Democracy dies another death

Just a few short weeks after publication of one of the most damning civil court judgments I’ve read in recent times, the council at the centre of that legal storm are in the news again: For all the wrong reasons.

North Yorkshire County Council, based in sleepy Northallerton , is the host Authority for the North Yorkshire Police and Crime Scrutiny Panel. It receives a substantial Home Office grant for its trouble.

jobs_workingforus
Constructed in the early 1900’s by architect Walter Brierley, the Grade 2 listed County Hall at Northallerton has, also, previously seen service as a Red Cross hospital and as a temporary wartime home for the local grammar school.

The senior officer in charge of the Panel Secretariat is Barry Khan, a qualified solicitor who also fulfils other roles within the county council: Assistant Chief Executive; Head of Legal and Democratic Services; and Monitoring Officer. He moved to North Yorkshire in 2014 after previously working for Stockport Council.

Khan’s short incumbency at Northallerton has not been without controversy. Apart from the desperately shocking Jeanine Blamires case [1], there has been an alleged ‘stonewalling’ over child safeguarding failures in at least one school in the quaint seaside town of Whitby.

His previous role as Solicitor and Monitoring Officer at Stockport Borough Council was not plain sailing, either. Most notably, over peaceful protester Michael Parnell, who died following a period where he had been repeatedly arrested, detained but was, eventually, cleared after a three day Crown court trial [2].

Khan’s role in the mistreatment of Parnell, particularly in securing a restraining order against Mr Parnell to prevent him protesting, has not been subject to complaint or application, as far as can be traced. But Mr Parnell’s supporters, including democracy campaigner, Sheila Oliver, continue to express disquiet over the council’s contribution to the illness that led to his death. On any view, it is a troubling case.

In my own sporadic, direct dealings with Khan there have been no notable communication issues. But, that is definitely not the case with the staff deployed beneath him in the Secretariat hierarchy:

I have been lied to by Ray Busby (for which I received an apology); addressed inappropriately by the same officer (for which I received another apology); had personal data released onto a public forum by Diane Parsons (a matter denied by the Secretariat and currently under investigation by the Information Commissioner) and treated to a display of ignorance and stubbornness over the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 2000, by the same officer, that simply beggars belief. To the extent that it would be a relatively easy step, given the history, to infer that the intention of the Secretariat was to vex, annoy and harass.

That history also includes a complaint that I made against Julia Mulligan, in July 2015, that concerned the failure of the Police Commissioner to hold the Chief Constable, Dave Jones, to account over a number of issues that included inter alia:

The £1 million funding of failed harassment prosecutions and a civil claim mounted by four very senior police officers and a political crony, Jane Kenyon [2a]; Poor communication/engagement: 101 service; Non-compliant Freedom of Information Act finalisations; Failure to publish Decision Notices:

The complaints were not upheld by the Panel, despite subsequent events proving, beyond doubt, that each one of those matters was, in fact, validly raised. In most cases, accompanied by seriously adverse publicity for the Commissioner, or the force. Or both.

The fact that I succeeded in a county court claim against the Police Commissioner, in February 2017, over data protection breach, has never appeared in Panel minutes either. Neither has reference to the £20,000 plus of public funds expended on defending that claim, and a parallel one against the Chief Constable.

More recent Panel failings include the chief executive farrago. Again, costing precept payers a fortune (latest estimates suggest a figure close to £80,000). Substantive post holder, Joanna Carter, is believed not to have been in post since very early in 2016. There have been two temporary ‘replacements’ variously imported from other PCC’s as acting, or interim, chief executive. Both Simon Dennis and Fraser Sampson, it is fair to say, arrived on the scene with ‘baggage’. Sampson and I clashed, repeatedly, during his tenure at, firstly, the disgraced West Yorkshire Police Authority and, later, the Office of the Police and Commissioner for West Yorkshire.

All questions to the North Yorkshire Commissioner’s office, concerning the absence of Ms Carter, are resolutely stonewalled: Even when they are legally obliged to provide answers, by way of an FOIA request [2b]. An insider has said that questions put by the Panel to the Commissioner, and Sampson, about Ms Carter’s unavailability have been fobbed off (unreported in the minutes it must be said). Another well-placed source says that Ms Carter signed off ill with stress, as a result of a series of disagreements with her ‘high-handed’ employer.

With Sampson now in post until 2019, the presumption is that Joanna Carter is not returning and, quite possibly, in legal dispute with Julia Mulligan. If this is the case, and absence of hard information only fuels speculation, then either a compromise agreement, or Tribunal proceedings, is going to cost the precept payer a mighty sum. Which would, of course, explain the wall of silence around the issue.

These are precisely the issues over which the Panel should be holding the PCC to account but, yet again, the meeting minutes (and Decision Notice) are silent on the fate of Ms Carter, a statutory appointment, and, as such, open to particular scrutiny.

It was a similar situation over the appointment of Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, Will Naylor. It is established, beyond doubt, that Naylor embroidered his employment history and had little, or no, relevant experience in taking on the role. Other than as a Conservative Party policy wonk [3].

There were also serious concerns about the recruitment process for the Deputy role, which had all the appearance of a well-orchestrated sham. The upshot was that, in a rare flexing of scrutiny muscle, the Panel decided that the confirmation of Naylor’s appointment was conditional of sight of a personal development plan, and a six month trial period, after which he would appear before the Panel. Which all sounded fine, until Mrs Mulligan unilaterally decided that the plan wouldn’t be produced after all – and Naylor didn’t appear before the Panel as scheduled to have his capabilities, qualifications, performance further examined [4].

Another scandal to surface very recently, unscrutinised, is the dramatic increase in office costs of the profligate PCC. In one year, ending March 2017, they have risen from £741,000 to £908,000. Over 20%. Which does not include the legal costs referred to above, which are tucked away elsewhere in the accounts. This flies in the face of what Mrs Mulligan told the Panel when the decision to have a Deputy was thrust upon them, unannounced, last September. There has been nothing, whatsoever, noted in the Panel meeting minutes, or any warning given by the PCC, that such a steep rise was on the cards.

NYPCC office costs 2016-17

But the most recent scrutiny fail concerns a remarkable refusal to accept a public question, from myself, at the Panel meeting which took place on 20th July, 2017. This was the question exactly as framed:

Freedom of Information Act compliance
 
(A) Statement
In July and September 2015, in response to a complaint and a public question made by me, these were amongst the submissions made by Joanna Carter, the chief executive at the time.
(i) At page 18 of the complaint response it was said:
“The Commissioner would agree that the FOI performance could improve, and that the quality of answers given on occasion could also improve….”
(ii) At page of the PQT response it was said:
“All FOIA’s, including any relating to this issue (Operations Rome and Hyson) are routinely published on the NYP/NYPCC website”.
Since those answers were provided,
(i) It is evident that not all requests relating to Operation Hyson and Rome were not published on the force disclosure log. Indeed, it is the regular practice of the force to conceal requests that may be perceived as causing reputational damage.
(iv) The force has refused an information request from me to establish the extent of the issue. A matter presently before the Information Commissioner (see attached WhatDoTheyKnow file).
(v) FOIA performance has worsened. To the extent that over 500 requests per annum are finalised unlawfully (See attached FOIA finalisation). That is a quantitative analysis, the figure would be much higher addressed qualitatively. Poor quality finalisations still feature regularly.
(vi) The Information Commissioner has indicated within Tribunal proceedings that the Civil Disclosure Unit are now under a monitoring regime as a result of poor performance (I have requested disclosure from them of more complete details).
(vii) If the oral and written submissions of the police lawyer running the CDU, to both the County Court and the First Tier Tibunal, are to be believed there are now less staff deployed in that Unit, than two years ago.
(viii) The Commissioner and the Chief Constable are both spending substantial amounts of public funds defending civil claims and Tribunal proceedings concerning FOIA where, on their face, the prime motivation is to avoid scrutiny and reputational harm, rather than the preservation of information rights. In the past year that figure, in my own knowledge exceeds £30,000 with the potential for that figure to double in the present financial year.
(B) Question
What steps has the Commissioner taken to:
(i)   Apprise herself of the extent of the non-compliance issues extant within the Civil Discloure Unit?
(ii)  Hold the Chief Constable to account over these long-term, repeated failings to comply with the law and use of public funds?
(iii) Keep the Panel informed?

Firstly, the email sending the question and supporting documents was intercepted and quarantined.

The Panel Secretariat, in the form of the aforementioned Diane Parsons, came back the following day and refused permission to ask the question. She said: “Having consulted the Panel Chair on your submission, I regret that the Panel are therefore unable to take your questions at the meeting this week.  However, I have passed your correspondence and attachments to the OPCC so that they are aware of the concerns you have raised“.

The rationale appeared to be that these were not matters with which the Scrutiny Panel need concern themselves: “To clarify, the purpose of PQT is to enable members of the public who live, work or study in North Yorkshire to engage directly with the Panel and pose questions on its remit and functions.  I have attached, if helpful, a copy of the Panel’s guidelines on PQT.  Any statements or concerns which you feel require the attention of the Commissioner would need to be directed through her office“.

The email from Ms Parsons, unusually, was comprised of three different fonts, and had obviously passed through a number of hands before she was elected as message bearer. The unseen hand of Barry Khan was, no doubt, part of the behind-the-scenes subterfuge.

As a card-carrying member of the press, the residency issue is a non-starter; I have previously posed a question to the same Panel: complaints against the PCC have also been considered by the same Panel; and on any reasonable, independent view the questions I posed met the Panels own guidelines or, even if the Panel felt they did not, modification was a very simple process.

But that, plainly, did not suit the Panel, or its Secretariat’s, purpose. To conceal their own failings as a scrutiny body, yet again, was clearly paramount. There was also what some might view as an unattractive element of childishness implicit within the response – and the intercepting of the email even before it reached the intended recipient. Which rather suggests that North Yorkshire County Council are interfering with my communications.

Following the re-direction of the public questions to the Police Commissioner’s office there has been a deathly silence. Which has also been the case from Deputy Chair of the Panel, Ashley Mason, who was passed full details of the questions prior to the Panel meeting taking place, by a well-known local democracy campaigner. Cllr Mason was rather more loquacious when, as if on cue, another unmitigated 101 disaster befell NYP during the first week of August, 2017 [4a].

This is a story that has some way to run yet as more information is passed to me by a source close to the Panel. This includes the claim, surprising to me at least, that the Panel chair, Cllr Carl Les, and the PCC do not see eye to eye, and that at least one conscripted Panel Member is very reluctant to take on her duties, having been pressed into service following the abrupt departure of another Member last year. A situation that chimes with a number of senior Conservative figures turning on Mrs Mulligan over her ‘crazy’ plans to take control of the North Yorkshire fire service [5].

There are also, it is said, serious frustrations at the PCC’s frequent refusal to provide requested documents, information to the Panel Secretariat. Again, a matter unreported in the minutes. There is also another controversy concerning the minutes as they are sometimes not, according to my source, a true record of what actually transpired at the Panel meetings. That would fit, certainly, with the known modus operandum of Fraser Sampson.

North Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel is, obviously, not a happy ship and needs an rapid overhaul, tip to stern.

The Police Commissioner’s office and the Panel Secretariat have both been approached for comment. Neither acknowledged the request.

Page last updated: Wednesday 2nd August, 2017 at 1745hrs

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.

[1] Leeds County Court, 21st June, 2017: Judgment of District Judge Joanna Geddes in Jeanine Blamires -v- Local Government Ombudsman

[2] Manchester Evening News, 19th September, 2013: ‘Protester who held three year vigil outside Stockport Town Hall dies

[3] Neil Wilby, 22nd October, 2016: ‘Where there’s a Will there’s a way

[4] Neil Wilby, 23rd November, 2016: ‘Pick of the crop’

[4a] York Press: 4th August, 2017: Police apologise after telling public NOT to call 101

[5] Harrogate Advertiser, 25th July, 2017: ‘Police tsar plan for fire service branded ‘crazy”

© Neil Wilby 2015-2016. Unauthorised use or reproduction of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from and links to the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Pick of the crop?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] The Guardian: Situations vacant rate card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright: Neil Wilby 2015-2016. Unauthorised use or reproduction of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from and links to the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Chief Constable and Police Commissioner face court action over persistent data and information breaches

County Court claims have been filed naming Julia Mulligan, the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire and her Chief Constable, Dave Jones, as defendants over persistent breaches of both the Data Protection Act, 1998 and the Freedom of Information Act, 2000.

The court action in both cases has been taken out by investigative journalist, Neil Wilby.

Recovery of costs of the time spent dealing with both the PCC’s office, and the police force’s Civil Disclosure Unit, over their failure to comply with the law over two data subject access and eleven freedom of information requests is claimed.

One information request made by Mr Wilby took 373 days before a response was given. The request simply asked for the number of sergeants in the force with the surname ‘Smith’.

A court order compelling the Commissioner and the Chief Constable to lawfully dispose of the data and information requests within 14 days is also sought.

foia2000

The PCC’s acting Chief Executive, Simon Dennis, initially instructed Joint Corporate Legal Services, which serves both the police force and the PCC’s office, to respond to the claim.

Acting Force Solicitor and Head of Legal Services, Jane Wintermeyer, confirmed receipt of those instructions from the PCC and intimated that her department would also deal with the claim against the Chief Constable, once it has been served on him by the court.

Mrs Wintermeyer also says: “The Civil Disclosure Unit are (sic) continuing to deal with the  outstanding Subject Access Request, FOI’s and Reviews and will revert as soon as they can”. Which is, on any reasonable view, a frank admission that the PCC and the force are operating outside of the law in dealing with Mr Wilby’s requests.

However, following objections raised by Mr Wilby to both Mr Dennis and the Chief Constable, Mrs Wintermeyer was replaced by an outside firm of solicitors. Leeds law firm, Weightmans, has filed the acknowledgement of service with the court. The protest against the involvement of Mrs Wintermeyer was grounded in the fact that she is presently the subject of two serious, and unresolved, conduct complaints.

The involvement of Weightmans has already proved controversial. Their senior partner, Nick Collins, who is handling the claim had, in early skirmishes, made the quite astonishing assertion that ALL of Mr Wilby’s freedom of information requests were classified by both North Yorkshire Police and the PCC’s office as “vexatious”. He has since withdrawn the allegation, confirmed that NONE of the requests were in fact vexatious, and offered a retraction and an apology. He claims that he was NOT acting on instructions from the police or the Commissoner’s office when making this outrageous and offensive claim – and that he simply made it up himself.

Unperturbed, the errant lawyer then ventures into the area of “vexatious” data subject access requests. Data access is governed by S7 of the Data Protection Act and the concept of a “vexatious” request under the Act would test even the most experienced data practitioners. There is certainly no legal precedent that is readily accessible and, despite being invited to provide one, Mr Collins has so far declined to do so.

As Mr Wilby has only ever made one data request each to North Yorkshire Police and the PCC – neither of which are finalised appropriately several months later – it is difficult to see where Mr Collins is going with this inference.

There has, however, been no retraction of another wild, unevidenced assertion by Mr Collins to the effect that the “large” number of information requests made by Mr Wilby (a total of nineteen in two years by an investigative journalist to two different data controllers) was a significant factor in causing 500+ other requests per year to be finalised outside of the statutory period. Made all the more incredible by that fact that published data shows non-compliance was at its worst before Mr Wilby made his first of those requests in September 2014.

To top that all off, Mr Collins asserts that his clients have not broken the law: In the face of the most compelling and overwhelming evidence. He is refusing to say whether he is acting on instructions from the police, and the PCC, in order to make such claims or, as with the false ‘vexatious’ submission, he has simply made this up himself, as well.

But the biggest difficulty of all faced by Mr Collins is that he has signed Statements of Truth, below the two Defence documents filed on behalf of the Chief Constable, and the Police Commissioner, that are both palpably false. It would also be difficult to persuade a judge that he had an honest belief in their truth, given what he has alleged and then later admitted.

He is presently the subject of a complaint to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority – and Mr Wilby has invited the court, in his Reply to Defence, to apply sanctions against Mr Collins under Civil Procedure Rule 32.14 which deals with false witness evidence (see below).

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 21.12.30

All these shenanigans, which have also included peremptory, dark threats as to the financial consequences to Mr Wilby of not abandoning the claims, have already cost the North Yorkshire precept payer a sum estimated to be in excess of £20,000. Weightmans were invited, as a matter relevant to the issues in dispute, and to the proportionality of their defence, to state exactly how much has been charged. They have, so far, declined to do so. Indeed, they didn’t even have the courtesy to acknowledge the email bearing the request.

Poor communication, and lack of candour, by Mr Collins is a recurrent feature of Mr Wilby’s interaction with him, which reflects poorly on the professionalism of that law firm. That is also, it seems, reflected higher up the Weightmans food chain. In an increasingly tetchy interchange with their partner responsible for regulatory matters, James Holman, the firm refused to tell Mr Wilby, even when pressed on the subject, whether Mr Collins faced sanction internally over his conduct. In those circumstances, the working hypothesis has to be that there is nothing of this nature in the offing.

Mr Holman also insisted that having to be nudged for a response over a complaint of this seriousness did not constitute discourtesy. Mr Wilby has, sensibly, agreed to disagree with him.

Weightmans have, however, pledged to co-operate with the SRA’s investigation into the conduct of Mr Collins.

Freedom of information requests were made necessary to establish how much is being spent on defending these claims, by the police and the PCC, via their big city lawyers. Full details of both of these requests can be read here and here. The information requests also sought to establish which senior NYP and NYPCC officers are giving instructions to Mr Collins. Which, in itself, was expected to be revelatory. No information has been forthcoming. The original requests were the subject of an internal review prior to the matter being referred as a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Some weeks ago, in an effort to resolve matters, Mr Wilby suggested that the total sum sought, in both of his claims, for his loss of earnings and disbursements (the grand total of £385), be donated to a charity of the Chief Constable’s choice. That, so far, has proved unacceptable to the profligate Chief, and his Commissioner, as a means of settling the matter.

There is also an issue with the form of words concerning the declaration of the court, sought by Mr Wilby, to the effect that the police and the PCC have both acted unlawfully, and the future remedy for such conduct. The fact that both the police and the PCC have continued to routinely break the law SINCE court proceedings were issued only serves to exacerbate the issue.

Interestingly, a complaint made by Mr Wilby in July, 2015 concerning Mrs Mulligan’s failure to hold the Chief Constable to account over Freedom of Information Act failings was NOT upheld by the Police and Crime Scrutiny Panel for North Yorkshire (PCP).

Between April 2012 and June 2015, NYP’s Civil Disclosure Unit failed to determine 1,558 (One thousand five hundred and fifty eight) freedom of information requests within the statutory 20 working day period. These figures, although known at the time by Mrs Mulligan, were not disclosed to the PCP in her formal response to Mr Wilby’s complaint. That matter will be re-addressed at the conclusion of the present court proceedings. Alongside a complaint from another journalist, Nigel Ward, who has an unfinalised information request dating back to 22nd February, 2015. Yes, 2015.

Mrs Mulligan now also has the unenviable record of a 100% failure rate over compliance in finalising data access requests. Over the past three years, there have also been a staggering 103 non-compliant data access requests finalised by the force. That might be a tough one for the PCP to find a workaround, when that fact is put to them formally about their ‘open and transparent’ PCC.

At a hearing on Monday 10th October, 2016, in  Huddersfield County Court, applications by the two policing chiefs to (i) transfer the claims to Leeds County Court before HHJ Gosnell (ii) strike out the claims or, (iii) alternatively, grant summary judgement in their favour were all dismissed.

The district judge found that there was a case to answer on the alleged breach by the chief contsable; an admission of breach by the police commissioner. It was also a finding that the matters concerning the information requests fell away, as their had been no formal application to allow in amended particulars, filed and served on 1st September, 2016, that went beyond the police chiefs’ defence grounded in S56 of the Freedom of Information Act. The judge did make the point that it was open to Mr Wilby to make a new claim against either police chief (or both), grounded in breach of duty, negligence and discrimination, rather than a breach of the Act per se.

The present claims against both the Chief Constable and the Police Commissioner were listed as back-to-back final hearings on the following morning before the same judge. They were represented by junior barrister, Sophie Mitchell, of St Paul’s Chambers in Leeds.

As on the previous day, Ms Mitchell did not distinguish herself. At the applications hearing she had attempted to hand a 16 page skeleton argument over to both the judge, and Mr Wilby, six minutes before the hearing. It was not accepted by either.

At the substantive hearings, Ms Mitchell produced a thick volume of legal authorities, of approximately 200 un-numbered pages, as the hearing was about to start. Whilst that was not, in itself, fatal to the administration of justice, the very late service – and unsatisfactory composition – of the trial bundle was. It had not reached the judge having only been despatched from Weightmans late on the previous Friday afternoon.

Mr Wilby was able to retrieve two sizeable lever arch files from his neighbour’s house (to where they had been delivered by the postal service on Saturday afternoon) at 7.30pm the previous evening. It is unclear when Ms Mitchell received her copy of the trial bundle but she claimed, to the astonishment of most of those present in the courtroom, that she hadn’t read it. In particular, Mr Wilby’s witness evidence around which the whole trial centred. At that point, the judge allowed a short adjournment for Ms Mitchell to read up on the case.

When court resumed, Ms Mitchell attempted to cross examine Mr Wilby over materials upon which the defence relied, but were not exhibited in the trial bundle. It was clear that proceedings could not continue in this fashion. The judge, accordingly, stood both of the cases down and made Orders for case management and re-listing.

The performance of both Mr Collins, in terms of the preparation for the trial and Ms Mitchell in how she prepared and advocated for her clients, both fell some way short of the professional standards that courts and litigation opponents can rightly expect. On this subject the last word goes to well known York-based governance adviser, Gwen Swinburn, who attended the adjourned final hearings:

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The Chief Constable, Mrs Mulligan and Mr Collins have all been approached for specific comment on this article. None of the three even had the courtesy to acknowledge the email carrying the request.

Mr Holman was also approached and his views have been taken into account when detailing the interaction with him, concerning the complaint against Mr Collins. He has asked Mr Wilby not to contact him further.

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Page last updated Thursday 13th October, 2016 at 1435hrs

© Neil Wilby 2015-2016. Unauthorised use or reproduction of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from and links to the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

The Inn of Last Resort

The oft-maligned police complaints system is well overdue for a complete overhaul. Much has been written on the topic, including by me. Particularly on the topic of the ludicrous and superfluous Code of Ethics propagated by the College of Policing (Read more here).

One of the noisiest champions of reform is Julia Mulligan, the newly re-elected Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire (pictured below). When we first met in August 2014, the topic dominated our conversation.

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My viewpoint, as an experienced police complaints advocate, is that reform is urgently required to change the focus from findings of misconduct, under a complex labyrinth of legislation, to one of ‘did the incident complained of occur’ and the police providing a swift and appropriate remedy.

In many of the cases in which I become involved a simple apology, at the outset, would have sufficed. The most famous of those was the case of well-known Wakefield businessman Anthony Ramsden, assaulted by PSU officers at Elland Road football stadium. Anthony went to the now-defunct Holbeck police station the following day, seeking only an apology, and was told by a senior officer: ‘You are wasting your time. This f*****g complaint is going nowhere’. Five woeful and hugely expensive police investigations, five IPCC appeals (four of which were upheld) and a judicial review application occupied the ensuing four years. Some of the findings of Deputy High Court Judge, Stephen Morris QC, are now regularly used authorities by the legal profession in civil cases involving the IPCC or police forces (Read full judgment here).

But the police preoccupation with not attaching blame to individual or groups of officers, or protecting the force’s reputation (perceived or otherwise), very often gets in the way of that. Lies and cover-up become embedded in the DNA of police forces. More crucially, gilt edged opportunities to enhance the public standing of the police – by dealing with complaints quickly, courteously and efficiently – are lost.

This statement broadly represents Julia’s position: ‘As it stands the police complaints system is broken.  It is bureaucratic, complex, slow and lacks independence. This can have profound consequences on individuals who may be in very difficult circumstances. Police officers, too, can wait months for complaints to be resolved, very often with a cloud hanging over their heads’.

But the truth of the matter is that her own office, based in a leafy Harrogate street, and the force’s Professional Standards Department are two of the worst offenders in abusing the police complaints system – and I have recent and damning evidence to prove that.

I have met Julia Mulligan twice over the past two years and find her likeable, charming and engaging. She is a Yorkshire hill farm girl made good, and no-one could doubt her commitment, and capacity for hard work, in her Commissioner role.

I also have boundless admiration for the caring and compassionate way in which she champions the cause of victims of crime and those with mental health issues in North Yorkshire. Victims of crime (and occasionally the mentally challenged) is the core focus of my work, too. But at the other end of the scale by opposing the police (and often the CPS) over miscarriages of justice. The most high profile of which is, of course, the soon to be heard appeal against the conviction of ex-PC Danny Major, following an outside police force investigation that I was instrumental in securing (read more on Operation Lamp here).

Our differences of opinion, usually expressed in cordial terms, concern how I view the discharging of Julia’s statutory function of holding the chief constable to account. She believes in the ‘partnership’ principle. I maintain that the chief constable ‘takes the mickey’ and keeps her in the dark on key issues, when it suits him.

For the past sixteen months my focus, as an investigative journalist, has been on police misconduct – and potential misfeasance – in the ranks of the North Yorkshire force. My attention was drawn away from the more familiar ground of West Yorkshire Police, and their across-the-Pennine neighbours in Greater Manchester, by a civil harassment claim mounted by NYP against two fellow journalists.

It has certainly been an eye opener, as my investigations into two NYP Operations, styled Rome and Hyson has uncovered a tangled web of lies, deceit and a grotesque misuse of public funds on the grand scale. Hyson is the codename given by NYP to the civil court action. Rome is the failed criminal investigation that preceded it.

I have written a number of forensic pieces on the topic which dig deep into the mire into which NYP have sunk over Rome and Hyson. Two of the most damning in the series can be read in full here and here.

North Yorkshire Police are, understandably, highly displeased at having their dirty washing aired in public in this way and, as a consequence, my work as a journalist is now obstructed at every turn – and I am smeared by senior officers whenever the opportunity arises. The police, more used to controlling a tame local and regional media, are simply not used to ‘push back’ from independent operators who refuse to be intimidated. I include fellow journalist and justice campaigner, Nigel Ward, in that group.

Nigel, incidentally, was the also the author of an informative North Yorkshire Enquirer ‘In My View’ piece on Julia Mulligan and the broken police complaints system. (Read in full here).

Formal misconduct complaints have been lodged, by both Nigel and myself, against a number of senior North Yorkshire officers as a result of their unethical and unprofessional conduct towards the two of us. These include outrageous, and entirely untrue, accusations by chief officers that we have conspired together to commit criminal offences and contempt of court. The formal complaint documents lodged by me can be viewed here. Nigel’s are in a similar vein.

Desperate not to have to refer the complaints to the IPCC, or face the prospect of an outside police force proportionately investigating the complaints and the wider shambles of Operations Rome and Hyson, the police and the PCC’s office have visited the Inn of Last Resort: Label the complaints as ‘vexatious’, ‘oppressive’ and an ‘abuse of the complaints system’. The outcome delivered by Simon Dennis, acting Chief Executive for PCC Julia Mulligan can be read in full here. A similar outcome was provided by DI Steve Fincham on behalf of the force.

In publishing documents this way, the public can decide for themselves the respective merits of the complaints, decisions not to record them and the appeals to the IPCC. Neither Nigel Ward, nor I, have anything to hide and it will be interesting to gauge the response of the police and PCC’s office to more dirty washing held up for public examination.

Most justice campaigners are familiar with the term ‘vexatious’ as at one time or another they, or complaints they have been made, will have been labelled as such. It is what public servants are trained to do. Particularly if they are Common Purpose graduates and they have run out of excuses as to why they will not deal with the complainant (or complaints) within the appropriate legislative or regulatory framework. The most spectacular example of this is Sir Dan Crompton labelling bereaved Hillsborough campaigners as ‘vindictive, vexatious and cruel’. Read my 2013 piece on this topic here.

Deeply disgusting and disgraceful though the unrepentant Crompton’s remarks were, they should be taken in the context that every day someone, somewhere, will be smeared by a public official as a ‘vexatious’ or ‘persistent’ complainant. Irrespective of the merits of their case. Inferring mental health issues is another favoured smear tactic.

This, sadly, is the society we live in today and it is only through the dignity and tenacity of the Hillsborough families and survivors that the landscape will now change – and those same smearing public officials brought more readily and efficiently to book.

Simon Dennis

Returning to the Ward and Wilby complaints, the police and PCC’s office were again not expecting a ‘push back’ from the two journalists, but robust appeals which make both Mr Dennis (pictured above), formerly Force Solicitor for North Yorkshire Police, and DI Fincham look foolish, grounded in their apparent lack of knowledge of applicable law, regulations and guidance have now been drafted and submitted to the IPCC.

My appeal to the IPCC against Mr Dennis’ decision not to record the complaints against Chief Constable Dave Jones can be read here.

The discovery that the two officers principally responsible for dealing with complaints for the force and the PCC’s office appear to be entirely unsuited to their respective roles might come as a shock to some. It shouldn’t to Julia Mulligan, as I’ve made my views publicly known to her via social media, and by way of two detailed letters.

My viewpoint is grounded in a number of other outcomes that not only disclose a prejudicial, discriminatory and harassing approach towards me at all times but, more alarmingly, show clearly that DI Fincham, in particular, doesn’t seemingly have much of a clue about what he is doing in the Professional Standards Department (PSD). Neither, it seems does T/Superintendent Maria Taylor who heads up NYP PSD – and appears to be out of her depth.

Or, alternatively, Fincham does – but is prepared to operate outside of regulations and guidelines to advance his career. A classic case in point was a serious complaint made against NYP’s Chief Financial Officer, Jane Palmer, that DI Fincham commandeered and then tried to dismiss as a local resolution matter, along with a half-hearted apology to me. The IPCC have now agreed with me that his actions were wholly inappropriate.

The latest attempt by Mr Dennis to dodge the recording of fully particularised, well evidenced complaints against NYP’s acting Force Solicitor, Jane Wintermeyer, includes the interesting proposition that an officer who is based at police HQ, has a collar number (3840), a NYP email address and, as far as I am able to discern, spends the entirety of her working days on NYP matters, does not fall under Police Regulations or the College of Policing’s Code of Ethics.

Mrs Wintermeyer is captured, in actual fact, by S12 (a) of the Police Reform Act, 2002. A fact of which Mr Dennis should have been aware as he was, himself, NYP Force Solicitor between 2004 and 2012. A period during which a number of scandals emerged concerning senior officers that led to NYP being described by a local MP as a “laughing stock”.

The ‘Mrs Wintermeyer doesn’t work for the police‘ argument was then supplemented with some other starkly threadbare reasoning concerning my reporting of the Operation Hyson fiasco, and other litigation that has not yet commenced. Mr Dennis contended, quite wrongly, that they could possibly be interpreted as grounds not to record and investigate what are very serious complaints.

Most telling of all was that this latest Simon Dennis correspondence was sent minus a URN (complaint reference). Which strongly suggests that this is another case where the decision not to record was made first, followed by a search for whatever reasons can be found to try to justify such a finding.

The fact that Mr Dennis did not disclose in the latest round of correspondence that he has direct oversight of Mrs Wintermeyer’s Force Solicitor role does not assist his own credibility, either.

The ‘vexatious’ argument was, of course, still a last resort option for Mr Dennis if all other reasoning failed. However, the deadline passed on 9th June, 2016 without him making any recording decision on the Wintermeyer complaint. This placed him outside the legislative framework, yet again.

It has also emerged, in correspondence with the IPCC’s lawyers, that Simon Dennis had no delegated power to be dealing with the complaint. Regulation 2 of IPCC (Complaints and Misconduct) (Contractors) Regulations 2015 (Contractor Regulations) requires the chief officer of the police force to do so.

So, yet another non-recording appeal has been submitted to the IPCC, wasting even more time and public money. It is certain to be upheld, much to the growing embarassment of both Mr Dennis and his employer, Julia Mulligan, who has described her Chief Executive’s efforts as ‘appropriate, professional and diligent’ in dealing with the complaints in issue.

Make no mistake: Those are words that will come back to haunt the PCC and her right hand man.

Both Nigel Ward and I have made separate, and well grounded, representations to the IPCC to have DI Fincham, a former Leeds Drug Squad officer, removed from his PSD post. Confidence in the police complaints system cannot be retained whilst he has a role in it.

If the IPCC uphold the appeals against the various outcomes delivered by Mr Dennis – plus the no decision farrago – then it is, also, hard to see how his position can remain tenable. The ‘doesn’t work for NYP’ shenanigans over the Wintermeyer complaints do not assist his prospects of a lengthy tenure, either.

Representations have also been made to the IPCC about the role of Mr Dennis in dealing with complaints. He has already admitted to the police watchdog that he has adopted an Appropriate Authority role in the Wintermeyer complaints for which he has no delegated powers.

Right of reply was offered to both Mr Dennis and DI Fincham when this article was first published on 22nd May, 2016. No comment has been forthcoming from either.

Mrs Mulligan was also approached for comment on 15th June, 2016 concerning her confidence in the ability of both her substantive and acting Chief Executive to operate within the appropriate legislative framework in dealing with complaints. None has been forthcoming, to date.

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Page last updated: Friday 17th June, 2016 at 1841hrs

© Neil Wilby 2015-2016. Unauthorised use or reproduction of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from and links to the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Photo credits: NYPCC; LinkedIn