An affront to open justice

Last Friday I reported on an appeal judgment handed down in the Leeds Registry of the High Court of Justice (read more here). It was a civil claim in which the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police and his legal team were defeated by a Bradford GP and medico-legal practitioner, Dr Abdul Rashid.

It was an expensive loss, in terms of reputation of the police, public confidence in them, as well as the consequential costs and, as yet unquantified, damages. Four chief officers, Norman Bettison, Mark Gilmore, Dionne Collins and John Robins have overseen this debacle from its genesis in October, 2011 and an unlawful dawn arrest five months later, involving no less than sixteen officers. The former two chiefs would have known very little about the case. Both left the force under dark clouds. The latter two deeply involved because of the huge sums of money at stake, potentially topping £5 million. Dee Collins, as she likes to be known, authorised a ‘Part 36’ offer of just £10,000 plus costs to settle the claim.

Robins has been on the scene throughout as divisional commander of the arresting officer and his cohort; temporary deputy, deputy and then chief constable. He has a great deal to answer for:

Criminal offences have been committed by officers, on the clearest of evidence (read more here), and the level of misconduct and gross misconduct by a number of other officers in the force, not least to perpetuate a grotesque ‘cover-up’ has been simply breathtaking. Pursuit of satellite interests, instinctive lying, data breaches, police computer misuse, concealing or destroying documents, suppressing witness evidence, grotesque smearing of a hard-working professional man and the pursuit of a zealous, persistent, long-running vendetta by the police, designed not only to ruin him but, principally, to defeat the civil claim.

Selective memory, of course, comes as standard with WYP in court proceedings and their main witness answered no less than 13 times in terms of ‘I don’t remember’ or ‘I don’t recall’ when questioned by defence counsel about key events or missing documents. The same officer, Sergeant Mark Taylor (as he was then) was present at the arrest and has been involved continuously in the case as exhibits and disclosure officer ever since. He should know the case backwards and have logged and preserved every single piece of evidence. That was his principal duty. Some of the key documents he couldn’t produce were his own notebooks and emails. Taylor is still a serving inspector in Bradford CID.

With, it must be said, the aid of a judge whose verdict has now been quite properly overturned, but not quite in the terms it should have been (read more here), the police very nearly got away with it. Rounding off a bad week for Mr Recorder Nolan QC as he was at the centre of a complaint outcome upon which I exclusively reported here. The complaint was not upheld, but is presently the subject of appeal to the Judicial Conduct Investigation Office.

The standing of the legal team deployed by the chief constable, in this most unpleasant of debacles, is also diminished and their own conduct, it can be argued, might well be the subject of a regulatory investigation, at the very least, in order to maintain public confidence in the civil justice system. Litigation is not for snowflakes, but what has been allowed to pass here as professional conduct is seriously troubling.

The instructing solicitor, Alison Walker, Deputy Head of Legal Services for West Yorkshire Police, is said to be already under investigation over other civil proceedings, but neither her own force or the force to whom, I am told, the matter has been referred (Cleveland) will confirm or deny. Mrs Walker will, doubtless, deny any allegations of impropriety in that particular case, and no imputation, beyond the fact that an investigation may be taking place, is made, but she has a much greater difficulty in the Rashid claim as I (and others) have witnessed it, recorded it in my notebook, reported upon it assiduously and have the complete trial transcript (running to 1166 pages) and trial bundle (electronic version of 12 lever arch volumes) to back up those scribblings. Not one word of which has been challenged by the police, or anyone else.

It is also not clear whether it was on instructions from her client, or of her own motion, but Olivia Checa-Dover of counsel sought to have me removed from the substantive hearing of the claim brought by Dr Rashid on the beginning of the fourth day (of ten). At a hearing in the same court building seven weeks later, she objected to my presence in the press box during another civil claim against West Yorkshire Police brought by a former officer, Kerry Perkins (read more here). The latter case cost the taxpayer over £80,000 in costs shortfall; the Rashid case could well cost the same taxpayers over £1 million in costs and damages. That is on Olivia’s opinion and advice. Seemingly, she, and the police, would much rather these matters, of huge public interest, were not reported and the foundation principle of open justice defeated. Not to mention the routine WYP disclosure failings, questionable witness box testimony, and the ‘cover-ups’ referred to earlier in this piece.

That, from my position in the press seats, diminishes her standing as both counsel and an officer of the court – and those instructing her, including other police forces such as Durham Constabulary (read more here) and Staffordshire Police to name but two, might, in future, consider anxiously whether she is an appropriate guardian of public funds. Or able to contain her innate bullishness.

Nothwithstanding those criticisms, I am an admirer of Miss Checa-Dover’s undoubted talent as a courtroom advocate, her ability to charm the bench and enviable case preparation skills.

As a footnote I would add that, having been adjacent to the Perkins case for over two years, from its very first public hearing in Wakefield County Court, if Kerry had not been worn down mentally, physically and financially by her former employers during the legal process, and forced to withdraw her own appeal to the High Court, she would also have ultimately succeeded in her data protection, privacy claim. A view shared by her legal team, including Sarah Hemingway of counsel, which would have been bolstered by the addition of the formidable Stephen Cragg QC to the legal team at appeal. That would have added around £175,000 to the West Yorkshire taxpayer bill, by way of costs and damages.

The spectacular oversight failings in this case of such as West Yorkshire’s hapless, hopeless Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson and his slippery chief executive and string-puller, Fraser Sampson, will be the subject of a separate article. The Independent Office for Police Conduct and Crown Prosecution Service also feature strongly in the facilitation of this grotesque debacle.

The IOPC, in particular, can expect to be put to the sword. They concealed a former WYP detective constable, Mark Lunn, in their Wakefield office for over three years and refuse to confirm that a full review of every case to which he was a party. He just happened to be the arresting officer of Dr Rashid. Even the most basic of checks by the police watchdog would have raised sufficient concerns for him not to be employed in an organisation where flawless integrity should be an absolute necessity.

Lunn is described by a former senior IOPC colleague as “lazy and corrupt, spending more time pursuing his own business interests (selling free range eggs) than his job here”. Given what is written extensively, elsewhere on this website (read here), about the wayward and dishonest Lunn, that observation has the necessary ring of truth.

Page last updated: Monday 28th September, 2020 at 1535 hours

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

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

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. 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 Media, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Bradford GP hits out after latest High Court success

A full report of a handed down judgment of Mr Justice Lavender, Presiding Judge of the North Eastern Circuit, appeared exclusively on this website yesterday evening (read in full here). It followed an appeal to the High Court in Leeds against the dismissal of a wrongful arrest claim, at Bradford County Court, a year ago.

Dr Abdul Rashid, a highly respected GP and medico-legal practitioner, had been arrested at his home in March 2012. A dawn raid involving sixteen officers found him asleep, along with his wife and three young children. The High Court judge found that the arrest was unnecessary and, therefore, unlawful.

Dr Rashid said after the remote hearing yesterday:

“The past eight years have been incredibly stressful for both me and my family in putting right all the wrongs caused by the unlawful arrest, which the High Court has now ruled to have been completely unnecessary. Not least, succeeding at judicial review in 2012, following a suspension from practicing as a GP, instigated by these same police officers, then being exonerated by the General Medical Council in 2016 of all the numerous false complaints made by these officers, and now this latest court success, 4 years later, gives some measure of vindication, but very little satisfaction. The chief constable should now publicly, and sincerely, apologise for the appalling conduct of not only a significant number of his own officers, but also those that represent him”. 

He added; “There should be a full investigation by the police watchdog into the fact that the police officer who arrested me was also holding himself out, at the same time, as a Private Detective to insurance firms, through a bogus company, and the whereabouts of the £183,000 said by the police themselves to have been paid to this officer by an insurance company at the time he carried out this completely unnecessary and unlawful arrest. The police watchdog, and the CPS, should also be looking very carefully at the transcript of the evidence given in court by DC Lunn‘s line manager, DI Mark Taylor, and ask why he complied with an order by a senior officer in a conspiracy to keep the improper activities of the former DC Lunn secret from the all of the suspects his police force was prosecuting, their legal teams and the trial jury, which may make their trial unfair and convictions unsafe”.

Finally, he said: “I am very grateful to my barrister, Mr. Ian Pennock, who has remained steadfast throughout this ordeal and, along the way, has put those who believed they could deny me justice, firmly in their place”.

A response to enquiries made to West Yorkshire Police press office yesterday is still awaited.

Page last updated: Saturday 26th September, 2020 at 2035 hours

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

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

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. 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 Ne

Doctor finds the right remedy

A bitter eight year battle against West Yorkshire Police has ended in victory for a Bradford doctor and medico-legal practitioner, Abdul Rashid

In a judgment handed down by Mr Justice Lavender in Leeds High Court on Friday 25th September, 2020 it was held that the police had unlawfully arrested Dr Rashid at his home in March, 2012 in a dawn raid involving 16 officers.

He was suspected of involvement of what became known as ‘crash for cash’ insurance claims. No allegation of that nature, or indeed any other criminal allegation, was ever put to him in over 30 hours of police station interviews.

A civil claim followed, alleging wrongful arrest, trespass and false imprisonment and was eventually heard at Bradford Law Courts in September, 2019. Dr Rashid was represented by Ian Pennock of counsel and local solicitor, Simon Blakeley. Counsel for WYP, Olivia Checa-Dover and Daniel Penman were instructed by Alison Walker, Deputy Head of Legal Services within the police force (full day by day trial report can be read here).

After a bitterly fought, ten day liability hearing, the claim was peremptorily dismissed by Mr Recorder Nolan QC, who found that the police had both reasonable grounds to arrest Dr Rashid and there was a necessity to do so, rather than ask him to attend for voluntary interview. The judge awarded costs of around £130,000 against Dr Rashid following the hand down of the judgment.

At the time, both the doctor and his legal team were perplexed over the judge’s findings and felt strongly it did not reflect either the evidence or legal argument (read more here). It is also true to say that they were dismayed at what had been allowed to pass for disclosure, wherein it seemed that the materials had been weeded by the police to take out almost every document that would either assist the claimant or expose what was plainly a ‘cover-up’ over a ‘bad apple’ officer who effected the arrest (read here). 

The demeanour of Ben Nolan QC, throughout the trial, was also a cause for concern and may yet be the subject of a complaint to the Judicial Complaints Investigation Office.

An appeal for permission to appeal was lodged with the High Court the following month and was granted ‘on the papers’ in December, 2019 by the same judge who, ultimately, gave judgment.

Dr Rashid’s appeal focused on the adverse findings by the judge in the trial on these central issues:

 – Whether the arresting officer, Detective Constable Mark Lunn, and his fellow officers (a) honestly, and (b) reasonably believed:

(i) that there were reasonable grounds for suspecting that an offence had been committed by the Claimant; and

(ii) that it was necessary to arrest the Claimant to allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence

 – Whether the search warrants had been obtained lawfully and by due process.

 – Whether the Claimant would have been lawfully arrested by another officer, if he had not been arrested by DC Lunn.This was referred to as the “Lumba/Parker issue” at trial, by reference to Parker v Chief Constable of Essex Police [2019] 1 W.L.R. 2238. Parker being better known as the former television celebrity, Michael Barrymore.

 – Whether the ex turpi causa doctrine applied.

The thrust of the appeal was, obviously, that the primary conclusion of the Recorder, of the arrest being lawful, was wrong. The adequacy of the Recorder’s reasoning was also challenged.

The full appeal hearing took place remotely, via Skype Business, in early May, 2020. In spite of one or two minor technical hitches it was comfortably completed within the estimated time of one day (read report here).

The delay in handing down the judgment is believed to be, at least in part, due to Mr Justice Lavender’s wider responsibilities as a presiding judge of the North Eastern Circuit and the heavy administrative burden that comes with such a role. Especially in the time of a national emergency, such as CoVID-19.

The key points from the the judgment, can be summarised thus:

Reasonable grounds for arrest: The judge upheld Recorder Nolan’s finding that the arresting officer, and others in the group of officers involved in the planning of the operation, did have reasonable suspicion of Dr Rashid’s involvement in the crash for cash conspiracy although the judge noted that the bar is set low for such suspicion.

Necessity for arrest: The judge found that the police not exploring the option of voluntary interview was fatal to their case. The use of the power of arrest must be fully justified and officers exercising the power should consider if the necessary objectives can be met by other, less obtrusive means. Here the bar is set quite high. In Dr Rashid’s case the police did not even consider an alternative to arrest. The justification for that arrest, prior to it being effected, was to seize his mobile phone, even though the officers agreed that the suspect, being an otherwise respectable, professional man would co-operate.

It was also held that the arresting officer is required to record in his pocket book or by other methods used for recording information: (i) the nature and circumstances of the offence leading to the arrest (ii)  the reason or reasons why arrest was necessary (iii) the giving of the caution (iii) anything said by the person at the time of arrest.

The police never made DC Lunn’s pocket note book available, so were unable to make out their case for the arrest being lawful in this regard, either.

Parker/Lumba argument: The judge, having concluded that there were no reasonable grounds for believing that it was necessary to arrest Dr Rashid, found that it cannot be said by the police that, if DC Lunn had not arrested him, another officer would have arrested him lawfully.

Also, on the same basis, there is no scope for the application of the Ex Turpi Causa doctrine, since the conduct on the part of Dr Rashid referred to in final paragraph of the Recorder’s judgment merely provided the occasion for his arrest, but did not cause him to be arrested unlawfully.

Mr Justice Lavender, accordingly allowed the appeal. The judgment of  Recorder Nolan is quashed and replaced by judgment in favour of Dr Rashid for damages to be assessed for his unlawful arrest.

If the police and Dr Rashid are unable to agree upon damages, a trial to determine causation and quantum may follow. In the meantime, a hearing before Mr Justice Lavender has been listed for 16th October, 2020 to deal with matters consequential to the judgment, including costs and any prospective permission to appeal application by either side.

Dr Rashid said after the hearing:

“The past eight years have been incredibly stressful for both me and my family in putting right all the wrongs caused by the unlawful arrest, which the High Court has now ruled to have been completely unnecessary. Not least, succeeding at judicial review in 2012, following a suspension from practicing as a GP, instigated by these same police officers, then being exonerated by the General Medical Council in 2016 of all the numerous false complaints made by these officers, and now this latest court success, 4 years later, gives some measure of vindication, but very little satisfaction. The chief constable should now publicly, and sincerely, apologise for the appalling conduct of not only a significant number of his own officers, but also those that represent him”. 

He added; “There should be a full investigation by the police watchdog into the fact that the police officer who arrested me was also holding himself out, at the same time, as a Private Detective to insurance firms, through a bogus company, and the whereabouts of the £183,000 said by the police themselves to have been paid to this officer by an insurance company at the time he carried out this completely unnecessary and unlawful arrest. The police watchdog, and the CPS, should also be looking very carefully at the transcript of the evidence given in court by DC Lunn’s line manager, DI Mark Taylor, and ask why he complied with an order by a senior officer in a conspiracy to keep the improper activities of the former DC Lunn secret from the people he was prosecuting, and the trial jury, which may make their trial unfair and convictions unsafe”

Finally, he said: “I am very grateful to my barrister, Mr. Ian Pennock, who has remained steadfast throughout this ordeal and, along the way, has put those who believed they could deny me justice, firmly in their place”.

West Yorkshire Police press office has been contacted for comment.

Page last updated: Saturday 26th September, 2020 at 2015 hours

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

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

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. 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 Media, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

A nest of vipers?

An eminent criminologist said to me recently, “The miscarriage of justice community is a nest of vipers” writes Neil Wilby, an investigative journalist and justice campaigner.

This followed publication of another article on this website (read here), concerning a hotly-disputed innocence claim, that chronicled a campaign of abuse against, and undermining of, that same journalist by a number of those associated with convicted murderer, Robin Garbutt.

His reporting, based on hundreds of hours of research, years of relevant experience and an enviable network of policing and criminal justice contacts, came to two well-reasoned conclusions: Firstly, that the Garbutt conviction was very unlikely to be overturned by either the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC) or the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal and, secondly, the innocence campaign was dishonestly grounded.

A large part of that false grounding has, for the past year or so, been down to the public utterances of a 57 year old special needs adviser, Jane Metcalfe, who works in York’s widely-known agricultural college at Askham Bryan. Making herself highly visible at conferences, and networking at other justice campaigning events, Jane has polished up a slick narrative designed to suck in the gullible and those too busy, or lazy, to actually acquaint themselves with either the facts of the case, or the hurdles to be overcome, before it could even be referred back to the court of appeal.

The only common ground between investigator and campaigners is that the investigation following the brutal murder, carried out by North Yorkshire Police, was yet another in a long line of catastrophes involving that force (read here). But the divergence comes at the point where those same campaigners simply cannot accept that a mistake-riddled police investigation does not necessarily mean that a miscarriage of justice follows.

In a recent, but quite extraordinary, exchange on the Twitter social media platform it appears that there may have been another significant divergence: Only this time within the Garbutt campaign team.

Following a recent encounter between Leeds man, Jon Butler, a former College acquaintance of Jane Metcalfe, and Mark Stilborn, Robin Garbutt’s brother-in-law, it has emerged that the ‘Robin Garbutt Official’ campaign is looking to put distance between it and what they now say is ‘an independent campaign’ run by Miss Metcalfe.

This follows a six month period during which Jane’s honesty and integrity has repeatedly come under scrutiny – and been found seriously wanting. The culmination of the Metcalfe exposé came in an interview with disgraced criminologist, Dr Sandra Lean in early June, 2020. Both got absolutely shredded in this excoriating piece elsewhere on this website (read here).

The professionals attached to the campaign should be horrified. They include Martin Rackstraw of London solicitors, Russell-Cooke, and leading criminal barrister Jim Sturman QC. Another QC (honorary), Glyn Maddocks, is attached to the campaign, but it is unclear what specific role he undertakes apart from offering a sympathetic ear to Jane Metcalfe and providing sensational comment to an unquestioning press (read more here).

Her only visible response to questions about the case, and her approach to it, appears to be a persistent smear campaign against the journalist making perfectly legitimate enquiries. There is simply no answer to any questions that challenge the myths around which the campaign, official, independent or otherwise, is built.

Mark Stilborn’s recent statement concerning Jane’s position in the Garbutt campaigning hierarchy actually poses more questions than it answers. At first blush, it has the appearance of being a ploy to avoid the Garbutt family being tarred with the same brush and, unless the decision was taken only days before the meeting with Jon Butler, it seems to be absent of the necessary ring of truth.

For example, Jane says she had the full endorsement of the Garbutt family at the outset of her ill-fated interview with Dr Lean in early June: “Hi Sandra. thanks very much for having us.  Robin and the family are really chuffed about the whole thing, it’s great.  We feel really very honoured, so it’s great.  So thank you for wanting Robin’s story on here“. Although there was an awkward moment when Jane was asked by Dr Lean why it was she who stood up at conferences making presentations on the case. Jane’s response is worth noting: She was chosen because Sallie Wood, Robin Garbutt’s sister and Mark Stilborn’s wife, ‘would be a gibbering idiot’.

Sandra Lean’s ‘Truthseeker‘ series lasted just two more episodes after its disastrous start with the Robin Garbutt case and the negative publicity that followed. Notably vociferous in other causes, she has steadfastly refused to answer any questions as to why she allowed herself to be so completely duped by Jane Metcalfe.

More recently, in late August, Jane posted on the Robin Garbutt page on Facebook:

This did not give the appearance that the Metcalfe campaign was ‘independent’ of Robin Garbutt Official. Especially, as the Private Eye articles came about largely through her efforts. A fact acknowledged by the family.

Much more publicly, of course, and showing very much a united front, Mark, Sallie and Jane appeared on network television broadcasts promoting the innocence claim. Viewed objectively, they did more harm to the campaign than good. But the capacity for Mark and Jane, in particular, to put there foot in it, as it were, is seemingly boundless. The ITV Calendar version can be watched in full at this link here.

That followed an appearance outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London where Sallie is pictured with her arm around Jane. All looking very much part of the same Garbutt team:

So, is Mark Stilborn telling the truth about the campaign undertaken by Jane Metcalfe: That it is and always has been done independently of Sallie, himself and Robin Garbutt Official? Until he has provided a response to this article, you decide.

In the meantime, the Criminal Case Review Commission continue to ponder over a third application from the Robin Garbutt legal team for a referral to back to the Court of Appeal. It was submitted on 5th December, 2019 (read more here). Mark is very confident, he told Jon Butler, that this time they have the new evidence and/or argument and they will succeed. He is, however, not prepared to say how or why, but alluded obliquely to the Post Office Horizon scandal and a possible impact on the Garbutt innocence claim.

No mention has been made elsewhere of this bombshell revelation, particularly during what was billed as a warts and all ‘Dr Truthseeker’ podcast.

Despite two previously failed CCRC applications handled by the same lawyers, Mark and Sallie assert that they maintain complete confidence in their legal team: “This time the CCRC has everything” they say. Which begs the question – what did they have in the first two applications?

The Garbutt family were approached comment and given right to reply. They did not acknowledge the communication or provide a substantive response.

Page last updated: Monday 28th September, 2020 at 1255 hours

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

Photo credit: Alan de Witt, C& A Wild Images; Robin Garbutt Official

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 2015-2020. 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 Media, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Senior judge dismisses complaint over Recorder’s ‘offensive’ tweet.

An appeal has been filed against a judgment given by Lady Justice Carr DBE following a complaint against Mr Recorder Nolan QC to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO).

The complaint concerned a tweet posted on social media by the part-time, fee-paid judge in the late evening of 18th June, 2020:

It appears that the subject Twitter account has now been deleted.

The Middle Temple website states: “Ben Nolan was called to the Bar in 1971 and took silk in 1992. He lives in the Yorkshire Dales and practices across the North-Eastern and Northern Circuits with chambers in Newcastle, York and Manchester. He has a mixed practice and is noted in Legal 500 as a ‘well known circuit heavyweight in serious crime’. He is a Recorder and Deputy High Court Judge. He is actively involved in advocacy training in the Inn and on circuit”.

Recorder Nolan features elsewhere on this website (read here) after presiding over a high-profile and notably acrimonious civil claim in September, 2019. His heavily criticised judgment is, presently, the subject of an appeal to the High Court (read here).

In a complaint outcome letter dated 21st August, 2020 the JCIO say:

In her judgment, the Nominated Judge (NJ) concluded that “I do not consider that the posting of the tweet amounted to judicial misconduct. The tweet was not sent from a judicial account. The details of the account did not identify its holder as a judge. Nor did the contents of the tweet identify in any way that the author was a judge. In short, the tweet contained a private expression of opinion, albeit in offensive language, on the part of the Judge in circumstances that did not implicate him as a judicial office holder. In these circumstances, it did not risk bringing the judiciary into disrepute”. The NJ also considered that “the tweet did not reflect any social prejudice on the part of the Judge. Rather it reflected what the Judge had seen in the newspapers and on television”. Accordingly, the complaint has been dismissed under Rule 41 (b) of the Judicial Conduct (Judicial and other office holders) Rules 2014.

A copy of the judgment was not provided to the complainant.

He has appealed the findings in these terms:

“I appeal the outcome of a complaint investigation into a judge as conducted by JCIO on the grounds as seen below. Evidence is attached. Copies of the original tweets can be obtained from JCIO. The outcome letter to the complaint states: 

The tweet was not sent from a judicial account. The details of the account did not identify its holder as a judge.

The March 2020 Guide to Judicial Conduct states: 

Judges should be aware; however, that participation in public debate on any topic may entail the risk of undermining public perception in the impartiality of the judiciary whether or not a judge’s comments would lead to recusal from a particular case. This risk arises in part because the judge will not have control over the terms of the debate or the interpretation given to his or her comments.

The risk of expressing views that will give rise to issues of bias or pre-judgment in future cases before the judge is a particular factor to be considered. This risk will seldom arise from what a judge has said in other cases, but will arise if a judge has taken part publicly in a political or controversial discussion.For these reasons, judges must always be circumspect before accepting any invitation, or taking any step, to engage in public debate. Consultation with their relevant leadership judge20 before doing so will almost always be desirable.Where a judge decides to participate in public debate, he or she should be careful to ensure that the occasion does not create a public perception of partiality towards a particular organisation (including a set of chambers or firm of solicitors), group or cause or to a lack of even handedness. Care should also be taken therefore, about the place at which and the occasion on which a judge speaks. Participation in public protests and demonstrations may well involve substantial risks of this kind and, further, be inconsistent with the dignity of judicial office.


This is stated in the context of post on social media or to newspapers etc. There is no requirement in the Conduct Regulations that a judge is able to state anything he or she wishes provided he is not identified as a judge. The rules apply to judiciary regardless of if they are commenting from a personal perspective, or as a judicial office holder. Different rules apply to such as The Secret Barrister who is believed to be a member of counsel but is not identified directly as such. 

There is no mention made in the Conduct regulations that the judge is able to publicise his own views regardless of if he mentions his judicial office or not. The rules apply equally to if comments are made in relation to someone identifying themselves as a judge or not. 

The response of The Rt. Hon. Lady Justice Carr hinges on the basis that the judge was not identified on his Twitter account as a judge. This is the basis for her dismissal of the complaint on the grounds that the judge was not identified as such. This is not relevant to the complaint and has been seized upon as grounds to dismiss the complaint erroneously and contrary to the relevant rules. I was able to identify the Twitter account holder as a judge and the majority of the persons following the account will also have been aware that he was a fee paid judge from either media or professional connections. The basis on which the complaint has been dismissed is therefore spurious and erroneous. 

I refer also to the comment in the outcome letter which states:

“the tweet did not reflect any social prejudice on the part of the Judge. Rather it reflected what the Judge had seen in the newspapers and on television”.


This is problematic in a number of areas. Firstly why would Nolan comments on something that he has learned from second-hand experience? Is also his comment not reflective of social prejudice on the part of the source material in which he has seen such comments? Finally has the judge been asked the question of where this opinion came from (either his own or some form of repetition of a third party opinion) by JCIO in the course of the investigation? Were the sources of these ideas stated and relevant enquiries made to ascertain if these were the sources of such ideas? Regardless of if a prejudice has been obtained from TV or newspapers the expressing of the same ideation by a person – particularly a person intelligent enough to recognise them as being prejudice – is effectively them expressing the same prejudice. 

Any expression of social prejudice on the part of a judge is, I would submit, an exceptionally concerning matter. 


I wrote to ask JCIO:  Finally: you state a copy of the outcome letter has been sent to the judge. Is this identical to the copy sent to me? 

And JCIO replied: Yes, the same copy as stated in my letter of 21 August.

This being the case is it not so that now the judge at the centre of the complaint has the name of the person who made the complaint, as seen in the top left hand corner of the letter sent to me? Is this a breach of relevant data protection guidance? 

For this reason I appeal the complaint outcome to the Ombudsman.”

Recorder Nolan has been approached for comment.

The Judicial Conduct Investigation Office has been approached for clarification on timescale for finalising the appeal. They have also been asked to provide a copy of the judgment for wider publication.

A copy of the Amended Guide to Judicial Conduct, referred to in the complainant’s appeal, can be read here.

Page last updated: Thursday 23rd September, 2020 at 0605 hours

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

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

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. 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 Media, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Greek trial delayed until connected proceedings in Bradford are heard

The CoVID19 crisis that has afflicted the criminal and civil justice systems in England and Wales appears to have extended to the paradise Greek island of Crete.

An appeal against a judgment that was handed down as long ago as April, 2013 was adjourned at a short hearing on 22nd September, 2020. It is now listed for 1st February, 2022, a delay of over 17 months.

Full details of the background to the claim can be found elsewhere on this website at this link.

The appellant is Ralph Christie, a Leeds-born resident on the island who turned his hand to property construction and development. From 2002 he grew from a very modest beginning to being on the cusp of having his company listed on the Stock Exchange, before a spectacular and catastrophic falling out with one of his former business partners.

The adjournment followed an application by Nikolaos Giakoumakis, the lawyer representing the respondent, Bradford businessman Stephen Thomas. He argued that this appeal should not be heard until the conclusion of another trial involving his client. This is a Family Court matter where Thomas is involved in an acrimonious dispute with his ex-wife, Jane. The genesis of that action dates back to events in 2006. Its disposal, it is said, will have a direct bearing on the Greek case.

After hearing from George Komisopolis, representing the appellant, the court upheld the defence application to adjourn.

Ralph Christie said outside the court: “The delay is, of course, very disappointing but matters that will emerge in court at Bradford about Mr Thomas, and his financial dealings here in Crete, can only be to my advantage. At this stage, it would not be sensible to go beyond that”.

Page last updated: Wednesday 22nd September, 2020 at 0700 hours

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

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

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. 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.

Day of reckoning

In the summer of 2009, a dispute began between two erstwhile business partners when Bradford businessman, Stephen Thomas, walked into a police station and reported concerns over his dealings with Ralph Christie, a Leeds-born flooring retailer and contractor turned property developer, who had risen to prominence on the paradise Greek island of Crete over the course of the previous seven years.

The report led to the issue of civil proceedings by Thomas against Christie and two criminal trials in which Christie appeared as defendant. The first in Chania, the Cretan capital in 2013 and the second in the more urban surroundings of Bradford Crown Court in West Yorkshire, UK (read more here).

Judgment was given in favour of Thomas in the civil proceedings, in April 2013, whilst Christie was incarcerated in a Greek jail on Crete, ahead of the criminal trial. The claim totalled over 1.6 million euros.

At the Greek criminal trial, where Christie faced fraud and money laundering charges, he was emphatically acquitted. Thomas fled the island along with two other key prosecution witnesses, Susan Watt and Neil Waite, on the morning of the trial. In Greece, if civil proceedings are issued, the court, via judicial investigators, has the powers to advance the claim to criminal proceedings.

They claimed that they were the subject of intimidation, although the evidence behind that claim appears to be sparse and no proceedings have ever been brought against any alleged perpetrators, despite submissions to that effect by lawyers on behalf of Thomas, at the outset of the criminal trial, which caused an adjournment of almost 3 weeks.

Neither Thomas, nor Ms Watt, nor his civil lawyers turned up at the resumed hearing on 14th October, 2013.

In Bradford, fifteen months later, the jury cleared Christie of 14 of the 19 counts on the indictment. He was found guilty of the remaining 5, all for fraud by false representation, and received a sentence of 7 years imprisonment. Those guilty counts are still hotly disputed, as is the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) Order that was subsequently made in the same court in 2018 (read more here).

Two of the three witnesses who had fled Crete before the trial there did, however, give prosecution evidence in the Bradford trial. However, the jury did not believe either Watt, on seven of eight counts, or Waite on a separate single count. The guilty count, which concerned Stephen Thomas’ brother, Simon Thomas, is, according to Ralph Christie, the most controversial of the five.

A value of £55 million attached to all the offences on the indictment had been reduced to £486,000, plus interest by the time the POCA Order was made. Costing millions of pounds, and thousands of police officer, CPS lawyer and court hours, it amounts to one of the most spectacularly failed, and expensive, fraud investigations in police history. Yet, not one single West Yorkshire Police officer has faced a complaint investigation as a result of that shambles and the force remain determined to use every means possible to avoid doing so.

Ralph Christie contends strongly that his youngest brother, Cedric, a former police officer was the unseen hands behind the significant rise in the number of criminal charges that had grown from three to five to nineteen from the committal hearing at the now defunct Calderdale Magistrates Court, in April 2012 up to the final trial.

Stephen Thomas did not give evidence at Bradford, in spite of being the star witness for the police for years; nor did he feature on the indictment along with his former property development partner. Belated disclosures from West Yorkshire Police show that there were over 200 exhibits attached to his various statements made against Ralph Christie. None of which were in either the used, or unused, schedules of materials used, respectively, by the Crown Prosecution Service or disclosed to the defence team at trial. At least one of those exhibits was tainted as it comprised materials stolen from Ralph Christie’s villa in September, 2009. A fact of which WYP, and the Crown, were very well aware. But it didn’t appear an impediment to the latter when relying on that material during a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing in March, 2018.

An extraordinary situation and one that begs the question: What was Thomas saying to the police, and vice-versa, in all that time, and what were the police telling the CPS? One interesting fact that has emerged simply adds to the odour: The solicitor representing Stephen Thomas at the time, Phillip Sweeney of Opus Law, wrote to Detective Constable Charles Skidmore of West Yorkshire Police and pointed out that the witness statement presented to his client to sign was ‘neither accurate nor succinct nor representative of his [Stephen Thomas’] intructions to you’.

That inaccurate witness statement, processed by Skidmore, has never been produced to Ralph Christie, or his legal team during either criminal or civil proceedings, or via data subject access requests.

Thomas also appears to have enjoyed a charmed life, and a police and prosecutor safety net, with regard to other complaints and proceedings brought against him by his ex-wife, Jane Thomas, who alleges large scale fraud. These allegations feature in the judgment of the Greek criminal court. Matters that her former husband still denies. A final hearing is set to take place to settle these long running issues at Bradford Law Courts in November, 2020.

DC Skidmore has always been the subject of fierce criticism by Ralph Christie over his incompetence and apparent confirmation bias. Apart from the issues concerning the witness testimony of Stephen Thomas, the truthfulness, and motive, of a letter drafted by Skidmore and sent by David Levy, a very senior prosecutor, to the Greek authorities in 2011 has also been persistently and robustly challenged. To add to those, the background to how a memory stick belonging to Ralph Christie, believed to be product from the burglary at his villa in Crete in 2009, turned up at Dudley Hill Police Station in Bradford during the same month has never been properly explained by the police, or DC Skidmore, who was the officer fronting the investigation.

Yet the errant officer was allowed to retire from the force without facing any internal investigation, let alone sanction. A remark that also applies to the senior investigating officer in Operation Laggan, the codename for the ill-starred investigation set up to snare Ralph Christie. That was the hapless Detective Inspector Stephen Taylor. Formerly a close working colleague of Cedric Christie in the force’s Economic Crime Unit.

In December, 2011, a few months after he had retired, Cedric wrote to DI Taylor about the case against his elder brother and said: ‘You are really scraping the barrel now and you know what I mean. This concocted farce started just over 3 years ago and still no charges’.

The missive from his former colleague appeared to galvanise DI Taylor as the first charge was laid against Ralph Christie six weeks later. A theft charge upon which the jury returned a not guilty charge at Bradford Crown Court over three years later. The Greek authorities did not charge Christie with theft based on the same evidential materials.

On 22nd September 2020, at the picturesque Chania Court House in the administrative capital of Crete, Ralph Christie and Stephen Thomas are set to face one another in a further legal renewal. This time it is Christie who is in the driving seat in a much delayed appeal against the civil judgment, granted in favour of Thomas, as referred to earlier in this piece.

Given the findings of a three judge panel at the criminal trial, including the senior appellate judge on the island of Crete, in the same courtroom, Christie quite rightly assesses his chance of success as better than 50%. The bench found the Thomas allegations of fraud against Christie unproven and had some harsh words regarding his own conduct in concealing substantial investments abroad from his ex-wife during an acrimonious divorce settlement – and also from the UK and Greek tax authorities.

The three senior judges were also emphatic that the two men were business partners over a significant period, with ample documentation to that effect, despite a 54 page witness statement, filed and served by Thomas, going to considerable lengths to persuade the court that was not the case.

Under Greek law, that may pose a difficulty for him if he returns to the island for the hearing of civil claim appeal.

It is expected that the hearing will be relatively short, judgment will be reserved and handed down sometime during mid- to late October, 2020.

Ralph Christie, who will be represented by local lawyer George Komisopolis at the hearing says: “I am very hopeful that justice will prevail here in what is now my home country. The quashing of this judgment against me will impact markedly on other actions I am taking to clear my name, including the challenge against the Proceeds of Crime Order against me. That hearing, in my opinion, should have been delayed until after the conclusion of these proceedings in Chania”. He was previously represented by Dr Themistoklis Sofos, a leading Athens lawyer.

Stephen Thomas has been approached for comment. He is represented by Athenian lawyer Andreas Voltis and the Chania lawyer Nikolaos Giakoumakis.

UPDATE: A short report on the hearing can be read here.

Page last updated: Wednesday 23rd September, 2020 at 1000 hours

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

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

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. 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.

Even more rotten

On 21st August, 2020 an article was published on this website, headlined ‘Rotten to its Core‘ (read here). It referred to the actions of Greater Manchester Police (GMP) in the eight years following the shooting of an unarmed man, Anthony Grainger, in a supermarket car park in Culcheth, Cheshire by a GMP armed response unit.

Within the piece were exclusive revelations concerning a corrupt detective who had worked on that undercover police operation, codenamed ‘Shire’. The officer also worked on the predecessor drugs investigation, Operation Blyth, but cannot be named for legal reasons and great care was, and is, being taken to avoid any possibility of ‘jigsaw identification’, in order not to prejudice any future proceedings against the officer, even though s/he has not yet been charged and, also, to protect unwitting others who are now dragged into the scandal.

The officer’s identity is, however, well known within GMP, not least because of the elite unit in which s/he was posted and there is a also relative who works for the force. Some colleagues were present when the arrest was made.

Not unnaturally, it created a great deal of public comment, opprobium and, indeed, alarm on social media, although completely ignored by the local and regional press. The most troubling aspect of the case is the genesis of the investigation: The subject officer allowed a packet of drugs to fall from a jacket pocket whilst dropping off a child at school (the location of which is now known but not disclosed here), left the scene without picking it up and the drugs were ultimately found by a pupil, handed to a teacher at the school, who called the police. The arrest followed, at the detective’s workplace, during which more drugs were found – and a search at home found yet more drugs and a cache of ammunition. The latter strongly suggests links to at least one organised crime group. The officer is presently suspended on full pay.

On 16th August, 2020 Gail Hadfield Grainger, the bereaved partner of Anthony, wrote to the Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, who has a dual role as Police and Crime Commissioner for the region. This is the communication, in redacted form:

“Subject: Another corrupt officer attached to Operations Blyth and Shire.

Dear Andy

It is with some dismay that I have to write to you, yet again, over concerns related to the ‘investigations’ that ultimately led to Anthony’s death.

There is, apparently, no-one holding the chief constable to account, including yourself and Bev Hughes, and that is why GMP is widely, and quite correctly, labelled ‘rotten to the core’.

The latest revelation concerns [name redacted] whom, as you may know, featured strongly in both the subject investigations involving Anthony. [Gender redacted] has been arrested and is presently under investigation by the IOPC (believe it or not) over drugs offences. 

Both the Daily Mirror and the Daily Star have been trying to get the story past their lawyers. So far, unsuccessfully, because of the very limited response from the GMP press office. The facts are that [name redacted], when dropping off a child at school, inadvertently allowed some Class A drugs to fall from [gender redacted] pocket. These were picked up and handed to a teacher, who called the police. 

GMP officers found ammunition and a further supply of cocaine at [gender redacted] home address (more than for personal use). [Name redacted] also had drugs on [gender redacted] person when searched at [Name of office building redacted]. The offending is, apparently, common knowledge amongst the [name of unit redacted], of which [Gender redacted] is part.

Now to the important part. My information, from two sources, is that GMP are going to cut a deal with [name redacted] so that the story doesn’t get into the public domain and, they thought, reach my ears. [Gender redacted] won’t be prosecuted and misconduct proceedings will be held in private. [Gender redacted] will, of course, be on full pay for as long as [name of staff association redacted] can spin this out and then, of course, receive [gender redacted] pension.

It is not confirmed yet, but I have reason to believe that [name redacted] lives in the [name redacted] area. [sentence redacted].

In these circumstances, I require from you a firm undertaking that this officer will be prosecuted and sentenced with the same rigour as any other member of the public and that you properly and fully hold the chief constable to account over this disgraceful situation. Those orchestrating the cover-up should also face the full force of the law. You were noisy enough on that very same point when grandstanding for the Hillsborough families.

In the absence of you taking all the necessary and correct steps to put right this series of wrongs then I will go public and you will be doorstepped if you won’t face the cameras and answer questions.

A copy of a letter sent to all Greater Manchester MPs, including of course my own, is attached. The contents are self-explanatory. Your failure to hold the chief constable and his corrupt police force to account has been expressed within.

Yours sincerely

Gail Hadfield Grainger

Bereaved family member and victim – Anthony Grainger”

 

The Deputy Mayor’s response amounted to just five short, sterile paragraphs. It is completely absent of any empathy or sympathy for the distress and alarm these latest developments have brought to Gail and her family. In Ms Hughes’ familiar style she relies entirely on what the police have told her without making her own, independent, enquiries.

She quite correctly opens by saying that she is limited to what she can say because of an ongoing criminal investigation. But she omits to say for how long this investigation is ongoing. It is believed to have been running for over six months. The letter goes on to say that there are simultaneous investigations being conducted, misconduct by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) and a criminal investigation led by the GMP Head of Professional Standards Branch (the very same PSB unit that has led the sustained ‘cover-up’ over Anthony Grainger’s death since March, 2012). The investigation was sent back to PSB, by the IOPC, rather that the watchdog take the more logical and transparent step of inviting another large metropolitan force to get to the bottom of what could be widescale corruption of which the subject officer may only form a part.

Ms Hughes says, despite the lengthy and troubled background to the Grainger case, that she is ‘assured that there is no question that a deal is being done with the officer’. But she gives no clue as to the source of that ‘assurance’ making it, in the event, worthless. She adds that any decision to hold a misconduct meeting in private would be made by the Panel Chair. Omitting to mention that the Mayor decides which legally qualified Chairs form part of his standing list from which a selection is made each time a misconduct hearing is deemed necessary.

She concludes by saying that ‘I am assured that the investigation will be conducted in a thorough and professional manner through to its conclusion and all available evidence presented to the CPS and any misconduct panel’. Again there is no clue whatsoever of the identity of the officer giving the assurance.

It is true to say that Gail Hadfield Grainger was surprised, disappointed and not a little angry that Andy Burnham had not responded himself and, more particularly how weak and supine the response was, after careful analysis.

Accepting, of course, the limitations of the Mayoral response in order to protect the integrity of the investigation (Gail has a Masters degree in law), there was no mention of:

– The ‘Rotten to its core’ label now widely attached to Greater Manchester Police.

– Why the investigation is taking so long? A member of the public found with drugs and ammunition, during and post-arrest, would have been charged, put before the local Magistrates’ and committed for trial at Crown Court within hours, not months.

– What safeguarding measures are being/were put in place at the school and whether counselling for the children and staff unwittingly involved in these crimes was offered?

– The danger this bent cop, and the missing firearm for which the ammunition was acquired, poses to the public of Greater Manchester, and serving colleagues, whilst still at large.

– The fiasco surrounding the investigation of every other officer accused of criminal offences and/or misconduct and involved in either the killing of Anthony Grainger, or the grotesque and sustained ‘cover-up’, by GMP, that followed.

– The fact that a key member of her own team, Paul Gilfeather, was convicted of Class A drugs offences in December, 2018 (read here).

Since that exchange of correspondence, other information has been shared by insiders that adds considerably to the risk that the public are being placed under. It is alleged that the subject officer has, before the suspension from duty:

– Unlawfully accessed police computer systems.

– Had involvement with at least one organised crime group. It is generally accepted that, where there is OCG drugs and firearms offending, as in this case, it usually follows that trafficking, extortion, robbery, theft to order, money laundering are also adjacent.

– Tipped off criminals as drug busts and other disruptive police activity in the locality were being ‘blown’ regularly. Senior officers, prior to arrest of their colleague, were said to be perplexed as to how this series of failed operations had come about.

Other matters more broadly connected to this troubling case include:

– One of the Mayor’s key political allies is said to be a recreational cocaine user. GMP should be aware, as the dealer is said to be a police informant. However, there is no suggestion whatsoever that Andy Burnham is adjacent to that fact. That is also the case with his now dismissed PR Guru, Gilfeather.

– It is alleged that an officer who worked on Operation Blyth was prosecuted for stealing drugs from the police force exhibits store.

The attempt by Beverley Hughes to downplay the case, and its wider ramifications, should trouble every single person in Greater Manchester and beyond. Her suitability to be be holding any police officer to account, given her own highly questionable ethics and professionalism, is just another part of the factual matrix. As is the total reliance on anonymous sources, within a corrupt police force, for her ‘assurances’ that everything will turn out well for the public in the region. The damning evidence already heard at the Manchester Arena Inquiry again expose the frailty of that proposition, as the rank incompetence of the senior leadership is again exposed, unchecked by any form of accountabilty from the Mayor’s office.

The last word, for now, goes to Gail Hadfield Grainger:

“Since this officer’s arrest was first brought to my attention it has caused great anguish to both my family and myself. The role played in the two operations that led to Anthony’s death cannot be erased from history and is a significant trigger. Nor can the terrible mistakes that preceded that utterly tragic event or the cover-up engineered by the police almost from the moment Officer Q9 pulled the trigger.

“With very good reason, I do not trust either the police service, or the Independent Office for Police Conduct, or the CPS, to bring to book this latest GMP criminality, without fear or favour and, unfortunately, the inactions of the Mayor, and this recent letter from his deputy, do nothing to dispel that deep rooted concern. The case should have been given to another police force to investigate”.

The Mayor’s and the police press office have been invited to comment.

Page last updated: Wednesday 9th September, 2020 at 1735 hours

Photo Credits: Greater Manchester Police, ITV News, Derby Telegraph (Stockphoto)

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 2015-2020. 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.

 

‘A grubby little police force’

This catchphrase, now widely shared on social media and indelibly associated with Durham Constabulary, was first coined in November 2016 as part of communication between journalist, Neil Wilby, and the force, concerning a concise, plainly expressed freedom of information request (read in full here).

The disposal of that request quickly turned very ugly after Durham made, very arguably, the worst and most offensive response in the history of the Freedom of Information Act, 2000. It was an unwarranted, unvarnished, libellous attack by a police force, against an enquiring reporter, that also contained a series of deliberate and inexcusable untruths. There had never been any communication or interaction between them prior to that request, which made a response of that deeply offensive nature all the more inexplicable and inexcusable.

Those police officers responsible, both civilian and warranted, should, on any independent view, have faced a criminal investigation or, at the very least, a disciplinary hearing. A clearer case of misconduct in public office or, in police regulations parlance, disreputable conduct, would be hard to find.

Interestingly, the senior officer with portfolio holder responsibility for information rights at that time was Deputy Chief Constable Jo Farrell, since promoted to the top rank following the sudden, inexplicable ‘retirement’ of her predecessor, the vastly overblown Mike Barton.

Their motivation, it seems, was to frustrate a journalistic investigation into yet another shoddy operation, in a lengthy cataloge in that era, by North Yorkshire Police. Durham’s part in that probe is that they had, allegedly, taken over a fraud investigation from NYP as it involved a very prominent, and influential, former police authority Chair in North Yorkshire, Jane Kenyon. Over the years, a regular object of derision in the satirical magazine, Private Eye, regarding her dubious business dealings (read more here).

The criminal ‘investigation’ also featured Thomas William Miller, a Scarborough councillor better known as Bill, who is now married to Kenyon. The victims of the alleged fraud were one Miller’s sons, Jeremy, and his daughter in law, Karen. All four had been involved in a company called Dales Timber Ltd.

In the event, disclosure was refused by Durham after a series of ludicrous, childish, unlawful posts on the What Do They Know website, upon which the request was first posted. They relied on Section 14 of the Act, saying the request was ‘vexatious’, without actually explaining why.

Following a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the Durham decision was overturned. During the watchdog’s investigation the police force continued their smearing campaign against the journalist. Given weight to the argument that this was not about an information request but much more about pursuing a vendetta.

They eventually, and reluctantly, made partial disclosure from which it could readily be deduced that the fraud ‘investigation’ on behalf of NYP was a sham. There was simply no intention to gather probative evidence, take statements from key witnesses and/or suspects, seize evidence or apply the necessary rigour to what, on any independent view, was a very serious matter involving a high profile public figure with a history of dodgy dealing. Efforts since, via the Police and Crime Commissioner, the disgraced Julia Mulligan, a close Conservative Party associate of Jane Kenyon, to have the flawed fraud investigation re-opened, were vigorously rebuffed.

The outfall from that venomous attack by Durham is still the subject of civil proceedings that were first brought in November, 2017 against Durham, who have done everything they can to frustrate that process. A resumed hearing is listed for November 2020. The first, in December, 2019, was adjourned due to the court not allocating sufficient time for the hearing to be completed. [The court service’s over- listing of multiple back-to-back hearings, with no provision for urgent or emergency matters to be dealt with by district judges, will be the subject of a future article].

The claim has been brought by way of section 13(2) the Data Protection Act, 1998 (since superceded) following the sub-optimal disposal of a data subject access request; Durham’s Information Rights Manager, Leigh Davison, has admitted the breach and apologised in her witness statement but, at the same time, their counsel, Daniel Penman, pleads that there is ‘no cause of action’ and advises Durham to refuse to pay the nominal damages sought.

Penman, an oppressive, excessively bullish and sometimes foolish individual is, in those terms, ideally suited to this particular client. One of his bizarre claims, made during informal discussions with the district judge at the conclusion of the last hearing, designed only to humiliate his opponent, was that Mark Gosnell, a senior civil judge based in Leeds, is known as ‘Mr Justice Gosnell’. He was not then and is still not now a ‘red judge’; notwithstanding the very fine and highly regarded arbiter that His Honour undoubtedly is.

He did not welcome the advice from a seasoned journalist/court reporter that, without a change in approach towards other parties to litigation, or journalists, he may well not make the advance in his career his undoubted promise as an advocate might warrant. An approach also in evidence at Bradford Law Courts during a hotly contested civil claim at which both journalist and barrister were present (read here) when he and his leader, the similarly bullish Olivia Checa-Dover, tried, unsuccessfully, to prevent Neil Wilby reporting on the case. Anyone reading that trial summary will understand precisely why those instructing counsel, led by Alison Walker of West Yorkshire Police no less, would have preferred the highly controversial matters aired in the resolution of that £5 million claim, including lurid details of the activities of a “bad apple” officer (read more here), to remain concealed.

A second civil claim is to be issued shortly against Durham concerning the same data subject access request: The force, via Ms Davison, maintains that all materials to which the applicant was entitled were disclosed, when it is patently obvious that such an assertion has no basis in either the facts or evidence. There is also a peripheral issue of the torn packaging in which the subject access materials were sent. Taken at its face, a minor matter of course, but one that created significant distress and alarm at the prospect that sensitive personal data, sent out by a police force, was accessible to anyone within the postal service.

At the time, Durham didn’t even have the courtesy or professionalism to respond to the email and attached photographs, evidencing the flimsy, careless and, in fact, unlawful manner in which the data was transported. But for “a grubby little police force” that type of treatment comes as standard. They utterly resent any form of scrutiny or challenge.

Ms Davison is the subject of robust criticism, over both disclosure failings and her lack of professionalism and the seeming lack of integrity of her department, from other service users such as Huddersfield businessman Stephen Bradbury who has also succeeded at the ICO in his complaint against Durham and has been forced to issue civil proceedings, grounded in Section 168 of the Data Protection Act, 2018 and Article 82 of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), over a grotesque breach of his privacy and misuse of personal data. Despite the ICO finding, the police have ignored all attempts to settle the claim without resort to legal action.

The case of local man Mel Dawson has reached the national newspapers (read here). Durham Constabulary has been responsible for a quite remarkable sequence of ‘disappearances’ of important data. Not least of which is all materials related to a search warrant that Mr Dawson asserts was unlawfully obtained.

Another more startling critic of the Information Rights Department, Ms Davison, the force’s Legal Services Department and Chief Constable Farrell is one of their former colleagues, Michael Trodden, who complains bitterly over disclosure failings relating to a criminal trial at which the detective was cleared by a jury (read here) and in misconduct proceedings that followed.

A third Yorkshire man, Darren Longthorne, together with his wife, Tracey, are also fiercely critical of Ms Davison, and others, following the death of the latter’s father and a botched investigation by Durham that followed. The inevitable disclosure failings by the police are at the heart of their complaints.

This is an emerging picture of sustained abuse of the Freedom of Information Act, the Data Protection Act and the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act by a law enforcement agency. A national disgrace and one upon which the statutory regulator should be taking much more robust action than the occasional slap on the wrist.

It is a near certainty folowing publication of this article that other complainants will come forward and add further weight to the “grubby little police force” strapline.

More recently, yet another decision made by the ICO has gone against Durham following a further Neil Wilby information request (read in full here). The genesis of the request was the media storm over another grotesquely failed ‘outside force’ investigation. This time concerned the alleged theft of sensitive documents relating to the review of the police actions following the Loughinisland massacre in 1994.

Durham Constabulary and the two officers who led the investigation, at the invitation of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), the aforementioned Barton and the civilian investigator, Darren Ellis, about whom much has been written elsewhere on this website (read more here), were absolutely slaughtered both in the High Court and the national press over their conduct – and particularly over warrants obtained unlawfully against two hugely respected Irish journalists, Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey. The latter two are presently involved in mediation over settlement of their claims for unlawful arrest, trespass and detention. Neither Barton nor Ellis have faced any investigation or proceedings over their ghastly conduct.

In their response to the information request, again very precisely drafted, Durham claimed that they held no information and that under the Police Act, 1996 the request should be transferred to Durham. It was a response so ludicrous that it might have been written by a 12 year old – and was nothing more than a peurile, vacuous ruse to avoid disclosing more damaging material, particularly internal and external emails, to journalist they dislike intensely. If Ms Davison didn’t write it herself (the response was sent anonymously in breach of Code of Ethics and Authorised Professional Practice), then it went out under her departmental direction and control.

The force even refused to fulfil their obligations under FOIA and, more particularly, the College of Police’s Authorised Professional Practice, regarding the request made for an internal review of the decision not to disclose anything.

Durham has also now revealed that four other requests were received on similar subject matter and they got away without making any disclosure to those applicants.

It took the ICO seven months to reach their decision but, for them, they were scathing in their criticism of Durham and directed that the request did have to be dealt with by them and all materials prior to the investigation commencing should fall for disclosure. Some, but not all, of the disclosure has now been made and, as expected, almost the entire artifice was designed to protect one man: the thoroughly disgraced Darren Ellis.

PSNI do not escape censure either as they repeatedly, and unlawfully, intervened in the request, apparently on behalf of Durham, attempting to take it over and then refusing disclosure by way of a section 31 exemption. One is entitled to muse over the calibre, and integrity, of employees of that force engaged in their disclosure unit and, of course, the unseen hands directing them from above.

The battle over the Loughinisland disclosure continues, however, as once again, it is clear that not all the materials known to be in existence at Durham have been disclosed. A matter that is, once again, destined for both the ICO and the civil courts.

In the meantime, the public are entitled to seriously question the hundreds of thousand of pounds, and countless officer hours, squandered by Durham Constabulary (and, in two of the cases, NYP and PSNI) to simply conceal materials that will further damage their reputation as “a grubby little police force”. It is a matter so serious that it should warrant a mandatory referral of the conduct of those officers involved, from the past and present chief constables downwards, to the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

The immediate past chief constable, Mike Barton, now faces an uncomfortable few weeks as the real reason for his hasty exit from the top job has been exposed by an insider. A follow-up to this article will be published during w/c 28th September, 2020, wherein those revelations will be expanded upon.

It is not a pretty picture for either Barton or his boss, the late Ron Hogg, whom, it seems, concocted the ‘spend more time in my greenhouse’ story that the local and regional media swallowed whole. Within days a national newspaper had revealed that Barton had taken on a lucrative role with a Canadian IT company (read more here). This, in addition, to continuing to pick up the pieces from his force’s failed enterprise in Northern Ireland. Both a long way from his garden in Blackpool.

Barton received a CBE on the day he required. In all truth, one is entitled to ask how he had the brass neck to accept it.

The police force press offices at Durham and PSNI, the interim Police and Crime Commissioner for Durham have all been approached for a statement.

Page last updated: Thursday 3rd September, 2020 at 1300 hours

Photo Credits:

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 2015-2020. 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.

‘Rotten to its core’

These are the words of leading counsel, Leslie Thomas QC, about what is now recognised as the most scandal-ridden police force in the country.

They were spoken in May 2017 at the conclusion of a public inquiry into the death of Bolton man, Anthony Grainger. Mr Thomas went on to claim Greater Manchester Police attempted to “cover up” failings over the tragic and needless death.

He added: “Key documents have been destroyed, accounts and logs embellished, police statements carefully stage-managed, evidence has been concocted, redactions made for no good reason and thousands of pages of relevant material withheld.

“Taken together with the sweeping failures in planning and execution of this operation, this smokescreen by GMP reveals an organisation that is rotten to its core.”

The inquest touching Mr Grainger’s death was converted to a public inquiry by way of a decision taken in March 2016 by the Home Secretary of the day, Theresa May. This followed the abandoning of a Health and Safety prosecution against Peter Fahy, the chief constable at the time, in January, 2015.

The perenially inept Fahy, who had pleaded not guilty at Liverpool Crown Court, had been charged as the corporation sole, a legal status that meant he represented GMP, but bore no criminal liability.

The prosecution set out to prove 26 alleged GMP failings arising out of Operation Shire, an armed police deployment acting without any proper intelligence basis for so doing, and when the use of armed police was unnecessary or premature. Particularly when some of them had been hanging around for up to 14 hours before reaching the death site.

But, following an application by defence counsel that the prosecution was an abuse of process, the CPS offered no evidence and a not guilty verdict was formally recorded. ‘Shire’ had followed another flawed and controversial drugs-focused operation, code-named Blyth, also dogged with corrupt officers.

It was argued, some might say incredibly, that evidence gathered by the force was so secret it could not be shown to a jury and, therefore, Fahy and GMP could not get a fair trial. It was, on any independent view, another in a long line of disgraceful episodes in the recent history of GMP.

Fahy, whose dreadful legacy still puts Greater Manchester at risk, retired later that year. Some of those perils are outlined in this shocking and widely read catalogue of scandals besetting GMP, many of them on Sir Peter’s watch (read here).

One of his worst bequests was the choice of his deputy, Ian Hopkins, promoted to that role in 2012 after joining GMP in 2008 as an assistant chief constable. Hopkins had previously served, without any obvious distinction, in three small county forces.

Following the Fahy retirement, Hopkins was take his place as chief constable, after no other officer, internally or externally, made the short-list for what should be a highly prestigious role, heading up the third largest police force in England and Wales.

The force, on Hopkins’ watch has, almost since the day of his appointment, staggered from crisis to crisis, scandal to scandal, on a routine basis, and confirmed his position as the worst chief officer in the country, by some distance. Most heavily underscored by the disastrous IT Transformation that is commonly known as iOPS (read more here) and the catastrophic human tragedies associated with Operation Augusta.

One of the worst of those scandals will surface again shortly as the Grainger shooting is about to hit the headlines, once more, for all the wrong reasons.

At the Grainger Public Inquiry, Assistant Chief Constable Steve Heywood was caught telling untruths and admitted making forged entries in a policy log in an attempt to justify the fatal attack. Just part of the catalogue of disgraceful GMP conduct referenced by Leslie Thomas QC.

Heywood told the judge, under probing from counsel to the inquiry, Jason Beer QC, that he did not intentionally mislead the inquiry. Against a background of his force doing just that, over and over again, in those same proceedings.

He signed off on sick leave the day after giving that evidence and never returned to duty, thereafter. It was reported that, during his eighteen month ‘sickness’ absence, he received salary and benefits worth a sum over £250,000. He ‘retired’ in October, 2018 on a full police pension, having reached 30 years service.

This officer, whose evidence was generously described by the inquiry Chair, Thomas Teague QC, as ‘lacking candour’ was not, subsequently, prosecuted over what might be considered, at their highest, to be very serious criminal offences; the Crown Prosecution Service ruling that there was insufficient evidence to secure a conviction. Later revised, after it was belatedly accepted that it did, in fact, meet the evidential threshold, to ‘not in the public interest’.

An investigation followed the public inquiry, by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, into Heywood’s misdemeanours. It began in October 2017 and concluded in May 2018. Roughly five months longer that a competent probe should have taken. They, eventually and belatedly, ruled that he had a case to answer for gross misconduct. It took GMP until November, 2018 to accept that finding. Another six months deliberately wasted.

The disgraced IPCC, upon whose evidence the CPS had relied in deciding not to charge Heywood, had in the meantime changed their name to the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

In May, 2020 the Government produced a ‘whitewash’ response to the 346 page Report into the Death of Anthony Grainger (read inquiry report in full here). It said ‘valuable lessons have been learned for the future’ and ‘good progress’ had been made on nine of the recommendations set out by HHJ Teague. There did not appear to be any probative evidence supporting those assertions (read here).

Supine and very largely ineffective Policing Minister, Kit Malthouse, said: “These organisations [the National Police Chiefs Council and GMP] have accepted the recommendations which were made and assured Government that, in the eight years since the operation in which Anthony Grainger was fatally shot, significant work has taken place to implement changes”. Again completely without supporting evidence. Simply relying on the word of the same senior officers who had condoned the disgraceful conduct of the force at the inquest.

Four officers remain under investigation by the IOPC in connection with the incident and its aftermath. They include another assistant chief constable and Fahy protege, Terry Sweeney. The IOPC seem determined to string out proceedings as long as humanly possible, apppearing to do little or nothing between updates to the bereaved family.

In the midst of all this controversy, in May 2019, Ian Hopkins was given a two year extension to his highly lucrative chief constable contract by the Manchester Mayor, despite being the officer very closely involved in the purchase of illegal gas canisters, deployed in the immediate aftermath of the fatal shooting of Anthony Grainger. One was thrown into the car in which he lay dead. The canisters, purchased in the USA, had been stored by GMP for some time before that unlawful use.

The marksman who shot Grainger, anonymised under the codename Q9, was recently told that he had no case to answer for misconduct (or criminal liability). The watchdog found Q9’s reason for using lethal force was “honestly held”. A surprise and disappointment to the Grainger family having heard his evidence, and that of the others involved in the botched operation, at the public inquiry.

The gross misconduct proceedings against Steven Heywood were listed to be heard at GMP HQ from Monday 1st June, 2020 and scheduled to last three days. They sensationally collapsed, early on the second day, when counsel for the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, who had brought the proceedings against Heywood, submitted to the Panel that charges against him should be dismissed. This remarkable turnaround, by Gerard Boyle QC, followed an application on Friday 29th May, 2020 by GMP to the effect that proceedings should be adjourned whilst an issue concerned redacted materials in the hearing bundle was resolved.

The response of counsel for Heywood, John Beggs QC, was to apply for a stay to the proceedings on the grounds that the delay in bringing the proceedings, and a contemplated further delay, was unfair and prejudicial. Beggs, in oral submissions, also made great play of the redactions issue being unfair to his client, although his copious written pleadings were largely silent on that point.

The way the proceedings played out, regrettably, had the appearance of a well-rehearsed pantomine. With ‘the baddie’ making good his escape.

However, to her great credit. the Panel Chair pulled no punches when responding to the submissions by counsel, being harshly critical of the conduct of both parties.

A transcript of the Panel’s decision and closing remarks – and the response of GMP to them – can be found here.

The officer providing the statement on behalf of the force was Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling, Command Team portfolio holder for professional standards, and it is with him that the search for those responsible for the debacle begins: “Following submissions made at the gross misconduct hearing in relation to retired ACC Heywood on June 1, the force has made the decision not to pursue these proceedings further and invited the panel to dismiss the charges against Mr Heywood.

“This misconduct case involved consideration of some complex issues relating to certain information and intelligence which, for legal reasons, could not be provided to Mr Heywood and could not be made public or indeed even shared with the panel dealing with the misconduct hearing.

“Evidence relating to those things was heard in private at the Anthony Grainger Inquiry, and as such was redacted from the public records of that inquiry. The law concerning what can be disclosed in a public inquiry is different from that in misconduct proceedings.

“Following submissions made on Monday, the force has accepted that some of these matters could not be overcome and it would be unfair to pursue the case against the retired officer.

“These are complex issues and the available options were often constrained by the law. Decisions have been made based on professional advice and in the best interests of reaching the most appropriate outcome – however, in this case this hasn’t been possible, which I very much regret.”

As can be seen from the transcript, the Panel Chair, Nahied Asjad, slammed GMP for “delays and procedural errors” and said the handling of the misconduct hearing “could undermine public confidence in the force”.

“There has been a  fundamental disregard for everyone involved in the proceedings, including Mr Grainger’s family, Mr Heywood and the public”, she added.

In the face of that stinging criticism, DCC Pilling added: “The Chair has been clear that the Panel are of the view that GMP did not deal with some key elements of this matter in an appropriate way. Whilst we need to examine the comments more fully, we absolutely accept that mistakes have been made and this matter should have been handled much more effectively.

Pilling did not offer his resignation, as he rightly should have done but did go on to say:

“We apologise unreservedly for the errors which were made, in particular to the family and partner of Anthony Grainger and to all other involved parties.”

gail hg

An apology not accepted by Gail Hadfield Grainger, Anthony’s co-habiting partner at the time of his death – and an intelligent, dignified, determined and resourceful campaigner for justice ever since.

She has similar disregard for the perennially weak IOPC Director of Major Investigations, Steve Noonan, who said: “Anthony Grainger’s family, and the wider public, deserved to hear the evidence and Mr Heywood account for his actions. We acted quickly and decisively to examine Mr Heywood’s conduct once it was brought into question during the Grainger Public Inquiry in 2017. In May 2018, after our seven month investigation, we concluded he should face a public hearing to answer allegations that the evidence he provided to the Inquiry may have breached police professional standards relating to honesty and integrity and performance of duties. GMP agreed with our findings.”

“Today’s developments mean that there can be no ruling from the police panel, as to whether or not Mr Heywood committed gross misconduct to a degree that would have justified dismissal, were he still serving.

“Three new investigations stemming from evidence given at the Anthony Grainger Public Inquiry, which reported its findings in July 2019, began earlier this year, and we will continue to work hard to ensure those allegations are thoroughly examined, that actions are accountable and lessons learned.”

Gail absolutely rejects that lessons have been learned by either GMP, or the IOPC, whom she holds jointly responsible for the Heywood fiasco with the CPS, who provided two different and equally weak arguments before deciding not to prosecute. A decision that had all the appearance of being pre-formed with a resort to any excuse not to put matters before a jury.

On Friday 21st August a very short remote hearing took place under Regulation 34 of the Police Conduct Regulations 2012, applicable in this particular case. The chair, DCC Pilling looking shifty and uncomfortable, who is also Appropriate Authority and responsible almost entirely for the Heywood debacle, determined that no disciplinary sanction would be applied to the former assistant chief constable in the light of the Panel’s decision at the June hearing.

Steve Heywood did not attend the proceedings and neither did his legal team. Gerard Boyle QC, as mentioned above counsel to GMP, was in attendance but had nothing to add to Pilling’s decision.

The execution of the Heywood cover-up was complete. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along to the next one, which allegedly involves a cocaine-using officer, with links to illegal firearms, presently being ‘investigated’ by the IPCC following an arrest. The officer cannot be named yet, for legal reasons, but was involved with both Operations Blyth and Shire, the latter to a significant degree. GMP are desperately trying to suppress details of the shocking nature and scale of offending. The officer was attached to one of the highest profile and most prestigious units in the force where, it is said, the offending is common knowledge.

Gail Hadfield Grainger has, quite rightly, expressed her outrage at this latest ‘cover-up’ involving officers in the team responsible for her partner’s needless death. An email setting out her concerns that ‘a deal’ may have been done with the offender, to slip the officer out of the GMP back door away from public view, without prosecution or a misconduct hearing held in public, has been sent to Andy Burnham. He has until Monday 31st August, 2020 to respond.

The Home Secretary, Greater Manchester Mayor and the chief constable have been approached for comment.

Page last updated: Monday 24th August, 2020 at 1735 hours

Photo Credits: Greater Manchester Police, ITV News

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 2015-2020. 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.