The dreaded vote of confidence

She has acted with the utmost integrity“.

So says Greater Manchester’s high profile Mayor, Andy Burnham, as part of a limp vote of confidence in his under-siege deputy, Baroness Beverley Hughes.

Except that she didn’t.

The Burnham endorsement came as part of a blustery defence of the sly, duplicitous, incompetent handling of a serious complaint against her chief constable, Ian Hopkins.

‘Bev’, as she prefers to style herself, is the de facto police and crime commissioner (PCC), as part of the region’s devolutionary structure under the Greater Manchester Combined Authority umbrella. With Mayor Burnham at its point.

Her responsibilities include dealing with complaints against the chief constable. She is, to use the correct regulatory terminology, the ‘appropriate authority’  in such matters.

The complaint against Hopkins concerns an allegation of lying in a press statement he made in response to an excoriating article that appeared in The Times newspaper in June, 2018 [Read statement here and article here].

Remarkably, as the alert reader will have noticed, the expression “acted with the utmost integrity” was also embedded in that statement from the under-siege chief constable. In it, Hopkins also gratuitously smeared police whistleblower, Peter Jackson, a highly respected former senior investigating officer with Greater Manchester Police .

Hopkins also, repeatedly, claimed that there was no ‘cover-up’ mentality within GMP and expressed confidence in the Independent Police Complaints Commission, and their ability to carry out rigorous investigations into alleged misconduct of his officers.

To anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of GMP, or the IPCC (now re-badged as IOPC), that was an assertion beyond ludicrous. Even before taking account of the uncomfortably incestuous relationship between the two, that has led to some appalling miscarriages of justice. Notably, in the ‘investigations’ following the deaths of Jordon Begley and Anthony Grainger at the hands of the police.

The latter case has been back in the headlines again, very recently. The Crown Prosecution Service declined to bring charges against ex-assistant chief constable Steve Heywood for lying, and falsifying evidence, at the public inquiry into Anthony’s death. Heywood has been allowed to retire on full, gold-plated pension, claiming he ‘didn’t intend to mislead‘. A familiar claim if you are a senior police officer, or elected policing body, in Manchester.

In the event, Hopkins’ press statement did not age well: Just three days, in fact. A video clip, published on The Times website on 26th June, 2018, shows Hopkins rubbishing the IPCC’s  investigative capability. Their alleged efficacy had, of course, underpinned the defence of GMP’s probity in his now infamous press statement (view The Times film here).

His reputation was, again, in tatters and, significantly, there was no statement put out by the media-savvy chief constable on this occasion.

Insiders say that the focus of the enraged Hopkins was not on an apology and reparation, but, instead, on a GMP counter corruption unit ‘witch-hunt’ for the source of the video clip, identifying how it leaked out of the force and to stem the flow of other information reaching journalists. They drew a blank.

These actions do not sit easily with Hopkins’ robust denials of a propensity to ‘cover-up’ senior officer wrongdoing. There is also a genuine concern that unlawful surveillance may be in use against journalists critical of GMP.

The Times‘ Crime and Security Editor, Fiona Hamilton, whose own integrity and journalistic capability were also attacked by Hopkins’ gratuitous, self-serving missive, responded further, and robustly, in a follow-up article on 15th October, 2018; ‘Police chief “misled” public over boy in abuser’s lair’ (Read here).

Hopkins’ lie about a referral he claimed to have made to the IPCC, in what became Operation Poppy 1 and 2, was ruthlessly exposed. In the same moment, The Times, and one its senior journalists, were both fully vindicated. It was the same plucky Australian, Fiona Hamilton, backed by the full might of The Times, who called for a public inquiry into Greater Manchester Police over high-level ‘corruption’ and ‘cover-up’ in an article published in December, 2017 (read here) and repeated in a stinging Times leader, ‘Murk in Manchester’ two months later (read here).

Again, there was no rebuttal statement from the chief constable over the latest Op Poppy revelations, and no apology for the smears against Hamilton and Jackson. The GMP press office refused to answer questions about the particulars of the untruth.

Meanwhile, Pete Jackson had lodged a complaint with the deputy mayor, over the Hopkins’ press statement alleging breaches of honesty and integrity. Very serious matters, on any independent view.

Bev’s own antecedents are both interesting and relevant. They include resigning from a Ministerial post after apparently lying on BBC Newsnight in 2004, over an immigration ‘scam’ (read BBC article here). At the time, she claimed she had “unwittingly misled” fellow MP’s and the media.

Five years later, Beverley Hughes was caught up in the Daily Telegraph‘s investigation into MP’s expenses. It was revealed that she rented a second home in London with running costs of £1,000 per month in rent, her cleaner was paid £150 per month, and she was claiming £350 per month for food allowance. There were also one-off claims for £801.60 for reupholstering furniture, £718 on a chair and £435 on curtains and for bedding.

Bev announced her decision to stand down as Children’s Minister, and as an MP, shortly afterwards, citing “personal reasons”. She maintained at all times that her expense claims were “appropriate”.

More recently, and, perhaps, most crucially, Beverley Hughes in her role as PCC, had also made a statement following The Times article in June, 2018 that, incredibly, and in its entirety, supported the one made by her chief constable. It was also an unvarnished attack on Pete Jackson (read her full statement here). In her concluding paragraph she says: “The article …… is deplorable, totally unjustified and completely wrong.”

It should be noted that she claims some of the allegations against very senior GMP officers, made by Pete Jackson and a group of other retired, and very well respected, former police officers, have been extensively examined (not investigated). They would all beg to differ.

She added: “Those who claim to have further information have been asked to bring it forward and it has been made clear that we will act on any new evidence. However, none has been forthcoming”.

That all changed when on 6th August, 2018 a meeting between Peter Jackson, Maggie Oliver and Paul Bailey, former chair of National Black Police Association and the Mayor and Deputy Mayor, her chief executive, Clare Monaghan, and the Mayor’s political spin doctor and right hand man, Kevin Lee, took place at Churchgate House, the Mayor’s HQ. The sole topic for discussion was the disclosures made by the whistleblowers, and the further information that ‘Bev’ was, purportedly, seeking so as to justify a fresh investigation.

Bev’s poor attitude, facial expressions, body language and general conduct, during that meeting, was drawn to her attention both at the time, and in comprehensive, and contemporaneous notes of the meeting, provided by the whistleblowers to GMCA. She plainly found the whole process of listening to incontrovertible accounts of GMP wrongdoing highly distasteful. The only challenge to Pete Jackson’s copious notes, by the Mayor’s office, concerned Bev’s gurning. Which was an oddity, as she was facing the three whistleblowers, but sat alongside those who said she wasn’t face-pulling. The rest of his notes, on very serious and extensive police officer misconduct, drew no comment

Mr Lee had spent most of the time fiddling with his mobile phone, and appeared calculatingly disinterested in the meeting, so he couldn’t have seen anything, in any event.

Four months later, the whistleblowers still await any form of substantive response from the Mayor’s office, who stonewall requests for updates. There is no indication that any of the allegations have been severity assessed and passed over for investigation to an outside police force. There is no Decision Notice published, as required by the Elected Policing Bodies (Specified Information) Regulations that would record such action.

With her press statement in mind, together with her crass behaviour during the meeting with the police whistleblowers, the spectre of bias, therefore and unavoidably, raises its head when Beverley Hughes is dealing with a complaint by Jackson against Hopkins. Even at the unconscious level, an issue recognised as a deep-rooted problem within policing bodies.

The outcome into the Jackson complaint against the chief constable, delivered on 21st September, 2018, in a surprisingly short letter, and the subsequent appeal to the IOPC, has, almost inevitably, become the subject of the latest, and not inconsiderable, controversy to engulf ‘Bev’. It is believed to be the third complaint made against Chief Constable Hopkins since she took up the role of PCC in 2017. One was recorded and referred to the IPCC; the other was not recorded as it had been made by a serving officer, which is impermissible under the Police Reform Act, 2002. This information is drawn from confidential complaint documents passed to Neil Wilby.

‘Bev’ has repeatedly claimed that she conducted an ‘investigation’ into the Hopkins dishonesty allegations yet, counter-intuitively, determined its outcome by a process known as local resolution. Entirely inappropriate in the circumstances and, particularly, given what is in issue: The career and reputation of the chief officer of the fourth largest police force in the UK.

An appeal against the outcome, by the complainant, made to the IOPC, resulted in the police watchdog directing the deputy mayor to disclose the details of her alleged investigation to Pete Jackson.

‘Bev’ was given 28 days to do so, which, taken at its face, might seem an inordinate length of time to send an email and attaching a document that ought to be already resting on GMCA’s computer servers.

After several follow-ups from Jackson, protesting at the delay in disclosure, ‘Bev’ sent him a letter, on the 30th day, having ignored a lawful direction from a statutory regulator, saying there was no documentation relating to an ‘investigation’. Nothing. Not a single scrap of paper. Which the canny ex-murder detective had suspected all along, of course.

On any independent view, the constant references to an investigation having taken place, repeated to the IOPC, were false. Invented. Made-up. A lie.

Which takes us back to the opening lines of this article. The Deputy Mayor most certainly did not act with ‘utmost integrity’ and the claim that she did, by Mayor Burnham, seriously undermines his own credibility.

Crucially, the watchdog’s caseworker, whom, for legal reasons, cannot be named here, is now a witness to what may amount to a criminal offence, misconduct in public office. To lie to Pete Jackson is one thing, to set out to deceive a statutory regulator is quite another.

There is also the blackest of irony here in ‘Bev’ trying to convince a senior detective, who’s conducted 1,000’s of investigations, many into very serious crimes, what an investigation should comprise. She, as far as can be gleaned from her CV, has never conducted one before in her entire career.

Even worse, the basic documentation, action plan and communications with the complainant, that support a disposal of a complaint by local resolution were also completely absent. These are embedded in the IOPC’s Statutory Guidance and section 22 of the Police Reform Act, 2002. There can be no mistaking their specification, and necessity. If she needed clarification, Andy Burnham was Parliamentary Private Secretary to David Blunkett, at the time the latter was the promoter of that particular legislation.

The inescapable conclusion is that the ‘local resolution’ outcome, claimed by ‘Bev’, was also an invention. Another lie.

At this point, as social media is agog with the latest Manchester police scandal, in steps the Mayor himself, again: Andy Burnham writes to Pete Jackson and only succeeds in making the situation worse. Much worse, it must be said. He repeats the claim about an ‘investigation’ and conflates it with ‘local resolution’. Thus putting his own integrity into question:

“The Deputy Mayor has explained that your initial complaint was concluded through the local resolution process. This process quite rightly involved an investigation into the allegations you made. However, as you may be aware, no investigation report is produced at the conclusion of the local resolution process.”

He is bluffing, and plainly badly advised: An investigation has many characteristics, but making a phone call to the person complained about and receiving ‘assurances’ that it was ‘all a bit of a rush and a misunderstanding’ wouldn’t be one to rely on. Burnham then adds this:

“Following the decision of the IOPC to uphold your appeal and having consulted senior officials at the IOPC, the Deputy Mayor and I have decided to commission a local investigation which will be fully compliant under the terms of the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2012 and therefore its validity beyond doubt.”

Burnham doesn’t offer any explanation, or apology, to Jackson, as to why the initial process didn’t even begin to be compliant. He also fails to disclose why he has acted outside the Police Reform and Responsibility Act in having informal discussions with the IOPC, rather than referring the matter to them for a mode of investigation decision, to be made by the watchdog, not the PCC or the Mayor.

As crucially, what the Mayor doesn’t say is WHO will be carrying out the investigation into the allegation that Ian Hopkins has lied in a public statement. Again, with not a little irony, about a referral to the IOPC.

It also appears that Burnham is minded to attempt to conduct a second complaints process without involving the complainant. In response, ex-Supt Jackson has made it crystal clear that he expects a Section 9 Criminal Justice Act statement to be taken, as there is now a misconduct in public office allegation against Hughes. An allegation of a criminal offence from a retired senior police officer, that the Mayor seems to have airily dismissed without referring the matter to a police force, other than, possibly, GMP, for investigation.

Mr Burnham also does not make clear whether the PCC and appropriate authority, Beverley Hughes, is excluded from the process as a result of her catastrophic failings in the first attempted disposal of the complaint. Both she, and the statutory officer advising her, Clare Monaghan, appear to be clueless about the applicable legal framework in respect of complaints: ‘Bev’ is automatically excluded from the process having been involved in an abandoned local resolution. IPOC’s Statutory Guidance makes this clear.

Mrs Monaghan was also surprisingly unresponsive when approached by a card-carrying journalist to ascertain that she was, in fact, the statutory officer required to support a police and crime commissioner. Given that her total cost to the taxpayer is approaching £170,000 per annum, the salary cost of eight police officers on the beat, better might be expected of her.

Mayor Burnham signed off his letter to Pete Jackson not only with the dreaded ‘vote of confidence’ but, also, what appears to be a veiled threat:

“There can, therefore, be no suggestion that the Deputy Mayor has lied or acted with anything other than utmost integrity throughout this process. I ask you not to repeat your accusations.”

A politician is, effectively, telling a police officer with 31 years exemplary service, latterly as Manchester’s top detective, what does, or does not, constitute an untruth. This is Pete Jackson’s response:

“All [Beverley Hughes] actions suggest anything but that [utmost integrity]. There has been zero communication, zero consultation and zero documentation provided. Can you imagine how a police officer would be received at court if they had taken such a clandestine, secretive approach to an investigation with no records or documentation to show what they had done? Do you think the court would determine that the officer had acted with ‘the utmost integrity throughout’?”

“All I have seen is delays, prevarication and a response to my complaint that has engendered complete and utter mistrust.”

There has been no response, as yet, from the Mayor to that compelling argument.

But the Mayor and Deputy Mayor’s present problems aren’t confined to a dishonesty complaint about the chief constable. ‘Bev’ is facing one herself from investigative journalist, Neil Wilby. The genesis is a highly contentious freedom of information request which has again caused Bev’s integrity, and compliance with statutory obligations, to be questioned.

The requested disclosure concerns the circumstances surrounding the appointment of GMP’s newest member of the command team, Assistant Chief Constable Maboob ‘Mabs’ Hussain.

It seems that, caught out by other disclosure made to that same requester, on the same topic, from Greater Manchester Police, ‘Bev’ has provided a false outcome. She claims that, after appropriate searches were conducted, not a single scrap of paper was retrieved, or available to be lawfully disclosed. No notes, no diary entries, no telephone logs, no meeting notes, no meeting notes, no interview agenda, nothing.

Even taken at its face, any independent reviewer would find that far-fetched. Also, the GMP disclosure strongly indicates otherwise.

Having been forced to make a request for the false finalisation to be reviewed internally, the first paragraph of what is a quite brutal examination of the shortcomings of Beverley Hughes reads thus: “This is a response so deceitful, calculatingly so, in my respectful submission, that section 77 of the Act may well be engaged. For convenience, I attach a copy of the relevant section of the Act. As the Deputy Mayor should be aware, not knowing the law is not a defence.”

The review request goes on to say: “Further, and in any event, there is no provision in the Police and Social Responsibility Reform Act, 2011 for secret meetings, absent of written record, to take place between a chief constable and an elected policing body concerning the appointment of his assistants. The proposition, advanced in the finalisation of this request, is, accordingly, deeply concerning. Again, the Deputy Mayor is most strongly urged to seek appropriate, independent legal advice before attempting to maintain this position following internal review.”

Three reminders to comply with the Freedom of Information Act have not persuaded ‘Bev’ to swing into action. In fact, the last two have been completely ignored and the Information Commissioner’s Office is now seized of the matter. No rebuttal of the direct challenges to her integrity has been provided in the ensuing two months.

The full correspondence trail from the What Do They Know website can be read here. It presents ‘Bev’ again as incompetent, a prevaricator and prepared to indulge both in deception and breaching an Act of Parliament.

As an elected policing body, her position might now be argued as being untenable. The question should also be asked how, given her past history, she came to be handed the role in the first place.

This extract from Wikipedia sums up Baroness Beverley Hughes, another disgrace to this country’s honours system, as neatly as any other anecdote: In July 2001, she received significant ridicule and criticism in the media after it was revealed that, along with other politicians, she had repeatedly denounced an edition of the Channel 4 television show Brass Eye as being “unbelievably sick”, but then subsequently admitting that she’d never seen it – and refused to ever watch it. The programme was, in fact, parodying hysteria surrounding the issue of paedophilia and the media, thus commentators suggested that extreme reactions such as those by Hughes had in fact emphasised the need for such programming. Sir Paul Fox criticised Hughes and her colleagues, suggesting they “have to have the courtesy to have seen the programme before they go in at the deep end”, with Christopher Howse even more critical, suggesting “it was as if paedophilia were sacred and not to be blasphemed against” and that the IDIOCY of Hughes’ performance on the affair was “hard to beat”.

That last line could well be repeated over her performance in handling the complaint against her chief constable. Taking a wider view, in the Hopkins case she repeats her delivery of a pre-formed judgement, without considering any of the evidence, as she did in the Brass Eye controversy.

But, whichever way it is looked at, it does little for her standing as a public figure and her well-tarnished integrity. How long she now lasts as PCC, following the ‘vote of confidence’ from her boss, remains to be seen.

GMP’s press office provided these two statements:

“Complaints against the Chief Constable are required to be considered independently by the Local Policing Body which in the case of GMP is the Mayor for Greater Manchester. The decisions concerning recording and investigating complaints against the Chief Constable are a matter for the Local Policing Body”, a GMP spokesperson said:

Comment from Chief Constable Ian Hopkins: “I am aware of the allegations that are being made. I welcome the allegations being looked at that I deliberately lied in my public statement of 23 June 2018. There was no intention on my part to lie or deliberately mislead anyone in my statement.”

The GMCA press office was also approached for comment. The request has not, so far, been acknowledged. Which, regrettably, is standard for that organisation.

There was, however, a response to the information request from GMCA’s Assistant Director of Information and Governance, Philippa Nazari. Materials were disclosed that Beverley Hughes had previously denied existed. There was no explanation for the discrepancy. No explanation as to why Bev chose to break the law to avoid disclosure.

The GMCA finalisation has been challenged on the basis that there are still further materials undisclosed.

The IOPC press office has refused to provide either the name of the police force appointed to carry out a second investigation into Chief Constable Hopkins, or name the senior investigating officer. They attempted to pass a press request over to their freedom of information department.

Last updated: Monday 10th December, 2018 at 2020hrs

 

Picture credit: Greater Manchester Police

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

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2018. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Your Cheque Is In The Post

Back in the day, when internet banking was still a pipe dream, and PPI was being mis-sold on an industrial scale, a cheque book was the essential financial accessory. It that golden era, television and radio comedians cheerily punted the world’s biggest lie as “your cheque is in the post“.

A nod to the unscrupulous businessman, or associate, who made repeated false promises to avoid settling debts.

There was competition for the number one slot, of a rather more crude genre, it must be said, but we will not dwell on that version here.

More recently, it has, arguably, been supplanted by this country’s biggest police force saying when they are going to finalise an information request. A stand-up comedian may not know that, but as an investigative journalist I certainly do.

The Metropolitan Police Service (“the Met”), in those same days that cheque books were ubiquitous, or Scotland Yard, as they were affectionately known, was synonymous with excellence and pride in the job. Renowed the world over.

Sadly, that no longer applies. Control of the streets of London has been given over to feral gangs [1] and the obsession with diversity, and political correctness, has led to almost 1,000 officers being deployed to deal, mostly, with hurt feelings, under the guise of ‘hate crime’ [2]. The force is also constantly beset by corruption and ‘cover-up’ scandals – and widespread negative press comment over multi-million pound, failed, largely pointless, publicity-rich, evidence-light investigations. Operations Elevedon and Midland being two that immediately spring to mind.

Meanwhile, their Freedom of Information Unit, who have a LEGAL [3], and ethical [4], obligation to respond to requests in a timely manner, according to information supplied by a member of that particular team, is starved of resources and coping with a doubled workload. Each disclosure officer is currently dealing with up to 30 requests, rather than the more usual 15.

On 23rd July, 2018 I made a request for information to the Met about a ‘peer review’ they had conducted into the internal affairs department of another police force [5]. It is a matter of significant public interest as there is well grounded suspicion that serious police wrongdoing may be uncovered by my journalistic investigation.

The first response to a request for disclosure, by the Met, was a lie. They said they had NO information about the peer review.

An appeal was submitted as I knew, by reference to other documents held from other sources, that I was being ‘put away’ by the police. A common occurence, regrettably, across the four police forces with which I am regularly involved (the three in Yorkshire and neighbouring Greater Manchester). They deeply resent journalists shining light into their dark corners.

The complaint was upheld by the Met, and within the decision narratrive it was claimed that the lie was ‘a mistake’. Human error. We agreed to disagree. A wise course, as events have unfolded.

Having, eventually, established that the Met DID hold disclosable information pertaining the vexed subject matter, a supplemental request was made shortly afterwards, on 23rd August, 2018.

This second request has produced a further series of lies that seriously undermine confidence in not just the Met, but the wider police service. In the ensuing three months, it has necessitated the involvement of the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC), the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

On 3rd September, 2018 a note was received from Peter Deja, a Support Officer in the Metropolitan Police Service’s Freedom of Information Triage Team, stating the second information request was being treated as an internal review request of the first. Corrected, it must be said, later that day by the same officer. But symptomatic of a mistake-riddled approach through every stage of this process. Right up to the present day.

No quality assurance, no supervision, no pride in the job. A disease that afflicts so much of the visible parts of the police service that is open to journalists (FOI requests, press requests, data subject requests, police complaints, misconduct hearings, civil and criminal court proceedings, to name the most obvious).

The next communication from the Met, on 20th September, 2018, carried a surprise to an experienced FOI practitioner. Now travelling with ‘case reference: 2018090000548’ as its handle, another Information Manager, Suzanne Mason, says the Met are seeking an extension of time for response to the request: “For your information we are considering the following exemption: Section 31 – Law Enforcement. I can now advise you that the amended date for a response is 20th October 2018”.

It drew this reply from me, by way of a complaint submitted to the Met on 25th September, 2018 (paras 1, 2, 3, 8 and 9 are omitted to spare the reader any further tedium, mostly concerning sections 10 and 17 of the Act):

“5. The exemption upon which MPS seeks to rely (section 31) appears to be a continuation of that propensity to deceive. Again, it is reference to the College of Policing’s Guidance that adds force to the point that this exemption is most unlikely to apply in this case: [Police] Forces frequently invite operational counterparts and specialists from neighbouring forces to evaluate their operational performance. Peer reviews support the principle of police interoperability, continuous improvement and information sharing. They do NOT relate to those matters set out in either subsection (1) and (2) of section 31 of the Act, relating to Law Enforcement.

6. It is further noted that the intended reliance on section 31 is completely absent of analysis, insofar as whether subsection(s) 1 and/or 2 may be engaged. It, further, does not analyse which parts of the request to which exemption from disclosure may be sought. On any reasonable, independent view it could not, conceivably, apply to questions 1, 2 and 4 [of the information request].

7. Taking paras 5 and 6 together, the inescapable conclusion is that MPS has taken a decision to engage in further deceit, obfuscation in order to frustrate this request for disclosure. It is also respectfully submitted that this is part of a course of conduct to vex, annoy and harass a journalist in legitimate pursuit of his vocation”.

Strong words. But entirely justified, in all the circumstances.

Tension between requester and public authority is now palpable.

The request is also, by now, attracting considerable attention, and comment, on the Twitter social media platform. The Times, meanwhile, contacted the author of this piece and said they wanted to run the story around my investigation, once complete.

This latest complaint to the Met drew a partial, and largely unsatisfactory, response, via a Mr or Ms S Stroud, on 8th October, 2018:

“For your information, I have made enquiries with the Information Manager (IM) with responsibility for your request.  She is hopeful that a response will be with you SHORTLY [emphasis added].  I have asked the IM to complete your request as a matter of URGENCY [emphasis added].”

“As a response to your request is currently outstanding, I am unable to complete a full internal review in relation to your request.  However, should you be dissatisfied with the MPS response to your request when you receive it, you may request an internal review in relation to that
decision”.

It did go on to say that the Section 31 exemption was still relied upon, despite not answering a single point raised in the complaint which set out, in plain terms, that such an exemption from releasing the information requested has no basis in fact, or law. It was, on all the evidence, a device being used by the Met simply to delay the inevitable disclosure, that is now almost certain, one way or another, to damage senior officer reputations in two very large police forces. This is apparent because of disclosures I have now obtained, after a battle with Greater Manchester Police, who were the subject of the Peer Review conducted by the Met.

A re-appearance is then made by the Met’s Suzanne Mason. On 20th October, 2018 she writes: “Please accept my sincere apologies for the lengthy delay in responding. I am still awaiting a response [she does not identify from whom], but I have sent a chaser and hope to be able to get back to you within the next few days. Thanking you for your patience in the matter”.

No mention is made, by Ms Mason, of the communication from the Met, on 8th October, saying the finalisation of the request, and the accompanying disclosure of the information, was being dealt with ‘urgently‘ and would be finalised ‘shortly‘. Her remark concerning patience was also highly assumptive, and not at all helpful, in the circumstances.

In a further response from the Met on 24th October, 2018, Ms Mason has subsequently ignored the plea to identify those officers – and failed to even address the status of the request. “Within a few days” was plainly more than 4 (it is now 36 and counting). “Urgently” and “Shortly” in Met-speak now extends, astonishingly, to 48 days and counting.

It was now clear that, without the intervention of third parties, the Met has no intention of complying with the law, and thus disclosing the requested information. In the meantime, the lies continue spewing out.

On 26th October, 2018 the matter was reported to the ICO. Apart from an auto-response, that has drawn no reaction, whatsoever, from the toothless ‘watchdog’.

Just four days later, came another lie from the Met. On this occasion, the information manager had, incredibly, redacted her name from the response:

“Enquiries in relation to your request are ongoing and a response will be
provided to you as soon as possible [Emphasis added]. The Information Manager with responsibility for your request will endeavour to provide you with a response on or before 13th November, 2018 [Emphasis added].

“As a response to your request is currently outstanding, I am unable to
complete a full internal review in relation to your request. However,
should you be dissatisfied with the MPS response to your request, you may
request an internal review in relation to the decision.

“I would like to take this opportunity to apologise on behalf of the MPS
for the delay in responding to your Freedom of Information Act request.
The progress of your request will continue to be monitored.”

It matters little in a wider context, apart from yet another small measure of institutional incompetence, but for the second time, and by two different information managers, my surname had been spelt ‘Wilbey‘, not Wilby.

A further complaint was made. Within it, I again asked for the names of the directing minds responsible for delaying the request. The chief suspects being Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Fiona Taylor and Superintendent, Gary Randall. Both officers being at the centre of the investigation of which this request forms part.

A response came from Yvette Taylor, again, on the same day upon which the finalisation was promised, 13th November, 2018. But there was more bad news and Metropolitan Police lies in the system.

“As advised to you in my email dated 30th October, 2018, your complaint with respect to timeliness of responding to you was upheld.

“You have questioned the reasons for the delay in responding to you.

“The delay cannot be attributed to one specific individual.  Unfortunately,
as advised by Ms Mason, the current level of FOIA requests is extremely
high.

“Due to the nature of FOIA requests, it is impossible to regulate the
number of requests that a public authority receives. For example, there
was a 42% increase in FOIA requests for October 2018. A manageable
caseload for a FOIA Information Manger is between 15 and 20 requests.

“Most Information Managers currently have a case load in the region of 30
requests. This is being managed by some Information Managers working
additional hours to clear overdue requests.”

Later the same day, a second communication was received from the Met, this time from Suzanne Mason:

“Please accept my sincere apologies once again for the continued delay in
responding to your request for information.

“I have today received some information which I need to review and seek
approval from the business unit before responding to you and I am hopeful
that we will be able to do so early next week”.

The business unit referred to is, believe it or not, the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards, for which the aforementioned DAC Fiona Taylor has, I am given to understand, senior command portfolio responsibilty. Supt Randall is also a security-cleared, key member of the special investigations team in that same unit.

No mention is made by Ms Mason of the latest failed deadline, and, of course, ‘early next week’ (19th or 20th November, 2018 one might assume) has been and gone. Another round of deceit, with no explanation, or apology for the missing finalisation of the request.

A new kid on the Met block emerged on 29th November, 2018 when disclosure lawyer, Damion Baird, sent a message to the effect that he had now taken over the file from Ms Mason and the finalisation would be sent ‘shortly’.

Two cordial, informative telephone calls between Mr Baird and Neil Wilby followed in which it was revealed that the lawyer had completed all his work on the request and sent it to the ‘business area’, the Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS), for quality assurance on 30th November, 2018.

Subsequently, he sent a reminder email on 6th December, 2018 and reminded himself that an enforcement notice from the information Commissioner expired on 11th December, 2018. He confidently anticipated a full response to the request before then.

At 6.30pm on 11th December Mr Baird sent an apology and a message saying there would be a further ‘short delay’. But with no date given for a substantive response.

So, is the world’s biggest lie now the Metropolitan Police Service saying “Your information request is in the post”? Judge for yourself, dear reader.

8th October, 2018       – Shortly, matter dealt with urgency.

20th October, 2018    – Chaser, within a few days

24th October, 2018     – Staff shortages

30th October, 2018     – Response on or before 13th November, 2018

13th November, 2018 – Early next week

29th November, 2018 – Shortly

12th November, 2018 – Short delay

The press office at the Metropolitan Police Service, when first approached for comment on 25th November, 2018 responded:

You seem to have requested a response from our FoI team and have referenced a response which suggests you will have it soon.

The FoI team are very busy, with a wide range of queries, so sometimes you have to wait“.

They later refused to answer the following two specific questions:

1. Why does MPS consider the law (Freedom of Information Act, 2000) does not apply to them. Parliament made no provision, within the Act, for policing bodies to do as they please.

2. Why has MPS consistently engaged itself in deceit over this request at a significant cost to public confidence in the wider police service?

To that was added: It would be highly preferable if DAC Fiona Taylor was apprised and a response provided that was attributable to her. With senior rank, comes ownership of issues.

The enquiries, perfectly reasonably presented, were not drawn to the attention of DAC Taylor, as specifically requested. Or any explanation provided as to why.
Indeed, it has now been learned that Ms Taylor sensationally quit the Met just days before this information request was submitted, in July, 2018. She has now taken a sideways move to troubled Police Scotland.
A fact that any of the Met’s disclosure, legal or press officers has omitted to mention in a significant number of communications.
In the light of this response, the press officer was informed that an approach will be made directly to her. That has now been done, via the Police Scotland press office.
The press officer email exchange in November was signed off thus: ‘It would be a kindness to describe your response as ‘sub-optimal’. They were approached again for comment on 11th December, 2018.
Page last updated Tuesday 11th December, 2018 at 2100hrs

 

[1] The Guardian: ‘Streets of Fear’

[2] The Mail on Sunday:  ‘Criminal that Met Police is giving up on burglars’

[3] Freedom of Information Act, 2000: Sections 1, 10 and 17

[4] College of Policing: Authorised Professional Practice

[5] What Do They Know: Information request made by Neil Wilby

Page last updated on Sunday 23rd November, 2018 at 0650hrs

Picture credit: The Guardian Media Group

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

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

© Neil Wilby 2015-2018. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

When the ‘cover-up’ becomes the story

Hi, Mabs. Ian Hopkins speaking.”

So began the search for a new member of the most troubled command team in British policing. Even before the post was advertised. In footballing parlance, Chief Superintendent Maboob “Mabs” Hussain from the neighbouring West Yorkshire force (WYP) had been “tapped up”.

Hopkins, the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) chief constable, ultimately, and he thought seamlessly, secured the transfer of Mabs from a rival team across the Pennines. Even though the tapping up did cause some discomfort within the GMP command team, emails disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act reveal.

The phone call was made on the same day that Hopkins and his deputy, Ian Pilling, claim they decided that another assistant chief constable was needed to bolster their dwindling team: 19th July, 2018. But no notes in day books were made, no meeting or briefing notes, no team discussion, no decision rationale, no disclosable data at all. Just a spur of the moment, informal discussion it seems.

It also appears that the police and crime commissioner was not consulted, either, as required by law.

But, those not so minor issues apart, all seemed fine and dandy; slick dresser Mabs had got a promotion, some might say well-deserved, and a pay rise of around £40,000, including benefits; Hopkins had been able to disguise the fact that no other senior police officer in the country wanted to work for him AND he had a black minority ethic (BAME) face in his leadership team, to underscore his commitment to the police service’s obsession with diversity. Smiles and handshakes all round.

Except that Hopkins had the dubious distinction of having, at that time,  TWO disgraced assistant chief constables on long-term absence from the force, with neither expected to return. The cost to the taxpayer was around £250,000 per annum. Which, in terms the man, or woman, on the crime-riddled, poverty-stricken streets of Manchester might understand, would pay for ten bobbies on the beat. Or, more than adequately feed fifteen families of five for a year.

The first of those, ACC Steve Heywood, is presently awaiting a charging decision from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) after an investigation by The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC, but perhaps better known as the IPCC). The latter said, in May 2018:

“Our investigation looked at the evidence given by ACC Steven Heywood at the [Anthony Grainger] inquiry, particularly in relation to how he recorded information in his police (sic) log book.

Heywood has been dogged by other major policing scandals since his full promotion to the command team in April, 2013. He had been in a temporary ACC role for eighteen months prior. He has been absent from the force for eighteen months on full pay. Again, a six figure salary plus benefits.

On 14th November, 2018, after almost a week of rumours swirling around social media, news was released to the press, by GMP, of Heywood’s retirement. Apart from his own failings, that led, at least in part, to the needless death of Anthony Grainger, Heywood has always sought to conceal his role in the handling of notorious villain, Dale Cregan, who eventually, and tragically, shot and killed two young Manchester police officers. The subsequent, and some say, contrived, sale of Heywood’s house also developed into a murky scandal centred around whether he was at risk from Cregan, at the time locked up in the Category AA wing (known as The Cage) of Strangeways jail. The artful financial wangling was followed by the inevitable, long-running, multi-layered GMP ‘cover-up’. The troubled ACC was also Head of Public Protection in GMP for at least some of the period covered by the Rochdale grooming scandal. The vexed question of ‘who knew what’ within the police force is presently being addressed via an inquiry run by the Greater Manchester Mayor.

The infamous ‘Boobgate’ scandal claimed the second of the miscreant ACC’s: Rebekah Sutcliffe, whom many believe owes her continued, if pointless, place in the police service to the astute advocacy of John Beggs QC. Who, somehow, managed to persuade a disciplinary panel, that included Sir Thomas Winsor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, to conclude proceedings with a written warning, rather than dismissal. A remarkable achievement, in the light of the allegations against her and a previous chequered history with the force. Sutcliffe, who infamously told colleague, Superintendent Sarah Jackson, that she would be “judged on the size of her tits” is presently seconded to Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council, where she is overseeing a project to encourage exercise, healthy living and healthy eating (watch short video clip here) . A demeaning ‘non-job’ costing taxpayers £109,000, plus benefits, per annum. She was reprimanded in 2010 for trying to pull rank and gatecrash a Labour party conference hotel, to attend a drinks junket when she had no accreditation to enter the secure site. There was also an IPCC ivestigation into her failure to declare a relevant relationship with chief superintendent, Paul Rumney, when chairing a disciplinary panel. Rumney, never far from controversy himself, was Head of GMP’s Professional Standards Board at the material time, thus creating a clear conflict of interest. That neither, oddly enough, appeared to notice at the time.

49 year old Sutcliffe’s secondment to Oldham council was due to end in September, 2018, but a spokesperson for the latter recently told Police Oracle: “There is no agreed end date for the secondment at this time. Rebekah is still the Strategic Director of Reform”. GMP refused to comment on if, or when, she would be returning to the force. It is believed she has five years of police service remaining before she becomes eligible for retirement. Her biography has been deleted from the GMP chief officer team webpage.

At a time when the police service cannot give away deputy and chief constable roles, another ACC, Debbie Ford, recently secured a rare neutral-rank transfer from GMP back to her former force, Cumbria Police. Having told at least one former senior colleague, retired superintendent Pete Jackson, she was uncomfortable with being associated with scandal after scandal that routinely engulfs the force. As the former murder detective wryly observes: “Challenging the unethical, unprofessional conduct of her peers was an option she might have considered, rather than heading for the exit door”. There may be other personal, or professional, reasons why Ford left GMP, of course. But, if there are, the public is in the dark. Ford joins Sarah Jackson at Cumbria, after the latter also sought a transfer from the troubled Manchester force.

Garry Shewan was another who walked away from an ACC role in the UK’s fourth largest force, doing a ‘moonlight flit’ as GMP’s £27 million iOPS technology upgrade, for which he had portfolio responsibility, crashed and burned. The budget for the project is believed to have roughly doubled. “Honest Cop” Shewan, like Heywood and Sutcliffe, had also been dogged by scandal over the previous four years as both the author of this piece, and an increasing number of well respected police whistleblowers, rounded on him and exposed a number of troubling, alleged misdemeanours. Some of them very well evidenced. In one particular case, that resulted in the controversial, and many say unjust, dismissal of a junior officer, ex chief constable Sir Peter Fahy allowed Shewan to investigate complaints about himself. They had been made by the discipline lead of the local police federation, no less. In another case, Shewan wanted to manage a conduct complaint about him outside the statutory framework and through a restorative justice process in which he was the controlling influence. He had admitted giving a misleading statement about knowledge, or otherwise, of an investigation being carried out by Fahy into another chief constable. The issue being that Shewan had withheld crucial information that could have significantly informed that probe. The Operation Redbone outcome was signbificantly flawed as a result.

Hate crime champion, Shewan, was also not slow to complain about feeling ‘harassed’ when tackled about his conduct.

Yet another Manchester assistant chief constable to head for the exit door, as trouble rained down on him, was Terry Sweeney. His retirement triggered an angry response from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC, now IOPC).  He was under investigation by the IPCC for two separate allegations, after being served with a gross misconduct notice in relation to the disposal of body parts by GMP from victims of the notorious Harold Shipman. In addition, he was served with a criminal and gross misconduct notice in respect of his role in an allegedly poorly-handled investigation into a now-convicted child sex offender, Dominic Noonan. Sweeney was also involved in the alleged ‘cover-up’ of the unauthorised bugging of offices, occupied by senior leadership team members, by Superintendent Julian Snowball, who had purchased equipment for his illegal activities on the internet. Terry Sweeney was also formerly a Commander of GMP’s Rochdale Division and is yet another part, however small, of the ‘who knew what’ police mystery concerning child sex abuse in the town.

One of Sweeney’s sycophantic clique, during this troubled period, was Detective Chief Inspector (as he was then) John Lyons, latest holder of the poisoned chalice that is Head of Ethics and Standards at troubled Cleveland Police. Lyons is remembered well by former GMP peers for a discreditable, unpleasant, early morning drunken incident in Bolton town centre, in which subordinate officers were verbally abused. Sweeney is said to have smoothed the path so that his friend faced no meaningful sanction.

The IPCC Commissioner overseeing the Sweeney investigations, said at the time: “Greater Manchester Police has informed the IPCC that ACC Terry Sweeney is retiring on 31 October, 2014. The IPCC cannot prevent that happening, but we have been assured that ACC Sweeney will cooperate with our investigations after his departure.

“A police officer resigning or retiring when they are subject to investigation does not serve anyone’s purpose and can frustrate our investigations leaving important questions unanswered. Such a practice can only be damaging to public confidence in policing. We will continue pursuing all lines of enquiry before publishing our findings and evidence so that the public can decide for themselves.”

Sweeney faced no further action. Strangely, the IPCC report can no longer be located on their website.

Against this alarming, and continuous, backdrop, Chief Constable Hopkins has also been under heavy siege for the past twelve months, as a series of national newspaper front page splashes, in depth exposés, and a call for a public inquiry, has kept both him, and his scandal-rocked force in the headlines. For all the wrong reasons, it must be said. He was also lambasted over the Boobgate scandal, and some squarely put the blame on him for not nipping Becky Sutcliffe’s drunken antics in the bar, whilst stood with her at the boozy women’s policing function. Instead he delegated that unpleasant, hazardous task to a subordinate, whilst he sloped off to enjoy another ‘freebie’ at a nearby luxury hotel (read more here). Which might readily explain why no-one wanted to work for him as an assistant chief constable and end up with a reputation tarnished in the manner of Heywood, Shewan, Sutcliffe or Sweeney. Or have to backtrack to their home force in the manner of Debbie Ford.

An independent observer might also conclude that, given the present circumstances, and sensing there may be even worse to come, you would have to be desperate to walk into that firestorm.

Nevertheless, Hussain took up the role of Assistant Chief Constable at GMP on 1st October, 2018. He was the only candidate who applied, after the approach from Hopkins, and it is said, the only candidate interviewed; although no documented evidence of such an event has been disclosed to the author of this piece, after what have been quite exhaustive enquiries: Two freedom of information requests (one each to GMP and WYP) concerning the appointment; enquiries made of both police force press offices; fairly lengthy correspondence with GMP Deputy Chief Constable (DCC) Ian Pilling and one way correspondence with WYP Chief Constable, Dee Collins. Whom, it must be said, has this unappealing, unethical, unprofessional, and repeating habit of burying her head in the sand at the first sign of trouble. Particularly, when it is one of her ‘favourites’ under scrutiny. Mabs was, most certainly, in that group.

Documents disclosed by WYP under FOIA reveal the usual inconsistencies. Collins claims the matter of Mabs’ ‘tapping-up’ on 19th July, 2018 by Hopkins and subsequent application to GMP, was first discussed amongst her own command team the day after he was appointed (4th September, 2018). The only record in her day book, she says, is on that same date and a copy has been disclosed.

Yet, Collins had assisted in Mabs’ application, in early August, to the extent that, in section 11 of the application form (a blank form can be viewed here) it was required to be completed by the applicant’s chief constable, she filled it in and sent it back to Hussain, via email, with the jolly message: ‘If it is not what you want, alter it to suit’. 

No note in her day book about that event. Or, if there is, it has not been disclosed. A retired WYP command team member has revealed that, under Dee Collins’ leadership, the priority is what to EXCLUDE from notes of their meetings, rather than maintain an auditable record.

Taken at its face, and by reference to the disclosures made, so far, by both forces, Hopkins did not contact Collins. Which, given the recent history of each of those two police forces covering up for the other, and the fact that they are neighbours, with a large shared border, is difficult to contemplate.

There is no documented record, either, of Mabs contacting his own chief constable, or vice versa, after the Hopkins phone call.

The fact it was public knowledge, broadcast by Collins, no less, that Mabs was in line for the next ACC role in his home force, where he had served his entire 22 year police career, simply adds to the intrigue as to why a popular, high achieving, Bradford council estate lad made good, would take such a risk with this move to GMP.

At the time of his appointment as ACC, this is what a gushing Mabs said on the GMP website: “I’m thrilled to have been given this opportunity. I have great admiration for the work GMP has done for some time, knowing they are a similar size to WYP and respecting the way they have responded to particularly challenging times over the years. Their commitment to public service and the demands I can expect to face in my new role were all things which appealed to me to join the GMP family.”

So, let us look at this statement in more detail:

He was certainly correct about being ‘given’ the opportunity. Gift-wrapped, with a ribbon on top.

But then his fresh-from-the-strategic-command-course-sycophantic-management-speak sets the alarm bells ringing (Mabs had successfully negotiated the necessary College of Policing test six months earlier):

Firstly, he does not explain what it is he admires about GMP that places it above his former force. Both have a dreadful history of covering up industrial scale child sex abuse Rochdale, Oldham, Bradford (Mabs’ home city for all his life), Dewsbury, Keighley, Halifax, Huddersfield, Manchester Curry Mile, Mirfield. Similarly, their failures to tackle volume crime, particularly burglarly, are legion. Both have gun, and knife, crime that is out of control. Is all this ‘the [GMP] commitment to public service’ to which he refers? But, moving on, both have professional standards departments and counter-corruption units that are perennially inept, and, arguably, corrupt. Both have ACPO teams, past and present, mired in scandal. Both have chief constables that are, quite plainly, out of their depth. Both have the unenviable reputation for outrageous, high profile cover-ups. So what is it that makes GMP ‘admirable’, one has to wonder: The debacle in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing; the Operation Grantham stored body parts scandal; or a multi-million pound organised crime investigation that collapsed after allegations of police officer corruption? These three examples are drawn from a lengthy list that also includes Operations Poppy 1 and 2, and Operation Leopard, of which more will be heard in a separate articles.

Secondly, no-one who knows even a little about policing, or reads the national newspapers, or watches police documentaries on TV, or listens to radio programmes such as File on 4, could conclude anything other than, in its present form, run by Hopkins, Greater Manchester Police is a scandal-hit shambles. Perhaps Mabs, an alert thief-taker, missed all that?

Thirdly, he describes Greater Manchester Police as ‘a family’. The implication is happiness, cohesion and belonging. Which couldn’t be further from the truth. There is a rush for the exit door into careers such as train, or tram, driver;  officers count the hours and days to retirement; morale in the force is at rock bottom says the GMP Police Federation; faith in the leadership team is correspondingly low, and, so stressed are the frontline officers with the working environment, record numbers are calling in sick. Add to that the internal strife caused by over-promotion of on-message sycophants, who have never seen an angry man; obsessive internal witch-hunts conducted against officers prepared to call out wrongdoing, and then draw your own conclusions as to whether this den of skulduggery, and two-faced-gittery, is a family of which anyone sensible would really want to newly marry into. Especially, if it means uprooting your own family from an area in which you’ve lived all your life, and leaving an organisation in which you started your career, progressed at a pleasing rate, and have always been well regarded.

For his part, and at the same time, Chief Constable Hopkins said of his new recruit: “I’m delighted to welcome Mabs to the GMP family. He is an extremely experienced officer and he will help us to continue to drive the force forward”. Over a cliff, presumably? As for police ‘family’, Hopkins is on his fourth, having previously worked in three of the smaller county forces before making the quantum leap to Manchester in 2008.  Becoming chief constable of GMP, by default, in 2015, as no-one else applied for that job, either.

As one might expect, the Manchester Evening News (MEN), in what police whistleblowers say is their adopted role as the public relations arm of GMP, ran a ‘Welcome to Mabs’ puff piece, as Hussain gave his first exclusive ‘interview’, just one day after joining the force (read full MEN article here).

Despite controversy over the appointment, broadcast widely on social media, MEN avoided asking any difficult questions. It all had the look, and feel, of a pre-planned ‘corporate comms’ operation, with softball questions, and answers, agreed in advance, to avoid any embarassing issues surfacing, inadvertently.

There was, however, one interesting passage: Mabs was, presumably, well prepared when asked this question by award-winning MEN reporter, Neal Kealing:

– Is it true you and your family get stopped routinely when you fly abroad?

“Yes. I do get stopped regularly, in particular flying to the States – my brother lives in America – and I do visit him regularly. I have been taken off a flight, because they forgot to check me getting onto a flight, which was rather embarrassing. It does frustrate me. I can understand the reason for checking people who fit a certain age group, ethnicity, and profile. But it does annoy me that it is happening so often.

“As a result I did write to Homeland Security. The Director General replied saying they couldn’t confirm or deny if I was on any international list. I have what they call a redress number, which I can use when I fly, which they say should hopefully limit the level of inconvenience caused. You have to go with the flow.

“It is frustrating. But people have a job to do. Flying out of America I still get stopped. I usually get told my name has been flagged up, and to expect some delay. I don’t mind security checks, it shows we are taking terrorism seriously.”

Even more interestingly, Mabs was not asked these questions by “Killer”, as Kealing is known to friends and colleagues:

– What, or who, persusaded you to apply to join GMP?

– Why uproot your family and leave a force where you have served all your career?

– Was the competition for the job, and the interview, tough?

– Are you concerned about the welter of bad publicity that has engulfed GMP recently, particularly in The Times and The Sunday Times, and on BBC television and radio?

– What do you think of two serving ACC colleagues being removed from the force? One of whom may be facing criminal proceedings and the other who brought national shame and ridicule on GMP and the city of Manchester.

– Are you concerned about another ACC retiring in what was, effectively, a moonlight flit after grotesquely failing on a major infrastructure project?-

– Has this poisoned chalice been handed to you?

– Have you questioned why and how the ACC vacancy arose?

– Have you spoken to ACC Debbie Ford about why she left?

– Joining from another force that has history of ‘problem’ senior officers (Norman Bettison and Mark Gilmore being very high profile examples), has this better equipped you to deal with a low calibre command team such as GMP?

– Will you robustly challenge inappropriate conduct of senior colleagues. Or look the other way, or walk away, as is the tradition in GMP?

– Were you asked in interview about the persistent allegations, circulating on social media, made by WYP whistleblowers against you?

– Have you been asked by either Mr Hopkins, or Mr Pilling, about them since you joined?

– Is there any truth in those allegations? Which include the proposition of failing counter terrorist unit vetting for a number of years.

– Were the whistleblower allegations robustly, and thoroughly, investigated by WYP, before you left, so that the air could be cleared and you could deal with any residual issues. If, indeed, there are any at all, on your application form and vetting declaration?

Whilst the MEN was giving Mabs the VIP treatment, Questions were being asked, by two investigative journalists, of the police press offices in Manchester and West Yorkshire about the allegations against Mabs. One of which, it is said, has been the subject of a complaint made by a serving WYP superintendent (also served as a detective chief inspector in professional standards for several years) and close working colleague.

Essentially, (i) have they been investigated – and (ii) what was the outcome?

Straighforward enough, and not at all unreasonable to expect honest answers from two of the country’s law enforcement agencies. But, no, all questions have been glibly deflected by both press offices, to both journalists, in a manner that seemed calculated to cause further exasperation.

Both those journalists, the author of this piece and the BBC’s Neil Morrow, readily accept that, if the wall of silence is maintained by both police forces, it is almost impossible to get to the truth of the issue of whether an investigation took place, or not. But, it can be said, with some certainty, that had one taken place, and cleared Mabs, then neither force would have been slow to trumpet that fact; discrediting the whistleblowers and those adopting their cause.

There has been email correspondence between Ian Pilling and Neil Wilby that appears to confirm that no checks have been made by GMP over the vetting issue and they had not asked, as of 14th September, 2018 any questions of WYP, at all, concerning the allegations against Mabs. The announcement of his appointment as the new GMP ACC had been made ten days earlier. The following day, 5th September, 2018, Pilling was passed, in strict confidence, correspondence between Neil Wilby, the WYP press office and Dee Collins dating back to January/February, 2018. The serving superintendent is copied into that correspondence. Which is shortly after the latest of the alleged incidents concerning Mabs. DCC Pilling cannot claim not to know the identity of that officer.

The official GMP line, says Pilling, is that if there has been any allegations concerning misconduct, during his service with WYP, then they were matters for the Appropriate Authority of that force, Chief Constable Collins, to deal with, not himself or Ian Hopkins. He was confident such an investigation would have been undertaken, but was not going to ask the question – and still hasn’t, on the evidence available. On 14th September, 2018, DCC Pilling says that he forwarded the concerns over the allegations to the West Yorkshire chief constable.

Following freedom of information request to both GMP and WYP, it appears that Ian Pilling did NOT contact Dee Collins, by email or letter, at least, to make enquiries as to whether that investigation into Mabs did, in fact take place. He didn’t contact DCC John Robins or Head of Professional Standards, Osman Khan, either. Neither did Ian Hopkins, nor his own Head of Professional Standards, Annette Anderson, contact any of the WYP officers named here.

It was also established, from the disclosure arising from those same requests, that there appears to have been no contact between any of the same three GMP senior officers and either the College of Policing or the National Police Chiefs Council, concerning Mabs’ appointment or any vetting concerns. The College’s senior selection team were made aware in January, 2018 of the whistleblower concerns, but no email correspondence between the College of Policing and either WYP, or GMP, has been disclosed upon request.

Dee Collins begins a three month secondment to the College of Policing in January, 2019.

A separate information request to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority seeking disclosure of correspondence between the de facto police and crime commissioner, Deputy Mayor of Manchester, Beverley Hughes, and her chief constable has, so far, been stonewalled.

By way of section 40 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, 2011, the chief constable must consult the Police and Crime Commissioner (the Deputy Mayor in the case of GMCA) before appointing a person as an assistant chief constable of the force.

The response to the information request provided by the PCC is highly questionable. She claims that in respect of the appointment of deputy and assistant chief  constables, her oversight responsibility is confined to private chats between herself and the chief constable. No notes, or minutes, taken and no email traffic between the two. Indeed, no retrievable data is held says Baroness Hughes.

Material disclosed by GMP contradicts that position. Internal email correspondence between Ian Hopkins and Ian Pilling say she was sent a copy of Mabs’ application form, plus background papers, on 29th August, 2018. Put another way, the Deputy Mayor of Manchester has lied to journalist, Neil Wilby.

The stated position of the Deputy Mayor, according to her written response to the information request, has been robustly challenged. But no response had been provided by her within the required four week period under FOIA and the Information Commissioner’s guidance.

A complaint has been lodged with the Information Commissioner’s Office concerning the handling of the request, and a further complaint is being submitted to the appropriate authority alleging honesty and integrity breaches by Beverley Hughes. In this case, the Greater Manchester Police and Crime Panel.

Baroness Hughes, another living, breathing example of the abuse of the ‘honours’ system does, of course, have ‘previous’ for lying. Having resigned as a Labour government minister, in 2004, for doing just that – and in very similar circumstances to those prevailing here: Denying she’d received a memorandum when it was readily proved that she had not only received the document, but acted on it.

Whether, or not, it is possible to get to the truth of the WYP whistleblower allegations against Mabs Hussain is a moot point, without an unequivocal statement from either Ian Hopkins, Dee Collins, or Mabs himself. But, as with so many policing issues over the years, it is now the ‘cover-up’ that becomes the story.

In this particular case, without the ever-lengthening mystery, and the lies that inevitably follow, surrounding this matter, there simply is no story. It could have been put to bed by a two paragraph statement from WYP in February or March, 2018.

This cover-up may yet claim some very high profile scalps, even if the new GMP assistant chief constable emerges untarnished and free to get on with his new job.

The press offices of GMP, WYP and the Deputy Mayor’s Office have all declined to comment. Indeed, the latter two have not even acknowledged the request.

The enquiry to the GMP press office ends thus: “For the avoidance of doubt, and this has been made clear, previously, to DCC Pilling and WYP chief constable Collins, I [Neil Wilby] have no personal, or professional, issues with ACC Hussain. Other than the whistleblower allegations, he is known inside and outside of WYP to be a popular, professional, high achieving police officer. I am more than content for those views to be shared with Mabs.”

Statements had been specifically requested from Mabs Hussain, and Dee Collins, that directly address the issue of whether the police whistleblower allegations have been appropriately recorded, referred and subsequently investigated.

From the ensuing silence, inference can be drawn as to whether the answer is in the affirmative, or otherwise. Not one journalist or police officer, serving, ex-, or retired, spoken to believes it has.

The lay reader is invited to draw their own conclusion as to where that leaves the GMP chief constable and his latest command team recruit.

There is no ACC Maboob Hussain biography on the GMP chief officer team webpage, which was last updated on 29th October, 2018. A month after mabs joined the force (read here).

 

Page last updated on Saturday 24th November, 2018 at 1725hrs

Picture credit: Greater Manchester Police

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

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

© Neil Wilby 2015-2018. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mystery of the ‘missing’ peer review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the request in full:

“Dear Greater Manchester Police (GMP),

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours faithfully,

Neil Wilby
Investigative journalist”

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

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

This is the full text of the first request:

“Dear Metropolitan Police Service (MPS),

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

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

In this regard, please provide the following information:

1. Date the Peer Review commenced.

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

3. Date the Peer Review ended.

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

5. The operational name given to the Peer Review.

Yours faithfully,

Neil Wilby
Investigative journalist”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dear Metropolitan Police Service (MPS),

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

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

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

2. Copy of Terms of Reference

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

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

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

Yours faithfully,

Neil Wilby
Investigative journalist”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Picture credit: The Guardian Media Group

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

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

© Neil Wilby 2015-2018. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

Information rights ‘watchdog’ vexed by recent Tribunal findings

However, very recently the tide may well have turned back in favour of requesters, and the information rights ‘watchdog’ put back on its leash.
Two First Tier Tribunal appeals, decided within two months of one another, both resulted in ICO Decision Notices, upholding section 14 exemptions, being overturned (the legal terminology is ‘disturbed’).
The first, Paul Arnold -v- ICO and Department of Business and Energy (EA/2018/0061) was heard before Judge Stephen Cragg QC [1] and two lay panel members in July 2018.
The second, Roger Good -v- ICO and Sedgemoor District Council (EA/2017/0228) was heard before Judge Brian Kennedy QC [2] and, by a quirk of fate, the same two lay panel members as heard the Arnold appeal.
In the Arnold appeal the key parts of the judgment are set out here:
[22] In this case we are of the view that the Commissioner has wrongly labelled the Appellant’s request of 22 June 2016 as vexatious. We should say first of all that it may well be that the Appellant has been overly persistent over the years, that it may well be that continuing to try to persuade the Department to take action is now futile, and it is certainly the case that there have been occasions when the Appellant has used aggressive and abusive language to which officials should not be subjected.
[23] Additionally, we accept that it is right to look at the current request in the context of the almost 20 years of correspondence and contact (including a number of FOIA requests) which the Appellant has generated.
[24] But we do remind ourselves that we have to take all the circumstances surrounding the request into account, and that having done so we have to find that it is the request (and not the requester) that is vexatious.
[27] We should emphasise that our decision is based on the particular nature and circumstances of this request. Our decision does not mean that the Department would be necessarily be unsuccessful in relying on s14 FOIA if further requests are made by the Appellant in pursuing the issues which are important to him. As the case-law set out above demonstrates, the decision on each FOIA request has to take all the circumstances in relation to that particular request into account, when considering whether it is vexatious.
In the Good appeal these are identified as the key passages in Judge Kennedy’s findings:

[27] The Tribunal was provided with correspondence sent to the Commissioner, in which the Council laid out it’s reasoning as to why it considered the request to be vexatious. In it the Council confirmed that it had not sought clarification about the scope of the request, nor conducted any investigations into whether it was a repeat request. It explained that the Appellant had previously been warned that further requests for information would be considered vexatious, and the request itself appeared to be a ‘fishing’ expedition designed to damage the Council.

[28] A letter from the public authority dated 7 July 2017 was effectively a pre-warning that any further request would be regarded as vexatious and pre-empted the necessary assessment of the request.

[29] The Tribunal notes that there was no attempt by the Council to establish whether this was actually a repeat request. Page 96 of the Bundle before us demonstrates there was no reasoning to establish this is a repeat request. In fact, on the evidence before us, the Tribunal believes that the subject request is a fresh request.

[30] We do not concur with the Commissioner’s assertion that this request has no value. In fact we find it is a request that has value and on a specific subject which, on the evidence before us, has not been the subject of a previous request.

[31] The Tribunal accepts the request has value because the subject is correspondence relating to a specific planning application. We have heard the Appellants personally explain the detail and we are persuaded there is value to this request. He refers to information provided by the LGO to the Appellant at page 581 of the Bundle before us, which appears to reveal that specific instructions to delay the process of investigating the breach of planning control leading ultimately to the grant of permission were given by a planning officer at the Council. It appears this information was not supplied by LGO with the letter that is at page 130 of the Bundle before us. The Council did not provide it to the Appellant. It may provide information that would support a complaint, justify litigation or even end the need for further requests from the Appellant, or others in the circumstances of this subject matter.

[32] It is in the public interest that any possible fault on the part of the public authority in dealing with this planning issue is fully explored. Even though the decision in Dransfield suggests that an authority does not need to consider every part of a request in certain circumstances, we find that this case is not such as would fall into that category. On the evidence before us we do not accept that the request was “manifestly unreasonable”.

It should be noted that First Tier Tribunal judgments are not binding authorities, but the fact that, in these particular cases, the two judges were widely experienced, very highly rated QC’s will, no doubt, raise eyebrows at the ICO, and in public authorities up and down the country.

Journalists, seen as very much ‘the enemy‘ in my own specialist field of challenging policing bodies, can also take heart from these judgments – and live in hope that a more balanced view will be taken by the watchdog when assessing complaints against public authorities that have simply resorted to a ‘vexatious‘ label as a means to avoid deeper scrutiny of malpractice and wasteful use of public funds.

The only public body to label me ‘vexatious‘ – the joint Civil Disclosure Unit of North Yorkshire Police and its Police Commissioner – face me at a Tribunal hearing early next next year. On advice from my barrister, I was quietly confident of overturning the ICO’s Decision Notice before these latest Tribunal findings. Now that confidence has grown further.

I defeated the same Civil Disclosure Unit at a Tribunal hearing in September, 2017 (EA/2017/0076). But that concerned a section 40 exemption, not section 14. Heard before David Farrer QC and two lay panel members at Barnsley Magistrates Court, Elizabeth Kelsey of counsel represented the ICO and Alex Ustych appeared for the North Yorkshire Police Commissioner (NYPCC).

I have also succeeded against NYPCC in a county court claim over data protection breaches.

Page last updated Wednesday 24th September, 2018 at 2120hrs

[1] Stephen Cragg QC. Doughty Street Chambers bio: https://www.doughtystreet.co.uk/barristers/profile/stephen-cragg-qc

[2] Brian Kennedy QC. 4 KBW Chambers bio: http://www.4kbw.co.uk/members/brian-kennedy-qc/

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

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

© Neil Wilby 2015-2018. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Commissioners in denial

Two high profile public figures suffered an embarassing defeat in Barnsley Law Courts this week.

Elizabeth Denham, a Canadian ‘expert’ brought in last year to head up the troubled Information Commissioner’s office (ICO) and Julia Mulligan, the disaster-prone Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire (NYPCC).

“”

Elizabeth Denham (left) and Julia Mulligan (right).

At a First Tier Tribunal hearing held in the iconic South Yorkshire town, an information rights appeal lodged by journalist Neil Wilby was upheld.

The Tribunal, chaired by Judge David Farrer QC, with experienced panellists, Jean Nelson and Henry Fitzhugh, alongside, found that both Commissioners were wrong to rely on a ‘neither confirm nor deny’ (NCND) response to an information request made to NYPCC, by Mr Wilby, in August, 2016.

The request principally concerned information regarding litigation costs associated with a civil court claim brought by Mr Wilby, against NYPCC, in June 2016.

The claim, citing Data Protection and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) breaches by NYPCC, succeeded at a final hearing in February, 2017. The journalist was awarded nominal damages and costs.

A complaint to the ICO, by Mr Wilby in October, 2016, eventually resulted in a Decision Notice (FS50652012) which upheld the NCND position, but on a different exemption under FOIA: Section 45(5)(a), instead of 45(5)(b) as relied upon by NYPCC.

The ‘investigation’ by the ICO’s caseworker, Carolyn Howes, has been the subject of withering criticism. As has the handling of a so-called internal review of the information request, and the conduct of the defence of the appeal, by NYPCC solicitor, Ashley Malone. The latter was also a witness for NYPCC in the civil claim successfully brought against her employer by Mr Wilby.

The Panel made its finding on the crucial NCND point during the Tribunal hearing, but the full judgment on the appeal has been reserved, pending written submissions from the ICO. Who sent a young, talented, but relatively inexperienced barrister to court, Elizabeth Kelsey, without instructions to deal with the matters that were plainly in issue. She was unable, therefore, to make oral submissions on other exemptions relied upon by NYPCC’s counsel, Alex Ustych, once the cloak of NCND had fallen away (sections 32, 40 and 42 of the Act for the FOIA ‘nerds’). The Panel found that section 32 could not apply, in any event.

Miss Kelsey was fortunate to be before an arbiter as benevolent (and worldly wise) as Judge Farrer. She will, no doubt, learn from the experience. In other jurisdictions she would have been sent away with a flea in her ear.

There was also learning to be had for Mr Ustych: Knowing where, and when, not to flog a dead horse. Whilst his persistence was admirable, trying to teach David Farrer QC ancient law was not.

It was not a good day for the two high profile public servants, in truth. Particularly, as it was revealed in open court that instructions given to both of their barristers was ‘to concede nothing’. Those instructing Miss Kelsey and Mr Ustych might also bear in mind that information rights tribunals are inquisitorial, rather than adversarial. Not a good look for either Commissioner, it must be said, as tens of thousands of pounds of public funds have been wasted. With more to follow, no doubt.

Not one word of apology has been given to Mr Wilby over the significant expense he has been put to and the enormous amount of unnecessary time he has spent dealing with a quite ludicrous, and entirely disproportionate, approach to this appeal by both Commissioners.

Both Ms Denham and Mrs Mulligan have been approached for comment on this article. Neither even acknowledged the email c arrying the invitation.

Which doesn’t sit well with this quote, reproduced from the Information Commissioner’s blog on her website: “And that’s where transparency comes in. People have a right to know how their services and communities are run. And in an era when people are increasingly looking for answers, protecting this right to Freedom of Information (FOI) is a crucial part of my job”.

Or with instructions to her barrister to ‘concede nothing’. It might also be connected to the fact that Ms Denham’s new deputy is James Dipple-Johnstone, a former leading light with another discredited regulator, the Independent Police Complaints Commission – and with whom Mr Wilby has had a number of running battles in his justice campaigner role.

As for Mrs Mulligan, who was a marketing strategist in a former life, she simply staggers from one crisis to another – and no amount of spin can conceal the ever widening cracks in her reputation as an effective elected representative.

 

Page last updated Saturday 14th October, 2017 at 1620hrs

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