‘A grubby little police force’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Pick of the crop?

On Monday 21st November, 2016 an item was posted on the website of the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire (NYPCC) [1]. It was unheralded elesewhere. No local press coverage. No announcement on the busy NYPCC Twitter feed. No mention on the ‘News’ section of the PCC’s website. Nothing.

The announcement concerned the beginning of a new era for the public of the county as Will Naylor was confirmed in his new role as Deputy to the Commissioner, Julia Mulligan.

will-naylor
William Naylor: Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire. This is the first picture of Will published on the internet after spending the entirety of his past career in virtual obscurity.                                Picture credit: NYPCC

An article published on this website in October, 2016 ‘Where there’s a Will there’s a way‘ has already covered some of the controversy surrounding the selection process. Since that exposé first appeared it now has the makings of a full-blown scandal – that may well bring about the downfall of some of those involved in this increasingly convoluted tale.

What has emerged is that the PCC’s chief of staff was, seemingly, the ‘chosen one’ some months ago, and a process subsequently devised with no other apparent purpose than to hoodwink both the public and the Police and Crime Scrutiny Panel for North Yorkshire (PCP).

The investigation that has followed the ‘Where there’s a Will there’s a way‘ article has pieced this picture together:

– The job of Deputy PCC was advertised by NYPCC externally just the ONCE: On the Guardian newspaper’s website [2], at a cost of just £900. Which buys very little, as can be seen from the publisher’s rate card [3].

– The job was promoted just ONCE by the PCC’s Twitter account (on 16th August, 2016). Compared, say, to activity connected with a recent ‘Tell Julia’ survey which was promoted regularly TEN times per DAY.

– The job was NOT advertised in the two conventional recruitment outlets in the area – The York Evening Press or the Yorkshire Post. Despite the fact that Mrs Mulligan was, apparently, insisting that the successful candidate would be required to live in North Yorkshire.

– The job was NOT advertised with either Police Oracle or Police Professional (PP) which, as their names imply, carry the overwhelming bulk of jobs connected to policing bodies. A fact not lost on NYPCC Interim Chief Executive, Fraser Sampson, as he and PP’s editor, Paul Lander, are former West Yorkshire Police contemporaries.

–  The recruitment advertising, minimal as it was, took place in the middle of the Summer school holiday period.

– Julia Mulligan arranged for what she describes as an INDEPENDENT recruitment process to take place. Except that there was nothing ‘independent’ about it at all. It was, to all intents and purposes, a sham managed by her former Acting Chief Executive, Simon Dennis.

– The composition of the selection panel is still unknown, even after a another freedom of information request made by York governance campaigner, Matthew Laverack. Despite the usual positing of Mrs Mulligan that the process was ‘open and transparent‘ [3A].

– The Naylor application was, taken at it’s face, unlawful. Section 18(6)(h) of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 sets out that a PCC cannot appoint a member of her own staff to the role of the Deputy PCC.

– There were sixteen ‘expressions of interest’ for the job. All ‘met the minimum standards’ according to Julia Mulligan in her report to the PCP.

– Only four of the sixteen applicants were selected for interview. Two dropped out prior to interview, leaving Will Naylor, complete with the doubts about the legitimacy of his application, to bid with just one other shortlisted candidate for the £45,000 – £50,000 role.

– No explanation has been provided as to why a further two candidates were not selected for interview from the remaining pool of twelve candidates.

– The interviewing panel comprised four people. Three of whom were either working with Will, or had been very recently: Julia Mulligan, Fraser Sampson and Simon Dennis. The fourth was York city councillor and former schoolteacher, Keith Aspden.

– None of the interviewing panel recused themselves, despite the glaring conflict of interest.

– Neither of the two solicitors on the interviewing panel, Messrs Dennis and Sampson, gave due consideration to the point that Will Naylor should not have even been there. No external opinion was sought according to disclosure via a freedom of information request.

– Will has falsely claimed in his biography on the NYPCC website that, before joining NYPCC in January, 2013, he was ‘Chief of Staff’ to Helen Grant MP. It is not known whether that falsehood was repeated in his job application.

– The false claim has now been removed. An updated bio says he was a SENIOR parliamentary assistant for Mrs Grant. Or, in other words, a Conservative party political researcher. A press enquiry has been sent to Mrs Grant; it seeks clarification on Will’s role in her office, the duration of his employment and whether she was asked to provide a reference to the selection panel.

– He has also claimed that he ‘worked in Parliament for two other MP’s‘ prior to working for Mrs Grant. There is no trace of this employment on the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) website. Clarification has been sought from IPSA, .

– On social media, NYPCC has steadfastly refused to answer the question as to whom these mystery MP’s are. The reason for not doing so, given via a direct message on Twitter is ‘because the answer could be perceived as political and the OPCC is politically independent, we feel that Twitter is not the place to respond‘. The provisional assumption is, therefore, that if Will has worked for MP’s other than Helen Grant, they were Conservatives and he doesn’t want the wider world to know that.

– There has been a protest from NYPCC’s Digital Engagement Officer, Simon Jones, that he has been misrepresented by the above (verbatim) quote. He claims that details that would support claims made by Will Naylor over his past employment history is a personal matter – and for Will to respond privately rather than in an open space such as Twitter. That use not a view that is widely shared by those paying both Simon and Will’s wages. Particularly, as the new Deputy PCC has been caught out in a lie once already.

– Will has also claimed that he has worked for ‘Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) based at the Home Office’. HMIC have ducked a press enquiry on the topic, after having been pressured to respond at all. It has now been necessary to submit a freedom of information request in an attempt to elicit the information [4].

Some other pieces of the jigsaw were fitted together following the response to a freedom of information request was submitted to the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cleveland (COPCC) on 2nd November, 2016 [5].

– The preamble to the response contained a palpable falsehood. It claimed that ‘the majority’ of the information sought had already been published by the PCP. A claim as ludicrous as it is untrue.

– It is now revealed that not a single piece of paper exists to formalise this ‘independent’ recruitment process – and it was organised on the back of what appears to be an off-the-cuff discussion between Simon Dennis and Mrs Mulligan in the period during which they were working together (April to mid-July 2016) as chief executive and commissioner, respectively.

– No invoice has been raised from COPCC to NYPCC in connection with that provision of services. Not even for the cost of the Guardian advertisement.

– The following information concerning the shortlisted candidates has now been revealed:
The four shortlisted candidates were all male.  Two held a Masters degree, one a BA (Hons), the fourth was not a graduate. Two were resident in North Yorkshire, one in Nottinghamshire and one in Sussex.

– Incredibly, it is claimed that COPCC who conducted the recruitment and selection process do NOT know the ages of the four shortlisted candidates. A decision that has already been appealed. Whilst there are guidelines that preclude employers discriminating on grounds of age it would be remarkable, indeed, if no date of birth was given on ANY of the CV’s of those men who made the ‘final four’.

– Similarly, they say that revealing the job titles (not their names, or the names of their employer) of the three unsuccessful candidates would constitute PERSONAL information and, as such, exempt from disclosure. Again, a decision that has already been appealed.

– As revealed above, four shortlisted candidates became two. No reason for withdrawal was given by one, the other backed out over the residency issue.

–  COPCC make the incredible claim that, as recruitment facilitors, they do NOT know if the three other candidates shortlisted were made aware of Will Naylor’s extant close working relationship with most of the other members of the interviewing panel: Julia Mulligan, Simon Dennis and Fraser Sampson? Even though Dennis is Chief Executive of COPCC.

– What steps were taken by COPCC to establish that the application of Will Naylor was lawful, given that he was already an employee of NYPCC and, as such, ineligible by way of Section 18 (6)(h) of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011.
b. If external advice/opinion was sought please provide name of solicitor/counsel.

The information request would, doubtless, have been finalised under the supervision of the aforementioned Simon Dennis, and in consultation with NYPCC as to what might give the game away, or otherwise.

As Simon, and doubtless, the others involved in it, now realise that the full nature and extent of this ‘sham’ recruitment process is on the cusp of being exposed, it is expected that issues over the remaining disclosure will end up before the Information Comissioner for determination.

Draft minutes have also been sought from the Police and Crime Scrutiny Panel, which are expected to shed further light on this increasingly troubled matter [6]. Their statutory report, and conditional confirmation of the appointment of the PCC’s ‘preferred candidate’, is now in the public domain and provides some interesting insight [7].

From the report it can be gleaned that at least some of the Panel member’s had reservations about the successful candidate’s relevant experience and ability. Or, rather, lack of it. His independence was also questioned, having been an employee of the Commissioner for almost four years.

In personal submissions made to the Panel, Will asserted his honesty and said that he was committed fully to the policing code of ethics, and to upholding the highest professional standards. Which present a condundrum in the face of the deceit and obfuscation over his own career history – and that fact that the office he has run for the past three years has little recognisable regard for either ethics, or professionalism. The most glaring, and public, examples are the perpetual non-compliance over information requests or data access – and routine chicanery over published Decision Notices. Compounded by the seeming inability of anyone at PCC HQ, including the Commissioner herself, to give a straight answer to a straight question.

But the question that needs answering most of all is: Was Will Naylor truly the pick of the crop of sixteen candidates, in a honestly held process, for the role of Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner? It is one that should be put to Mrs Mulligan, in public, at the next PCP meeting in January, 2017.

The new Deputy Commissioner, who cited a commitment to better public public engagement as part of his job pitch, has declined to respond to an invitation to comment on the article.

[1] North Yorkshire PCC: 21st November, 2016. ‘Deputy PCC – Will Naylor’

[2] The Guardian: 18th August, 2016. Situations vacant advertisement Deputy PCC for North Yorkshire

[3] The Guardian: Situations vacant rate card

[4] WhatDoTheyKnow: 23rd November, 2016. Deputy PCC for North Yorkshire’s previous employment with HMIC

[5] WhatDoTheyKnow: 2nd November, 2016. Appointment of Deputy PCC for North Yorkshire

[6] WhatDoTheyKnow: 26th November, 2016. Draft Minutes of Panel Meeting

[7] North Yorkshire Police & Crime Scrutiny Panel: 19th October, 2016. Report of Confirmation Hearing

Page last updated Thursday 1st December, 2016 at 1820hrs

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

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

Copyright: Neil Wilby 2015-2016. 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.