Fourth time lucky?

This is the fourth in a series of four articles that comprise the deepest dive yet into the murder of Diana Garbutt, by her husband Robin, in March 2010. She was bludgeoned to death in the living quarters above Melsonby Village Store and Post Office as she lay sleeping in bed.

The first article, headlined ‘Don’t do anything stupid, we’ve got your wife‘ can be accessed here.

The second, ‘That particularly dubious constabulary merits careful investigationhere.

The third, ‘A regrettable lack of professionalism’, here.

From his cell in HMP Frankland, 54 year old Robin Garbutt continues to vehemently deny the crime of which he was convicted at Teesside Crown Court in April, 2011. A stance he has never varied since the day he was arrested, three weeks after his wife was so tragically and brutally killed.

His protestations have spawned a well-publicised miscarriage of justice campaign, led by Garbutt’s close friend, Jane Metcalfe, and his sister and brother-in-law, Sallie Wood and Mark Stilborn.

Robin Garbutt campaigners - ITV package
Jane Metcalfe (left) discussing the case with fellow campaigners during a televised interview with ITV reporter, Jon Hill.

The catalyst for recent widespread coverage of the case is a third application to the miscarriage of justice watchdog, the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC). The first was submitted in 2015, the second believed to be in 2018. These applications followed an unsuccessful appeal to the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal in May 2012. Three senior judges, led by Lord Justice Hughes ruled that the conviction was ‘safe’.

Details of the previous Garbutt applications, and the CCRC’s Statement of Reasons for rejection, are scarce. On the campaign website there is a brief mention of the 2015 application being made, but nothing thereafter. Curiously, there isn’t a single mention of the specific grounds upon which those two prior applications were made, or why they were dismissed, in any of the multitude of press and television reports.

That surprising omission is a case in point in an ‘exclusive’ given to The Metro newspaper on 6th March, 2020. But, it appears, from reading Sam Corbishley‘s piece, that the grounds for the latest Garbutt application are as follows:

(i) DNA evidence: When the murder weapon, a 58cm rusty iron bar, was first swabbed, it was found to contain a full DNA profile belonging to an unknown male, and another which later matched one of the police officers present when it was discovered. The campaigners now suggest, following further testing, that the same constable’s sample could potentially be among a mixed profile, of at least three unknown males, recovered from a rust mark on a pillowcase in the bedroom where she was killed – despite the officer not being on duty when the scene was examined – suggesting key evidence may have been contaminated.

~ This part of the application may meet the test for ‘fresh evidence’, not before the jury at the murder trial, if the techniques for DNA profiling have changed since. Otherwise, the CCRC will, quite legitimately, ask why the testing was not carried out pre-trial and the issue of alleged cross-contamination raised there by the defence team. They will, one presumes, also look at what evidence was presented to the jury regarding the murder weapon, the competing arguments during closing speeches and how they were directed on the law on the specific item and, most crucially, whether the campaigners’ fresh information would have impacted on the jury’s route to verdict. The answers to those questions appear to be (a) The weapon has been tested post-facto by a different scientist with results that do not go much further than speculation. (b) The jury was aware that there was no Garbutt DNA on the weapon and there was DNA of the police officer, and at least one other unidentified male identified on it. The defence argued strongly that this was a crucial strand supporting Garbutt’s claimed innocence. (c) The jury was also aware of rust specks on the pillow and cross-contamination onto Garbutt’s clothing. The judge directed them to disregard that piece of scientific evidence. (d) The jury’s finding was that the armed robbery alleged by Garbutt didn’t take place. Largely, as a result, one might fairly infer, of hearing Garbutt’s testimony in the witness box. Which led, immediately afterwards, to the judge revoking his bail mid-trial. This new DNA evidence, if that is how the CCRC classify it, would make no difference at all to the verdict. Particularly, in the light of the DNA on the murder weapon not matching any biometric data on the Police National Computer (PNC). It would be highly unlikely that perpetrators of such a brutal, random murder and armed robbery would make the quantum transition from ‘clean skins’ to serious, highly dangerous criminals in a single leap. It would also be at least as remarkable that they would have returned to a law-abiding life, having escaped detection from the killing of Diana Garbutt and a successful £16,000 raid on a rural post office.

Conclusion: It is doubtful that this ground would persuade the CCRC that the ‘reasonable prospect of success’ test is met and a referral of the case back to the Court of Appeal would be appropriate. It does, however, raise further grave concerns about the conduct of the police investigation [see also ground (iv) below].

(ii) Time of death: The food digestion scientist who gave expert evidence at trial, Dr Jennifer Miller, has since, the campaigners say, been contradicted by a Home Office pathologist. Jurors heard her proposition that Diana may have died between 2.30am and 4.30am. Well before the Post Office central locking system de-acivated the alarm and allowed the safe to be woken up, at 8.30am. Dr Miller’s report may have further persuaded the jury that Garbutt’s claims of a robbery gone wrong was false, but given that it concerned, bizarrely, the rate of consumption of a fish and chip dinner there can be no certainty about that. Especially in the light of the other smore conventional cientific evidence put before the jury. The expert now instructed by Garbutt’s legal team has concluded the time of death may have been much later than 4.30am – possibly even after 6.45am.

~ The matter of the timing of Diana’s death was well ventilated at trial. The key evidence was from the pathologist who examined Diana’s body at the scene, Dr Stuart Hamilton. He was a prosecution witness and gave testimony to the effect that death occured at least one hour before Diana’s body was discovered, and possibly, in the early hours of the morning. Cross-examined by defence counsel, he said that it was “reasonably possible” for death to have occured later. It also emerged that a second pathology report had been commissioned by the Garbutt defence team – and its conclusions were, more or less, the same. A short time after retiring, the jury asked to see the statement of a witness, Brian Hird, who said he heard Diana speaking through a closed door at 6.45am, even though he didn’t know her. As a matter of law, the request was refused, but the jury was plainly alert to the significance, or otherwise, of that evidence and, more widely, the other expert assessments concerning time of death. The new opinion does not appear to alter the position at all.

Conclusion: For all those reasons set out above, it is more likely than not that the CCRC will reject this ground.

(iii) Horizon Software scandal:

Defects in the in the Post Office’s Fujitsu-driven  IT system  culminated in them recently settling a high profile High Court case. A consolidated claim, brought by over 500 former postmasters and, unoriginally, known as The Post Office Group Litigation, was heard before Mr Justice Fraser and, ultimately, after a bitter fight, resulted in an award of £58 million damages (read full judgment here). Although Robin Garbutt is not one of the 56 postmasters who applied to the CCRC regarding criminal prosecutions brought against them, following thefts alleged by the Post Office, it is said his campaigners hope the added weight of the scandal will help force the criminal justice watchdog into action. 39 cases have already been referred by the watchdog to the Court of Appeal.

~ The attempt to piggyback the scandal by the Garbutt campaigners has been successful to a degree: Their latest application to the CCRC has attracted more press and television coverage than it might otherwise have done. The downside to the strategy is that the resort to leveraging public support in this way simply invites closer attention to how weakly grounded the rest of the application really is. On the The Justice Gap website, they report that the campaigners now assert that similarities in the Horizon failings existed in the Melsonby post office accounts at the material time. That is to say, in simple terms, the software showing more cash deposited in the safe than was actually held there, and the assumption by the Post Office, in all cases, that the difference was pocketed by postmasters. The difficulty for the campaigners, within the terms of this application, is that Robin Garbutt asserted that the sum in the safe – and allegedly stolen by the armed robber – tallied with the accounts. There was no apparent discrepancy. If there was no armed robbery and an empty safe, then the only explanation left is that Robin helped himself to the cash. The CCRC will also be alert to fact that he admitted false accounting during the course of his evidence (“not all the business [receipts] went through the till” he said under cross-examination) .

Conclusion: Based on what is set out in the Court of Appeal judgment, regarding the impact on the jury of the Post Office evidence at the murder trial, and the applicable law regarding the proving of motive, this ground appears to be misconceived.

(iv) Television footage of West Road, Melsonby on 24th March, 2010:

This, apparently, shows the wall outside Nixon’s Garage (see blue map pin) where the murder weapon was found the following day. The iron bar is not there. A fact, it is said, confirmed by at least one journalist who sat on the same wall, as a vantage point, on that day. Bill Nixon says he had never seen the bar before on his premises, and that members of the press were stood on that section of wall taking photos. On some television footage, there appears to be a mobile police cabin (from which a forensic science officer emerges) positioned as close as six to eight feet from where the bar was found. It was more or less opposite the rear gate of the village store premises.

Screenshot 2020-04-07 at 20.08.22

~ This, again, may meet the fresh evidence test. But the CCRC may adopt a counter argument and say: Why didn’t the defence team challenge more rigorously the peculiar circumstances in which the rusty iron bar was discovered? By, for example, obtaining police and press photographs, and TV film, between the pre-trial review on 28th September, 2010, when the existence of the weapon was first disclosed to them, and the start of the trial in March, 2011? The question is also likely to be asked by the watchdog as to why the journalist(s), or indeed the film crew, didn’t come forward with this vital information in the period between the time the discovery of the iron bar became public knowledge and the early part of 2020? A gap of over 9 years.

Nevertheless, the CCRC will have to anxiously consider these two competing arguments within their overall assessment of the application: (a) Campaigners rightly point to the flawed prosecution hypothesis regarding the murder weapon, in that Robin Garbutt had placed the iron bar on top of the wall after bludgeoning Diana, together with an oblique suggestion that he had scraped his knuckles that morning scaling the eight foot high wall. Those factors advance both the arguments that the case against him wasn’t entirely well grounded – and that he suffered further prejudice. (b) On the other hand, conversely and perversely, the absence of the iron bar, for two days after the murder, further undermines the claim, by Garbutt, that the murder was committed by an armed robber. It would be far-fetched in the extreme to expect a criminal of that class to, firstly, hold on to a weapon, with the victim’s DNA upon it (and possibly his own), then, secondly, stealthily return it to a position around 10 metres from the scene of the murder, two days later. Even without the latest evidence, the jury found that Garbutt had lied about the armed robbery and before that, the trial judge, Mr Justice Openshaw, was so concerned about his evidence in the witness box that he revoked his bail and had him remanded in custody for the remainder of the trial. There is, then, the matter of positioning this ‘new evidence’ in the matrix of (c) the overall police conduct of the investigation, which is covered in great detail in two earlier articles on this website: Is police impropriety a factor in the belated discovery of the iron bar so close to the murder scene? No doubt the North Yorkshire force will have plenty to say to the CCRC on that topic, with the considerable benefit of their submissions being made well away from public scrutiny.

Conclusion: This ground is the one that should trouble the independent reviewer the most, and is the only one that may go close to persuading the CCRC that the appropriate test is met. But, irrespective of the watchdog’s ultimate decision, as with ground (i) the latest mystery around the  ‘discovery’ of the iron bar raises further serious concerns about the police investigation.

Will the CCRC refer the case back to the Court of Appeal

The key points the CCRC consider, in determining an application, are whether there is a
‘real possibility’ the appeal court would overturn a conviction, sentence or
finding and whether this real possibility is due to evidence or argument (or in
the case of sentences, evidence or information) which was not put forward in
the trial or appeal. This is generally referred to as the need for ‘new [or fresh] evidence’.

‘Real possibility’ was assessed by the High Court in the case of R v CCRC ex
parte Pearson [2000] 1 Cr.App.R. 141 as being “more than an outside chance
or a bare possibility but which may be less than a probability or likelihood or a
racing certainty. The Commission must judge that there is at least a
reasonable prospect of a conviction, if referred, not being upheld.”

The CCRC cannot perform a ‘re-run’ of a trial just because the evidence of the defence was not accepted by the jury and the evidence of the prosecution was. They have to be able to present to the appeal court a new piece of evidence or new legal argument, not identified at the time of the trial, that might have changed the whole outcome of the trial if the jury had been given a chance to consider it.

As set out in the previous Robin Garbutt articles on this website, the jury had two main points to resolve, the approximate time of the murderous attack and did the armed robbery actually take place? The Court of Appeal, in 2012, was asked to rule on new evidence brought before them. This was Post Office Ltd records dating back to 2004. At trial, only the records dating back to 2009 were made available to the defence. There was also new evidence, of marginal significance, in regard to variable limits for cash requests, made by postmasters to HQ, which would trigger an enquiry or request for justication. The appeal court ruled that the conviction was not unsafe, as the Garbutt legal team argued. Lord Justice Hughes aunderscored the jury decision, with comprehensive reasons set out in six lucid paragraphs (26 to 30 in the judgment), that the robbery did not take place, and was one in which they would be very slow to interfere. Those reasons included three generous assumptions in Garbutt’s favour.

Taken individually, or together, the grounds in the latest re-application do not appear, from what is in the public domain, to be compelling enough to meet the real possibility test of overturning that finding by both the jury and three law lords. It is also clear from the action taken mid-trial that Mr Justice Openshaw did not believe Garbutt was telling the truth, either.

The overall conclusion, therefore, is that Robin Garbutt and the campaign team face further disappointment. One that is completely at odds with the bullish statement of solicitor, and honorary QC, Glyn Maddocks: ‘The way in which the forensic work has been handled and dealt with is disgraceful. It’s absolutely disgraceful and no-one could possibly argue otherwise. ‘It’s just such a shocking case. If it was you, or your relative, you’d be absolutely horrified.’ With the key planks of the original prosecution case having seemingly disintegrated, Mr Maddocks says he is not even sure the Court of Appeal would pursue a retrial if the case is referred back to them.

One thing is abundantly clear; either lawyer, Glyn Maddocks, or journalist, Neil Wilby, will have egg on their face when the CCRC make their decision. The reader can take their pick. But, either way, the public deserve to know, and understand fully, what went wrong with this investigation and why.

Oversight of North Yorkshire Police and the Robin Garbutt investigation

Two of the principal reasons that North Yorkshire Police staggers from crisis to crisis, and from one bungled major investigation to another is a complete lack of oversight from those either elected to provide it, or paid from public funds to do the job.

North Yorkshire’s Julia Mulligan is amongst the four worst police and crime commissioners in the country (two of her friends and policing area neighbours, Barry Coppinger and Mark-Burns-Williamson, also feature in the list) providing almost ZERO oversight. Since she was elected in 2012, in almost every serious situation requiring the holding of the chief constable to account, she has failed miserably. It is a startling dereliction of her statutory duty and one of the reasons that grandees in the Conservative Party decided to unceremoniously dump her as their candidate for the next election.

The top brass in NYP just do as they like, knowing that she has neither the basic knowledge of policing (she was a car salesperson and a media strategist before entering full-time politics) or, more crucially, the will to take strong action.

The so-called police watchdog, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), is already widely regarded as even worse than its failed and disgraced predecessor, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). There has always appeared to be a special relationship between the regional office of the IOPC/IPCC at Wakefield and North Yorkshire Police, whereby even the worst cases of misconduct, or even criminality, are whitewashed away.

Completely divorced from the latest CCRC application, and in order to maintain public confidence in the police, this murder investigation, codenamed Operation Nardoo, really ought to be referred, urgently, to the IOPC by the police commissioner, who should in turn request Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary to recommend an external metropolitan police force, such as Northumbria or West Yorkshire, to thoroughly review the case from start to finish – and re-open it at any time if that is where the evidence takes them.

Screenshot 2020-04-08 at 11.38.36
Interior view of HMP Frankland

When will Robin Garbutt be released from prison

In April 2011, he was sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommendation that he serve not less than 20 years. He will receive credit for the time he spent on remand at HMP Holme Hall between the committal hearing at Northallerton Magistrates Court and the pre-trial review at Teesside Crown Court. There will also be a credit allowed for the time he spent on remand, during the latter stages of the murder trial, after the judge dramatically revoked his bail.

Garbutt would be eligible for parole, therefore, near the end of 2030, under normal circumstances, and provided he had undertaken the necessary rehabilitation programme. The difficulty he faces is that, if he continues to protest his innocence, the parole option falls away and he faces the rest of his life in jail. He would also be denied the opportunity for his detention to be re-classified from the high security Frankland jail to a less rigid regime and, ultimately, an open prison in preparation for a phased release back into society. That prison holds some of the most dangerous offenders in the country.

After a failed criminal court appeal, and three subsequent applications to the CCRC, it is difficult to see how the campaign can sustain if the latest incarnation is also refused. As seems more than likely for all the reasons rehearsed in this article.

Footnote

The Robin Garbutt Justice Campaign has been exposed, in the course of this investigation, as more white noise than substance. Jane Metcalfe, in particular, whose true attachment to Robin Garbutt she has yet to reveal, is very active on social media and her output is almost entirely confined, in terms, to ‘There is nothing left of the prosecution case’ (without, it seems understanding what, precisely, it was); ‘Robin is such a nice man he couldn’t possibly have killed Di’ (every single person at trial spoke well of him so there is some substance to that) and, absurdly, ‘Robin Garbutt has always told the truth‘. The latter is, as Sir Peter Openshaw DL (as he is now styled) and senior Crown Prosecutor, Xanthe Tait, observed from their privileged vantage points, a grotesque misrepresentation: He lied to the police; he lied on oath in court and his evidence before the court was, in other aspects, repeatedly unimpressive. Particularly, the belated embellishment in court of accounts he had had given to the police, previously, over many hours of interviews, regarding Diana calling out to him through a closed door.

Those characteristics chime with the campaigners‘ modus operandus of ignoring and/or denigrating anything, or anybody, that doesn’t conform to the Garbutt innocence narrative. Including the author of this piece and the CCRC. This behaviour concerns me: having never encountered anything like it before. If a group is campaigning against a miscarriage of justice then a foundation stone has to be an open book policy, nothing to hide.

On another troubling tack, Mark Stilborn publicly claims that the Garbutt case is the worst miscarriage of justice he has ever seen. Which begs the question of how many has he actually studied, with the appropriate rigour and objectivity, and how is he is qualified to judge, in any event? On this website there is a very widely read and shared piece concerning a genuine miscarriage of justice that appears to have passed Mark by; the utterly tragic case of Stefan Kiszko (read in full here). A case that, for many years, has been recognised as one of the worst in criminal justice history. On any independent view, Robin Garbutt’s case comes nowhere close. He is, largely, the author of his own misfortune.

The adverse impact on Diana’s family caused by this style of campaigning, headed of course by her mother, Agnes Gaylor, is incalculable. They thought they had closure at the trial; Agnes is is no doubt, whatsoever, about the verdict that marked her son-in-law as the perpetrator of the murder of her daughter. She said recently that she attended every day at the trial and tried to put herself in the place of a juror with an open, independent mind considering only the evidence she had heard in court. The conclusion was inescapable.

The campaigners, and those that blindly support them without being adjacent to the facts, would do well to better understand that Robin Garbutt is not the victim in this case. That mantle, very tragically, falls to Diana and her close family. Nobody twisted an arm to invent the story of the robbery, without which he would probably not have been convicted of the murder of his wife.

Page last updated: Thursday 10th April, 2020 at 1125 hours

Photo Credits: ITV News, THIIS.

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© 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.

 

 

‘Don’t do anything stupid. We’ve got your wife’

As one who frequently sits in court press seats, directly opposite jury boxes, it might be said that I am moderately qualified to pass comment on the vagaries of a system that sees the fate of defendants, accused of serious crimes, decided by twelve of their community peers.

The prosecution present the case as to why the Crown (or State) believe the accused is guilty, then the defence barrister will answer the allegations. Each will usually bring witnesses to speak either for, or against, the defendant(s) and there are often exhibits in the form of documents, records, clothing, photographs, and sometimes, weapons. Experts, of varying qualification and authority, can be deployed to give evidence for either side.

It is what is known as an adversarial system. Where the most refined arguments on the applicable law and the more compelling evidence of fact succeed, in theory at least. Compared to, for example, an inquest, or courts in some other European countries, where the process is inquisitorial. A search for the truth.

At the end of the evidential stage of a trial, counsel (barristers, or QC’s where the charges are serious) for both the prosecution and defence will each make a closing speech, addressed directly to the jury, which comprises the best of their arguments and highlights the evidence that they believe falls in favour of either the Crown or the defendant. Often, and for very good reason, they are highly emotive – and regarded by many as the key components in a trial.

Immediately following the speeches, the trial judge ‘sums up’ the arguments and evidence. Stressing all the time, that he, or quite often she, these days, is the arbiter on law only; decisions on facts are for the jury alone. What a judge may consider important the jury may not, and vice versa.

Having given the jury directions on the law – and how it applies in the particular case being tried – a jury bailiff is sworn in and the twelve men and women, from all walks of life, are sent to the jury room to deliberate. Under strict instructions not to discusss the case, except when they are all together in that room. They are also warned about researching any details about the case on the internet, or discussing it at home or with friends. Their verdict is reached only on the evidence they have heard  in court – and the judge will remind them that it for the Crown to prove guilt, not for the defendant to prove his innocence.

The judge will also urge them to reach a unanimous verdict when they are sure the defendant is either guilty or not guilty. If the jury is ‘hung’, that is to say not all of them agree on a verdict, the judge will take soundings from both prosecuting and defending counsel as to how long must pass before the court should allow a verdict based on the majority of jurors. Either 10-2, or 11-1, if all 12 jurors are still sitting.

If the jury finds the defendant guilty, the judge hears from both counsel again – and then passes sentence: The prosecution will present the views of the victim, often in the form of an impact statement, and advocate for what is believed to be an appropriate sentence, within the guidelines. Defence counsel mitigate, as best they can, on behalf of their client. In the case of a not guilty verdict, the defendant is released from the court dock soon after the verdict and free to go about his daily business, no doubt chastened by the experience. The guilty take the slow walk down the dock steps to custody.

Nothing about the deliberations of the jury can be made public, either during or after the trial. But the judge, using his experience and knowledge of the case, will apply their fact finding when passing sentence and making his accompanying remarks. In the higher profile criminal cases, the ‘Sentencing Remarks’ are made public and widely distributed.

Following a four week trial in Teesside Crown Court, during March and April, 2011, a 45 year old man, Robin Joseph Garbutt, was found guilty of the murder of his wife, Diana, at the village store and post office they ran at Melsonby, in the Richmondshire district of North Yorkshire. The jury were split 10-2, a majority verdict. They had deliberated for over thirteen hours, but took only a very short time after the judge released them from their obligation to return a unanimous verdict.

The heinous crime was committed just over a year earlier, on 23rd March, 2010, and attracted a large amount of press attention; not least because it was said that an armed robbery had taken place, in which a large amount of cash was stolen. The widely held assumption, at that time, was that Mrs Garbutt had been killed by those same robbers during the raid. The local police force were under enormous pressure to ‘get a result’.

At first, it appeared that the police had accepted Robin Garbutt’s account of the robbery, and the circumstances in which Diana had died. But three weeks later, the innocuous, well-liked and respected local man was arrested by North Yorkshire Police in an early morning swoop, held in custody and questioned for 5 days. After which, he was charged with his wife’s murder.

Garbutt, it later emerged, had been suspected of a false narrative, by the police, within a short time of them arriving in the picture postcard village. PC Mark Reed, the second officer to arrive, said that his account was ‘jumbled, all over the place’. TC Chris Graham-Marlow, the first officer on the scene, was concerned that he continually questioned the opinion of the paramedic attending the body of Diana who had told him that rigor mortis had set in and there were also clear signs of hypostasis (blood pooling in tissue where her heart had stopped), indicators that death had occurred at least an hour earlier and, more likely, several hours previously. There appeared to be no good reason, when apparently almost hysterical over the death of his wife, why he would do so. The nett effect was to invite closer attention to the armed robbery narrative.

PC Reed says that when he and another officer drove him to Northallerton police station at lunchtime on the day of the murder, Garbutt again returned to the subject of the time of death and the state of the body.

At the time of his arrest, the police said that there were inconsistencies in his account of what had taken place on the fateful day, and the background to it. Exactly a week after the murder, Detective Superintendent Lewis Raw said “The investigation is very complex and it will take some time to complete all avenues of investigation”. The first sign, publicly, that the police were not treating this as an armed robbery gone wrong.

At trial, it emerged that Garbutt had further aroused police suspicions by painting a rosy picture of the marriage and the village store business. But, in reality, the prosecution presented the jury with a very different picture: A woman sexually unfulfilled and with a constantly roving eye – and the couple had rising debts which, at the time of the murder, amounted, jointly, to over £44,000, plus a £60,000 mortgage on the property. They had seven credit cards between them, all running at or near the credit limit.

Diana, it was heard in court, ‘had lost interest in the business’ and it had been on the market for around 5 years, with little or no buyer activity.

She had told one of her male dalliances, in an email message, that her marriage was ‘doomed’. She told another that the marriage was going through ‘a rough patch’. The court also heard that the Garbutts had seen a Relate counsellor, regarding their sexual incompatibility, and discussed splitting up, with Diana renting a room elsewhere in Melsonby village. At trial, Robin dismissed this as being ‘long in the past’ even though it was just over a year ago. His wife had visited a dating website several times on the day before the murder, including just a few hours before she was bludgeoned to death.

Comprehensive and highly forensic analysis of the personal finances of the couple, the village shop and the post office was put before the jury and they heard live evidence from Teresa Bentley, a specialist economic crime investigator who had full access to all the couple’s personal and business bank accounts, credit card accounts. She was, also, assisted by a Post Office fraud investigator, Andrew Keighley. The jury heard from the latter that there were ‘irregularities’ over the Post Office record keeping and unusual requests for cash from HQ. Mrs Bentley told the court that there were regular, substantial cash sums sent to the bank, via special delivery. Her reports, included in the jury bundle, tended to show that it was these cash deposits, about which there was scant explanation from Robin Garbutt, that were keeping their business and personal finances afloat.

In 2009, the couple, who married six years earlier, had eight holidays, including weekends in Amsterdam, paying two visits to the Hard Rock Cafe, and trips to York, Paris and Northumberland. Two of their other weekend trips to Bolton Abbey cost £1200 and £800 respectively. Diana went with a friend on a trip to the Glastonbury Festival. A week or so after the murder they were due to fly to the United States for a three-week holiday at a cost of £3,000 (Diana’s father was American and she had dual nationality. The plan was to visit her sister Victoria in California, before travelling to see her 94-year-old grandmother, Rose, in Virginia). When the prosecution advanced the view, in cross-examination, that the Garbutts were living well beyond their visible means, Robin denied that. He told the court that not all the business takings went through the till [Which, of course, means that VAT and income tax returns were, demonstrably, false]. Diana’s Post Office salary was £14,500 and the shop was, at best, showing a very small profit. In the months leading up to the murder the shop was losing a significant amount of money, according to the police analysis, although defence counsel, James Hill QC, did question the actual amount that was put before the jury (around £14,000).

The trial, and the verdict reached by the jury, appeared to turn on just two key findings: The time at which the murder occurred and whether, or not, the alleged armed robbery took place. The judge, in his summing up, had made it clear that the Crown did not have to prove motive, only the charge on the indictment. That is the law as it stands.

Much of the witness evidence heard at trial, on behalf of the prosecution, was to dispel the widely held myth in the village that all was perfect in the Garbutt marriage – and their business enterprise was flourishing. The court also heard many glowing personal testimonies about the couple, and Robin; and the judge, of course, drew equal attention to those.

He also explained that, in the circumstances of this particular case, a verdict of manslaughter was not available to the jury.  Robin Garbutt was either guilty, or not guilty, of the murder of his wife, Diana. If he didn’t commit the crime, then the jury verdict would point to the armed robber(s). That was how the police and prosecutor had, some might say very cleverly, constructed the case. Their strategy, for example, excluded the possibility that there was a third party involved in a conspiracy to murder, who may well have struck the fatal blows whilst Garbutt was serving in the shop downstairs.

David Hatton QC, prosecuting, said propitiously: “One of the questions you will have to consider, if you accept this evidence [of a robbery taking place], is the likelihood of a robber, or robbers, being prepared to violently kill a female sleeping in her own bed, at all; but then, having done so, to wait for [four to six hours]* before going downstairs to rob the post office.

“And then, it has to be said, having been prepared to bludgeon the lady to death upstairs and wait for that length of time, to leave the defendant himself unharmed and unrestrained to raise the alarm.”

The timing* of the murder has, before, during and after the trial, created huge controversy. The prosecution say it happened between 2.30am and 4.30am, the defence assert that it was after 6.45am. Those competing arguments, along with the other matters around which the Garbutt miscarriage of justice campaign is focused, is the subject of analysis in a separate article in which I conclude from, it must be strongly emphasised, a non-scientific standpoint, but after weighing all the evidence heard in court and the counterclaims regarding the food digestion analysis since the trial, that the attack occured between 5.40 and 7.10am.

The first paramedic on the scene, Michael Whitaker, gave evidence to that, upon arrival at the scene of the murder, there was no electrical activity in her heart and her arm was solid with rigor mortis. The court heard: “I assumed that the lady had been deceased for quite some time.” Under cross-examination, Mr Whitaker told Mr Hill that he could not say for certain how long she had been dead for.

The issue of whether the robbery took place, or not, is more compact, does not involve complex science, and amounts, quite simply, to whether the account of Robin Garbutt can withstand scrutiny. So, readers of the present article are invited to put themselves in that jury box, test the evidence and reach their own verdict.

The narrative account of the robbery given to the police on the day of the murder was repeated, more or less, in the witness box at trial. It boils down to what took place between and 08.35.54 and 08.37.13 on Tuesday 23rd March, 2010. A total of 79 seconds.

During that time, from when the opening of the safe became possible, recorded both within the deposit box itself and centrally at Post Office HQ, and the 999 call being answered, this is what is said to have happened:

~ Garbutt was in the post office booth, within the shop, having just opened the safe, when he heard a noise from behind the shop door that connected to the staircase leading up to the living quarters.

~ After opening the safe, but before he was disturbed, he had removed the A4 book containing postage stamps. He had also removed the compartmentalised tray containing the coins that fitted in the post ofice till.

~ He left the booth and moved towards the door thinking he would be greeted by his wife. Instead he was met by a masked man, in dark clothing, holding a gun down by his side.

~ The robber told Garbutt: “Don’t do anything stupid, we’ve got your wife upstairs”.

~ He was then instructed to turn off the lights in the shop and lock the front door. In court, it was heard that he slid across the top bolt on that door.

~ He then returned to the booth and filled a black holdall with over £16,000 in denominations of £20, £10 and £5 notes. They were in bundles on a shelf in the safe.

~ Emerging from the booth, he then went around to the back of the shop counter and emptied the contents of the till (about £150) into the holdall, on the instructions of the robber.

~ At this point the armed robber left the shop, via the connecting door and the back door to the premises, which Garbutt says he had left unlocked when offloading stock for the shop, from his car, earlier that morning between 4.30am and 6.00am.

~ Garbutt was warned by the armed robber not to move.

~ The back door, apparently, had not been locked by the robber(s) after they gained entry.

All of the above actions, mostly by a man seemingly paralysed by fear, and with one eye on the gun in the robber’s hand, had taken just 20 seconds, says Garbutt. Emphatically.

This is a picture of the interior of the shop which may aid readers’ understanding and assessment:

Screenshot 2020-03-29 at 14.16.53

The silent alarms, which connected to the police control room via a central monitoring station, had not been activated. One was in the booth near the safe, another was next to the shop till and a third was by the connecting door. Garbutt explained this to the police, and later in court, by saying, firstly, that ‘he was caught in the agony of the moment’ and, secondly, he did not know the alarms were silent, despite the court hearing evidence that he had been instructed at least three times in their use by two different Post Office technicians. It also emerged in court that he had taught one of his shop assistants, Linda Sharp, some months earlier on how to use the alarms and explained their effect (the court heard that she was also told in strong terms to make sure she always kept the back door to the premises locked).

~ After the robber had left, and without having sight or sound of any other robber whom, according to the thief in the shop, was holding Diana captive, Garbutt says he raced upstairs, passing the silent alarm button near the connecting door.

~ He arrived in doorway of the spare bedroom to see his wife face down on the bed, her head in a pool of blood that had spread out on the pillow beneath her.

~ The husband of the wife he told the court he adored, did not offer any first aid, or even check whether she was dead or alive.

~ From there he went to the living room on the first floor and dialled 999 to report the robbery and injuries to his wife. He did not tell the emergency operator whether she was dead, or not.

~ Garbutt told the emergency services operator that the robber(s) had made good their escape, although he had no knowledge of that. He did not check the direction in which they were headed or whether they were, in fact, lying low on or around his property. No other person in the village, or elsewhere, had sight of them at any time on that morning. His next door neighbour, Pauline Dye, was in and out of her house, hanging out the washing in the back courtyard, at around the time the robbery took place. She saw or heard nothing.

There is no account of Garbutt searching for, or calling out to, the other robber(s) said by the gunman to be holding Diana captive. Or arming himself to confront or defend himself from an attack from the second robber that he must have believed was present, and armed, with his wife, thus ensuring compliance with the instructions from the robber who appeared in the shop. Garbutt told the police, when later interviewed as a suspect, that the robber did not have the iron bar in his hand. Also, he could not explain how the robber had, apparently, no blood on his clothing.

This is a short film of the account Robin Garbutt gave of the alleged robbery. It was given to police a few hours after the discovery of his dead wife.

The defence, at trial, relied on the report of another almost identical robbery at the same village shop, exactly 53 weeks earlier, on 17th March, 2009. The court heard Garbutt’s account of how, at about 8.30am, he had been confronted by two hooded men, with their faces covered, one pointing a gun at him, as he opened the post office safe. They escaped with around £11,000 in cash and a valuable A4 book of stamps. Garbutt did not activate the silent alarms on that occasion, either. Diana, the court heard, was upstairs in the living quarters and heard nothing. No-one in the village saw or heard anything, either. It remains as an unsolved case. The prosecution elected not to take a view on whether the robbery described by Garbutt took place, or not. It was left for the jury to decide as part of their fact-finding matrix.

Unknown to the jury, Mr Justice Openshaw took the unusual step of remanding Garbutt in custody after hearing his evidence. Prosecutor David Hatton QC said that it “bordered on the absurd”.

Robin Garbutt has always vehemently denied murdering a woman he says he loved so very dearly. His soulmate, whom the jury heard was ‘as close as close could be’. He has also consistently maintained that both armed robberies DID take place and one of the robbers in the second raid (or later distilled at trial to a single robber) killed Diana as she lay in her bed. 10 of the 12 jurors did not believe him. They had the benefit of hearing evidence from 68 prosecution witnesses and 18 defence witnesses, plus the testimony of Garbutt himself across two hearing days.

Neither does Diana’s mother, Agnes Gaylor, who sat through the entire criminal trial. The village of Melsonby is still split over the verdict.

Passing sentence, Mr Justice Openshaw pulled no punches. He said the defendant had shown no remorse over the death of his wife, adding: ‘He has always accompanied his lies with sanctimonious lies of his love for her’.

‘By their verdict, the jury have exposed this as pure humbug.’

‘This was a brutal, planned, cold-blooded murder of his wife as she lay sleeping in bed.’

‘There was no struggle, she never awoke. He struck three savage blows, smashing her skull and causing her immediate death as clearly he intended’.

The story of the armed robber he said was ‘ludicrous from beginning to end’.

The defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a recommendation that he serve at least 20 years. Sir Peter Openshaw DL, as he is now styled, is a judge with whom I am particularly familiar, in terms of style, tone, compendious knowledge of the law and procedural rules. Having been in his court for very many days of the hearings of the first Hillsborough trials across a period of over two years.  There has never been any criticism of his handling of the Garbutt trial, or the way it was summed up, except that he was keen to keep it on track in terms of length of trial. That also featured in all the hearings at Preston Crown Court, and so it does in every other Crown Court on my beat. It is what judges do: Effective listing and timetabling are significant parts of their oversight role. Openshaw ran his courts with almost military precision, matching that familiar stiff gait to and from his seat on the bench.

Xanthe Tait, Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor for North Yorkshire and Humberside, said after the trial: ‘Diana Garbutt’s life was cut brutally and tragically short. Her family is left to forever mourn her loss.

‘She was violently bludgeoned to death. A callous crime motivated by the basest of human characteristics.

‘Robin Garbutt went to great lengths in creating a cover story involving a robber with a gun: a story he maintained throughout the trial – lying about his finances, lying about his relationship with his wife and lying about the robbery – to conceal his appalling crimes.

‘We have worked closely with the police to build a robust prosecution case and secure justice for Diana. Our thoughts are with her family and we hope that today’s conviction will bring them some measure of comfort and peace.’

Ms Tait, for the past several years, has led a three-force collaboration group which aims to bring the legal services departments of Cleveland, Durham and North Yorkshire Police together in a project codenamed ‘Evolve’. She was a high-achieving prosecutor, widely respected by her peers.

Since his incarceration, a highly visible campaign group has formed around Robin Garbutt. They are energetically, and passionately, led by Jane Metcalfe, a friend from the time when he lived in York, together with Garbutt’s sister, Sallie Wood, and brother-in-law, Mark Stilborn. Jane and Robin are in constant touch by phone.

In the past few months, regional and national newspaper coverage, an article in Private Eye, and packages on the two local TV news programmes, ITV Calendar and Look North, has kept the miscarriage of justice claim very much in the public eye. A third application to the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC) is the trigger for the publicity. An appeal to the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal was dismissed in May, 2012. Two subsequent applications to the CCRC were also dismissed.

A website set up and maintained by the campaigners can be viewed here. Whereas the presentation is rudimentary, the message is very strong: Robin has always told the truth and he could not possibly have committed the crime. It promises so much, but delivers surprisingly little by way of references to substantive evidential material.

The ever-present assertion of unwavering truthfulness of Robin Garbutt has little or no basis in fact. Whilst those same campaigners, and the convicted murderer, have refused me access to his witness statements to the police, the merest examination of his witness box testimony reveals gaping holes and alarming contradictions in his story.

Why deny a journalist, approaching the case as one who has very good, and well evidenced, reason to doubt just about anything that North Yorkshire Police do or say, over a very lengthy period, access to any of the case materials? Unless there is something to hide from an independent investigator?

Another journalist, the late Bob Woffinden, also contributed significantly to the campaign in 2016, before his sad passing in May 2018, and his article (read in full here starting on page 14) certainly raised its profile and credibility at the time. However, to locate his work on the internet requires a little persistence. There is no link to it from the campaign website. It is, with all due respect to Bob, a very popular and capable journalist, a partial piece that adopts the cause of the convicted murderer.

A petition protesting Robin Garbutt’s innocence, propagated from the website, has gathered just 54 signatures. William Hague (now Baron Hague of Richmond), who retired in 2015, is listed as Robin Garbutt’s MP. In fact, his representative now is the very high profile Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak MP.

The past and present MP’s have both have been contacted for comment on the campaign and to establish whether they have added support in any way. A response is awaited and will, very understandably, be delayed in the case of Mr Sunak.

The Garbutt campaigners declined to provide a statement for this article, despite being prolific elsewhere. A request for answers to a series of straightforward questions about the background to the events of 22nd/23rd March 2010 was also declined. It has taken a considerable amount of additional time and effort to dig them out, but almost all of those answers have now been obtained from other sources. Several of them now cast further doubt on the Garbutt narrative, particularly in relation to the weapon that the armed robber held in his right hand as he entered the shop.

Dr Michael Naughton, an academic whom, it is claimed, supports the campaign, did not acknowledge or reply to an email asking for details of his analysis of the case, or the grounds upon which he has based his support by way of a relatively new venture, Empowering the Innocent. Dr Naughton does, of course, have at least one blemish on his miscarriage of justice record; the case of Simon Hall for whom he was the leading advocate for five years. The convicted murderer actually confessed to the crime in 2013 (read BBC report here). The parallels with the Garbutt case are, on any independent view, stark. The discomfort when this is drawn to the attention of his campaigners is palpable. Naughton claims he has never seen the signed confession and is reported to continue to cast doubt on its existence. A search to find a case to which he has been attached professionally, and has succeeded at the Court of Appeal, has drawn a blank.

By way of a carefully framed, plainly expressed freedom of information request, North Yorkshire Police were asked on 30th January, 2020 to provide basic details of the murder probe, the usual foundation stones of a properly grounded journalistic investigation. Over two months later, they are yet to respond to the request, or an application for internal review (read in full here). Those that check out the details will see that NYP are prepared, arguably, to commit a criminal offence to avoid disclosure. That, it might be said, is a measure of the habitual fear they have of the type of relentless scrutiny they face from this quarter. The lurking presence of Xanthe Tait, as the ultimate arbiter of that disclosure decision, and particularly with her colours now firmly nailed to the NYP mast, cannot be overlooked.

Screenshot 2020-03-29 at 19.25.53
Xanthe Tait, formerly Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor and, more latterly, deeply embedded in North Yorkshire Police.

As it happens, most of the requested details have been obtained from independent sources about Operation Nardoo, the police codename for the calamitous Garbutt investigation, which form the basis of the third article, in a series of at least three, covering the Garbutt case. The product of almost 200 hours, over the past two months, invested in this most puzzling case and one in which the judge expressed serious, and well justified, concerns about the police management of the crime scene: ‘A regrettable lack of professionalism’.

It is safe to to say, supported by a lengthy and highly attritional history (for example, I have taken them to court twice and defeated them), that NYP will not enjoy the intensity of the spotlight that I routinely turn onto them.

The police press office was not contacted, as it is some years since they responded to any enquiry from this quarter, despite my press accreditation by the National Police Chiefs Council and, of course, their lawful obligation to do so by way of section 39A of the Police Act, 1996.

This, as the reader may have gleaned already is a story with some way to run. The next instalment will be published within the next week or so.

UPDATE: The second article in this four part series can now be read here.

Page last updated: Wednesday 9th April, 2020 at 1325 hours

Photo Credits: Press Association, North Yorkshire Police.

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

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. 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.

Cost of GMP’s disastrous IS Transformation Programme rises to £80 million

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) is the UK’s fifth largest police force, with over 7,000 officers, and around 3,000 civilian staff, whose mission is to ensure the safety and security of a diverse local population of over 2.5 million people, spread over 11 Divisions (plus 6 City of Manchester sub-divisions), 10 specialist units and covering an area close to 1,300 square kilometres.

In 2010, GMP began a near ten-year journey that would see their out-dated computerised crime databases and paper-based systems, including the Operational Policing Unit System (OPUS), and an older system purchased from Northumbria Police, replaced with a new multi-million pound installation that is now widely dubbed as iOPS: An acronym of Integrated Operational Policing System.

Or, less generously, ‘iFLOPS’. The name given to a closed Facebook group where reports of the new system’s many failures could be posted, without fear of reprisal from GMP’s feared Professional Standards Branch (PSB). iFLOPS attracted an astonishing membership of over 1,400 GMP officers in just over two days. A large number of posts revealed genuine fears that lives could be lost whilst iOPS remained in its present dysfunctional state.

OPUS was introduced in, or around, 2004 and has, for the moment, been retained as a read-only database to cover intelligence gaps or inputting errors within iOPS.

The new system would accommodate the force’s ambition to have every front line officer equipped with mobile devices that can link directly with its data and also integrate seamlessly with body worn video footage taken at the scene of incidents. This film would later be used to support prosecution of alleged offenders. The mobile devices would all have eight core policing applications (apps) installed, together with such as Google Maps and Outlook email. Elimination of duplicate entries is said to be a key feature of the new technology.

This critical new capability gives officers the tools and information they need at street level. More crucially, they can, in theory, access and update databases, including the Police National Computer (PNC) whilst out on patrol. The estimated £10.7 million cost was additional to the iOPS software purchase. £1.8 million was paid for the devices the rest was spent was to be spent on training, the policing apps, airtime and data use.

Other forces using the same mobile systems include the Police Service of Northern Ireland; an East Midland collaboration between Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Notts and Northants; Kent Constabulary and Essex Police.

By any measure, conversion to iOPS and the introduction of the mobile devices was an ambitious change project for GMP and forms part of the force’s wider Target Operating Model (TOM).

A version of iOPS is presently in use at four other police forces, including the Metropolitan Police Service and South Wales Police, which was the first to successfully deploy the ControlWorks system in 2015. A comprehensive, easy to follow overview of iOPS can be read here. On paper, at least, it looks highly functional, effective and efficient.

In September 2013, two senior GMP officers, believed to be the then chief constable, Sir Peter Fahy, and one of his assistant chiefs, Garry Shewan, reported to Tony Lloyd, at the time the police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester, that the contract for a £30 million overhaul of GMP’s computer systems should be given to professional services giant EY, formerly Ernst and Young, without inviting rival contractors to bid for the work.

By that time, EY had already been paid £300,000 by GMP for preparatory work to scope the merits of introducing a single new system, which would unify the existing GMP databases, transfer them to a virtual infrastructure (Cloud), and allow officers to access key information whilst out on patrol or responding to incidents.

In the event, the PCC couldn’t countenance such a large contract being effectively handed to a single favoured contractor and, quite correctly, ordered that the project be put out to tender:

“GMP needs to have an IT system that is fit for the 21st century. The current system is in need of radical overhaul.

“In the current financial climate, a major piece of investment like this has to be done correctly – failure is simply not an option [Emphasis added].

“Following the initial scoping work that has been done by EY, a delivery partner now needs to be appointed to work with GMP to drive this project forward.

“I’ve decided that the right thing to do is to appoint that partner organisation through a competitive tendering process. This demonstrates transparency and also allows us to test the market so that the system developed will not only represent best value for money, but is also of the highest quality.

“An open [tender] process also minimises risk to the project of delay by legal challenge and enables us to see how we can work in partnership with industry experts to develop a system that will equip GMP to provide the best possible service to the people of Greater Manchester.”

GMP now say iOPS is part of a wider information services transformation programme initially budgeted at £60 million: Double the original figure of £30 million approved by Mr Lloyd.

The software designer who succeeded in the tender process is the Capita Group, and consultants appointed to manage the installation were, indeed, EY, who had, of course, already carried out the scoping work. It is reported that GMP commissioned the ControlWorks and PoliceWorks elements of the trademarked Capita system. The status of the EvidenceWorks part of the system in GMP is not known, at present. This usually involves, at the very least, replacing ageing and increasingly unreliable two deck tape recorders with digital devices and associated technology.

Screen Shot 2019-09-03 at 15.12.30

In its promotional materials, Capita boasts that it has been a supplier of mission-critical solutions to law enforcement agencies for over 30 years – and works closely with clients to support evolving operational requirements and future business needs in policing, namely; providing mobile access to data for responding officers, data sharing with partners and truly multi-channel, two-way communication links between the force and the public.

Capita’s portfolio, they say, directly addresses core policing needs to deliver a public-facing, locally-based, modern and intelligence-driven service. Capita’s products and services are proven to help reduce operational risk, deliver a better service to the public and increase the effectiveness of operations.

But during the present iOPS crisis in Greater Manchester Police not a single word has been heard from their company about what have been described in the local press as ‘catastrophic’ failures. Enquirers are directed to GMP statements on the topic.

The relationship between Capita and GMP dates back many years, with GMP being the first force in the UK to outsource support for Airwave (the now outdated national police radio communication system) to a third party supplier. The two organisations, they say, developed an excellent working relationship over the years and built a strong, trusting partnership. The Capita team is based on site at GMP’s radio workshops to enable them to work closely with force employees and officers. As part of this service, Capita provides mobile radio engineers who are deployed when required to support vehicle radio incidents. Technical advice is also provided for hand-held and vehicle radio assets, and control room first line enquiries. GMP’s control rooms are also supported by a 24/7 regional field service team.

The police’s project leader for the IS Transformation Programme was Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan; assisted at that time by Chief Superintendent Chris Sykes (pictured below), since promoted to assistant chief constable, project leader and lead spokesperson. Another key member of the IS team is Assistant Director, Bill Naylor, involved in the programme at a senior level since 2011 and leading teams of up to 95 officers on associated projects. The officer responsible for delivery of training was recently retired inspector, Richard Easton. Unusually, there is no operational codename for the project, according to GMP’s press office.

 

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Assistant Chief Constable Chris Sykes

Details of the IS Transformation Programme tender process, via open source, are sparse. There did not appear to be any media coverage of the outcome. A copy of the contract award, dated 25th November, 2015 can, however, be read here. But, apart from naming the four successful project ‘partners’ (Capita Secure Information Solutions Ltd; Accenture Ltd; Intergraph (UK) Ltd and Northgate Public Services (UK) Ltd), and giving the values of the lowest and highest bids (£7 million and £25 million) it reveals very little more apart from the fact that the lowest bid was not chosen. The box for ‘the most economically advantageous’ is ticked. There were 14 bids, in total, for the four different contracts awarded. [The sharp-eyed might notice that Intergraph was wrongly referred to as ‘Integraph’ in the Decision Notice].

In May 2017, reportedly a year late, GMP issued a £17m pre-tender to overhaul and transition its data centre services to a virtualised infrastructure. Several potential suppliers were sought to express interest in the contract.

According to GMP’s tender documents, virtualisation techniques were being sourced as a means to transform large sections of the force’s existing infrastructure that is built around ageing in-house technology.

“[The proposed contract] will provide a managed service to support and maintain such services and facilitate the migration of the services to alternative locations if required,” said the pre-tender notice.

“GMP is committed to improving technology to enable staff to work more effectively and efficiently, the IS Transformation Programme (ISTP) have, and will continue to introduce new technology to support core operational policing,

“This includes how users will experience IT as part as their roles alongside building a better IT infrastructure to be more dependable and flexible in the future.”

Enquiries are ongoing to discover the name of the successful contractor and the amount tendered. It is not clear at this stage if the GMP migration to Cloud-based data storage was linked to the wider 43-force Microsoft Azure transformation that now falls under the National Enabling Programmes. For which BT and Deloitte have been awarded lead contracts (read more here).

iOPS was scheduled to go live in November, 2017. Two years after the contract award. The business case for the new system required cost savings to come on stream shortly after that date. By that time it had already been beset with serious issues, necessitating software re-writes. These mainly involved the flawed transfer into the new system of millions of records, stretching back over 40 years relating to crimes, convictions, suspects and victims.

An external audit of GMP’s finances, shortly before the intended launch, warned that the plan to go live with the all the component parts of the new information system, in the same moment, was a high risk strategy. They also noted that the problems already identified were responsible for a budget excess, but GMP was looking to claw back the overspend from the contractors. On-time delivery was central to the force’s cost saving plan.

Grant Thornton wrote to the Chief Constable and the Mayor’s office saying: “GMP has decided to go for the ‘same day’ approach to implementation proposed in the iOps deployment approach and recently signed off by the Organisational Change Board (OCB)”.

“It will be important to ensure that the planning, testing and readiness assessment are robust given the inherent risk of this approach.”

The Grant Thornton report also featured robust advice from an independent IT adviser and consultant, Gerry Pennell OBE, who warned it was ‘critical’ that the system was thoroughly tested, and staff properly trained, before it was launched.

“Given the ‘big bang’ nature of the deployment, and the scale of the impact on GMP’s operation and its criticality, I would counsel that considerable thought is given to ‘operational proving’ before going live,

“I appreciate that there are some real logistical challenges in standing up an effective operational testing/rehearsal opportunity. However, those challenges need to be balanced against the risk of encountering major operational issues when going live.”

Mr Pennell, also expressed concern the force ‘does not have adequate involvement with iOPS from a technical perspective’. GMP had made ‘good progress’ in recruitment but there were still ‘some significant gaps’, he said.

An information systems heavyweight, he is presently retained by both the International Olympic Committee and the Cabinet Office, and is a former IT Director at the University of Manchester.

The concern over remoteness of GMP’s own staff from the IS programme was also echoed by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabularies in their 2018 PEEL assessment.

When asked about ‘operational proving’, a GMP spokesperson said: “Prior to launching, we carried out extensive testing to ensure all new systems were usable and fit for purpose.

“We were continually engaged in a range of testing activity throughout 2018 and up to the launch date. It was unfeasible to carry out a live pilot of our new systems for operational and logistical reasons, which is clearly acknowledged and anticipated in the independent advice provided to us.”

There were also dark rumblings at that time, from insiders, about serious data breaches, with unauthorised personnel allegedly able to view the crime records. GMP denied any breach, as a reflex reaction, but the Information Commissioner’s Office was not contacted and no investigation took place.

March, 2018 was mooted by GMP as the revised go-live date, but this deadline came and went and was notable only for the departure of ACC Shewan a short time before. He had given indication of his retirement on 24th December, 2017 in a short message on Twitter; there was no valediction from his senior colleagues, including Chief Constable Ian Hopkins, when he left; nothing in the local press: Shewan just vanished, or so it seemed, with just a Twitter posting on 21st February, 2018 that read: ‘So the day has arrived….these 4 little things (epaulettes, warrant card, name badge) have dominated my life for over 30 years and today I get to hand them back for someone else to enjoy. They physically weigh ounces but without them I feel so much lighter. Thank you my friends for your love and support’.

A very short time after he left GMP, a company was incorporated bearing the name Garry Shewan Consulting Limited, with a retired police officer as its only director (read Companies House records here).

On his LinkedIn profile, Garry Shewan makes the remarkable claim that he is a ‘highly skilled strategic change leader who has led a wide range of transformational programmes including the delivery [emphasis added] of a unique £60million IS Transformation Programme – transforming operational policing, re-thinking the use of data & digital applications, and delivering significant business improvements.’

Set against the facts that iOPS has been repeatedly described in the local press as ‘a disaster’ or ‘catastrophic’ and on television as ‘a health and safety risk both to the public and police officers’ it can be inferred that the core of Shewan’s claims are not true. Not least because the system did not go live until 9th July, 2019, 17 months after he left the force; it is still not ‘delivered’ in September, 2019 and remains beset by serious problems.

Screen Shot 2019-09-03 at 17.37.35

What the Shewan LinkedIn profile does not mention is that he is currently employed by a company that he was actively promoting during his time as a serving police officer, Mutual Gain Ltd. Also a strong proponent of the insidious Common Purpose, he has been absent from Twitter since 10th August, 2018. Two days after the scandal broke on regional television and in the local press. He, again, repeats the claim that he ‘delivered’ the £60 million techology programme in his Mutual Gain bio.

At the end of March 2018, GMP had admitted to the local newspaper that the iOPS budget had been exceeded, but refused to say by how much. The budget figure for the overarching IS Transformation Programme was reported to have increased from £60 million to £66 million. The launch date, they said, was ‘several months away’. 10,000 police officers and staff who had already been trained on the new system were asked to do virtual refresher training as a result of the delay. The ‘bugs and defects’ of November, 2017 had now become ‘data quality issues’, according to GMP.

There was little in the way of further news about the long-overdue launch of the new computer systems until late July, 2019. An article in the Manchester Evening News revealed that GMP had gone live earlier that month (on the 9th). It also disclosed a raft of serious problems highlighted by police officer whistle blowers who had contacted the local newspaper (read the article here). The force said the installation was ‘progressing well’ and there was no risks associated with response, front line officers said its failings were ‘catastrophic’ and they were ‘working blind’.

GMP did concede, however, that there were problems associated with the interface with the Crown Prosecution Service: “We have experienced some issues with regards to processing court case files, however we are working around-the-clock with our suppliers to resolve this as a priority. We have appropriate contingency plans in place while this issue is ongoing, to ensure the administration of justice continues”.

This turned out to be another GMP lie, as criminal defence solicitors and police whistleblowers were still coming forward weeks later to say that GMP’s Criminal Justice Unit was in complete meltdown and 90% of case files were either incomplete or not sent to the CPS.

The nature and extent of the iOPS scandal reached a far wider public on 8thAugust, 2019 when a further MEN article, and a seven minute ITV Granada Reports package that led their evening transmission, appeared within a few hours of one another. Central to the TV broadcast was a leaked email sent to all GMP officers from the rank of chief inspector down to constable. It warned of serious safety risks to officers and the public arising from iOPS failures.

They produced a furious response from the force, and in particular the chief constable, Ian Hopkins, which included an extraordinary, public attack on journalist, Matt O’Donoghue, via Twitter. Hopkins followed that up with a formal complaint to his employers, ITV Granada.

The police chief has since had good cause to regret both as he has come under repeated, and well-aimed, fire from the author of this piece, Neil Wilby, the MEN’s Jennifer Williams, an increasing number of police whistleblowers, and a number of politicians and senior public officials in the region. These include, Anne Coffey who believes the new computer system is putting children at risk. A view later endorsed by every Children’s Director across Greater Manchester’s ten boroughs.

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The default position of CC Hopkins, and the GMP press office, has been to consistently downplay the problems with the new system and infer that the very many police officers who have contacted journalists and whistleblowers, to air their concerns, are either at fault with their own lack of understanding of the new system or are disgruntled trouble causers. In the meantime, the local newspaper published seven articles on the iOPS topic within one month, some of them lengthy and highly forensic. The latest, and most wordy, that summarises most of the matters in issue, can be read in full here.

What was revealed, however, in the course of the tense exchanges between the press and police was that the force conceded that the latest budget figure for the IS Transformation Programme was now £71.2 million. The uplift from £60 million, then £66 million is, as yet, unexplained. The force has also, at the same time, retreated from its position in March, 2018, when they said that the iOPS part of the transformation had exceeded its £27 million budget, and have now repeated several times that it is still within the original budget. Again, that is unexplained.

Insiders have reported that the current overall figure is nearer £77 million than 71, and that the force, in keeping with the overall media strategy, is downplaying the budget over-run.

Towards the end of August, 2019 support for iOPS and Chief Constable Hopkins appeared on social media for the first time, during a period notable only for the complete absence of any mention of the iOPS system on any of the many hundreds of authorised GMP Twitter accounts. A civilian communications officer turned iOPS trainer, Stephen Blades, began attacking the most notable critics of the failed computer system: Journalist Neil Wilby, and police whistleblowers that included Peter Jackson and Scott Winters. Hiding behind the Twitter handle of @TheGourmetGays he derided its critics, and in the case of the latter two, falsely accuses them of being homophobes.

Blades’ take on the crisis is this: ‘Folk [police officer users of iOPS] haven’t got a clue, because they refuse change, refuse to learn, refuse to embrace something that replaced a 25 year old system and basically now feel inadequate. But they also refuse to get more training. It’s that simple’.

On iOPS itself, he is equally emphatic: ‘It’s effective, it’s stable, it works and it ain’t going away. As a Command and Control system it’s phenomenal’.

Given the strident nature of his social media commentary, and his assertion in other tweets that he has worked on the system every day since 2017, some merit has to be attached to Stephen Blades’ current, and very public, estimate of the total cost of the IS Transformation Programme: £80 million.

Blades LinkedIn

What is not explained by Blades in his permanently aggressive Twitter output is how he made the transition from call handler, at the very bottom of the GMP food chain, to being responsible for training 3,000 officers. Especially, as he doesn’t know the difference between ‘learning’ and ‘teaching’.

It might also provide an explanation as to why the quality of the iOPS training, and its delivery, is one of the recurring criticisms of a system that the Police Federation, representing 6,000 warranted police men and women, say is a risk to the safety of all their officers and members of the public.

This is a certainly a story with plenty of mileage left in it. It will be interesting to see whether Chief Constable Hopkins (and Mr Blades) is there to see the end of the journey.

Just as interesting is the prospect of a forensic inspection of the estimates, and actual costs, of the technology transformation. How can a £30 million project in 2013 become an £80 million (and rising) project in 2019, a rise of over £8 million per year?

The man who signs the cheques, Mayor Andy Burnham, cannot say he wasn’t warned of the impending disaster. On 6th August, 2018 three whistle blowers met him at Churchgate House, Manchester and iOPS was one of a number of scandals that serving officer Paul Bailey, and retired officers Peter Jackson and Maggie Oliver highlighted. Burnham has since, after a long delay, contemptuously brushed away the many GMP failings (read more here).

He, too, may not see the end of this particular road as he attempts to explain away his failings to voters in the Mayoral election in May 2020.

The press office at GMP has been asked to confirm the latest budgets for (i) the overarching IS Transformation Programme (ii) the iOPS element of that programme (iii) the mobile device roll-out (iv) the virtualisation of the force’s data stores.

Right of reply has been offered to Stephen Blades and Garry Shewan.

Page last updated: Thursday 5th September, 2019 at 1355 hours

Photo Credits: Capita Secure Information Solutions Ltd and Greater Manchester Police

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

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

© Neil Wilby 2015-2019. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Disgraced Durham detective to face further scrutiny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture credit Getty Images, Liam McBurney, PA

Page last updated: Thursday 8h August, 2019 at 0625 hours

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

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

© Neil Wilby 2015-2019. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The dreaded vote of confidence

She has acted with the utmost integrity“.

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

Except that she didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GMP’s press office provided these two statements:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Picture credit: Greater Manchester Police

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

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

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

Your Cheque Is In The Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tension between requester and public authority is now palpable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On 13th December, 2018, Mr Baird was asked if the request would be finalised before the Christmas shutdown on 21st December, 2018. He replied saying he believed it would.

It wasn’t – and there was no explanation as to why not.

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

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

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

24th October, 2018     – Staff shortages

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

13th November, 2018 – Early next week

29th November, 2018 – Shortly

12th November, 2018 – Short delay

29th November, 2018 – Should be in a position to respond to you shortly

11th December, 2018 – There will be a short delay

13th December, 2018 – It should be completed by [21st December, 2018]

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

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

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

They later refused to answer the following two specific questions:

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

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

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

The enquiries, perfectly reasonably presented, were not drawn to the attention of DAC Taylor, as specifically requested. Or any explanation provided as to why.
Indeed, it has now been learned that Ms Taylor sensationally quit the Met just days before this information request was submitted, in July, 2018. She has now taken a sideways move to troubled Police Scotland.
A fact that any of the Met’s disclosure, legal or press officers has omitted to mention in a significant number of communications.
In the light of this response, the press officer was informed that an approach will be made directly to her. That was done, via the Police Scotland press office, but did not even elicit an acknowledgement.
The press officer email exchange in November was signed off thus: ‘It would be a kindness to describe your response as ‘sub-optimal’. They were approached again for comment on 11th December, 2018 but ignored the request completely.
Page last updated Friday 21st December, 2018 at 2100hrs

 

[1] The Guardian: ‘Streets of Fear’

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

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

[4] College of Policing: Authorised Professional Practice

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

Picture credit: The Guardian Media Group

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

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

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

When the ‘cover-up’ becomes the story

Hi, Mabs. Ian Hopkins speaking.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

Garry Shewan was another who walked away from an ACC role in the UK’s fourth largest force, doing a ‘moonlight flit’ as GMP’s £27 million iOPS technology upgrade, for which he had portfolio responsibility, crashed and burned. The budget for the project is believed to have roughly doubled and, incredibly, Shewan claims credit for a £60 million IT project on his LinkedIn profile.. “Honest Cop” Shewan, like Heywood and Sutcliffe, had also been dogged by scandal over the previous four years as both the author of this piece, and an increasing number of well respected police whistleblowers, rounded on him and exposed a number of troubling, alleged misdemeanours. Some of them very well evidenced. In one particular case, that resulted in the controversial, and many say unjust, dismissal of a junior officer, ex chief constable Sir Peter Fahy allowed Shewan to investigate complaints about himself. They had been made by the discipline lead of the local police federation, no less. In another case, Shewan wanted to manage a conduct complaint about him outside the statutory framework and through a restorative justice process in which he was the controlling influence. He had admitted giving a misleading statement about knowledge, or otherwise, of an investigation being carried out by Fahy into another chief constable, Lincolnshire’s Neil Rhodes. The issue being that Shewan had withheld crucial information that could have significantly informed that probe. The Operation Redbone outcome was significantly flawed as a result.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Has this poisoned chalice been handed to you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture credit: Greater Manchester Police

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