‘Open and transparent’ Police & Crime Commissioner stonewalls questions over public misconduct hearings

There are few words in the policing lexicon that crop up more often than ‘open’ and ‘transparent’. Some luminaries, such as North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Julia Mulligan, use it so often that they actually begin to believe in the myth.

There are few words in the policing lexicon that crop up more often than ‘open’ and ‘transparent’. Some luminaries, such as North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Julia Mulligan, use it so often that they actually begin to believe in the myth.

The latest example cropped up only yesterday with a story run by the usually police-friendly York Press [1]. The thrust of the piece is that a reporter from their sister newspaper, The Northern Echo, was denied entry to a police disciplinary hearing due to open at police HQ at Newby Wiske, near Northallerton.

Up pops Mrs Mulligan and immediately pledges to “put transparency at the heart of this process”. Conveniently forgetting that it is already a statutory requirement to do so under Police (Conduct) Regulations [2].

But that is only half the story. Misconduct hearings against North Yorkshire Police (NYP) officers alleged to be in breach of Standards of Professional Behaviour [3] fall under the remit of their Professional Standards Department (PSD). It is a part of NYP’s operations that has come under stinging criticism over the past few years. Not least from myself in other articles on this website.

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Prior to the current proceedings, involving gross misconduct allegations against Inspector Sarah Sanderson (with whom I had a brief and uncontroversial professional interchange in August 2012, just before her promotion to T/Chief Inspector), there has only been one other misconduct meeting heard in public involving a NYP officer. This was the widely reported ‘I love weed‘ case involving ex-PC Simon Ryan [4].

Having accidentally discovered it was taking place whilst researching for another article, I actually registered via the NYP website for the Ryan hearing, although as a press card carrying journalist it galled me to do so.

A response came two days later from an unidentified PSD officer (no name, no collar number which is, of itself, a breach of the Code of Ethics) who informed me that ‘a seat had been allocated‘.

There were also other myriad conditions which were set out at this weblink [5]. The sum of it was, there were no facilities at all for reporters, and they were also being asked to leave the building every time the hearing adjourned. Which for proceedings of this type is usually frequently.

I asked PSD by email if a small room with just a table and some chairs could be provided, so that reporters could do their job. An anonymous responder (again) informed me: “I’m afraid that we do not have the available space in order to facilitate your request“.

No catering or drink facility was to be provided to attendees at the hearing – press or otherwise – and I didn’t get as far as asking about toilet facilities.

For my part, I decided that three 140 mile round trips, at my own expense, with no guarantee that my two battery powered devices would last the day without infusion of mains electricity, added to the prospect of flask and sandwiches in the car, and trying to work my laptop on my knee during the hearing, was not at all an appealing combination. I concentrated on other work and hoped one of the local or regional newspapers, who covered NYP matters, would report on the proceedings.

In the event, the hearing only lasted two days and only Tom Wilkinson from the Press Association was in attendance. As such, he still holds the distinction of being the one journalist ever to attend a NYP misconduct hearing.

Unless there is an entirely different approach taken towards the press, after Mrs Mulligan has spoken to the Chief Constable, then Tom might hold that record for some time yet. It is also interesting that he hasn’t ventured to Newby Wiske Hall for a second time.

The PCC and the chief could make a start by changing the venue from Newby Wiske Hall for a start. If it doesn’t have the requisite facilities then why hold hearings there? A question that has been put to both Mrs Mulligan and Dave Jones.

In the interests of ‘openness’ and ‘transparency’ neither even responded to the email seeking comment. Two questions were put to both police chiefs:

1. Why are card-carrying journalists required to register to attend disciplinary hearings?
2. Why is Newby Wiske Hall used as a venue when it is plainly unsuitable?
Readers are invited to draw their own conclusions as to whether they are in the public interest and it was reasonable of Mr Jones and Mulligan to stonewall them.

 

Page last updated: Wednesday 21st September, 2016 at 1750hrs

[1] York Press 19th September, 2016: ‘North Yorkshire PCC will speak to Chief Constable after reporter refused entry’.

[2] Police (Conduct) Regulations 2012.

[3] North Yorkshire Police: Ethics and Standards.

[4] BBC News 14th June, 2016: ‘I love weed hat PC Simon Ryan sacked from North Yorkshire Police’.

[5] North Yorkshire Police: Misconduct hearings.

 

Photo credit: Northern 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

409,970 reasons not to trust North Yorkshire Police

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complete capitulation follows Fall of Rome (click here)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That particularly dubious Constabulary merits careful investigation”.

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

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

Photo credits: North Yorkshire Enquirer, Yorkshire Television, Darlington and Stockton Times and Office of Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire