The dreaded vote of confidence

She has acted with the utmost integrity“.

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

Except that she didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GMP’s press office provided these two statements:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Picture credit: Greater Manchester Police

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

Mystery of the ‘missing’ peer review

An important part of an investigative journalist’s armoury is the Freedom of Information Act, 2000. The essential principle being that public authorities, unless they can provide a good, and lawful, reason not to do so, must disclose information, upon request, by a member of the public. Or, indeed, a reporter chasing down an ‘exclusive’.

‘Public authorities’ includes police forces and policing bodies. With only one or two notable exceptions, the Act is routinely abused by the latter two.

For emphasis that is repeated, in terms: Law enforcement agencies disregard the dictates of Parliament and gang together, under the auspices of the National Police Chiefs Council, no less, to do so.

Unchallenged, it has to be said, by the very MP’s who are the country’s legislators. Or, by Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC’s) who are elected at the ballot box to provide oversight to chief constables. The latter may be connected to the fact that some PCC’s are also serial, and serious, FOI offenders. Aided and abetted by a woefully weak statutory regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and an even less efficient ‘inn of last resort’, the General Regulatory Chamber, First Tier Tribunal.

In short, policing bodies know, all too well, that there is no easy remedy if they set out to frustrate a journalist in his, or her, quest for disclosure of documents that may underpin a vital public interest exposé, or search for the truth in, for example, the case of a miscarriage of justice.

One glaring, and increasingly high profile example of police forces abusing the Act, is the matter of a ‘peer review’ that was allegedly undertaken by the Metropolitan Police Service (the Met) on behalf of the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police (GMP).

A peer review is a process, guided by the College of Policing, by which police forces frequently invite counterparts, and specialists, from neighbouring constabularies to evaluate their operational performance. Peer reviews, it is said, completely absent of evidence, support the principle of police interoperability, continuous improvement and information sharing.

Management-speak aside, a peer review is also a soft alternative to a robust, thorough investigation of wrongdoing in which ‘bad apples’ in police forces are plucked from the barrel and cast aside.

Shortly after his appointment as chief of the Manchester force, Ian Hopkins, trumpeted loudly about his intention to invite the Met to look into his troubled Professional Standards Board (PSB), which had been dogged by scandal after scandal over the preceding three years, or so. Including, for example, unlawful hacking of phones belonging to members of public; alteration of witness statements; failure to disclose evidence in civil and criminal court proceedings. All very topical, and serious criminal offences, to boot.

He told the Manchester Evening News: “I have asked for a peer review, by another force, to look at how the Professional Standards Branch and Counter Corruption Unit operate – and to see if there is any learning from other parts of the country about the way we operate that maybe we can be doing differently.”

Both departments had been inspected by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) ‘about three times’ in the last few years and concluded they are ‘very good’, the chief added. It is relevant to point out that HMIC is another policing body that abuses the Act and, quite separately, there is considerable doubt, across a much wider spectrum, as to the effectiveness and efficiency of their inspections. The Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Thomas Winsor, is deeply disrespected, and subjected to childish ridicule, by very many serving, and retired, police officers across the country. If the general public was more widely aware of the concerns over the Queen’s representative, there would be a huge outcry.

Hopkins went on to defend the work of the department – feared and loathed by some inside GMP, it is said – and added: “What we are increasingly seeing is that, rather than people accounting for their own actions, they are attacking those people who are told to do that investigation.”

The chief constable pointed to ‘a number of individuals who are disgruntled and have raised issues’. He was, no doubt, referring to such as ex-Superintendent John Buttress, whom, on many independent views, was the subject of what amounted to a crudely executed, disproportionately pursued ‘witch-hunt’ by GMP – and Paul Bailey, the very well-respected former Chair of the National Black Police Association, who was a constant thorn in the side of the command team in GMP.

“We want to make sure, if we get things wrong, or if people have behaved badly, or broken the law, then they are held to account for it,” the chief constable concluded.

Fine words but the reality is very, very different, as anyone close to GMP knows.

So, put shortly, the view advanced by Hopkins was that GMP’s PSB was functioning well, there was not really a problem – and he would ask another police force to carry out a review to prove his point. Which is, in terms, that the issue is confined to disgruntled officers making a lot of white noise.

The peer review, Hopkins said, would last SIX WEEKS. Note that carefully. But, to some, that might have seemed short enough, given the nature and scale of the corruption allegations made against GMP’s troubled PSB.

That was the last public pronouncement made by Hopkins and there has been no visible follow up by the local newspaper, or its crime reporter, John Scheerhout. Whom a number of GMP’s critics perceive to be too close to the force to effectively perform the “social watchdog” role of a journalist. Underpinned, at least in part, by the appearance of a string of stories in The Times and Sunday Times, sourced by the country’s most visible, and effective, police whistleblower, ex-GMP Superintendent Pete Jackson.

This series of front page splashes, and double page spreads, led to a leader being run by the country’s ‘newspaper of record’, in February 2018, calling for a public inquiry into the many high profile failings of Greater Manchester Police. Since then, there has been another two pieces run by The Times, in June 2018, the second of which, effectively, calls out Hopkins for a dishonest response to the first. Times reporter, Fiona Hamilton, pulled no punches as she ripped into the cornered chief constable.

It is a quite extraordinary state of affairs. In both cases the source was, again, Pete Jackson. Manchester’s best detective, and head of the Major Enquiry Team, when he retired from the force.

GMP has also been under constant attack by the BBC, who have produced a number of radio and television programmes featuring alleged wrongdoing by the force. Inside Out producer, Neil Morrow, is a strong, articulate, well-reasoned critic of the running of the force, particularly on social media. ITV’s award-winning presenter, Matt O’Donoghue, is another. Having worked at close quarters with the bereaved families of Jordon Begley and Anthony Grainger, Matt knows a great deal more than most about the inner workings, and ‘cover-up’ mentality, of GMP.

A piece highlighting the shenanigans over this peer review was due to appear in Private Eye on Wednesday 7th November, 2018. That has been written by another highly respected journalist, presenter and producer, Mark Gregory. It may yet appear, of course. Even in a modified form, once the final piece of police disclosure fits into this increasingly complex jigsaw.

Returning to the peer review, the significance of which will unfold, there has been a good deal of activity via freedom of information requests: The first on this topic was made in August, 2016 by William Crow. The response was “GMP can confirm that a peer review was undertaken by the MPS and the report is currently being drafted by them, with the lead being Supt Gary Randall.  The report will include the terms of reference and findings, and will be presented to GMP when completed”. It was supplemented, following a complaint, by this explanation: “Apologies – I did not think we held this information. It has now been confirmed to me that the review took place on the 9th-10th May 2016”.

That disclosure was important. It revealed, taken at its face, that a six week review had taken just TWO DAYS. But as will become clear, the disclosure officer’s addendum will assume much greater significance “I did not think we held this information

A second request on this topic to GMP, made by the author of this piece, in August, 2016, and not finalised until the end of November, 2016 ran counter to that first request. A list of outside police force investigations, and peer reviews, belatedly provided by GMP in its response, did NOT include the Met peer review requested by chief constable Hopkins. It disclosed just two investigations: one each by Kent and Durham constabularies. The former almost certain to be the inquiry into corruption allegations made by John Buttress. That stated absence of data held, concerning the ill-starred Metropolitan Police peer review, also assumes importance as this story unfolds.

A similar request was made, simultaneously, to the three Yorkshire police forces, concerning outside force investigations, all of which can be characterised as troubled and time consuming. Including the perennially hopeless North Yorkshire Police being forced, by formal notice, to respond by the ICO, and, as such, amidst this maelstrom, the significance of the GMP misrepresentation was, regrettably, overlooked.

In June 2017, Mr Crow returned to the fray and the matter of the peer review was raised again via a FOI request. The GMP output was helpful to a degree, and disclosed that Supt Randall was part of a team of four; the GMP officers said to be involved were Head of PSB, Chief Superintendent Annette Anderson, Randall’s direct contact, and Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling. The terms of reference for the review had been drafted by the Met, and were part of the final report. GMP concluded by saying that “there is no intended date for publication of this document”. Which, may yet, prove to be a particularly clever choice of words.

At this point, there is still no intervention by the local newspaper, almost two years after their front page splash. Which now looked, increasingly, like a hollow GMP public relations exercise, in which Hopkins had tossed the local ‘social watchdogs’ (as journalists are sometimes dubbed) a tasty bone to keep them quiet.

After the furore over the Hopkins ‘lie’ about the first of the two The Times articles in June, 2018 it was decided, by the author of this piece and Pete Jackson, to re-visit the matter of the Hopkins/Met peer review. The lack of output by the force, and the local newspaper, was suspicious – and a quick assessment of the information available, via both open source and other documents sourced by each of the two, warranted a more in-depth investigation. This was to be assisted by drawing on the knowledge of a network of police and journalist sources – and another two FOI requests. One to the Met (in the event, it actually became two) and one to GMP.

The peer review ‘net’ was closing on Hopkins and GMP. It was not realised at the time that some big Metropolitan Police ‘fish’ might became snared, too.

The first request was made to the Met on 23rd July, 2018 and the second to GMP on 29th August, 2018. The latter is much the simpler to report upon: GMP have ignored the request completely. No acknowledgement, no finalisation, no explanation, no apology. NOTHING. The Independent Office for Police Conduct has, effectively, forced GMP to record a conduct complaint against their head of the information disclosure unit – and the ICO will shortly be issuing an enforcement notice compelling GMP to answer the request.

The inference being, of course, that to respond to the request is almost certain to disclose wrongdoing by very senior officers within GMP. Notably, the two Ians, Hopkins and Pilling.

This is the request in full:

“Dear Greater Manchester Police (GMP),

Please disclose, by way of the Freedom of Information Act, the following information:

1. Date of hot debrief given by Supt Gary Randall of Metropolitan Police (Met) and copies of notes taken at that meeting and/or reports made afterwards.

2. Pocket note book, or day book, entries of GMP officers present at debrief that relate to their attendance at/participation in the debrief.

3. Copy of Peer Review Terms of Reference (ToR) agreed between DCC Ian Pilling and DAC Fiona Taylor, together with email and/or letter correspondence between those two officers pertaining to the Peer Review ToR’s.

4. Copy of Peer Review report delivered by Met to GMP. If it is intended to rely on any exemptions under the Act then I request that the following information is disclosed pending appeal against such exemption(s).
a. Date of report
b. Date received by GMP
c. Copy of Met’s covering letter that accompanied the report.
d. Number of pages that comprise the report, excluding any annex, appendices.

5. Copy of any post-Peer Review report correspondence between DCC Pilling and/or DAC Taylor and Supt Randall.

Yours faithfully,

Neil Wilby
Investigative journalist”

The reader is invited to draw their own conclusions of the efficacy of that request and the likelihood of the dire consequences in responding.

The responses to information request to the Met, and its subsequent follow-up request, have also been, on any view, disappointing and frustrating. A sorry tale of deceit and subterfuge that exposes the country’s largest police force, once revered as ‘Scotland Yard‘, as a dishonest, incompetent shambles who will, it seems, go to any lengths, and put, often unsuspecting, junior officers in the firing line to avoid the exposure of senior officer misconduct.

This is the full text of the first request:

“Dear Metropolitan Police Service (MPS),

In November, 2015 there was widespread press, and broadcast, publicity concerning an announcement by the chief constable of GMP that he had invited the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) to conduct a review of the operations of his PSB.

https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/…

In this regard, please provide the following information:

1. Date the Peer Review commenced.

2. The name(s)/rank(s) of the Gold Commander or Gold Command Group.

3. Date the Peer Review ended.

4. Date the Peer Review report was delivered to the GMP chief constable.

5. The operational name given to the Peer Review.

Yours faithfully,

Neil Wilby
Investigative journalist”

The sharp-eyed will spot that the answers to questions 1 and 3 were already available as open source material. But they were asked again as a ‘test’ of the veracity of the police responses. It was allocated a Met Freedom of Information Request Reference Number of 2018070000913. The response from the Met was suspiciously speedy and an Information Manager, Ian Burgess, said they did NOT hold ANY information about the GMP Peer Review at all. NOTHING.

At the time, that was viewed, understandably, as an outrageous lie and challenged accordingly. After all, GMP had provided responses ‘to the world’ (as all FOI responses are) that confirmed the existence of the peer review; named the investigating officer, the size of his team and the date it had taken place. But, as already discovered, all is not as it seems with this peer review. Nevertheless, the willingness of the police to lie about it is deeply troubling.

After receiving the complaint, the Met upheld it, changed their position and disclosed that information about the peer review is, in fact, held. Or, so they say.

The name of the person dealing with the complaint was, quite extraordinarly, redacted from the response. However, the Met now aligned themselves with earlier GMP responses and said that the peer review took place on 9th/10th May, 2016. There was no Gold Commander (or Gold Group) nominated and, it follows, no operational codename given to the investigation. The peer review report, or outcome, or both, was delivered to GMP on 22nd December, 2016, they said.

The officer who dealt with the internal review was Yvette Taylor, another Information Manager. Not, in any way, independent from the officer finalising the request, which places the Met in breach of the College of Policing’s Authorised Professional Practice and the same organisation’s Code of Ethics. Ms Taylor mis-spelled the name of the requester and, apart from that fundamental error, her response can be safely characterised as overly bullish; saying it was all just a mistake and denying that the Met had lied about not having any information about the peer review. On any independent review of the two responses, it would be hard to conclude otherwise. The first says one thing, the second says the complete opposite.

Having eked out of the Met that information was admitted as held, the second, ‘killer’, information request was made on 23rd August, 2018:

“Dear Metropolitan Police Service (MPS),

Having now established that disclosable information concerning the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) Peer Review is held by MPS DPS, may I please make a further request? I accept and understand that this second request will carry a different reference number and may attract exemptions, redactions under the Act. However, given the nature of the materials requested to be disclosed, and my experience as an information rights practitioner dealing almost exclusively with policing bodies, it is anticipated that the effects of such exemptions would be very limited indeed.

1. a. Copy of all email and letter correspondence between DAC Fiona Taylor and DCC Ian Pilling where the communication contains reference to the Peer Review.
b. Copy of all email and letter correspondence between Supt Gary Randall and any GMP officer where the communication contains reference to the Peer Review.

NB: In response to journalistic enquiries made of GMP’s press office, it has been confirmed that DAC Taylor and DCC Pilling were the two senior officers whom, between them, agreed the Terms of Reference for the Peer Review. In a previous FOI request finalisation on the WhatDoTheyKnow website, GMP disclosed that Supt Randall was the officer who carried out the Peer Review.

2. Copy of Terms of Reference

3. Copy of Final Report delivered by MPS to GMP on 22nd December, 2016.

4. Copy of any response(s) received by MPS from GMP after the delivery of the Peer Review.

5. Copy of amended Peer Review, if any such amendments were made.

Yours faithfully,

Neil Wilby
Investigative journalist”

The drafting of the information request was greatly aided by the response to a query put to the GMP press office immediately prior to submission of the FOI request. That had informed that Deputy Assistant Commissioner Fiona Taylor was the Met officer who set the terms of reference for the peer review, and had corresponded with Ian Pilling in so doing.

The FOI request is tightly drawn and involves, one might believe, information readily retreivable and disclosable. A report concerning a peer review that lasted just two days, which may have included travel to London and back, and, they say, a ‘hot debrief’, cannot amount to a great deal in terms of either content, or substance.

A well-informed police source has posited that the hot debrief might well have been an Oldham Road curry, and a few pints of lager, to send the Londoners on their way. It has also been hypothesised, on a more serious note, that if there was a hot debrief then it is likely that there was no intention by the Met to put anything to paper, subsequently.

GMP are a force, as seen in the recent ‘body parts’ scandal, acutely aware of the dangers of holding documents that could be disclosed under freedom of information law. They are prepared to burn them, it seems, rather than damage reputations of senior officers.

But a two day jaunt up to Manchester, a bit of ‘lessons learned’ patter, a jolly on the second night, and there you go: Job done. Peer reviewed. No paper trail, if awkward questions asked later by prying journalists.

Since the 23rd August, 2018 FOI submission, the Met has made a variety of excuses that, like the parallel GMP request, has necessitated the involvement of the IOPC and the ICO. A separate article on this website, ‘Your cheque is in the post‘ covers, in detail, the chronology and full extent of the deceit engaged in, by the Metropolitan Police, to avoid disclosure of the requested peer review information (read here).

Tension between requester and public authority is now palpable. The request is also, by now, attracting considerable attention, and comment, on the Twitter social media platform. The Times, meanwhile, contacted the author of this piece, and Pete Jackson, and said they wanted to run the story. But still no interest from the supine Manchester Evening News.

It is now clear that, without the intervention of third parties, the Met has no intention of complying with the law, and thus disclosing the requested information. On 26th October, 2018 the matter was reported to the ICO. Apart from an auto-response, that has drawn no reaction, whatsoever, from the toothless ‘watchdog’.

So, at the date this article is first published, on Sunday 11th November, 2018,  and as the nation stands silent to honour our fallen, particularly those in the Great War that ended one hundred years ago, so too does the Metropolitan Police and Greater Manchester Police. Over disclosure of the materials that will reveal one of three things:

1. The peer review never took place at all. Previous responses by GMP to requests about it were deliberately false and, correspondingly, the first response by the Met was, in fact, correct: They did not hold any information about the peer review, as stated in their information request finalisation on 8th August, 2018. It should also be noted that GMP in one of their first finalisations also said they didn’t hold any information. The request finalised in November, 2016 also made no mention of a peer review supposedly undertaken by the Met five months earlier.

2. The peer review did take place, but was a complete sham. A six week investigation, promised very loudly by chief constable Hopkins, was cut down to just two days. It is said to have taken place in May 2016. Six months after the ‘all guns blazing’ press announcement. The report of that review then took over SEVEN months to deliver from the Met to GMP. It can amount to very little, or nothing. Apart from the usual, all pals at the Palais, police investigating themselves, ‘whitewash’.

3. The peer review did take place, but there was never any intention to produce a closing report. The hot debrief was all that was planned, and then executed on the second of the two days that the Met were said to be carrying out the review. Supt Randall may also never have left his New Scotland Yard office. It may have been a systems review that was conducted electronically, with a debrief via video conference. A tick-in-a-box exercise that is a long, long way short of what GMP’s chief splashed on the front page of the local evening newspaper in November, 2015.

Manchester’s finest have already said they have no intention of publishing the report, yet GMP’s PSB is now engulfed in far worse scandals than they were in 2015. The Metropolitan Police, and almost certainly by now, the National Police Chiefs Council, are very likely colluding with GMP as to how reputational damage can now be limited, and the jobs of Ian Hopkins, and potentially, Ian Pilling can be saved.

If the peer review didn’t take place at Manchester HQ, and a large number of police sources cannot find a single GMP officer that can say that it did, then the only feasible redress is resignation by at least one of the big two chief officers, plus at least one senior Met officer who has taken part with GMP in the charade over the past three months. The list of suspects is small.

If the peer review did take place, then it could still prove the straw that breaks the proverbial back of Hopkins. His standing as a public figure, and, more crucially, as a warranted police officer, has been seriously undermined by the series of stories in The Times. He stands accused of lying about the infamous Operation Poppy investigations. In the circumstances outlined in this piece, he would have conned the public of Greater Manchester over another promised investigation. Whilst all the time the dire situation in PSD – whatever spin he might try to put on it – just goes from very bad to even worse. The chief constable’s position would, on any view outside of the police service, be untenable. Within his own force, and on the fringes, the private view of a significant number officers, past and present, is that he does not have the requisite competencies, and unimpeachable integrity, to lead the Manchester police. The peer review debacle very much underscores that view.

But the real losers in this sorry saga are the taxpaying public, whose confidence in the country’s two largest police forces is certain to receive another knock and their belief in MP’s, and other elected officials, such as the Mayors of both Manchester and London, further undermined as they all stand idly by whilst Acts of Parliament are ransacked by those they are paid to hold to account.

This is a story that, quite obviously, has still some way to run.

 

Page last updated on Monday 26th November, 2018 at 0650hrs

Picture credit: The Guardian Media Group

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