Another Durham debacle as chief constable snubs Manchester Mayor

Much has already been written about the Operation Mackan fiasco, over which the now-retired chief constable of Durham Constabulary, Michael Barton was Gold Commander (read more here).

The central theme has been the sub-optimal, one-eyed investigation carried out by his Silver Commander, civilian investigator Darren Ellis, into complaints raised against the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, Ian Hopkins. It is alleged that, not for the first time, he responded dishonestly to press criticism.

Durham were asked to investigate by the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, on his behalf, after a grotesquely failed ‘investigation’ carried out by his deputy, Beverley Hughes.

An appeal by the complainant, to the police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, against the outcome, signed off by Hughes, unsurprisingly succeeded. The so-called investigation amounted to nothing more than a single phone call to Hopkins, of which there was no note or record.

The complainant is Peter Jackson, a retired superintendent and now a nationally known police whistle blower, having been the source for a large number of regional and national newspaper stories, over the past two years, plus a regular round of TV appearances. Most recently on ITV Granada Reports where he broke a massive scandal concerning information technology failures at GMP from which, the Police Federation say, lives of police officers and members of the public are at risk.

It was also Jackson who was the source for The Times article at the heart of the complaints.

The Durham investigation outcome, accompanied by a 66 page report, littered with errors, is now also subject to appeal to the IOPC. Its receipt was ackowledged on 2nd August, 2019 and the Casework Manager, who gave his address as the Sale office of the police watchdog, anticipated being in a position to complete his assessment ‘within 15 working days, subject to any senior manager or lawyer input’.

‘Casework Manager’ is a very junior role in the IOPC, often held by inexperienced recruits, with little or no experience in police matters and no investigative experience or qualifications. The watchdog do themselves yet another disservice by not having this appeal, against a highly controversial investigation, analysed and assessed under the direct control of one of their Regional Directors.

It is hard to envisage the handling of a complaint, outside the realm of a death following police contact, that continues to drain confidence in the police complaints system as much as this Jackson, Hopkins, Burnham farrago.

In April 2019, Peter Jackson made a multi-faceted complaint to the Mayor’s office, via his Deputy Director for Policing, Clare Monaghan, regarding the conduct of Darren Ellis. It concerned both his questionable performance and competencies as a detective, and a series of alleged ethical breaches that included disrespect, discourtesy, neglect of duty, partiality and discreditable conduct. Jackson is well placed to assess the merits of a police investigation, particularly how it is framed and progressed, as he was Manchester’s leading murder detective before he retired. He had investigated serious crime for most of his 31-year police career.

The following month Andy Burnham wrote to the Durham chief constable, passing on the Jackson complaints against Ellis to him, as the appropriate authority, to make a decision whether to record them under the Police Reform Act, 2002. Bizarrely, Burnham did not support the whistle blower’s request for the removal of Ellis from the investigation. A decision likely to prove very costly; both in terms of public funds and further damage to his already failing reputation as an elected representative capable of holding a police force to account.

Jackson wrote to Barton, just before he retired in June, to enquire about the status of his complaints. His email was ignored. The Operation Mackan outcome was sent to Burnham a few days later. Jackson describes it as one of the worst he has ever seen, with, he says, a large catalogue of basic investigative errors and a highly partial approach virtually throughout. His appeal to the IOPC reflects those points.

Questions about the recording of the Jackson complaints, raised via the Durham press office in the course of researching this article, also drew a blank. Although separate enquiries to the Professional Standards Department did reveal that Ellis is still employed by the force. The clear inference at this point is that they have not been recorded. Strongly backed up by the fact that there has been no contact at all from Durham PSD to the complainant since the Burnham letter to Barton.

In the light of that information, Peter Jackson wrote to Barton’s successor as chief constable, Jo Farrell, to again enquire whether the complaints have been recorded. He has not even received an acknowledgement.

Even allowing for the apparent absence of ethical and professional standards in Durham Constabulary, cascading down from the top of the force, it is very poor conduct by Ms Farrell towards a retired police officer with an exemplary record across 31 years of service. This echoes dealings I had with her during her stint as deputy to Barton. Her portfolio responsibilities at that time included PSD. Our contact concerned an attempt to establish the directing mind in the response to a freedom of information request in which Durham gratuitously libelled me (read more here)

Members of the public, some with very serious issues indeed, have come forward to complain of the same disdainful culture within Durham. Typified in every way, it must be said, by Darren Ellis, as well as others across the ranks of this “grubby little police force”.

Alarming though it is, the protection of Ellis by Barton, and now, it seems, Farrell, does not just extend to the Jackson complaints. He is also under complaint over the most appalling conduct towards two Irish journalists, Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney in an operation codenamed Yurta that resulted in the two reporters being arrested and their properties searched over a TV documentary they filmed, and produced, about the infamous Loughinisland massacre. Barton, described by his own Durham colleagues as “a nutter”, resolutely defended Ellis in a televised broadcast from the Policing Board of Northern Ireland and continued to do so through other media, up to the day of his retirement.

The next step for Jackson is to appeal the non-recording of his complaints by Durham to the IOPC. Very determined that they will be appropriately and proportionately investigated, however long that takes, he is, of course, acutely aware that such an investigation, or local resolution, is unlikely to happen within the Durham force: Chief constables, past and present, are already implicated in a ‘cover-up’ and Darren Ellis, it seems, is still able to exert considerable influence within the very department that would deal with the complaints against him.

Peter Jackson’s merry-go-round predicament is another perfect example of why the police complaints system, and the statutory framework governing it, is in such urgent need of radical overhaul; a re-structure that should find no place for police officers, and forces, investigating themselves.

The seriously flawed IOPC should also be confined to the dustbin of history, alongside its three disgraced incarnations, the Police Complaints Board (1977-1985), the Police Complaints Authority (1985-2004) and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (2004 – 2018). Each one worse than its predecessor, which is, arguably, something only the UK Home Office could achieve.

Page last updated: Monday 12th August, 2019 at 0715 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 2015-2019. 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.

 

Disgraced Durham detective to face further scrutiny

An appeal against the outcome of an investigation into alleged dishonesty of Greater Manchester Police chief constable was lodged with the Independent Office of Police Conduct on 16th July, 2019.

The allegations focus on the truthfulness and nature of a vitriolic, ad hominem public response by Ian Hopkins to an article written in the The Times by Crime Editor, Fiona Hamilton. It centred on GMP’s mishandling of surveillance of a known and active paedophile, Domenyk Noonan, who was also a key player in a serious and organised crime network in the Manchester area (read the background to the complaint and The Times story here).

The investigation report, running to 66 pages, plus a large number of appendices, was signed off by the now retired Durham Constabulary chief constable, Michael Barton. It has come in for withering criticism from the complainant, Peter Jackson, a nationally-known police whistleblower who retired at the rank of temporary superintendent. The core finding is that Hopkins has ‘no case to answer’.

Littered with grammar and spelling mistakes, it mirrors a previously published report authored and signed off by Barton. This was into another largely-failed Durham investigation concerning Police Scotland. It conveys an impression of amateurs doing a professional’s job.

Which begs the question: Why, over the past three years, has a small county force, with very limited resources, been involved in four very high profile ‘outside force’ investigations: Two for GMP, including this one. The other being the ‘Titgate’ scandal, in which the Durham investigation resulted in Rebekah Sutcliffe, controversially, NOT being sacked. The other is the highly vexed Operation Yurta.  An investigation  for the Police Service of Northern Ireland around the Loughinisland massacre, in which PSNI were conflicted over a previous outcome that was found to be corrupt.

Mr Jackson descibes the investigation into his former boss, codenamed Operation Mackan, in general terms, as ‘one of the worst investigations I have come across in a police career that spanned over 30 years, most of which were spent as a front line detective investigating serious crime‘.

His more specific grounds of appeal, as submitted to the IOPC, are reproduced here:

The investigation conducted by Durham Constabulary was not fair, not independent and not objective. The Senior Investigating Officer (SIO), Darren Ellis from Durham Constabulary, whom, despite his status as a civilian officer, conducted the investigation on behalf of the Mayor [of Manchester] refused to speak to or gather evidence from witnesses identified by myself, the complainant.

Mr Ellis was defensive, aggressive, belligerent, sarcastic and antagonistic in his dealings with both myself and those witnesses identified. My complaint had been initially dealt with by the Deputy Mayor Bev Hughes in a very defensive and dismissive manner and I felt that Mr Ellis exhibited confirmation bias from the outset.

The witnesses I identified could provide further evidence in relation to CC Hopkins making [allegedly] untruthful statements previously. Significant similar past behaviour of [allegedly] being misleading and dishonest. Throughout the investigation I have not been properly consulted or kept informed.

The SIO, Mr Ellis. agreed with me at the outset ‘to go where the evidence took him’, but then refused to do this. He has completely ignored the evidence contained within my witness statement. The final report produced is biased, the conclusion of ‘no case to answer’ completely at odds with the evidence provided. The SIO has cherry picked certain information to try to support his conclusions and ignored compelling evidence in doing so. It is essentially a ‘whitewash’ and as the complainant I signalled my concerns at an early stage with a vote of no confidence [in Ellis] to the Mayor Andy Burnham, who allowed the SIO to continue.

“There has been little transparency throughout, and transparency provides confidence and demonstrates integrity, of which there has been none. The Mayor has refused to provide copies of appendices referenced in the report, despite my repeated requests. I would like to see these to strengthen my appeal.

“I have other documentary evidence I wish to submit but cannot attach to this online folder. I will provide them if given a contact name and contact details“.

[The text of the Jackson appeal has been modified slightly to mitigate any complaint or application by Mr Hopkins, prior to final findings being made where dishonesty allegations are asserted, but unproven].

The further evidence referred to by Peter Jackson, in his on-line appeal form, was supplied to the North Casework team at the IOPC’s Sale Office a short time afterwards.

He has not, as yet, been notified of the name of the IOPC caseworker, or analyst, who will assess his appeal. In ordinary circumstances, that would be an officer very much in the lower echelons of the organisation.

The IOPC operates a triage system, but it is not known if the Jackson appeal has been graded as high priority. Given the potential for further reputational damage to the police service, it may be a case they wish to slow this case down rather than speed it up.

To be clear, the police watchdog does not carry out an investigation, or re-investigation, as part of the appeal process. It is largely an administrative, statistical, box-ticking process with an exercise of discretion available. For example, they have the power to order a new investigation, or part of an investigation.

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Given the type of appeal process to be undertaken by the IOPC, a re-incarnation as police watchdog of the highly discredited IPCC, the issue of prejudice does not arise by disclosing the Jackson appeal submissions. The same might not be said about GMP and/or the Mayor’s office leaking details of the Durham investigation to their ‘friendlies’ in the local media, prior to the expiry of the period for lodging an appeal. Which both must have been certain would follow. Or, by giving the chief constable a pat on the back and a new contract before the investigation process was exhausted.

Bizarrely, Hopkins was given the two-year extension to his contract, by Burnham, on the very same day the investigation report was sent to Jackson. In the face of proceedings that are still live and his alleged misdemeanours severity assessed by Barton as ‘gross misconduct’.

A summary of the investigation outcome was, it appears, also given to the Manchester Evening News on the same day. As one has come to expect, their coverage of the investigation, and contract extension, read like a glowing school report and lacked any sense of the appropriate rigour when reporting on a chief constable who staggers from one very serious confidence-sapping crisis to the next, on an almost weekly basis.

Although fronted by Mike Barton, whose recent ‘retirement’ from the police service, also poses more questions than answers (read more here), the Durham investigation, instigated at the invitation of the Mayor, was carried out by a team of three civilian detectives. Led by the now infamous Darren Ellis. The ‘whitewash’ outcome, and the allegedly erratic, partial, deficient, inadequate Ellis investigation that underpins it, was foretold in earlier articles published on this website (read more here). Neither Durham, nor Ellis, have challenged the validity of those articles, despite the latter referring to them frequently.

Since the articles appeared, the Ellis investigative frailties, and notably arrogant, unpleasant demeanour, were ruthlessly exposed at the High Court in Belfast, in a very high profile claim brought against Durham and the Police Service of Northern Ireland by two highly respected journalists, Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey. The case, which centred on their No Stone Unturned documentary about the infamous Loughinisland massacre, was covered widely in the national press on both sides of the Irish Sea.

The Irish Times reporting of the unlawful arrest scandal included these quotes, which resonate strongly with what is already known about the Hopkins investigation:

“During the hearing it emerged that Darren Ellis, the officer from Durham who led the investigation, did not appear to have a high opinion of journalism. Barry MacDonald QC, who represented McCaffrey, said the motivation for the arrests could be found in Ellis’s attitude. He said that earlier this year after McCaffrey and Birney held a meeting with Grahame Morris, a Labour MP in Durham, to discuss their case, Morris received a call from someone “purporting to be Darren Ellis”. The caller was “foul and abusive” to his staff and had “ranted” about the MP having met “terrorists and criminals” [referring to Messrs McCaffrey and Birney], MacDonald said.

“The court also heard that Ellis had noted he “had concerns that the obvious networks between the suspects [the two journalists], politicians, the legal community and the journalistic/media representatives [The NUJ] may be complex, challenging and obstructive and thus threaten justice”. [Mr McDonald] described Ellis’s stance as “a staggering proposition” and evidence of the “warped mindset” of the police officer driving the process”.

He went further and said: “Ellis, of Durham Constabulary, was “a man on a mission” against the Ombudsman and investigative journalists, who had “put words in the mouth of a suspect [of the Loughinisland murders]”. The court found Mr McDonald’s submissions, and those of Gavin Millar QC, representing Mr Birney, persuasive – and readily found in favour of the journalists (and a wider free press it must be said).

The warrants for arrests and property searches against the two journalists were quashed. The Durham chief constable was equally culpable as Gold Commander of this catastrophically failed, lop-sided Loughinisland investigation. He apologised publicly to the Policing Board of Northern Ireland (in a televised broadcast from which I live tweeted) but, incredibly, defended the behaviour of Darren Ellis. He also refused, point blank, the request of Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly to apologise to the journalists. The abrasive attitude of both Barton and PSNI’s chief, George Hamilton, also now retired, throughout that Policing Board meeting caused offence and upset to the families bereaved by the Loughinisland massacre. As did the fact that Ellis had, apparently, had a meeting with the named chief suspect of the murders and attempted to turn him into a victim of ‘oppression’ by the two journalists.

Chief constable Barton was, of course, also Gold Commander of the Hopkins investigation which was running in tandem with the Loughinisland probe from December, 2018 onwards.

A personal interest in this investigation, and subsequent appeal to the IOPC, is declared, as I was one of the witnesses of fact called upon by Peter Jackson, and named as such in his evidential witness statement. This was based on my extensive dealings with GMP, particularly since Ian Hopkins became chief constable, and the discovery of an apparent culture of dishonesty and cover-up that appears to cascade down from the senior leadership team. Read more articles here.

It is true to say that I was contemptuously dismissed by Ellis, in a manner that has given rise to a misconduct complaint. As were the only two other Jackson witnesses: Paul Bailey, a serving GMP detective, and a retired inspector from the same force, Scott Winters.

The chief constable’s repeated assertion, over which Ellis places great store, of ‘never intentionally lying’ would have been unsustainable in the face of evidence from the three Jackson witnesses.

In an investigation spanning six months, no witness statement was taken from Fiona Hamilton at The Times, either.  The same can be said about a senior BBC employee, closely involved in the Manchester: Night of the Bomb documentary, was also subjected to Hopkins’ particular brand of vitriol, by way of an attacking, and ill-founded, rebuttal of the film’s content and conclusions. He/she was prepared to give evidence to the Mackan investigation, on the condition of confidentiality, but Ellis chose to ignore him/her completely. Yet, one of the two IOPC press officers who gave an account was granted confidentiality. As was one of the GMP press officers.

Nick Hitchens, the duty IOPC press officer on the day, is named in the report. Part of the IOPC evidence included this: ‘The response made by GMP (to the Times article) was personalised and used emotive language from CC Hopkins‘. A nod to the unvarnished, unwarranted and highly offensive attacks on the integrity of Peter Jackson and Fiona Hamilton, by Hopkins. Mr Hitchens told investigators ‘that some of the bits weren’t strictly true, or an interesting interpretation of what happened’. He also complained strongly, and justifiably, that the IOPC had not been consulted on the issue of the press release by GMP, despite events concerning the watchdog being central to it.

Steve Noonan, Deputy Director of the IOPC’s Major Investigations Team, expressed similar concerns when giving his account to the Durham investigation. The claim by Hopkins, and others in GMP, that they were working to a deadline, has no basis in fact.

Evidence was taken, conversely and perversely, from a significant number of GMP officers supporting, and, indeed, shaping, the Hopkins narrative. Other witnesses, whose accounts did not fit, appeared to have their evidence tailored to suit, by Ellis, using only highly selective snippets and, even then, several seemed to have their context fully stretched. Two of those witnesses are actually employed in the IOPC press office, which presents an unusual dilemna as one of their own watchdog colleagues will be assessing the merits of their evidence. Some of which will most certainly impact on the outcome of the appeal.

There is no indication that GMP or Mayoral emails were scrutinised or diaries, day books seized concerning what the police force declared a ‘critical incident’ on the morning of the appearance of the damaging article in the The Times, with all the resource and scrutiny implications that follow. There is not even a simple chronology. Or an analysis of Hopkins’ phone calls or location (he had started the day with breakfast in a hotel in Gateshead). Unless, of course, they are contained within the, so far, undisclosed appendices. The movements of Chief Constable Hopkins are crucial in piecing together what happened on the day in question and either validitating, or undermining, the account he gave to the Durham investigators. Which, essentially, is that he delegated the matter to on-duty chief officer, Assistant Chief Constable Russ Jackson (no relation to Peter). That, perhaps unsurprisingly, differs from the Hopkins account given in the previous attempt to dispose of the complaint against the chief constable. No mention is made of delegation, or ACC Jackson, in the decision letter sent to Peter Jackson dated 21st September, 2018.

During the investigation, it emerged that the complaint history of Ian Hopkins does reveal that he received informal ‘words of advice’ from Tony Lloyd, previously the Police and Crime Commissioner and then Mayor of Greater Manchester, following a Radio 4 interview broadcast in February 2016. A complaint was made on the 8th February that year. As can be seen from his decision letter of 5th May 2017, PCC Lloyd came to the conclusion ‘that the Chief Constable did not deliberately lie on the programme and that he acted in good faith following briefings which he was given’. Lloyd concludes by saying In future, I have advised the Chief Constable to be more thorough in checking briefings provided to him prior to interviews’.

Controversially, Hopkins also misled the public in much more dramatic fashion in November, 2015 when an entire front page of the Manchester Evening News was devoted to a sham statement about an alleged investigation into his own discredited Professional Standards Branch by the Metropolitan Police Service. This was not covered by the LLoyd investigation and Hopkins has, subsequently, relied again on the ‘didn’t intentionally mislead‘ defence. The core of the evidence I will give to the IOPC, as part of their appeal assessment of the Durham investigation, will undermine the chief constable’s position. The Met’s purported robust six-week investigation shrunk to a critical friend peer review. The whole exercise was shrouded in deceit and cover-up.

A local newspaper reported on 20th June, 2019 that Amanda Coleman, the GMP Corporate Communications Director at the time the offending press release was broadcast, was placed under investigation and placed on restricted duties. That was within a week of the Op Mackan investigation report arriving at GMP HQ. It is not known if the two events are connected. A source very close to the force asserts that Ms Coleman has left GMP.

Earlier this year she said on her own well-populated blog: “Police communication has been my focus for 20 years and I remain as passionate about it today as I was when I eagerly arrived for my first day on the job in 1999.

Her Twitter account has been silent since March, 2019 and there has also been a pause in her blogging over a similar period. Which, on occasions, appeared at the rate of one publication per day.

Another huge scandal surfaced in the last days of July, 2019 which impacts directly on the Durham investigation. It is reported that GMP ‘chief officers’ (they are not named) misled the Deputy Mayor for Policing, Beverley Hughes over surveillance of disabled protesters and reports made to the Department of Work and Pensions, by the police, of their presence at rallies. The force press office also did an about turn on the same issue. Having first put out a denial, four months later they reverse that decision. The core point is that the only police officer with legal proximity to the Deputy Mayor is Ian Hopkins with whom she is obliged to hold regular policing oversight meetings. In some forces that happens weekly. It is not known how often these two meet. A more complete article on this topic will appear on this website, presently. But its importance as evidence supporting the Jackson complaint cannot be lightly dismissed.

The controversial Deputy Mayor, found to be untruthful both in her parliamentary days as an MP, and more recently, and relevantly, when the Hopkins complaint surfaced. She did, of course, claim, in writing, to have carried out an ‘investigation’ of her own when the reality was she had done no such thing. The Durham investigation into Hopkins’ alleged dishonesty came about after an earlier successful appeal to the IOPC by Peter Jackson. The watchdog directed Hughes to disclose her investigation report and it turned out there wasn’t one. Her ‘investigation’ had been an informal phone chat with Hopkins, about which there were no records at all.

If the watchdog fudges the appeal and matter reaches the next stage, Peter Jackson is confident that a pre-action application for disclosure, accompanying a judicial review claim form, would succeed. The sharply honed instincts of an effective and highly regarded murder detective also guide Jackson’s view that the annexes to the report will reveal further flaws in the investigation. Which is put forward as the reason why the Mayor, Andy Burnham, through the medium of Deputy Director of Policing, Clare Monaghan, is so keen to conceal them.

Burnham’s conduct throughout this process, which includes the proposterous assertion that his Deputy “acted with the utmost integrity” in the earlier stages of this particular complaint (there has been a number of others) has been utterly reprehensible. To the extent that this, Peter Jackson contends strongly, taken together with complete inaction over a very large number of other serious incompetence or corruption scandals (25 at the latest count), is a resignation issue for the Mayor.

Those reading the follow-up article to this one may well agree with that position.

Andy Burnham, the IOPC, Durham Constabulary and Greater Manchester Police have all been approached for press comment.

The Mayor’s office were asked to confirm if they stand by their decision not to release the full documentation relating to the report and also, if they are aware of GMP policy relating to restricting duties of officers under gross misconduct investigation. It will be a miracle, close to turning water into wine, if any response is received from Mrs Monaghan. With regard to knowledge of the subject policy, extensive dealings with the Mayor’s office has revealed a genuinely alarming lack of knowledge of process, and record-keeping, where GMP is concerned. Mrs Monaghan costs the taxpayer around £170,000 pa for that level of inefficiency and ineffectiveness. She it at the core of many of the oversight failures, including the legacy issues emanating from her time working for the Mayor’s policing predecessor, Tony Lloyd.

Durham press office were asked to confirm whether serious complaints against Darren Ellis, referred by Andy Burnham to chief constable Barton in May, 2019, have been recorded by Durham in accordance with the Police Reform Act, 2002 and severity assessed by way of Police (Conduct) Regulations, 2012. They responsed promptly and suggested that the press request might be better approached via a freedom of information application. In journalist parlance, that very likely means that the complaints have not been recorded, but the force is unwilling to admit that fact.

Darren Ellis has not taken up the offered right of reply. Remarkable for a man who has plenty to say on almost any topic. Most particularly, about himself.

A statement was requested from Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling, via the GMP force press office, concerning force policy and the evidence he and ex-head of their Professional Standards Branch, Chief Superintendent Annette Anderson, gave to a recently concluded employment tribunal. Since this article was first published, GMP’s press office has notified the absence from the force of DCC Pilling. It is said that he may provide a statement when he returns from holiday.

GMP has, so far, refused to provide a copy of the force disciplinary policy. They suggested making a freedom of information request. Presently, on the WhatDoTheyKnow website there are unfulfilled requests dating back to February, 2019.

The IOPC has confirmed that they are currently dealing with the appeal, but ‘do not give timescales for their assessment and subsequent publication of the outcome’.

Picture credit Getty Images, Liam McBurney, PA

Page last updated: Thursday 8h August, 2019 at 0625 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 2015-2019. 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.

Barton beats an unexpected retreat

Earlier this week Durham Constabulary announced the retirement of its chief constable, Mike Barton, both on social media and via a press release issued to local, regional and national media. The story attracted little attention, given the controversial figure he has frequently cut.

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But this announcement took many people by surprise, not least policing colleagues whom he had told that he wanted to complete 40 years police service before contemplating retirement. That would have taken him through to at least 2020, having joined Lancashire Police in 1980. 

In a typically robust Sunday Mirror article (read here), published hours before the retirement announcement, there was absolutely no inkling that the Durham chief was about to abandon his post and the high profile, and hugely important, war on knife crime.

Born into a farming family, Mike Barton became a constable with his local force in Blackpool, where his beat included the resort’s famous Golden Mile. He was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal in 2014.

Now aged 62, and a self-proclaimed ‘maverick’, Mr Barton agreed a five-year contract extension in November 2016 (read more here). That arrangement was intended to take him to the end of the current Police and Crime Plan agreed with his employer, the Durham Police Crime and Victims Commissioner, Ron Hogg,

For reasons that are unclear, for the present at least, the Sunderland Echo reported that Barton’s contract extension was only three years, and that ‘he had worked beyond his intended retirement date’.

News of chief Barton’s departure also came as a shock to those closely involved with Operation Lackan, a misconduct investigation into alleged dishonesty and disreputable conduct of Ian Hopkins, chief constable of under-siege Greater Manchester Police. The complainant is retired GMP superintendent, Peter Jackson. Currently, the country’s best known, and most widely reported, police whistleblower. The author of this article is, also, a deponent in those proceedings.

Mr Barton is Gold Commander of that highly vexed probe. A role he accepted at the very end of last year from Greater Manchester Combined Authority, the appointed body to deal with complaints against the region’s chief officer. At the present rate of progress, with terms of reference taking, it seeems, twelve weeks to agree, it is difficult to see Barton signing off the investigation outcome before he retires.

The question also hangs in the air as to why he took on the highly significant Manchester investigation if retirement was front of mind. His temporary replacement as chief will be present Deputy Chief Constable, Jo Farrell. Nothing in her police record, or via other open source material, suggests that she has experience of heading up such a controversial gross misconduct investigation. The major significance of that apparent deficiency unfolds as the sudden, and unexplained, departure of another chief constable is analysed later in this piece.

In these circumstances, the statement issued by his police force press office is worthy of further scrutiny: It begins by saying that the chief constable confirmed his retirement, in writing, that morning (11th March). Suggesting that he had already told his employer, verbally, that he was leaving the force. A leaving date of 7th June might imply that such a conversation took place during the previous week, on 7th March.

The usual valedictory prose pads out a substantial portion of the rest of the statement – and it is much nearer the beginning than the end where the reason for the sudden exit is given: Mr Barton wants to ‘spend more time in his greenhouse and with his grandchildren‘.

Earlier in the statement he is quoted thus: ‘There remain many challenges in policing that I would have relished tackling, but there comes a time when one should hand the baton to the next generation of talented and committed people who will bring their own style, thinking and approach’. Which is an oddity, of itself, as the National Police Chiefs Council, of which Mike Barton is a very prominent, outspoken member, openly admit there is a troubling, and worsening, dearth of senior officer talent in this country.

But above all, he said, the role as Durham’s chief constable had been ‘exciting’ and ‘enormous fun‘. His police colleagues in Durham, and possibly elsewhere, refer to him as a ‘nutter’. In the comedic sense, one assumes?

The statement concludes by saying that details of the procedure to recruit the next chief constable will be announced by the PCC’s office over the coming months. Which precludes any handover, by Barton, to his successor in the top job. The role currently attracts a remuneration of £134,400 per annum, plus the use of a pool car for private use and generous pension benefits.

This unexpected, and largely unexplained, departure is in a similar mode to that of a another experienced, long-serving, recently retired chief, the enigmatic Dave Jones, who ended his service at neighbouring North Yorkshire Police. Except that Jones did what was, effectively, a ‘moonlight flit‘. On the day his departure was announced, 9th April, 2018, after a period of annual leave over the Easter period, he put in a three month sick note and never appeared at force HQ again. NYP were then forced to seek a successor in his absence, with no smooth transition period, and the consequent cost and operational penalties.

Pertinent public interest questions put to the disgraced North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Julia Mulligan, concerning proposed action over a possible contract breach, drew the usual blank. Jones’ had willingly committed to remain at NYP until May, 2020. Turning his back on around £350,000 in salary and benefits to ‘spend more time with his family‘. His three months of sick leave was worth over £40,000 in pay and benefits.

It is worth noting, in a wider context, that Dave Jones spent the first 21 years as a Greater Manchester Police officer and was, at one stage, a CID colleague of Peter Jackson.

Mike Barton has walked away from a similarly large sum, and given much the same reason for doing so. Which, in both cases and taken at their face, appears scarcely credible.

Jones was facing a mounting series of operational problems, adverse inspection reports, quite astonishing criticism from an appeal court judge, and other serious questions about his competence and integrity posed in the media. Other possible reasons for his departure are explored in another article on this website (read here).

But Barton has, previously, faced none of the sort of relentless journalistic scrutiny which came the way of North Yorkshire Police before, and during, the Dave Jones era, and he appears to have an excellent relationship with local and national media. Basking in the glory of being rated as the country’s best police force, according to Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, and being a ‘colourful character’ to boot. Relations between chief constable and police commissioner also appear to be always positive. A situation that could not be said of Jones and his own controversial, and soon to depart, PCC.

But taking on the Hopkins investigation has brought about a different type of scrutiny, not least from this quarter, from whence, and with ample justification, Durham Constabularly is frequently referred to as “a grubby little police force” – and it is already very clear that Durham are not enjoying the oversight. Blocking posts on social media would be a particularly peurile, and futile, example. If a detective chief inspector, and a senior professional standards officer to boot, doesn’t want to hear the truth about the failings of her police force, then Victoria Martin might reflect on her Oath of Constable and whether she is, in fact, deployed in the right vocation. 

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Operation Lackan is very likely to turn out to be highly toxic and Mike Barton has appointed as his Silver Command an officer who appears, on all the evidence seen so far, to neither have the requisite competencies, judgement, resilience or the temperament, to cope with what faces him across the Pennines: Investigating the chief officer of a police force beset with very serious organisational and leadership issues, at least six times the size of his own. A journey so arduous he has, on at least one occasion, required the services of both a detective sergeant AND a driver.

Darren Ellis, a civilian investigator who appears to be Barton’s favoured bag-carrier, has already been placed on written notice concerning some of the professional failings identified, so far, and reacted to reasoned, and well evidenced, criticisms with a grotesquely unprofessional, spiteful, childish response. Ellis also appears to be highly sensitive to fair, and plainly expressed, comment on social media. Even though, surprisingly, and for one who has such an extraordinarily high opinion of himself, he appears to have no presence on Twitter. He was, also, previously a close working colleague of DCI Martin (and may well still be a subordinate in her department). Which may well imply a cultural, or organisational, issue within Durham Constabularly in dealing with hard truths. 

The obsession, stoutly maintained by Ellis, of the existence of a partnership, or other influential or advisory arrangement, between Peter Jackson and Neil Wilby does him no credit. He has been told, repeatedly, by both, it simply does not exist. There is simply no evidence to support his near-frenzied repetition. 

Neither does his bizarre authorisation of the release of lengthy, and unredacted, email correspondence between complainant and police investigator, to an investigative journalist, and all the consequent breaches of the Data Protection Act.

In a previous investigation in which Darren Ellis was closely involved, as lead investigator, Durham Constabularly were criticised, for apparent lack of understanding of data legislation, by Police Scotland’s Deputy Chief Constable, Rose Fitzpatrick. In the same letter, which can be read in full here, she also noted that Durham had stepped outside of the agreed terms of reference.

The Lackan investigation, conducted with appropriate rigour, and following the evidence, will see the end of the career of Hopkins, if he hasn’t already joined the ranks of disgraced senior officers from the Manchester force who have either resigned, or retired over the past few years. These include ACC Rebekah Sutcliffe (Titgate), ACC Steve Heywood (lied to Grainger Inquiry; forged policy log entries), ACC Terry Sweeney (Operations Poppy 1, 2 and 3), ACC Garry Shewan (Operation Redbone; Operations Lamp/Redhill; £70million iOPS failure).

Sweeney’s departure, whilst facing gross misconduct investigations, including the Shipman body parts scandal, infuriated many policing commentators and, actually, led to a change in the law. The other three departed on Hopkins’ watch as chief constable. He was deputy chief when Sweeney slid out the back door of GMP HQ.

Two of their replacements are already mired in controversy, ACC Mabs Hussain (read more here) and T/ACC Annette Anderson, who is currently on a three month absence from the force, whilst attending a senior leaders’ course at the College of Policing. Hopkins is directly involved in the former and, indeed, created it. His deputy, DCC Ian Pilling is closely involved with the Anderson scandal and is also the subject of robust, well-evidenced, criticism over a series of alleged ‘cover-ups’ that have already featured, regularly, elsewhere on this website. He presently faces no misconduct proceedings, but will definitely be cited in evidence supporting the section of the Jackson complaint that deals with institutionalised deceit.

Ex-ACC Dawn Copley could also, feasibly, be added to the list of controversial ex-Manchester retirees. She became the shortest ever serving chief constable in police service history when her tenure lasted just 24 hours at South Yorkshire Police. It has been well reported that ‘Big Dawn’, as she is commonly known, and Peter Jackson, clashed a number of times, as he repeatedly insisted that an investigation should be launched by another police force concerning the ill-starred Operation Nixon (read more here).

Both Copley and Pilling are former Lancashire Police colleagues of Mike Barton, and therein at least part of the answer to the latter’s sudden departure may lie. If, as might be expected, the dishonesty complaint against his chief constable colleague, Ian Hopkins, widens to examine an institutionalised culture of deceit and ‘cover-up’ that cascades down from the top of the Manchester force. A point presciently made in one of a series of articles by The Times journalist, Fiona Hamilton, who is also likely to give witness evidence in the Lackan investigation.

On any independent view, Greater Manchester Police, absent of any meaningful oversight from those public bodies responsible, principally the Deputy Mayor and the perenially hopeless Independent Office for Police Conduct, is a ‘bandit’ police force that, to maintain public confidence, requires urgent intervention from the Home Office. Reminiscent of the dark days of the infamous Leeds City Police in the late 1960’s and eary 1970’s. In slightly different terms, The Times newspaper has twice called for a public inquiry, via its hugely influential leader column. Read by every Prime Minister since 1788.

Which poses a second question concerning Mike Barton: In the twilight of what is reported to be a long, illustrious, and decorated, police career would the Durham chief want to risk being dragged, wittingly or unwittingly. into a situation that has already stained the careers of so many other senior police officers – and likely to end several more? 

Comment about any investigation would normally, and quite properly, be reserved until its outcome is published, so as not to engage prejudice. But this particular matter is wholly exceptional, as it has almost entirely been played out in the public domain. The complainant is a very high profile police whistleblower and the misconduct complained of concerns the chief constable of the UK’s fourth largest police force. Two of the witnesses are journalists. Another one is a retired police officer, a fourth is a serving police officer. There are a large number of national newspaper articles, and publicly accessible investigation reports, concerning the Jackson disclosures, which date back to 2014. Indeed, Operation Lackan centres around one of those articles, published by The Times in June, 2018; the Hopkins response; and two follow-ups in The Times that destroyed both the police statement and one made in support of it by the Deputy Mayor of Manchester, Beverley Hughes

In my own extensive and informed knowledge, there can only be one conclusion: Hopkins has, on any view of the facts, misconducted himself and, with it, brought disrepute to the door of his force. The only matter to be determined is one of degree. Which may be the third reason why Mike Barton has decided to go.

Fourthly, Operation Lackan promises to be neither ‘exciting’ nor the ‘great fun’ that the Durham chief says is his more familiar experience in police HQ at Aykley Heads. Far, far from it. There is likely to be a some banging of heads against brick walls dealing with the Manchester Mayor’s office and Barton may have decided, after his experience of the Police Scotland investigation, that enough is enough (read more here).

By way of another curious coincidence, a gross misconduct investigation, carried out on behalf the the Cheshire police commissioner, into another chief constable, Simon Byrne, was one of the reasons mooted for the abrupt departure of Dave Jones. Described by John Beggs QC as ‘sub-optimal’, at the subsequent disciplinary hearing, the much-feared barrister was being uncharacteristicly over-generous. As the public hearing unfolded in Warrington Town Hall, it became clear that Jones had been out of his depth: The investigation was a shambles, almost from start to finish. He had previously told the commissioner, David Keane, that he was experienced in such matters. It appears as though he was not. What was not disclosed to Mr Keane was that Jones and Byrne had a professional association, via the Scrutiny Board of the National Police Air Service. A member of that same body, at the material time, will say that the two ex-chiefs were friends. Both Byrne and Jones were also senior ex-Greater Manchester Police officers.

By contrast, there is no doubt at all that, given a free hand, Mike Barton could, and very probably would, investigate the Hopkins allegations effectively, and report back efficiently, with appropriate findings. But the big issue is, whether his terms of reference from the Manchester Mayor’s office, where knowledge of the applicable statutory framework appears seriously limited, would have allowed him such liberty. That could be advanced as the fifth and most crucial reason. Who wants to conduct an investigation with their hands tied behind their back? But now, with Barton’s impending retirement, we will never know.

Greater Manchester Combined Authority, on behalf of the Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, confirmed, in a press statement dated 15th March, 2019, that Chief Constable Hopkins would not be either suspended, or placed on gardening leave, whilst the misconduct investigation is in progress. That strongly implies that Mayor Burnham has not passed the matter over to Durham Constabulary as a ‘gross misconduct’ investigation, but a much lesser one of ‘misconduct’. GMCA has not confirmed, as yet, whether a Regulation 15 notice has been served on the chief constable. Enquiries to Greater Manchester Police press office on this subject were referred to the Mayor’s office.

Terms of reference for the investigation have now been disclosed by Durham (read here), after unnecessary delay, apparently as a result of invervention by Darren Ellis, and, put shortly, fall well short of what Ellis promised the complainant in correspondence with him and, it appears from that email chain, assurances given in the face-to-face meeting they had. Peter Jackson has emphasised two key points throughout his contact with Ellis:

– Firstly, that a term of reference be included to the effect that the investigation will ‘go where the evidence takes it’. In layman’s terms, that means if other offences, either misconduct or criminal, are uncovered during the taking and examining of the evidence, then the investigating officers would pursue those appropriately.

– Secondly, Jackson has maintained that the very public and deliberate smearing of himself, Fiona Hamilton and her newspaper by Chief Constable Hopkins cannot amount to anything other than an abuse of his position, and conduct that brings disrepute to both his own force and the wider police service. Hopkins has made no attempt to put the record straight with a correction statement and that fact simply adds an aggravating feature to the offences.

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Allowing the scope to be limited in this way, after a delay of what appears to be almost three months, does not bode well for the efficacy of the Mike Barton investigation. Neither does the secrecy surrounding his sharp exit from it.

The acquisition of further knowledge behind the Durham chief’s retirement decision, and the PCC’s enthusiastic endorsement of it, are now the subject of two searching freedom of information requests (read here and here). 

Page last updated on Sunday 24th March, 2019 at 1335hrs

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.

Picture credit:  Durham Constabulary

© 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.

 

 

Chief constable faces investigation over ‘false’ statement

Greater Manchester Police is the fourth largest force in the country. It has been the subject of a barrage of well aimed press criticism over the past year or so. Almost all of it by the leading ‘serious’ newspaper in the United Kingdom, The Times.

The ‘newspaper of record’ has also taken the unusual step of calling for a public inquiry into police corruption in Greater Manchester, by way of its hugely influential leader column. Read by every Prime Minister since William Pitt the Younger.

The source of most of the articles has been disclosures made by a retired Manchester detective, Peter Jackson. At the time of his retirement, he was a superintendent heading up GMP’s murder investigation team. Popular with both his peers and subordinates, he served the public in his home city with dedication, and distinction, for 31 years.

One of these articles made the front page of The Times on Saturday 23rd June, 2018 (read here). It exposed serious failings by senior officers who watched a thirteen year old boy enter the home of a suspected paedophile, and notorious career criminal, Dominic Noonan, and allowed the child to remain in the property with the villain, and an accomplice, for two hours. The covert surveillance was part of a wider investigation into Noonan (now known by the name of Domenyk Lattlay-Fottfoy) codenamed Operation Nixon. GMP has a long history of being given the runaround by Noonan and tried unsuccessfully, in 2006, to block the airing of a TV documentary featuring his gangster family (view here).

The officer in charge of the Noonan covert police operation, Dominic Scally, was promoted afterwards and now heads up the North West Counter Terrorism Unit. A role to which a significant number of serving, retired and ex-GMP officers, with hundreds of years service between them, feel he is entirely unsuited.

Following the article, and acting with unusual alacrity, GMP chief constable, Ian Hopkins, issued a controversial press statement on the very same day (read here). The central theme was that The Times splash, background spread and leader were “wholly misleading and unfair”. It was an unvarnished, and unattractive, attack on the widely respected journalist, Fiona Hamilton, her venerable newspaper, and Pete Jackson. It went far beyond the acceptable, and was, on any independent view, a clear abuse of his authority as a senior police officer. To the extent that it may amount to disreputable conduct, as referenced in Police Regulations. Equally crucially, there was no rebuttal of the core allegations of serious police force failings, highlighted by Miss Hamilton.

Central to the defence of his officers, and their actions, was the claim by Hopkins that the force had referred itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (now rebadged as Independent Office for Police Conduct) over the alleged Op Nixon failings and his confidence in the ‘completely independent’ police watchdog to provide effective oversight. In this particular case, the misconduct probes were codenamed Operation Poppy 1 and 2. (Read IPCC outcome reports here). As with so many IPCC investigations, indeed almost all that could be classified as high profile, Poppy took so long it went to seed and was condemned as a ‘whitewash’ by many of those close enough to the seat of the action.

Unfortunately for Hopkins, a whistleblower came forward with a tape recording of a meeting in police HQ, at which the chief was plainly heard to say that the IPCC were “abysmal” and incapable of carrying out “thorough investigations“. The timing was important as the chief constable’s comments were made the year before the first Poppy investigation was launched. These revelations, unsurprisingly, led to a follow-up article in The Times, three days later, in which the damning audio was embedded (read and listen here). Hopkins was, quite rightly, put to the sword by the tenacious crime and security editor, Fiona Hamilton.

The chief constable refused to provide a statement explaining his disparaging comments, but was reported at the time, by police insiders, to be in a rage over the article – and obsessed with hunting down the source of the leak to the newspaper.

In October, 2018 a third, and even more devastating, article on this same topic was published by The Times. Evidence showed that Hopkins’ central claim in his June 23rd statement was false. The force did NOT refer the investigation to the IPCC. They had, in fact, spent eighteen months doing everything they could to avoid any scrutiny of the Noonan failings. The fact is, Operation Poppy was brought about following disclosures made to the police watchdog by Peter Jackson. The defensiveness of the force, and its senior officers, together with the propensity to bury wrongdoing was exactly as Miss Hamilton had foretold in her preceding articles.

There has been no public response by Hopkins, or the GMP press office, to these latest revelations.

Unsurprisingly, and following the third newspaper article, Peter Jackson filed a formal misconduct complaint against his former colleague, Ian Hopkins. The core matter in issue is straightforward: The chief constable was not truthful in his 23rd June, 2018 press statement over the IPCC referral. He claims it was not deliberate, but, it must be noted, he took almost six months to come up with his defence. There is no mention of, or apology for, the highly damaging abuse meted out to whistleblower and reporter.

The policing body that has oversight responsibility for chief constables is the police and crime commissioner (PCC) for the area, or region. It is, in almost every case, a post elected by the public at the ballot box. Greater Manchester is one of the exceptions: It has an elected Mayor, Andy Burnham, whom, in turn, and in theory, selects a suitably experienced and capable official to the role of Deputy Mayor for Policing.

Unfortunately, in this particular case, the Mayor’s pick could scarcely have been worse. A 68 year old ex-MP crony, Dame Beverley Hughes, whose Parliamentary career was dogged by controversy. Including misleading the House in 2004, claiming she hadn’t seen a report when it was later proved that she had. An incident that has now come back to haunt her, in a number of ways.  Burnham and his Deputy worked together in the Home Office in the early 2,000’s and were both protégés of the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett.

The only career experience of Beverley Hughes, remotely connected to policing, was spending six years as a Merseyside probation officer, over forty years ago, whilst she continued her university studies in tandem.

Remarkably, this particular police commissioner, elected or otherwise, is what is known within the relevant statutory framework as the ‘Appropriate Authority’ for the disposal of complaints against a chief constable. The presumption is that she would know the applicable laws and regulations, maintain the necessary impartiality and have unimpeachable personal and professional integrity. Regrettably, Beverley Hughes, on all the evidence I have seen, does not tick any of those boxes.

It is uncontroversial to say that the Jackson complaint was dealt with entirely inappropriately by ‘Bev’, as she likes to be known, and, as is often the case with PCC’s, the ‘cover-up’ of alleged misconduct by chief constables becomes the story. Essentially, a phone call between Ian Hopkins, and the Deputy Mayor, was the entirety of what she claims was an ‘investigation’ that led to a ‘local resolution’ of the complaint. In which Hopkins was found, by Bev, to have done nothing wrong: In the unseemly rush to get the press statement out, he claims an inadvertent error was made over who made the IPCC referral.

Those familiar with the chief constable’s micro-management style, particularly in relation to the force’s PR output, will argue strongly against the likelihood of a genuine mistake. As will those with close knowledge of the acrimony, and controversy, amongst the key players in the lead up to the Op Poppy investigations. Hopkins as deputy chief constable at the material time was central in that drama.

Bev Hughes’ actions or, more accurately, inactions, drove a coach and horses through the relevant statutory framework and not one single legal, or ethical, requirement was followed throughout the process. Overlaid by misleading the complainant from start to finish over how the matter was being progressed.

Those shocking procedural failures could well have been connected to either Bev’s overly-cosy relationship with a chief constable, over whom she has a statutory duty to provide oversight, or the fact that she also issued a troubling, and plainly co-ordinated, statement attacking the The Times article. She described it as “deplorable, totally unjustified and completely wrong”. No attempt to issue a correction can be traced.

‘Bev’ also had the temerity to reference the deaths of two young female police officers in an attempt to slur Peter Jackson, when the reality is that both may well still be alive if his own warnings to fellow senior officers, regarding the deranged killer, had been heeded at the time.

It is understood that a second Jackson complaint, this time against the Deputy Mayor, is due to be lodged with the Greater Manchester Police and Crime Panel (PCP) over her handling of the complaint against the chief constable. The complaint will allege misconduct in public office, a criminal offence that will require a mandatory referral to the police watchdog (the IOPC), by the PCP, for a decision as to if, or how, the complaint is to be investigated.  They are the appointed body – packed tight with even more of Andy Burnham’s Labour Party cronies – designated to deal with such issues.

The Mayor’s original stance was, incredibly, that his Deputy had acted “with complete integrity” over the Jackson complaint. It is not known if he intends to maintain that entirely erroneous position.

Following a robust response from Pete Jackson to the outcome of his complaint against Hopkins, and a merciless shaming of Burnham, Hughes and their Deputy Director for Policing, Clare Monaghan, on social media, Burnham finally intervened, in spite of his apparent confidence in the Hughes ‘investigation’, and referred the matter to the IOPC for a method of investigation decision. As a result, Durham Constabulary was contacted substantively by Mrs Monaghan on 24th December, 2018, with an invitation to investigate the Jackson complaint on behalf of the Greater Manchester Mayor. The latter having taken over conduct of the matter from his hapless Deputy.

In a police operation now codenamed Mackan, Durham chief constable, Mike Barton, will have overall responsibility, and sign off the investigation into Ian Hopkins, as Gold Commander. Silver Commander is Durham’s former head of professional standards, Darren Ellis, now employed by the force as a civilian investigator

A Durham Constabulary spokesman said: “Whilst some information has been received [from the Manchester Mayor’s office] there is a need for more to be forwarded at this stage.

“As the ‘instruction’ to engage with us is in the very early stages we are not in receipt of any preliminary assessments from GMP, nor any specific terms of reference.

“Until Durham Constabulary are fully ‘read in’ to matters and fully understand what is expected we will not move forward. To assist with this, we have arrangements in place to speak to an involved party in the near future.

“Until matters progress we are unable to estimate how long this piece of work will take.”

Which, de-coded, appears to say that Durham stand ready, but neither GMP, nor the Mayor’s office, despite the passage of five weeks, have given them the tools necessary to do the job. Given all that has gone before, that should surprise no-one. It is assumed that the ‘involved party’ is Peter Jackson, as his consent would be needed to allow Durham to proceed with evidence gathering.

Mike Barton, whom Durham colleagues variously describe as a “nutter” and a “maverick” (read more hereand here) also undertook the ‘outside force’ investigation, in 2016, into the gross misconduct allegations against GMP’s Assistant Chief Constable, Rebekah Sutcliffe, over the notorious ‘Titgate’ scandal. It is not known, at this stage, if Mr Ellis was involved. Ms Sutcliffe received a final written warning before a disciplinary hearing, chaired by Rachel Crasnow QC (who also chaired the recently concluded hearing into bullying allegations against ex-Cheshire chief constable, and former GMP deputy chief, Simon Byrne). The repentent Ms Sutcliffe made full and frank admissions from the outset, so that particular investigation was, on any view, rather less taxing than the present renewal (read more here). The curious might enquire why, with 42 other police forces to choose from, Durham’s turn has come around again so quickly*.

[UPDATE* A plausible answer may be that Greater Manchester’s portfolio holder for professional standards, Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling, and Barton were colleagues at Lancashire Constabulary. Both started their careers in that force, in 1980 and 1990 respectively. They would have been closely involved in the Sutcliffe investigation, as Pilling led the mob baying for her dismissal from the police service. Pilling’s predecessor as GMP PSB portfolio holder was also a former long-serving Lancashire officer, Dawn Copley. She joined in 1987 and left to join GMP as an assistant chief constable in 2010. She was never far from controversy, it is fair to say, and became the shortest ever serving chief constable in police service history after joining South Yorkshire Police. The intervention of two journalists, both of whom I know well, led to her removal after less than 24 hours.]

Nevertheless, given my own interaction with Durham Constabulary, there are serious and well-grounded concerns over their capability, or willingness, to carry out robust, thorough and impartial investigations on behalf of other police forces, or policing bodies. Indeed, my views are well rehearsed both on this website, the What Do They Know website, and on social media: “A grubby little police force that does favours for other police forces.” Durham is very well aware of that stance – and the well evidenced reasons upon which it is grounded. Much of which is set out in forensic detail here. Those robust allegations stand unchallenged by their controversy-courting chief constable whom, it must be said, is not usually backward in coming forward, as we say in Yorkshire.

Durham Constabulary also seriously, gratuitously and repeatedly, libelled me. Aided and abetted, incredibly, by the National Police Chiefs Council and, less surprisingly, North Yorkshire Police, over a freedom of information request that, ultimately, revealed a badly organised and shamelessly poor fraud investigation, carried out by Durham, on behalf of the latter, that is still, to this present day, the subject of a multi-agency ‘cover-up’.

Over £2,500 was spent in legal fees preparing a defamation claim against Mike Barton and Durham, but that was abandoned on counsel’s advice which was, essentially: ‘They have plainly libelled you, but will bleed you white on costs’.

A prescient remark, given what has transpired subsequently in other legal proceedings between us: Mr Barton and I will face one another in county court later this year. A claim under section 13(2) of the Data Protection Act, 1998 rests, presently, with Durham County Court (the third court to have dealt with the matter). He has, already, tried to circumvent the court’s mediation process on *three* separate occasions, and, instead, spent around £5,000 on legal fees, with a large Sheffield law firm and a London barrister, in a hopelessly misconceived defence of the claim. Which he would be perfectly entitled to do, of course, if it was his own money he was squandering. But it isn’t. It belongs to the hard-working precept payers of County Durham and Mr Barton should, in all truth, take better care of it.

[UPDATE ** Five days after this article was published I received an email from Small Claims Mediation Service (SCMS) to say the chief constable had, yet again, rejected mediation, in spite of a judge’s Direction to seek resolution by those means.]

The final cost, if the matter goes to trial, and Barton being cross-examined, by me, is something to be relished if it does, is likely to be well in excess of £10,000. To settle the claim would require a fraction of that cost, together with an admission of the breach, and an apology.

But there we are, that is how money-no-object, don’t-blame-me policing operates at the highest levels in this country. I see it every day with the three Yorkshire police forces with whom I’m closely involved.

For all these reasons, and the fact that I propose to provide a relevant, and collateral, witness statement to Durham, regarding well-evidenced integrity concerns around Ian Hopkins’ stewardship of GMP, in which I am both a significant stakeholder and a target for harassment by GMP senior managers, an even more keen eye than usual will be kept on the investigation into this complaint against the under-siege Greater Manchester chief constable. Made by, arguably, the country’s best known police whistleblower.

[***UPDATE. Information has been passed to me, by a bereaved complainant, of another sub-optimal Durham PSD investigation where dishonesty and/or deception may well be a factor. The evidence includes covert tape recordings of telephone conversations and meetings. Taken at their face they are concerning, to say the least.]

[****UPDATE. More information has come to light from another complainant who has very strong evidence of alleged, and potentially very serious, breaches of Standards of Professional Behaviour by Durham PSD. Darren Ellis is well aware of these as he, personally, refused to meet with the complainant. A sensible, measured, reasonable, but doggedly persistent, individual.]

[*****I wrote to Silver Command, civilian investigator Darren Ellis, on 20th February, 2019, to express concerns over both his own conduct and Durham’s suitability to carry out this investigation. His response was controversial to say the least (read more here)]

Greater Manchester Police and the Mayor’s office have been approached for comment. It will be something akin to turning wine into water if the latter even acknowledge the request.

Peter Jackson has declined to do so, in order to preserve the integrity of the Durham investigation.

Page last updated on Friday 22nd February, 2019 at 0020hrs

Picture credit: Scottish Parliament TV

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 2015-2019. 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.