Chief constable set to take flight?

A well-placed source says West Yorkshire Police chief constable, Dee Collins, is set to retire.

Rumours have been circulating for some time, but it seems that Ms Collins will pass day-to-day control of the force to her deputy, John Robins, at the end of this year.

It is said that the chief will complete her police service at the College of Policing headquarters, in the early part of 2019, as Course Service Director for the next cohort of strategic command candidates. Read more here.

The incumbent deputy chief constable (DCC), John Robins, will take over as temporary chief constable, with ACC Russ Foster promoted to T/DCC and Chief Superintendent Mark Ridley also promoted, to assistant chief constable.

Ms Collins was appointed as WYP chief constable in November, 2016. She was the only candidate for the post. During her tenure, the force’s tarnished reputation has been further damaged by a number of high profile scandals. There are at least three more in the making. All concerning matters on her watch.

She also holds the post of Air Operations Certificate Holder at the National Police Air Service (NPAS). Her effectiveness in that role was again called into question recently, following the, as yet, unexplained departure of the Chief Operating Officer, Tyron Joyce.

In November 2017, NPAS was the subject of blistering criticism by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) who described the management of the service as ‘inept‘ and its financial model ‘unsustainable‘. The NPAS response to Matt Parr‘s withering report is due next month (November 2018). A NPAS insider suggests that the answers are unlikely to satisfy HMIC.

West Yorkshire’s Police Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson, chairs the NPAS Strategic Board. He was also responsible for appointing Dee Collins as chief constable. His second failure in a row in selecting a police leader, as the Mark Gilmore debacle cost the county’s precept payers around £750,000.

Burns-Williamson is understood to be facing problems of his own, as a major media organisation is said to be presently conducting an enquiry into alleged serious wrongdoing by the PCC’s office. It is understood to concern the hot topic of non-disclosure.

Both the chief constable, privately, and the police press office were approached for comment. The latter responded promptly. They confirmed the chief’s posting to the College of Policing, DCC Robins taking day to day control of the force in January, 2019, but deny she is retiring. The reader is, accordingly, invited to make up her, or his, own mind. Dee Collins did not reply.

In doing so, it should be noted that Mark Burns-Williamson has not published a Decision Notice regarding the change of leadership on his PCC website. He is required to do so by law (Elected Local Policing Bodies [Specified Information] Order, 2011).

The PCC’s office has not been approached. Their press officer, Dee Cowburn, routinely ignores such requests.

BBC Look North, in a short package put out on Friday 5th October, 2018, adopted their routine role as a public relations facility for WYP and the PCC. The state broadcaster confirmed that Dee Collins was going to the College of Policing on secondment and that John Robins was taking over control of the force. Other highly newsworthy matters in this article were, unsurprisingly, not followed up.

Ends

Page last updated: Saturday 6th October, 2018 at 1910 hrs

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

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2018. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Cost of police chief’s exit set to rise further as court proceedings issued

Civil proceedings have been issued against the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for West Yorkshire concerning the outcome of a misconduct investigation that he ordered into his former chief constable, Mark Gilmore [1].

In response to a long running freedom of information request [2], made via the What Do They Know website on 21st September, 2016, a spokeswoman for PCC Mark Burns-Williamson says that details of the probe carried out by Lancashire Police cannot be released, as to do so would be prejudicial to the impending court case.

The same argument is applied to the refusal to release emails and meeting notes between Lancashire detectives and the PCC that formed part of the information request. It is further claimed by the PCC that some of the emails may be legally privileged.

A response to the information request was only given after a complaint was made to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on 10th January, 2017. After an inexplicable delay by the watchdog who, incredibly, wanted to close down the complaint, the PCC was eventually directed on 26th April, 2017 to comply with the Freedom of Information Act and provide a finalisation of the request within ten working days.

The reasons set out in that finalisation are not consistent with those given previously for failing to disclose the information. An detailed internal review request made on 10th November, 2016 was, more or less, ignored. This was the main ground for the complaint to the ICO.

In September, 2016 Burns-Williamson was quoted in a local newspaper as saying: “I have committed to publish as much of this report as I can,” he said. “I’m presently taking legal advice.”

Mark Gilmore pictured in his office at police HQ in Wakefield. He never returned there following his suspension in June 2014. Picture credit: BBC

Gilmore was appointed as chief constable of the country’s fourth largest force in April, 2013 following the controversial departure of the disgraced Sir Norman Bettison. Just over a year later he was suspended from duty whilst bribery allegations against him were investigated by the force where he started his career, the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

In May 2015 it was announced that there would be no criminal charges against Gilmore concerning the award of vehicle contracts. His suspension was lifted, but he was immediately placed on gardening leave, purportedly working remotely for the National Police Chiefs Council. A misconduct investigation, codenamed Operation Barium, was launched by Lancashire Police immediately after the conclusion of the criminal matters.

Retirement from the police service followed a short time after the Barium report was delivered to Burns-Williamson by Lancashire Police in July, 2016. Ten months later, the public are no wiser as to whether Mark Gilmore had a case to answer.

The civil proceedings filed at the Royal Courts of Justice are an application by Mark Gilmore for judicial review of the failure, by the PCC, to reach a decision on whether there was a case to answer for misconduct. The stipulated period is 15 days for making such a decision. Gilmore’s solicitors – Belfast based McCartan Turkington Breen – say that there is a ‘continuing failure by the PCC for West Yorkshire to comply with his statutory obligations’.

The claim is being handled by Ernie Waterworth, who now acts as a consultant to the law firm, having previously served as a partner. He specialises in civil litigation, public enquiries and criminal law matters.

Mark Burns-Williamson has issued a statement saying that ‘The claim is denied in full. We will be submitting a response to this effect to the court in accordance with the legal process“. The PCC did not elaborate on the reasons for defending the claim.

The cost of paying for two chief constables, Gilmore and the temporary incumbent Dee Collins, over a two year period is estimated to be close to £800,000.

The belatedly finalised information request is now the subject of further challenge.

A new request has also been made concerning the documents filed at court in the action against the PCC [3].

Page last updated: Tuesday 16th May, 2017 at 0955hrs

[1] Neil Wilby: Barium too hard to swallow

[2] WhatDoTheyKnow: Operation Barium – A Freedom of Information request

[3] WhatDoTheyKnow: Civil proceedings between Mark Gilmore and WYOPCC – A Freedom of Information request

© Neil Wilby 2015-2017. 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.

 

Stories untold: A Disaster of a book

I thought long and hard about writing this piece.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing the narrative

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

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

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

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

Hillsborough Untold MASTER jacket.indd

Subliminal thread that still smears the fans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Devil is in the detail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dramatis personae

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The missing word

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

There was no cover-up

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

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

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

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

– Questioning bereaved families over alcohol consumption

–  Criminal record checks on the deceased

– Theft of CCTV tapes from football club control room

–  Removal of logs from police control box in West stand

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

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

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

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

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

– Intimidation by West Midlands Police officers of key witnesses

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

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

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

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

The Best of the Rest

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Copyright: 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.

 

 

Operation Barium too hard to swallow?

On 7th July, 2009 I wrote to Sir Norman Bettison, then Chief Constable of my local police force. He was offered intelligence over the misconduct of a number of his junior officers and a newspaperman’s instinct that all was not well within West Yorkshire Police.

Shortly afterwards, I received a telephone call from his staff officer at the time, Chief Inspector Christopher Rowley. Recently, and controversially, appointed to disgraced South Yorkshire Police as an assistant chief constable (read more here).

It matters little that CI Rowley’s call was a fob-off, delivered in an unattractive manner. It was to lead, indirectly, to a challenge never before faced by a police force: Scrutiny by investigators, not part of any official oversight body, who were to determined to show the true face of a police force that considered itself completely unaccountable to anyone.

At the time of my letter being sent to Bettison, one of his gilded protégés was Mark Gilmore. He was one of five assistant chief constables in a Command Team that was to become almost entirely  discredited: Bettison’s career ended in ignominy as he became engulfed in a number of scandals, with his role in the Hillsborough Disaster aftermath being much the highest profile.

Bettison’s deputy chief constable was none other than David Crompton. Also widely known as ‘Disaster Dave‘ and for whom Hillsborough was also to prove his nemesis (read more here).

Two other of the disgraced chief’s assistants, John Parkinson (later to succeed him as temp0rary chief constable) and Geoff Dodd, were to retire from the police service with clouds hanging over them. Dodd was connected to the framing and jailing of a promising young police constable and, after the Operation Lamp investigation into that miscarriage of justice was completed, but before the report was published, he sailed into the sunset clinging to his gold plated pension. Parkinson was also deeply involved in the PC Danny Major cover-up, amongst a significant number of other misdemeanours, about which more can be read here.

My first interaction with Parkinson was in May 2010, as he was portfolio holder for the notorious Professional Standards Department in West Yorkshire Police. Just under two years later I wrote to him and promised I would drive him out of the police service, based on the evidence I held. He probably laughed it off at the time, but a year later he was gone.

Mark Gilmore, having been recruited in 2008 by Bettison from a sinecure as staff officer to ACPO president Sir Hugh Orde, was given a special projects role in the procurement and delivery of profit for investment (PFI) schemes at WYP. Bettison was, at the time, vice president of the now-defunct ACPO.

A number of new divisional headquarters around the county and a massive project at the force’s operational support and training centre at Carr Gate, near Wakefield were built as a result of the PFI financing. The total sums involved have been reported in the local press as totalling £300 million, yet the company appointed to facilitate the financing appeared to be carrying a net current deficit of several million pounds.

There is a well-grounded suspicion that the PFI schemes are a ticking timebomb as far as future debt is concerned. As soon as time and funding allow, this is to form the subject a separate forensic investigation by me.

In July 2011, Gilmore was appointed as deputy chief constable to another big city force. He joined another Bettison protégé who was chief constable of Northumbria Police, Sue Sim. Recently in the news as a whistleblower exposing concerning practices amongst senior officers in her former force (read more here). Bettison and Sim worked together at Merseyside Police, during the former’s controversial reign in Liverpool.

It is not known, at this stage, whether Gilmore was intended to be one of the subjects of his former chief’s scathing and wide-ranging criticisms. Incredibly, it is West Yorkshire Police who have been sent to investigate Mrs Sims’ complaints.

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Less than two years later, Gilmore was back at West Yorkshire Police having been crowned as chief by the newly-elected Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Mark Burns-Williamson.

Sources close to the process suggested at the time that Gilmore had defeated John Parkinson, Mark Milsom, an ACC with WYP and most famous for running a BMW X5 police car through a red traffic light and into the side of a bus in Leeds city centre, and Phil Gormley, at the time chief constable of Norfolk Constabulary, a formet Metropolitan Police assistant commisssioner and, presently, chief constable at Police Scotland.

The largely invisible Gilmore was later to controversially refuse to prosecute Milsom over the ramming of the bus in City Square, saying after a lengthy investigation that “it was not in the public interest“. A decision that was to leave most West Yorkshire folk, and many of the front line officers in their police force, entirely bemused (read more here).

The very few policing commentators who were aware of the shortlist could only stand shocked at the decision to select Gilmore ahead of Gormley. Burns-Williamson, who prior to his appointment had been Chair of the police authority for ten years, appeared to place emphasis on the fact that Gilmore was a known entity – and his experience in the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) was particularly relevant.

Those in the know had an entirely different perception: Gilmore knew where a whole pile of WYP corruption bones were buried and it was felt that Burns-Williamson didn’t want anyone from ‘outside the circle’ poking around and asking questions.

I wrote an article that was first published on the uPSD website at the end of April 2013 that set out in some detail the extent of the alleged ‘cover-ups’ to which Gilmore was, at the very least, a passive party (read more here). It was a formidable list. For his part, Burns-Williamson was content to continue as though none of this corruption existed. Indeed, his oft-repeated mantra during the election campaign that brought him to power in 2012 was that “there is no corruption in West Yorkshire Police”. He didn’t repeat it in the campaign in May, 2016.

It took just fourteen months before his PCC, so effusive at the time of his appointment, had to remove his ‘chosen one’ from police HQ. Mark Gilmore was suspended from duty in June, 2014. This move was prompted by a PSNI investigation into the awarding of police vehicle contracts in Northern Ireland.

Seven men were arrested by detectives working on the case at the time and questioned on suspicion of offences including bribery, misconduct in public office and procuring misconduct in public office. Gilmore was not one of those detained. In a statement he insisted that “I have conducted myself with the honesty and integrity expected of someone in my position and have 31 years unblemished professional record”. He presented himself at a Belfast police station, voluntarily, for an interview under caution.

He added: “I have fully co-operated with the investigation and will continue to do so. I hope to work with the Police and Crime Commissioner to bring about a quick and positive resolution to this matter so I can return to serving the people of West Yorkshire as soon as possible.”

The criminal investigation was concluded a year later with no charges being laid against Gilmore. His suspension was lifted by Burns-Williamson, but he was immediately placed on gardening leave. The effect was, more or less, the same. Gilmore was barred from West Yorkshire Police premises and could have no contact with any of the officers over whom he, notionally, had command. The criminal investigation was replaced by a misconduct probe led by Assistant Chief Constable Tim Jacques of Lancashire Police. It was codenamed Operation Barium. The terms of reference and cost for that probe are currently the subject of a freedom of information request.

The cost at this point to the taxpayers of West Yorkshire of funding two chief constables was in the region of £200,000. Burns-Williamson sought to deflect criticism by concocting a role with the National Police Chiefs Council (formerly ACPO in all but name) whereby Gilmore was supposed to be occupied by the implementation of an intranet system for the chief officers involved with the Council.

Bradford councillor, Michael Walls, a member of the police scrutiny panel said at the time: “It seems improper that the West Yorkshire taxpayer is funding an officer on a very significant salary, to undertake work benefitting the residents of London”. Which wasn’t quite accurate, but the sentiment was well meant.

Burns-Williamson, meanwhile, was deaf to the criticism and appeared to be clinging grimly on to the hope that Gilmore would be cleared by the Barium probe and he could return to police HQ.

On 9th August 2016, almost 26 months since he was suspended, Gilmore announced he was retiring from the police service and would not be returning to the West Yorkshire force, irrespective of the outcome of Operation Barium.

As ever with Burns-Williamson, there is a troubling deceit about such matters and it now revealed that the report was delivered by Lancashire Police on 26th July, 2016 to the Commissioner’s office. A spokesman says that the PCC plans to publish the report ‘as soon as practicable’, but fails to clarify why that cannot be immediately. It also remains unclear, at present, as to whether Operation Barium’s remit covered Gilmore’s involvement in the highly lucrative PFI building contracts.

The Chair of the police scrutiny panel, Alison Lowe, a close Labour party ally of Burns-Williamson, says he is currently on holiday and that she didn’t expect to be briefed by him until the next panel meeting in September. She didn’t even know that the report had been in Burns-Williamson’s hands for the past two weeks. Which, given my own extensive experience of dealing with Cllr Lowe’s hapless panel, is entirely in character. She added that she felt that Gilmore’s retirement was a “good thing”. But made no mention of the huge burden placed on the taxpayer for the previous 26 months amounting to a sum in excess of £600,000.

The last words, at least until the Barium report is put under the x-ray, goes to Mark Polin, Chair of the Chief Police Officers Staff Association (CPOSA). He said in May, 2016: “Mark Gilmore remains committed to working alongside the police and crime commissioner to serve the communities of West Yorkshire”.

Mr Polin added “We are disappointed at the length of time the investigation has taken, which follows satisfactory resolution of the Northern Ireland and IPCC investigations, and Mr Gilmore looks forward to this matter being resolved as soon as possible.”

It is understood that CPOSA’s insurers have been underwriting Gilmore’s legal fees in defence of any contemplated actions against him. Mr Polin was not so forthcoming when contacted for comment this week.

 

Page last updated: Sunday 14th August, 2016 at 0855hrs

© 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 credit: Huddersfield Examiner