Appeal hearing report: Leeds High Court Dr Abdul Rashid v West Yorkshire Police

The hearing was listed to commence at 10.30am on Thursday 14th May, 2020 before Mr Justice Nicholas Lavender in the Leeds District Registry of the High Court. It got under way shortly after 10.45am after dealing with some minor technical glitches.

Pemission to appeal was granted on the papers by the same judge on 17th December, 2019 sitting in Newcastle Cown Court.

The judgment under appeal was handed down by Mr Recorder Ben Nolan QC on 20th September, 2019 at the conclusion of a ten day trial (read full daily reports here). Dr Rashid is claiming damages against West Yorkshire Police (WYP) for unlawful arrest, unlawful detention and trespass over events that took place in March 2012 when 16 police officers attended his home in Bradford at 6.15am.

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The parties were represented, respectively, by Ian Pennock of counsel, instructed by Simon Blakeley and Olivia Checa-Dover of counsel, instructed by Alison Walker, Deputy Head of Legal Services at WYP.

The background to the appeal can be read here. There was palpable tension between the two legal teams, throughout the substantive hearing, most notably concerning disclosure.

The appeal hearing was held remotely via Skype Business. Quality of transmission was generally good and proceedings progressed smoothly. Particularly, as the judge’s dexterity in dealing with an elecronic bundle filed by the Claimant which, because of its size (232MB) was slow to load, and two lever arch files, supplied by the police, improved markedly during the morning session.

Mr Pennock, on behalf of Dr Rashid, took the court to the eight Grounds of Appeal upon which his client’s case is based. There are two further alternative Grounds that would only be triggered if the appeal succeeds.

But the first part of his submissions were taken up with what he characterised as ’22 bad points’ in the police’s skeleton argument, that had necessitated a supplementary skeleton argument from him, extending to 40 pages. He lamented that ‘the sideshow’ of correcting WYP’s version of facts and evidence, from the court below (the hearing at Bradford County Court), was not at all helpful to this court. It had, Mr Pennock said, required ‘a root and branch approach’, occupying a large amount of time, and the necessity of exhibiting a large number of passages from the court’s approved transcript.

The judge made clear that, whilst he would scan read the supplementary skeleton, it was not part of his judicial function to referee such class of disagreements between competing counsel unless, of course, they went to the heart of the matters under consideration in the instant appeal.

Mr Pennock focused to a significant extent on the police’s ‘shifting goalposts’ of the reasonable grounds for arrest of Dr Rashid, of which there are five different versions as things stand. The necessity of the arrest was also the subject of extensive discussion as another of the key appeal points.

There was a moment of levity after Mr Pennock explained that the ‘eccentric’ Dr Clive Tedd, upon whom the police relied for their ‘expert’ medical advice, claims to be able to induce whiplash injuries by clapping his hands. Something he had learned by buying second hand books on Amazon. Mr Justice Lavender enquired, deadpan, if Dr Tedd ‘had clapped his hands at trial’.

The final ten minutes of the morning session were taken up by Miss Checa-Dover, on behalf of West Yorkshire Police, and continued with her client’s response to the Grounds of Appeal after the lunch adjournment. She maintains, on behalf of her client, that the judgment from the substantive hearing was adequate, sufficiently well reasoned and that Detective Inspector Mark Taylor, the main police witness came through the examination and cross-examination of his evidence “with flying colours”.

As expected, Mr Justice Lavender indicated that judgment would be reserved and handed down at a future date, yet to be determined. There was a discussion with Mr Pennock as to whether, in the event that the appeal was upheld, he would be able to substitute his own findings for those of the court below and dispose of the matter substantively as opposed to ordering a re-hearing of the case before a different judge.

UPDATE: A more complete report of the hearing will appear in conjunction with the handing down of the judgment which is now expected to be handed down during the first two weeks of August, 2020.

 

Page last updated: Tuesday 28th July 2020 at 0715 hours

Photo Credits: Bradford T&A

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.

Licence to kill?

On 5th March, 2015 at Bradford Crown Court, Ralph Christie was sentenced to 7 years in prison at the end of a trial lasting almost 8 weeks. He had been found guilty on 5 counts of fraud by false representation relating to property business dealing on the Greek island of Crete (read more here). He was found not guilty on a further 14 counts.

The not guilty counts included those alleging money laundering and theft. The total of the sums listed on the indictment, in connection with fraud, theft and money laundering, amounted to a staggering sum approaching £50,000,000.

Born in Leeds in 1961, but domiciled on Crete since 2005, Christie has maintained his protests of innocence since the day he was convicted. He was released from prison on licence on 4th January, 2018 and, ever since, has campaigned vigorously to clear his name.

One significant success, along the way, is reducing his liability under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) from £1.4 million plus interest to £482,666 plus interest. The count on the indictment concerning an investment made by Howard Tenens plc in Christie’s land and properties has been called in to question. It now appears arguable that it should not have been put before the jury, as there was already a prior High Court court finding concerning the dealings between Tenens and Christie.

This part of the police’s Section 16 POCA application, to recover £987,000 connected to the Tenens charge, which led to him being jailed, rather than a suspended sentence, was deducted from the POCA liability by the judge, HHJ Durham Hall QC on April 26th, 2018, again at Bradford Crown Court.

In the event, Christie was ordered to pay back a total of £569,990.64, inclusive of interest, to the complainants in respect of the remaining four frauds for which he was convicted.

At the time of the original court case he was bailed to a Ripon address, although police referred to him at the POCA hearing as being ‘a Bradford man who had moved to Crete’. A point confirmed by the fact that he holds a class of Greek residency permit that can only be granted after living there for 10 years. The relevance of those matters unfolds later in this piece.

Ramona Senior, Head of the Economic Crime Unit (ECU) at West Yorkshire Police, said: “This was a complex confiscation hearing, but the Financial Investigator worked tirelessly to recover money from Christie”.

“At the centre, were the victims who lost a lot of money because of the fraud. Christie now has 3 months to pay the money back or face an additional 4 years imprisonment in default.

Ms Senior added: “The POCA Order will be robustly enforced and, if Christie fails to pay, not only will he will face a further 4 years in jail, the debt he owes to society will remain with him for life, until paid in full.”

She was silent on the reduction in the alleged value of the crimes from nearly £50 million on the indictment, to £1.4 million upon conviction, and then to £482,000 via POCA, and no questions were asked by the tame local press, who reported on the hearing, as to how this reconciled with a ‘complex hearing’ and such glowing praise for the ‘tireless’ financial investigator, Nigel Crowther. Or, how it impacted on the sentencing of Ralph Christie, receiving a 7 year prison sentence instead of a considerably lesser sentence, that may well have been suspended.

There was no mention, either, of the lengths that WYP would go to in order to frustrate Christie in his attempt to raise money in order to discharge the POCA obligation. Or, explain the final destination of funds that were in accounts frozen, or sequestered, in 2011, following their actions taken in conjuction with the Crown Prosecution Service’s David Levy and the Greek authorities. Other financial restrictions had been in force since 2009.

Christie had represented himself at the final POCA hearing, after his legal representatives withdrew at a late stage in proceedings, whereas the police had instructed a QC, Paul Reid, also involved in the diminishing claims debacle from the outset, whilst, it is right to observe, making a small fortune for himself along the way.

Operation Laggan, the bungled, meandering, six-year police investigation into Ralph Christie and his Greek property dealing, has cost the taxpayer well over £1 million; far more than will ever be recovered via POCA. If Christie is able to clear his name over the five counts upon which he was convicted, and there seems a reasonable chance he may do so, then WYP face a multi-million pound (or euros) payout in compensation to him and his investors. Probably, the largest in their history.

Cedric Christie, Ralph’s younger brother was a predecessor of Ramona Senior, as WYP’s Head of ECU, during his 30 years service with the force he had joined as a cadet. One of a number of remarkable coincidences and connections that form a labyrinthine thread through this article.

He retired in 2011 and became a vigorous, high-profile campaigner for justice for his brother, both in the press and on television; founding a campaign for election as West Yorkshire police and crime commissioner in 2012 on that very case, as part of a wider, and well justified, attack on police corruption in his home county. Arguably, the most peristently dishonest police force in the country.

On that solus anti-corruption platform, he was very nearly elected. Taking the hot favourite, the Labour Party-backed Mark Burns-Williamson, to a re-count. The author of this piece, Neil Wilby, was Cedric’s campaign manager. Burns-Williamson was, previously, the Chairman of West Yorkshire Police Authority for 9 years and through a period of some of the most grotesque failings of the police force in its history. The perennially failed PCC, a former gritter lorry driver, has provided no assistance, whatsoever, in holding the chief constable to account over the force’s failings, both in the Operation Laggan investigation and matters closely connected to it.

Just over a year later, Cedric had turned turtle and was, it appears, plotting with his former colleagues to convict his own brother, who had been on bail since 2009, with the police case against him, originally comprising of only 3 charges, now seemingly floundering. It is his elder brother’s strong contention that Cedric’s own private investigation work led to the additional counts upon which he was tried in Bradford during early 2015.

It has transpired very recently that, according to Cedric, West Yorkshire Police detectives have never been to Crete to pursue the investigation against Ralph. That appears to be borne out by conversations with property and land owners who were party to some of the transactions that led to the Bradford trial.

One plausible conclusion is that Cedric was visiting the island at the behest of WYP. A proposition he denies. It is clear, and well evidenced, however, that Cedric made visits to Crete in September/October, 2013; then in January, and April, 2014. On the latter visit, he was accompanied by Declan Christie, Ralph’s eldest son, who was acting as interpreter and local guide, being fluent in the Greek language.

The following month Cedric texted his brother to say that he was ‘going to go to the police and the courts’. At about the same time, he also issued civil proceedings against Ralph, knowing that, as he had been by this time arrested whilst on a visit to the UK, he would not be in a position to defend that claim.

The additional charges were made against Ralph in September, 2014.

During this same time period, Cedric was also meeting with another high profile miscarriage of justice proponent, Leeds property developer, John Elam. His case had been raised in an adjournment debate in Parliament at the end of January, 2014 by Gerry Sutcliffe, MP (read more here). Cedric met with Elam and Sutcliffe shortly afterwards, ostensibly to assist that campaign.

However, Cedric was covertly recording Elam and, it is claimed, reporting back to two senior police officers, C/Supt Andy Brennan and DCI Simon Bottomley (now chief superintendent). Cedric also lied about his own involvement in two covert operations into Elam, codenamed Operation Primary and Operation Teddington. Unaware that formal documents had been unearthed by Neil Wilby with Cedric’s spidery, but distinct, signature on them.

In another remarkable coincidence, towards the end of his prison sentence at HMP Hatfield, Ralph Christie came into close contact with Andrew John Rudd, whose covertly recorded evidence played a significant part in the conviction of John Elam. Rudd, for reasons that are still unexplained, was allowed to live the high life in Marbella, driving a distinctive Bentley motor car and residing in a £2 million villa for a number of years, by West Yorkshire Police, despite an arrest warrant being in place and claiming they couldn’t locate him for almost 8 years. A task that took an Andalusian private investigator less than a day, complete with photographs of Rudd, his car, and his luxury home.

Cedric Christie also lied to senior detectives, and at least one chief constable, about his involvement with the well-known police whistleblower website, unProfessional Standards Department (uPSD). This followed Operation Vertex, an investigation into ACC Ingrid Lee, following her catastrophic ‘whitewash’ of the force’s involvement with Jimmy Savile, in which Cedric was named as one of the two complainants against Lee. Neil Wilby was the other. The investigation outcome and report, compiled by Nick Gargan, the chief constable of Avon and Somerset Police at the time, was highly critical of WYP.

Cedric was, in fact, a significant contributor to uPSD at the time of its formation – and it is a matter of record that the Twitter account @uPSDWYP was opened with the main intention of supporting the PCC election campaign. It has never emerged why he went to such extraordinary lengths to conceal that involvement.

Ingrid Lee was Cedric’s boss, and nemesis, during the latter stages of his police career, removing him from his senior post in the Economic Crime Unit and allocating him a ‘non-job’, stripped of detective status, in the Safer Leeds community liaison team. It was a spectacular fall from grace. One that made him ill – and he retired from the force in 2011 having spent a considerable part of the last 2 years of his service on extended sick leave, whilst pursuing grievances against Lee and other senior officers.

This followed the discovery by the police of an investment of £100,000, by Cedric, into Ralph’s property business in 2008. He made a profit of over £7,000 in around 3 months on that investment. Cedric denied any impropriety concerning the fortuitous arrangement and, although interviewed at Wetherby Police Station, by a senior officer, DCI Frances Naughton (now a superintendent with the North Yorkshire force), he was not formally disciplined or charged over it.

Cedric Christie then tried to divert attention from his own troubles by publicly claiming that Neil Wilby was ‘a police informant‘ and, it seems, encouraging at least one other individual, who cannot be named for legal reasons, to do the same. That person is a rape victim, the perpetrator having admitted the crime in police interview, but not prosecuted, and another with well grounded, bitterly-fought, long-running miscarriage of justice issues with both West Yorkshire Police and their neighbours, and junior partners, in a grotsque and long-running ‘cover-up’, North Yorkshire Police.

During his incarceration, and as can be seen here in this piece, there was certainly no shortage of action surrounding the Ralph Christie case in his absence.

After his early release from HMP Hatfield Lakes on 4th January, 2018 he was ordered to attend the West Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Centre (WYCRC) in Wakefield the following day, where he produced his signed probation licence. It expires on 6th July, 2021. WYCRC is operated by Interserve plc, presently in serious financial difficulties. The supervising officer assigned to his case was Anne-Marie Carrott.

The main requirements of a licensee, for those not adjacent to the prison system, are:

– Good behaviour

– Not to commit any offence

– Keep in touch with supervising officer in accordance with instructions given by him/her

– Receive home visits from the supervising officer

– Reside at an approved permanent address and obtain approval for any overnight stay at a different address

– Only undertake work unless approved by supervising officer

– No travel outside of UK, except with permission

It appears, from correspondence between the two, that a good working relationship was established from the outset and maintained. Christie was licenced to an address in Wakefield where he had the permission of the owner to stay.

Because of concerns raised about his safety from retaliation by Halifax-based drug dealers, whom both Christie brothers had helped convict in two investigations codenamed Operation Godstone and Operation Facedome, West Yorkshire Police put in place risk assessments and security arrangements, at the behest of their chief constable, Dionne Collins. To whom a letter, setting out the perceived dangers and threats, had been sent by leading Bradford criminal defence solicitor, Simon Hustler.

Those safety concerns were raised again, by Christie, with Ms Carrott at WYCRC on 22nd March.

In early May 2018, Christie travelled to Greece and notified a permanent address in that country to Ms Carrott. He had been given permission to go there to attempt to realise assets on the island in order to raise funds to discharge the POCA Order.

A return to UK in October, 2018 was described as ‘a visit’ in correspondence with his supervising officer. By this time, Laura Martindale.

Ms Martindale tried to arrange a visit to the Wakefield address on 13th March, 2019. That was not progressed after she learned that permission to reside at the property had been withdrawn by its owner and Christie was still at his home in Crete.

In May, 2019 Christie received an email from the manager at WYCRC, Richard Brotton, who was about to leave his post. He copied in his colleague, Janine Pedley, who was to take over the matter, subsequently. Mr Brotton raised the conflict with his licence terms and residency in his home on Crete.

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Ralph Christie: “I will never stop fighting to clear my name”

After it was pointed out that Ralph Christie would be both homeless and jobless if he returned to the UK, correspondence from WYCMC appeared to lapse. It is a highly unusual case, where a Greek resident, convicted over offences committed on the island of Crete, is held on a prison licence in the UK. One that, no doubt, has perplexed a number of bright minds within the offender management system. It is made even more complex by the unresolved civil court case and the need to realise assets on Crete to discharge the POCA obligation.

That was the last correpondence from a supervising officer until early 2020. From the available correspondence, there were no home visits arranged, or attendances required at the WYCRC offices in Wakefield, during that period.

The reasonable inference to be drawn was that Ralph Christie was better served trying to repay the debt from his home base in Crete and, as he had caused no-one at the probation service any issues, there was no good reason to disturb that process: Necessarily slow, as the police still persist with the freezing orders they requested as far back as 2009 and other assets are, or have been, subject to other legal processes due to his protracted absence from the island.

At one point during his prison sentence, arrangements were made by the Home Office to deport Christie back to his home in Crete under the early release scheme for foreign offenders (often referred to by the acronym, ERSED). This was due to take place on 10th April, 2017. From the available documents, there appears to have been an unseen hand more adjacent to West Yorkshire, than London SW1, preventing that process from being fulfilled.

In the early part of 2020, there was an attempted reconciliation between the Christie brothers, at first in Athens, then in Crete, during which, it is said, Cedric admitted his role in the investigations that played a part in the conviction of his elder brother. A matter, Ralph says, he had always previously tried to conceal.

On 9th February, 2020 Cedric stormed out of a meeting with his brother and Geoffrey Brown, an investor in Ralph’s property business and a long-term supporter ever since, saying Ralph should be back in prison. The reason for the younger brother’s hasty departure was the revelation that his role in the conviction of Ralph, either actual or perceived, formed a significant part of the appeal documents that are in preparation for submission to the Criminal Case Review Commission.

Two days later, on 11th February, 2020 Ralph Christie received an email, out of the blue, from yet another WYCRC supervising officer, Shahid Ibrahim: A meeting was required to take place at their offices in Wakefield on 6th March, 2020.

That date is just a few weeks before an important civil trial was due to start in Chania, the capital of Crete, to settle disputes between Ralph Christie and his former business partner, the aforementioned Stephen Thomas. The latter, unexpectedly, failed appear in criminal proceedings on the island in which Christie was exonerated (read full verdict here).

That criminal trial took place in October, 2013. Thomas was the complainant and main prosecution witness. He claims that he was subjected to threats and forced to leave the island.

In spite of his evidenced status as a partner of Ralph Christie, and being the subject of very serious fraud allegations by his ex-wife, involving large sums of cash concealed from her during their divorce settlement, Stephen Thomas was not  arrested, or charged with any offences, during the Operation Laggan investigation. He was not called as a witness at the Christie trial in 2015, either, despite being the original complainant back in 2009.

His brother, Simon Thomas, is one of the victims of the Christie convictions.

Starting with the first email from Mr Ibrahim (who appears to be also employed by a company based in Bradford) until mid-March, there is a significant amount of correspondence between him and Ralph Christie. It encompasses a quite extraordinary travel odyssey that ended with Christie being arrested at Athens airport by Greek police when about to board a connecting flight to Heathrow, en route to the meeting at Wakefield. Following his release from custody at the airport, and a visit to the British Consulate in Athens, it transpires that Christie is subject to a travel ban from Greece (and Crete) until the completion of the civil trial. A matter confirmed fully by the consulate to Mr Ibrahim, both by telephone, and via email, and later by Christie’s Greek lawyers.

Christie also has pre-existing health conditions that would have rendered him vulnerable in the Corona Virus pandemic, particularly if he was returned to prison. In the face of all this, Mr Ibrahim’s response was to insist, very firmly, that the 6th March meeting in Wakefield was to go ahead. The virus, he said, was not an issue beyond washing of hands, which, to be fair to the supervising officer, was also the Government line at that time.

He did not, however, respond to emails sent by Christie on 8th and 11th March, asking for clarification in the light of the travel ban, and consequent difficulties leaving Greece, and, of course, by then, the worsening pandemic. Instead, he emailed on the day following the second email blankly stating that Christie’s prison licence had been revoked – and he was to make his way back to the UK, whereupon he would be arrested and taken back to prison. That would seem to indicate that the decision had already been made to revoke the licence, prior to the first Ibrahim email in February, 2020. The ‘meeting’ on 6th March in Wakefield was simply a convenient time and location at which to serve Christie with the notice and arrange for his arrest and detention.

Dated 12th March, 2020 the ‘Licence Revocation and Recall to Custody’ document sets out that Ralph Christie had:

– Failed to attend appointment(s) with supervising officer

– Failed to attend pre-arranged home visit(s)

– Failed to reside as approved

– Allegedly committed a further offence

– Displayed poor behaviour

– Other

It goes on to say that the Public Protection Casework Section (PPCS) will send a dossier, giving comfirmation of the reasons why the recall has been made, once the licencee is back in prison. Which, viewed independently, might appear a little harsh: “We’ll arrest you, put you back in prison, and then tell you why, in more detail, having just used a formulaic, scattergun approach to revoke the licence knowing that some, if not most, of the allegations have no basis in fact or evidence”.

Whatever the views about Ralph Christie, and there are, on occasions, very strong opinions at both ends of the spectrum, the fact remains that he is a white collar criminal, attempting to raise the money to repay his victims, who was of unblemished character (in the eyes of the law) prior to the 2015 trial at Bradford, and presents no flight risk. He was, for example, on unconditional police bail for 3 years, with free passage between his home in Crete and the UK – and has answered every call on his bail and never missed a court appearance.

Since the communication from Mr Ibrahim on 12th March, there has been extensive email correspondence with the aforementioned Janine Pedley. She is always responsive, professional, patient and courteous, if not a little exasperated, in her dealings with Ralph Christie.

She has also forwarded the file on to the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) in Petty France, London. Christie has previously had extensive dealings with NOMS regarding the controversy over credit for time served on remand, prior to conviction. The upshot of which is that the prison service has defied recommendations from two different circuit judges and added 84 days rather than deducted them. A total penalty of over 5 months. Ralph Christie, not unreasonably, maintains that in those circumstances he should have been released on licence in 2017 with his licence expiring at the beginning of 2021.

In answer to Christie’s requests for particulars of the allegations against him, Ms Pedley simply says, in an email dated 14th April, 2020: “Your licence was revoked because you were not given permission to leave the UK indefinitely¨.

That is very different to what is stated on the formal Revocation of Licence. It also chimes with enquiries made of West Yorkshire Police, who say that there are no complaints recorded on their crime systems that have been made since the issue of his licence and Christie has, certainly, not been contacted by them in connection with any allegations, or received any intimation from any person, or lawyer representing them, that such a complaint would likely be forthcoming.

There are no missed appointments at the WYCRC offices, apart from the very recent one on 6th March, 2020 or missed home visits, apart from the one on 13th March, 2019, which was not pursued by the supervising officer. That is clear from examination of email trails of all correspondence between the various supervising officers and the licencee.

Those same email trails reveal a cordial relationship between the parties at all times and it is difficult in those circumstances to reconcile such conduct with an allegation of ‘bad behaviour’.

On strict reading of the licence there has been a breach, there can be no argument about that. But, in the exceptional circumstances that prevail, on any number of legal and moral premises, it might seem to the man in the street that justice, fairness, the public interest and the public purse might all be better served by an amended licence, rather than a revocation. That would also reconcile with the Ministry of Justice’s aim to try to reduce the prison population during the pandemic.

Who will win the tug of war over Ralph Christie’s liberty remains to be seen. He cannot leave Greece and, even if no travel ban by the courts was in place, in the present circumstances of the virus pandemic it would not be advisable to do so, for the foreseeable future. The containment of Corona Virus will also determine the resumption of the civil court proceedings which appear to be the key to unlocking many of the doors presently barred.

This is, clearly, a story with some way to run. Indeed, very shortly after publication of this article, Christie received a letter from the PPCS, following several requests, setting out the formal position, absent of reasons or evidence, regarding the recall to prison.

(i) Be of good behaviour and not do anything which could undermine the purposes of the licence period;

(iii) Keep in touch with the supervising officer in accordance with instructions given by the supervising officer

This, again, is different to the Licence Revocation and, of course, not the same ground(s) as that given by Ms Pedley in earlier correspondence. Christie, meanwhile, is trying to raise funds to challenge the decision.

The eagle-eyed will also have spotted that, most curiously, there is no reason (ii).

It has now been clarified by PPCS that the recall was for 28 days, after which the Parole Board could consider re-licencing Ralph Christie. All of which, one might say, was an awful lot of work, for a considerable number of people, to put in danger not only the licencee but prisoners, prison officers, probation officers with whom he might come into contact after six hours in two aeroplanes during the journey back to the UK from Crete.

Questions have been put to the Ministry of Justice, the CPS and, of course, West Yorkshire Police. Any responses will be posted in a later update.

Cedric Christie was given specific right of reply.

“This article was published before the expiration of the period you gave me to reply. However that does not particularly concern me.

I do not consider that I have lied in either of the circumstances you have described.

There are also some points you make in the above article about Ralph’s case that imply that I’ve been mischievous in his regard. I do not agree. I have information and documents that I believe would support my view. It is my personal opinion that the WYP investigation into his Cretan financial affairs was inadequate.

Perhaps some communication may resolve the above aspects”.

The further communication is keenly awaited, particularly in respect of the, as yet, unanswered matters relating to his private investigations in Crete and his view that his brother should be back in prison.

 

Page last updated: Thursday 14th May, 2020 at 1825 hours

Photo Credits:

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

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

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

A ‘car crash’ of a judgment

On 20th September 2019, Mr Recorder Ben Nolan QC handed down his judgment in a £5 million civil claim brought by Dr Abdul Rashid against West Yorkshire Police. It followed a Bradford County Court liability hearing lasting two weeks, during which evidence was heard from three police officers repesenting the defendant. The claimant, a well-known Bradford GP and medico-legal practitioner also gave witness box testimony.

The claim concerns wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and trespass over events that happened in March, 2012 during a police investigation codenamed Operation Thatcham. It, ultimately, resulted in the conviction of 45 men over what have become known as ‘cash for crash‘ fraud offences.

A terrifying pre-dawn raid, in a middle class suburb of Bradford, saw eighteen police officers turn up at the doctor’s home where he, his wife and three young children were asleep. Other squads of officers had been despatched to his two surgeries and other business premises. It was alleged he was part of a conspiracy to defraud, relating to the cash for crash claims, although no particulars were ever put to Dr Rashid in thirty-five hours of police interviews, across a seven month period. He was never charged with any offence.

Interview records show that the questioning of the doctor, by purportedly experienced detectives, was largely infantile and almost entirely pointless. The police simply had no evidence of criminal offences, but were down a rabbit hole without an escape route. Not least, because there is no incentive for any medico-legal practitioner to commit fraud: He (or she) is paid by an instructing lawyer, whether an injury insurance claim succeeds or not – and irrespective of the content of the doctor’s report. A point that seemed completely lost on the police.

Dr Rashid was eventually released from police bail in June, 2013. The justification for the arrest or, in legal terms, the reasonable grounds for suspicion of the offence for which he was arrested, lie at the very heart of the matter.

Notable for his absence from the civil court proceedings was the arresting officer, DC Mark Lunn, described in court as ‘a bad apple’, and about whom much has been written elsewhere (read here, here and here). The police, via their barrister Olivia Checa Dover, had told the court at a pre-trial review, seven months earlier, that they were ‘unable to locate’ DC Lunn – a matter later denied at the substantive hearing. The detective (the term is used loosely) was, in fact, working for the police watchdog, the discredited and now dissolved Independent Police Complaints Commission (re-badged in January 2018 as the Independent Office for Police Conduct), just 300 yards from police HQ, in a job actually facilitated by those who said they couldn’t locate him.

Lunn pic 3
Mark Lunn, whom the police were ´unable to locate´

An account of that pre-trial hearing, before HHJ Neil Davey QC, can be read elsewhere on this website by clicking here and has stood unchallenged since that time, including by the police to whom right of reply was offered.

A comprehensive day-by-day account of the final hearing can also be read on this website by clicking here. West Yorkshire Police tried, unsuccessfully, to prevent the author of this piece reporting on those proceedings in an attempt, not only to frustrate open justice (routine for them), but, more crucially, to prevent public exposure of the rotting effect of the ‘bad apple’ officer, culminating in what appears to be a shocking conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, by six of their officers in the same barrel, that has left an unpleasant stench hanging over the large number of Operation Thatcham convictions.

At the conclusion of those proceedings in Bradford Law Courts, conducted in a palpably toxic atmosphere throughout, Recorder Nolan dismissed the claim in controversial circumstances. Not least, because of the bitter and long-running battle over disclosure, or, more to the point, the lack of it, by the police. The handling of those matters, viewed from the press seats at least, appeared to fall short of the standards one might reasonably expect of an alert, fair-minded judge. It also must be said, by way of balance, that it is a feature of many civil or tribunal claims (and in some notable criminal trials) involving West Yorkshire Police; the latitude the force is frequently given from the bench, and a tame local media, simply encourages their bad practices.

A permission appeal to the High Court by Dr Rashid was, unsurprisingly, filed by his lawyers soon afterwards. It was granted on the papers (without a hearing) on 17th December, 2019 by Mr Justice Lavender. Not a common occurrence in such matters.

A full appeal hearing is listed for 14th May, 2020 before the same judge, sitting in the Leeds District Registry. It is, however, more than likely, in the prevailing SAR-COV-2 crisis, that the hearing will take place via video conference.

The written judgment of Recorder Nolan, typed, unusually, in 16pt with generous margins top and bottom, runs to 14 pages. It is littered with schoolboy syntax errors; headed ‘judgement’ not ‘judgment’; pages are not numbered; it is undated; and carries no unique case reference or details of the parties’ representation. It even includes an exclamation mark at the end of one sentence, unprecedented in the author’s experience, encompassing many hundreds of court judgments. Likewise, the sight of a barrister being addressed only by his surname is, similarly, unheard of.

All of which gives it an amateurish look: Surprisingly so, for a part-time judge who has been at the Bar for 49 years and, plainly, has a very high opinion of himself – and one not at all slow in derogating others, both in his courtroom and on social media. A memorable example being that hard-won press cards, hologrammed and with photo ID embedded, authorised by the National Union of Journalists and the National Police Chiefs Council, are “handed out to anybody“.

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There was no perfected copy of the judgment provided to the press and it was not published electronically by the court. So, this piece is grounded in what was handed, by the court clerk, to the two members of the press present at the time.

By the tenth, and last, sitting day, the claimant’s legal team knew what to expect. A hearing where one party, and their counsel, appeared to be favoured throughout was not going to end well – and so it proved.

But, it was not just the judge’s decision to dismiss the claim that caused dismay; that was already built into the claimant’s expectations. It was the perplexing way the background narrative was rehearsed, and the equally puzzling finding of fact, that gave rise to very considerable concern. As did the judge’s consequent rulings on the applicable law.

It is well-established case law that parties to a civil claim should be able to understand why they succeeded or failed. Indeed, it can be a ground upon which an appeal can, in some circumstances, be upheld.

In interview after the trial, Dr Rashid, a highly intelligent and accomplished individual with an acquired, if reluctant, knowledge of civil law and procedure, was, it is fair to say, completely bewildered. As was his legal team, Ian Pennock of counsel (the barrister simply referred to as “Pennock” in one section of the judgment) and his instructing solicitor, Simon Blakeley.

Moreover, taking the daily court reports as a starting point, it seems as though the Nolan judgment concerned a different trial altogether. Those reports, amounting to almost 12,000 words, stand unchallenged by both the police, and the judge, despite dark, but unspecified, mutterings during the trial.

The handed down judgment, most regrettably, gives the appearance of a pre-formed decision with threadbare, and in places, inexplicable or, indeed, a complete absence of cogent analysis or reasoning. The background narrative, and consequent fact finding, also appears to leave too many crucial issues unresolved and bizarre, apparently unsupportable, conclusions on at least two of the central matters: The credibility of the principal police witness and the diligence (and record keeping) of the Operation Thatcham investigation.

More crucially, to those adjacent to the applicable statutory framework, the judge appears not to have turned his attention to the state of mind of the arresting officer and each of his alleged reasonable grounds for suspecting Dr Rashid of committing the offence, for which he was arrested, and attached to them his reasoning for finding in favour of the police. That, one might say, was his primary function as sole arbiter of this claim.

From the press seats at least, the claim largely turned on the evidence of one police officer: Detective Inspector (DI) Mark Taylor. A sergeant at the time of the arrest of Dr. Rashid and the supervisor of the errant former detective constable, Mark Lunn.

Having previously served as a custody sergeant, DI Taylor was part of the Kirklees-based Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) recovery team. Lunn was seconded to that team from his previous role as a beat officer in Huddersfield and, later, that town’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

As reported contemporaneously, DI Taylor’s evidence underwent a remarkable transformation between examination on his evidence-in-chief by Miss Checa Dover and cross-examination by Mr Pennock. From a witness giving ready answers, with quite remarkable recall of detail from events 7 or 8 years previously, to a hesitant police officer constantly having to think carefully about what he was saying, and who answered thirteen times in the mode of ‘don’t recall, don’t remember, don’t know, can’t answer that, got that wrong’. Despite having been very closely involved in the police’s defence of the civil claim for almost three years before he gave his testimony in court – and in other connected regulatory proceedings, in which the police were the prime movers, since 2012.

In answer to Mr Pennock’s probing, he frequently had no explanation as to why many of the key documents that would have assisted the claim of Dr Rashid had either gone missing, been destroyed or were concealed from the claimant. Particularly, those that were effectively under his control, if the judge’s version of his role in the case is to be taken at face value. These include his own pocket books, day books, email trails, weekly reports to his superior officers, meeting notes, seized materials, copies of warrants and their supporting documentation (At the pre-trial review it was heard in legal submissions that DC Lunn’s emails were no longer available on the police’s ‘Cloud’ data storage. The judge at that hearing did pointedly observe that someone must have taken pro-active steps to remove them).

During cross-examination, DI Taylor was unable to direct the court to any document in the trial bundle – running to twelve densely packed lever arch files – where the reasons for a decision to arrest Dr Rashid are set out, and properly recorded, in accordance with authorised police practice. He did, however, concede, in evidence, that for such a major decision affecting a high profile and well-established local doctor he would have expected them to be recorded in the investigation’s policy log at the very least, together with pocket books or day books of those involved in the decision, meeting notes and his own weekly reports. It is a specific requirement under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, 1984 (PACE) that notebook records are kept of actions preceding, during and after arrest of a suspect. DI Taylor, the supervisor of the arresting officer in Dr Rashid’s case, is unable to explain where those specific records are – or why they were not retained. Or, indeed, if they were ever made.

The court also heard that DI Taylor was centrally involved in the presentation, by West Yorkshire Police, of no less than five different versions of the ‘reasonable grounds for suspicion’ that underpinned Dr Rashid’s arrest. The first, in May 2017, being in answer to the filing and serving of the claim form, by way of their formal Defence; the last one during the trial, at the request of the judge whom, presumably, like most others present in court, was bewildered at the constantly changing police landscape. The second version was in an Amended Defence filed in July 2018 when it became clear that the original Defence was unlikely to resist the claim; the third and fourth differing versions were, respectively, DI Taylor’s witness statement dated December 2018 and his oral evidence from the witness box at trial nine months later.

One of the three remaining grounds cited by DI Taylor as the support for the decision to arrest the doctor, in that witness box testimony, from a list that at one time comprised twenty-one purported reasons, concerned a matter that only became known to the police over five months after the arrest. The other two were (i) an appointments list found in the vehicle of a person arrested in the first phase of the crash for cash investigation, but not subsequently prosecuted, and (ii) the alleged inadequacy of Dr. Rashid’s medico-legal reports. Those two grounds alone, says the detective, are sufficient to resist the claim of wrongful arrest and false imprisonment.

Examination of the trial bundle now reveals a different ground advanced by DI Taylor that is not in either of his witness statements or his court testimony. In an email to the Ministry of Justice he states baldly: ‘The main thrust of our fraud case: Was the doctor [Rashid] doing anything different to other professionals’.

The fact that all five (or now six) police versions of the reasonable grounds for suspicion are different is an important point; one that an independent reviewer might consider strikes at the heart of both the police force’s probity, and DI Taylor’s own credibility as a witness in these proceedings, yet is completely absent from the judgment. There is no reference to them at all, including the fact that the twenty-one shot West Yorkshire Police machine-gun had been reduced to just two weak blows on a pea-shooter.

Furthermore, on at least three occasions in the witness box, DI Taylor gave oral evidence that directly contradicted written evidence of his own that was to be found in the trial bundle. They were not minor points either, they were central to the police’s defence of the claim. It is more difficult to conclude that this class of historical revisionism was the product of innocent mistakes, or memory aberrations, given his remarkable powers of recall on his first day giving evidence.

Fortunately, for Dr Rashid, when taken to a compromised Third Party Disclosure Order (in successful proceedings wherein the decision of the General Medical Council to suspend the doctor from medical practice, at the instigation of DC Lunn, was quashed) which confirmed, many months after his arrest, that West Yorkshire Police confirm that [Dr Rashid] was not arrested on the basis of a specific allegation made by an individual outside, or within, West Yorkshire Police, DI Taylor, as Lunn’s supervisor, agreed that was how he understood the position to be. He was the disclosure officer in those GMC proceedings and, as such, attached to the persistent smearing of the doctor, by the police, then and ever since.

He could not, however, explain to the court why the note of a meeting, recorded on the policy log as taking place on 19th January, 2012, at which he claimed he was present, did not feature his name amongst the list of attendees posted by DC Lunn. That ‘team’ meeting was to assume high importance in the judgment, by way of deflecting Lunn’s central role in the arrest. DI Taylor claims that the grounds for Dr Rashid’s arrest were discussed there, even though the log only records that the decision to proceed was maintained. That strongly infers there was at least one other meeting, about which there appears to be no entry on the policy log, or entries in day books, or post-meeting email notes, or follow-ups. There was also conflicting testimony from DI Taylor as to whether the meeting was held in Batley or Bradford.

This January 2012 meeting appeared to be the only area of his cross-examination where DI Taylor’s powers of recall were revived. Distinctly remembering detail of a meeting with a Crown Prosecution Service lawyer, Julian Briggs, whom, on his own admission, he either met, or spoke to on the telephone, almost every single working day during that era. Quite remarkably for a meeting of such purported gravity, no-one at that meeting, it seems, made any record of the grounds of arrest of Dr Rashid. Including the CPS lawyer. Or, if they did, the police chose not to disclose them. Another, one might say crucial, point absent from the judgment.

Under questioning, it emerged from DI Taylor that the policy log itself was a key part of the general shambles that threaded through the running and supervision of Operation Thatcham. DC Lunn, on the evidence and with his shocking disciplinary record, was an unwelcome cuckoo in the POCA nest at Batley Police Station. Curiously, as a lowly, inexperienced, self-aggrandising detective constable, with a history of unlawful arrest complaints against him, albeit unsubstantiated, and a stranger to the department, DI Taylor allocated Lunn an office of his own. In the face of him still being on a written warning over a previous internal police finding of misuse of the force’s computer systems.

The policy log created by DC Lunn did not, incredibly, form part of those same police systems and was not linked to either their force-wide servers or the more local Infoshare network. He could add, amend, delete any entry on the Word document and no-one would be any wiser. Operation Thatcham was, to all appearances, a one man maverick operation that breached any number of authorised police practices, management of police information protocols, codes of conduct and, very arguably, was operated outside data protection laws.

DI Taylor told the court Lunn had been ‘recommended’ to his POCA team, but he did not say by whom. It was not explained, either, why this major investigation did not fall under the remit of one of the specialist criminal divisions in West Yorkshire Police under the supervision of a qualified Senior Investigating Officer (SIO). [In response to a post-trial freedom of information request, West Yorkshire Police made a number of palpably false responses concerning these matters in order to further conceal Thatcham’s procedural shortcomings].

Although presented by the police as the officer in charge of Operation Thatcham, in an attempt to downplay the role of the discredited DC Lunn, DI Taylor gave conflicting evidence over the number of suspects arrested in the first phase of the investigation. He told Miss Checa-Dover it was ten, when it was put to him by Mr Pennock that the actual number was thirty-eight, it was conceded, reluctantly, that he ‘got it wrong’.

Thatcham was the biggest fraud investigation in the history of West Yorkshire Police with ninety one suspects arrested in total. DI Taylor, as noted elsewhere, had been involved in regulatory and civil proceedings against Dr Rashid for seven years, in matters arising from it. Yet couldn’t answer correctly a simple, basic question concerning the operation.

Mark Taylor’s dual role of supervisor of the discredited arresting officer in the criminal matter, then sole disclosure officer, conflicted but apparently unsupervised, in the civil claim, should have given rise to concern amongst those anxious to maintain public confidence in the civil justice system. But the seriously alarming catalogue of disclosure failings, with implausible explanations, or simply no explanation, attached to most of them, did not appear to cause any anxiety to the judge at all. Indeed, his verbal attack on Mr Pennock, on the last day of the trial, when the issue of disclosure failings was raised, yet again, was as unnecessary as it was unpleasant.

These were, in essence, the disputed disclosure points which should be read with these two comments from the judge very much in mind; (i) ‘I don’t want to deprive Mr Pennock of material which he quite rightly wishes to use’, (ii) ‘I don’t want this case to go wrong by dint of  disclosure error’ and also the admission from DI Taylor that he was ‘exhibits officer trained’:

– The reasons for arresting Dr Rashid do not, or no longer, appear in the operational policy log. No audit trail relating to that document has been filed and served by the police.

– The Word document setting out reasons for suspecting Dr Rashid of criminal offences, given to Dewsbury Magistrates’ Court by way of a formal application for search warrants of Dr Rashid’s premises, is not retained on the police server.

– DI Taylor’s workbook, covering, according to his own evidence, twelve significant police investigations during that period, and, more crucially, recording the reasons for arresting Dr Rashid, was missing. As is that of every other officer involved, including the arresting officer, DC Lunn.

– The police have not produced the weekly e-mail reports, from DI Taylor to his superiors, setting out the reasons why they wanted to arrest Dr Rashid. He told the court that they still exist and could be accessed via the force’s Enterprise Vault.

– During the phase one arrests in Operation Thatcham copies of scripts that were to be used by personal injury claimants, during their consultations with doctors, were seized. When both Mr Pennock, and then the judge, asked DI Taylor where they were, and why they had not been retained, there was an interjection from Miss Checa-Dover who asserted that ‘it has been years since the criminal prosecutions had ended [in fact, April 2014] and the civil claim issued [in fact, letter before claim issued December 2015].

– Appointment diaries seized by the police from other medico-legal practitioners involved in ‘crash for cash’ claims are missing. DI Taylor told the court, ‘they are no longer in the police’s possession because it’s [the criminal trials in Operation Thatcham] gone through the statutory appeals process’. He could not explain to the court, when asked by the judge, why, when the requirement is to retain such materials for 6 years, they were no longer available. He did confirm that a CD disc for each of the doctors’ diaries had been exhibited at the trial.

– Not one contemporaneous record of the reasons given for the decision to arrest Dr Rashid can be located anywhere in the many police records where one should find them or, indeed, where it is a serious breach of Police Regulations not to find them.

– The police seized Dr Rashid’s phone and laptop. From those devices they extracted text messages (SMS). They disclosed only part of those text messages (oddly enough those that might fit the police narrative). The PC and phone had been ‘wiped’ when eventually returned to him. DI Taylor, or the police lawyers when asked, have provided no plausible explanation beyond a haughty ‘we can’t disclose what we don’t have’.

– DI Taylor’s evidence in the witness box concerning both his own philosophy as an experienced detective and, more crucially, wider police force policy: ´If it is not recorded, it didn’t happen’.

Mr Pennock submits that these provide a more than a sufficient evidential base to advance the proposition that the police records had been ‘sanitised’ to remove (or conceal, or an admission that they never existed) all the contemporaneous reasons for deciding to arrest Dr Rashid. A plausible, indeed likely, reason is that the police subsequently believe such reason(s) to be insufficient to justify that arrest and, as such, resist the civil claim.

However, none of his highly questionable evidence, or witness box testimony that was not in either of his witness statements (very often fatal to the credibility of a live witness), or the list of disclosure failures, either of, or involving, DI Taylor, appeared to trouble Mr Recorder Nolan even slightly. Indeed, his judgment, incredibly, records him as ‘a truthful, reliable and extremely professional police officer of the highest calibre’. He embellishes that claim by asserting that ‘his evidence was wholly corroborated by contemporaneous evidence’ and, to top off, gives his ‘firm view’ that ‘this [Operation Thatcham] was a well-run, closely-monitored, highly competent criminal investigation’.

Mr Recorder Ben Nolan QC

It is, set against the evidence heard first hand in court, contemporaneous reporting and, for certainty, a review of the section of the transcript covering DI Taylor’s testimony, a passage in a judgment that is as astonishing as it is shocking. Even without taking into account the number of times he had to be ‘rescued’ or led by either the judge himself, or Miss Checa-Dover, when stuck for answers to questions put to him by Mr Pennock. Indeed, Dr Rashid’s lawyers submit that on at least three different occasions the judge appeared to stray into giving evidence himself.

The only conceivable explanation being, that if an objective conclusion had been drawn from DI Taylor’s variable and selective memory, and his contradictory, frequently unimpressive evidence; his troubling supervisory failings in the criminal investigation; and his highly questionable role as disclosure officer in the civil proceedings, then he would have been found as a witness whose reliability was open to serious question and the defence of the claim dangerously, and probably fatally, undermined.

Recorder Nolan, in the face of an invitation from Mr Pennock, also drew no adverse inference from the absence of the arresting officer from the proceedings, saying ‘although he is in name the arresting officer his importance to the case has been overblown’. An inexplicable finding given that it was drawn out in evidence that DC Lunn was the only officer working full time on Operation Thatcham during its first year, and, more particularly, the period leading up to the arrest of Dr Rashid, and, of over 200 entries on the investigation’s policy log in that timespan, the definitive record of decisions, rationales, actions and outcomes, every entry except one was made by that same officer. A policy log, under authorised police practice, is required to be the domain of the SIO, usually at detective chief inspector or superintending rank.

More crucially, the records of the trial clearly reveal that DI Taylor had conceded, very early in his cross-examination, by Mr Pennock, that Lunn was ‘the main man’.

DC Lunn was also, unusually, the author of the operational orders that were drawn up in connection with two different planned arrests of the doctor. DI Taylor said in evidence these orders would have been approved by a senior officer at chief inspector rank, or above. But couldn’t point the court to any written document evidencing such approval, although he asserted that the approval would not have been by telephone.

On any view, this was a one man band operating well outside conventional police constraints, with minimal and ineffective supervision. Indeed, the court heard that, in an email to a superior, Lunn described himself as ‘Team Thatcham’ in answer to a complaint about his conduct – and in a way that appeared to suggest that his pivotal role gave him a shield against any disciplinary action over any complaint from a member of the public.

The judgment is also absent of discussion, analysis, reasoning and reasons in relation to whether, or not, DC Lunn’s unauthorised, pirate activities as a private detective to the insurance industry; or an inadequately explained payment of £183,000 by a motor insurance company to that same serving police officer, via a bogus company, around the time of his arrest of Dr Rashid; the associated leverage to obtain the ‘scalp’ of a high profile medico-legal professional to promote both DC Lunn’s and motor insurance company interests; and, the startlingly deliberate decision by senior officers involved in Operation Thatcham, and three Professional Standards Department (PSD) officers to engage in what appears to be a prima facie conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, by keeping DC Lunn’s ‘extra-curricular’ activities secret from the criminal defence teams in the ‘cash for crash’ fraud prosecutions.

There is also no evidence that a thorough, proportionate investigation was ever carried out by the police, or the IPCC to whom the matter should have been mandatorily referred, into the whereabouts of that £183,000, or whether Lunn was acting alone, or in concert with other police officers, over monies that give off the strong whiff of an inducement to extend his powers beyond what was, necessarily, lawful. The judge again strays into error with his finding that, by leaving West Yorkshire Police in August, 2013, Lunn “jumped before he was punched (sic)”. It is clear from the trial bundle that disciplinary proceedings had concluded with ‘words of advice’ and DI Taylor’s testimony, during the hearing, is that he left because he had been sent to work back on the beat and was unhappy about no longer having detective status.

Even though in almost every other civil claim of this class he would be the very first port of call, DC Lunn never even provided a witness statement in the these proceedings, and West Yorkshire Police have gone to the most extraordinary lengths to conceal both his true role in the Thatcham investigation and the full extent of his own misdemeanours – and those, it appears, of many others involved in this case. In Lunn’s case that included lying in a post-arrest report about ‘patient records being strewed about the doctor’s home and car’. A matter that both the judge and DI Taylor found very uncomfortable to deal with when when taken to the evidence by Mr Pennock that there was no such occurrence.

The police were, and still are, condoning that alleged conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in order to do so. At least one person, convicted via the tainted Operation Thatcham, has complained to their PSD about the conspiracy, since the conclusion of this civil claim, and the police have sought to disapply the requirement under the Police Reform Act to investigate this very serious matter.

The IOPC (formerly the IPCC), the notoriously toothless ‘police watchdog’, with so much to lose themselves, have also chosen to further break the law by not ‘calling in’ the investigation as a Recordable Conduct matter arising out of civil proceedings. They stonewall any questions about their shielding of the corrupted ex-DC Mark Lunn for over three years in their Wakefield office. The Home Office similarly block any press enquiries on the topic.

Returning to the Nolan judgment, Dr Rashid and his lawyers point to some of the matters that the judge sought to highlight in the background narrative that did not appear to have the necessary relevance to the matters to be determined in this trial or carried disproportionate weight. For example:

– Reference to a company named NK Business Consultants Ltd, and a payment of a £825 administration fee by Dr Rashid to that company, when the police had no knowledge of either the company, or the payment, until alerted by Stuart Davies of the Ministry of Justice on 17th August, 2012, over five months after the arrest. The fact that NK never appeared on the policy log supports that fact. [The judgment goes so far as to say that the payment to NK raised ‘intense suspicion’ pre-arrest based on DI Taylor’s witness box evidence].

– The appointment of his 19 year old nephew as a director of a company Dr Rashid has formed.

– A tenant of Dr Rashid who runs a claims management company, completely unrelated to the organised crime group featuring in Operation Thatcham, or any fraudulent claim, from the downstairs shop premises of the doctor’s private medico-legal offices above (thus keeping his private practice completely separate from his NHS surgeries), is suspected to be his brother. DI Taylor had confirmed in his testimony that ‘there was nothing unusual in this’.

– The police claim that Dr Rashid’s reports are of a poor standard [relying on an ‘eccentric’ doctor who admits to the police he ‘is no expert’ and just happens to be a friend of DC Lunn’s mother] and the scale of fees charged for the reports [which DI Taylor conceded in evidence were consistent with the market rate in the personal injury arena].

– Whilst being questioned about Dr Tedd, DI Taylor conceded that despite the entry on the policy log that the doctor was a family friend of DC Lunn, he knew nothing at all about the relationship until asked about it by Mr Pennock during the trial. ‘It´s actually news to me, even at this late stage’ said the officer purorted by West Yorkshire Police to have been running Operation Thatcham.

– How quality of medical reporting became a police matter rather than a regulatory issue [The GMC in a protracted four year investigation found nothing untoward with the reports].

Conversely and perversely, Dr Rashid and his legal team might well contend, taking the contemporaneous reporting, and their own legal note-taking during the trial, as guides, that much more relevant points were either omitted from the judge’s discussion of the case, or understated as to their relevance within the factual matrix:

– The police were told pre-arrest, by a number of personal injury specialists, that the way in which Dr Rashid runs his private medico-legal practice was not uncommon and the impact that would have on any of the alleged reasonable grounds for arrest or, indeed, its necessity. This was also confirmed by DI Taylor in oral testimony as was the fact that the police had omitted to disclose this in trial documents.

– The refusal of the police to call the arresting officer to give evidence of what he considered the reasonable grounds to be. Or for him to provide a witness statement when at the material time he was working, as a public servant, and for the police watchdog no less, in very close proximity to WYP HQ.

– The failure to preserve, or disclose, one single document where the reasonable grounds for arresting Dr Rashid could be expected to be contemporaneously, and expressly, recorded.

– The alleged failure to apply for an arrest warrant for Dr Rashid at the same time that they applied for a search warrant [In earlier preliminary hearings the police had told the court that there was no arrest warrant, a position they appeared to resile from at the final hearing].

– The failure of the police to produce evidence they seized, showing block appointments, appointment duration, fee charged, standard of reports, payments made and to whom, by other doctors. Especially, those in claims that were ultimately proved to be fraudulent.

– The fact that it is common ground that Dr Rashid never reported on any of the numerous proven fraudulent claims, or the fact that the police cannot prove and refused to disclose, any evidence that could even form a basis to say Dr Rashid had actually reported on a claim even suspected of being fraudulent.

– All the transcripts of Dr Rashid’s audio tapes, taken during patient consultations, are entirely consistent with his subsequent reports. The judge might have anxiously considered whether tape recording these interactions was consistent with alleged wrongdoing. If he did, it was omitted from his verdict.

– The fact that West Yorkshire Police knew pre-arrest that a number of other doctors actually reported on numerous proven fraudulent claims, and at least one of those doctors reported on all 14 fraudulent claimants in a completely fabricated ‘accident’ wherein all were said to have been in the same mini-bus, yet did not suspect that doctor of complicity with those fraudulent claims.

– There is no reference to the use of scripts by personal injury claimants or the fact that the police offered a ludicrous explanation for their absence from the trial bundle.

– The lawfulness of alleged reasonable grounds for arrest to be determined on a communal basis between a team of officers against the alleged reasonable grounds having to be held and believed by the actual arresting officer alone.

– Assuming there were reasonable grounds to suspect Dr Rashid of the stipulated offence, the law requires the police to also prove it was ‘necessary’ to effect an arrest. They already had search warrants for all Dr Rashid’s premises (obviating the need to arrest him to invoke powers of search). DI Taylor’s evidence in court was  that he had no reason to suspect Dr. Rashid would not co-operate with them and would have voluntarily attended for questioning. The priority, he said, was obtaining access to his mobile phone.

– The failure by the police to put even one specific allegation to Dr Rashid during 35 hours of interview over a five month period subsequent to the arrest.

– The immediate revelation, within six hours in fact, to the GMC and local Primary Care Trust of the fact that Dr Rashid had been arrested, the grotesque exaggeration of the alleged offences for which he was arrested and the avoidance of required protocol by DC Lunn, and his supervisor DI Taylor, and the circumventing of the WYP Force Disclosure Unit, who would normally undertake such sensitive matters involving regulated professionals. [The extraordinary and unauthorised missives from DC Lunn asserted to the PCT the commission of very serious offences as fact, even before one question had been put to Dr Rashid in interview. They were never, subsequently, corrected].

– The police repeatedly failed to identify any actual fraudulent claim or even suspected fraudulent claim, that Dr Rashid was even involved in.

– None of the medico-legal practitioners who were proved to have reported on fraudulent claims within Operation Thatcham, or indeed on a wider view, were arrested. This included Dr Ayoub whom had reported on the ‘headline’ case in that investigation, a bogus mini-bus crash that resulted in 14 fraudulent claims.

Other mistakes, ambiguities, under- or over-statements in the judgment include:

– No mention of the number of officers attending at Dr Rashid’s arrest (16) or its timing (6.15am).

– Dr Rashid’s release from bail in June 2013 came after a review of their original decision not to charge by a more senior lawyer, requested by the police, not after ‘a review of the evidence’.

– The false, improper and malicious notification to the GMC by DC Lunn is simply noted by the judge as ‘in the course of the investigation WYP notified the GMC’

– The judgment is silent on the point that Dr Rashid’s suspension was quashed by the High Court in September, 2012 after a senior judge presiding in that review, HHJ Mark Gosnell, had observed that ‘the police evidence against him was sparse’. Evidence gathered and put to the court by DI Taylor.

– Judgment records that the Insurance Fraud Bureau ‘assisted with’ Operation Thatcham which is a position from which their press office resiled when asked.

– The judgment asserts that one of the ‘crash for cash’ organisers, Nadeem Khaled, was a Director of Advanced Claims (UK) Ltd. That was not heard in evidence and, in any event, has no grounding in fact – as a simple check at Companies House reveals.

– The judgment repeatedly refers to Concept Accident Management Ltd as ‘Concept Claims’. It also asserts that Khaled was ‘replaced as a director’. It is a matter of public record that he never was an officer of any description in that company.

– A Lamborghini car leased from a finance company in Portsmouth was described as being ‘of dubious provenance’. It was the driver about which there were police and Ministry of Justice concerns, not the vehicle.

– The driver of that vehicle, Fouad El Habbal, was said in the judgment to be 19 or 20 years old. It is a matter of public record that he was 21 years old at the time of his arrest (born May 1990).

– The judge describes the prestigious 4 star Cedar Court Hotel as ‘a budget hotel’.

– The judgment states that CPS lawyer, Julian Briggs, ‘was present on earlier occasions when the team had met’. That, put shortly, was not the evidence of DI Taylor.

– The judgment makes no mention of DI Taylor’s unequivocal evidence that ‘the policy log was compromised‘ by the lack of time, date, entry identification (usually by author’s initials) and its remoteness from police systems.

– A passage in the judgment concerning how the nefarious activities of DC Lunn first came to the attention of senior officers also falls into error. The judge’s acceptance of DI Taylor’s account of events, against the factual matrix and another of the detective’s losses of memory is concerning to say the least.

– The judgment refers to pre-arrest interview notes (that were, strangely, undated and with no author identified): Because they refer to events that only came into the knowledge of the police many months later, they were plainly post-arrest notes.

– During the proceedings the judge referred to a payment by Dr Rashid to a solicitor as a “backhander” (in Yorkshire, and probably elsewhere, a term for a bribe). That is not how the GMC characterised it during their lengthy investigation into Dr Rashid, nor was any such suggestion, oblique or otherwise, heard in evidence from the police officers. The solicitor has never been subject of complaint, application or arrest over that payment.

– The judgment refers twice to the number of Operation Thatcham convictions as 48. That was not heard in evidence and no source is quoted. West Yorkshire Police, by way of a freedom of information request, say the number was 45.

That is a long and troubling list and readers are invited to form their own view as to what might, in the interests of fairness and balance, have been an appropriate level of care, attention and impartiality from the bench and, more crucially, might reasonably be included in the judgment of Mr Recorder Nolan, or excluded, and the impact on his decision to dismiss the claim. His almost complete absence of note-taking, throughout the trial, may have contributed to this catalogue of errors.

There are also similar misgivings from Dr Rashid and his legal team as to how the law was applied to the judge’s finding of fact. They will be dealt with more fully, in a separate article, after Mr Justice Lavender has unpicked the competing arguments and made his decision.

Mr Justice Lavender

Whatever the outcome of the this appeal by Dr Rashid, neither the police, for the manner in which they routinely conduct civil or tribunal litigation, or the judge who was, arguably, prepared to overlook too many of their shortcomings and sharp practices, emerge with credit. The latter, in the twilight of what appears to have been a distinguished legal career, might well, in future, take a leaf out of the book of the Recorder of Bradford, HHJ Jonathan Hall QC, when presiding over court proceedings. An exemplar in how to conduct any hearing.

Page last updated: Wednesday 13th May, 2020 at 0900 hours

Photo Credits: Twitter (@F10BENQC); Serle Court Chambers

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

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

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

The Melsonby post office murder – Timeline

The murder of Diana Garbutt in 2010, by her husband Robin at the post office they ran in Melsonby, North Yorkshire, is a case that has recently attracted widespread media coverage. Convicted a year later at Teesside Crown Court, Garbutt has continued to protest his innocence. The trigger for the recent press and television activity was a third application to the miscarriage of justice watchdog, the Criminal Case Review Commission.

On this website there are four articles about the case, published since the beginning of April 2020, and comprising almost 20,000 words. It is the deepest, independent open-minded dive yet into this troubling crime.

~ ‘Don’t do anything stupid we have got your wife’ (read here)

~ ‘That particularly dubious constabulary merits careful investigation’ (read here)

~ ‘A regrettable lack of professionalism’ (read here)

~ “Fourth time lucky?’ (read here)

This timeline is intended to both underpin those articles and give the reader a first-time opportunity to have a compact view of who did what, where and when.

Surprisingly, there is no such narrative on the website of the campaigners who support Garbutt’s claims that he is a victim of a grotesque miscarriage of justice.

If any reader has any other substantive information that would enhance the timeline it would be gratefully received. Contact can be made via this link.

1965: Robin Joseph Garbutt born on 7th August, 1965 in Tholthorpe, near Easingwold. His mother, now Joyce Brook (née Wilson), gave evidence at the murder trial some 45 years later. His father, Joseph Garbutt, lived in Clifton, York at the time of the murder.

1969: Diana Michelle Kiefer was born in July in East Suffolk. She was daughter of William Kiefer, a sergeant in the United States Air Force, and his English wife Agnes (now Gaylor).

Screenshot 2020-04-10 at 22.17.54
Allerton Castle, scene of the wedding of Robin and Diana Garbutt

1999: Robin meets Diana at a party at a friend’s house. They start dating afterwards.

2001: Diana moves in to live with Robin at his house in Huby. At the time Robin is a manager for an autoelectronics company, Yorktech.

2003: In April, Robin married Diana, 4 years his junior, at Allerton Castle, near Harrogate having bought Melsonby Village Stores and Post Office a few weeks earlier.

Twice-married Mrs Garbutt served in both Women’s Royal Army Corps and 2nd Close Support Regiment, Royal Logistics Corps between 1990 and 1997 and, later, for G4S transporting prisoners to and from Leeds Crown Court.

2005: Business and property put up for sale. Diana said to be disenchanted with postmistress life’. Robin, who started work in the shop at 4.30am daily, had, on at least one occasion, told Diana, who rarely rose before 8.30am, ‘to get off her fat arse and help.’

2008: In December, Diana was “intimate on a settee” with John Illingworth whilst the couple stayed with friends at a house in York. Robin had gone to bed earlier.

2009: First reported robbery took place on 17th March at the post office. Around £11,000 was said to have been stolen from the safe by two masked, armed robbers.

In that same month, Diana was in an “evolving relationship” with Kevin Heapey, her cousin’s husband, and they kissed at a family party. The affair ended Mr Heapey’s marriage. She was also spending a lot of time with fellow villager, Craig Hall. Exchanging explicit private messages and regularly going for nocturnal mountain bike rides.

Expensive holidays to Paris, Amsterdam; weekends away in Northumberland, York and at Bolton Abbey twice, were taken during the year. They both also had a love of good food and fine wine. Diana was an accomplished cook. She also had a trip to Glastonbury music festival to see Bruce Springsteen perform.

Screenshot 2020-04-11 at 08.49.06
Robin and Dianne Garbutt in happier times

Diana moots the idea of leaving Robin and renting a room elsewhere in the village. The couple undergo counselling at RELATE; they were working on the physical side of their relationship because Diana had a high libido and wanted more sex. Mr Hall confirms the Garbutt marriage was going through ‘a rough patch’.

Work starts on new kitchen in the living quarters above the shop, this project chosen instead of installing CCTV inside or outside the premises. Campaigners say the Garbutts asked Post Office Ltd for extra security and the request was declined.

2010: Book trip to USA to see Diana’s sister and grandmother a cost of £3,000. Paid in cash. Diana signs up for a page on the Badoo dating-focused social networking site, where she said she was looking to meet ‘a guy 35-50’. She visited the site three times in the 24 hours before she was murdered, including being logged on around midnight.

Diana is murdered on 23rd March; Robin is arrested on 14th April after previously assisting police as a significant witness; charged on 16th April; remanded in custody at committal hearing 19th April; Diana’s funeral 7th May; plea hearing 24th June; released on bail following pre-trial hearing on 27th Septemember; murder trial scheduled for 4th October is adjourned due to irregularities regarding the discovery and scientific testing of the murder weapon.

2011: Murder trial opens on 21st March; Robin’s bail revoked on 12th April immediately after he has given his evidence in the witness box. Jury returns guilty verdict on 19th April and the murderer is sentenced to life imprisonment. The jury found that, on the evidence, Robin’s story about the armed robbery was untrue. Appeal lodged with Criminal Division of Court of Appeal on 11th November.

2012: Court of Appeal hearing on 15th May, but is dismissed by three law lords after reserving judgment. They reason that the conviction is ‘safe’ and underscore jury’s finding that the armed robbery could not have taken place.

2015: First application made to Criminal Case Review Commission for a referral of the case back to the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal. The grounds are not known and the Statement of Reasons for refusal, issued by the watchdog, are not in the public domain. There is no reference to them at all on the campaigners’ website.

2018: (estimated) Second application to CCRC. No grounds or reasons for rejection are known. Again these details are not revealed by the campaigners or alluded to in any way.

Screenshot 2020-04-11 at 18.49.59
Jane Metcalfe – justice campaigner for Robin Garbutt

2019: Described in the local press as ‘a long-term friend’, Jane Metcalfe appears to join the Robin Garbutt justice campaign at around this time and emerges as its principal spokesperson and presenter. Previously, the campaign was fronted by Robin’s sister, Sallie Wood and his brother-in-law, Mark Stilborn. Sallie is quoted in a press statement as saying she ‘will stop at nothing’ to clear her brother’s name.

2020: Third CCRC application submitted at end of January. This time the campaigners have gone public with their grounds. Although there is no unequivocal statement from the campaigners, they can just about be pieced together from studying an ‘exclusive’ article in The Metro, a free London-based newspaper; and two other media platforms: The Justice Gap and Private Eye, the iconic satirical magazine.

The Garbutt campaigners are hoping that their determined media campaign will pressure the CCRC into triaging their case as urgent. Some reviews have been taking up to 7 years to finalise. The suspicion is that the Garbutt case will take much less time to determine. A decision on whether the CCRC will launch an investigation into the matters raised by the new application is expected to be communicated to his lawyers at the end of April, 2020.

This timeline will be updated with any new developments as they occur.

Page last updated: Wednesday 22nd April, 2020 at 1425 hours

Photo Credits: Allerton Castle.

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

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

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fourth time lucky?

This is the fourth in a series of six 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, which is an amplication of the list of investigative failings which forms a part of the second article, ‘A regrettable lack of professionalism’, here.

The fifth looks at the appalling conduct of the campaigners behind this innocence claim, here.

The sixth is an in-depth analysis of an interview by Dr Sandra Lean of the lead campaigner, Jane Metcalfe, 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, the aforementioned 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. The suspicion is, absent of explanation from the campaigners, that the grounds were not strong enough for the CCRC to even launch an investigation.

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, PC Darren Thompson. 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 that 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 supper there can be no certainty about that. Especially in the light of the other more conventional scientific evidence put before the jury. The expert now instructed by Garbutt’s legal team, Dr David Rouse, 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 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 in 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 that 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 entrance to the Village Store and Post Office 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 20 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 justification. The appeal court ruled that the conviction was not unsafe, as the Garbutt legal team argued. Lord Justice Hughes underscored 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’. He adds, ‘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.

Timeline

An at-a-glance timeline of events leading up to the murder and all that happened since can be viewed here.

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 and the description of the weapon.

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 (read more here). The unpleasantness and ready resort to personal abuse by such as Michael Naughton, a private investigator who describes Robin Garbutt as his client, simply adds an even bigger question mark to their activities. If a group is campaigning against a miscarriage of justice then a foundation stone has to be an open book policy, nothing to hide. There is only one version of the truth.

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.

This series of articles, of over 40,000 words, are the fruits of an open-minded, independent investigation. They have been almost entirely grounded in the summing up of the trial, running to 106 pages; the Court of Appeal judgment; and piecing together what key witnesses said, verbatim, from contemporaneous newspapers reports during the trial. The entry point was my unique knowledge of the shortcomings of the police force that investigated this shocking crime. The miscarriage of justice campaign seemed credible enough in the beginning, but that confidence soon ebbed away as straight answers to straight questions were repeatedly ducked.

After spending well over 400 hours on the case since January 2020, my conclusion is that Garbutt did not tell the truth about a number of key issues, the central one being the armed robbery. I cannot be quite so emphatic about whether he actually struck the fatal blows to his wife’s head. But if he didn’t, then he knows who did. Otherwise why invent the robbery story?

Finally, the justice 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: Thurssday 2nd July, 2020 at 0810 hours

Photo Credits: ITV News, THIIS.

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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‘That particularly dubious constabulary merits careful investigation’

No-one, over the past six years, has come close to writing more words challenging the conduct of North Yorkshire Police than the author of this piece. On this website alone there are 32 articles, on social media there are thousands of posts. I have taken them, and their disgraced Police and Crime Commissioner, both to county court and information rights tribunal and defeated them at each venue.

A highly attritional relationship

The relationship between investigative journalist and a police force that utterly resents any form of scrutiny is, at all times, highly attritional.  It is in no way an exaggeration to say that I played a not inconsiderable role in the professional demise of NYP’s previous chief constable, the hugely over-rated Dave Jones and the soon to depart, disgraced, and deeply unpleasant PCC, Julia Mulligan.

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The latter is benefiting from an ill-deserved reprieve, as a result of police and crime commissioner elections being deferred, by a full year, whilst the country deals with the Corona virus epidemic. She was de-selected as a candidate by her own political party last year and should, in all decency, have resigned there and then. ‘In post, but not in power’ as one of her political opponents succinctly puts it.

Time and again, the reputations of both were trashed as I uncovered, within this police force, and the police commissioner’s office, a trail of mind-boggling incompetence, discredited major criminal investigations, dishonesty, leadership failings, cronyism, profligacy, and persistent, mendacious law breaking – and an unsavoury tendency to use precious police resources and public funds to smear, bully, vex, annoy and harass critics.

The propensity to cover up, rather than address and rectify, the force’s many failings is constant and, at times, seriously shocking. Another very senior NYP officer, Tim Madgwick, was in the vanguard of a significant number of the force’s catastrophes and, most regrettably, it took Jones far too long to work this out. His deputy left the force after 30 years service without any of the fanfare one might usually expect – and no valediction from his boss, or any other senior colleague. For his last three months at NYP, Madgwick had been removed from operational duties and given a project to occupy his time.

When Madgwick was, quite amazingly, awarded the Queen’s Police Medal (QPM) in 2016, at the height of the scandals and exposés, Jones made one of the most ludicrous assertions in recent policing history: ‘Tim has led teams through some of the most serious incidents North Yorkshire Police has dealt with, in recent years, in an exemplary way‘ (read more here).

In 2012, when Mrs Mulligan was elected as the county’s first ever PCC, Madgwick was acting as chief constable after the departure of the discredited Grahame Maxwell, whose best known line during his tenure as top man in NYP was: “I’m a chief constable, I can do what I want“. This was during an Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation in which he was ultimately found guilty of gross misconduct.

PCC Mulligan, understandably, decided that she wanted a new chief, not steeped in the rotten culture that pervaded within NYP, and, in April 2013, appointed an assistant chief constable from the Police Service of Northern Ireland, whom she described as ‘a tough man for a tough job’. Jones had served with Greater Manchester Police for the first 22 years of his career. Whose record in producing sub-optimal chief constables in other police forces should have sounded loud alarm bells in the ears of the PCC.

Madgwick, having tasted life at the top table, was pushed back down the ranks. Given the opportunity to fight his corner in a court witness box, under cross-examination from me, he chickened out. Aided by a supine tribunal judge who refused my application to serve a witness summons, on the single ground that he had retired from NYP earlier that year, nearly two years after the information rights case in which Madgwick was absolutely central (as Gold Commander) had been launched. It is fair to say he would have faced a struggle extricating himself from the web of deceit that had been woven around the case by the force and two of its lawyers.

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Dave Jones was awarded the QPM himself, exactly a year later, but was under a constant barrage of well aimed, and highly justified, criticism from this quarter and, ultimately, the pressure told. At the end of March, 2018 he broke his contract with more than two years to run, did a ‘moonlight flit’ and has never been sighted publicly, since. He claimed that his ‘retirement’ was ‘to spend more time with his family’. The ‘tough man’ had gone soft. Julia Mulligan was spurned, in the end, by the man she both idolised and resolutely defended through some mind-boggling scandals.

Amid this turbulence, it might not be so surprising, therefore, that a well-publicised miscarriage of justice campaign, with NYP at its heart, slipped the net.  

In October, 2019 I attended, as an observer, a conference in Liverpool, organised by United Against Injustice. I have known the leading lights in UAI for some years, but this was my first conference visit to their annual gathering. The fact that three representatives from the Criminal Case Review Commission were due to give a presentation, and be available to answer questions afterwards, was at least one compelling reason to justify the journey.

The Melsonby post office murder

One of the cases on the conference agenda was the murder of Diana Garbutt, by her husband, Robin Joseph Garbutt, at the village store and post office they ran in Melsonby, North Yorkshire. He was found guilty after a four week trial at Teesside Crown Court in April, 2011 and sentenced to life imprisonment. The miscarriage of justice campaign was launched soon after. 

Fully committed elsewhere, it was not possible to engage with the Garbutt case at that time. But the publicly accessible documents, which always form the starting point in any investigation I undertake, have since been obtained: The summing up and sentencing remarks at trial; and the Court of Appeal judgment. They provide a shortcut to the best arguments of both sides; the police and Crown Prosecution Service on the one hand and the defendant (appellant) and his legal team on the other. 

It also gives an experienced reviewer a firm handle on how high the bar is set in order to overturn a conviction. Most crucially, if the necessary ‘new evidence’, as strictly defined in section 23 (2) of the Criminal Appeal Act, 1995 [read here], is likely to be available. To an extent that it would persuade the law lords that the conviction is ‘unsafe’, and quash it, under powers vested by way of section 2(1)(a) of the same Act.

Following the trial in 2011, the murder conviction was challenged by Robin Garbutt at the Court of Appeal, in May 2012. The appeal was dismissed. Even though new evidence, that the judges agreed had not been available to the defence team at the trial, was before the appellate court. This was in the form of Post Office HQ records between 2004 and 2009. The three law lords ruled that, whilst conceding that Garbutt may have suffered some prejudice at trial, in the event, the irregularities in the drawing of cash from HQ, asserted by a Post Office fraud investigator who gave evidence, could not, on its own, prove theft. It only became important to the police, and later the prosecutors, once it was known that the safe was empty and Garbutt’s explanation was the armed robbery.

The core of the defence submission was that the alleged theft was advanced by the Crown, at trial, as the motive for murder – and that the jury took that route to their guilty verdict. 

The three senior judges, presided over by Lord Justice Hughes, were satisfied that the jury had rejected the possibility of the robbery having taken place at all, independently of the financial evidence. For that reason they say the conviction is safe. That sets the bar very high in terms of any future appeal that may reach the same court: The task facing Garbutt and his lawyers is now, effectively, to persuade a reviewing body, to the criminal standard, that the alleged armed post office robbery did take place, in order to disturb the Court of Appeal stance. That is one of the inherent iniquities of the modern criminal justice system in England and Wales. As is the perennial reluctance to go against jury findings in the lower court.

The original powers of the Criminal Court of Appeal, under the 1907 Act, gave it an unrestricted power to quash convictions: ‘….if they think that the verdict of the jury should be set aside on the ground that it is unreasonable or cannot be supported having regard to the evidence, or that the judgment of the court before whom the appellant was convicted should be set aside on the ground of a wrong decision of any question of law, or that on any grounds there was a miscarriage of justice’ (section 4(1)).

The 1907 Act had no restrictions on the admission of new evidence. Those disappeared after the 1968 revision. A catastrophic sea change for those fighting against wrongful convictions.

The three Garbutt appeals to CCRC

In the Garbutt case, two subsequent rejections of appeals to the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC), a product of the 1995 reforms of the Act, did not appear to have received very much publicity at the time. It has not been possible to gain access to the submissions made by the Robin Garbutt team and the consequent decisions by the ‘watchdog’.

The CCRC Statement of Reasons are not published, as one might expect, on the Garbutt campaign website (see here). Indeed, the submission of the first appeal, in March 2015, is mentioned, but there is no reference at all to the second. Either the date of its submission or when the decision was subsequently communicated to Robin Garbutt’s legal team, headed by Martin Rackstraw at Bindmans. The CCRC press office has disclosed that the first appeal was closed in June, 2016 and the sceond appeal, submitted in February, 2017 was closed in July, 2017.

Nevertheless, neither application met the ‘real possibility test’ of overturning the conviction, in the opinion of the Commissioner(s) reviewing the applications, and making the final decisions. As set out on their own website (see here), it is not the function of the CCRC to facilitate a replay of a criminal trial on the basis that the defence evidence was not accepted by the jury and the prosecution evidence was. A point the Robin Garbutt campaigners appear, at all times, slow to accept.

More recently, a third application has been submitted to the CCRC and this has attracted a welter of publicity, both in the press and on regional television in the Yorkshire and Tyne Tees area. This time, it seems, the Garbutt campaign team are much less reticent about the grounds for the appeal. They will be covered in detail in a fourth article in a series of four to be published shortly on this website. The first was published earlier this week (read here). This is the second in the series. The third is a deeper dive into the police failings in the Garbutt investigation.

Briefly, they appear to be another challenge to the time of death; proven flaws in the Post Office computerised accounting system (Horizon); cross contamination of evidence; and ITV news film from the day after murder that shows the murder weapon was not in the place where the police say they found it one day later. 

An independent investigation – a search for the truth

These four articles are viewed through an almost entirely different lens to those appearing elsewhere. These are not of the news item genre, or a cheerleading boost to the justice campaigners. They are an extensive, informed, well-grounded, independent, open-minded search for the truth. Aided in this case by an exceptional knowledge of the police force, and a number of the dramatis personae, involved in the murder and armed robbery investigations.

For reasons that are unclear to me, at least, the Robin Garbutt campaigners have taken exception to this investigation. A curiosity when one considers their frequent, almost monotonous, war cry of ‘Robin has always told the truth‘. If that were the case – and it very plainly isn’t, given what was heard in court – then there should be nothing to hide from a search for the same truth, by a journalist who is adjacent to the criminal justice system every single day: Who killed Mrs Garbutt and, if there is a killer still on the loose, then press the authorities very hard for the case to be re-opened as a matter of urgency. 

 

Screenshot 2020-03-23 at 16.42.02

The murder of 40 year old Diana Garbutt took place on 23rd March 2010. The scene was the living quarters above the post office in Melsonby, in the Richmondshire district of North Yorkshire. The village, with its remarkably low crime rate, lies 1.2 miles to the west of the A1 trunk road and 1.2 miles north of the A66 route towards Penrith in Cumbria. The well known, and very busy, Scotch Corner interchange is just over 3 miles away.

Diana, brought up in Eggborough near Selby, was struck by three heavy blows from a blunt instrument, a rusty iron bar, according to the evidence heard at the criminal trial the following year. The assailant attacked her to the top of the head and once on each side.

One of the blows was fatal and she was found, wearing only a camisole, some time after the murder, by her husband, with her head in a pool of blood, face down on top of the duvet cover in the spare bedroom. Moments after an alleged armed robbery had taken place in the post office area of the village store. This is a tape recording of the 999 call made to the police:

That robbery would have been the second, almost identical attack, within 12 months. On 18th March, 2009, just before 8.30am it is said that two hooded young men, aged between 20 and 25 years old, wearing dark clothing, one of them armed with a handgun, threatened Robin Garbutt with the weapon, before making off with more than £10,000 in cash and an A4 book of postage stamps. Garbutt, who made no comment to the local press at any time after the first attack, was said by police to be ‘shocked, but unharmed’.

Detective Inspector Heather Pearson, who led that investigation and features elsewhere in this piece, in the section covering the disastrous Operations Rome and Hyson, said at the time of the robbery: “The area [around the post office] was busy with people driving to work or taking their children to school”.

“We are still appealing to passers-by who possibly noticed suspicious individuals or vehicles in the vicinity of the post office to come forward as a matter of urgency.”

There was no description of the getaway vehicle, or its direction of travel, given by Garbutt in the aftermath of the incident. No sightings of any persons matching the descriptions given by the shopkeeper. He told police that the robbers had entered the post office through the front door of the shop and made their exit the same way, one a short time before the other, after the safe containing an A4 Post Office book of stamps and around £10,000 in cash was emptied. It was said Mrs Garbutt was upstairs at the time and heard nothing. She rarely rose from her bed before 8.30am.

The police made no public appeal regarding the handgun allegedly pointed at Robin Garbutt in the course of that robbery. Or, it seems, gave any warnings not to approach the men if they were suspected of involvement in the Melsonby robbery. An imitation firearm was recovered during what, police said, were extensive enquiries, but not linked to this crime. No one was ever identified as a suspect, or arrested, in connection with the robbery and the incident is still logged by police as an unsolved crime. Following a general police appeal for information, two days later, it appeared that the trail had gone completely cold and nothing, it seems, was subsequently reported upon, in the local press, until Diana Garbutt’s murder. 

At the murder trial, the issue of whether the 2009 raid actually occurred was not pursued by prosecuting counsel, David Hatton QC, in cross-examination, but, in his closing speech to the jury, he briefly oulined that it may have given Garbutt the idea for the alibi for his wife’s murder, almost exactly a year later. Both on a Tuesday morning, at the same time, at 8.35am just after the school bus had left the village. Two young(ish) robbers, similar physical descriptions, dark clothing, one armed with a handgun. No details of the getaway in either instance. The robbers vanishing into thin air.

A prosecution witness at the murder trial, fraud investigator Andrew Keighley, also gave evidence concerning another similarity: In the months leading up to both reported robberies, Post Office Limited recorded an increase in requests from the Melsonby branch for extra money to be delivered.

It may never be known if the requests in 2009 were needed to replace misapproprated cash, as police believe happened in the time leading up to Diana Garbutt’s murder. One of the foundation stones of the investigation that the justice campaigners feel they have since undermined.

‘A comedy of errors’

The court heard of a number of North Yorkshire Police blunders, some of which were described by defence counsel, James Hill QC, as a ‘comedy of errors’ but. of course, not at all funny to the man in the dock. The trial judge, Mr Justice Openshaw said, in turn, that the stewardship of the crime scene demonstrated ‘a regrettable lack of professionalism’. Briefly, these were or are:

(i) Police claimed a bloodstained pair of boxer shorts found in a rubbish bin was Garbutt’s. They belonged to a neighbour. This ‘evidence’ enabled the police to persuade a Magistrates’ Court to refuse bail and have Garbutt held on remand at Holme Hall prison.

(ii) An iron bar – said to be the murder weapon – has caused consternation both regarding the circumstances of its alleged discovery, two days after the murder, and the results of DNA tests taken from it four months after its discovery. The fact that a police officer’s DNA showed up on the bar was, at first, concealed from Robin Garbutt’s lawyers.

(iii) Strands of hair found on the pillow near an outstretched hand of Diana were said to be ‘lost’ by the police. They never made it to the forensic science labs after being captured on scenes of crime photographs. As a consequence, they were never available for DNA testing. Providing, of course, the follicles were still present.

(iv) DNA tests taken from the pillow are now the subject of further challenge by the Garbutt campaign team over potential cross-contamination with biometric samples taken from the murder weapon . 

(v) Two bedside lamps were removed by the police from their position within the crime scene, and placed in a cupboard. There were signs of blood spots on at least one of them.

(vi) A bedside mirror and carpet beside the bed were not tested for blood spatter. There was no blood spatter on any of Robin Garbutt’s clothing. 

(vii) The defence team assert that the fish and chip wrappers, containing the remnants of the couple’s supper on the evening before the murder, were the wrong ones. This casts doubt on the analysis of the food decomposition in Diana’s stomach by the police’s chosen expert.

(viii) Questions for Melsonby villagers, interviewed during post-incident house to house enquiries, included confirmation of their hair and eye colour, whether they wore body piercings, or a watch. Householders were also asked ‘intrusive’ questions about neighbours. 

(ix) Detectives issued an appeal regarding owners of white vans, and a number were interviewed and eliminated. But a similar appeal was not made about a metallic or electric blue car seen around the village on the morning of the murder. Or a vehicle seen parked near the entrance to Low Grange Quarry, about a mile from the post office along West Road.

(x) According to CCTV evidence, a vehicle following Robin Garbutt was picked up eight times on the journey to Stockton-on-Tees and back on the night before the murder. The campaign team say that the driver was not traced and the vehicle was sold four days after the murder.

(xi) Police and prosecutors claim that no struggle between Diana and the killer took place before the murder. That is disputed by the Garbutt campaigners who claim that pictures were displaced and bedside lamps were knocked over. They say that Diana with her armed forces background would have fought an attacker.

(xii) A balaclava and ball-bearing handgun were found by Cleveland Police in Thornaby, 19 miles from Melsonby, on 24th March, 2010. The campaigners say there was no attempt to link them forensically to the Garbutt murder.

(xiii) At first, the police accepted the time of death of Diana Garbutt was 6am at the earliest. This stance was changed at trial, which started a year later, based on expert evidence from a forensic archeologist.

(xiv) Neighbour Pauline Dye was allowed to wash her bloodstained hands in the Garbutts’ bathroom sink after handling the body of Mrs Garbutt.

This is, on any view, a truly shocking catalogue of serious investigative failures and is much more extensively reviewed in a seperate analyis on this website (read in full here).

Confirmation bias

In this light, Robin Garbutt can safely say that he suffered prejudice at the criminal trial as a result. In that sense, there is merit in the argument of his campaign team that there has been, potentially, a miscarriage of justice. But not an unsafe conviction.

Without the armed robbery story, Garbutt would, very likely, NOT have been convicted of the murder. Indeed, the police and prosecutors, absent of a confession, may well have struggled to get even a charge against him, let alone a trial. There was simply no evidence linking him to it, forensic or otherwise.

A well known retired senior police officer and commended detective, who spent his entire career with a large metropolitan police force, told me that the smaller county forces didn’t have the well-oiled machinery and the know-how of their big city cousins to roll out an effective, efficient investigation in the ‘golden hours’ just after a serious crime had been committed. They often didn’t have the required personnel, either. The cream of the crop tended to be skimmed off by the larger forces. 

Another friend, of even higher rank, was actually brought up in Melsonby village. He is also scathing of the abilities, of what was his local police force, to conduct major investigations.

Defence barrister, James Hill QC, put it this way to the jury in his closing speech: “You can’t just cherry-pick the evidence. You can’t just ignore the parts of the evidence that you don’t like, in order to put forward a theory. I’m going to suggest that the prosecution case is nothing more than that – a theory. Ever since, they’ve been trying to make that evidence fit that theory.”

North Yorkshire Police had 30 officers assigned to the murder investigation, closed off the village, and set up a mobile facility in Moor Road, adjacent to the gate at the rear of the village shop premises. But, almost from the moment the first officer arriving on the scene, Traffic Constable Chris Graham-Marlow, had spoken to the paramedic, Michael Whitaker, the husband was the main suspect and it seems, particularly to the Garbutt campaign team, that police activity only concerned their man – and focused on evidence that supported their hypothesis and ignored anything that went against it. A well-discussed policing phenomenon of confirmation bias.

That bias, and the narrow, rigid mindset and weak organisational culture that accompanies it, is a recurring feature of almost every high profile NYP investigation – and has led to some tragic failures, most notably during Operation Cabin, the first, bungled, investigation into the disappearance of Claudia Lawrence.

Nevertheless, after having heard ample evidence of the poor police investigation, the rubbishing of it by the defence barrister and the more restrained, but damning, criticism  from the trial judge, the jury found Robin Garbutt guilty of the murder of his wife.

In a piece published earlier this week (read in full here) it sets out in considerable detail the two crucial decisions that the twelve members of the panel had to decide. Namely the time of death and whether, in fact, there was truth in the assertion, by Robin Garbutt, that an armed robbery had taken place moments before he had discovered the bloodied body of his wife. The article, in which is embedded a police film of Garbutt’s first account of the robbery, is said to be a compelling read.

More neutrally, if the earlier 2009 robbery was also a fake, it raises the probability that, had North Yorkshire Police uncovered this at the time, a murder could have been prevented. That is the view of Diana’s mother, 70 year old Agnes Gaylor, who sat through every hearing day of the trial at Teesside Crown Court, and is convinced of Robin Garbutt’s guilt. Nevertheless, as a matter of legal correctness, the presumption of his innocence must prevail over the 2009 incident. 

In fairness to the police, and in the absence of CCTV nearby, proving the robbery didn’t take place would be next to impossible. Nevertheless, in policing circles, it would have been surprising if Robin Garbutt’s ‘card hadn’t been marked’ as the local saying goes: The failure to activate the silent alarm and the complete absence of any sightings of robbers or getaway vehicle, in the busiest part of the day in this village, would, doubtless, have troubled them.

Mrs Gaylor was interviewed, very briefly, by the media, after the Garbutt sentencing and alongside Detective Constable John Bosomworth (watch short video clip here). Based with Northallerton CID, DC Bosomworth read from a statement prepared on behalf of the family in which the murder investigation was warmly praised, particularly for its ‘care and compassion’. This is a recurring NYP trait. The rest of the country knows that this was a quite appalling investigation from beginning to end, and still with huge question marks against it, and their first, and persistently irritating, instinct is self-praise.

More recently and, perhaps, less surprisingly Agnes told ITV News: “I attended every day of the trial and after listening to every word said and with great effort to put myself mentally in the jury box, with an open mind, I am beyond confident that Mr Garbutt is in the right place. I understand why his family and friends would love to see him freed, but all I hear is – he’s such a nice man he couldn’t possibly have done such a thing. But nice men, sadly, do”.

But this wasn’t the only police investigation in which DC Bosomworth was centrally involved around that time and his underperforming NYP colleagues were later the subject of fierce, and highly justified, criticism by those pursued by them. As in the Garbutt case (criticised by the trial judge), in this case the force was criticised by a senior officer from another constabulary, appointed by the police watchdog, to assess an appeal into a quite disgraceful internal investigation by NYP (read press report in full here). That case involved a mother being falsely, and, on the evidence, perversely and irrationally accused of the attempted murder of her own disabled young daughter. None of the officers concerned in this case was properly held to account.

As far as Operation Nardoo is concerned, the police codename for the calamitous Garbutt investigation, a review into the failings of North Yorkshire Police handling of the murder probe was promised in a statement to the local press, shortly after the trial concluded. There is no trace of such an inquiry ever taking place and, as a consequence, the force has been tasked with providing details, by way of a freedom of information request (read here). The Gold Commander for Nardoo was ACC Tim Madgwick, whose command team portfolio at the time included criminal investigations. A bitter and protracted battle is expected with the police force to extract that information and place it in the public domain.

Madgwick was also Gold on Operation Cabin, later reviewed internally by NYP in an operation codenamed Essence, which highlighted some of the failings of the original investigation into the disappearance of Claudia Lawrence after leaving her York home to travel to work at the city’s university. No arrests were made during this investigation. An inaccurate photograph of Claudia was issued by the police at the outset. Failure to establish basic facts such as distances and timings. Failure to preserve Claudia’s home as a crime scene. Failure to eliminate a suspect vehicle by using even the most rudimentary investigative techniques. Obsession with a theory based around Claudia’s love life. Bull in a china shop approach to locals in the area where Claudia lived. Disaffecting members of Claudia’s family. 

The 2009 reported armed robbery at Melsonby post office took place on the last day that Claudia was seen alive. The pre-occupation with her disappearance, reported by her father, Peter, on 20th March, 2009 may well have resulted in the investigation into the alleged robbery fizzling out quickly.

Operations Rome and Hyson (one flowed into the other) feature extensively on this website as one of the biggest investigation failings in police service history. Yet again, Madgwick was at its very heart as Gold Commander of Rome, upon which almost £1 million of public money was squandered in a farcical, meandering, highly partial investigation into what they resolutely maintain concerned ‘alleged harassment’, that lasted 7 years and resulted in not one single arrest. He remained as the controlling mind, and chief ‘cover-upper’ of Hyson, even though his subordinate, ACC Paul Kennedy, was nominally Gold. Heather Pearson played a signifant part in that investigation, as Senior Investigating Officer, at least for part of the time that the investigation ran, exceeding her powers and exhibiting an alarmingly closed mind when ordering the arrest of a citizen journalist, Timothy Hicks, over his criticism of the force. Tim is a professional man, a chartered accountant and certified fraud examiner, of exemplary character. His detention at a York police station, followed by pointless and utterly irrelevant questioning, had an Orwellian look to it.

Rome ran from 2008 until 2014, Hyson 2014 until 2016. Lord Maginnis of Drumglass was refused a meeting with Theresa May, Home Secretary at the time, to raise grave concerns over Operation Rome and the way North Yorkshire Police was running it. She refused, so he raised the matter in Parliament. He told those assembled on the red benches: ‘That particularly dubious constabulary merits careful investigation’. 

That startling submission was on 15th May 2012, less than a month after Robin Garbutt was sent to prison. It is a quote, entirely factual, that police force and its senior leaders came to resent and detest.

The Private Eye magazine eventually featured the scandal in August, 2016 with a near full page article headlined ‘North Yorkshire Boors‘. It signalled, thankfully, the beginning of the end for Tim Madgwick. Who, curiously, has lived around the Easingwold area (the names of two of the villages are known, but it simply would not be right to publish them) since he moved north to join NYP from his Hampshire origins; the same area of York in which Robin Garbutt grew up and lived in, Tholthorpe and Huby respectively, before he and Diana bought the post office in Melsonby. 

This is far from an exhaustive list of NYP failures; in my time spent scrutising the force they run well into double figures. Including serious allegations, supported by employment tribunal findings, of being a racist and sexist organisaion. But it gives the reader a flavour of just how low the ethical and professional bar is set in this police force. Add to that a breathtaking level of incompetence, layered over with ingrained, overbearing arrogance and superiority, that seeps into almost every business area, and the scale of the problems within this organisation begins to crystallise. It is almost certain that justice campaigners such as the Garbutt team, and their legal team, will recognise these unpleasant, and wholly unacceptable traits, as they have battled to uncover the truth behind a grotesquely failed Operation Nardoo investigation.

Robin Garbutt campaigners - ITV package

Obtaining disclosure of relevant materials will also be a constant thorn in the side of the campaigners, led by Jane Metcalfe (on the left in above pic), his sister Sallie Wood and brother-in-law, Mark Stilborn, as it is for anyone who deals with the force on a professional level, such as lawyers and journalists. Best exemplified by this case, wherein the Lord Chief Justice was blistering in his condemnation of, amongst others, the Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police. Sir John Thomas described the force’s conduct as ‘reprehensible’. At one point, Dave Jones was summoned to appear before the law lords in London. The full handed down judgment can be read here. The only officer ever held to account was an inexperienced detective constable, recently posted in a department that was widely known for its failings and, of course, in true NYP style, the decision makers and top brass escaped any censure, whatsoever.

So, we come to the key questions:

 ~ Did Robin Garbutt get a fair trial in April, 2011 at Teesside Crown Court?

Emphatically not, in my submission. A police investigation so inept it borders on the criminally negligent; a senior leadership and detective mindset mired in confirmation bias: a threadbare prosecution absent of anything other than circumstantial evidence and accompanied by the almost standard disclosure failings that, seemingly, weave through every operation conducted by North Yorkshire Police.

~ Did the jury come to the right verdict?

It should first be said that I am not an advocate of majority verdicts. Until 1967, a jury had to reach a unanimous finding, ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Now a 10-2 or 9-1 verdict, where the jury is ‘sure’ of the defendant(s) guilt is within the law (Juries Act, 1974). On the evidence heard in the Garbutt trial, summed up by an experienced, senior judge and properly directed on the law, it was not surprising to the neutral observer that they concluded Garbutt was guilty of the murder of his wife. Such a conclusion must have embraced at least one of the two main planks of the prosecution case: (i) The robbery at the post office did not take place (ii) The time of the murder was before Robin Garbutt served his first customer in the shop at around 5.15am that morning (according to the till roll).

~ Was the Court of Appeal wrong to dismiss Robin Garbutt’s claims of a miscarriage of justice at the hearing in May 2012?

For my own part, every judgment that this court delivers is read, as part of learning how to understand and assess other cases. I have also been in the press seats at the Royal Courts of Justice to hear an appeal in which I was assisting the person convicted of murder, and his family, and, in fact, made a successful oral application to Lord Justice Davies, from the press seats, to live tweet those proceedings. From that informed perspective, the refusal to quash the Garbutt conviction was routine, given what was before the court. The defence team, still led by James Hill QC and praised by the law lords for their skilful submissions, had a mistaken grasp of the very probable route to verdict taken by the jury. Their majority decision says the robbery didn’t take place and, on the only alternative put to them by the prosecution, Robin was found to have killed Diana. That is the legal position and, as I say to every single person who seeks out my view, the appellate courts are almost always where law is decided, not justice. That has been the position, for better or worse, since 1968.

 ~ Will the Criminal Case Review Commission refer the case back to the Court of Appeal after the third application by Robin Garbutt?

The conclusion reached on that discussion is reserved for the fourth article in this series, in which I set out the grounds, as I know them, and my reasoned views as to if, and why, they do, or not have merit. It would take just one compelling ground for a referral out of the four believed have been advanced by his legal team for the CCRC to make the prized referral.

Timeline 

An at-a-glance timeline of events leading up to the murder and all that happened since can be viewed here.

The Robin Garbutt justice campaigners were contacted for comment. They did not respond.

 

Page last updated: Thursday 11th June, 2020 at 2035 hours

Photo Credits: ITV News, Press Association, North Yorkshire Police, North Yorks Enquirer

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

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

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

‘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 Queen’s Counsel 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 points 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 3 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 for which they had paid £105,000. 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. Robin admitted that he was heard, at least once, to tell her to ‘get off her fat arse and do something’.

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).

There was no countervailing expert, or forensic, analysis of the accounts, or cash transactions, put forward by the defence. They relied, almost exclusively, on cross-examination of Ms Bentley and Mr Keighley.

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 the effect that, upon arrival at the scene of the murder, there was no electrical activity in Diana’s 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. With the apparent exception that, on the morning of the murder, Garbutt told the police that the armed robber had entered the shop from the upstairs living quarters.

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 in 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 taken by 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 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 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.

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

Timeline: An at-a-glance timeline of events leading up to the murder and all that happened since can also be viewed here.

Page last updated: Thursday 2nd July, 2020 at 0625 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.

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

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Would you buy a used car from this man?

In July last year I decided to change my car. The vehicle in use at the time was a much-loved, but ageing, Mercedes-Benz E-Class Sport. It carried a highly distinctive personalised registration plate that made it readily recognisable. Too easily, on occasions, as it turned out.

The decision was made to buy a much more workmanlike, largely anonymous mode of transport that was suited to some of the covert work I am asked to carry out as an investigative journalist.

Economy and ecology, of course, were also factors in the final decision.

The car chosen was a relatively low mileage, mass produced Vauxhall saloon in a charcoal grey colour with tinted windows. Full service history and with, it appeared from the garage’s advertisement on the Auto Trader website, just one owner. In the Eco-Flex diesel model range with zero road tax, low insurance cost and high fuel economy, it fitted the requirements very well. There was also the benefit of a 3 month warranty provided by the dealer.

A part exchange deal was agreed over the telephone with the Sales Manager, “Jim” at Burnage Motors Limited, an independent car sales outlet in Bredbury, on the outskirts of Stockport. It turned out that “Jim” was not his real name, but more of that later.

The following day I drove the Mercedes to Burnage Motors and a deal, on slightly amended terms, was done. I said goodbye to ‘Betsy’ and, after completing debit card payment, tax, insurance and cherished number retention formalities, drove away from Bredbury in the Vauxhall.

That, I thought would turn out to be the end of my dealings with Burnage. I had bought hundreds of fleet vehicles in my time as a senior corporate executive, and over 20 as a private car buyer, and this was just another run of the mill purchase, smoothly transacted. Or, so it seemed.

But how wrong can one be? Very, very mistaken in this particular case. The dishonest conduct of Burnage Motors Ltd and its sole registered officer at Companies House, Mujahid “Jez” Jamil, has spawned a nightmare experience of three County Court claims and a vexed encounter with the ineffective, inefficient and discourteous Trading Standards Department of Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council whose strapline should, in my submission, read “Reasons Not To”.

In the first of the three court claims I have issued against Burnage Motors, judgment has already been given in my favour and the defendant has, very reluctantly, paid out in full. But only after I threatened that bailiffs would attend their premises with a warrant. That claim concerned payment for an electrical fault with the rear windscreen wipers and dishonest communications made by “Jez” over the V5c registration certificate and a V62 application form. Jez lied continually in SMS messages about both and then asked me not to contact him further, once I had discovered the truth by contacting the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency directly and then submitted a V62, including the fee.

Another purchaser, a doctor, has had a similar experience and posted this review on-line at a location called Car Dealer Reviews as recently as last December:

Screenshot 2020-03-10 at 13.13.40

Many other similarly troubling reviews can be found on the same website (read here) and on other review websites (see here).

When the vehicle registration certificate eventually arrived from DVLA it showed TWO previous owners, not ONE as described in the Auto Trader advertisement and, subsequently, asserted by both Jim and Jez. on their premises.

It very much appeared that I had been duped and the Trading Standards Department at Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council were contacted, via the Citizens Advice Bureau (the accepted gateway on-line), on 23rd October, 2019 seeking intervention from them as arbiters of first resort.

It is a moot point now, but I would not have purchased the vehicle had it been revealed at the time that it had two previous owners, not one. A point made to the CAB in my submissions to them.

The reduction in value of the vehicle was estimated by ‘experts’ to be £300 and I politely requested, by email, that such sum be repaid by Burnage as remedy for the breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. No response was received.

The Vauxhall was sold with the benefit of three months’ warranty, as stated in the description of the vehicle on the AutoTrader website. Three defects became apparent during that warranty period. Two of them minor, one potentially more serious: The first, an electrical fault affecting the rear windscreen wipers, was dealt with by way of the first County Court claim. The others; an issue with the electrically-controlled driver’s seat and a seriously worrying paintwork issue affecting the rear nearside quarter of the vehicle and rear bumper, were notified to both Burnage and Trading Standards. The latter as an ‘intelligence’ matter.

As was now becoming routine, neither Burnage, Jez nor Jim responded, at all, to the correspondence regarding the defects. This included time-stamped photographs of the peeling paintwork. Their collective heads were buried in the sand. Meantime, a comprehensive response was received from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (“CAB”) and provided helpful pointers in terms of resolving the dispute. I have, largely, followed their advice.

The CAB also said that they would contact Trading Standards as part of their routine inter-agency protocol. It is clear from later correspondence with CAB that they did so in November last year, but Trading Standards didn’t pursue the matter even though they clearly had a remit to do so.

An invoice to cover the cost of the repairs was sent to Burnage Motors on 7th November, 2019. They were asked to pay within 14 days to avoid the issue of court proceedings. No response was received to the correspondence to which the invoice was attached. As a result, the second County Court claim was, ultimately, issued to Burnage on 19th December, 2019 by the County Court Business Centre. The motor trader subsequently filed a defence to the claim and the case file has now been transferred to Huddersfield County Court. An application is to be made to strike out the defence, as the Statement of Truth attestation is defective, in breach of court procedure, and the defence is, in any event, almost completely without merit. It amounts to an accusation against me, an accredited journalist, that the defects, and the cost of remedying them, are ‘made up’. A point they chose not to make in pre-action correspondence.

A third County Court claim has been issued over prima facie data protection and privacy breaches by Burnage. They were first notified of the position in October, 2019 when I discovered that they were advertising the Mercedes car on the Auto Trader website (and probably elsewhere) with photographs of my private number plate. A registration mark I have owned since 1989. This was a both alarming and distressing development – and so completely unnecessary. The dodgy dealer had been sent the certificate, by me, showing the replacement number allocated to the vehicle, by DVLA, following the transfer of the cherished plate onto a Retention Certificate. It was, in fact, the same number that was attached to the car when it was bought, pre-owned, in 2011.

Yet again, there was no response at all to that correspondence and, quite extraordinarily, Burnage persisted with the breach. They eventually responded on 20th December, 2019 with a derogatory, highly personalised attack and, from that email, it was clear that Burnage has no intention of remedying the breach without court intervention. I am, according to Jez, ‘a deluded old man’.

This claim has now, also, been transferred to Huddersfield County Court, where another application to strike out will be made. This time the Burnage defence, also with a defective Statement of Truth attestation, is that no breach of data law or regulations has occured. The court, the readers of this article may be assured, will make short work of that groundless, time-wasting assertion.

The picture painted of Burnage Motors Limited, “Jez” and “Jim”, only from these limited dealings with me is, on any independent view, an ugly landscape of unethical, unpleasant, unprofessional and dishonest conduct: Lying about the V62 and V5c; misleading and unlawful description of a vehicle; flagrantly and persistently breaking the law; having a county court judgment registered against them over what might be considered a relatively modest sum of money (£149.62); and last, but not least, an insulting, derogatory approach to customers who raise perfectly legitimate complaint issues with them, if, indeed, they actually trouble themselves to reply at all.

It is hard to imagine how the situation could get worse, but it did: When the bodywork repair was carried out, to remedy the badly applied paint to the rear nearside quarter of the vehicle, it transpired that the rear bumper is not the original manufacturers part. Neither, it seems, is the rear tailgate. The reasonable conclusion to draw from that is that the vehicle has been in an accident requiring the replacement of both parts that comprise the rear end of the vehicle. That implies a serious ‘shunt’ and also provides an answer, in part at least, to the puzzle of how the wheels of the vehicle were so badly aligned when it came to the time for the vehicle’s MOT test and annual service.

This discovery goes directly against the specific assertions made by both Jim and Jez at the time of the sale; that the car had not been involved in an accident. It also raises the question as to how the vehicle came up in an Auto Trader search that excluded insurance categories S, C, D and N (read more here about how those categories work).

The defective paintwork on the Vauxhall was recent, and was peeling away because it had been applied without first keying the primer coat below. The finger of suspicion, therefore, points at Burnage Motors as Jez claims that he ‘owns a body repair shop’. Underscored by the fault with the rear wipers, mentioned earlier in this piece, the missing V5c and, piecing together its service and tax history, and the fact that the vehicle appears to have been off the road for around 6 months prior to the sale to me.

That I have appear to have bought a crash damaged vehicle, at a fairly full retail price, is not only horrifying, but seriously embarassing. A person of my business experience, and present vocation as a journalist should, in all truth, not be caught out in such a way. Nevertheless, a calm head was required and I set about further investigation and renewed contact with Stockport’s so far silent Trading Standards Department.

Following that reminder email I was contacted via telephone, on 11th February, 2020, by Dave Collins, a Case Manager in the council’s Public Protection Department. I was eating my lunch at the time and explained that the time for talking was limited. Mr Collins tried to dominate the conversation and speak over me (which he will have been trained to do). Nothing too much wrong with that, if a caller has something to say that is going to educate and inform. But that was not the case in this instance and Mr Collins left me with the distinct impression that he regarded himself as altogether much more clever than me and, more crucially, would do anything he could to avoid this investigation.

In those circumstances, and on that basis, I invited Mr Collins to bring the call to a conclusion and we would, thereafter, communicate by email so that there was a satisfactory audit trail to which we could both later refer, if necessary. Confirmed to him, in writing, that same afternoon.

That, as it turned out, and entirely as expected, proved to be Mr Collins’ undoing. He is now exposed as lazy and discourteous public servant. I have constantly had to push for action; set out a necessary, but proportionate, investigation plan for him; urged him to treat matters with the appropriate seriousness. Not least, the discoveries, during the course of our correspondence, that Burnage Motors Limited appear to be trading whilst insolvent and had sold a crash damaged vehicle without making the necessary declaration.

At the time of the latest published accounts, to the year end 31st October, 2018, the company appeared to have made a loss of over £100,000 in the trading year and accumulated a shareholder fund deficit of over £173,000 .

Screenshot 2020-03-10 at 13.00.44

Those accounts were actually signed off by Mujahid Jamil just a few days after I purchased the Vauxhall from Burnage Motors. Other enquiries have revealed that there have been two county court judgments officially registered against Burnage Motors Ltd.

In the context of my own disputes with the rogue car trader these were important discoveries. I was already paying out court costs for the second and third County Court claims and a fourth, even larger one, was contemplated in order to obtain remedy in respect of the alleged reduction in value of the vehicle as a result of crash damage.

The question now is; am I throwing good money after bad if the financial woes force Burnage Motors to cease trading?

Screenshot 2020-03-13 at 19.07.24

But none of this appears to faze Stockport Council, or Dave Collins, who also appears to have a lack of understanding of plain English and/or a marked reluctance to act on simple, straightforward, plainly expressed requests. He has, sort of, apologised for his discourtesy so we will overlook that, for the moment. But he still hasn’t explained why emails containing important information and documents were ignored, or why he sat on the case and did nothing for over 3 weeks and would, presumably, have continued to do nothing until pressed into action.

After this concerning period of inactivity, he finally visited Burnage Motors, he reports, on 5th March, 2020. The day after he was chased up for, seemingly, doing nothing and not answering emails. But, it transpires, he had not even contacted the DVLA prior to that visit, or at any time in the near month after I had provided him with the copy of the V5c. An absolutely basic requirement, one might readily conclude, given the nature of one of the main complaints against Burnage Motors: Has there been one owner of the subject vehicle, or, as DVLA says, two.

Mr Collins does not appear to have even raised the point of the apparent non-declaration of the crash damage. Which most members of the public would rank as more serious than the number of owners.

The following day, I received an email from Ian O’Donnell, who claims he has reviewed the complaint file and found the investigation conducted by his subordinate to be ‘proportionate’. He did not provide the timeline and schedule of actions undertaken by Mr Collins that I had requested, nor did he explain why they were absent from his communication. The reader is invited to draw their own conclusion from those omissions.

Mr O’Donnell also refused to provide the contact details for Pamela Smith, the chief executive of Stockport Council. Futile, one might argue, but highly informative of his mindset, nevertheless.

For his sake, and a data subject access request will reveal almost all of the information I need, it is hoped that he has not set out to deliberately mislead in order to ‘protect’ his colleague and the reputation of the Council.

Given what is widely available on the internet by way of seriously negative feedback about Burnage Motors Ltd, “Jez” and “Jim”, it would strike the independent observer as extraordinary if there were not a fair number of other complaints made to Stockport’s Trading Standards Department. This suggests to a journalist, at least, that there may be more to the relationship between the two than meets the eye.

Enquiries continue, as they say. More particularly, when I return to the UK and re-visit the premises of Burnage Motors, this time with a cameraman in attendance. Amongst the more general questions I will put to “Jez” are: Why he claims his premises are ‘based in Stockport on the A6’. They are, decidely, not. Why he claims that his ‘reputation’ has contributed to the growth of his business when it appears notably poor and the business appears to be in terminal decline. More specifically he will be asked to produce the paperwork for, and photographs of, the Vauxhall I purchased, to avoid which, so far, he has been prepared to openly defy court procedure rules.

Mujahid 'Jez' Jamil LinkedIn

It will be an interesting morning, for sure.

In the meantime, and now over a week ago, Burnage Motors Limited and Stockport Council were invited to provide statements in response to this article.

The dodgy car dealer is, perhaps understandably, lying low. More surprisingly, the Council’s press office has failed to even acknowledge the email sent to them and, even more crucially, sight of the timeline and schedule of actions from Messrs Collins and O’Donnell is still absent. They were both sighted in the article at the same time as their press office.

Chief executive, Pam Smith, paid over £150,000 per annum by the Borough’s taxpayers, was copied into that email. She has not sprung to the defence of one of her highest paid departmental managers, or promised a rather more rigorous approach to the Burnage Motors ‘investigation’. In those circumstances, her political master, Elise Wilson, the Council Leader will now be contacted as a matter of urgency.

Screenshot 2020-03-13 at 10.36.16
Pamela Smith – Chief Executive Stockport MBC

 

Page last updated: Wednesday 18th March, 2020 at 1025 hours

Photo Credits: Vauxhall Motors

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

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

© Neil Wilby 2015-2020. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Bailey can’t bridge the credibility gap

In July 2019, after serving for over 27 years with a backwater county police force, Nicholas Bailey took the short, but well worn path, from Cheshire Constabulary to its metropolitan neighbour, Greater Manchester Police, the fourth largest force in the country.

He followed in the footsteps of past chief constable Peter Fahy; the present incumbent Ian Hopkins; and a former assistant chief constable, Garry Shewan, to name but three, who had all passed through the same revolving door.

At the time of the appointment, GMP’s beleaguered chief constable said in his standard hyperbolic style: “We are delighted to welcome Nick to our GMP family. He is an extremely experienced officer with a wealth of knowledge and skills from a vast policing career, spanning over three decades [emphasis added by author for reasons which should become clear as this piece unfolds].

“His extensive background in policing will help us continue to protect the people of Greater Manchester and his work around local policing will help us continue keeping our communities safe.”

Rather clumsy, one might observe, in the wake of the Manchester Arena Bombing and the Grainger Inquiry, at which the force was thoroughly disgraced, and described by leading QC, Leslie Thomas, as “rotten to its core“.

For his part in the usual mutual backscratching that, inevitably, accompanies these appointments, Bailey said: “I’m thrilled to join GMP as it gives me the opportunity to give back to the city [whilst drawing a salary of around £110,000 per year plus substantial benefits] and surrounding areas where I have lived and spent most of my life. My father was a GMP officer and to follow in his footsteps is a great honour, as well as being a challenge in such a high profile force, with so much ambition.

“When I started my role as a police officer I found my vocation and understanding of how I could help the public. Since then I’ve had many memorable moments and found there was no better feeling than locking up an offender and making a difference to victims of crime or vulnerable people [Bailey has been asked to recall the last time he locked up an offender].

“Unfortunately, a sad reality of the job is the tragic and traumatic incidents that stick in your mind and remain with you forever. I was one of the first officers to arrive at the scene of the [IRA] Warrington bombing in 1993 [Bailey presumably refers to the second bombing on Bridge Street in which two children died and 56 other people were injured] and was the senior officer on duty at Cheshire Police on the night of the Manchester Arena bomb. Both these events ended in a huge loss of life, which only further increases my motivation to be a police officer and do all I can to help. [‘Huge’ equals 2 at Warrington and 22 at Manchester Arena. Tragedies both, but not on the scale to which Bailey carelessly alludes. Which might give rise to doubts about his ability to objectively assess evidence and give straight answers].

“I look forward to the challenges ahead and being involved with a force that has the ambition to have such a positive impact on the communities, particularly through placed (sic) based partnerships.” For the unitiated, including the author, read more here.

What neither Hopkins nor Bailey alluded to was the swathe of deep scandal in which GMP was mired, or the trail of Command Team officers that had left the force in disgrace over the past few years. Or indeed, the perennial scandal surrounding Hopkins’ most recent recruit at that rank, Assistant Chief Constable Maboob Hussain. Now known irreverently as ‘Mabel’, the former West Yorkshire officer apparently prefers ‘Mabs’.

Or, indeed, the even bigger scandals surrounding the senior officer that Bailey replaced: the despicable Steven Heywood. Very fortunate to escape prosecution over his antics at the Grainger Inquiry, amongst a lengthy tariff of other alleged misdemeanours, he still faces a much-delayed public gross misconduct hearing at which neither his former force, nor himself, will likely emerge with any credit.

Add in Terry Sweeney of Shipman body parts and Domenyk Noonan notoriety, Rebekah Sutcliffe’s ‘Titgate’ outrage and Garry Shewan scuttling off, once it became apparent how disastrously his much-vaunted IT Transformation Project, including the now infamous ‘iOPS’ installation, was turning out to be, and the question that simply begs to be asked is: Why would any self-respecting, law-abiding officer want to be involved or associated with persons of such questionable character? That is another question that has been put to GMP’s newest and, for the present, shiniest ‘top brass’.

Bailey, for his sins, appears to have recently taken over the iOPS poisoned chalice from the hapless Chris Sykes, another recent assistant chief constable appointment, commenting for the force on social media, and in the local newspaper, as another catastrophic failure beset the ill-fated project in early February, 2020. One day after this article was published, more whistleblowers came forward to highlight another round of problems. This time, it is reported, connected to Crown Prosecution Service interface, access to crimes and reports, and, most crucially, huge backlog of child protection cases.

It has also emerged that, whilst an iOPS inspection report by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary is constantly delayed, the force are trying to implement as many of the HMIC recommendations as possible, before publication, in order to mimimise reputational damage and hoodwink the public.

Another GMP Command Team member, the seemingly gutless Debbie Ford, accepted a rare neutral transfer back to her previous force, Northumbria Police, rather than confront the wrongdoing of the senior leadership miscreants amongst whom she sat every morning and, she said, were making her feel ‘uncomfortable’.

But the most persistent, and obvious, Command Team ‘villain’ within GMP is, very arguably, the chief constable himself.  The persistent failings of this belligerent and self-adoring individual are well documented elsewhere on this website (read more here). The most recent scandal post-dated the publication of that widely read, and shared, article when the outcome of the Greater Manchester Mayor’s Assurance Review of Operation Augusta (an abandoned investigation into child sexual exploitation in Rochdale in 2004) was pubished on 14th January, 2020. Hopkins had planned to abdicate responsibility for appearing at a press conference, offering up arch-sycophant ACC Hussain instead.

But the assembled media was having none of that and, eventually, Hopkins was coaxed down from the 4th floor at GMP’s plush HQ. But, only to read out a prepared statement after which he departed in high dudgeon, refusing to answer any questions. A shameful performance, by any measure, and one for which he has been quite rightly and robustly criticised in the press, on television and on social media.

The full Augusta report, which some readers may find distressing, can be read here.

Hopkins deleted his Twitter account later the same day, or early the following morning. He had disgraced himself previously on the social media platform, appearing to abuse his position of authority – and an official ‘blue-ticked’ Greater Manchester Police account – to attack fellow users (read more here). The GMP press office, unusually for them, refused to even acknowledge the request for a statement from Hopkins over his sudden and unexplained disappearance from Twitter. Remarkably, the story didn’t make the mainstream media, particularly the Manchester Evening News whom, conversely and perversely, draw a significant amount of their output from daily social media trawls and, in particular, police force users.

Apart from Grainger, iOPS and Operation Augusta, commentary on another disgraceful GMP scandal now appears very frequently on social media. This concerns the tragic death of 17 year old Yousef Makki, a Manchester Grammar School pupil stabbed to death in a leafy street in the millionaire village of Hale Barns.

Yousef’s family, close friends and supporters have, through their grief, moulded themselves into a formidable and well-informed campaigning group against the apparently woeful police investigation led by DCI Colin Larkin (unsurprisingly nicknamed “Pop”) and, it seems, half-hearted prosecution. The senior police officer with overall responsibility for the investigation is the aforementioned Maboob Hussain. He has emerged as the force’s spokesman on the scandal and ‘Mabel’ has met the Makki family, where his focus appeared to be attempting to discredit former Head of the Major Incident Team at GMP, Peter Jackson, who has been assisting Jade Akoum, Yousef’s exceptionally resourceful and articulate sister and Debbie Makki, his distraught mother. The popular and widely respected Jackson is now well known, nationwide, as the country’s most vocal and effective police whistleblower and, as such, a persistent thorn in the side of GMP and Mabel, it seems.

Jackson has brought Employment Tribunal proceedings against Greater Manchester Police, listed to commence on 20th April, 2020, over the highly questionable treatment he received from fellow senior officers after he blew the whistle on a lengthy, and truly shocking, list of failings by them (read in full here). The Tribunal is expected to sit for 12 weeks as some very dirty GMP washing will get a public airing from a lengthy list of police witnesses.

But Hussain has not been able to shake off the controversy surrounding his own appointment to his senior position in GMP and the serious doubts about his own integrity that flowed from it. It is covered in forensic detail elsewhere on this website (read in full here) and, devastating though it is, stands completely unchallenged. The Hussain/GMP/West Yorkshire Police strategy of stonewalling and attempting to silence critics has not worked – and in the modern era of instant and connected communication was never likely to, either.  Especially as local, regional and national politicians, and policing figures, are now seized of the matter due to the significant adverse publicity being generated, and the consequent damage to public confidence in the police service more widely, and GMP in particular.

On any independent (or political or regulatory) view, Hussain should not be near any evidence chain until the doubts over his own trustworthiness, and those of a large number of other senior officers alleged to be involved in the ‘cover-up’, are resolved one way or another. Those include the deputy chief constable at GMP, Ian Pilling. A man with whom the author of this article has had extensive and mostly unsatisfactory dealings. Those interchanges may, very arguably, persuade anyone reviewing them that Pilling’s conduct, generally, and his approach to the indisputable misconduct of others, is highly questionable. To the extent that his seat as deputy chief constable is untenable at least until those doubts are satisfactorily, and independently, resolved.

After choosing to intervene in a Twitter thread concerning the Makki killing, Nick Bailey has been asked twice, on that social media platform to confirm if he believes that, on the basis of what is set out in the ‘When The Cover Up Becomes The Story‘ article, and the evidence behind it, three of his GMP Command Team colleagues, Hopkins, Pilling and Hussain are officers of unimpeachable integrity.

This is not a trick question, but one of the highest public interest and should, one might expect, have produced an immediate, and unequivocal, response in the affirmative. Especially, with Bailey having eulogised so profusely about the force, and those running it, when he joined Greater Manchester Police a short time ago.

It is also relevant to point out that he is highly qualified to make judgements on the integrity of policing colleagues, having spent a significant period of his Cheshire Constabulary as Head of their Professional Standards Department.

But the problem for Assistant Chief Constable Bailey is that he cannot endorse the integrity of any of those three senior colleagues, having read the Hussain article, without compromising his own.

So what will he do about it? An educated guess is NOTHING. Zero. Zilch. He will, presumably and having ignored the invitation on social media, be prepared to breach the College of Policing’s Code of Ethics requiring him to challenge inappropriate conduct and, of course, his first duty to those precept payers funding his huge salary by keeping them safe from other senior police officers whom, seemingly, cannot be trusted to do their job with unimpeachable integrity, without fear or favour and in accordance with the Oath of a Constable (read in full here). In the case of the Hussain ‘transfer’ from West Yorkshire to GMP there were, demonstrably, a fair few favours called in. It hangs over both police forces like the stench of fish, rotting from the head down.

Why is this situation allowed to pertain? Because that is how the top echelons of policing work. Almost every NPCC-rank officer will cover for another. Omertà is the operational code. We have seen another high profile example of that, very recently, in GMP, with the revelations and naming of the involvement of very senior officers in the premature closing down of Operation Augusta – and all that has happened since to stifle accountability and to silence another nationally-known, high octane whistleblower, Maggie Oliver. Where, undoubtedly, selective memory and refusal to co-operate with the enquiry were some of the most troubling revelations. Two ex-GMP officers who went on to become chief constables elsewhere head that list: Dave Jones, who suddenly quit North Yorkshire Police in mysterious circumstances in April, 2018 and Dave Thompson, still serving at West Midlands Police and known by former colleagues for his remarkable recall, across decades, on matters unconnected to the child sexual exploitation in Rochdale.

It is not clear what Bailey actually does to earn his six figure salary at GMP, apart from publicly support menopause campaigns on social media. His biography on the force website appears completely absent of detail as to what his portfolio responsibilities might be (read here).

He is, however, National Police Chiefs Council lead for information rights, covering the Freedom of Information Act and the Data Protection Act: On this basis alone, Bailey should resign from GMP as they are, in the extensive experience of the author of this article, persistent and mendacious law-breakers of both Acts. The cavalier and unacceptable approach by GMP to disclosure in civil claims is also the subject of repeated and vitriolic criticism by claimants and their lawyers.

If he has national responsibility for information rights, as appears to be the case, then the reader can add, for certain, the disgraceful antics of such as the three Yorkshire police forces, Humberside and Durham to the list of law-breakers. It should also be noted that the situation is getting worse since Bailey was appointed, not better.

In conclusion, it appears that Greater Manchester Police has landed itself with another dud, out of depth assistant chief constable to add to a depressingly long list of previous failures. If he finds this article an uncomfortable read then he should begin today and start to put matters right. Make his family and the beleagured junior ranks in GMP proud of him: Challenge those around him that are, at present, deemed untrustworthy; forget mealy-mouthed excuses and come clean about iOPS; robustly sort out the information rights catastrophe across the police service, starting urgently with GMP; spend less time fretting about menopause; and then another article can be written, and published, enthusiastically lauding those achievements.

Over to you, Nicholas Bailey and please use your right of reply.

At present, over three days after publication of this article, the email sent to ACC Bailey requesting comment has not been acknowledged. GMP’s press officer were copied in to that communication.

That failure to respond is, of itself, a breach of the College of Policing’s Code of Ethics under the headings of Respect and Courtesy; Duties and Responsibilities. But as this article sets out, in the main, if you are a senior police officer engaged by Greater Manchester Police you regard yourself as above the law.

It would, after all, take just a few seconds to type: “Thanks, but no comment“.

 

Page last updated on Monday 2nd March, 2020 at 1445hrs

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 2015-2020. 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.

 

Not one single piece of paper

Exactly six years ago, at the end of the day’s Parliamentary business, Gerry Sutcliffe rose to his feet from the green leather benches to begin his contribution to an adjournment debate on the subject of the John Elam miscarriage of justice case. This is what he had to say:

“I am pleased to see the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims in his place. I do not expect him to be able to respond in detail to the important issues that I will raise, but perhaps while he listens to my speech he will reflect on what advice he can give on the best course of action to take the matter forward.

“The last case that I raised in which I felt a serious injustice had been done was that of Private Lee Clegg, a soldier in Northern Ireland who was convicted of murder. After the intervention of his solicitor, Simon McKay, other Members from both Houses and myself, he was eventually cleared of the crime.

“I want to make it clear that I do not raise these matters lightly. On the whole, our legal system is fair and just. It was with great pleasure and pride that I served as a Minister in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice under the last Government. I therefore raise this case knowing the confines within which Ministers may speak because of operational issues and the legal process. I raise this case this evening because a number of things have happened that have made me want to put it on the record.

“Mr John Elam was convicted of a conspiracy to commit fraud and received a 10-and-a-half-year jail sentence in April 2008. He has now been released on licence. He has always maintained his innocence and has sought to appeal against his imprisonment. He had an appeal in 2010 that was turned down.

“A constituent of mine came to see me to raise his concerns about the safety of the conviction and the role of certain officers in West Yorkshire Police. As you will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, Members of Parliament are approached by many people who feel that the legal system has operated against them. Sometimes it is difficult to unravel what the issues really are. As any other constituency MP would do, I wrote to the appropriate Departments and West Yorkshire police, and I contacted Mr Elam’s then solicitors, Keith Dyson and Partners. I also had meetings with the West Yorkshire Police Commissioner [Mark Burns-Williamson].

“My interest was stirred even more when differing accounts of the case emerged. According to West Yorkshire Police, Mr Elam was an international criminal who had connections to the Russian mafia and was involved in money laundering and the drugs trade. However, according to his solicitor, Mr Elam was the victim of police intimidation and a dirty tricks campaign, which included a lack of disclosure at his appeal. I am not a lawyer, so I was unsure what legal avenues were available to resolve the conflicting stories. As MPs do, I asked around, seeking advice and receiving information from many sources. The responses led to my interest in the case deepening further.

“Mr Elam had only one previous conviction, for common assault—he threw a Toby jug at a pub landlord. How did that minor criminal evolve into an alleged international criminal? According to West Yorkshire Police, they were interested in Mr Elam in 2005 and sought approval to have him monitored and placed under surveillance as a dangerous criminal. Operation Teddington was set up, and a very large amount of resources was spent on the process. Covert action was used to monitor the bank accounts of the Medina Trading Company, which consisted of a restaurant and a car wash. Mr Elam has always admitted his involvement with the Medina company and its directors.

“The Yorkshire Bank held the accounts of the Medina company, and an employee of the bank at that time, Mr Richard Shires, passed on information relating to the accounts, and cheques, to DC Mick Casey of West Yorkshire Police, as confirmed by affidavit. During my investigations into the matter, I have submitted a number of freedom of information requests to West Yorkshire Police, through which I have discovered that a person called Mr Richard Shires was a serving special constable in West Yorkshire Police at the time the information was passed on. I have also discovered that a person called Mr Richard Shires subsequently became a paid constable in West Yorkshire Police and continues to serve to this day. I have tried to discover through a recent freedom of information request whether those Richard Shires were one and the same, but at this time I have not been provided with that information.

“If those Richard Shires were one and the same, there was a clear conflict of interest, and more to the point, the credibility of the information and cheques passed to DC Casey would be called into doubt. I think all would agree that it would never be appropriate for a bank employee who was also a serving special constable to assist with the inquiries of the very same police force he worked for.

“At the trial, the Crown was represented by Mr Jonathan Sandiford. No evidence was given about the wider concerns relating to Mr Elam’s criminal associations. In fact, Mr Sandiford stated: The prosecution case here is that the conspirators sought to conceal the fact that Mr Elam was the true owner of the companies acquiring the business in order to defraud creditors’.

“In summing up the case, His Honour Judge Wolstenholme said to the jury that ‘….what you must do is take the view that, well, something dishonest was going on with one or more of the defendants. They must all have been up to something, even if you are not sure what.’

“Subsequently, Mr Elam was convicted.

“Mr Elam’s case, supported by his legal team, portrays an entirely different account of the chain of events. Mr Elam claims that he was approached in the summer of 2004 by a police officer demanding £150,000 in cash to be paid immediately, and £30,000 annually thereafter. In March 2005, the police investigated Mr Elam’s business practices using the covert name Operation Teddington. It is alleged that, in June 2005, 49 officers were redeployed from the anti-terrorist taskforce to work on Teddington.

“As I said, in September 2005, Richard Shires was a paid employee of the Yorkshire Bank. He accessed bank accounts relating to the Medina restaurant and secured more than 3,000 cancelled cheques. A written affidavit by Mr Shires confirms that he delivered a bundle of those cheques to DC Casey. The Yorkshire Bank also confirms that it never received an order to produce from the courts.

“In 2006, John Elam was arrested, and then the Crown court trial began. Despite a wide-ranging three-year investigation, involving more than 300 officers, Mr Elam faced a single charge of conspiracy to commit fraud. He was convicted and served his sentence in HMP Wakefield as a category A prisoner, the highest security level. He had also been treated as a category A prisoner during his time on remand. Mr Elam suffered a stroke in prison and needed external medical support.

“It is my contention that, whatever the true situation, a number of questions remain unanswered and there are a number of public interest concerns. First, was a production order properly served to Yorkshire Bank, and what was the role of PC Shires? Secondly, what was the true cost of Operation Teddington, and were officers diverted from the anti-terrorism taskforce, who at the time were dealing with the 7/7 bombers in West Yorkshire? Thirdly, why was Mr Elam considered to be a category A prisoner, and who was the police officer that demanded money?

“I know the Minister cannot respond directly to individual cases and that the Criminal Cases Review Commission will take a fresh look at this case, but I am seriously concerned enough to raise these issues and the fact that, while out on licence, Mr Elam still faces issues related to the recovery of the proceeds of crime. A hearing that was suspended in October is due in February. I have tried to contact West Yorkshire police on a number of occasions about those issues, and I will continue to do so. I was heartened today when I had a more co-operative response from West Yorkshire Police because they knew this debate was taking place, and I hope to take the matter further.

“These are serious allegations and this is a serious case—as I said, I do not usually promote and push issues where I do not feel that a cause needs to be looked at. This is a sensitive case, but it is important that as constituency MPs we raise such matters when they are put to us, and that we try to get the best result for the constituents we represent, particularly where justice and the work of the police are concerned. It must always be held utmost that the police operate in a proper manner and that our legal system is operating at its best.

“I want to put this case on record. I am sure it will not end here and that we will have to deal with other issues. However, I believe that the other bodies involved—they know who they are—should look at this case in greater detail, and I look forward to what the Minister has to say.”

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Gerry Sutcliffe, former MP for Bradford South

The Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims (Damian Green) then rose to respond on behalf of the Government:

“I congratulate the Hon. Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe) on securing this debate and thank him for recognising at various stages in his speech that I will inevitably be constrained in what I can say in response to the specific points he has raised. He served in a distinguished capacity in both the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office under the previous Government, so he will recognise that as a Minister in both Departments I am doubly constrained in what I can say. I will, however, respond to his points about miscarriages of justice, applications to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, and police matters.

“Consideration of alleged miscarriages of justice is a matter for the independent Criminal Cases Review Commission, and ultimately for the appeal courts. I am aware that Mr Elam has made an application to the commission. It is therefore not a matter for the Government and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on that case on their behalf. I understand that Mr Elam has made a complaint to West Yorkshire Police that is still ongoing and being investigated by the force’s Professional Standards Department. Again, that disqualifies me from commenting on it.

“The Hon. Gentleman mentioned the background to the case, and I understand that Mr Elam and a number of co-defendants were prosecuted as a result of a major operation by West Yorkshire Police. There were a number of criminal trials against Mr Elam and other defendants in 2006, 2008 and 2009. Mr Elam was convicted of offences including assault and conspiracy to pervert justice, conspiracy to defraud, and doing acts tending or intending to pervert the course of justice. Custodial sentences were imposed following conviction, which have been served, and I understand that Mr Elam has appealed unsuccessfully to the Court of Appeal, against sentence on one occasion, which was heard in 2007, and twice against conviction—both those appeals were heard in 2010.

“As I have said, Mr Elam has made an application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which was established by the Criminal Appeal Act 1995. Its purpose is to review possible miscarriages of justice. Since 31st March 1997, the Commission has operated with the power to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice and refer convictions and sentences to the relevant appeal court for a new appeal. Its remit extends to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Commission replaced functions that were previously carried out by the Secretary of State. Parliament established the Commission specifically to be a body that is independent of the Government.

“A Commission review is rightly a long and thorough process. If Mr Elam’s application to the Commission concerns all the criminal proceedings to which he has been subject over a number years, the review will be complex and lengthy.

“It should be noted that the Commission has strong statutory powers to enable it to discharge its functions. It can direct and supervise investigations; approve the appointment of officers to carry investigations on its behalf; and gain access to documents and other relevant materials. I draw the Hon. Gentleman’s attention to the power in section 17 of the 1995 Act, under which the Commission can reasonably require any person serving in any public body to produce to the Commission any document or other material that can assist it in the exercise of any of its functions.

“Of course, “public body” includes the police, so the Commission’s powers pursuant to section 17 operate irrespective of any duty of confidentiality and allow the Commission access to information of the highest sensitivity. Accordingly, as I am sure the House can see, the Commission has the power to obtain and review the papers and materials held by West Yorkshire Police, provided the Commission believes it reasonable to do so, in connection with its review of Mr Elam’s conviction. I hope that that reassures the Hon. Gentleman that, when the time comes, the Commission can access and consider all material relevant to the review of Mr Elam’s application.

“The Commission has confirmed that an application from Mr Elam was received in January 2013. Mr Elam is now at liberty and, as I understand it, the case is not yet under active review. The Commission has informed me that it recently wrote to advise Mr Elam that the estimated date for the allocation of his case for review is January 2015. I appreciate that that is some 2 years after the original application was made and that, given the complexity of the case, it is likely to be some time before an outcome is reached once the review is under way.

“In addition, the commission has explained to me that it operates a system of priority for applicants who are in custody. For cases requiring a substantial review, the review is generally started 12 months earlier when applicants are in custody than when somebody is at liberty. Currently, the wait for those in custody is unduly long. The Commission is concentrating on allocating those cases to reduce the maximum waiting time.

“As I have said, although the Commission prioritises applications from people in custody, I am advised that it has a policy for affording priority to any individual case when appropriate. Perhaps Mr Elam wishes to pursue that, or perhaps the Hon. Gentleman can discuss with Mr Elam whether that is an appropriate course of action in his case. I should take the opportunity to repeat that the Government should not, and indeed cannot, in any way intervene or be seen to be intervening in a matter for the Commission and, if appropriate, the appeal courts.

“On the West Yorkshire Police investigation, I understand from them that Mr Elam’s solicitor contacted them at the end of last year to make a complaint about an officer involved in the 2005 investigation. West Yorkshire Police’s Professional Standards Department is currently in correspondence with Mr Elam’s solicitor about the matter and currently awaits a response. As the Hon. Gentleman has said, Detective Chief Superintendent Andy Brennan, the Head of the West Yorkshire Police Professional Standards Department, has spoken to him and informed him of the sequence of events surrounding the original complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

“The complaint was thoroughly reviewed, and the response was sent on 18 September advising that there was no evidence to support the allegation. A formal complaint was recorded by West Yorkshire Police’s Professional Standards department and, although Mr Elam and his representatives have been advised that the complaint will be subject to disapplication on two occasions, there has been no response to the letters.

“I understand that the Hon. Gentleman was advised that the process would not stop West Yorkshire Police’s Professional Standards Department from taking action on the information, especially if there is a suggestion of misconduct or criminality. I believe that Detective Chief Superintendent Brennan has also offered to meet the Hon. Gentleman to go through any outstanding allegations or suggestions of misconduct. As well as that offer—it is obviously a matter for him to decide whether to take that up—the Professional Standards Department strongly encourages Mr Elam, or any other person, to contact it should they have information that they believe may be relevant or of value. I think that that is all I can appropriately say at this stage.

“If after those stages Mr Elam is not satisfied with how his complaint to West Yorkshire Police was dealt with, or how he was notified of the outcome, he can appeal a decision to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which is the statutory guardian of the police complaints system. There are, therefore, further steps that he can take if he wishes to do so.

“The Hon. Gentleman raised three important specific points at the end of his speech. Let me address them as far as I can. The issue of the production order to Yorkshire Bank and the role of Mr Shires is specific to one or more of the criminal cases brought against Mr Elam. If that is a case he has asked the Criminal Cases Review Commission to consider, it will investigate the issues fully. It is therefore not appropriate for me to speculate on them. Information on the costs and diversion of police resources for the purposes of Operation Teddington is an operational matter for West Yorkshire Police, so I refer the Hon. Gentleman to it for the answer to that. On the question of where Mr Elam served his custodial sentences, the decision on which custodial facility a convicted prisoner is sent to is made by the National Offender Management Service. Its decision is informed by information and intelligence from various sources, and the Directorate of High Security has a responsibility to act on that information. It is not within its remit to investigate the details of the information provided by the sources it uses.

“It is clear from the important matters raised by the Hon. Gentleman that there are issues that need to be looked into further. As I have explained, the relevant and appropriate bodies are looking into those matters now. I therefore think that the sensible way forward is to allow the application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission to take its course. I hope that that satisfies the important points raised by the Hon. Gentleman.

Damian Green sat down at 5.18pm having given a polished and, patently, well briefed response, 22 minutes after the debate opened. The obvious, and legitimate question, is what has happened since? Is everything as straightforward as he makes out with regard to the various statutory bodies and the police in their treatment of miscarriage of justice victims and did the case pan out as he said it would. What follows here is a damning condemnation of all four: The Criminal Case Review Commission, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, West Yorkshire Police and Mr Green himself.

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Former Policing Minister, Damian Green pictured alongside family friend, Kate Maltby

Green was later sacked by Prime Minister, Theresa May, as First Minister after he admittted making misleading statements following the discovery of pornography found on his Commons computer in 2008. Those listening to the swish sound of whitewash being smoothly applied during his response to Gerry Sutcliffe wouldn’t have been too surprised at this turn of events. Mrs May was, of course, Green’s ‘boss’ at the Home Office at the time of the adjournment debate. She did not call for a review of any matters with which he had been involved as a result of his admission of dishonesty.

Other allegations raised against him by Kate Maltby, were found to be “plausible”, but no definitive conclusion could be reached about them as a result of “the competing and contradictory accounts” of the Minister and a female family friend who is nearly 30 years his junior, regarding inappropriate sexual behaviour.

Mrs May was heavily critical of the police in the way they carried out the raid on Green’s parliamentary office in 2008, when the pornography was discovered. One might fairly say that the former Home Secretary was not quite so robust when members of the public were victims of unlawful, high-handed and/or heavy-handed treatment by cops.

The first port of call for a member of the public having difficulties with the police should be his elected policing representative, the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), voted in by the public for that very purpose. Regrettably, the PCC for West Yorkshire is Mark Burns-Williamson, one of the worst in the country, in a field of plenty. His approach throughout the Elam fight for justice has been nothing short of disgraceful: He firstly lobbied his Labour colleague, Gerry Sutcliffe, to drop his involvement with the miscarriage of justice case. Burns-Williamson then, as he invariably does in other complaint cases, simply adopted the police postion without making independent enquiries: So, in the PCC’s eyes, Elam is a notorious Russian mafia gangster and unworthy of the assistance of the officer paid to perform that function. But when asked by Mr Sutcliffe to provide evidence, or substantiation, of that position  he could provide none. In fact, he refused to answer correspondence.

For a series of investigations into John Elam and others, that Gerry Sutcliffe believed had cost, in total, approaching £100 million of taxpayers money, and, at times, occupied up to 300 officers, the PCC ought really have been a great deal more rigorous in challenging the police narrative.

As far as West Yorkshire Police is concerned, their treatment of John Elam continues to be highly questionable. Despite almost ten years of intensive covert surveillance, of the most intrusive nature one can imagine, there was not one scrap of evidence that he fits their bizarre description as an international drug-running, money laundering, Russian mafia gangster produced at his trials. Despite many requests from Elam, his legal representatives, his MP’s, there has not been any evidence of the same genre produced in the intervening 11 years, either. Which makes the Burns-Williamson stance even more inexplicable.

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John Elam, in his office in Leeds, sizing up the next land development project.

He looks a long, long way from that, sloshing about on a brownfield construction site in Bradford in torrential rain on a cold, sleeting December morning rallying his workers from the front. Yet still the police pursue him; smearing him with banks and professional associates, making life as difficult as they possibly can to put his undoubted, almost unequalled, business acumen to use as a property developer. Very few would be able to start with less than nothing, from gypsy stock, and legitimately turn that into a £multi-million fortune.

There is also this troubling whiff of racism, and all the resentment infecting people of such unpleasant disposition, that appears to permeate into almost all of WYP’s actions. Is it the gypsy blood and the ability to wheel and deal, making ‘easy money’ by putting ‘back to back’ land packages together that gets their goat?

One senior WYP officer is alleged to have said at the time of the Sutcliffe adjournment debate: “How did that gypsy f****r get his case on the telly like that”.

Every complaint made on behalf of John Elam (he is in the later stages of his life, having made and lost several fortunes, getting to grips with reading and writing) is airily batted away by the police. Then kicked further into the long grass by the thoroughly disgraced IPCC (now the similarly disgraced IOPC). Aided and abetted by a police complaints system deliberately re-designed, in 2011, to hamper the public at every turn.

Two long-serving officers turned up to meet Elam at Gerry Sutcliffe’s office in Bradford in 2014, Simon Bottomley and Osman Khan. Both DCI’s at the time, who have gone on to be Heads of PSD at WYP. Bottomley is the present incumbent, having succeeded Khan last year. Both have a chequered history amongst those members of the public who have had the misfortune to complain against their local police force. Their disposition towards John Elam and Mr Sutcliffe was agressive and confrontational throughout. They had turned up in place of Andy Brennan, who had done a ‘moonlight flit’ and left WYP shortly before he was due to meet with the MP and Elam, as Damian Green had indicated he would. When Elam spoke to Brennan by phone he could offer no explanation for his ‘retirement’ from WYP. The meeting produced nothing of use to the fight for justice. The barriers were up and stayed up.

The stigma of the 7/7 bombings, and the effect of the withdrawal of WYP’s specialist counter-terror officers onto what appeared to be an almost wholly disproportionate vendetta, also rankles deeply with the force’s hierarchy. Further discrediting Elam is one of the only ways they can salve their conscience after 56 people died at the hands of three radicalised suicide bombers from Leeds, and one from Kirklees.

The CCRC did, eventually respond in April, 2016, three years and three months after the submission of the Elam appeal to them. Their detailed findings, and the flaws inherent within them, including what appears strongly as ‘verification bias’ and a lack of basic investigative rigour will be the subject of a separate, but linked, article on this troubling miscarriage of justice case.

The CCRC provided no satisfactory answers on the key issues concerning:

(i) Richard Shires and his dual and contemporaneous role with Yorkshire Bank and WYP.

(ii) The provenance of the Production Order which took nine years for WYP to eventually produce (in the end to Gerry Sutcliffe) and the Yorkshire Bank are adamant was never served on them at any time.

(iii) The true status of the alleged police informant, Andrew John Rudd. Whom it is said was acting as agent provocateur.

(iv) The classification of John Elam as a Category AA prisoner. Extraordinarily, and quite independently as an investigative journalist, I have obtained access to that information and about which there will be a seperate article naming the officer who provided what appears to be false and malicious information to HMP’s Director of High Security.

(v) The identity of the police officer who turned up at John Elam’s home in Scarcroft and demanded £150,000 in cash up front, and £30,000 per annum thereafter, ‘to make your [John Elam’s] problems go away’. No enquiries were made as to the whereabouts of the film from a covert camera situated in a bird box in a tree opposite (in the garden of a former Leeds United goalkeeper, Nigel Martyn).

(vi) The continued smearing of him as a very serious organised drug-running, money laundering, Russian mafia criminal, absent of even the smallest scrap of evidence.

What they did do, incredibly, was have at least one face-to-face briefing with West Yorkshire Police, the very organisation whose serious, and proven, wrongdoing was at the heart of the Elam CCRC appeal. It appears to have escaped the attention of the CCRC that WYP has the worst record of any police force in the country when it comes to serious, high profile miscarriages of justice. Dating back to the 1970’s and the deeply shocking Stefan Kiszko and Judith Ward cases (read more here). They are a police force that simply cannot be trusted to tell the truth or not tamper with evidence and/or witnesses. That is not fanciful speculation, it is an inalienable fact.

Most crucially, what they CCRC didn’t do was exercise their extraordinary powers to obtain disclosure independent of the police and prosecution filters or barriers. If they had, they would have discovered, as I have done, that covert surveillance on John Elam began accidentally in 1998 when an operation (my informant who worked on the case cannot recall the name) was mounted in East Leeds targetting other persons of interest to the police. Elam was a business associate of one of them. West Yorkshire Police say they have not been able to trace the operational name either, despite very specific information being provided to them that should make it a straighforward task

An operation that followed, codenamed Primary, did target John Elam but yielded nothing after three years of intensive, intrusive surveillance as they tried to link him to WYP’s ‘most wanted man’, Dennis Slade. A career armed robber whom the police fitted up in 2010 for a murder conspiracy he wasn’t part of. There was never any connection to find between the two men, socially or in business dealings, except for a fleeting introduction in a Leeds pub one evening. Slade’s conviction on that murder count was quashed by the Court of Appeal and the charged dropped one week into the re-trial in April, 2019 (read more here).

West Yorkshire Police misled Damian Green when they stated that surveillance on John Elam only began in 2005. It would have seriously harmed their case if the obsessive vendetta had been found to have begun five years earlier.

For my own part I can say this: I’ve known John Elam for seven years and either I am blind and stupid or he is a hard-working family man, unfailingly courteous, would walk a mile to do a man a good turn, would turn around rather than do him a bad one. His office is on one of the busiest corners in Leeds, he operates in a highly competitive business arena but appears to have the respect of his peers. Deals get done, and the wheels of the diggers and trucks turn. He is in the public eye insofar as he regularly takes his daughter and grandson out for meals and spends many weekends with them at their caravan at the East Coast seaside. That is not the lifestyle of a mafia gangster.

Like me, he abhorrs any form of narcotics and will not tolerate their use in his presence.

What I can’t say: That there is any evidence at all that he is the major criminal portrayed by the police. He is a one man band and has no association with any gang, apart from those carrying out groundworks on construction sites. He has the same computer in his office that he has had all the time that I’ve known him; he freely gives me access to that. He has just one ancient mobile Nokia phone that, apart from making and receiving calls, he struggles to use. There are no burner phones or SIM cards; no sophisticated means of encrypted communication used routinely by criminals, even the not-so-serious ones these days; no firearms; no weapons (and he wouldn’t even try to beat me in a fist fight). Nothing at all to support the notion of a criminal lifestyle and enforcer. His mode of transport is a 4 year old Ford Ranger open-backed pick-up truck. Not ideal if you are transporting illicit goods, cash or weapons.

What John Elam does have is a burning sense of injustice. It will never leave him. Why else, nine years after he was released from prison would he still be battling the police and the criminal justice system, spending whatever money he can raise on lawyers, trying to clear his name. The reader is invited to draw their own conclusion from that and look out for the follow-ups to this article which will appear in the coming weeks. This is a story that will run and run.

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Alex Sobel, MP for Leeds North West

APPEAL: If any retired or ex-West Yorkshire Police officer wants to come forward, anonymously or otherwise, with information that may assist in answering the questions still posed by this troubling case, they are asked to contact, in complete confidence, the office of John Elam’s MP, Alex Sobel. The Member for Leeds North West has been assisting Mr Elam, particularly with disclosure issues, for the past eighteen months. He has promised efforts will be made to secure a second adjourment debate in order to fill the gaps from the first one six years ago. They are, however, difficult to come by and Alex has not been at all lucky in the ballots that take place when pursuing other issues on behalf of constituents.

Alex secured a resounding victory at the recent General Election, securing a third term in office with a substantially increased majority. Very much against the trend for the Labour Party. John Elam, as a constituent campaigned strongly amongst his family, friends and associates for an elected representative he holds in high personal and professional regard.

 

Page last updated at 1650hrs on Saturday 11th April, 2020.

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