The Old Pals Act, 2016

There can be few more frustrating exercises for a journalist than trying to elicit straight answers from police forces. Legions of press officers are, mostly, conditioned to stonewall newshounds in search of the truth behind a story.

Too often they are briefed by senior officers to provide obfuscating, misleading or, on more rare occasions, untruthful answers to the media. The latter invariably to either avoid, or at least minimise, reputational damage to the force or wider police service.

So, the opportunity to ask direct questions of chief officers in open forum is a vanishingly rare one in the post-Leveson era, and is not one that should be passed up lightly.

Every month or so, North Yorkshire Police and its Police and Crime Commissioner hold a meeting of senior warranted and civilian officers which goes by the grand title of Corporate Performance, Delivery and Scrutiny Board. It is live podcasted, and even has a Twitter hashtag, #NYPScrutiny.

Except that virtually no-one watches the podcast. Either live, or by way of catch-up on YouTube, and there is little, or no, public interaction on social media about the Scrutiny Board.

Those that have watched the podcast probably wouldn’t repeat the exercise, as it is a complete waste of time as far as scrutiny goes – there is none – and the self-indulgent backslapping over performance and delivery, by those officers present around the meeting table, verges on nauseating.

Indeed, it is true to say that the exercise may now be all a tad too tedious, even for Chief Constable Dave Jones and PCC Julia Mulligan, as the former has been absent on holiday for the last two meetings (he also missed the previous three whilst away on secondment) and Julia has also missed two of the last three meetings. The latest because she was also on annual leave, we are told.

As part of the theatre of the occasion and, they say, in the interests of ‘transparency’, the Scrutiny Board invite public questions. These can be emailed in beforehand, or tweeted using the #NYPScrutiny hashtag whilst the meeting is in session.

As yet, they have not excluded journalists from the process so I have availed myself of the opportunity several times in the past. Indeed, it is rare for anyone other than myself, or uPSDNYP, to ask a question.

Just before the most recent Board meeting, I was contacted by a complainant for whom I have advocated informally for almost four years. She is a rape and fraud victim – and there are long standing issues with both NYP and their big city cousins, West Yorkshire Police over failures to successfully prosecute the perpetrator.

She told me that her two most recent conversations with a senior officer in NYP’s professional standards unit, Detective Chief Inspector Steve Fincham, had resulted in him losing his temper on both occasions including, in one of them, slamming the phone down.

Mr Fincham is an officer about whom I already know a great deal. He has dealt with a large number of complaints with which I have been directly, or indirectly, involved. Apart from an increasing portfolio of case files, I also hold a significant amount of credible, anecdotal evidence concerning the way this particular officer approaches his professional standards role. The criticism is not all from the public making complaints, either. There has also concern amongst serving officers about his uncultured, bullying approach to the job.

A decision was quickly reached between the rape victim and myself that a public question to the Scrutiny Board about DCI Fincham’s conduct might be more prescriptive than a formal incivility complaint against an officer who has delegated Appropriate Authority powers from the Chief Constable under the Police Reform Act. How prescient that turned out to be.

This is the question, faithfully reproduced in picture form, on screen, during the section of the meeting devoted to public questions:

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What was not reproduced, specifically at my request, was background material given to the Police Commissioner’s office that was relevant to the question.

– That I have acted informally for the past four years for the complainant. We meet regularly, speak often on the telephone and share documents – and confirmation that I am strongly committed to doing everything in my power to see that she secures justice.

– It was asserted on her behalf that officers at managerial rank who cannot maintain self-control should not have public facing roles.
– It was also pointed out that, like me, the complainant is astounded at the lack of knowledge of due process that DCI Fincham appears to exhibit at almost every contact. That is much more concerning to both of us than inappropriate behaviour on the telephone.
– Finally, it was drawn to the attention of those present at the meeting that the rape victim will not be complaining to the force formally about DCI Fincham’s conduct because again, like me, she feels there is absolutely no point. He is, seemingly, protected by the Command Team and is likely to remain so. Also, like me, she has also much more important issues to address with NYP.
From the response given in this short excerpt from the podcast it is clear that Deputy Chief Constable Timothy Madgwick had read the email. He claims, as you will hear, that DCI Fincham is not protected by senior officers:
What has happened since that Board meeting ended has played out rather differently to what the rape victim, myself and now, it seems, the wider public on social media might have expected.
The day after the Board meeting I contacted the Police Commissioner’s office by email and this was the final paragraph of that message:
In the meantime, we will await the formal response to yesterday’s public question. If DCC Madgwick requires witness accounts from other members of the public with whom DCI Fincham has interacted, please do let me know. That may give enquiries into the matter a much more solid evidential base. 
An answer was provided swifly by the Commissioner’s office, but it was unexpected to say the least: I don’t think there is an intention for a further response to be sent to you.  The matter was raised and responded to (in the meeting).
Further exchanges have taken place with NYPCC, conducted in the familiar cordial manner, to the effect that if DCC Madgwick is not minded to investigate or respond to either myself, or the rape victim, then a more detailed complaint will be submitted via the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Supported by at least four witness accounts previously referred to.
Which, on any independent view, would place a further burden on the police complaints system which is already overloaded and beset by lengthy delays. So, why doesn’t DCC Madgwick, who ran the force’s professional standards unit in 2003 to 2004, just answer the question, ‘look into it‘ as he says on the video clip and tell those affected by Fincham’s behaviour, and the wider public, exactly what he has found and if he has disciplined the errant officer? Is that really so difficult to do?
Well, it seems the reluctance of Mr Madgwick to investigate the matter, and censure DCI Fincham, might be found in a senational development two days beyond the Scrutiny Board meeting. In a letter to Tim Thorne, the owner of the North Yorks Enquirer internet news magazine it turns out that – wait for it – DCI Fincham is to ‘investigate’ DCC Madgwick over a complaint made about him by Mr Thorne in June, 2016.
You couldn’t make it up, except this is the Alice Through The Looking Glass world of North Yorkshire Police where everything is ‘amazing’, ‘fantastic’ or ‘great’ and no-one in #TeamNYP (another Twitter hashtag) can possibly be the subject of criticism, let alone found out over wrongdoing.
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Mr Thorne’s complaint concerned false evidence that DCC Madgwick had made in a witness statement in the well-chronicled Operation Hyson investigation, wherein it was claimed that ‘Tim Thorne’ was an alias used by Luxembourg-based chartered accountant, Tim Hicks. Madgwick had failed to correct the false assertion when first challenged by rebuttal evidence in October, 2015 and more publicly by me on Twitter in May, 2016 (see above picture).
Given that the complaint is now approaching three months old and is already non-compliant in a number of areas (failure to provide updates, wrong correspondence address used, wrong type of investigation ordered, officer of insufficient rank or hierarchal independence appointed to deal with the complaint) DCC Madgwick is hardly rushing to correct the mistake and front up with a public apology.
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DCC Madgwick (pictured above) is also the subject of another police complaint concerning a further alleged falsehood in that same witness statement. That issue is presently in the hands of the IPCC, by way of an appeal against a decision not to record the complaint by – you may have guessed it – DCI Fincham. A third complaint against Madgwick also rests with the IPCC over allegations connected with alleged attempts to criminalise me by way of contempt in the Hyson court proceedings. Fincham also refused to record this complaint.
This is another classic case of the police, and a compliant Police and Crime Commissioner, managing to make any complaint situation, however straightforward, into a publicity disaster.  The story will run and run for some time yet. Particularly, as Fincham, just three days after the Scrutiny Board meeting, flew off the handle yet again and put the phone down on a vulnerable and intimidated female for a third time. He lost his temper, yet again, when he was asked politely to behave properly and, particularly, as the complainant made Fincham aware of her having viewed the podcast. This was the tipping point, it seems, for PSD’s errant ‘golden boy’.
Both the North Yorkshire Police press office and the Police Commissioner’s office have been approached for comment but have yet to respond. These are the questions put to both:
1. The appropriateness of officers each investigating the other, over public complaints, at one and the same time.
2. The persistent and flagrant disposal of complaint issues by NYP/NYPCC outside the appropriate legislative framework.
3. The suitability of police officers at managerial rank, who exhibit repeated failures of self-control, to hold public facing roles.
The silence is, so far, deafening. As it is from DCC Madgwick, who has so far refused to respond to these matters put to him via Twitter:
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Four days after this article was re-published on the North Yorks Enquirer news website, a member of the public came forward to give his own views on the PSD officer at the centre of this storm. Nigel Rush from Tadcaster, in a letter to the editor of the NYE, describes detective, Steve Fincham, variously as “aggressive, “boastful” and “frightening”. Mr Rush’s phone call with Fincham also ended with the phone being slammed down on him. He is, however, at pains to point out that interaction with other NYP officers was of a much more pleasant and professional tenor. I have heard another family group of complainants against NYP – all highly respectable people – use almost identical words when describing Fincham. Except that they have met him, as opposed to speaking on the telephone. Another complainant, whose lawyers are presently prosecuting a civil claim against North Yorkshire Police on his behalf, says: “I found him (Fincham) totally untrustworthy and full of artifice. He turned my complaint against an officer who had assaulted me on its head”.
On the very same day, well known governance campaigner, Gwen Swinburn, who mainly – and successfully – holds City of York Council to account, stepped into the ‘NYP let’s investigate each other’ debate on Twitter. Gwen asked Julia Mulligan if she could intervene in what she felt was a situation that was an affront to democracy whereby police officers could investigate each other at one and and the same time.
Despite the snub to a request for comment on this article, the NYPCC twitter account jumped in on Gwen’s tweet and answered on Julia’s behalf by saying they would ‘look into’ the situation. Quite what that amounts to is unclear, given that both the creation and the escalation of this bizarre situation is all down to the Commissioner’s office.
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The fact that the ‘look into’ promise is exactly the same as used by DCC Madgwick at the Scrutiny Board meeting might be seen by some as ominous.With exactly the same outcome?

Page last updated: Friday 2nd September, 2016 at 1445hrs

© 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.

Cost of silencing police force critics now approaches £1 million

Tuesday 9th February marked the first anniversary of the initial hearing of a civil harassment claim that is known, curiously, as Hofschröer and others –v- Hofschröer and others. On the face of it, a family dispute gone wrong concerning title to a property formerly owned by a deceased father and an ailing mother.

But behind that domestic façade lies three other matters of significant public interest:

Firstly, this dispute principally concerns the widely publicised ‘Grandma B’ case in which both North Yorkshire Police and York City Council have been criticised heavily over the treatment of disabled World War Two veteran, Barbara Hofschröer. Her son, Peter, has been fighting for justice, on behalf of his mother, since 2008.

Secondly, two citizen journalists who write for the website news magazine, North Yorkshire Enquirer, are also defendants in what appears to be an attempt to silence them from publicising the shortcomings of the police, and other public authorities. The two scribes, Tim Hicks and Nigel Ward are best known for their work exposing scandals involving the late Peter Jaconelli, for many years the face of the seaside town of Scarborough, and the country’s most notorious sex offender, Sir Jimmy Savile.

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Thirdly, this civil action has been publicly funded on the authority of Julia Mulligan, the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire (NYPCC). This move, which many believe is unlawful, and a grotesque waste of public money, has allegedly cost taxpayers a sum approaching a million pounds already.

There are nine claimants listed on court papers accessible to the public. They have been identified as three serving police officers and six civilians (one retired police officer, a former Police Authority chair, a former Council social worker and three Hofschröer family members). The direct legal funding this group has received already is believed to be in excess of £300,000 or £33,333 each, give or take small change. The precise figures have been requested from both the police, and the NYPCC, but they have elected to break freedom of information law rather than disclose the latest invoices from their lawyers. An earlier disclosure put the lawyers’ fees at £164,919 up to mid-September, 2015 (Read FoI outcome here).

The three serving police officers involved in the harassment claim are the Chief Constable, Dave Jones; the Deputy Chief Constable, Tim Madgwick and Head of Uniformed Operations, C/Supt Lisa Winward. The retired officer is ex-Supt Heather Pearson and the former NYPA chair is Jane Kenyon-Miller (pictured below alongside Mr Madgwick). A very powerful group indeed, who have allegedly already spent £450,000 internally in trying to stem the flow of criticism against their police force, by pursuing a criminal ‘investigation’ codenamed Operation Rome. The Crown Prosecution Service twice rebuffed approaches by North Yorkshire Police to permit charges to be made against Mr Hofschöer and Mr Hicks. Mr Ward was not, at any time, interviewed or even contacted by police in connection with this matter.

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On 20th January 2015 civil court papers were, ostensibly, served on the three defendants without any prior notice. The Court’s own strict rules demand that such a step is taken under what is known as pre-action protocol. Clearly, this requirement was not followed and there is no explanation yet available why the police, the NYPCC and their legal team chose to act in such a way. On any independent view, it had the appearance of an ambush.

By this time, Peter Hofschröer was on remand in HMP Wandsworth having been arrested by North Yorkshire Police detectives outside the magistrates court in York on 4th December, 2014 whilst trying to file papers against other members of his family that he believed would protect the interest of his mother. He claims, quite reasonably, that court papers concerning the civil claim made by the nine defendants – including his brother, sister-in-law and nephew, did not reach him prior to his transfer from Wandsworth to HMP Hull.

In Nigel Ward’s case, the court papers were sent to the wrong address and left on the doorstep outside an empty property for forty-eight hours, accessible to public inspection. North Yorkshire Police, surprisingly, did not refer themselves to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) over this calamitous data protection breach, including personal data concerning their own two most senior officers. Mr Ward has, quite correctly, reserved all rights concerning the unlawful disclosure of his own personal data.

At the first hearing in Leeds High Court on 9th February, 2015 the claimants sought an interim injunction against the two journalists – and Mr Hofschröer – that effectively ordered the defendants to take down articles published about the nine claimants, and prevented each of the three defendants from contacting the claimants by phone, email or in person. It was a draconian move, and the police-funded claimants were represented at court by two barristers, Simon Myerson QC and Hannah Lynch. These legal heavyweights were instructed by leading Leeds law firm Ford and Warren (since taken over by Weightmans).

This second phase of the North Yorkshire Police action, codenamed Operation Hyson, was launched following advice given to them by ‘a leading, specialist barrister’, believed to be Mr Myerson (pictured below) after Rome had fallen.

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The two journalists were both represented by London human rights barrister, Ian Brownhill, instructed by Nottingham solicitors, Bhatia Best. Recruited at very short notice, the lawyers performed a minor miracle in reading a huge volume of paperwork, and preparing a defence, over the weekend before the first hearing.

The outcome of that court hearing was in two parts: An interim injunction was granted against the absent, and unrepresented, Mr Hofschröer and a consent order was sealed by the judge, His Honour Mark Gosnell, which effectively maintained the status quo between the claimants and the two journalists. It meant, in real terms, that none of the articles complained about, by the claimants, were taken down by any of the defendants, including Mr Hofschröer who has no access to a computer whilst held in jail.

Mr Brownhill had also raised the issue of ultra vires that, in layman’s terms, means there is serious doubt in his mind about the legality of public funding being used, by the police, to finance civil litigants in a harassment claim.

Subsequent hearings over Operation Hyson took place at Leeds Combined Court, before HHJ Gosnell, in June and November, 2015. The matter was transferred from the High Court to the County Court at the first of these hearings, at which directions were given to all parties in preparation for a trial that was scheduled to begin on 7th December, 2015. At the later hearing – which was listed as a pre-trial review – summary judgment was granted in favour of the nine claimants against Mr Hofschröer after he elected not to take part in the proceedings citing breaches of his Article Six convention rights. This left the two journalists as the remaining defendants in the claim. The judge ordered that the December trial date be vacated and a further case management hearing to be listed for 20th January, 2016. HHJ Gosnell also advanced the view to counsel representing both sides that every effort to settle the matter should have been made by that date.

The January hearing, conducted in the judge’s chambers by telephone conference, resulted in no settlement being reached and, as a consequence, a trial window opened by HHJ Gosnell between April and July, 2016 with a time estimate for the final hearing of seven days. This is to allow an additional period for the claimants to file further evidence in support of their claim against the journalists, a year to the day since they issued proceedings. The Court have recently confirmed that the trial is set to open on 20th July, 2016.

A trial of this duration is likely to place a further burden on the taxpayer of around £100,000, given that there is no reasonable prospect, based on recent legal precedent, of the litigation achieving its two-tier objective. A harassment finding for each of the nine claimants against each of the two remaining defendants, is the first hurdle. Only if that threshold is reached could the court consider that an injunction against two journalists was the appropriate remedy.

A press statement concerning the outcome of the January 2016 hearing was requested, from the PCC and the Chief Constable, during a recent Police Scrutiny Board meeting held a few days afterwards, but the opportunity was declined by both police chiefs. The reasons for doing so bear no examination (see Scrutiny Board podcast here).

There are also the substantial internal costs incurred by the North Yorkshire Force Solicitor, Jane Wintermeyer, and her staff, to consider. Marshalling nine claimants and instructing the two Weightmans solicitors dealing with the matter, over a period of fifteen months, would not come cheap. Mrs Wintermeyer also canvassed other high profile public officials, including Rebecca Reed, a senior manager engaged with the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), prior to the issue of proceedings in order to add substance to the North Yorkshire Police’s Rome and Hyson investigations.

During the January 2016 case management hearing, the issue of ultra vires and abuse of process was raised again by Mr Brownhill. He was told by HHJ Gosnell that the question of whether this claim falls to be determined as vires or ultra vires, is in his view, an arguable case. But, not one that would be heard before him in the County Court. A separate public law challenge would have to be mounted in the Administrative Court. One of the defendants, Mr Ward has confirmed that this process will soon be in train.

The Police and Crime Commissioner originally claimed to have sought ‘independent legal advice’ on the vires issue on 12th January, 2015 (read her formal statement here) but has, so far, not disclosed the invoices from her solicitor and counsel that would prove that point, following a freedom of information request. Mrs Mulligan was prepared to break the law rather than either disclose the information, or admit it doen’t actually exist. Her latest claim is that the advice was not provided in writing by the ‘leading barrister’ involved in January 2015, but given verbally in a meeting on 15th October, 2014. A meeting at which it is known Mr Myerson was present, by reference to his invoice sent to NYP that covers the day in question.

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Mrs Mulligan (pictured above with Chief Constable Jones) undoubtedly faces a difficult few weeks ahead as both the merits of Operations Rome and Hyson, the subsequent civil court trial, and the source of it’s funding, come under intense scrutiny during the forthcoming PCC election campaign.

Since this article was first published on 7th February, 2016 information has been obtained about a referral from the Parliamentary Committee for Public Accounts to the National Audit Office concerning the legality of the decision to spend public money financing private claims (read more here).

The press officers for both North Yorkshire Police and the Police Commissioner have been offered the opportunity to comment but none has been forthcoming, so far.

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Page last updated on Sunday 1st May, 2016 at 0945hrs

© 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.

Photo credits: Twitter (@SCynic1), North Yorkshire Enquirer and Office of Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire