Cost of GMP’s disastrous IS Transformation Programme rises to £80 million

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) is the UK’s fifth largest police force, with over 7,000 officers, and around 3,000 civilian staff, whose mission is to ensure the safety and security of a diverse local population of over 2.5 million people, spread over 11 Divisions (plus 6 City of Manchester sub-divisions), 10 specialist units and covering an area close to 1,300 square kilometres.

In 2010, GMP began a near ten-year journey that would see their out-dated computerised crime databases and paper-based systems, including the Operational Policing Unit System (OPUS), and an older system purchased from Northumbria Police, replaced with a new multi-million pound installation that is now widely dubbed as iOPS: An acronym of Integrated Operational Policing System.

Or, less generously, ‘iFLOPS’. The name given to a closed Facebook group where reports of the new system’s many failures could be posted, without fear of reprisal from GMP’s feared Professional Standards Branch (PSB). iFLOPS attracted an astonishing membership of over 1,400 GMP officers in just over two days. A large number of posts revealed genuine fears that lives could be lost whilst iOPS remained in its present dysfunctional state.

OPUS was introduced in, or around, 2004 and has, for the moment, been retained as a read-only database to cover intelligence gaps or inputting errors within iOPS.

The new system would accommodate the force’s ambition to have every front line officer equipped with mobile devices that can link directly with its data and also integrate seamlessly with body worn video footage taken at the scene of incidents. This film would later be used to support prosecution of alleged offenders. The mobile devices would all have eight core policing applications (apps) installed, together with such as Google Maps and Outlook email. Elimination of duplicate entries is said to be a key feature of the new technology.

This critical new capability gives officers the tools and information they need at street level. More crucially, they can, in theory, access and update databases, including the Police National Computer (PNC) whilst out on patrol. The estimated £10.7 million cost was additional to the iOPS software purchase. £1.8 million was paid for the devices the rest was spent was to be spent on training, the policing apps, airtime and data use.

Other forces using the same mobile systems include the Police Service of Northern Ireland; an East Midland collaboration between Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Notts and Northants; Kent Constabulary and Essex Police.

By any measure, conversion to iOPS and the introduction of the mobile devices was an ambitious change project for GMP and forms part of the force’s wider Target Operating Model (TOM).

A version of iOPS is presently in use at four other police forces, including the Metropolitan Police Service and South Wales Police, which was the first to successfully deploy the ControlWorks system in 2015. A comprehensive, easy to follow overview of iOPS can be read here. On paper, at least, it looks highly functional, effective and efficient.

In September 2013, two senior GMP officers, believed to be the then chief constable, Sir Peter Fahy, and one of his assistant chiefs, Garry Shewan, reported to Tony Lloyd, at the time the police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester, that the contract for a £30 million overhaul of GMP’s computer systems should be given to professional services giant EY, formerly Ernst and Young, without inviting rival contractors to bid for the work.

By that time, EY had already been paid £300,000 by GMP for preparatory work to scope the merits of introducing a single new system, which would unify the existing GMP databases, transfer them to a virtual infrastructure (Cloud), and allow officers to access key information whilst out on patrol or responding to incidents.

In the event, the PCC couldn’t countenance such a large contract being effectively handed to a single favoured contractor and, quite correctly, ordered that the project be put out to tender:

“GMP needs to have an IT system that is fit for the 21st century. The current system is in need of radical overhaul.

“In the current financial climate, a major piece of investment like this has to be done correctly – failure is simply not an option [Emphasis added].

“Following the initial scoping work that has been done by EY, a delivery partner now needs to be appointed to work with GMP to drive this project forward.

“I’ve decided that the right thing to do is to appoint that partner organisation through a competitive tendering process. This demonstrates transparency and also allows us to test the market so that the system developed will not only represent best value for money, but is also of the highest quality.

“An open [tender] process also minimises risk to the project of delay by legal challenge and enables us to see how we can work in partnership with industry experts to develop a system that will equip GMP to provide the best possible service to the people of Greater Manchester.”

GMP now say iOPS is part of a wider information services transformation programme initially budgeted at £60 million: Double the original figure of £30 million approved by Mr Lloyd.

The software designer who succeeded in the tender process is the Capita Group, and consultants appointed to manage the installation were, indeed, EY, who had, of course, already carried out the scoping work. It is reported that GMP commissioned the ControlWorks and PoliceWorks elements of the trademarked Capita system. The status of the EvidenceWorks part of the system in GMP is not known, at present. This usually involves, at the very least, replacing ageing and increasingly unreliable two deck tape recorders with digital devices and associated technology.

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In its promotional materials, Capita boasts that it has been a supplier of mission-critical solutions to law enforcement agencies for over 30 years – and works closely with clients to support evolving operational requirements and future business needs in policing, namely; providing mobile access to data for responding officers, data sharing with partners and truly multi-channel, two-way communication links between the force and the public.

Capita’s portfolio, they say, directly addresses core policing needs to deliver a public-facing, locally-based, modern and intelligence-driven service. Capita’s products and services are proven to help reduce operational risk, deliver a better service to the public and increase the effectiveness of operations.

But during the present iOPS crisis in Greater Manchester Police not a single word has been heard from their company about what have been described in the local press as ‘catastrophic’ failures. Enquirers are directed to GMP statements on the topic.

The relationship between Capita and GMP dates back many years, with GMP being the first force in the UK to outsource support for Airwave (the now outdated national police radio communication system) to a third party supplier. The two organisations, they say, developed an excellent working relationship over the years and built a strong, trusting partnership. The Capita team is based on site at GMP’s radio workshops to enable them to work closely with force employees and officers. As part of this service, Capita provides mobile radio engineers who are deployed when required to support vehicle radio incidents. Technical advice is also provided for hand-held and vehicle radio assets, and control room first line enquiries. GMP’s control rooms are also supported by a 24/7 regional field service team.

The police’s project leader for the IS Transformation Programme was Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan; assisted at that time by Chief Superintendent Chris Sykes (pictured below), since promoted to assistant chief constable, project leader and lead spokesperson. Another key member of the IS team is Assistant Director, Bill Naylor, involved in the programme at a senior level since 2011 and leading teams of up to 95 officers on associated projects. The officer responsible for delivery of training was recently retired inspector, Richard Easton. Unusually, there is no operational codename for the project, according to GMP’s press office.

 

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Assistant Chief Constable Chris Sykes

Details of the IS Transformation Programme tender process, via open source, are sparse. There did not appear to be any media coverage of the outcome. A copy of the contract award, dated 25th November, 2015 can, however, be read here. But, apart from naming the four successful project ‘partners’ (Capita Secure Information Solutions Ltd; Accenture Ltd; Intergraph (UK) Ltd and Northgate Public Services (UK) Ltd), and giving the values of the lowest and highest bids (£7 million and £25 million) it reveals very little more apart from the fact that the lowest bid was not chosen. The box for ‘the most economically advantageous’ is ticked. There were 14 bids, in total, for the four different contracts awarded. [The sharp-eyed might notice that Intergraph was wrongly referred to as ‘Integraph’ in the Decision Notice].

In May 2017, reportedly a year late, GMP issued a £17m pre-tender to overhaul and transition its data centre services to a virtualised infrastructure. Several potential suppliers were sought to express interest in the contract.

According to GMP’s tender documents, virtualisation techniques were being sourced as a means to transform large sections of the force’s existing infrastructure that is built around ageing in-house technology.

“[The proposed contract] will provide a managed service to support and maintain such services and facilitate the migration of the services to alternative locations if required,” said the pre-tender notice.

“GMP is committed to improving technology to enable staff to work more effectively and efficiently, the IS Transformation Programme (ISTP) have, and will continue to introduce new technology to support core operational policing,

“This includes how users will experience IT as part as their roles alongside building a better IT infrastructure to be more dependable and flexible in the future.”

Enquiries are ongoing to discover the name of the successful contractor and the amount tendered. It is not clear at this stage if the GMP migration to Cloud-based data storage was linked to the wider 43-force Microsoft Azure transformation that now falls under the National Enabling Programmes. For which BT and Deloitte have been awarded lead contracts (read more here).

iOPS was scheduled to go live in November, 2017. Two years after the contract award. The business case for the new system required cost savings to come on stream shortly after that date. By that time it had already been beset with serious issues, necessitating software re-writes. These mainly involved the flawed transfer into the new system of millions of records, stretching back over 40 years relating to crimes, convictions, suspects and victims.

An external audit of GMP’s finances, shortly before the intended launch, warned that the plan to go live with the all the component parts of the new information system, in the same moment, was a high risk strategy. They also noted that the problems already identified were responsible for a budget excess, but GMP was looking to claw back the overspend from the contractors. On-time delivery was central to the force’s cost saving plan.

Grant Thornton wrote to the Chief Constable and the Mayor’s office saying: “GMP has decided to go for the ‘same day’ approach to implementation proposed in the iOps deployment approach and recently signed off by the Organisational Change Board (OCB)”.

“It will be important to ensure that the planning, testing and readiness assessment are robust given the inherent risk of this approach.”

The Grant Thornton report also featured robust advice from an independent IT adviser and consultant, Gerry Pennell OBE, who warned it was ‘critical’ that the system was thoroughly tested, and staff properly trained, before it was launched.

“Given the ‘big bang’ nature of the deployment, and the scale of the impact on GMP’s operation and its criticality, I would counsel that considerable thought is given to ‘operational proving’ before going live,

“I appreciate that there are some real logistical challenges in standing up an effective operational testing/rehearsal opportunity. However, those challenges need to be balanced against the risk of encountering major operational issues when going live.”

Mr Pennell, also expressed concern the force ‘does not have adequate involvement with iOPS from a technical perspective’. GMP had made ‘good progress’ in recruitment but there were still ‘some significant gaps’, he said.

An information systems heavyweight, he is presently retained by both the International Olympic Committee and the Cabinet Office, and is a former IT Director at the University of Manchester.

The concern over remoteness of GMP’s own staff from the IS programme was also echoed by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabularies in their 2018 PEEL assessment.

When asked about ‘operational proving’, a GMP spokesperson said: “Prior to launching, we carried out extensive testing to ensure all new systems were usable and fit for purpose.

“We were continually engaged in a range of testing activity throughout 2018 and up to the launch date. It was unfeasible to carry out a live pilot of our new systems for operational and logistical reasons, which is clearly acknowledged and anticipated in the independent advice provided to us.”

There were also dark rumblings at that time, from insiders, about serious data breaches, with unauthorised personnel allegedly able to view the crime records. GMP denied any breach, as a reflex reaction, but the Information Commissioner’s Office was not contacted and no investigation took place.

March, 2018 was mooted by GMP as the revised go-live date, but this deadline came and went and was notable only for the departure of ACC Shewan a short time before. He had given indication of his retirement on 24th December, 2017 in a short message on Twitter; there was no valediction from his senior colleagues, including Chief Constable Ian Hopkins, when he left; nothing in the local press: Shewan just vanished, or so it seemed, with just a Twitter posting on 21st February, 2018 that read: ‘So the day has arrived….these 4 little things (epaulettes, warrant card, name badge) have dominated my life for over 30 years and today I get to hand them back for someone else to enjoy. They physically weigh ounces but without them I feel so much lighter. Thank you my friends for your love and support’.

A very short time after he left GMP, a company was incorporated bearing the name Garry Shewan Consulting Limited, with a retired police officer as its only director (read Companies House records here).

On his LinkedIn profile, Garry Shewan makes the remarkable claim that he is a ‘highly skilled strategic change leader who has led a wide range of transformational programmes including the delivery [emphasis added] of a unique £60million IS Transformation Programme – transforming operational policing, re-thinking the use of data & digital applications, and delivering significant business improvements.’

Set against the facts that iOPS has been repeatedly described in the local press as ‘a disaster’ or ‘catastrophic’ and on television as ‘a health and safety risk both to the public and police officers’ it can be inferred that the core of Shewan’s claims are not true. Not least because the system did not go live until 9th July, 2019, 17 months after he left the force; it is still not ‘delivered’ in September, 2019 and remains beset by serious problems.

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What the Shewan LinkedIn profile does not mention is that he is currently employed by a company that he was actively promoting during his time as a serving police officer, Mutual Gain Ltd. Also a strong proponent of the insidious Common Purpose, he has been absent from Twitter since 10th August, 2018. Two days after the scandal broke on regional television and in the local press. He, again, repeats the claim that he ‘delivered’ the £60 million techology programme in his Mutual Gain bio.

At the end of March 2018, GMP had admitted to the local newspaper that the iOPS budget had been exceeded, but refused to say by how much. The budget figure for the overarching IS Transformation Programme was reported to have increased from £60 million to £66 million. The launch date, they said, was ‘several months away’. 10,000 police officers and staff who had already been trained on the new system were asked to do virtual refresher training as a result of the delay. The ‘bugs and defects’ of November, 2017 had now become ‘data quality issues’, according to GMP.

There was little in the way of further news about the long-overdue launch of the new computer systems until late July, 2019. An article in the Manchester Evening News revealed that GMP had gone live earlier that month (on the 9th). It also disclosed a raft of serious problems highlighted by police officer whistle blowers who had contacted the local newspaper (read the article here). The force said the installation was ‘progressing well’ and there was no risks associated with response, front line officers said its failings were ‘catastrophic’ and they were ‘working blind’.

GMP did concede, however, that there were problems associated with the interface with the Crown Prosecution Service: “We have experienced some issues with regards to processing court case files, however we are working around-the-clock with our suppliers to resolve this as a priority. We have appropriate contingency plans in place while this issue is ongoing, to ensure the administration of justice continues”.

This turned out to be another GMP lie, as criminal defence solicitors and police whistleblowers were still coming forward weeks later to say that GMP’s Criminal Justice Unit was in complete meltdown and 90% of case files were either incomplete or not sent to the CPS.

The nature and extent of the iOPS scandal reached a far wider public on 8thAugust, 2019 when a further MEN article, and a seven minute ITV Granada Reports package that led their evening transmission, appeared within a few hours of one another. Central to the TV broadcast was a leaked email sent to all GMP officers from the rank of chief inspector down to constable. It warned of serious safety risks to officers and the public arising from iOPS failures.

They produced a furious response from the force, and in particular the chief constable, Ian Hopkins, which included an extraordinary, public attack on journalist, Matt O’Donoghue, via Twitter. Hopkins followed that up with a formal complaint to his employers, ITV Granada.

The police chief has since had good cause to regret both as he has come under repeated, and well-aimed, fire from the author of this piece, Neil Wilby, the MEN’s Jennifer Williams, an increasing number of police whistleblowers, and a number of politicians and senior public officials in the region. These include, Anne Coffey who believes the new computer system is putting children at risk. A view later endorsed by every Children’s Director across Greater Manchester’s ten boroughs.

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The default position of CC Hopkins, and the GMP press office, has been to consistently downplay the problems with the new system and infer that the very many police officers who have contacted journalists and whistleblowers, to air their concerns, are either at fault with their own lack of understanding of the new system or are disgruntled trouble causers. In the meantime, the local newspaper published seven articles on the iOPS topic within one month, some of them lengthy and highly forensic. The latest, and most wordy, that summarises most of the matters in issue, can be read in full here.

What was revealed, however, in the course of the tense exchanges between the press and police was that the force conceded that the latest budget figure for the IS Transformation Programme was now £71.2 million. The uplift from £60 million, then £66 million is, as yet, unexplained. The force has also, at the same time, retreated from its position in March, 2018, when they said that the iOPS part of the transformation had exceeded its £27 million budget, and have now repeated several times that it is still within the original budget. Again, that is unexplained.

Insiders have reported that the current overall figure is nearer £77 million than 71, and that the force, in keeping with the overall media strategy, is downplaying the budget over-run.

Towards the end of August, 2019 support for iOPS and Chief Constable Hopkins appeared on social media for the first time, during a period notable only for the complete absence of any mention of the iOPS system on any of the many hundreds of authorised GMP Twitter accounts. A civilian communications officer turned iOPS trainer, Stephen Blades, began attacking the most notable critics of the failed computer system: Journalist Neil Wilby, and police whistleblowers that included Peter Jackson and Scott Winters. Hiding behind the Twitter handle of @TheGourmetGays he derided its critics, and in the case of the latter two, falsely accuses them of being homophobes.

Blades’ take on the crisis is this: ‘Folk [police officer users of iOPS] haven’t got a clue, because they refuse change, refuse to learn, refuse to embrace something that replaced a 25 year old system and basically now feel inadequate. But they also refuse to get more training. It’s that simple’.

On iOPS itself, he is equally emphatic: ‘It’s effective, it’s stable, it works and it ain’t going away. As a Command and Control system it’s phenomenal’.

Given the strident nature of his social media commentary, and his assertion in other tweets that he has worked on the system every day since 2017, some merit has to be attached to Stephen Blades’ current, and very public, estimate of the total cost of the IS Transformation Programme: £80 million.

Blades LinkedIn

What is not explained by Blades in his permanently aggressive Twitter output is how he made the transition from call handler, at the very bottom of the GMP food chain, to being responsible for training 3,000 officers. Especially, as he doesn’t know the difference between ‘learning’ and ‘teaching’.

It might also provide an explanation as to why the quality of the iOPS training, and its delivery, is one of the recurring criticisms of a system that the Police Federation, representing 6,000 warranted police men and women, say is a risk to the safety of all their officers and members of the public.

This is a certainly a story with plenty of mileage left in it. It will be interesting to see whether Chief Constable Hopkins (and Mr Blades) is there to see the end of the journey.

Just as interesting is the prospect of a forensic inspection of the estimates, and actual costs, of the technology transformation. How can a £30 million project in 2013 become an £80 million (and rising) project in 2019, a rise of over £8 million per year?

The man who signs the cheques, Mayor Andy Burnham, cannot say he wasn’t warned of the impending disaster. On 6th August, 2018 three whistle blowers met him at Churchgate House, Manchester and iOPS was one of a number of scandals that serving officer Paul Bailey, and retired officers Peter Jackson and Maggie Oliver highlighted. Burnham has since, after a long delay, contemptuously brushed away the many GMP failings (read more here).

He, too, may not see the end of this particular road as he attempts to explain away his failings to voters in the Mayoral election in May 2020.

The press office at GMP has been asked to confirm the latest budgets for (i) the overarching IS Transformation Programme (ii) the iOPS element of that programme (iii) the mobile device roll-out (iv) the virtualisation of the force’s data stores.

Right of reply has been offered to Stephen Blades and Garry Shewan.

Page last updated: Thursday 5th September, 2019 at 1355 hours

Photo Credits: Capita Secure Information Solutions Ltd and Greater Manchester Police

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 2015-2019. 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.

 

Mystery of the ‘missing’ peer review

An important part of an investigative journalist’s armoury is the Freedom of Information Act, 2000. The essential principle being that public authorities, unless they can provide a good, and lawful, reason not to do so, must disclose information, upon request, by a member of the public. Or, indeed, a reporter chasing down an ‘exclusive’.

‘Public authorities’ includes police forces and policing bodies. With only one or two notable exceptions, the Act is routinely abused by the latter two.

For emphasis that is repeated, in terms: Law enforcement agencies disregard the dictates of Parliament and gang together, under the auspices of the National Police Chiefs Council, no less, to do so.

Unchallenged, it has to be said, by the very MP’s who are the country’s legislators. Or, by Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC’s) who are elected at the ballot box to provide oversight to chief constables. The latter may be connected to the fact that some PCC’s are also serial, and serious, FOI offenders. Aided and abetted by a woefully weak statutory regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and an even less efficient ‘inn of last resort’, the General Regulatory Chamber, First Tier Tribunal.

In short, policing bodies know, all too well, that there is no easy remedy if they set out to frustrate a journalist in his, or her, quest for disclosure of documents that may underpin a vital public interest exposé, or search for the truth in, for example, the case of a miscarriage of justice.

One glaring, and increasingly high profile example of police forces abusing the Act, is the matter of a ‘peer review’ that was allegedly undertaken by the Metropolitan Police Service (the Met) on behalf of the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police (GMP).

A peer review is a process, guided by the College of Policing, by which police forces frequently invite counterparts, and specialists, from neighbouring constabularies to evaluate their operational performance. Peer reviews, it is said, completely absent of evidence, support the principle of police interoperability, continuous improvement and information sharing.

Management-speak aside, a peer review is also a soft alternative to a robust, thorough investigation of wrongdoing in which ‘bad apples’ in police forces are plucked from the barrel and cast aside.

Shortly after his appointment as chief of the Manchester force, Ian Hopkins, trumpeted loudly about his intention to invite the Met to look into his troubled Professional Standards Board (PSB), which had been dogged by scandal after scandal over the preceding three years, or so. Including, for example, unlawful hacking of phones belonging to members of public; alteration of witness statements; failure to disclose evidence in civil and criminal court proceedings. All very topical, and serious criminal offences, to boot.

He told the Manchester Evening News: “I have asked for a peer review, by another force, to look at how the Professional Standards Branch and Counter Corruption Unit operate – and to see if there is any learning from other parts of the country about the way we operate that maybe we can be doing differently.”

Both departments had been inspected by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) ‘about three times’ in the last few years and concluded they are ‘very good’, the chief added. It is relevant to point out that HMIC is another policing body that abuses the Act and, quite separately, there is considerable doubt, across a much wider spectrum, as to the effectiveness and efficiency of their inspections. The Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Thomas Winsor, is deeply disrespected, and subjected to childish ridicule, by very many serving, and retired, police officers across the country. If the general public was more widely aware of the concerns over the Queen’s representative, there would be a huge outcry.

Hopkins went on to defend the work of the department – feared and loathed by some inside GMP, it is said – and added: “What we are increasingly seeing is that, rather than people accounting for their own actions, they are attacking those people who are told to do that investigation.”

The chief constable pointed to ‘a number of individuals who are disgruntled and have raised issues’. He was, no doubt, referring to such as ex-Superintendent John Buttress, whom, on many independent views, was the subject of what amounted to a crudely executed, disproportionately pursued ‘witch-hunt’ by GMP – and Paul Bailey, the very well-respected former Chair of the National Black Police Association, who was a constant thorn in the side of the command team in GMP.

“We want to make sure, if we get things wrong, or if people have behaved badly, or broken the law, then they are held to account for it,” the chief constable concluded.

Fine words but the reality is very, very different, as anyone close to GMP knows.

So, put shortly, the view advanced by Hopkins was that GMP’s PSB was functioning well, there was not really a problem – and he would ask another police force to carry out a review to prove his point. Which is, in terms, that the issue is confined to disgruntled officers making a lot of white noise.

The peer review, Hopkins said, would last SIX WEEKS. Note that carefully. But, to some, that might have seemed short enough, given the nature and scale of the corruption allegations made against GMP’s troubled PSB.

That was the last public pronouncement made by Hopkins and there has been no visible follow up by the local newspaper, or its crime reporter, John Scheerhout. Whom a number of GMP’s critics perceive to be too close to the force to effectively perform the “social watchdog” role of a journalist. Underpinned, at least in part, by the appearance of a string of stories in The Times and Sunday Times, sourced by the country’s most visible, and effective, police whistleblower, ex-GMP Superintendent Pete Jackson.

This series of front page splashes, and double page spreads, led to a leader being run by the country’s ‘newspaper of record’, in February 2018, calling for a public inquiry into the many high profile failings of Greater Manchester Police. Since then, there has been another two pieces run by The Times, in June 2018, the second of which, effectively, calls out Hopkins for a dishonest response to the first. Times reporter, Fiona Hamilton, pulled no punches as she ripped into the cornered chief constable.

It is a quite extraordinary state of affairs. In both cases the source was, again, Pete Jackson. Manchester’s best detective, and head of the Major Enquiry Team, when he retired from the force.

GMP has also been under constant attack by the BBC, who have produced a number of radio and television programmes featuring alleged wrongdoing by the force. Inside Out producer, Neil Morrow, is a strong, articulate, well-reasoned critic of the running of the force, particularly on social media. ITV’s award-winning presenter, Matt O’Donoghue, is another. Having worked at close quarters with the bereaved families of Jordon Begley and Anthony Grainger, Matt knows a great deal more than most about the inner workings, and ‘cover-up’ mentality, of GMP.

A piece highlighting the shenanigans over this peer review was due to appear in Private Eye on Wednesday 7th November, 2018. That has been written by another highly respected journalist, presenter and producer, Mark Gregory. It may yet appear, of course. Even in a modified form, once the final piece of police disclosure fits into this increasingly complex jigsaw.

Returning to the peer review, the significance of which will unfold, there has been a good deal of activity via freedom of information requests: The first on this topic was made in August, 2016 by William Crow. The response was “GMP can confirm that a peer review was undertaken by the MPS and the report is currently being drafted by them, with the lead being Supt Gary Randall.  The report will include the terms of reference and findings, and will be presented to GMP when completed”. It was supplemented, following a complaint, by this explanation: “Apologies – I did not think we held this information. It has now been confirmed to me that the review took place on the 9th-10th May 2016”.

That disclosure was important. It revealed, taken at its face, that a six week review had taken just TWO DAYS. But as will become clear, the disclosure officer’s addendum will assume much greater significance “I did not think we held this information

A second request on this topic to GMP, made by the author of this piece, in August, 2016, and not finalised until the end of November, 2016 ran counter to that first request. A list of outside police force investigations, and peer reviews, belatedly provided by GMP in its response, did NOT include the Met peer review requested by chief constable Hopkins. It disclosed just two investigations: one each by Kent and Durham constabularies. The former almost certain to be the inquiry into corruption allegations made by John Buttress. That stated absence of data held, concerning the ill-starred Metropolitan Police peer review, also assumes importance as this story unfolds.

A similar request was made, simultaneously, to the three Yorkshire police forces, concerning outside force investigations, all of which can be characterised as troubled and time consuming. Including the perennially hopeless North Yorkshire Police being forced, by formal notice, to respond by the ICO, and, as such, amidst this maelstrom, the significance of the GMP misrepresentation was, regrettably, overlooked.

In June 2017, Mr Crow returned to the fray and the matter of the peer review was raised again via a FOI request. The GMP output was helpful to a degree, and disclosed that Supt Randall was part of a team of four; the GMP officers said to be involved were Head of PSB, Chief Superintendent Annette Anderson, Randall’s direct contact, and Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling. The terms of reference for the review had been drafted by the Met, and were part of the final report. GMP concluded by saying that “there is no intended date for publication of this document”. Which, may yet, prove to be a particularly clever choice of words.

At this point, there is still no intervention by the local newspaper, almost two years after their front page splash. Which now looked, increasingly, like a hollow GMP public relations exercise, in which Hopkins had tossed the local ‘social watchdogs’ (as journalists are sometimes dubbed) a tasty bone to keep them quiet.

After the furore over the Hopkins ‘lie’ about the first of the two The Times articles in June, 2018 it was decided, by the author of this piece and Pete Jackson, to re-visit the matter of the Hopkins/Met peer review. The lack of output by the force, and the local newspaper, was suspicious – and a quick assessment of the information available, via both open source and other documents sourced by each of the two, warranted a more in-depth investigation. This was to be assisted by drawing on the knowledge of a network of police and journalist sources – and another two FOI requests. One to the Met (in the event, it actually became two) and one to GMP.

The peer review ‘net’ was closing on Hopkins and GMP. It was not realised at the time that some big Metropolitan Police ‘fish’ might became snared, too.

The first request was made to the Met on 23rd July, 2018 and the second to GMP on 29th August, 2018. The latter is much the simpler to report upon: GMP have ignored the request completely. No acknowledgement, no finalisation, no explanation, no apology. NOTHING. The Independent Office for Police Conduct has, effectively, forced GMP to record a conduct complaint against their head of the information disclosure unit – and the ICO will shortly be issuing an enforcement notice compelling GMP to answer the request.

The inference being, of course, that to respond to the request is almost certain to disclose wrongdoing by very senior officers within GMP. Notably, the two Ians, Hopkins and Pilling.

This is the request in full:

“Dear Greater Manchester Police (GMP),

Please disclose, by way of the Freedom of Information Act, the following information:

1. Date of hot debrief given by Supt Gary Randall of Metropolitan Police (Met) and copies of notes taken at that meeting and/or reports made afterwards.

2. Pocket note book, or day book, entries of GMP officers present at debrief that relate to their attendance at/participation in the debrief.

3. Copy of Peer Review Terms of Reference (ToR) agreed between DCC Ian Pilling and DAC Fiona Taylor, together with email and/or letter correspondence between those two officers pertaining to the Peer Review ToR’s.

4. Copy of Peer Review report delivered by Met to GMP. If it is intended to rely on any exemptions under the Act then I request that the following information is disclosed pending appeal against such exemption(s).
a. Date of report
b. Date received by GMP
c. Copy of Met’s covering letter that accompanied the report.
d. Number of pages that comprise the report, excluding any annex, appendices.

5. Copy of any post-Peer Review report correspondence between DCC Pilling and/or DAC Taylor and Supt Randall.

Yours faithfully,

Neil Wilby
Investigative journalist”

The reader is invited to draw their own conclusions of the efficacy of that request and the likelihood of the dire consequences in responding.

The responses to information request to the Met, and its subsequent follow-up request, have also been, on any view, disappointing and frustrating. A sorry tale of deceit and subterfuge that exposes the country’s largest police force, once revered as ‘Scotland Yard‘, as a dishonest, incompetent shambles who will, it seems, go to any lengths, and put, often unsuspecting, junior officers in the firing line to avoid the exposure of senior officer misconduct.

This is the full text of the first request:

“Dear Metropolitan Police Service (MPS),

In November, 2015 there was widespread press, and broadcast, publicity concerning an announcement by the chief constable of GMP that he had invited the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) to conduct a review of the operations of his PSB.

https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/…

In this regard, please provide the following information:

1. Date the Peer Review commenced.

2. The name(s)/rank(s) of the Gold Commander or Gold Command Group.

3. Date the Peer Review ended.

4. Date the Peer Review report was delivered to the GMP chief constable.

5. The operational name given to the Peer Review.

Yours faithfully,

Neil Wilby
Investigative journalist”

The sharp-eyed will spot that the answers to questions 1 and 3 were already available as open source material. But they were asked again as a ‘test’ of the veracity of the police responses. It was allocated a Met Freedom of Information Request Reference Number of 2018070000913. The response from the Met was suspiciously speedy and an Information Manager, Ian Burgess, said they did NOT hold ANY information about the GMP Peer Review at all. NOTHING.

At the time, that was viewed, understandably, as an outrageous lie and challenged accordingly. After all, GMP had provided responses ‘to the world’ (as all FOI responses are) that confirmed the existence of the peer review; named the investigating officer, the size of his team and the date it had taken place. But, as already discovered, all is not as it seems with this peer review. Nevertheless, the willingness of the police to lie about it is deeply troubling.

After receiving the complaint, the Met upheld it, changed their position and disclosed that information about the peer review is, in fact, held. Or, so they say.

The name of the person dealing with the complaint was, quite extraordinarly, redacted from the response. However, the Met now aligned themselves with earlier GMP responses and said that the peer review took place on 9th/10th May, 2016. There was no Gold Commander (or Gold Group) nominated and, it follows, no operational codename given to the investigation. The peer review report, or outcome, or both, was delivered to GMP on 22nd December, 2016, they said.

The officer who dealt with the internal review was Yvette Taylor, another Information Manager. Not, in any way, independent from the officer finalising the request, which places the Met in breach of the College of Policing’s Authorised Professional Practice and the same organisation’s Code of Ethics. Ms Taylor mis-spelled the name of the requester and, apart from that fundamental error, her response can be safely characterised as overly bullish; saying it was all just a mistake and denying that the Met had lied about not having any information about the peer review. On any independent review of the two responses, it would be hard to conclude otherwise. The first says one thing, the second says the complete opposite.

Having eked out of the Met that information was admitted as held, the second, ‘killer’, information request was made on 23rd August, 2018:

“Dear Metropolitan Police Service (MPS),

Having now established that disclosable information concerning the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) Peer Review is held by MPS DPS, may I please make a further request? I accept and understand that this second request will carry a different reference number and may attract exemptions, redactions under the Act. However, given the nature of the materials requested to be disclosed, and my experience as an information rights practitioner dealing almost exclusively with policing bodies, it is anticipated that the effects of such exemptions would be very limited indeed.

1. a. Copy of all email and letter correspondence between DAC Fiona Taylor and DCC Ian Pilling where the communication contains reference to the Peer Review.
b. Copy of all email and letter correspondence between Supt Gary Randall and any GMP officer where the communication contains reference to the Peer Review.

NB: In response to journalistic enquiries made of GMP’s press office, it has been confirmed that DAC Taylor and DCC Pilling were the two senior officers whom, between them, agreed the Terms of Reference for the Peer Review. In a previous FOI request finalisation on the WhatDoTheyKnow website, GMP disclosed that Supt Randall was the officer who carried out the Peer Review.

2. Copy of Terms of Reference

3. Copy of Final Report delivered by MPS to GMP on 22nd December, 2016.

4. Copy of any response(s) received by MPS from GMP after the delivery of the Peer Review.

5. Copy of amended Peer Review, if any such amendments were made.

Yours faithfully,

Neil Wilby
Investigative journalist”

The drafting of the information request was greatly aided by the response to a query put to the GMP press office immediately prior to submission of the FOI request. That had informed that Deputy Assistant Commissioner Fiona Taylor was the Met officer who set the terms of reference for the peer review, and had corresponded with Ian Pilling in so doing.

The FOI request is tightly drawn and involves, one might believe, information readily retreivable and disclosable. A report concerning a peer review that lasted just two days, which may have included travel to London and back, and, they say, a ‘hot debrief’, cannot amount to a great deal in terms of either content, or substance.

A well-informed police source has posited that the hot debrief might well have been an Oldham Road curry, and a few pints of lager, to send the Londoners on their way. It has also been hypothesised, on a more serious note, that if there was a hot debrief then it is likely that there was no intention by the Met to put anything to paper, subsequently.

GMP are a force, as seen in the recent ‘body parts’ scandal, acutely aware of the dangers of holding documents that could be disclosed under freedom of information law. They are prepared to burn them, it seems, rather than damage reputations of senior officers.

But a two day jaunt up to Manchester, a bit of ‘lessons learned’ patter, a jolly on the second night, and there you go: Job done. Peer reviewed. No paper trail, if awkward questions asked later by prying journalists.

Since the 23rd August, 2018 FOI submission, the Met has made a variety of excuses that, like the parallel GMP request, has necessitated the involvement of the IOPC and the ICO. A separate article on this website, ‘Your cheque is in the post‘ covers, in detail, the chronology and full extent of the deceit engaged in, by the Metropolitan Police, to avoid disclosure of the requested peer review information (read here).

Tension between requester and public authority is now palpable. The request is also, by now, attracting considerable attention, and comment, on the Twitter social media platform. The Times, meanwhile, contacted the author of this piece, and Pete Jackson, and said they wanted to run the story. But still no interest from the supine Manchester Evening News.

It is now clear that, without the intervention of third parties, the Met has no intention of complying with the law, and thus disclosing the requested information. On 26th October, 2018 the matter was reported to the ICO. Apart from an auto-response, that has drawn no reaction, whatsoever, from the toothless ‘watchdog’.

So, at the date this article is first published, on Sunday 11th November, 2018,  and as the nation stands silent to honour our fallen, particularly those in the Great War that ended one hundred years ago, so too does the Metropolitan Police and Greater Manchester Police. Over disclosure of the materials that will reveal one of three things:

1. The peer review never took place at all. Previous responses by GMP to requests about it were deliberately false and, correspondingly, the first response by the Met was, in fact, correct: They did not hold any information about the peer review, as stated in their information request finalisation on 8th August, 2018. It should also be noted that GMP in one of their first finalisations also said they didn’t hold any information. The request finalised in November, 2016 also made no mention of a peer review supposedly undertaken by the Met five months earlier.

2. The peer review did take place, but was a complete sham. A six week investigation, promised very loudly by chief constable Hopkins, was cut down to just two days. It is said to have taken place in May 2016. Six months after the ‘all guns blazing’ press announcement. The report of that review then took over SEVEN months to deliver from the Met to GMP. It can amount to very little, or nothing. Apart from the usual, all pals at the Palais, police investigating themselves, ‘whitewash’.

3. The peer review did take place, but there was never any intention to produce a closing report. The hot debrief was all that was planned, and then executed on the second of the two days that the Met were said to be carrying out the review. Supt Randall may also never have left his New Scotland Yard office. It may have been a systems review that was conducted electronically, with a debrief via video conference. A tick-in-a-box exercise that is a long, long way short of what GMP’s chief splashed on the front page of the local evening newspaper in November, 2015.

Manchester’s finest have already said they have no intention of publishing the report, yet GMP’s PSB is now engulfed in far worse scandals than they were in 2015. The Metropolitan Police, and almost certainly by now, the National Police Chiefs Council, are very likely colluding with GMP as to how reputational damage can now be limited, and the jobs of Ian Hopkins, and potentially, Ian Pilling can be saved.

If the peer review didn’t take place at Manchester HQ, and a large number of police sources cannot find a single GMP officer that can say that it did, then the only feasible redress is resignation by at least one of the big two chief officers, plus at least one senior Met officer who has taken part with GMP in the charade over the past three months. The list of suspects is small.

If the peer review did take place, then it could still prove the straw that breaks the proverbial back of Hopkins. His standing as a public figure, and, more crucially, as a warranted police officer, has been seriously undermined by the series of stories in The Times. He stands accused of lying about the infamous Operation Poppy investigations. In the circumstances outlined in this piece, he would have conned the public of Greater Manchester over another promised investigation. Whilst all the time the dire situation in PSD – whatever spin he might try to put on it – just goes from very bad to even worse. The chief constable’s position would, on any view outside of the police service, be untenable. Within his own force, and on the fringes, the private view of a significant number officers, past and present, is that he does not have the requisite competencies, and unimpeachable integrity, to lead the Manchester police. The peer review debacle very much underscores that view.

But the real losers in this sorry saga are the taxpaying public, whose confidence in the country’s two largest police forces is certain to receive another knock and their belief in MP’s, and other elected officials, such as the Mayors of both Manchester and London, further undermined as they all stand idly by whilst Acts of Parliament are ransacked by those they are paid to hold to account.

This is a story that, quite obviously, has still some way to run.

 

Page last updated on Monday 26th November, 2018 at 0650hrs

Picture credit: The Guardian Media Group

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