Cover-up at all costs

There are many thousands of words written elsewhere on this website about the so-called ‘police watchdog’ in England and Wales, most recently here. Currently known as the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), having previously existed as the Independent Police Complaints Commission (2004-2018), the Police Complaints Authority (1985-2004) and the Police Complaints Board (1977-1985). Each of those ‘brands’ becoming more toxic than their predecessor (read more here).

The latest incarnation, the IOPC, is already regarded by those involved closely with the police complaints system as even worse than the thoroughly disgraced IPCC. Despite the high hurdle that undoubtedly presented, with its legacy of gratuitous self-congratulation, poor leadership, interminable delays, flawed decision making, and the inevitable partisan outcomes of ‘investigations’ carried out too frequently by inexperienced, under-qualified ‘casework managers’ or ‘lead investigators’ who had completed a six-week remote learning course to earn their badge.

Matters now made much worse by the controversial appointment of an inexperienced, under-qualified (in the police complaints arena) chief executive, Michael Lockwood, with, it appears, an unhealthy appetite for dining at the same table as those he is charged with holding to account. Most notably, his unctious currying of favour with the Police Federation of England and Wales, blowing an ill wind for those making complaints against the Fed’s members. Who just happen to account for over 80% of all warranted police officers.

Knowing whom the Home Office passed over for the job simply makes that situation almost unbearable. A no-nonsense, high-achieving criminal justice practioner with a proven track record of leadership and putting right great wrongs. Made to measure for an organisation so badly in need of a change in culture and the elimination of so many questionable practices.

It is a matter for that person to reveal how, and why, he was passed over. To do otherwise would necessitate an unconscionable breach of confidence.

Lockwood has, since his appointment, been embroiled in a ‘cronyism’ scandal over the appointment of Tom Whiting, his former number two at Harrow Council. Board minutes recorded that the £140,000 per annum appointment was ‘not previously budgeted for’ and Mr Whiting was not ‘financially qualified’.

A qualified accountant, Lockwood also hired his former personal assistant from the same council, but denied any impropriety in both cases.

He also lost his Deputy, Jonathan Green, in yet another embarrassing scandal after Green, who was recruited by the IOPC from the dental profession, was caught having an affair with a junior colleague. He headed up an inquiry that cleared five detectives of misconduct after Scotland Yard’s botched investigation into false claims made by jailed fantasist Carl Beech. The infamous Operation Midland.  One of the matters in issue was detectives misleading a judge in the course of obtaining search warrants.

In the face of well-rehearsed concerns of two prominent judges, the IOPC dismissed the misconduct allegations. The lead investigator on that probe, much younger than him, was said to be Green’s love interest. She admitted the relationship, but the married Green had denied it when first approached by The Times newspaper.

One of the main critics, retired High Court judge Sir Richard Henriques said he was ‘alarmed by the lack of knowledge of relevant criminal procedure’ of those within the IOPC, lamenting the fact that an ‘error-ridden’ criminal inquiry was ‘followed by such a lamentably slow and inadequate process’.

Green’s lover was replaced as lead investigator by another young female who had joined the IOPC, 16 months earlier, from Topshop, a leading clothing retailer. Not noted, of course, as a training ground for major police corruption investigations.

Against that troubled background, and being adjacent to current high profile and seriously unsatisfactory IOPC investigations involving such as the spectacularly failed Operation Resolve probe into the Hillsborough Disaster; outfall from the nationally known Anthony Grainger Inquiry; another high profile police shooting that resulted in the death of Yasser Yaqub on a slip road off the M62 near Huddersfield; and the death of Oldham man, Andre Moura, following a sustained beating in the back of a police van; a judgment was handed down at the Royal Courts of Justice this week in what appears, at first blush, to be a case of much lesser significance: A Section 18 search warrant, obtained by way of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, 1984 (PACE) was followed by the mishandling of the partially disabled detained person, by a group of Hertfordshire and Thames Valley officers, that resulted in relatively minor injuries.

The incident happened in 2013. It has taken seven years of determined struggle, against the police and their gatekeeping ‘watchdog’ for the complainant, Julian Watson, to reach the stage where matters are heard, for the first time, before an independent arbiter. Almost three of those years have been spent waiting for a hearing of his judicial review application. The decision challenged was made by the IPCC in December 2017, and permission was granted by noted police action lawyer, Clive Sheldon QC, sitting as a High Court Judge, in July 2019. No explanation is given in the judgment as to how such an interminable delay came to pass.

The IOPC had considered an appeal by Mr Watson against a decision of the Hertfordshire Constabulary (“Hertfordshire”). He had complained about two of their officers. The force had decided that one of them, Police Constable Lobendhan, should face disciplinary proceedings, but the other, Police Sergeant Jinesh Solankee, had no case to answer. The watchdog decided not to uphold the appeal against the decision in respect of PS Solankee.

The background to the case is taken almost verbatim from Mr Justice Chamberlain’s concise judgment: In the early hours of 24th December 2013, PC Lobendhan and PS Solankee went to Mr Watson’s home in Milton Keynes to conduct a PACE search. Mr Watson did not want to let them in. There was a scuffle at the door during which PS Solankee discharged PAVA spray. The officers then entered and arrested Mr Watson for obstructing a constable in the execution of his duty. They handcuffed him in what is known as the “front stack position”, that is to say with his hands in front of his body. Two officers from Thames Valley Police (“TVP”), Police Constable Morgan-Russell and Special Police Constable Badshah, came to assist. A search of the house was conducted. A small quantity of cannabis was found. Mr Watson was arrested on suspicion of possession of a class B drug with intent to supply.

PC Lobendhan and PC Morgan-Russell took him to the police car and then on to Milton Keynes police station. The other two officers also travelled to the station. The custody suite was in a temporary building, accessed by external metal steps with a sharp non-slip coating. Mr Watson suffers from sciatica and trapped nerves, having fractured five vertebrae in a fall. He told the officers that he could not get up the steps with his hands cuffed in front of him. PC Lobendhan and PC Morgan Russell dragged him up the steps by his arms. He was facing down the steps in a semi-seated position. He suffered cuts and scratches on his way up. PS Solankee observed these events and did not intervene. Mr Watson was then booked into a cell.

Mr Watson was never convicted of any offence arising out of the search and arrest. The only charge to proceed was one of obstructing a police officer in the execution of his duty. That charge was dismissed by the local magistrates.

In the meantime, on 31st December 2013, Mr Watson had made a written complaint about the conduct of the officers who arrested him. It covered several aspects of his treatment on 24th December, 2013. The one that matters for the purposes of the judicial review was “unnecessary brutality and injuries sustained in dragging me up steel nonslip sharp jagged steps to the Custody Office”. Mr Watson described what happened as follows:


“At the entrance to the Custody Office I told the police officers that my mobility disabilities would prevent me from being able to get up the ten steps with only one handrail and with handcuffs on. They refused to remove my handcuffs even though they were at least four officers present and, instead, one of them said: ‘If you don’t get up those steps we will drop you and drag you up and it will not be a pretty sight’. I again said that I could not negotiate the steps with the handcuffs on and that having told them of my disability is it was their responsibility to take care of that and act in an appropriate manner.


“The next thing I was aware of was being pushed backwards onto the steps and something (probably a foot or leg) put behind my legs making the trip over backwards and land heavily on the first few rungs of the steps. My dressing gown belt became undone so the front part of my body was exposed. They then proceeded to lift my arms above my head and pull on the handcuff central connector and drag me up the steps backwards. The steps are steel and finished on the step and nosing with very sharp gravel type non-slip finish.


“I was in considerable pain when I was dragged into the front desk area of custody, and after lashing out at their attempts to pull me to my feet, I was eventually allowed to kneel and pull myself up using a bench and wall. I notified the custody sergeant again of my disabilities and medication for it. I also asked for medical attention to my injuries that hurt very badly, but that I could not see as they were mostly to the back of my legs. During this time my dressing gown belt became loose and I was unable to gather the sides together and secure the belt with handcuffs on, so much to my embarrassment everyone was sniggering my immodest exposure.”


The complaint was considered by an investigating officer at TVP, Mick Osborne. He considered Mr Watson’s account, alongside those of PC Morgan-Russell, PS Solankee and PC Lobendhan. SPC Badshah had, by that time, left TVP and, he said, without explanation, it was not considered practical to obtain a statement from her. Mr Osborne also considered the custody record and viewed CCTV footage of the custody suite at the time when Mr Watson was brought into it. Mr Osborne produced a report on the basis of which a decision-maker in TVP decided that neither of the two TVP officers had a case to answer.


Mr Watson, unsurprisingly, exercised his right to appeal against that decision to the IOPC. On 29th March 2018, Philip Harrison, a Casework Manager at the IOPC, upheld the appeal. The letter containing Mr Harrison’s reasons included the following passage:


“…there is available CCTV which does show the top of the custody suite stairs, as well as the entry area of the custody suite. It is clear from this footage that you were dragged up the stairs and then into the custody suite. I have also reviewed photographs of the injuries he sustained while being dragged by the officers. The witness statement made by PC Morgan-Russell, following your arrest, confirms that he, along with PC Lobendhan, dragged you into the custody suite. However, as PC Lobendhan is not a TVP officer I cannot consider his actions or the outcome of the investigation into him as part of this appeal.


“PC Morgan-Russell does not appear to have provided any rationale, or justification, as to why he considered dragging you up an exterior set of stairs, while you were only dressed in a dressing gown, was the most appropriate use of force. There is no available evidence to demonstrate that he considered any other options, such as supporting you as you climbed the stairs or physically carrying you into the custody suite. There is also no evidence to suggest any consideration was given as to whether there were other more suitable access points that could be used.


“I have noted the comments the officers have made about your demeanour during this incident. While it is asserted you were aggressive at the outset in that you refused entry [into your home] by the Hertfordshire officers and used force to keep the door closed, it does not appear that this behaviour continued after entry was gained. After this point your behaviour is only described as abusive and uncooperative. I am also mindful that PC Morgan-Russell describes your resistance outside the custody suite as passive. In my opinion, these circumstances do not demonstrate a clear need to drag you backwards, rather than carry or support to you in another manner.


“In light of the lack of provided rational explanation as to why dragging you up the stairs was the most appropriate course of action, and the injuries he sustained while being dragged up the stairs, it is my view that there is sufficient evidence on which a reasonable tribunal properly directed, could find, on the balance of probabilities, misconduct in relation to PC Morgan-Russell’s use of force.


“The Police Standards of Professional Behaviour state under Equality and Diversity that ‘Police officers act with fairness and impartiality. They do not discriminate unlawfully or unfairly’. Home Office guidance further clarifies that ‘Police officers pay due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination and promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different groups.’


“PC Morgan-Russell records in his statement that you made him aware you were disabled prior to you leaving your home. PC Morgan-Russell further details that you stated you were unable to climb the custody stairs and would need to be carried up them. In light of this, and for the same reasons provided earlier in relation to PC Morgan-Russell’s use of force, I consider there is sufficient evidence on which a reasonable tribunal properly directed, could find, on the balance of probabilities, PC Morgan-Russell’s actions were discriminatory.”


Mr Harrison went on to say that the allegation that PC Morgan-Russell used excessive force would, if proven, be a breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour in respect of use of force and equality and diversity. The breach would not be so serious as to amount to gross misconduct (conduct warranting dismissal), but could justify a finding of misconduct. The appeal was therefore upheld and a recommendation made that PC Morgan-Russell be required to attend a misconduct meeting. The meeting took place and PC Morgan-Russell was found to have committed misconduct. The sanction imposed was “management advice”.


Separately, Mr Osborne’s report was sent to Hertfordshire for a decision on whether either of their two officers had a case to answer. It was referred to Detective Chief Inspector Beeby. She decided, on 26th July 2018, that PC Lobendhan would have had a case to answer for dragging Mr Watson up the steps to the custody suite. As he had left the force in 2016, however, there was no further action that could be taken under Police Regulations. The remainder of the allegations against PC Lobendhan and PS Solankee were not upheld. No reason was given for the latter conclusion, despite the fact that it was, on any independent view, a prima facie breach of Standards in respect of challenging inappropriate behaviour.

Six months earlier, after just 10 years as a police officer, PS Solankee had been promoted to inspector.


Mr Watson appealed to the IOPC against the Hertforshire decision. There were two parts to the complaint: The first concerned what Mr Watson said was the excessive use of force at his home. The second concerned the use of force to drag him up the steps to the custody suite at Milton Keynes police station.


The appeal was determined by Claire Parsons, an IOPC Casework Manager. In a letter dated 17th December 2019, she explained to Mr Watson her reasons for not upholding the appeal. Ms Parsons made clear that she had considered a range of information: Statements provided by PC Lobendhan, Inspector Solankee (who by this time had, of course, been promoted), PC Morgan-Russell and SPC Badshah (contrary to what Mr Osborne at TVP had said); contemporaneous records; the result of the misconduct meeting relating to PC Morgan-Russell; and CCTV footage. In relation to the allegation of excessive use of force in dragging Mr Watson up the steps to the custody suite, Ms Parsons said this:


“In relation to the second part of your complaint where you state that having got out of the police vehicle at Milton Keynes Police Station, you were dragged by the offices from the car park up a flight of stairs into the custody office. I note that PS Solankee confirms in his account that when you all arrived at Milton Keynes custody office you refused to exit the police vehicle, and informed the officers that you could not move. PS Solankee states that you were laughing as you were saying this and as a result the officers removed you from the vehicle by force. PS Solankee describes you as passively resisting as you began to walk up the stairs towards the custody office, and then you began to fall to the floor, telling the officers that you were disabled so they would have to carry you up the stairs. PS Solankee confirms that force was used to get you into the custody suite. I have also reviewed the two statements submitted by PC Lobendhan in December 2013 and 19 July 2015. I note that PC Lobendhan states that you had thrown yourself to the ground whilst leaving your property to enter the police vehicle, and had to be physically helped to the car. PC Lobendhan also states that when you all arrived at Milton Keynes custody office and exited the police vehicle you fell to the floor ‘in a controlled manner’ and then refused to get up, informing the officers that you could not walk. PC Lobendhan states that, as a result of this, he and PC Morgan Russell carried you up the stairs ‘causing minor scrapes and scratches to the DP (detained person in police parlance)’. However, it is of note that PC Lobendhan has not provided any rationale in regards to his decision to drag you up an exterior set of metal stairs with another officer, whilst you were only in your dressing gown. PC Lobendhan has also not provided an explanation as to whether or not he considered other potential options to get you into the custody office, such as using an entrance that is specifically designed for disabled individuals, or arranging for more offices to assist with actually carrying you up the stairs in a safe and more dignified manner.


“I have reviewed the CCTV footage which covers the top of the stairs to the custody office, as well as the corridor which leads to the entrance of the custody office. The footage clearly shows PC Lobendhan and PC Morgan Russell dragging you up the stairs by your arms, as you were in a seated position being pulled backwards. Both officers continued to drag you along the floor of the short corridor and then into the custody suite. In my view, you do not appear to be physically resisting the officers whilst they are doing this. I also note from the CCTV footage that the female officer from Thames Valley police walked in front of you being pulled up the stairs by PC Lobendhan and PC Morgan Russell and PS Solankee was then seen to be walking up behind you, but does not physically touch you. I have also considered the photographs of the injuries you sustained as a result of the officers dragging you up the metal stairs to the custody office.”

Ms Parsons then recorded and endorsed the investigating officer’s conclusion in relation to PC Lobendhan, before continuing as follows:

“In relation to PS Solankee, in my view, there is insufficient evidence that he used excessive force against you. However, I do acknowledge that he witnessed PC Lobendhan and PC Morgan-Russell dragging you up the stairs. Therefore, it is my opinion that it would have been good practice for PS Solankee to have intervened, and made an attempt to establish if there was an alternative entrance to use in order to access the custody block. However, I find that this does not constitute misconduct, but this observation should be relayed to PS Solankee as a learning point for any potential situations of this nature that may arise in the future. As a result, I concur with the findings of the IO (investigating officer) and accordingly this aspect of your appeal is not upheld.”

This is the conclusion that Mr Watson challenged by way of judicial review.

Ms Parsons also said she was unable to comment, or reach a decision on the part of Mr Watson’s complaint dealing with his treatment in custody at Milton Keynes Police Station, because that was for TVP to investigate. That conclusion is not challenged in these proceedings.

The legal authorities governing the principles to be applied on judicial review of a decision of the IOPC were helpfully drawn together by Stephen Morris QC, sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge, in R (Ramsden) v Independent Police Complaints Commission [2013] EWHC 3969 (Admin), at para [21] (read in full here). This is a case I know particularly well, as Tony Ramsden is a good friend and I drafted all the pleadings for that application and the subsequent permission appeal. West Yorkshire Police carried out five investigations into his complaints, each one progressively worse than its predecessor, four were upheld by the IOPC. The one taken to judicial review failed narrowly. The WYP investigator, DCI Osman Khan (as he was then), has recently been appointed to the rank of assistant chief constable in the same force.


During the hearing of Mr Watson’s application, Neil Moloney, an in-house IOPC barrister, drew the judge’s attention to other authorities: R (Chief Constable of Northumbria Police) v Independent Office for Police Conduct [2019] EWHC 3169 (Admin) (read in full here). At paras [54] to [56], HHJ Philip Kramer, sitting as a Judge of the High Court, relied on the decision of the Visitors of the Inns of Court in Walker v Bar Standards Board (19 September 2013), which considered the meaning of the word “misconduct”. In that particular case, a barrister prosecuting in a criminal case had been disciplined for asking an improper question imputing dishonesty on the part of a defence expert. Giving the judgment of the Visitors, Sir Anthony May said at para [16] that “the concept of professional misconduct carries resounding overtones of seriousness, reprehensible conduct which cannot extend to the trivial”. At para [32], he asked the question whether the conduct in issue was “sufficiently serious to be characterised as professional misconduct”. This required him to ask whether it was “particularly grave”. The Visitors said at para [37] that the barrister’s conduct was far from trivial, but was, nonetheless, “a momentary, an uncharacteristic lapse which did not cross the line of seriousness which, in the end, was a matter of judgment”.


In the Northumbria case, Judge Kramer applied this in the context of police misconduct, ruling at para [55] that “for behaviour to amount to misconduct it must fall below a recognised standard of probity or competence relating to the task in respect of which the misconduct is said to arise. If it does not, it cannot be characterised as particularly great. For an error judgement to amount to misconduct it must be the result of actions which fall below those standards.”

In the instant application, the judge summarised the competing arguments of Mr Watson and the IOPC thus:

Mr Watson’s case can be very simply put: Mr Harrison had found that PC Morgan-Russell had a case to answer for dragging Mr Watson up the steps to the custody suite. PC Morgan-Russell was later found guilty of misconduct by using excessive force. Hertfordshire had, itself, found that there would have been a case to answer against PC Lobendhan had he still been serving. There was evidence to show that the two had used force to drag Mr Watson up the steps into the custody suite when there were other ways of getting Mr Watson there. PS Solankee was senior in rank to the other officers. He saw what was happening and did not intervene to prevent it. This means that he participated in the unjustified use of force or, at least, may have been guilty of misconduct by failing to intervene. Ms Parsons’ conclusion that there was no case to answer was not properly open to her in the circumstances. Mr Watson also complained that the IOPC had been late in providing the CCTV footage it had to the court. He said that it appeared that some of it had not been disclosed. A submission that must have some merit, given that the police say that there was no footage of the exterior of what is one of their main stations.


For the IOPC, Mr Moloney submitted that Ms Parsons gave a reason why there was no misconduct on the part of PS Solankee: The CCTV footage did not show that he had, himself, used force. As to the other officers, it was important to note, he said, that no criminal proceedings had been brought against any officer. PC Morgan-Russell was found guilty of misconduct and PC Lobendhan would have had a case to answer had he still been serving. However, the conduct of each officer had to be considered separately; and that is what Ms Parsons did.


In his skeleton argument, Mr Moloney submitted that Ms Parsons’ conclusion was properly reasoned: “Having criticised PS Solankee to the extent that she inferred that it would have been good practice for him to have intervened, she explained why this criticism did not meet the threshold for a case to answer for misconduct.”

When pressed by the judge about where the explanation was to be found, Mr Moloney pointed to that same paragraph and submitted that, when read in context of the rest of the decision, Ms Parsons should be understood to have concluded, in line with the approach in Walker and the Northumbria case, that PS Solankee was guilty of a minor lapse which, even if not trivial, did not reach the threshold for misconduct. In any event, Mr Moloney submitted, there was no reason to assume that Ms Parsons’ conclusion was based on the legally erroneous conclusion that PS Solankee could not be guilty of misconduct unless he had personally participated in the excessive use of force.

The judge’s analysis of Ms Parsons’ decision was conducted by reading her reasons as a whole, whilst bearing in mind that she is not a lawyer or a judge. She was dealing with complaints about two aspects of the conduct of the officers who arrested Mr Watson on 24 December 2013 (the use of force in the initial arrest and the use of force in dragging Mr Watson up the stairs to the custody suite). She was considering the position of both PC Lobendhan and Inspector Solankee. Having viewed the CCTV footage, the judge found there was no basis for disagreeing with her description of the evidence He says that it shows no more and no less than she describes. Contrary to Mr Watson’s belief, he found there is no evidence that any other relevant CCTV footage ever existed but did not expand upon that finding.

Moreover, the central part of Mr Watson’s legal challenge is not to Ms Parson’s description of the evidence, but to her conclusion that PS Solankee had no case to answer. On the footing that he had failed to intervene to prevent the other officers from dragging Mr Watson up the stairs to the custody suite. Mr Watson framed his judicial review challenge as one based on rationality, but the judge noted that, in public law, rationality and adequacy of reasons are often overlapping grounds of review. In a case where the decision-maker has a duty to give reasons, and no adequate reason is given for a conclusion, the decision will be unlawful, at least in a case where the failure to give proper reasons gives rise to prejudice: For example, in the well-rehearsed case of South Buckinghamshire District Council v Porter (No. 2) [2004] 1 WLR 1953, at para [36].

Mr Moloney did not suggest the contrary. He maintained that the passage quoted from Claire Parson’s letter (para [13]) did convey an adequate reason, or that one could be inferred.


The judge told the court that he had read that passage carefully: ‘There is no legal error in Ms Parsons’ conclusion that “there is insufficient evidence that [PS Solankee] used excessive force against [Mr Watson]”. It is the next part that causes the difficulty, he said: Ms Parsons’ conclusion that PS Solankee’s failure to intervene “does not constitute misconduct” is simply that: A conclusion’.

Contrary to Mr Moloney’s submission, no reason at all is given for it. The absence of a reason might not be fatal in a case where the reason could be inferred, but Mr Justice Russell did not accept that it is possible, safely, to infer the reason in this case: Ms Parsons had concluded that PS Solankee’s failure to intervene was contrary to “best practice”. But this does not show that she had formed the view that PS Solankee’s conduct failed to meet the threshold for misconduct, still less that she had in mind the appropriate legal test. The difficulty with this inference, which Mr Moloney invited the judge to draw, is that it is not the only one that could be drawn. Another is that Ms Parsons thought (wrongly) that, if the officer himself neither uses force nor instructs another to use force, evidence of his failure to prevent an excessive use of force by another officer could never be grounds for misconduct. In the absence of any expressed reason for the conclusion that there was no case to answer, it is not possible to know which of these two approaches (one permissible if properly reasoned, the other unlawful) was being adopted by the IOPC.


If, as Mr Moloney suggested, Ms Parsons was expressing a conclusion that PS Solankee’s conduct, though contrary to “best practice”, was not serious enough to meet the threshold for misconduct, that conclusion called for a justification. Mr Moloney said, in some desperation, that it may have all happened too quickly for PS Solankee to intervene. If that is the case, the judge said, it is unclear why PS Solankee was criticised at all. Mr Moloney next suggested that PS Solankee, a Hertfordshire officer, rather than TVP, did not know Milton Keynes Police Station and so could not be expected to know about other ways of accessing the custody suite. There is, however, no trace of that explanation in Ms Parsons’ reasons; and in any event, it would not make sense, given that she appears to have endorsed the conclusion of the investigating officer that the conduct of PC Lobendhan (also from Hertfordshire) would have given rise to a case to answer had he still been serving.


Having considered both the decision itself and Mr Moloney’s submissions about it, Mr Justice Chamberlain concluded that the decision that PS Solankee had no case to answer was inadequately reasoned and is, on that basis, unlawful. Accordingly, Mr Watson’s claim succeeded.

He made clear, however, that nothing in his judgment should be taken to suggest that the IOPC is obliged to find that Inspector Solankee (as he is now) has a case to answer, far less that he is guilty of any misconduct. The IOPC will have to consider the first of these issues. The second issue will fall to be decided only if the IOPC decides the first is in the affirmative and misconduct proceedings are begun by his force.

According to the social media platform, LinkedIn, Jinesh Solankee fits his role as a police inspector around his job as Managing Director of London-based The Hush Group Limited (read here). He joined Herfordshire Police in 2007.

As for the IOPC, the complaint of Julian Watson has opened the window, once more, into their appalling incompetence, blame avoidance culture and a mindset that the maintaining reputation of the police service over-rides basic statutory requirements of fairness, diligence and independence. Not to mention careful husbandry of public funds.

It would be unfair to single out Claire Parsons, at the very bottom of the perenially hungry food chain. She is as good as the training with which she was provided, the professional support network around and above her, and the corporate culture within which she operates. Her decision would have been quality assured by an, as yet, un-named Senior Casework Manager. In the extant circumstances, it is almost certain that her decision would have been reviewed by her Regional Director, Sarah Green, and, presumably, the IOPC Director of Investigations, Steve Noonan. If so, they are the ones responsible for this debacle. Ms Green, an IPCC/IOPC long-termer, has plenty of previous in this regard. Notably, at the conclusion of Operation Poppy, one of the largest investigations ever undertaken by the watchdog (read more here). She was also one of the central figures in the Anthony Ramsden case.

The performance of in-house barrister Neil Moloney was, quite frankly, embarrassing. If he didn’t know he was on a hiding to nothing, confronted only by a litigant in person who appeared to make no oral submissions, then there is little in the way of salvation for him. Even with 21 years of call, it is hard to see how he would make a living in private practice. But, again, in fairness to Mr Moloney, he is, very likely, the victim of the IPCC/IOPC doctrine of pushing the foot soldiers into the firing line to protect the generals. In this case, that would include their most senior lawyers, the aforementioned Sarah Green and General Counsel (formerly Head of Legal Services), David Emery. Another IPCC/IOPC long-termer, having previously served with the Metropolitan Police Service, but, on the credit side, always approachable, helpful and, in my own professional experience, a likeable individual.

Similarly, the Professional Standards Departments (PSDs) of two police forces emerge with little or no credit. Their preoccupation with defeating any civil claims that may follow public complaints drives all their decisions, however irrational and contrary to the evidence they may be. That, very regrettably, is the same scenario throughout the police service, whatever may be said otherwise.

Will this court reversal bring change to either the IOPC or police force PSDs? Regrettably, history shows that the answer to that question has to be an emphatic ‘no’: Few, if any, other institutions have a less impressive portfolio when it comes to not absorbing and failing to learn lessons from past failures.

This is a developing news story and will be updated. Follow Neil Wilby on Twitter here, and on Facebook here.

Page last updated at 0815hrs on Monday 26th October, 2020.

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.

Photo credit: IOPC

© 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.

Chief constable faces investigation over ‘false’ statement

Greater Manchester Police is the fourth largest force in the country. It has been the subject of a barrage of well aimed press criticism over the past year or so. Almost all of it by the leading ‘serious’ newspaper in the United Kingdom, The Times.

The ‘newspaper of record’ has also taken the unusual step of calling for a public inquiry into police corruption in Greater Manchester, by way of its hugely influential leader column. Read by every Prime Minister since William Pitt the Younger.

The source of most of the articles has been disclosures made by a retired Manchester detective, Peter Jackson. At the time of his retirement, he was a superintendent heading up GMP’s murder investigation team. Popular with both his peers and subordinates, he served the public in his home city with dedication, and distinction, for 31 years.

One of these articles made the front page of The Times on Saturday 23rd June, 2018 (read here). It exposed serious failings by senior officers who watched a thirteen year old boy enter the home of a suspected paedophile, and notorious career criminal, Dominic Noonan, and allowed the child to remain in the property with the villain, and an accomplice, for two hours. The covert surveillance was part of a wider investigation into Noonan (now known by the name of Domenyk Lattlay-Fottfoy) codenamed Operation Nixon. GMP has a long history of being given the runaround by Noonan and tried unsuccessfully, in 2006, to block the airing of a TV documentary featuring his gangster family (view here).

The officer in charge of the Noonan covert police operation, Dominic Scally, was promoted afterwards and now heads up the North West Counter Terrorism Unit. A role to which a significant number of serving, retired and ex-GMP officers, with hundreds of years service between them, feel he is entirely unsuited.

Following the article, and acting with unusual alacrity, GMP chief constable, Ian Hopkins, issued a controversial press statement on the very same day (read here). The central theme was that The Times splash, background spread and leader were “wholly misleading and unfair”. It was an unvarnished, and unattractive, attack on the widely respected journalist, Fiona Hamilton, her venerable newspaper, and Pete Jackson. It went far beyond the acceptable, and was, on any independent view, a clear abuse of his authority as a senior police officer. To the extent that it may amount to disreputable conduct, as referenced in Police Regulations. Equally crucially, there was no rebuttal of the core allegations of serious police force failings, highlighted by Miss Hamilton.

Central to the defence of his officers, and their actions, was the claim by Hopkins that the force had referred itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (now rebadged as Independent Office for Police Conduct) over the alleged Op Nixon failings and his confidence in the ‘completely independent’ police watchdog to provide effective oversight. In this particular case, the misconduct probes were codenamed Operation Poppy 1 and 2. (Read IPCC outcome reports here). As with so many IPCC investigations, indeed almost all that could be classified as high profile, Poppy took so long it went to seed and was condemned as a ‘whitewash’ by many of those close enough to the seat of the action.

Unfortunately for Hopkins, a whistleblower came forward with a tape recording of a meeting in police HQ, at which the chief was plainly heard to say that the IPCC were “abysmal” and incapable of carrying out “thorough investigations“. The timing was important as the chief constable’s comments were made the year before the first Poppy investigation was launched. These revelations, unsurprisingly, led to a follow-up article in The Times, three days later, in which the damning audio was embedded (read and listen here). Hopkins was, quite rightly, put to the sword by the tenacious crime and security editor, Fiona Hamilton.

The chief constable refused to provide a statement explaining his disparaging comments, but was reported at the time, by police insiders, to be in a rage over the article – and obsessed with hunting down the source of the leak to the newspaper.

In October, 2018 a third, and even more devastating, article on this same topic was published by The Times. Evidence showed that Hopkins’ central claim in his June 23rd statement was false. The force did NOT refer the investigation to the IPCC. They had, in fact, spent eighteen months doing everything they could to avoid any scrutiny of the Noonan failings. The fact is, Operation Poppy was brought about following disclosures made to the police watchdog by Peter Jackson. The defensiveness of the force, and its senior officers, together with the propensity to bury wrongdoing was exactly as Miss Hamilton had foretold in her preceding articles.

There has been no public response by Hopkins, or the GMP press office, to these latest revelations.

Unsurprisingly, and following the third newspaper article, Peter Jackson filed a formal misconduct complaint against his former colleague, Ian Hopkins. The core matter in issue is straightforward: The chief constable was not truthful in his 23rd June, 2018 press statement over the IPCC referral. He claims it was not deliberate, but, it must be noted, he took almost six months to come up with his defence. There is no mention of, or apology for, the highly damaging abuse meted out to whistleblower and reporter.

The policing body that has oversight responsibility for chief constables is the police and crime commissioner (PCC) for the area, or region. It is, in almost every case, a post elected by the public at the ballot box. Greater Manchester is one of the exceptions: It has an elected Mayor, Andy Burnham, whom, in turn, and in theory, selects a suitably experienced and capable official to the role of Deputy Mayor for Policing.

Unfortunately, in this particular case, the Mayor’s pick could scarcely have been worse. A 68 year old ex-MP crony, Dame Beverley Hughes, whose Parliamentary career was dogged by controversy. Including misleading the House in 2004, claiming she hadn’t seen a report when it was later proved that she had. An incident that has now come back to haunt her, in a number of ways.  Burnham and his Deputy worked together in the Home Office in the early 2,000’s and were both protégés of the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett.

The only career experience of Beverley Hughes, remotely connected to policing, was spending six years as a Merseyside probation officer, over forty years ago, whilst she continued her university studies in tandem.

Remarkably, this particular police commissioner, elected or otherwise, is what is known within the relevant statutory framework as the ‘Appropriate Authority’ for the disposal of complaints against a chief constable. The presumption is that she would know the applicable laws and regulations, maintain the necessary impartiality and have unimpeachable personal and professional integrity. Regrettably, Beverley Hughes, on all the evidence I have seen, does not tick any of those boxes.

It is uncontroversial to say that the Jackson complaint was dealt with entirely inappropriately by ‘Bev’, as she likes to be known, and, as is often the case with PCC’s, the ‘cover-up’ of alleged misconduct by chief constables becomes the story. Essentially, a phone call between Ian Hopkins, and the Deputy Mayor, was the entirety of what she claims was an ‘investigation’ that led to a ‘local resolution’ of the complaint. In which Hopkins was found, by Bev, to have done nothing wrong: In the unseemly rush to get the press statement out, he claims an inadvertent error was made over who made the IPCC referral.

Those familiar with the chief constable’s micro-management style, particularly in relation to the force’s PR output, will argue strongly against the likelihood of a genuine mistake. As will those with close knowledge of the acrimony, and controversy, amongst the key players in the lead up to the Op Poppy investigations. Hopkins as deputy chief constable at the material time was central in that drama.

Bev Hughes’ actions or, more accurately, inactions, drove a coach and horses through the relevant statutory framework and not one single legal, or ethical, requirement was followed throughout the process. Overlaid by misleading the complainant from start to finish over how the matter was being progressed.

Those shocking procedural failures could well have been connected to either Bev’s overly-cosy relationship with a chief constable, over whom she has a statutory duty to provide oversight, or the fact that she also issued a troubling, and plainly co-ordinated, statement attacking the The Times article. She described it as “deplorable, totally unjustified and completely wrong”. No attempt to issue a correction can be traced.

‘Bev’ also had the temerity to reference the deaths of two young female police officers in an attempt to slur Peter Jackson, when the reality is that both may well still be alive if his own warnings to fellow senior officers, regarding the deranged killer, had been heeded at the time.

It is understood that a second Jackson complaint, this time against the Deputy Mayor, is due to be lodged with the Greater Manchester Police and Crime Panel (PCP) over her handling of the complaint against the chief constable. The complaint will allege misconduct in public office, a criminal offence that will require a mandatory referral to the police watchdog (the IOPC), by the PCP, for a decision as to if, or how, the complaint is to be investigated.  They are the appointed body – packed tight with even more of Andy Burnham’s Labour Party cronies – designated to deal with such issues.

The Mayor’s original stance was, incredibly, that his Deputy had acted “with complete integrity” over the Jackson complaint. It is not known if he intends to maintain that entirely erroneous position.

Following a robust response from Pete Jackson to the outcome of his complaint against Hopkins, and a merciless shaming of Burnham, Hughes and their Deputy Director for Policing, Clare Monaghan, on social media, Burnham finally intervened, in spite of his apparent confidence in the Hughes ‘investigation’, and referred the matter to the IOPC for a method of investigation decision. As a result, Durham Constabulary was contacted substantively by Mrs Monaghan on 24th December, 2018, with an invitation to investigate the Jackson complaint on behalf of the Greater Manchester Mayor. The latter having taken over conduct of the matter from his hapless Deputy.

In a police operation now codenamed Mackan, Durham chief constable, Mike Barton, will have overall responsibility, and sign off the investigation into Ian Hopkins, as Gold Commander. Silver Commander is Durham’s former head of professional standards, Darren Ellis, now employed by the force as a civilian investigator

A Durham Constabulary spokesman said: “Whilst some information has been received [from the Manchester Mayor’s office] there is a need for more to be forwarded at this stage.

“As the ‘instruction’ to engage with us is in the very early stages we are not in receipt of any preliminary assessments from GMP, nor any specific terms of reference.

“Until Durham Constabulary are fully ‘read in’ to matters and fully understand what is expected we will not move forward. To assist with this, we have arrangements in place to speak to an involved party in the near future.

“Until matters progress we are unable to estimate how long this piece of work will take.”

Which, de-coded, appears to say that Durham stand ready, but neither GMP, nor the Mayor’s office, despite the passage of five weeks, have given them the tools necessary to do the job. Given all that has gone before, that should surprise no-one. It is assumed that the ‘involved party’ is Peter Jackson, as his consent would be needed to allow Durham to proceed with evidence gathering.

Mike Barton, whom Durham colleagues variously describe as a “nutter” and a “maverick” (read more hereand here) also undertook the ‘outside force’ investigation, in 2016, into the gross misconduct allegations against GMP’s Assistant Chief Constable, Rebekah Sutcliffe, over the notorious ‘Titgate’ scandal. It is not known, at this stage, if Mr Ellis was involved. Ms Sutcliffe received a final written warning before a disciplinary hearing, chaired by Rachel Crasnow QC (who also chaired the recently concluded hearing into bullying allegations against ex-Cheshire chief constable, and former GMP deputy chief, Simon Byrne). The repentent Ms Sutcliffe made full and frank admissions from the outset, so that particular investigation was, on any view, rather less taxing than the present renewal (read more here). The curious might enquire why, with 42 other police forces to choose from, Durham’s turn has come around again so quickly*.

[UPDATE* A plausible answer may be that Greater Manchester’s portfolio holder for professional standards, Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling, and Barton were colleagues at Lancashire Constabulary. Both started their careers in that force, in 1980 and 1990 respectively. They would have been closely involved in the Sutcliffe investigation, as Pilling led the mob baying for her dismissal from the police service. Pilling’s predecessor as GMP PSB portfolio holder was also a former long-serving Lancashire officer, Dawn Copley. She joined in 1987 and left to join GMP as an assistant chief constable in 2010. She was never far from controversy, it is fair to say, and became the shortest ever serving chief constable in police service history after joining South Yorkshire Police. The intervention of two journalists, both of whom I know well, led to her removal after less than 24 hours.]

Nevertheless, given my own interaction with Durham Constabulary, there are serious and well-grounded concerns over their capability, or willingness, to carry out robust, thorough and impartial investigations on behalf of other police forces, or policing bodies. Indeed, my views are well rehearsed both on this website, the What Do They Know website, and on social media: “A grubby little police force that does favours for other police forces.” Durham is very well aware of that stance – and the well evidenced reasons upon which it is grounded. Much of which is set out in forensic detail here. Those robust allegations stand unchallenged by their controversy-courting chief constable whom, it must be said, is not usually backward in coming forward, as we say in Yorkshire.

Durham Constabulary also seriously, gratuitously and repeatedly, libelled me. Aided and abetted, incredibly, by the National Police Chiefs Council and, less surprisingly, North Yorkshire Police, over a freedom of information request that, ultimately, revealed a badly organised and shamelessly poor fraud investigation, carried out by Durham, on behalf of the latter, that is still, to this present day, the subject of a multi-agency ‘cover-up’.

Over £2,500 was spent in legal fees preparing a defamation claim against Mike Barton and Durham, but that was abandoned on counsel’s advice which was, essentially: ‘They have plainly libelled you, but will bleed you white on costs’.

A prescient remark, given what has transpired subsequently in other legal proceedings between us: Mr Barton and I will face one another in county court later this year. A claim under section 13(2) of the Data Protection Act, 1998 rests, presently, with Durham County Court (the third court to have dealt with the matter). He has, already, tried to circumvent the court’s mediation process on *three* separate occasions, and, instead, spent around £5,000 on legal fees, with a large Sheffield law firm and a London barrister, in a hopelessly misconceived defence of the claim. Which he would be perfectly entitled to do, of course, if it was his own money he was squandering. But it isn’t. It belongs to the hard-working precept payers of County Durham and Mr Barton should, in all truth, take better care of it.

[UPDATE ** Five days after this article was published I received an email from Small Claims Mediation Service (SCMS) to say the chief constable had, yet again, rejected mediation, in spite of a judge’s Direction to seek resolution by those means.]

The final cost, if the matter goes to trial, and Barton being cross-examined, by me, is something to be relished if it does, is likely to be well in excess of £10,000. To settle the claim would require a fraction of that cost, together with an admission of the breach, and an apology.

But there we are, that is how money-no-object, don’t-blame-me policing operates at the highest levels in this country. I see it every day with the three Yorkshire police forces with whom I’m closely involved.

For all these reasons, and the fact that I propose to provide a relevant, and collateral, witness statement to Durham, regarding well-evidenced integrity concerns around Ian Hopkins’ stewardship of GMP, in which I am both a significant stakeholder and a target for harassment by GMP senior managers, an even more keen eye than usual will be kept on the investigation into this complaint against the under-siege Greater Manchester chief constable. Made by, arguably, the country’s best known police whistleblower.

[***UPDATE. Information has been passed to me, by a bereaved complainant, of another sub-optimal Durham PSD investigation where dishonesty and/or deception may well be a factor. The evidence includes covert tape recordings of telephone conversations and meetings. Taken at their face they are concerning, to say the least.]

[****UPDATE. More information has come to light from another complainant who has very strong evidence of alleged, and potentially very serious, breaches of Standards of Professional Behaviour by Durham PSD. Darren Ellis is well aware of these as he, personally, refused to meet with the complainant. A sensible, measured, reasonable, but doggedly persistent, individual.]

[*****I wrote to Silver Command, civilian investigator Darren Ellis, on 20th February, 2019, to express concerns over both his own conduct and Durham’s suitability to carry out this investigation. His response was controversial to say the least (read more here)]

Greater Manchester Police and the Mayor’s office have been approached for comment. It will be something akin to turning wine into water if the latter even acknowledge the request.

Peter Jackson has declined to do so, in order to preserve the integrity of the Durham investigation.

Page last updated on Friday 22nd February, 2019 at 0020hrs

Picture credit: Scottish Parliament TV

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

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

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