Hero police officer sues chief constable over racial and religious discrimination

On Thursday 16th January, 2020, at the Leeds Employment Tribunal centre, a final hearing into claims of racial and religious discrimination against West Yorkshire Police will open. A serving police sergeant, Umer Saeed, is the claimant. An accomplished individual, with a BSc degree in Business Administration and Management and over 20 years experience as a police officer; a large part of that in specialist roles.

The hearing is expected to last for twelve court days with some highly-charged evidence expected to be heard from the witness box. Cross-examination is likely to be a lively affair as WYP’s ‘go-to’ counsel, Olivia Checa-Dover, yet again takes the stage. She has recently represented the police in two other high profile civil court cases, featuring a Bradford doctor, Abdul Rashid (read more here) and a retired police constable, Kerry Perkins (read more here).

Umer Saeed is represented by Rebian Solicitors and their instructed barrister is Adam Willoughby of Broadway House Chambers.

As many have done before him, Saeed alleges that the ‘cover-up’ of discrimination, both against him and others in the force area, goes to the very top of the force’s hierarchy. It is anticipated that around twenty witnesses will give testimony to the tribunal, unless their witness statements are admitted into evidence in the meantime. It is customary in these proceedings for the police to turn up with a small army of lawyers, witnesses and observers, regardless of cost to the taxpaying public.

The well-informed might, quite rightly, muse as to why the chief constable did not take steps to compromise the Saeed claim, with its high potential for serious reputational and financial damage to the force. But it may well be that he was overruled by the Police and Crime Commissioner’s highly litigious chief executive, Fraser Sampson. A noted wastrel when public funds are in issue. His wider role also encompasses general counsel to the police, giving him overall control of the force’s legal department. Indeed, from personal experience, I can say that he regards the WYP Head of Legal Services with scarcely concealed disdain.

The PCC signs off all cheques for the police, of course, as part of his statutory remit. His office has not responded to a press enquiry on the subject of diversity and inclusion – and how they come to be facing the class, and scale, of allegations made by Sergeant Saeed.

Interest in the case is, undoubtedly, heightened when one takes into account the standing of Umer Saeed as a nationally known figure in Black and Muslim staff associations. He is Chair of the West Yorkshire Black Police Association, and General Secretary and a Cabinet Member of the National Black Police Association.

He is also a trained Police Federation representative and speaks four languages; Arabic, Punjabi, Slovak, Urdu. He joined the police service in June, 1999.

In February 2015, he received national prominence when he broke into the kitchen window of a burning house and saved the lives of a mother and two young children in Ireland Wood, Leeds. It was an outstanding act of bravery and Saeed had this to say of his heroism: “The smoke was acrid and I couldn’t breathe but I was focused on finding them and getting them out in one piece. It was quite a disorientating situation with the smoke alarm going off.”

His District Commander, Temporary Chief Superintendent Mabs Hussain, quite rightly commended the officer’s work: “PC Saeed clearly displayed the qualities of bravery and professionalism that we so often see from our officers and staff in situations where people are in danger.

“He could see this family needed immediate help and his training gave him the confidence to assess the situation and intervene to bring them to safety from a potentially life-threatening situation.”

Hussain has since moved onto Greater Manchester Police, in controversial circumstances (read more here), and a well placed source on his old patch tells me he has not sustained that support for his fellow BME officer over Saeed’s discrimination claims. This would surprise few close to the seat of the action at both GMP and WYP, as ‘top brass’ closing ranks at the first sign of trouble for them, either individually or as as a police force, is de rigeur. Indeed, Hussain has been reported recently as claiming that well-evidenced and highly publicised criticism of his present chief constable, Ian Hopkins, by some distance the worst in the country (read more here), constitutes ‘a hate campaign‘.

As a footnote, and by way of balance, it should be noted that, back in 2013, Umer Saeed also featured in the high profile Anthony Ramsden case, involving WYP and the thoroughly disgraced Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), following an assault at Leeds United football ground in 2011. A widescale, dishonestly grounded  ‘cover-up’ by both the police force and watchdog was, eventually, exposed.

A High Court case that followed is now an oft-cited legal authority in police complaints cases. Saeed was one of six Police Support Unit (PSU) officers giving evidence whom the force, and the IPCC, claimed ALL corrobated one another. When disclosure was eventually wrested from WYP, not ONE single statement corroborated ANY other. The judgment (read in full here) did not reflect the full transcipt of the proceedings which, at very considerable expense, Mr Ramsden took the trouble to obtain. Another demonstration of the seemingly unwritten public policy of at least some of the local judiciary that demands every conceivable accommodation be granted to West Yorkshire Police when determining matters potentially adverse to the public’s confidence in them.

No criticism of PC Saeed (as he was then) should be inferred: Even though he was the only officer who admitted striking a member of the public, in the subject area outside the Elland Round ground, with his long baton, and, therefore, the one most likely to have hit Mr Ramsden, his witness statement was easily the most frank, and credible, of the six.

I declare a professional interest, having acted as police complaints advocate for Mr Ramsden, and being adjacent to the facts throughout. I also assisted in the placement of widespread local, regional and national media coverage of the case.

Over the past ten years there has been persistent, and often very damaging, publicity over the way West Yorkshire Police treats its black and minority ethnic (BME) officers and, on the evidence of some troubling civil court cases, members of the public of colour, too.

In May 2009, the Sunday Telegraph published an article following the leaking of a dossier that was highly critical of the force’s notorious Professional Standards Department and their discriminatory handling of complaints against BME’s. This followed a series of accusations from the officials at the local branches of the Police Federation and the National Black Police Association. The WYP talking head was Deputy Chief Constable, David Crompton, later to fall into repeated disgrace as chief constable at beleagured South Yorkshire Police (read more here). He denied there was a problem.

In March 2011, PC Kashif Ahmed had all ten charges against him dismissed by a judge at Bradford Crown Court after revelations about the seriously flawed way officers had investigated the case. HHJ Peter Benson, ruling in his favour to stay the prosecution, found that there was a “very significant irregularity and impropriety at the root of the investigation” and the whole process was “tarnished”.

Judge Benson described two police witnesses, Detective Sergeant Penny Morley and Detective Constable Karen Wade who gave evidence in court during Ahmed’s application to dismiss the case, as “evasive.” He went on to say that Morley, who opened a CD document containing privileged contact between Mr Ahmed and his solicitor, had not told the truth. It is beyond incredible that Morley remained a much-favoured officer in WYP’s Professional Standards Department until ‘retiring’ late last year. Her personal friendship with ACC Angela Williams, who has publicly described Morley as ‘wonderful’, enabled her to re-start at WYP as a civilian officer immediately after her warrant card was handed in. Obviously, on this evidence, being called a liar and rubbish at the job, by a circuit judge, is no handicap in the ranks of West Yorkshire Police.

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Kash Ahmed later issued a civil claim against the police alleging a “witch hunt” against him by the PSD officers, led by another disgraced officer, DCI Steve Bennett (read more here). Having to represent himself in court against the force solicitor, experienced counsel and a small army of officers giving evidence against him, his claim, perhaps understandably, only succeeded in part and he had a sizeable costs award ordered against him.

Dr Rashid, whose civil claim is referred to in the second paragraph of this article, is a highly respected professional, of Asian origin, who also claims, with considerable justification, that he was the subject of a “witch hunt” by WYP and that, in the particular circumstances of his case, if he had been a white, middle-class doctor he would not have been subjected to the same degrading, disproportionate, disgraceful treatment. His civil claim was dismissed after a extraordinarily one-sided hearing, but he was recently given permission to appeal the decision of Mr Recorder Nolan QC, by a High Court judge. The hearing of the appeal is presently listed for 13th February, 2020 in the High Court in Leeds.

Olivia Checa-Dover unsuccessfully sought to have me removed from the press seats during the Rashid hearing, questioning my accreditation and claiming (unspecified) inaccuracies in the reporting of the case (read in full here). The other two articles flowing from that ten day court hearing stand unchallenged. One exposes a prima facie case of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by six WYP officers (read the damning details here). Miss Checa-Dover also objected, unsuccessfully, to my presence in the press seats at the hearing of the Kerry Perkins claim, telling opposing counsel that I had a “vendetta” against her. Yet another in an increasingly long line of ludicrous and unsubstantiated submissions. Unsurprisingly, that gained no traction, either. Miss Perkins has also robustly appealed the judgment of HHJ Neil Davey QC, whose decision did not appear to reflect what I heard from the press box. Indeed, one might say that Miss Checa-Dover might well have written it for him.

Dismissing the remaining parts of the Kashif Ahmed claim against the police, which had included negligence, false imprisonment and theft, HHJ Mark Gosnell said: “I fully accept that Mr Ahmed was convinced in his belief that he had been the victim of a witch hunt, but I consider the officers involved merely carried out their jobs to the best of their ability and were not motivated by any ulterior motive in dealing with the claimant.”

West Yorkshire Police then sought to bankrupt the promising young officer, who holds two law degrees and a diploma in policing. Ahmed now works in Bradford as a legal consultant. The genesis of the entire dispute between force and BME officer was over the use of a car parking space behind Millgarth Police Station, in central Leeds, to which DCI Bennett took exception. The same Bennett whom three years earlier had called a junior Asian officer into his office to verbally abuse him, including calling him a c**t, in an attempt to bully the constable into pulling back on an investigation.

That action was later to unravel in the conjoined Operations, Lamp and Redhill, into the ex PC Danny Major miscarriage of justice (read more here). An allegation has been made that Bennett perverted the course of justice in an attempt to protect PC Kevin Liston, arguably one of the worst officers to ever wear a police uniform (read more here) and the key witness against Major.

After the Ahmed and Danny Major ‘investigations’ (the term is used loosely), in which he was senior investigating officer, Bennett was rewarded with promotion to superintendent. I declare a further interest, insofar as I was the on-record complaints advocate for the Major family betwen 2012 and 2015.

A close working colleague of Bennett’s was Chief Superintendent Sarah Brown. In fact, from 2010 to 2011 she was head of WYP’s Professional Standards Department. I had significant dealings with her and found her unreliable and lacking in integrity. Like Bennett, she had also been city commander of Leeds, with its dreadful history of racism, in the earlier part of her career (read more here). Whilst in that role, and under her previous name and rank of Chief Inspector Sarah Sidney, she was at the forefront of a racial discrimination case involving Detective Sergeant Raham Khan that ultimately reached the House of Lords (the senior appellate court in those days) where a damages award to Sgt Khan, upheld in the Court of Appeal, was set aside by three Law Lords. The full judgment can be read here. Put plainly, Khan alleged that Sidney did not promote him on account of his skin colour. A matter she, of course, denied.

In March, 2011 a Bradford minority ethnic, Anwar Gillespie (whom I have met in his home), received substantial damages and an apology from WYP after the intervention of specialist police complaints lawyer, Iain Gould (read more here). Whilst racism was not alleged, Mr Gillespie told me at the time that he felt the colour of his skin was a factor in him being singled out for an unprovoked, unwarranted and brutal attack upon him, outside of his home and in front of his neighbours.

In June 2012, BBC Radio’s File on 4 reported on alleged widespread and serious racism within WYP. The least impressive of the six serving and former police officers interviewed on the programme was Temporary Chief Constable, John Parkinson. He did little, or nothing, to allay concerns. Of the six officers, past and present, interviewed by the BBC, Parkinson came across as the least impressive. Listen to the full broadcast here.

Karma was to visit Ajaz Hussain, who was the force solicitor (later promoted to Legal Services Director) who drove the Raham Khan case all the way to the Lords. In early 2012, there was a reshuffle of the top management in West Yorkshire Police and he lost his job. The roles of Legal Services Director and Force Solicitor (at that time carried out by Mike Percival) both disappeared. A new role was created and Percival was selected to fill it. Hussain then alleged racial discrimination against David Crompton and issued a claim form in the employment tribunal (read more here). The outcome of that claim has never been made public, but it did not pass without controversy and resulted in the suspension of Hussain’s ‘ACPO police friend’, Neil Rhodes, whom at the time was the chief constable of Lincolnshire Police (read more here) and had fallen foul of the duplicity of Fraser Sampson.

In 2013, two police whistleblowers opened up a can of worms into how certain aspects of vital police operations were badly run and lives put at risk by their superior officers within West Yorkshire Police. One of those was a minority ethnic. They were both then subjected to a series of detriments in what appeared to be a concerted campaign to humiliate and smear them. Because of the roles that the officers undertook, for at least parts of their careers, it is unwise to do any more than make reference to the tribunal appeal finding, available in the public domain, which forensically sets out the matters in issue (read more here). It does not make pretty reading for WYP.

In April, 2014 a Bradford woman of African descent, Oluwatoyin Azeez, was viciously assaulted by a police officer who had unlawfully entered her home on the pretext of checking on her lodger. The force went to the most extraordinary, and sustained, lengths to cover up for the perpetrator, who falsely alleged that he had been asaulted by Ms Azeez. That miscreant officer, instead of being drummed out of the force, didn’t even face a misconduct meeting, let alone a criminal court. But, once more, the intervention of solicitor, Iain Gould, was pivotal. At the end of a bitterly fought three year legal battle – again irregardless of the cost to the public purse – Ms Azeez finally received a substantial damages payment and, much more crucially to her, an apology (read the full harrowing story here).

In April 2016, the incumbent chief constable, Dionne Collins, appointed an Asian police constable as the force’s Positive Action Co-Ordinator. The following month Amjad Ditta, a trained firearms officer, was alongside her giving evidence at the Home Affairs Parliamentary Select Committee.

Following publication of the Committee’s Inquiry Report, which called for “urgent and radical” action, Collins acknowledged more needed be done to increase diversity and inclusion among the workforce and said she was determined that the organisation should be more representative of its communities.

“We are currently recruiting police officers for the first time in five years and this gives us an excellent opportunity to increase our workforce not just by people from black and minority ethnic communities, but from all diverse groups, such as people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual.

“The police service has been in the media headlines a lot recently, often for negative reasons. My challenge to people who may be put off by that is, come and find out what West Yorkshire Police is about in 2016. A career with West Yorkshire Police offers genuinely exciting opportunities, but we can only properly serve all our communities by building a truly representative Force and I am determined to do that.”

West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson added: “I have worked with the Temporary Chief Constable (Ms Collins) to ensure we are doing all we can to ensure communities are aware of my commitment to equality and diversity within the organisation and in the police service”.

Whilst Collins and Burns-Williamson were shamelessly uttering these shallow words, before MP’s and the television cameras, they were jointly, ludicrously and very cynically, frustrating the civil claim of Oluwatoyin Azeez. In reality, and grounded in hard evidence, what West Yorkshire Police is about is lying and covering-up – and the commitment to equality and diversity is an expensive box-ticking sham.

Eighteen months after his televised appearance in Parliament, PC Ditta disappeared without trace. With both the force press office and the chief constable refusing to answer my questions regarding his whereabouts or his reason for the removal both from his diversity role and other front line duties. He dramatically re-appeared, over two years later, at Bradford Magistrates Court charged with sexual touching. Supported by his staff association, he is expected to plead not guilty at a plea and trial preparation hearing at the city’s Crown Court on 20th January, 2020. He now answers to the name of Amjad Hussain.

In December, 2017 another race and religious discrimination claim against West Yorkshire Police was compromised on the second day of the final hearing. It is assumed that a confidentiality clause was part of the settlement. No others details are available at present, but enquiries are ongoing. Again, this is on the watch of Dionne Collins: On the one hand preaching diversity and inclusion, on the other officers having to go to court as the force continues to discriminate against them.

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At least two other WYP BME officers appeared Tribunal with racial discrimination claims during this period. Both were, regrettably, unrepresented and had their claims dismissed. One was yet another Collins favourite, PC Tayyaba Afzal, having designed the force’s specialist niqab headwear for Muslim female officers. The other was an applicant for a role as a Driver Trainer.

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PC Amjad Ditta (now known as Hussain) and PC Tayyaba Afzal pictured together in Bradford in 2017.

Dionne Collins was approached for comment. She did not even have the courtesy to acknowledge the communication.

In September, 2018, another case involving a BME officer surfaced as an exclusive on this website, later picked up from here by the national press. The officer concerned, C/Supt Tyron Joyce, was also another favourite of the now retired Collins. Joyce was peremptorily removed from his post as Chief Operating Officer at the National Police Air Service, which shares headquarters in Wakefield with West Yorkshire Police, amidst bullying claims. The complaints investigation into the allegations against Joyce was, unsurprisingly given the incompetents that populate the force’s Professional Standards Department, described as ‘a cack-handed debacle’. He also told a junior colleague at the time: “I’ve been in trouble before with PSD. They tried to do my legs, so I have to be careful what I say to staff” (read more here).

Joyce does, however, always have a trump card to play: In 2013, after the present chief constable, John Robins, (at the time an assistant chief constable) had recommended him for the Police National Accreditation Course (PNAC) it was said by Robins to Tyron Joyce; “You are now my tick in the diversity box“. That may explain why, at the end of the disciplinary process, Joyce was handed the plum chief supers role within WYP: Commander – Operational Support based at, and in charge of, the entire Carr Gate Complex on the outskirts of Wakefield.

I will be reporting from the opening of the Umer Saeed hearing. It promises to be an interesting case: A retired and highly decorated WYP officer told me recently that, whatever the outcome of the tribunal proceedings, the force may well be set back at least a decade in terms of BME recruitment as a result of the adverse publicity the case will attract. As a well-connected person of Asian origin, and one who has defeated WYP in court several times, it is taken as read that he knows exactly what he is talking about.

Finally, it should be remembered that the ‘mother’ of all tribunal claims is a West Yorkshire Police case. Angela Vento, a probationer BME officer, took her force to tribunal following serious discrimination against her in the late 1990’s. Her claim form pleaded racial and sexual discrimination, but the former allegation was dismissed at an early stage by the tribunal.

Eventually the Court of Appeal ruled on the matter and the framework for tribunal awards – and the scales of damages accounting for different levels of detriment – is still in use today. Albeit, the figures have been adjusted upwards to reflect inflation. For the legal nerds amongst my readers they may wish to check out the full CoA judgment (read here).

Page last updated at 1320hrs on Friday 15th January, 2020

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A cuckoo in the nest?

For the second time in just over a month, two days spent in the austere halls of Royal Courts of Justice gave further, and, at times, quite remarkable, insight into the inner workings of five different policing bodies: The Police Federation, a police force Misconduct Panel, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, a Police and Crime Commissioner’s (PCC’s) office and the Chief Police Officers Staff Association (CPOSA).

The two cases are both pathfinding judicial review claims, and the issues that fell to be determined by senior judges will have far reaching implications for both the police service and the wider public. One hearing was very much low key, the other attracted wide media coverage due, in the main, to the presence in court of three high profile policing figures, almost obsessive references to an even higher profile MP (Andy Burnham) and the backdrop of the scandal surrounding the Hillsborough Disaster cover-up by South Yorkshire Police.

Andy Burnham seen arriving at Birchwood Park, Warrington to hear evidence at the new Hillsborough inquests. Alongside is Steve Rotheram MP who has also campaigned tirelessly for bereaved families and survivors.

The first claim, heard on 8th February, 2017, before Mrs Justice McGowan, was listed as Thames Valley Police -v- Police Misconduct Panel (CO/2810/2016). The substantive issue was the challenge by the chief constable of that force to a finding of the Panel at the conclusion of a gross misconduct hearing. It was submitted on the chief’s behalf, via his counsel, Stephen Morley, that the Panel had got the decision ‘badly wrong‘.

The Panel’s finding was that the officer, PC White (named as an Interested Party in the proceedings), facing a breach of order and instructions charge, and multiple neglect of duty charges, should receive a final written warning. The charges against PC White concerned various items of property, to the combined value of £10,000, that he had kept and not actioned on police databases, in one case impacting adversely on a prosecution case. Other evidential materials were also found in his locker, and bag, during a subsequent search, that were not booked in, either.

The chief constable contended that the officer should have been dismissed as a result of ‘integrity failings‘, and the fact that ‘he knew he had done wrong’ and failed to correct his actions. It is the first time since police regulations were changed in 2015 – which affected the composition of Panels amongst other innovations – that such a challenge against a Panel finding has been mounted.

The Misconduct Panel, through its lawyer chairman, declined to take any part in the judicial review proceedings on the grounds that the claim form was improperly served and, in effect, the legal action was a nullity. The defence of the chief constable’s claim was taken up by the Police Federation, on behalf of their member officer, PC White. They were represented by the formidable Alexandra Felix, a specialist criminal and regulatory barrister.  Her submissions, made with some force, could be summarised thus

(i) Dealing with police misconduct matters, including criminal offences, is a management function. ‘It is about learning and development, not punishment’. In this sense, it is set apart from other professional bodies or services.

(ii) Discipline is an operational matter and the chief constable picks the Panel – ‘it’s his Panel‘ and ‘part of the internal process‘. As such, the chief constable did not have the legal capacity to bring these judicial review proceedings.

(iii) The filing and service of the proceedings, in their present form, was a ‘procedural failure’. Civil Procedure Rule 57.4 had not been complied with. As such, the proceedings should be struck out.

There was extended discussion and argument, in which the judge took full part, concerning the meaning of ‘integrity’ and where it falls, in a police misconduct sense, in relation to ‘honesty’. Both, of course, being fundamental requirements of being a police officer under the College of Policing’s Code of Ethics.

Judgment was reserved, pending further written submissions being made by all parties to the claim. It is awaited, with considerable interest, and is likely to become a cited authority whichever way the judge finds.

It was accepted by both counsel present in court that her findings would have far reaching consequences on police misconduct matters, and the role of disciplinary panels within it. Other than the judge, her clerk, three lawyers and the Police Federation representative, I was the only other person present in Court 5 for what had been a fascinating, and highly informative, hearing. Not least, the public airing of the proposition that the powerful, and extremely wealthy, Federation had an almost unshakeable grip on police misconduct matters, concerning all ranks between constable and chief inspector, and the consequent fate of their members accused of either serious misconduct, or criminal offences. If the Fed takes up an officer’s cause, removal from the police service is nigh impossible. But, if the rank and file ‘union’ withdraws support, then the officer concerned is, almost inevitably, cast to the dogs.

To those not so familar with the labyrynthine processes of the police misconduct regulations, it is worth pointing out that it is not within a chief constable’s very considerable powers to simply dismiss a police officer . All the necessary steps, within the statutory framework, have to be followed. Whether he (or she) agrees, or not.

The second judicial review application, a much higher profile case and played out before a packed Court 3, has already been the subject of two articles on this website [1] ‘Bad on their merits‘ (preview of the hearing based on disclosed pleadings) and [2] ‘Much ado about nothing’ (a report of proceedings in David Crompton -v- Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire). 

This article focuses on the specific roles of the South Yorkshire PCC, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary (HMCIC) and the Chief Police Officers’ Staff Association (CPOSA) in those proceedings, heard before Lady Justice Sharp and Mr Justice Garnham, and their approach to both evidential and misconduct matters.

The Chief Inspector, Sir Thomas Winsor, is one of the key links the joins the two cases, as he was a member of the Misconduct Panel that found ACC Rebekah Sutcliffe guilty of gross misconduct in the controversial ‘Boobgate‘ scandal, but deemed that a final written warning was the appropriate sanction. Most observers, including her own chief constable, felt she should have been dismissed from Greater Manchester Police. ACC Sutcliffe has been sent out on secondment to Oldham Borough Council and is unlikely to undertake an operational policing role again.

PCC Alan Billings was, of course, listed as defendant in the case and present in court throughout the hearing, alongside his chief executive, Michelle Buttery, and Communications Manager, Fiona Topliss. it was argued, on his behalf, before the court, that he had followed misconduct procedure (in this case Section 38 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibilty Act, 2011) to the letter. Albeit, ignoring the advice of HMCIC along the way (as he was lawfully entitled to do).

The court also heard that two press releases, issued after the Hillsborough inquest jury determinations, were not the catalyst for former chief constable’s suspension (the main limb of Crompton’s claim). But, rather, the straw that broke the camel’s back. There are many, including me, who believe Dr Billings, accepted on all hands as a decent, honourable man, should have stepped in sooner.

Since he was elected in October, 2013 there must have been deep concerns about the constant adverse publicity that Crompton brought to his force over such as his notably poor handling of the Rotherham abuse scandal, and the infamous Cliff Richard/BBC farrago, over which the pop star is now claiming in excess of £1 million damages [3]. For example, the embattled police chief suffered a series of severe maulings at the hands of the all-party Home Affairs Select Committee (see the 3rd September, 2014 session below, courtesy of The Needle Blog).

The chairman of that committee concluded, after hearing the evidence by David Crompton, that it was incompetence on a grand scale on the part of South Yorkshire Police.

The appearance of CPOSA in the Crompton claim comes by way of legal costs support for the former SYP chief constable. To the independent-minded observer this is a huge investment for, potentially, very little return. The claim was brought on the premise that if a decision to, firstly, suspend the disgraced chief constable then, ultimately, force his resignation, was quashed, it would ‘restore his damaged reputation‘. Which relies entirely on the premise that David Crompton’s reputation was not irreparably destroyed BEFORE he was suspended. On any reasonable view, it was in tatters, and ‘Disaster Dave‘ as he was dubbed in the national press in 2014, had, indisputably, been under constant media (and Parliamentary) attack from his very first week in office in April, 2012.

Very few people are aware that, at the time of his appointment to head up South Yorkshire Police, David Crompton was under investigation by the IPCC, who were managing an investigation by one of his former forces, Greater Manchester Police (GMP), into misconduct and racism allegations made by former West Yorkshire Police Legal Services Director, Ajaz Hussain. Crompton, as far as I can trace, has never spoken publicly about this. The officer investigating the Hussain complaints, David Whatton, had been a GMP senior officer colleague of Crompton’s between 2002 and 2004. Whatton, on any reasonable view a perverse choice of investigating officer, ultimately cleared Crompton of wrongdoing.

The proposition, therefore, appears to be that CPOSA will rally round a chief officer, however incompetent and discredited he (or she) appears to be. Given that it is an organisation that has, over the years received an extraordinary, and controversial, amount of public funding [3a] then such unconditional support is very troubling indeed.

Chief constables, and their deputies and assistants, are expected to set the highest possible standards and, to the man (or woman on the Clapham omnibus, it would seem entirely improper that they should they provide mutual aid to those that don’t cut the mustard. In this context, it was a suprise to me, at least, that a former chief constable I hold in high regard, Neil Rhodes, was alongside David Crompton for almost all of the two day hearing. In a curious twist of fate, Rhodes was also CPOSA friend to Hussain which had led to another high profile court drama in 2013 [3b].

Tom Winsor is, plainly, a busy man. He did, however, find time to spend the entire two days of the Crompton claim in court, following proceedings assiduously – as one would expect of a successful, and highly experienced, regulatory lawyer. Indeed, as claim and counter-thrust was made in submissions, by counsel for the various represented parties, it became clear that the Crompton case was not about the former SYP chief, at all. It was brought as a means for policing bodies to continue to police themselves, as they have done for almost two centuries. Sir Thomas is the cuckoo in the nest – and he is not at all content to eat scraps from any elected official’s table. Particularly, one who may be minded to remove a chief constable against his specific advice which, it was advanced on behalf, should be regarded as akin to statutory guidance. His criticism of the decision making, and capacity, of Dr Billings, the PCC in question, pulled no punches.

But is Sir Thomas, himself, above criticism in this matter? Definitely not, on the basis of submissions made to the court on his behalf: There are four key issues that invite scrutiny:

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Sir Thomas Winsor, who took over as Chief Inspector in September, 2012 had previously made his name as a highly regarded lawyer and reforming rail regulator

(i) His HMIC inspection of South Yorkshire Police in June 2015 rated the force as ‘good’. A peer review in May 2016, managed by the College of Policing and the interim chief constable, Dave Jones, and involving a number of experts in their specialist fields, found serious failings in the management and operational effectiveness of the force [4]. The disparity between HMIC’s findings and the peer review is, so far, unexplained. It was not directly tested in court, although it formed part of the written submissions made on behalf of the PCC. In another curious turn of events, just two weeks after the court hearing concluded another HMIC inspection saw SYP heavily criticised.

(ii) It was asserted, without any evidence, supporting information or details of source, that public confidence was NOT adversely affected by David Crompton’s running of the police force in South Yorkshire. Contrast that with ample, and highly informed, feedback from a large number of elected representatives (MP’s, MEP’s and councillors) in the locality, and the public who interacted either with DrBillings personally, or via his office. Plus an almost weekly round of stinging media criticism of the force, and one might take the view Dr Billings was in a much better position to take a stance on this issue.  Indeed, it was his emphatic view that confidence in his chief constable had almost ebbed away when the decision was taken to suspend him. Even the Home Secretary of the day, Theresa May, knew the game was up for Crompton and South Yorkshire Police. It was, therefore, nothing short of astonishing that, from his London office, Sir Thomas could deem otherwise. A fair-minded observer might take the view that his motivation for doing so ought to be examined independently.

(iii) The proposition was advanced, on his behalf, that Sir Thomas had a ‘bird’s eye view‘ of the performance of police forces and, therefore, by default, chief constables. There seemed no good reason to single out Crompton for opprobium. Which, given the beleagured South Yorkshire chief’s well chronicled list of failings, turns attention to how bad some of the other chief constables must be, if Crompton is not ranked below them. It may also explain why so many chief officers have left the police service, in disgrace, over the past five years. Often retiring to avoid disciplinary sanction.

(iv) Much was made in court of the fact that Crompton had broadcast an apology, on behalf of his disgraced force on 12th September, 2012, the day of the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report. Reinforced, it was said by another apology on the day of the jury determinations at the new inquests. It was claimed, in court, on behalf of both Crompton and HMCIC that he had not resiled from those apologies. That was, quite simply, incorrect. Crompton’s true feelings and views about the Hillsborough Disaster – and the role of the Liverpool fans in it – were exposed in the national press following disclosure of emails sent both internally to other South Yorkshire Police officers and, externally, to other senior policing figures, notably Sir Norman Bettison and Sir Hugh Orde. Crompton challenged the Panel Report as one sided, and wanted to set up a PR offensive to counteract the bereaved families fight for truth, then justice [5]. Sir Thomas Winsor, and his his legal team, were silent on this point. Did he not know, or was it just another Crompton flaw that he was, conveniently, prepared to overlook?

The sum of all these parts is that HMIC, and their Chief Inspector, are not all they crack up to be. Others have raised well evidenced doubts concerning the police force inspections they carry out and, particularly, their lack of rigour. But that is not the chief concern: As a watchdog, with a crucial role in maintaining confidence in those charged with the public’s safety and security, how can Sir Thomas sit there, stony faced, and allow unevidenced assertions, and in some parts, what may be considered as untruths, about the policing abilities of, and the public confidence in, David Crompton to be presented as fact?

Another unspoken factor may have been the career record of Sir Dan Crompton, David’s father, which ended with service as a leading light in none other than Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. Crompton senior’s own adverse views on Hillsborough, and those bereaved families campaigning for justice, are also well known and for which he has steadfastly refused to apologise since they were first made public in 2013 [5].

Running a protectorate for the incompetent is, presumably, not what Her Majesty the Queen would have had in mind when she touched Tom Winsor’s shoulder with her sword in September, 2013. The revelations on the Strand, on two sunny days at the end of March, 2017, may yet be scrutinised, a short distance away along London’s riverside, before an MP’s Select Committee.

Page last updated: Thursday 13th April, 2017 at 1405hrs

[1] Neil Wilby – ‘Bad on their merits‘  24th January, 2017

[2] Neil Wilby – ‘Much ado about nothing’  29th March, 2017

[3] Neil Wilby – ‘David Crompton – The South Yorkshire Years’ 27th April, 2016

[3a] Yorkshire Post – Payouts to legal fund of shamed top officers set for axe 22nd January, 2013

[4] Daily Star – ‘Hillsborough Email Smear‘ 24th February, 2013

[5] uPSD WYP – ‘Sir Dan Crompton’  16th June, 2017

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.

Copyright: Neil Wilby 2015-2017. Unauthorised use or reproduction of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from and links to the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Much ado about nothing?

An employment dispute that began in a glass fronted office block close to the Meadowhall Shopping Centre in Sheffield, was, eventually, played out in the hallowed halls of the Royal Courts of Justice on London’s Strand eleven months later.

It was no ordinary job, however, and the offices were those shared by the South Yorkshire Police (SYP) and its Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC). The Chief Constable of the beleaguered force was David Crompton and he was suspended from duty, by the PCC, Dr Alan Billings, on the afternoon of 27th April, 2016.

crompton-and-billings
South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, endorses his chief constable, David Crompton, within minutes of being elected to office in October, 2013.

Crompton ultimately resigned on 29th September, 2016 at the end of a process empowered by section 38 of the Police and Social Responsibility Act, 2011 (the Act).

At the time of his suspension, Crompton had already set his date for retirement from the force – which was planned to be 30th November, 2016.

A rolled-up permission and substantive judicial review hearing opened on 28th March, 2017 before Lady Justice Sharp and Mr Justice Garnham. David Crompton is the Claimant, the PCC, Dr Alan Billings, is Defendant and there are two interested parties: Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary (HMCIC), Sir Thomas Winsor, and the Police and Crime Scrutiny Panel for South Yorkshire (PCP).

Dr Billings was present throughout the hearing, as was Sir Thomas and David Crompton. The latter was accompanied by his wife and daughter, together with retired Lincolnshire Police chief constable, Neil Rhodes, who was there in his capacity as Chief Police Officers Staff Association (CPOSA) ‘friend’. CPOSA are funding the claim through a contributory insurance scheme.

Rhodes is no stranger to these type of proceedings and successfully overturned a controversial suspension by the then Lincolnshire PCC, Alan Hardwick, in 2013.

Submissions were heard, for most of the first day of the hearing, from counsel for the claimant and HMCIC (Hugh Davies QC and Clive Sheldon QC respectively) which amounted to much the same thing: The decision of the PCC was taken in haste, not properly thought through, was defective in process, failed to apply due weight to HMCIC’s findings and undertaken with a political, rather than a policing, agenda.

Further, the PCC chose to ignore the recommendation of HMCIC which, it was advanced, on his behalf, a considered, objective and expert review of the section 38 process that the PCC had set in train.

As such, the decision by the PCC to, effectively, dismiss the chief constable was born of ‘political imperative rather than objectivity’, ‘disproportionate‘ and ‘irrational’. He had also taken account of ‘irrelevant considerations‘ when later justifying the decision. It was further argued that the decision under challenge infringed on David Crompton’s Article 8 convention rights as it impacted on his family and future employability. Mr Davies had earlier described him as ‘a highly effective chief constable‘.

There were no allegations made by the PCC, against his chief constable, of breaches of Standards of Professional Behaviour which apply to all police officers.

A declaration by the court that the actions of the PCC were unlawful is sought by the claimant. Which, it is said, would go some way to restoring his ‘damaged reputation‘ [1].

In the submission of Mr Sheldon, the events that led to the suspension centred on the jury determinations at the new Hillsborough inquests – and two SYP press releases that followed. The second press release included the words ‘other contributory factors‘ as causes of blame for the stadium disaster. Much attention is focused on the meaning and intent behind those words. He said, with some force, that accountability – as called for by Andy Burnham – did not necessarily mean that ‘heads should roll‘.

When asked (not for the first time) by Lady Justice Sharp where – with a wide discretion of decision making – the boundaries were, Mr Sheldon submitted that ‘the correct test was the old-fashioned Wednesbury approach on reasonableness‘. There had, he said, been no damage to effectiveness and efficiency of the force as a result of the chief constable’s leadership, and common law recognises that the Wednesbury test is dependent in each case on the facts. Mr Sheldon also stated, with some emphasis, that ‘There was no loss of public confidence in South Yorkshire Police‘.

Although not a party to proceedings, the name of Andy Burnham, MP and Shadow Home Secretary, was mentioned more than any other by counsel. He had called for accountability from SYP following the findings of the new Hillsborough inquests. According to counsel, the chief constable was the main target of criticism. The significance of a telephone call from a male bereaved family member, and prominent Hillsborough campaigner, to Dr Billings, just ten minutes before the PCC suspended his chief constable, was also raised in court.

The advocate for the PCP, Adrian Phillips, made brief submissions to the effect that the Panel saw their role as peripheral to these proceedings, they were neutral on its outcome and, accordingly, their decision should not fall for scrutiny by this court. He also, helpfully, explained to the court the statutory composition of a scrutiny panel and how it came to be, in an area such as South Yorkshire, that the Labour Party would be almost entirely dominant. He rejected the proposition, advanced by the claimant, that the Panel’s decision was born of political bias.

Jonathan Swift QC spoke eloquently, and persuasively, on behalf the PCC. The main thrust of his submissions, which took up almost the entirety of the second day of the hearing, was that the decision taken by Dr Billings (to conclude the section 38 process by asking CC Crompton to resign) was one that was reasonably open to him to make, by way of his statutory responsibilty to hold the chief constable to account under section 1 of the Act. He also maintained that all necessary processes had been correctly followed, including the required consultations with HMCIC and the PCP.

In rejecting one of the claimant’s (and HMCIC’s) main thrusts of argument, Mr Swift said that their was no statutory requirement for the PCC to give special weight to the views of Sir Thomas. He had considered those carefully and, in his discretion, had rejected those views.

He also invited the court to view the decision to suspend the chief constable through a wider lens, that brought into view an increasing discontent with the running of the police force in South Yorkshire. Particularly, in the months prior to the announcement of the Hillsborough inquest verdicts. Most notably, with the ongoing controversy of the handling of the aftermath of the Jay Report.

It was not, Mr Swift advanced, a spur of the moment decision, triggered by events in Parliament during an exchange between Mr Burnham and the then Home Secretary, Theresa May.

There were also submissions from Mr Swift concerning both the timeliness and merits of three of the decisions challenged by the claimant:

(i) To suspend the chief constable

(ii) To reject the advice of HMCIC and continue with the section 38 process

(iii) To refer the matter to the PCP

In respect of the remaining decision – to finally ask the chief constable to resign –  Mr Swift agreed that permission for judicial review should be given to the claimant as the matter was, quite plainly, arguable. But, at the same time, invited the court to dismiss this fourth ground on its merits.

Mr Swift curtly also dismissed the alleged breach of Article 8 as being without merit.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Lady Justice Sharp told the court that judgment will be reserved on both the permission and substantive issues. The judgment is unlikely to be handed down before May 2017.

It is estimated that the two day hearing, with four legal teams representing the various parties, will end up costing either David Crompton’s insurers, or the South Yorkshire taxpayer, in the order of £150,000. And for what, the reader might legitimately ask? It seems, on the face of the submissions, that the claim was brought with two purposes in mind: To restore the reputation of David Crompton (there is no financial remedy either sought, or available, via this legal process) and to give HMCIC the final word in future section 38 processes as to whether a chief constable is dismissed, or not.

A preview of the court case, first published in January, 2017, in which the arguments of all parties is examined in some detail can be read on this website: ‘Bad on their merits‘ [2]

Page last updated Saturday 8th March, 2017 at 2055hrs

[1] Neil Wilby May 2015 – David Crompton: The South Yorkshire Years

 

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.

Copyright: Neil Wilby 2015-2017. Unauthorised use or reproduction of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from and links to the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.