An affront to open justice

Last Friday I reported on an appeal judgment handed down in the Leeds Registry of the High Court of Justice (read more here). It was a civil claim in which the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police and his legal team were defeated by a Bradford GP and medico-legal practitioner, Dr Abdul Rashid.

It was an expensive loss, in terms of reputation of the police, public confidence in them, as well as the consequential costs and, as yet unquantified, damages. Four chief officers, Norman Bettison, Mark Gilmore, Dionne Collins and John Robins have overseen this debacle from its genesis in October, 2011 and an unlawful dawn arrest five months later, involving no less than sixteen officers. The former two chiefs would have known very little about the case. Both left the force under dark clouds. The latter two deeply involved because of the huge sums of money at stake, potentially topping £5 million. Dee Collins, as she likes to be known, authorised a ‘Part 36’ offer of just £10,000 plus costs to settle the claim.

Robins has been on the scene throughout as divisional commander of the arresting officer and his cohort; temporary deputy, deputy and then chief constable. He has a great deal to answer for:

Criminal offences have been committed by officers, on the clearest of evidence (read more here), and the level of misconduct and gross misconduct by a number of other officers in the force, not least to perpetuate a grotesque ‘cover-up’ has been simply breathtaking. Pursuit of satellite interests, instinctive lying, data breaches, police computer misuse, concealing or destroying documents, suppressing witness evidence, grotesque smearing of a hard-working professional man and the pursuit of a zealous, persistent, long-running vendetta by the police, designed not only to ruin him but, principally, to defeat the civil claim.

Selective memory, of course, comes as standard with WYP in court proceedings and their main witness answered no less than 13 times in terms of ‘I don’t remember’ or ‘I don’t recall’ when questioned by defence counsel about key events or missing documents. The same officer, Sergeant Mark Taylor (as he was then) was present at the arrest and has been involved continuously in the case as exhibits and disclosure officer ever since. He should know the case backwards and have logged and preserved every single piece of evidence. That was his principal duty. Some of the key documents he couldn’t produce were his own notebooks and emails. Taylor is still a serving inspector in Bradford CID.

With, it must be said, the aid of a judge whose verdict has now been quite properly overturned, but not quite in the terms it should have been (read more here), the police very nearly got away with it. Rounding off a bad week for Mr Recorder Nolan QC as he was at the centre of a complaint outcome upon which I exclusively reported here. The complaint was not upheld, but is presently the subject of appeal to the Judicial Conduct Investigation Office.

The standing of the legal team deployed by the chief constable, in this most unpleasant of debacles, is also diminished and their own conduct, it can be argued, might well be the subject of a regulatory investigation, at the very least, in order to maintain public confidence in the civil justice system. Litigation is not for snowflakes, but what has been allowed to pass here as professional conduct is seriously troubling.

The instructing solicitor, Alison Walker, Deputy Head of Legal Services for West Yorkshire Police, is said to be already under investigation over other civil proceedings, but neither her own force or the force to whom, I am told, the matter has been referred (Cleveland) will confirm or deny. Mrs Walker will, doubtless, deny any allegations of impropriety in that particular case, and no imputation, beyond the fact that an investigation may be taking place, is made, but she has a much greater difficulty in the Rashid claim as I (and others) have witnessed it, recorded it in my notebook, reported upon it assiduously and have the complete trial transcript (running to 1166 pages) and trial bundle (electronic version of 12 lever arch volumes) to back up those scribblings. Not one word of which has been challenged by the police, or anyone else.

It is also not clear whether it was on instructions from her client, or of her own motion, but Olivia Checa-Dover of counsel sought to have me removed from the substantive hearing of the claim brought by Dr Rashid on the beginning of the fourth day (of ten). At a hearing in the same court building seven weeks later, she objected to my presence in the press box during another civil claim against West Yorkshire Police brought by a former officer, Kerry Perkins (read more here). The latter case cost the taxpayer over £80,000 in costs shortfall; the Rashid case could well cost the same taxpayers over £1 million in costs and damages. That is on Olivia’s opinion and advice. Seemingly, she, and the police, would much rather these matters, of huge public interest, were not reported and the foundation principle of open justice defeated. Not to mention the routine WYP disclosure failings, questionable witness box testimony, and the ‘cover-ups’ referred to earlier in this piece.

That, from my position in the press seats, diminishes her standing as both counsel and an officer of the court – and those instructing her, including other police forces such as Durham Constabulary (read more here) and Staffordshire Police to name but two, might, in future, consider anxiously whether she is an appropriate guardian of public funds. Or able to contain her innate bullishness.

Nothwithstanding those criticisms, I am an admirer of Miss Checa-Dover’s undoubted talent as a courtroom advocate, her ability to charm the bench and enviable case preparation skills.

As a footnote I would add that, having been adjacent to the Perkins case for over two years, from its very first public hearing in Wakefield County Court, if Kerry had not been worn down mentally, physically and financially by her former employers during the legal process, and forced to withdraw her own appeal to the High Court, she would also have ultimately succeeded in her data protection, privacy claim. A view shared by her legal team, including Sarah Hemingway of counsel, which would have been bolstered by the addition of the formidable Stephen Cragg QC to the legal team at appeal. That would have added around £175,000 to the West Yorkshire taxpayer bill, by way of costs and damages.

The spectacular oversight failings in this case of such as West Yorkshire’s hapless, hopeless Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson and his slippery chief executive and string-puller, Fraser Sampson, will be the subject of a separate article. The Independent Office for Police Conduct and Crown Prosecution Service also feature strongly in the facilitation of this grotesque debacle.

The IOPC, in particular, can expect to be put to the sword. They concealed a former WYP detective constable, Mark Lunn, in their Wakefield office for over three years and refuse to confirm that a full review of every case to which he was a party. He just happened to be the arresting officer of Dr Rashid. Even the most basic of checks by the police watchdog would have raised sufficient concerns for him not to be employed in an organisation where flawless integrity should be an absolute necessity.

Lunn is described by a former senior IOPC colleague as “lazy and corrupt, spending more time pursuing his own business interests (selling free range eggs) than his job here”. Given what is written extensively, elsewhere on this website (read here), about the wayward and dishonest Lunn, that observation has the necessary ring of truth.

Page last updated: Monday 28th September, 2020 at 1535 hours

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

Right of reply: If you are mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let me have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory it will be added to the article.

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. 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 Media, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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.

Right of reply: If you are mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let me have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory it will be added to the article.

© 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.

 

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.

JS34806226

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