These days, in almost every public sector building, business or shop premises there is a notice displayed prominently that says, more or less, ‘we will not tolerate abuse of our staff’. It’s a sign of the times, if the terrible pun can be excused.
It’s the same on public transport – and the illustration I have chosen is seen on buses and trains across parts of the North West.
The rule is quite rigidly enforced and some organisations do not hesitate to call the police. Barring offenders from subject premises is usually automatic. Rightly so.
Abuse of journalists has become an increasing problem over the past few years and my trade body, the National Union of Journalists, which doubles as a professional body, has run a campaign of sorts almost every year since 2014, to try to limit the distress and alarm these attacks cause. Details of the latest NUJ crusade can be read here.
In Oldham, now part of the Greater Manchester region, but forever East Lancashire to some, the problem of abuse of journalists, and other public figures such as MP’s and council officials, appears particularly acute. Surprising, on one ground at least, as the police force in the town constantly promotes campaigns against abuse and hate. But appear very slow to stem the flow from the very worst offenders.
There is no doubt at all about the main source of what is a relentless torrent of highly personalised, harassing abuse: Bradford-born, Raja Miah, now an infamous Oldham political activist, who openly defies the law. His persistent output on social media is highly concerning, both in tone and content, returning to the same narrow topics over and again, straying well beyond fair commentary or legitimate criticism.
The strapline with which he defiantly signs off posts under his Recusant Nine banner is: ‘DO NOT FEAR THEM. DO NOT FEAR ANY OF THEM’. He claims that his previous outlet, Medium, was subject to censorship, but it is unclear to what extent other than, quite likely, to remove offensive, harassing or defamatory material.
There are three journalists currently in his sights, it seems: Nationally-known political editor and commentator, Jennifer Williams, who works for the Manchester Evening News (MEN), but whose byline also appears in a number of national newspapers; Charlotte Green, still based at the MEN where she was previoulsy based, but now a BBC-funded Local Democracy Reporter covering Oldham and Tameside councils; and, more latterly, myself.
Jennifer, who is also a television pundit and newspaper reviewer, is regularly attacked over her perceived inaction regarding the alleged scandals at Oldham Council.
What is not widely known is that the MEN commissioned an investigation into Raja Miah’s business background, and particularly his much criticised stewardship of free schools in Manchester and Oldham. At its conclusion, and given what would be revealed, the MEN hierarchy decided, on health and safety grounds, that the risk of the type of personalised backlash that this would very likely generate against their reporter, post-publication, it was not worth the risk. The article was shelved and the cost of it, in effect, thrown away.
Raja Miah denies any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, over £2 million was siphoned out of the schools, for which the record-keeping falls well below the accepted standard. He was ‘blacklisted’ by the government
The Manchester Evening News did provide coverage of the scandal when it first broke, which resulted in a complaint to the newspaper industry regulator. It was peremptorily dismissed Read in full here) and it was plain, by comparing his submissions to the Department of Education report on the same subject, that Miah had sought to mislead the Independent Press Standards Organisation.
Charlotte’s sin is said to be ‘biased’ reporting of Oldham Council meetings and ancillary business. Objectively reviewed, there appears to be no evidential basis for such criticism. Although relatively young, she is fully trained and qualified – and has significant experience of court reporting. As I know well, that is a hard school of knocks. It becomes ingrained to only report what you hear, the consequences of doing otherwise are severe.
The third and now, it seems, main target is the author of this piece and since publication of the first of four articles on 5th October, 2020 (read here) there has been what can only be described as a relentless torrent of highly personalised smears posted, or broadcast, on all of his various outlets: Welcome to Oldham website, podcast and Recusant Nine Facebook page. Aided and abetted by a small army of anonymous, low or no follower foot soldiers, who pop up at all points on social media, now dubbed ‘Raja’s Rabble’.
Most regrettably this has impacted on two others, Gail Hadfield Grainger (read more here) and Samantha Walker-Roberts (read more here), whom he has identified as being associated with me, professionally. He also resumed his grotesque and very public attack against Cllr Arooj Shah. The fact that Gail and Cllr Shah are friends, having first made contact 5 years ago, appears to send the Recusant Miah off the scale. Particularly, as it is widely known that Gail and I have also become friends since first meeting last year.
Taken together, the mindless denigration of these five females gives off more than an unpleasant whiff of mysogyny. A suspicion he dismisses out of hand.
One of Raja’s key lieutenants operates under the pseudonym “Rocky Skelshaw” and is an ever-present wherever her hero, and leader, happens to be posting. Repeating and exaggerating the increasing ludicrous output from those quarters. Seemingly oblivious that Miah is presently the subject of at least two police investigations over his highly speculative, heavily politicised rants and that may well become her fate in acting as amplifier in his echo chamber. One of his other highly vocal sidekicks, Tracey Gibson, recently deleted her social media accounts on my advice.
“Rocky” was outed yesterday as another Diggle resident, Kerry Skelhorn (read in full here) after her own intemperate outbursts, over the past weekend, included berating a well known child sex abuse survivor from the Oldham area on a Facebook community forum and, of course, the standard harassing and defamatory posts that are the Recusant trademark.
She now faces civil action and a package is being prepared for the police. A statement has been requested from her employer, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to establish whether the core values of the charity are consistent with those of their Conservation Officer.
It is very surprising, from a journalist’s standpoint, that the unlawful activities of such as Raja Miah, Miss Skelhorn, and a significant number of others, with either personal or political axes to grind against some or all of such as local MPs, the council, the police, the Mayor, in maintaining this vile hate campaign, have not been the subject of more immediate and robust action. A matter I am taking up myself, in measured terms, with Detective Chief Inspector James Faulkner, a senior officer based at Oldham Police Station, who has been adjacent to the facts for some time. We start off from a healthy position, as the only previous interaction produced an impressive response from both him and his divisional colleagues over a safeguarding issue.
Greater Manchester Police press office has been contacted for comment.
Page last updated: Wednesday 28th October, 2020 at 1015 hours
Photo credits: Arriva North West
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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On 20th September 2019, Mr Recorder Ben Nolan QC handed down his judgment in a £5 million civil claim brought by Dr Abdul Rashid against West Yorkshire Police. It followed a Bradford County Court liability hearing lasting two weeks, during which evidence was heard from three police officers repesenting the defendant. The claimant, a well-known Bradford GP and medico-legal practitioner also gave witness box testimony.
The claim concerns wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and trespass over events that happened in March, 2012 during a police investigation codenamed Operation Thatcham. It, ultimately, resulted in the conviction of 45 men over what have become known as ‘cash for crash‘ fraud offences.
A terrifying pre-dawn raid, in a middle class suburb of Bradford, saw eighteen police officers turn up at the doctor’s home where he, his wife and three young children were asleep. Other squads of officers had been despatched to his two surgeries and other business premises. It was alleged he was part of a conspiracy to defraud, relating to the cash for crash claims, although no particulars were ever put to Dr Rashid in thirty-five hours of police interviews, across a seven month period. He was never charged with any offence.
Interview records show that the questioning of the doctor, by purportedly experienced detectives, was largely infantile and almost entirely pointless. The police simply had no evidence of criminal offences, but were down a rabbit hole without an escape route. Not least, because there is no incentive for any medico-legal practitioner to commit fraud: He (or she) is paid by an instructing lawyer, whether an injury insurance claim succeeds or not – and irrespective of the content of the doctor’s report. A point that seemed completely lost on the police.
Dr Rashid was eventually released from police bail in June, 2013. The justification for the arrest or, in legal terms, the reasonable grounds for suspicion of the offence for which he was arrested, lie at the very heart of the matter.
Notable for his absence from the civil court proceedings was the arresting officer, DC Mark Lunn, described in court as ‘a bad apple’, and about whom much has been written elsewhere (read here, here and here). The police, via their barrister Olivia Checa Dover, had told the court at a pre-trial review, seven months earlier, that they were ‘unable to locate’ DC Lunn – a matter later denied at the substantive hearing. The detective (the term is used loosely) was, in fact, working for the police watchdog, the discredited and now dissolved Independent Police Complaints Commission (re-badged in January 2018 as the Independent Office for Police Conduct), just 300 yards from police HQ, in a job actually facilitated by those who said they couldn’t locate him.
An account of that pre-trial hearing, before HHJ Neil Davey QC, can be read elsewhere on this website by clicking here and has stood unchallenged since that time, including by the police to whom right of reply was offered.
A comprehensive day-by-day account of the final hearing can also be read on this website by clicking here. West Yorkshire Police tried, unsuccessfully, to prevent the author of this piece reporting on those proceedings in an attempt, not only to frustrate open justice (routine for them), but, more crucially, to prevent public exposure of the rotting effect of the ‘bad apple’ officer, culminating in what appears to be a shocking conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, by six of their officers in the same barrel, that has left an unpleasant stench hanging over the large number of Operation Thatcham convictions.
At the conclusion of those proceedings in Bradford Law Courts, conducted in a palpably toxic atmosphere throughout, Recorder Nolan dismissed the claim in controversial circumstances. Not least, because of the bitter and long-running battle over disclosure, or, more to the point, the lack of it, by the police. The handling of those matters, viewed from the press seats at least, appeared to fall short of the standards one might reasonably expect of an alert, fair-minded judge. It also must be said, by way of balance, that it is a feature of many civil or tribunal claims (and in some notable criminal trials) involving West Yorkshire Police; the latitude the force is frequently given from the bench, and a tame local media, simply encourages their bad practices.
A permission appeal to the High Court by Dr Rashid was, unsurprisingly, filed by his lawyers soon afterwards. It was granted on the papers (without a hearing) on 17th December, 2019 by Mr Justice Lavender. Not a common occurrence in such matters.
A full appeal hearing is listed for 14th May, 2020 before the same judge, sitting in the Leeds District Registry. It is, however, more than likely, in the prevailing SAR-COV-2 crisis, that the hearing will take place via video conference.
The written judgment of Recorder Nolan, typed, unusually, in 16pt with generous margins top and bottom, runs to 14 pages. It is littered with schoolboy syntax errors; headed ‘judgement’ not ‘judgment’; pages are not numbered; it is undated; and carries no unique case reference or details of the parties’ representation. It even includes an exclamation mark at the end of one sentence, unprecedented in the author’s experience, encompassing many hundreds of court judgments. Likewise, the sight of a barrister being addressed only by his surname is, similarly, unheard of.
All of which gives it an amateurish look: Surprisingly so, for a part-time judge who has been at the Bar for 49 years and, plainly, has a very high opinion of himself – and one not at all slow in derogating others, both in his courtroom and on social media. A memorable example being that hard-won press cards, hologrammed and with photo ID embedded, authorised by the National Union of Journalists and the National Police Chiefs Council, are “handed out to anybody“.
There was no perfected copy of the judgment provided to the press and it was not published electronically by the court. So, this piece is grounded in what was handed, by the court clerk, to the two members of the press present at the time.
By the tenth, and last, sitting day, the claimant’s legal team knew what to expect. A hearing where one party, and their counsel, appeared to be favoured throughout was not going to end well – and so it proved.
But, it was not just the judge’s decision to dismiss the claim that caused dismay; that was already built into the claimant’s expectations. It was the perplexing way the background narrative was rehearsed, and the equally puzzling finding of fact, that gave rise to very considerable concern. As did the judge’s consequent rulings on the applicable law.
It is well-established case law that parties to a civil claim should be able to understand why they succeeded or failed. Indeed, it can be a ground upon which an appeal can, in some circumstances, be upheld.
In interview after the trial, Dr Rashid, a highly intelligent and accomplished individual with an acquired, if reluctant, knowledge of civil law and procedure, was, it is fair to say, completely bewildered. As was his legal team, Ian Pennock of counsel (the barrister simply referred to as “Pennock” in one section of the judgment) and his instructing solicitor, Simon Blakeley.
Moreover, taking the daily court reports as a starting point, it seems as though the Nolan judgment concerned a different trial altogether. Those reports, amounting to almost 12,000 words, stand unchallenged by both the police, and the judge, despite dark, but unspecified, mutterings during the trial.
The handed down judgment, most regrettably, gives the appearance of a pre-formed decision with threadbare, and in places, inexplicable or, indeed, a complete absence of cogent analysis or reasoning. The background narrative, and consequent fact finding, also appears to leave too many crucial issues unresolved and bizarre, apparently unsupportable, conclusions on at least two of the central matters: The credibility of the principal police witness and the diligence (and record keeping) of the Operation Thatcham investigation.
More crucially, to those adjacent to the applicable statutory framework, the judge appears not to have turned his attention to the state of mind of the arresting officer and each of his alleged reasonable grounds for suspecting Dr Rashid of committing the offence, for which he was arrested, and attached to them his reasoning for finding in favour of the police. That, one might say, was his primary function as sole arbiter of this claim.
From the press seats at least, the claim largely turned on the evidence of one police officer: Detective Inspector (DI) Mark Taylor. A sergeant at the time of the arrest of Dr. Rashid and the supervisor of the errant former detective constable, Mark Lunn.
Having previously served as a custody sergeant, DI Taylor was part of the Kirklees-based Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) recovery team. Lunn was seconded to that team from his previous role as a beat officer in Huddersfield and, later, that town’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
As reported contemporaneously, DI Taylor’s evidence underwent a remarkable transformation between examination on his evidence-in-chief by Miss Checa Dover and cross-examination by Mr Pennock. From a witness giving ready answers, with quite remarkable recall of detail from events 7 or 8 years previously, to a hesitant police officer constantly having to think carefully about what he was saying, and who answered thirteen times in the mode of ‘don’t recall, don’t remember, don’t know, can’t answer that, got that wrong’. Despite having been very closely involved in the police’s defence of the civil claim for almost three years before he gave his testimony in court – and in other connected regulatory proceedings, in which the police were the prime movers, since 2012.
In answer to Mr Pennock’s probing, he frequently had no explanation as to why many of the key documents that would have assisted the claim of Dr Rashid had either gone missing, been destroyed or were concealed from the claimant. Particularly, those that were effectively under his control, if the judge’s version of his role in the case is to be taken at face value. These include his own pocket books, day books, email trails, weekly reports to his superior officers, meeting notes, seized materials, copies of warrants and their supporting documentation (At the pre-trial review it was heard in legal submissions that DC Lunn’s emails were no longer available on the police’s ‘Cloud’ data storage. The judge at that hearing did pointedly observe that someone must have taken pro-active steps to remove them).
During cross-examination, DI Taylor was unable to direct the court to any document in the trial bundle – running to twelve densely packed lever arch files – where the reasons for a decision to arrest Dr Rashid are set out, and properly recorded, in accordance with authorised police practice. He did, however, concede, in evidence, that for such a major decision affecting a high profile and well-established local doctor he would have expected them to be recorded in the investigation’s policy log at the very least, together with pocket books or day books of those involved in the decision, meeting notes and his own weekly reports. It is a specific requirement under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, 1984 (PACE) that notebook records are kept of actions preceding, during and after arrest of a suspect. DI Taylor, the supervisor of the arresting officer in Dr Rashid’s case, is unable to explain where those specific records are – or why they were not retained. Or, indeed, if they were ever made.
The court also heard that DI Taylor was centrally involved in the presentation, by West Yorkshire Police, of no less than five different versions of the ‘reasonable grounds for suspicion’ that underpinned Dr Rashid’s arrest. The first, in May 2017, being in answer to the filing and serving of the claim form, by way of their formal Defence; the last one during the trial, at the request of the judge whom, presumably, like most others present in court, was bewildered at the constantly changing police landscape. The second version was in an Amended Defence filed in July 2018 when it became clear that the original Defence was unlikely to resist the claim; the third and fourth differing versions were, respectively, DI Taylor’s witness statement dated December 2018 and his oral evidence from the witness box at trial nine months later.
One of the three remaining grounds cited by DI Taylor as the support for the decision to arrest the doctor, in that witness box testimony, from a list that at one time comprised twenty-one purported reasons, concerned a matter that only became known to the police over five months after the arrest. The other two were (i) an appointments list found in the vehicle of a person arrested in the first phase of the crash for cash investigation, but not subsequently prosecuted, and (ii) the alleged inadequacy of Dr. Rashid’s medico-legal reports. Those two grounds alone, says the detective, are sufficient to resist the claim of wrongful arrest and false imprisonment.
Examination of the trial bundle now reveals a different ground advanced by DI Taylor that is not in either of his witness statements or his court testimony. In an email to the Ministry of Justice he states baldly: ‘The main thrust of our fraud case: Was the doctor [Rashid] doing anything different to other professionals’.
The fact that all five (or now six) police versions of the reasonable grounds for suspicion are different is an important point; one that an independent reviewer might consider strikes at the heart of both the police force’s probity, and DI Taylor’s own credibility as a witness in these proceedings, yet is completely absent from the judgment. There is no reference to them at all, including the fact that the twenty-one shot West Yorkshire Police machine-gun had been reduced to just two weak blows on a pea-shooter.
Furthermore, on at least three occasions in the witness box, DI Taylor gave oral evidence that directly contradicted written evidence of his own that was to be found in the trial bundle. They were not minor points either, they were central to the police’s defence of the claim. It is more difficult to conclude that this class of historical revisionism was the product of innocent mistakes, or memory aberrations, given his remarkable powers of recall on his first day giving evidence.
Fortunately, for Dr Rashid, when taken to a compromised Third Party Disclosure Order (in successful proceedings wherein the decision of the General Medical Council tosuspend the doctor from medical practice, at the instigation of DC Lunn, was quashed) which confirmed, many months after his arrest, that ‘WestYorkshirePoliceconfirmthat [Dr Rashid] wasnotarrested onthebasisofaspecificallegationmadebyanindividualoutside,orwithin,WestYorkshire Police’, DI Taylor, as Lunn’s supervisor, agreed that was how he understood the position to be. He was the disclosure officer in those GMC proceedings and, as such, attached to the persistent smearing of the doctor, by the police, then and ever since.
He could not, however, explain to the court why the note of a meeting, recorded on the policy log as taking place on 19th January, 2012, at which he claimed he was present, did not feature his name amongst the list of attendees posted by DC Lunn. That ‘team’ meeting was to assume high importance in the judgment, by way of deflecting Lunn’s central role in the arrest. DI Taylor claims that the grounds for Dr Rashid’s arrest were discussed there, even though the log only records that the decision to proceed was maintained. That strongly infers there was at least one other meeting, about which there appears to be no entry on the policy log, or entries in day books, or post-meeting email notes, or follow-ups. There was also conflicting testimony from DI Taylor as to whether the meeting was held in Batley or Bradford.
This January 2012 meeting appeared to be the only area of his cross-examination where DI Taylor’s powers of recall were revived. Distinctly remembering detail of a meeting with a Crown Prosecution Service lawyer, Julian Briggs, whom, on his own admission, he either met, or spoke to on the telephone, almost every single working day during that era. Quite remarkably for a meeting of such purported gravity, no-one at that meeting, it seems, made any record of the grounds of arrest of Dr Rashid. Including the CPS lawyer. Or, if they did, the police chose not to disclose them. Another, one might say crucial, point absent from the judgment.
Under questioning, it emerged from DI Taylor that the policy log itself was a key part of the general shambles that threaded through the running and supervision of Operation Thatcham. DC Lunn, on the evidence and with his shocking disciplinary record, was an unwelcome cuckoo in the POCA nest at Batley Police Station. Curiously, as a lowly, inexperienced, self-aggrandising detective constable, with a history of unlawful arrest complaints against him, albeit unsubstantiated, and a stranger to the department, DI Taylor allocated Lunn an office of his own. In the face of him still being on a written warning over a previous internal police finding of misuse of the force’s computer systems.
The policy log created by DC Lunn did not, incredibly, form part of those same police systems and was not linked to either their force-wide servers or the more local Infoshare network. He could add, amend, delete any entry on the Word document and no-one would be any wiser. Operation Thatcham was, to all appearances, a one man maverick operation that breached any number of authorised police practices, management of police information protocols, codes of conduct and, very arguably, was operated outside data protection laws.
DI Taylor told the court Lunn had been ‘recommended’ to his POCA team, but he did not say by whom. It was not explained, either, why this major investigation did not fall under the remit of one of the specialist criminal divisions in West Yorkshire Police under the supervision of a qualified Senior Investigating Officer (SIO). [In response to a post-trial freedom of information request, West Yorkshire Police made a number of palpably false responses concerning these matters in order to further conceal Thatcham’s procedural shortcomings].
Although presented by the police as the officer in charge of Operation Thatcham, in an attempt to downplay the role of the discredited DC Lunn, DI Taylor gave conflicting evidence over the number of suspects arrested in the first phase of the investigation. He told Miss Checa-Dover it was ten, when it was put to him by Mr Pennock that the actual number was thirty-eight, it was conceded, reluctantly, that he ‘got it wrong’.
Thatcham was the biggest fraud investigation in the history of West Yorkshire Police with ninety one suspects arrested in total. DI Taylor, as noted elsewhere, had been involved in regulatory and civil proceedings against Dr Rashid for seven years, in matters arising from it. Yet couldn’t answer correctly a simple, basic question concerning the operation.
Mark Taylor’s dual role of supervisor of the discredited arresting officer in the criminal matter, then sole disclosure officer, conflicted but apparently unsupervised, in the civil claim, should have given rise to concern amongst those anxious to maintain public confidence in the civil justice system. But the seriously alarming catalogue of disclosure failings, with implausible explanations, or simply no explanation, attached to most of them, did not appear to cause any anxiety to the judge at all. Indeed, his verbal attack on Mr Pennock, on the last day of the trial, when the issue of disclosure failings was raised, yet again, was as unnecessary as it was unpleasant.
These were, in essence, the disputed disclosure points which should be read with these two comments from the judge very much in mind; (i) ‘I don’t want to deprive Mr Pennock of material which he quite rightly wishes to use’, (ii) ‘I don’t want this case to go wrong by dint of disclosure error’ and also the admission from DI Taylor that he was ‘exhibits officer trained’:
– The reasons for arresting Dr Rashid do not, or no longer, appear in the operational policy log. No audit trail relating to that document has been filed and served by the police.
– The Word document setting out reasons for suspecting Dr Rashid of criminal offences, given to Dewsbury Magistrates’ Court by way of a formal application for search warrants of Dr Rashid’s premises, is not retained on the police server.
– DI Taylor’s workbook, covering, according to his own evidence, twelve significant police investigations during that period, and, more crucially, recording the reasons for arresting Dr Rashid, was missing. As is that of every other officer involved, including the arresting officer, DC Lunn.
– The police have not produced the weekly e-mail reports, from DI Taylor to his superiors, setting out the reasons why they wanted to arrest Dr Rashid. He told the court that they still exist and could be accessed via the force’s Enterprise Vault.
– During the phase one arrests in Operation Thatcham copies of scripts that were to be used by personal injury claimants, during their consultations with doctors, were seized. When both Mr Pennock, and then the judge, asked DI Taylor where they were, and why they had not been retained, there was an interjection from Miss Checa-Dover who asserted that ‘it has been years since the criminal prosecutions had ended [in fact, April 2014] and the civil claim issued [in fact, letter before claim issued December 2015].
– Appointment diaries seized by the police from other medico-legal practitioners involved in ‘crash for cash’ claims are missing. DI Taylor told the court, ‘they are no longer in the police’s possession because it’s [the criminal trials in Operation Thatcham] gone through the statutory appeals process’. He could not explain to the court, when asked by the judge, why, when the requirement is to retain such materials for 6 years, they were no longer available. He did confirm that a CD disc for each of the doctors’ diaries had been exhibited at the trial.
– Not one contemporaneous record of the reasons given for the decision to arrest Dr Rashid can be located anywhere in the many police records where one should find them or, indeed, where it is a serious breach of Police Regulations not to find them.
– The police seized Dr Rashid’s phone and laptop. From those devices they extracted text messages (SMS). They disclosed only part of those text messages (oddly enough those that might fit the police narrative). The PC and phone had been ‘wiped’ when eventually returned to him. DI Taylor, or the police lawyers when asked, have provided no plausible explanation beyond a haughty ‘we can’t disclose what we don’t have’.
– DI Taylor’s evidence in the witness box concerning both his own philosophy as an experienced detective and, more crucially, wider police force policy: ´If it is not recorded, it didn’t happen’.
Mr Pennock submits that these provide a more than a sufficient evidential base to advance the proposition that the police records had been ‘sanitised’ to remove (or conceal, or an admission that they never existed) all the contemporaneous reasons for deciding to arrest Dr Rashid. A plausible, indeed likely, reason is that the police subsequently believe such reason(s) to be insufficient to justify that arrest and, as such, resist the civil claim.
However, none of his highly questionable evidence, or witness box testimony that was not in either of his witness statements (very often fatal to the credibility of a live witness), or the list of disclosure failures, either of, or involving, DI Taylor, appeared to trouble Mr Recorder Nolan even slightly. Indeed, his judgment, incredibly, records him as ‘a truthful, reliable and extremely professional police officer of the highest calibre’. He embellishes that claim by asserting that ‘his evidence was wholly corroborated by contemporaneous evidence’ and, to top off, gives his ‘firm view’ that ‘this [Operation Thatcham] was a well-run, closely-monitored, highly competent criminal investigation’.
It is, set against the evidence heard first hand in court, contemporaneous reporting and, for certainty, a review of the section of the transcript covering DI Taylor’s testimony, a passage in a judgment that is as astonishing as it is shocking. Even without taking into account the number of times he had to be ‘rescued’ or led by either the judge himself, or Miss Checa-Dover, when stuck for answers to questions put to him by Mr Pennock. Indeed, Dr Rashid’s lawyers submit that on at least three different occasions the judge appeared to stray into giving evidence himself.
The only conceivable explanation being, that if an objective conclusion had been drawn from DI Taylor’s variable and selective memory, and his contradictory, frequently unimpressive evidence; his troubling supervisory failings in the criminal investigation; and his highly questionable role as disclosure officer in the civil proceedings, then he would have been found as a witness whose reliability was open to serious question and the defence of the claim dangerously, and probably fatally, undermined.
Recorder Nolan, in the face of an invitation from Mr Pennock, also drew no adverse inference from the absence of the arresting officer from the proceedings, saying ‘although he is in name the arresting officer his importance to the case has been overblown’. An inexplicable finding given that it was drawn out in evidence that DC Lunn was the only officer working full time on Operation Thatcham during its first year, and, more particularly, the period leading up to the arrest of Dr Rashid, and, of over 200 entries on the investigation’s policy log in that timespan, the definitive record of decisions, rationales, actions and outcomes, every entry except one was made by that same officer. A policy log, under authorised police practice, is required to be the domain of the SIO, usually at detective chief inspector or superintending rank.
More crucially, the records of the trial clearly reveal that DI Taylor had conceded, very early in his cross-examination, by Mr Pennock, that Lunn was ‘the main man’.
DC Lunn was also, unusually, the author of the operational orders that were drawn up in connection with two different planned arrests of the doctor. DI Taylor said in evidence these orders would have been approved by a senior officer at chief inspector rank, or above. But couldn’t point the court to any written document evidencing such approval, although he asserted that the approval would not have been by telephone.
On any view, this was a one man band operating well outside conventional police constraints, with minimal and ineffective supervision. Indeed, the court heard that, in an email to a superior, Lunn described himself as ‘Team Thatcham’ in answer to a complaint about his conduct – and in a way that appeared to suggest that his pivotal role gave him a shield against any disciplinary action over any complaint from a member of the public.
The judgment is also absent of discussion, analysis, reasoning and reasons in relation to whether, or not, DC Lunn’s unauthorised, pirate activities as a private detective to the insurance industry; or an inadequately explained payment of £183,000 by a motor insurance company to that same serving police officer, via a bogus company, around the time of his arrest of Dr Rashid; the associated leverage to obtain the ‘scalp’ of a high profile medico-legal professional to promote both DC Lunn’s and motor insurance company interests; and, the startlingly deliberate decision by senior officers involved in Operation Thatcham, and three Professional Standards Department (PSD) officers to engage in what appears to be a prima facie conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, by keeping DC Lunn’s ‘extra-curricular’ activities secret from the criminal defence teams in the ‘cash for crash’ fraud prosecutions.
There is also no evidence that a thorough, proportionate investigation was ever carried out by the police, or the IPCC to whom the matter should have been mandatorily referred, into the whereabouts of that £183,000, or whether Lunn was acting alone, or in concert with other police officers, over monies that give off the strong whiff of an inducement to extend his powers beyond what was, necessarily, lawful. The judge again strays into error with his finding that, by leaving West Yorkshire Police in August, 2013, Lunn “jumped before he was punched (sic)”. It is clear from the trial bundle that disciplinary proceedings had concluded with ‘words of advice’ and DI Taylor’s testimony, during the hearing, is that he left because he had been sent to work back on the beat and was unhappy about no longer having detective status.
Even though in almost every other civil claim of this class he would be the very first port of call, DC Lunn never even provided a witness statement in the these proceedings, and West Yorkshire Police have gone to the most extraordinary lengths to conceal both his true role in the Thatcham investigation and the full extent of his own misdemeanours – and those, it appears, of many others involved in this case. In Lunn’s case that included lying in a post-arrest report about ‘patient records being strewed about the doctor’s home and car’. A matter that both the judge and DI Taylor found very uncomfortable to deal with when when taken to the evidence by Mr Pennock that there was no such occurrence.
The police were, and still are, condoning that alleged conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in order to do so. At least one person, convicted via the tainted Operation Thatcham, has complained to their PSD about the conspiracy, since the conclusion of this civil claim, and the police have sought to disapply the requirement under the Police Reform Act to investigate this very serious matter.
The IOPC (formerly the IPCC), the notoriously toothless ‘police watchdog’, with so much to lose themselves, have also chosen to further break the law by not ‘calling in’ the investigation as a Recordable Conduct matter arising out of civil proceedings. They stonewall any questions about their shielding of the corrupted ex-DC Mark Lunn for over three years in their Wakefield office. The Home Office similarly block any press enquiries on the topic.
Returning to the Nolan judgment, Dr Rashid and his lawyers point to some of the matters that the judge sought to highlight in the background narrative that did not appear to have the necessary relevance to the matters to be determined in this trial or carried disproportionate weight. For example:
– Reference to a company named NK Business Consultants Ltd, and a payment of a £825 administration fee by Dr Rashid to that company, when the police had no knowledge of either the company, or the payment, until alerted by Stuart Davies of the Ministry of Justice on 17th August, 2012, over five months after the arrest. The fact that NK never appeared on the policy log supports that fact. [The judgment goes so far as to say that the payment to NK raised ‘intense suspicion’ pre-arrest based on DI Taylor’s witness box evidence].
– The appointment of his 19 year old nephew as a director of a company Dr Rashid has formed.
– A tenant of Dr Rashid who runs a claims management company, completely unrelated to the organised crime group featuring in Operation Thatcham, or any fraudulent claim, from the downstairs shop premises of the doctor’s private medico-legal offices above (thus keeping his private practice completely separate from his NHS surgeries), is suspected to be his brother. DI Taylor had confirmed in his testimony that ‘there was nothing unusual in this’.
– The police claim that Dr Rashid’s reports are of a poor standard [relying on an ‘eccentric’ doctor who admits to the police he ‘is no expert’ and just happens to be a friend of DC Lunn’s mother] and the scale of fees charged for the reports [which DI Taylor conceded in evidence were consistent with the market rate in the personal injury arena].
– Whilst being questioned about Dr Tedd, DI Taylor conceded that despite the entry on the policy log that the doctor was a family friend of DC Lunn, he knew nothing at all about the relationship until asked about it by Mr Pennock during the trial. ‘It´s actually news to me, even at this late stage’ said the officer purorted by West Yorkshire Police to have been running Operation Thatcham.
– How quality of medical reporting became a police matter rather than a regulatory issue [The GMC in a protracted four year investigation found nothing untoward with the reports].
Conversely and perversely, Dr Rashid and his legal team might well contend, taking the contemporaneous reporting, and their own legal note-taking during the trial, as guides, that much more relevant points were either omitted from the judge’s discussion of the case, or understated as to their relevance within the factual matrix:
– The police were told pre-arrest, by a number of personal injury specialists, that the way in which Dr Rashid runs his private medico-legal practice was not uncommon and the impact that would have on any of the alleged reasonable grounds for arrest or, indeed, its necessity. This was also confirmed by DI Taylor in oral testimony as was the fact that the police had omitted to disclose this in trial documents.
– The refusal of the police to call the arresting officer to give evidence of what he considered the reasonable grounds to be. Or for him to provide a witness statement when at the material time he was working, as a public servant, and for the police watchdog no less, in very close proximity to WYP HQ.
– The failure to preserve, or disclose, one single document where the reasonable grounds for arresting Dr Rashid could be expected to be contemporaneously, and expressly, recorded.
– The alleged failure to apply for an arrest warrant for Dr Rashid at the same time that they applied for a search warrant [In earlier preliminary hearings the police had told the court that there was no arrest warrant, a position they appeared to resile from at the final hearing].
– The failure of the police to produce evidence they seized, showing block appointments, appointment duration, fee charged, standard of reports, payments made and to whom, by other doctors. Especially, those in claims that were ultimately proved to be fraudulent.
– The fact that it is common ground that Dr Rashid never reported on any of the numerous proven fraudulent claims, or the fact that the police cannot prove and refused to disclose, any evidence that could even form a basis to say Dr Rashid had actually reported on a claim even suspected of being fraudulent.
– All the transcripts of Dr Rashid’s audio tapes, taken during patient consultations, are entirely consistent with his subsequent reports. The judge might have anxiously considered whether tape recording these interactions was consistent with alleged wrongdoing. If he did, it was omitted from his verdict.
– The fact that West Yorkshire Police knew pre-arrest that a number of other doctors actually reported on numerous proven fraudulent claims, and at least one of those doctors reported on all 14 fraudulent claimants in a completely fabricated ‘accident’ wherein all were said to have been in the same mini-bus, yet did not suspect that doctor of complicity with those fraudulent claims.
– There is no reference to the use of scripts by personal injury claimants or the fact that the police offered a ludicrous explanation for their absence from the trial bundle.
– The lawfulness of alleged reasonable grounds for arrest to be determined on a communal basis between a team of officers against the alleged reasonable grounds having to be held and believed by the actual arresting officer alone.
– Assuming there were reasonable grounds to suspect Dr Rashid of the stipulated offence, the law requires the police to also prove it was ‘necessary’ to effect an arrest. They already had search warrants for all Dr Rashid’s premises (obviating the need to arrest him to invoke powers of search). DI Taylor’s evidence in court was that he had no reason to suspect Dr. Rashid would not co-operate with them and would have voluntarily attended for questioning. The priority, he said, was obtaining access to his mobile phone.
– The failure by the police to put even one specific allegation to Dr Rashid during 35 hours of interview over a five month period subsequent to the arrest.
– The immediate revelation, within six hours in fact, to the GMC and local Primary Care Trust of the fact that Dr Rashid had been arrested, the grotesque exaggeration of the alleged offences for which he was arrested and the avoidance of required protocol by DC Lunn, and his supervisor DI Taylor, and the circumventing of the WYP Force Disclosure Unit, who would normally undertake such sensitive matters involving regulated professionals. [The extraordinary and unauthorised missives from DC Lunn asserted to the PCT the commission of very serious offences as fact, even before one question had been put to Dr Rashid in interview. They were never, subsequently, corrected].
– The police repeatedly failed to identify any actual fraudulent claim or even suspected fraudulent claim, that Dr Rashid was even involved in.
– None of the medico-legal practitioners who were proved to have reported on fraudulent claims within Operation Thatcham, or indeed on a wider view, were arrested. This included Dr Ayoub whom had reported on the ‘headline’ case in that investigation, a bogus mini-bus crash that resulted in 14 fraudulent claims.
Other mistakes, ambiguities, under- or over-statements in the judgment include:
– No mention of the number of officers attending at Dr Rashid’s arrest (16) or its timing (6.15am).
– Dr Rashid’s release from bail in June 2013 came after a review of their original decision not to charge by a more senior lawyer, requested by the police, not after ‘a review of the evidence’.
– The false, improper and malicious notification to the GMC by DC Lunn is simply noted by the judge as ‘in the course of the investigation WYP notified the GMC’
– The judgment is silent on the point that Dr Rashid’s suspension was quashed by the High Court in September, 2012 after a senior judge presiding in that review, HHJ Mark Gosnell, had observed that ‘the police evidence against him was sparse’. Evidence gathered and put to the court by DI Taylor.
– Judgment records that the Insurance Fraud Bureau ‘assisted with’ Operation Thatcham which is a position from which their press office resiled when asked.
– The judgment asserts that one of the ‘crash for cash’ organisers, Nadeem Khaled, was a Director of Advanced Claims (UK) Ltd. That was not heard in evidence and, in any event, has no grounding in fact – as a simple check at Companies House reveals.
– The judgment repeatedly refers to Concept Accident Management Ltd as ‘Concept Claims’. It also asserts that Khaled was ‘replaced as a director’. It is a matter of public record that he never was an officer of any description in that company.
– A Lamborghini car leased from a finance company in Portsmouth was described as being ‘of dubious provenance’. It was the driver about which there were police and Ministry of Justice concerns, not the vehicle.
– The driver of that vehicle, Fouad El Habbal, was said in the judgment to be 19 or 20 years old. It is a matter of public record that he was 21 years old at the time of his arrest (born May 1990).
– The judge describes the prestigious 4 star Cedar Court Hotel as ‘a budget hotel’.
– The judgment states that CPS lawyer, Julian Briggs, ‘was present on earlier occasions when the team had met’. That, put shortly, was not the evidence of DI Taylor.
– The judgment makes no mention of DI Taylor’s unequivocal evidence that ‘the policy log was compromised‘ by the lack of time, date, entry identification (usually by author’s initials) and its remoteness from police systems.
– A passage in the judgment concerning how the nefarious activities of DC Lunn first came to the attention of senior officers also falls into error. The judge’s acceptance of DI Taylor’s account of events, against the factual matrix and another of the detective’s losses of memory is concerning to say the least.
– The judgment refers to pre-arrest interview notes (that were, strangely, undated and with no author identified): Because they refer to events that only came into the knowledge of the police many months later, they were plainly post-arrest notes.
– During the proceedings the judge referred to a payment by Dr Rashid to a solicitor as a “backhander” (in Yorkshire, and probably elsewhere, a term for a bribe). That is not how the GMC characterised it during their lengthy investigation into Dr Rashid, nor was any such suggestion, oblique or otherwise, heard in evidence from the police officers. The solicitor has never been subject of complaint, application or arrest over that payment.
– The judgment refers twice to the number of Operation Thatcham convictions as 48. That was not heard in evidence and no source is quoted. West Yorkshire Police, by way of a freedom of information request, say the number was 45.
That is a long and troubling list and readers are invited to form their own view as to what might, in the interests of fairness and balance, have been an appropriate level of care, attention and impartiality from the bench and, more crucially, might reasonably be included in the judgment of Mr Recorder Nolan, or excluded, and the impact on his decision to dismiss the claim. His almost complete absence of note-taking, throughout the trial, may have contributed to this catalogue of errors.
There are also similar misgivings from Dr Rashid and his legal team as to how the law was applied to the judge’s finding of fact. They will be dealt with more fully, in a separate article, after Mr Justice Lavender has unpicked the competing arguments and made his decision.
Whatever the outcome of the this appeal by Dr Rashid, neither the police, for the manner in which they routinely conduct civil or tribunal litigation, or the judge who was, arguably, prepared to overlook too many of their shortcomings and sharp practices, emerge with credit. The latter, in the twilight of what appears to have been a distinguished legal career, might well, in future, take a leaf out of the book of the Recorder of Bradford, HHJ Jonathan Hall QC, when presiding over court proceedings. An exemplar in how to conduct any hearing.
UPDATE: Ben Nolan QC is presently the subject of an ongoing complaint concerning an offensive post he made on the social media platform, Twitter. Read more here.
Page last updated: Wednesday 13th May, 2020 at 0900 hours