Regulations.

Not just unbound, but prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid compliance. In August, 2015 it was agreed, in writing, with NYP’s Chief Financial Officer, Jane Palmer, that certain invoices would be disclosed to me via pdf files carried by email, rather than visit NYP HQ in person (a 140 mile, 3 hour round trip) and pay for them to be photocopied. Almost a year later – and amidst much correspondence and two formal complaints I am still waiting. Those invoices that are being unlawfully withheld unsurprisingly concern Operations Rome and Hyson.

Police Act (Code of Ethics)

In 2014, and pursuant to S39A (5) of the Police Act 1996 (amended by S124 of the Anti Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, 2014), the College of Policing introduced a Code of Ethics.

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The public relations narrative from NYP is they they are taking every reasonable step to embed the Code Of Ethics into all operations within the force. Indeed, every email received from NYP includes the message “Committed to the Code of Ethics“.

But, setting apart the lengthy, routine and serious breaches of statute, guidance and regulations, NYP have, on the face of the extensive evidence I have collected, no interest whatsoever in complying with either the Ethics Code, or Nolan Priciples, or Standards of Professional Behaviour. This is a police force that has had all its own way, without any form of worthwhile scrutiny or oversight, since time immemorial.

Here are just some examples that involve four very senior officers, and their complete disregard for any standards that one might associate with those in public life, let alone a Policing Code of Ethics.

(i) Many more emails than not remain unacknowledged, let alone answered. The two worst offenders in my own experience are Head of NYP’s Professional Standards Department, Superintendent Maria Taylor and Press/Communications Officer, Greig Tindall. Which, by any measure, is extraordinary: The department head charged with upholding high ethical standards of all other officers in the force  – and a Communications Officer who doesn’t communicate very well, if at all – both routinely place themselves outside the Code of Ethics.

(ii) There is a strong likelihood that if a response is eventually received from a senior officer, after being prompted, then it may be sent simply with the intention to obfuscate or deceive. That is the documented experience of my direct contact with the aforementioned Jane Palmer and Force Solicitor, Jane Wintermeyer. That may well be how they view their respective roles or, indeed, how they are instructed to respond by their masters, but it doesn’t sit well within an ethical or professional framework.

The two Janes are both, presently, the subject of ongoing misconduct complaints. Apologies have been received from both of them, but that is not the remedy now sought. The issues at stake require much stronger action from the force. But instead of dealing with the core issues and moving on, the drive to cover up misdemeanours of senior officers in North Yorkshire Police is all-pervading and very much extends to Mrs Mulligan’s own PCC office.

David Jones has recently been seconded to the equally shambolic South Yorkshire Police: Ostensibly, to temporarily replace his former Greater Manchester Police colleague, David Crompton, as a pair of ‘clean hands’.

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Now, the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire, Dr Alan Billings, must decide whether he has simply replaced one David, albeit on an interim basis, with another David who is a copper out of the same flawed mould.

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Page last updated Tuesday 7th June, 2016 at 2135hrs

© 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: NYP, NYPCC, SYPCC, Liverpool Echo

 

 

Letter to North Yorks Enquirer

Sir

The Hillsborough inquests verdict is the biggest story around at present with the conduct of South Yorkshire Police exposed as appalling beyond comprehension.

It has ended the career of my long term adversary, David Crompton, and he deserves every ounce of opprobrium and contempt that will come his way. I hope some of my own articles – such as this one https://neilwilby.com/2016/03/01/david-crompton-the-south-yorkshire-police-years/ – helped him on his way.

I spent a fair amount of time in that airless, featureless converted office block in Warrington that was prepared as a temporary coroner’s court to hear the new inquests. To listen to the same old lies peddled relentlessly by police officers sickened the bereaved families, the survivors of the Disaster, their legal teams and the journalists reporting from court. We will never know in detail what the jury thought of this repulsive conduct, but the verdicts they delivered spoke volumes.

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There is a link here to the good people of North Yorkshire because their Chief Constable, Dave Jones, is facing mounting criticism about how he runs his own police force. A contemporary of David Crompton at Greater Manchester Police where they were both chief superintendents, at the same time in the early years of this century, gives a clue as to what might follow for CC Jones.

North Yorkshire Police has been under scrutiny by me for over a year now and what I have found has shocked me profoundly: Since the launch of the uPSD website (www.upsd.co.uk) I had laboured under the belief that their big city neighbours, West Yorkshire Police had more integrity issues than the other two Yorkshire forces put together. Now that view is subject to revision.

A propensity by a police force such as North Yorkshire to break the law, calculatingly and relentlessly, in areas that are easily visible to the enquiring mind of investigative journalist does not bode well for those matters that require a little more digging out. NYP simply do not regard themselves as bound in any way by the Freedom of Information Act; the Data Protection Act; the Police Reform Act; IPCC Statutory Guidance; Code of Ethics or Police (Conduct) Regulations. The police flout them with impunity and – seemingly – with the tacit approval of those at the top of the management pyramid.

There is also this worrying culture of poor communication. Ask a difficult question and you are almost guaranteed not to get an answer. Or, if you do eventually get an answer there is a fair chance it will be untrue. This does not sit easily with the Chief Constable’s script on his force being ‘open and transparent’.

Equally worrying is the attitude of NYP towards its critics, which is a hair trigger response that involves denigrating and smearing – and in extreme cases spending huge sums of public money trying to silence journalists via the courts.

The North Yorkshire Police habit of senior officers helping themselves to public funds has also resurfaced under the regime of CC Jones. He and two other senior officers – DCC Tim Madgwick and C/Supt Lisa Winward – are the beneficiaries of approaching £100,000 of free legal fees to fund a private civil court claim. This is a scandal that goes beyond the financial transgressions of the infamous former NYP chief officers, Grahame Maxwell and Adam Briggs.

It was Lord Maginnis of Drumglass who uttered these words in Parliament in 2011 about North Yorkshire Police: ‘That particularly dubious constabulary that merits careful investigation

I have taken the Noble Lord’s words to heart.

Yours etc

 

Neil Wilby

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

 

Cost of silencing police force critics now approaches £1 million

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Neil Wilby 2015-2016. Unauthorised use or reproduction of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from and links to the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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