Deceit and subterfuge underpinned PCC’s decision to fund chief’s civil claim

Much has been written elsewhere, almost exclusively by me, concerning the North Yorkshire Police investigations codenamed Operations Rome and Hyson. The satirical magazine Private Eye did, however, break mainstream media ranks and publish an article in the last week of August, 2016 [1].

The Eye piece is a scathing condemnation of the failed criminal investigation (Rome), then the civil action (Hyson), mounted by Dave ‘Knacker’ Jones, North Yorkshire Police’s chief constable, against citizen journalists who were criticising his force.

This latest article of mine looks more closely at the deceit and subterfuge that surrounded the formal decision by Julia Mulligan, the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire, to use a huge amount of public funds to allow three high ranking police officers,  including Jones, one retired detective superintendent and a former Chair of North Yorkshire Police Authority in pursuit of harassment claims against two citizen journalists and a justice campaigner.

The civil court case, which is currently estimated to have cost the taxpayer £450,000 (Private Eye reckons it is higher than that), also featured four members of the Hofschröer family. Three as police funded claimants, Robert, Diane and Martin, and Peter (Robert’s brother) as defendant, with no funding.

It serves no useful purpose to rehearse here the infamous ‘Grandma B‘ campaign, mounted by Peter Hofschröer, over allegations that the other family members involved in the court case deprived his mother Barbara of the family home in Acomb, York with nefarious motive. My single contribution to this wholly unsatisfactory affair is to say that, on the face of the documents and evidence I have access to (which is not all of them, of course), the police picked the wrong side in the argument over the alleged property fraud.

The presence of Hofschröer family members on opposing sides of the claim gives the whole matter the bizarre feel of a family dispute gone terribly wrong. Whereas, the real motivation behind the civil claim was, say Private Eye, to silence the police force’s critics, once and for all. The Hofschröer family dispute just provided a convenient ‘cover story’ for that principal aim.

One of the many extraordinary aspects of the Hyson civil claim is that it was launched two months after Peter Hofschröer was arrested and held on remand, with no access to legal advice or his paper or electronic files. He has not been at liberty since and was convicted at Teesside Crown Court in July 2016 on indecent image charges [2].

Hofschröer now faces Part 1 extradition proceedings by the Austrian authorities at a Westminster Magistrates Court hearing listed for 15th September, 2016 on charges relating to stalking, child pornography and defamation under sections 107, 207 and 297 of the Austrian criminal code. It is also reported that he is appealing the paedophilia conviction, although how that could be grounded is not entirely clear, given that the trial was conducted by one of the North East Circuit’s longest serving judges, HHJ Tony Briggs QC.

The net effect of all this, as far as the police, and the rest of the Hofschröer family is concerned, is that none of the offensive articles about which they complained have yet been removed from the internet, nine months after an injunction prohibited their publication – and the likelihood of ever collecting the costs awarded against Peter Hofschröer are almost non-existant.

Put shortly, and given his continued incarceration over the criminal matters, the civil claim against him was a complete waste of time and money.

Which brings us to the decision to spend a vast amount of public money, made by the PCC and published on her website [3], some twelve months after she was required to do so, by law.

Despite being asked a number of times the PCC refuses to explain the delay between the first of the lawyers’ Hyson invoices pouring in (July 2015) and the Decision Note being put up, unannounced, on her website fifteen months later. What follows in this article will go a long way to unlocking that mystery.

To facilitate this analysis, the text of the formal Decision Note dated 29th September, 2015 is taken verbatim from the NYPCC website and highlighted below in blue. My comments, grounded mainly in responses to correspondence with the police and the PCC’s office, freedom of information request finalisations and public accounts access disclosures, are in black type beneath each section.

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Executive Summary and Recommendation

The Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) is ultimately responsible for representing the public in all matters, as well as overseeing  the policing budget to ensure good value for money for the taxpayer.

Many would submit, along with myself, that allocating around £50,000 each in free legal fees to the Chief Constable, Deputy Chief Constable and the Head of Uniformed Services (whose combined total salaries of around £340,000 per annum plus benefits totalling another £60,000pa ) would not pass any known Value For Money test.

It should also be said that, in my extensive investigative experience, the PCC in North Yorkshire puts her unquestioning support of the police – and particularly Dave Jones – well ahead of any representation of the interests of the public. 

This Decision Notice will demonstrate that the PCC is holding the Chief Constable to account by monitoring the financial support of a specific case which is currently a matter of ongoing civil proceedings.

The one significant feature of the PCC’s tenure has been her complete failure to hold the Chief Constable to account. This was a key strand of argument from those opposing her in the PCC elections in May 2016, when Julia Mulligan was elected on a much reduced majority. The shambles surrounding this Decision Notice is a further example of that.

The PCC is satisfied that supporting the action by individuals is a lawful and proportionate use of public money and is in line with her priority of supporting victims and ensuring an efficient and effective police service. This Decision Notice will explain the scrutiny process.

In the Hofschröer case there has been one victim who stands out above all others: Disabled World War 2 veteran, Barbara Hofschröer, who was displaced from her home and now languishes in a council run care home, cut off from her chosen carer. Whilst no right thinking person could condone the appalling manner in which the campaign for justice for Grandma B (as Barbara is widely known) was run by her son and carer, Peter, at the heart of this issue is a grave miscarriage of justice.

In order to be as open and transparent as possible, the PCC publishes all Decision Notices so they are available to the press and the public.  This happens whenever a decision is in the public interest, of which there are several tests. In addition, the PCC expects the Chief Constable (CC) to draw to her attention issues which (amongst other things) are sensitive, contentious, novel or repercussive or where there is a real risk that the Commissioner or Chief Constable could be exposed to public criticism.

This Decision Notice was only published after considerable pressure was brought to bear by me, both via social media and a complaint to the Police Scrutiny Panel. Almost a full year after the PCC was legally obliged to do so.

In making this decision publicly and formally, through a published Decision Notice, the PCC will demonstrate that:

  • She is holding the Chief Constable to account by monitoring the financial support provided to a specific legal case, which is in the public interest

On any reasonable view it is difficult to see how the public interest is satisfied by granting huge benefits, by way of free legal fees, to very highly paid senior police officers over ‘hurt feelings’.

  • She is satisfied that supporting the action is a lawful and proportionate use of public money in line with her priority of supporting victims, and is in the best interests of the public purse

There are thousands of victims of serious crime in North Yorkshire who have received no financial support, whatsoever, from either the state in general, or North Yorkshire Police in particular. To allocate huge sums of money to alleged victims of harassment without violence is preposterous. Away from North Yorkshire, I draw the stark example of the families of the twenty-one victims of the Birmingham pub bombings who are desperately seeking public funding for legal representation at the new inquests. They have, so far, been refused legal aid and an appeal direct to the Home Secretary has been made. Perhaps they might get  more joy from Julia Mulligan?

She is upholding her commitment to being open and transparent.

The repeated use of the expression ‘open and transparent’ is troubling (they are underlined for emphasis). It has been proven beyond any doubt, whatsoever, that the PCC’s office is anything but. To the extent that Julia Mulligan is due to appear in Huddersfield County Court on 11th October, 2016 over her persistent breaches of Data Protection and Freedom of Information Acts. Much of the withheld information that forms the grounds for my claim concerns Operations Rome and Hyson.

1. Introduction and Background

Over the last seven years an individual has been involved in a complex family dispute.  Some of the allegations made have been investigated for possible criminal offences.  During the course of the investigation, members of the public and several professionals involved in the case, including former and serving police officers, have sustained alleged harassment.  The alleged harassment has included an amount of comment about their personal integrity and has been experienced through correspondence with the force and the Office of the PCC (OPCC), in formal complaints and on various social media outlets including websites and blogs.

The individual concerned was Peter Hofschröer. In an ‘open and transparent’ Decision Notice it seems odd that he has not been named. Six months after court proceedings were opened in a public hearing. Similarly, the websites referred to were Real Whitby and the North Yorks Enquirer. The blog in question was the previously mentioned Grandma B.

Criticism of North Yorkshire Police is of course accepted as fair comment and complaints are dealt with in accordance with procedures.  North Yorkshire Police strives to encourage engagement and debate with the public it serves, and in no way seeks to “close down” legitimate criticism that is helpful in improving the service response.  However, some of the comments have been so personal as to have affected the health of some of the recipients.  Police officers are used to dealing with difficult situations, they have broad shoulders and they are certainly not above criticism. 

There can be few, if any, other public bodies that are as sensitive to any criticism as North Yorkshire Police. It only encourages debate if they are able to control the agenda. Similarly, if the force is tackled on any area where their service falls below the required standard they are simply not interested in engaging with those who highlight shortcomings.

Similarly, the assertion that complaints about NYP officers are dealt with according to procedures is risible. A growing portfolio of cases to which I now have access has proved, beyond any doubt, that abuse of the complaints system by the force is on an industrial scale.

There has however been years of unwarranted harmful personal abuse that has tied up police time.  If the behaviour had been physical then there may have been a variety of different solutions to stop the behaviour and the Chief Constable has a statutory Duty of Care to look after the health and safety of his employees no matter how any distress is caused. Along with the health and safety of individuals, the effectiveness and efficiency of the police service is paramount and must be protected.  Over a considerable period of time the contact of individuals has impacted greatly on police resources in a way that is not sustainable.

The three officers concerned here are Chief Constable Jones, Deputy Chief Constable Tim Madgwick and Chief Superintendent Lisa Winward (since promoted to Assistant Chief Constable). The harassment, according to the claim’s particulars and their own witness evidence, comprised of emails and articles on two websites. It is very doubtful that the two chief officers saw the emails and even more doubtful that they read the articles on what are two niche websites. Indeed, the pleadings made it clear that a lot of the ‘harassment’ complained of required a Google search by a team of expensive lawyers, working on their behalf, building a case.

The Chief Constable took the decision to proceed based on clear advice from a leading Barrister.  Based on that advice, the Chief Constable took the view that civil litigation was a necessary step to exercise his duty of care to members of his own organisation and to protect members of the public.

The leading barrister is Simon Myerson QC, who had also been advising on the spectacularly failed criminal investigation, Operation Rome. It is unclear why, in an ‘open and transparent’ Decision Notice why such a high profile lawyer would not be named. He had already appeared in court in the matter twice by the time the Decision Notice was published.

The decision by the Chief Constable to fund legal action to support individuals – both former and serving officers, and others connected with the case – attempting to prevent further alleged harassment was considered at great length.  Legal advice was proactively sought. 

Alongside that formal legal advice, both the PCC’s and Chief Constable’s Chief Finance Officers were consulted and provided their professional opinion.  Financial regulations were also checked. 

The External Auditors have also scrutinised the rationale and confirmed that North Yorkshire Police has the powers to undertake the actions that it has.

An employer has a statutory duty of care to the employees of the organisation.  Responsibilities include matters of health and safety and well-being.  Supporting this case seeks to addresses this.  Along with this duty on the employer there is a legal power and duty upon the PCC to maintain an efficient and effective police force for the area.  Supporting this action seeks to contribute to this in relation to the significant time and resource that has already been spent on this matter.

As is often the case in legal proceedings, most of the cost is frontloaded as evidence has had to be filed at the beginning.  This Decision Notice is being considered before the proceedings move towards any possible further hearings.

Two hearings had already taken place at Leeds High Court and a third hearing was already listed, before the Decision Notice was published. On 9th February, 2105; 25th June, 2015.  and 27th November, 2015 respectively

The position at this time is that the defendants can now decide whether to contest the case brought.  If they do so, a final hearing timetabled by the Judge would then be required.  It is of course hoped that a lengthy hearing can be avoided by the defendants agreeing to proposals made.

By the time the Decision Notice was issued it was clear that the two journalists were not going to go down without a fight and that a lengthy and costly legal battle was inevitable.

The final cost of the civil case will depend at what stage the case is finalised. Any early settlement will avoid a contested final hearing.  So far (to the date of this report), external legal advice and representation in the civil proceedings has cost £162,406. Most of the cost is frontloaded in this type of proceedings, as evidence has had to be filed at the beginning.

An estimate for the anticipated costs was made before the start of the proceedings and was estimated at around £202,000.  This is set against the cost of over £400,000 which the matter had already cost the force in dealing with the activities of those against whom the civil claim is made.  There was no apparent end to the case without positive action and other solutions had already been exhausted, which was a key factor in determining the course of action through the civil court.

It must have also been clear at that time that the estimate for the legal costs was going to be well in excess of the £202,000 estimate referred to in the Notice. The claim of £400,000 being the cost of dealing with the ‘activities’ of the defendants has been proved beyond any doubt to be far-fetched in a highly forensic article I wrote on the subject earlier this year. Read ‘409,970 reasons not to trust North Yorkshire Police’ [4].

In addition, the victims of the alleged harassment need to be able to seek relief from the alleged harassment they have felt and the PCC felt it appropriate to support them as victims in these proceedings.

A freedom of information request has been submitted to the PCC’s office to establish how money other victims of crime have been granted access to police funds to pursue civil claims.

2. Other Options Considered

It is for the Court to find, on consideration of evidence put before it, whether the issues and behaviour concerned have amounted to legal harassment of the individuals concerned. However, North Yorkshire Police felt obligated to take positive action to try to protect its staff.  Therefore it was decided to support the officers to commence civil proceedings as individuals.  In addition, as all solutions in the criminal arena had been exhausted for other claimants, a decision was taken to combine all actions of all individuals concerned from the start.  This was considered to be the most operationally and administratively effective solution saving both financially and court time (and therefore further public money) to combine all actions of the individuals concerned from the start.  It is hoped that the final outcome will reduce the distress felt by all those party to the action.

Citizen journalist Nigel Ward was included in the action despite none of the police officers (serving or retired) having any evidence against him, whatsoever. The Hofschröer family and their social worker had none either. That meant eight of the nine claimants had nothing against Mr Ward. Yet, the police officers held him in the claim until June, 2016 before discontinuing their claims and agreeing to pay Mr Ward’s costs. At the final hearing, Mr Ward was also awarded his costs against the ninth claimant, Jane Kenyon-Miller. This is likely to add over £100,000 to the police bill and raises huge public interest and misfeasance questions about the funding, by the police, of an action that, in the end, amounted to a wealthy public figure trying to crush a penniless pensioner into silence over her dodgy business dealings.

3. Contribution to Police and Crime Plan Priorities

The action supports the Policing Priorities in the Police and Crime Plan.

This statement is a nonsense. There is nothing at all in the Plan that supports senior police officers being granted huge sums of public money to pursue journalists over alleged harassment. Especially, after the CPS had twice ruled against the police on charging decisions over those same allegations.

4. Implementation and Resourcing Implications

The proceedings will continue in line with Directions made by the Court and regular meetings will be held to monitor progress and plan for different outcomes depending on any Orders or Judgment.

A freedom of information request has been made concerning the notes of those meetings. The decision to proceed to trial in a one versus one situation was very high risk for the police – and so it proved. The officers involved in that decision should be named and shamed.

5. Consultations Carried Out

Professional consideration and advice has been provided by: 

Department
Office of the PCC
Financial Services
Local Policing
Human Resources
Joint Corporate Legal Services
Corporate Communications

 5. Compliance Checks

Financial Implications/Value for money: 

Comments of the Commissioner’s Chief Finance Officer
Prior to any expenditure being undertaken on the work to support funding this case the PCC CFO and CC CFO were consulted and their authorisation sought to spend public money in the way proposed. As PCC CFO, and therefore advisor to the PCC on financial matters, it was my opinion at the time, and continues to be my opinion that the organisation has the ‘power’ to incur expenditure in this way based on 2 reasons from a financial perspective.

This is patently untrue. Work was in train on Hyson as soon as Rome ended in July, 2014. The earliest recorded discussions taking place over funding was three months later, in October 2014. There are also significant breaches that have been exposed, by freedom of information requests,  over procurement regulations in force. Solicitors and barristers were awarded contracts for over £200,000 without any tendering protocol being observed. Requests for sight of the Single Tender Access documents, upon which the police later relied as an explanation, have fallen on stony ground.

The first reason is that an employer has a statutory duty of care to their staff in matters of health and safety and well-being, which is something that supporting this case looked to address. The second reason is that the PCC has a legal power and duty to maintain an efficient and effective police force for the police area. Given the amount of time and resources that has been spent on this matter previously, an estimate of which is set out within this Decision Note, then to protect the effectiveness and efficiency of the Force and to enable scare resources to be directed to the most appropriate areas of policing then the power exists to spend the money in the way outlined within this Decision Note.

It has been demonstrated beyond any doubt that the figure of £400,000 relied upon for expenditure on Operation Rome – and used as justifaction for spending £200,000 on Hyson – was largely an invention.

As mentioned elsewhere, legal advice has been sought and received in relation to the power of the organisation to spend public money in this way which supports the views of the statutory officers employed by the PCC and CC. In addition to this the External Auditors for North Yorkshire Police and the PCC have looked separately into this matter, to satisfy themselves that the organisation had the power to spend the public’s money in this way. While their formal opinion has not been received on the 2014/15 Statement of Accounts it has been communicated that they are satisfied that the ‘powers’ that the organisation has relied upon to incur this expenditure are lawful.

The External Auditors, Mazars, were not even aware of Operation Hyson until I raised it with North Yorkshire Police during the public accounts access period in July, 2015. Exactly a year after the first invoice connected to Hyson was raised by Simon Myerson QC. Mazars have not produced any evidence of independent legal opinion concerning the lawful ‘powers’ of a chief constable authorising himself £50,000 of free legal fees.

Comments of the Chief Constable’s Chief Finance Officer
I am in full agreement with the remarks made by the Commissioners Chief Finance Officer. 

I have submitted a freedom of information request to North Yorkshire Police seeking all meeting, briefing notes, internal and external emails connected to the decision (and the rationale behind it) by the force (and the PCC) to fund the civil action.

Legal Implications:
External expert legal advice has been sought (which is legally privileged) and there has been significant consideration of the ‘vires’ (lawful power) to use public money to support the funding of this case.  The T/Force Solicitor and Head of Legal Services is satisfied that this report does not ask the PCC for North Yorkshire to make a decision which would (or would be likely to) give rise to a contravention of the law.

It has been proved conclusively, by me, that the PCC received no independent legal advice concerning ‘vires’ – and none was ever sought. At first, Force Solicitor, Jane Wintermeyer, falsely claimed to me, in writing, that legal opinion had been sought on 13th January, 2015. She later retreated from that position and said the opinion was given in conference with Simon Myerson QC on 15th October, 2014. Myerson has never been instucted by the PCC on this (or any other) issue – and neither has any other solicitor or barrister according to a freedom of information response.

Human Resources Implications:
Welfare provision has been considered throughout in relation to those directly affected, due to the duration of this case, ongoing assessments should continue as part of our duty of care as an employer.

No medical evidence was adduced at any stage in the claim to support the proposition that the three serving police officers have been affected in a way, beyond hurt feelings, that would justify the spending of public funds to the tune of £450,000.

Public Access to information
As a general principle, the Commissioner expects to be able to publish all decisions taken and all matters taken into account when reaching the decision.  This Notice will detail all information which the Commissioner will disclose into the public domain.  The decision and information will be made available on the Commissioner’s website.

This is patently untrue. This was a Decision Notice that should have been published in October, 2014 when the decision was allegedly made to dip into the public purse to fund this legal free-for-all. It was admitted to me, in writing, by the North Yorkshire Police Force Solicitor that there was no intention to publish a Decision Notice about this grotesque waste of public money without a formal complaint being made to the Police and Crime Scrutiny Panel concerning its absence. The failure to publish placed the PCC in breach of The Elected Local Policing Bodies (Specified Information) Order 2011.

In summary, it can now be seen that this Decision Note was a lame attempt to cover over a number of defects in due process and slack accounting procedures at the very least.

During my investigations into the Hyson case I have been variously and regularly been obstructed, lied to, smeared and even threatened with legal action by either the Force Solicitor, or those working on her behalf.

The Chief Financial Officer failed to comply with her disclosure obligations under the during the public accounts inspection in 2015.

The ‘open and transparent’ Police Commissioner consistently refused to answer questions over the funding – or even whether she had read the particulars of claim or statement of case – during proceedings by citing potential prejudice. Then, incredibly, airily dismissed fifteen public interest questions put to her in an open letter published on both this and the North Yorks Enquirer websites [5]. She went further and, incredibly, asked me not to repeat that costs had been awarded against Jane Kenyon-Miller and the other eight claimants. Nothwithstanding the fact that I was in court when the draft orders to that effect were agreed between counsel for the parties and nodded through by the presiding judge.

It is not known, as yet, whether, Mrs Mulligan and ‘Knacker’ as the satirical irreverently refer to her chief constable will be suing Private Eye over the article. Using public funds, of course.

This is a story that still has some way to run and if those officials, elected or employed, who have treated both the public and the law with utter contempt may well find that their seeming sense of invincibility will be shattered in a way they might not have considered possible. A study of section 6(1) of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 might well be prescriptive.

 

Annotations

[1] Private Eye, August 2016: ‘Police 5 – North Yorkshire Boors’.

[2] York Press, 11th July, 2016: ‘Historian who had 36,000 indecent images gets two and a half years’

[3] North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, 29th September, 2015: ‘Decision Notice 011/2015 – Formal support and explanation from the Police and Crime Commissioner regarding funding of ongoing civil litigation action (sic) to protect officers and members of the public against alleged personal harassment’.

[4] Neil Wilby, 20th March, 2016: ‘409,970 reasons not to trust North Yorkshire Police’

[5] Neil Wilby, 29th July, 2016: ‘Open letter to Julia Mulligan’

Page last updated on Monday 5th September, 2016 at 0845hrs

© 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.

Open letter to North Yorkshire Police & Crime Commissioner, Julia Mulligan

PCC-Julia-Mulligan-3

Dear Julia

We have met twice over the past two years and conducted discussions amicably on topics connected with your role as Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire and the City of York.

Particularly, related to the oversight of the Chief Constable that forms one of the three core strands of responsibility of a Police Commissioner. The other two being, of course, firstly, setting a budget and, secondly, agreeing a Policing Plan with the force.

I write to you in connection with the recently concluded Operation Hyson, and its predecessor investigation, Operation Rome, which engages two of those key strands, oversight and budget, and remind you that the ground upon which you persistently stonewalled any previous questions – ‘it may prejudice an on-going legal case’ – has now fallen away.

The following public interest questions, therefore, are now put to you in open letter and you are most cordially invited to respond in the same manner.

 

  1. When you were elected in November 2012, were you made aware by the Chief Constable of the attempts by North Yorkshire Police to silence two citizen journalists via criminal prosecution by way of Operation Rome?

 

  1. Did you know that one of the two journalists, Nigel Ward, was not contacted by police, even once, during a two-year investigation into the allegations of harassment?

 

  1. Will you please publish the Operation Rome investigation report (suitably redacted to protect personal information) in the interests of openness and transparency?

 

  1. Who was the driving force within NYP for those failed prosecution attempts?

 

  1. Was that same officer the lead for converting an inept and, ultimately, failed criminal investigation into a publicly-funded civil court claim?

 

  1. Did you ever read the pleadings in the civil court case and satisfy yourself that the inclusion of Nigel Ward in the claim was merited on the evidence?

 

  1. I have asked you repeatedly if you had read the papers but you claimed it would prejudice the case if you answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Do you stand by that as a credible rationale, bearing in mind this was a civil court claim heard before a single (very senior) judge?

 

  1. Eight claimants, including CC Jones, DCC Madgwick, C/Supt (now ACC) Winward, held Mr Ward in the claim until only one month before the trial despite having no evidence, whatsoever, against him. Will you be holding CC Jones to account over this conduct and, particularly, the grotesque waste of public money as once costs issues are resolved – either between the parties or by the court – it is very likely to mean a further significant drain on police funds?

 

  1. Whilst the matter of costs is also still extant in the case of the ninth claimant, your long term political ally Jane Kenyon-Miller, these are likely to be very substantial – and another scandalous waste of public money. Will you also be holding the Chief Constable (or Acting Chief Constable as the case may be) to account over the decision to take the matter to a final hearing on 26th July, 2016 (from which I reported), against the judge’s specific advice at an earlier hearing on 7th July, 2016 (at which I was also present) for both parties to seek a compromised settlement?

 

  1. Will you be holding the Chief Constable to account over the fact that he was funding no less than seven lawyers, including a QC, to be present at the final hearing (albeit two of those were trainee solicitors) representing Jane Kenyon-Miller, a member of the public, in what was, after all, an uncomplicated County Court claim between two members of the public?

 

  1. Please explain your rationale for continuing to sanction the Acting Chief Constable’s public funding of Mrs Kenyon-Miller, an independently wealthy individual, in her claim against Mr Ward, a penniless pensioner, after the other eight Operation Hyson claimants (including the Acting Chief Constable himself) had, belatedly, discontinued their claims?

 

  1. Please also explain your rationale for sanctioning the spending by A/CC Madgwick of what may well be around £20,000 of public money on a failed, largely misconceived application hearing held on 7th July, 2016 at which (i) permission was sought to access emails and text messages of Mr Ward and myself (ii) criminalise myself and Mr Ward over alleged contempt of court?

 

  1. Will you be holding Acting Chief Constable Madgwick fully to account over the false evidence he gave in his witness statement in the civil claim – and the manner in which he conducted himself when publicly challenged over some of it?

 

  1. Will you be holding your own employee, Temporary Force Solicitor Jane Wintermeyer, similarly to account over why significant parts of her witness evidence concerning Mr Ward were palpably false, the rest of it concerning Mr Ward of little apparent evidential value?

 

  1. Finally, will you be holding the Chief Constable to account over the smears he caused to be published against Mr Ward in local and regional newspapers suggesting that he – in concert with the two other defendants – persistently harassed ALL nine of the claimants in a most unpleasant manner? The finding of the court is that he has not harassed ANY of the claimants.

 

I look forward to your response.

Kind regards

 

Neil Wilby

 

 

Page last updated: Saturday 30th July, 2016 at 1015hrs

© 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 credit: NYPCC

The Day of Reckoning

The civil harassment claim originally known as Hofschröer and others -v- Hofschröer and others finally reached its conclusion on 26th July, 2016.

Launched and funded by North Yorkshire Police in January 2015, under the codename Operation Hyson, it originally featured nine claimants and three defendants. One of the defendants, Peter Hofschröer, had judgment entered against him in November, 2015 and another, Timothy Hicks, reached a compromised settlement last month.

The last two remaining protagonists were former police authority Chair, Jane Kenyon-Miller, and well known citizen journalist, Nigel Ward. Mrs Kenyon-Miller who was represented by Simon Myerson QC and junior barrister, Hannah Lynch, sought a declaration from the court that Mr Ward, represented by well known London-based human rights barrister Ian Brownhill, had harassed her – and relief by way of a wide-ranging injunction which will include the removal of articles written about her from two internet news websites to which Mr Ward has contributed.

The trial was heard before HHJ Mark Gosnell, who is the senior civil court judge for both the Leeds and Bradford court centres. It was listed for two full days in Leeds County Court, although there was always doubt as to whether it would go the full distance. There were just three witnesses due to give evidence: Mrs Kenyon-Miller, Mr Ward and NYP Force Solicitor, Jane Wintermeyer.

Mr Myerson in his opening address appeared to confirm the likelihood of an early finish, as he set out a trial timetable. Mrs Wintermeyer was not mentioned in the schedule to appear in the witness box.

HHJ Gosnell responded by saying that he maintained the view underscored at a recent application hearing that this matter really ought to have been settled by amicable resolution and he questioned why a two day trial, to resolve what he described as relatively narrow issues, was actually necessary. His Honour referred, particularly, to arguments advanced by Mr Brownhill in his skeleton which posited the question: if the issue over injunction failed then the remaining harassment claim was entirely disproportionate.

Against this background, Mr Myerson rather surprisingly told the court that ‘the reality is that resolution (from his client’s point of view) is not possible‘.

He was interrupted by the judge who told the court he was quite frustrated by this situation and enquired as to the sticking point between the parties, such that they might be discussed in open court without prejudicing the trial if, in fact, it proceeded. With a smile, he said ‘I’m an experienced judge, with many years on the bench, and in the old days I would have invited counsel into my chambers and banged heads together‘. He did, however, stress the need for transparency in a trial in which so many were interested in its outcome.

Mr Myerson and Mr Brownhill then both agreed that legal privilege could be waived and that it would not, later, affect HHJ Gosnell’s ability to try the matter if negotiations to settle the claim failed.

The judge then asked the question, more generally: ‘Why are we all here?’

He mused that the alleged harassment matters took seed some years ago and he was persuaded that the two factions started off with good intentions. But his overriding view was that a settlement should be possible and that any costs issues shouldn’t stand in the way of that.

Both counsel then accepted the judge’s invitation to ‘spend half an hour kicking ideas around‘ in his chambers. He felt that a little ‘judicial encouragement‘ might be prescriptive in all the circumstances of the case. Court was, accordingly, adjourned at 10.50am.

Following a 66 minute adjournment the court resumed sitting at 11.56am. A draft consent order has been agreed between the parties. Mr Myerson’s tightly drawn assertion that ‘resolution is not possible’ had taken just over an hour to unravel.

The terms, essentially, are that certain articles will be taken down from the North Yorkshire Enquirer website, the Real Whitby website will be approached to take down some others, although there is no guarantee that the Editor of the latter website will agree – and Mr Ward will not write further about Mrs Kenyon-Miller for a period of two years, or unless she returns to public life.

Mr Myerson stated that it was accepted on all sides that Mrs Kenyon-Miller was an Alderman and such status would not affect the undertaking but, oddly, excluded mention of other roles that suggest that she has not, in fact, left public life at all.

For example, it is well known that she is still a leading light in the organisation of Whitby Regatta (see here), an event that has dominated the social and tourist calendar in the seaside town for over a century; a Governor at Caedmon College in Whitby (see here) and a Director of the Whitby Fishing Industry Training School (see here). She is also still the ‘go-to’ spokesperson for the local press on policing matters as this Scarborough News article bears testimony (read here).

Interestingly, the above article in which she is quoted extensively, was published nine months after Mrs Kenyon-Miller issued proceedings against Mr Ward.

There is, most probably, an innocent explanation as to these omissions as Mr Myerson (or his client) would, surely, not wish to deliberately mislead the court?

Mr Ward’s costs in defending the claim are to be paid by Mrs Kenyon-Miller (or, more accurately, North Yorkshire Police), either on an agreed basis between the parties or, failing that, HHJ Gosnell will list a short hearing at which the issue of quantum will be determined by him.

HHJ Gosnell commended both parties for coming to an amicable solution without the matter being tried and the undoubted ordeal of the two witnesses giving witness box evidence.

The hearing closed shortly after 12 noon with some gratuitous remarks from Mr Myerson, directed at the press bench, and concerning the number of lawyers (or aspiring lawyers) appearing for Mrs Kenyon-Miller. Including himself, there appeared to be seven in the courtroom. Mr Myerson claimed they were not all being paid to be there.

Interestingly, no costs schedule for the claimant had been filed with the court, or served on Mr Ward, as is customary practice. This, at least for the time being, concealed the value of public funds allocated to Mrs Kenyon-Miller.

The matter of what has actually been spent on this almost entirely fruitless pursuit of Mr Ward will be subject to further enquiries of both North Yorkshire Police and its Police Commissioner.

 

Page last updated: Wednesday 27th July, 2016 at 1555hrs

© 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.

And then there were two……

The long-running Operation Hyson saga is finally set to reach its conclusion on Tuesday 26th and Wednesday 27th July, 2016 at Leeds County Court.

Hyson is the codename given to a wide ranging NorthYorkshire Police-funded civil harassment claim that originally involved nine claimants against three defendants. The documents produced for the first hearing, in February 2015, needed fourteen lever arch files to contain them.

Amongst the claimants were the Chief Constable, Dave Jones, and Deputy Chief Constable, Tim Madgwick; Chief Superintendent Lisa Winward and recently retired Superintendent Heather Pearson.

Two of the defendants, who are no longer part of the claim, were Grandma B justice campaigner, Peter Hofschröer, and citizen journalist, Timothy Hicks. Mr Hofschröer had judgment entered against him last November when he refused to take any further part in the proceedings – and Mr Hicks had an agreed consent order sealed by the Court on 30th June, 2016.

This sealing of the Hicks consent order was confirmed in open court by the trial judge, HHJ Mark Gosnell, at an application hearing on 7th July, 2016 which concerned some housekeeping issues upon which the two legal teams acting for the remaining parties to the action were unable to agree.

It is understood that undertakings have been given by Tim Hicks to all the claimants, which includes other members of the Hofschröer family. To the effect that there would be no future contact with the claimants for at least two years – and some of the 150+ articles published by Mr Hicks would be requested to be taken down from the two internet news websites to which he has contributed. Namely, Real Whitby (nineteen articles) and the North Yorkshire Enquirer (twenty-six articles). Fourteen of the articles have URL’s common to both websites.

No order for costs or damages was made against Mr Hicks.

It was also confirmed by the judge that eight of the claimants originally ranged against Nigel Ward, another citizen journalist, had discontinued their harassment claims against him. The claimants, including the four serving and retired police officers, are now all liable to pay the legal costs of Mr Ward incurred in defending his reputation.

The one remaining claimant against Mr Ward is Jane Kenyon-Miller, a former Borough and County Councillor but, perhaps, more widely known as the former Chair of North Yorkshire Police Authority.

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Pictured above: Nigel Ward and Jane Kenyon-Miller

The application hearing before HHJ Gosnell on 7th July was to decide on two issues: Firstly, a relatively straightforward point as to whether Mr Ward’s second witness statement in the claim could be filed out of time, following a change of legal team in May of this year. Ever the pragmatist, the judge ruled that the one remaining claimant was not prejudiced by late service, the overriding objective under Part 1.1 Court Procedure Rules (CPR) was met, and the evidence was relevant to the issues to be tried at the final hearing. Accordingly, the statement was allowed into the claim.

The second issue was much more controversial: It was said that investigative journalist, Neil Wilby, had conspired to breach a consent order that had been agreed by the legal teams acting for the original nine claimants and Messrs Ward and Hicks. It was also alleged in court that Mr Wilby had ‘re-published’ or ‘re-advertised’ material about some of the claimants in collusion with Mr Ward. By so publishing, it was further alleged that they had adversely affected the credibility of Mrs Kenyon-Miller. The means of doing so was alleged to be by Mr Ward passing information to Mr Wilby that gave him ‘special knowledge’.

A declaration was sought from the court over the alleged breach of undertaking – a very serious matter indeed – and permission was also sought to for the claimants to access all emails and text messages between Ward and Wilby concerning Operation Hyson.

The two articles at the heart of the controversy were Crompton and Jones: Two of a Kind and Inn of last Resort (read in full here) which both appear on this website. Two of a kind has never been published, and still remains password protected, the Inn of Last Resort makes no mention at all of Mrs Kenyon-Miller, the one remaining claimant.

Counsel for Nigel Ward, Ian Brownhill, instructed by Dave Holley and Neil Heffey of DDE Law in Liverpool, made submissions to the Court on the basis that the order sought was too broad; there was no nexus between the issues to be tried and the materials sought; Article 8 convention rights were engaged; there is no viable argument under CPR upon which to ground such an application and it amounted to nothing more than a ‘fishing expedition’ by the claimants. It was further submitted that the application made on behalf of Mrs Kenyon-Miller ‘was completely without merit’.

Hannah Lynch, the junior barrister representing the former Police Authority Chair, instructed by solicitor Nick Collins of Weightmans in Leeds, appeared to visibly wilt under the pressure of attempting to rescue what always seemed, from the press seats, to be a lost cause. The leading barrister retained by North Yorkshire Police, Simon Myerson QC, did not appear.

In the event, HHJ Gosnell ruled that neither the conduct of Mr Ward, nor the two articles in issue, ‘doesn’t go anywhere near showing that he was in breach of the undertaking’. He also ruled in favour of Mr Ward on the disclosure of text messages, emails issue and said what was sought by the claimants was neither ‘relevant’ nor ‘proportionate’.

Accessing text messages was always a red herring, anyway, as Nigel Ward doesn’t own a mobile telephone.

Costs of the second application were awarded against Mrs Kenyon-Miller, who remains publicly funded at the behest of her long-time political ally, PCC Julia Mulligan. The costs of the first application will be determined by the outcome of the final hearing. In legal parlance, ‘costs in the cause’.

In an unusual step, at the end of the hearing, the judge directly addressed Mr Ward, who was sat in the public gallery watching proceedings unfold. His Honour explained about the Hicks settlement and reminded both Mr Ward, his legal team and the lawyers representing Mrs Kenyon-Miller (who was not in court), that it might be the best solution for all to consider a pragmatic settlement being negotiated by the parties, and their representatives, as opposed to the significant expense of a trial being incurred.

HHJ Gosnell observed that, whilst the trial might well devolve into ‘a two day mud-slinging exercise‘ between the two remaining protagonists, he was not the one paying for it. His role was simply to ensure a fair trial took place. The not inconsiderable costs would fall to the ‘loser’ at the end of the final hearing. Whichever of the two that might be.

Nothwithstanding the fact that Mr Ward and the two legal teams were invited to think about this point very carefully by the judge, it seems that the trial will go ahead on the 26th after all.

A very interesting two days in store, as it all appears to boil down to this: A police force using one of its former top officials, its own force solicitor as a supporting witness, and a wholly disproportionate amount of public funds, to front a civil court claim that seeks to silence one of its main critics.

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Page last updated: Monday 22nd July, 2016 at 1830hrs

© 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: North Yorkshire Enquirer

409,970 reasons not to trust North Yorkshire Police

The old-fashioned notion that honesty was an integral part of policing in the UK has been comprehensively swept away over the past few years, as corruption scandal after corruption scandal has emerged into the public domain.

Many of the worst public outrages concern police forces in Yorkshire. The Hillsborough Disaster, the Battle of Orgreave and Rotherham Abuse failings will forever stain those who wear the South Yorkshire Police uniform.

Their neighbours in West Yorkshire (WYP) have an unenviable record of ‘fitting-up’ innocent people for serious crimes they didn’t commit and this stretches back for decades to Stefan Kiszko and Judith Ward. Investigative and prosecutorial misconduct come easily to this force and one of the worst case ever to come before the courts was also down to them. Never before – or since – has a police force been so roundly and completely condemned by law lords as they were in the Karl Chapman supergrass case. Probably better known now as Operation Douglas.

Most recently, the confirmation that the jailing of one of their own most promising young constables, PC Danny Major, was corruptly grounded, takes WYP to depths in policing criminality rarely plumbed before.

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The discredited West Yorkshire Police also share with North Yorkshire Police (NYP) the unenviable distinction of allowing the country’s most notorious child sex offender, Jimmy Savile, to go unchecked for almost 50 years on his home patches of Leeds and Scarborough.

North Yorkshire Police were, of course, out on their own in allowing another notorious and prolific paedophile, Peter Jaconelli to offend at will for a similar period.

Worse still, NYP tried very hard indeed, by way of two bogus investigations into themselves, to rubbish any claims that they knew about the nefarious activities of either of these hideous individuals. Indeed, but for the intervention of two citizen journalists, writing for a North Yorkshire internet news magazine, the police would have got clean away with hoodwinking the public over both Savile and Jaconelli.

This report by ACC Sue Cross (a former West Yorkshire Police officer and pictured below) took just nine days – and zero interviews – to dismiss over forty years of relentless sex offending by a man widely known as “Mr Scarborough”. It’s tone and content is directed much more to discrediting the two journalists than addressing the core issues. A trait much favoured by senior officers in the police service.

North Yorkshire Police were subsequently, and quite rightly, exposed as an incompetent, embarrassing and humiliated shambles. It seems more than a coincidence, therefore, that those same two journalists – Tim Hicks and Nigel Ward – have for the past fifteen months been facing civil court action both mounted and funded by the police (or more accurately the precept payer). This is the article by Mr Hicks that effectively dismantled the now discredited Cross Report.

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I have investigated this matter of the claim concerning alleged harassment by the two journalists, extensively, since the issue of the court papers in January 2015 and have written a number of articles as a result:

Cost of silencing police force critics now approaches £1 million (click here)

Complete capitulation follows Fall of Rome (click here)

Key witness in police funded civil action is a proven liar (click here).

The North Yorkshire Police dilemma: Find a murderer or pursue journalists over harassment (click here)

This latest article focuses on just one single aspect of those investigations, upon which a large amount of time and money has already been spent:

North Yorkshire Police and the Police Commissioner, Julia Mulligan, have both quoted a figure of £409,970.90 as the alleged cost of a criminal investigation into the two journalists, and one other. The police investigation was styled Operation Rome and this is the published breakdown of their estimate:

  • Police officer time from December 2011 to September 2014;  94.6 months – £386,347
  • Legal services work from October 2010 to June 2014;  243.1 hours – £7,424.73
  • Civil disclosure work from September 2011 to October 2014; 352 hours – £5,181.44
  • Related complaints matters;  82 hours – £1,708.88
  • Chief Officer time; 259.08 – £9,308.85
  • TOTAL £409,970.90

This costing of what is, at best, a notional spend was the cornerstone that underpinned the decision by the Chief Constable and the Police Commissioner to go ahead and disburse an estimated £202,000 of the public’s money in legal fees, pursuing the civil harassment claim via the senior partner of one of the most expensive law firms in Leeds, and two barristers. One of whom is a well-known QC, with charge rates to match.

Indeed, Mrs Mulligan is quoted as saying: “Dealing with the actions of those involved in the civil case has tied up police resources to a significant extent, and it seemed reasonable to expect that further time and expense would be incurred if no action were taken“.

In layman’s terms, the PCC’s muddled hypothesis appears to be: (i) We have come up with some notional, and fanciful, figures to say it has ‘cost’ North Yorkshire Police £409,970 trying to silence these people, by criminalising them via an embarrassingly bad investigation. (ii) Now, we can save a bit of face by actually spending £202,000 of hard cash, and chase the same three men through the civil courts at the public’s expense. But, with no certainty of achieving anything more than the original failed police investigation (iii) It has actually cost a lot more than £202,000 so far, but we are keeping the lid tightly screwed down on that.

My investigations go a long way to proving that reliance on that particular foundation of the £409,970 calculation will bring the whole Operation Rome edifice to the ground:

  • The inclusion in the calculations of 94.6 months of police officer time, allegedly costing £386,347, to pursue three members of the public on a harassment without violence investigation stretches the bounds of credibility, far beyond breaking point.
  • That is the type of sum you would normally expect to see spent on a murder investigation where the perpetrator(s) remain undetected after six months.
  • Compare Operation Rome’s “£409,970” harassment enquiry, for example, with the recently wound up Operation Essence, a major crimes review of the Claudia Lawrence disappearance and murder. As many as 20 detectives and police staff worked full time for two and a half years. Cost: £800,000 Source: NYP.
  • Even 94.6 hours would be well beyond the routine for a harassment investigation of this type. That would bring the ‘cost’ in at a more realistic £2,240.34.
  • A harassment investigation would normally involve a neighbourhood police constable overseen by a sergeant, or possibly an inspector. The police hear what the complainant(s) have to say, speak to the suspects and make a charging decision based on the evidence. There is no forensic science involved, or complex issues to unravel. Even Heartbeat‘s PC Geoff Younger (pictured below) would shine in such probes.
  • The police have declined to say how many detectives were actually involved. They rely on a total of 14 people including lawyers, civil disclosure officers, PSD officers and staff from the PCC’s office as their answer.
  • The link between the cost of dealing with complaints against the police, freedom of information requests, reported at £6890.32, and a harassment investigation would also appear very tenuous at best. The complaints against NYP officers and information requests either had merit, or not. No evidence has been produced to me to suggest they were outside the scope of the legislation under which such issues could, quite properly, be raised.
  • The other ‘big ticket’ items on the costs estimate for Operation Rome also have the fishy odour of red herring. £16,733.58 is the combined total allegedly spent on Chief Officer time and the cost of Legal Services support. It begs the question as to what Chief Officers (who are most unhelpfully not identified by either name or job title) were actually doing that was connected to a criminal harassment investigation and involved 259.08hrs of their time?
  • The same comment applies to lawyers who are employed by the police force to deal with civil claims, not criminal investigations. How did they manage to spend 243.1 hours on a criminal harassment probe and what were they actually doing?
  • The bottom line here is that the TOTAL of £409,970 has very much the appearance of a figment of the imagination – and appears to be a figure largely plucked out of the air to justify raiding the public purse so that senior officers, including the Chief Constable and his Deputy could get their hands on free legal fees.

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The next step in the process is to look at how the Operation Rome investigation was conducted and what it actually achieved:

  • None of the three suspects have ever been issued with a Police Improvement Notice (PIN), more commonly known as a harassment warning. More on PIN’s here.
  • Only one of three suspects, Mr Hicks, was interviewed by the police. The focus of that 2012 interview was alleged damage to the reputation of North Yorkshire Police by his work as a citizen journalist, rather than harassment.
  • No disclosure was made to Mr Hicks, or his solicitor who was present throughout, that would persuade an independent reviewer that the police claims of harassment were credible.
  • The letter from Mr Hicks’ solicitor to NYP following the interview can be read here. It amounts to another humiliation of those police officers involved in Operation Rome.
  • Mr Ward, meanwhile, was completely unaware that any such investigation was in progress that involved him. He was never contacted by either a police officer, or any alleged ‘victim’, at any time concerning harassment allegations.
  • There was no mention of Mr Ward in the interview conducted with Mr Hicks at Fulford Road police station.
  • Meanwhile North Yorkshire Police actively canvassed other public officials from parish, borough and county councils, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission, to make complaints against the two citizen journalists.
  • One of the public officials, York City Council social worker, Mark Bednarski, was found to have misled police in his own witness statement by withholding information that damaged his claim.
  • Another public official, County and Borough Councillor Jane Kenyon lied in her CJA statement. A fact she has recently admitted after being cornered by documentary evidence.
  • No arrest was made at any time during Operation Rome.
  • The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) twice refused to authorised the arrest and charging of Mr Hicks under Section 3 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
  • The CPS guidance on issue of harassment warnings can be read here.
  • Following the second refusal by the CPS a ‘leading specialist barrister’, believed to be Simon Myerson QC, was consulted in an effort to make criminal charges stick. That was also a failure.
  • With Bednarski and Kenyon as star witnesses there would be little prospect of a prosecution succeeding, in any event.

At the end of a near three year investigation, Operation Rome was closed down as an incompetent, embarrassing and humiliating shambles.

But there are a number of questions, asked via appropriate legal channels, that remain unanswered by North Yorkshire Police which cast further and serious doubt on the provenance of the information already supplied about the harassment investigation and its ‘cost’.

  • NYP have stated in response to a FoIA request that none of the elements of the £409,970 costings are broken down for the years 2011,2012, 2013 and 2014
  • On the same request, the force cannot provide details of the incident that triggered the Operation Rome investigation. That suggests there is no policy log (sometimes called the policy book) in existence. The first sign of a poorly led, and badly directed, investigation
  • It is further claimed by NYP that Operation Rome was led by an inspector. Yet, I have in my files letters written by CI Heather Pearson (to Tim Hicks) and DCC Tim Madgwick (to Jane Kenyon) concerning this investigation.
  • Why was the Force Solicitor, Jane Wintermeyer, who essentially concerns herself with legal disputes in the civil courts tasked with collecting financial estimates for a three-year criminal investigation?
  • Why is there no written request to Mrs Wintermeyer to carry out this work –  upon which so much rested – in existence? The costing exercise was, allegedly, instigated following a verbal request from PCC Julia Mulligan and Chief Constable Dave Jones. Who both, separately, employ a highly qualified, and commensurately paid, Chief Financial Officer (Mike Porter and Jane Palmer respectively).
  • How could a back of the envelope exercise, delivered in such sloppy form, take over three months to produce?
  • Why did NYP reply to a FoIA request on 1st December, 2014 (almost at the centre point of the Wintermeyer cost collection exercise according to information she supplied to me by letter) saying that they could neither ‘confirm nor deny’ that such information existed?
  • Why are NYP dragging their feet on a FoIA request asking them to justify the breakdown of hourly rates used in the calculations?
  • More crucially, and in the interests of openness and transparency much touted by Mrs Mulligan, why does the Chief Constable, and the PCC, not simply publish the workings of Mrs Wintermeyer with the names of anyone lower than the managerial rank of inspector (or its civilian equivalent) redacted?

This all has the look of a third incompetent, embarrassing and humiliating shambles for North Yorkshire Police. Yet the mindset of its Chief Constable, and his lap dog Police Commissioner, is to dig both him, her and themselves ever deeper into a hole. Rather than confront the fact that they have been caught with their fingers in the till, so to speak, and deal with it in an honest, ethical and professional manner

Newby Wiske Jones Mulligan

More importantly, for a police force and a police commissioner to be prepared to relentlessly break the law to try, in vain, to cover its tracks over some distinctly shady territory mean that questions need to be urgently asked, at the Home Office: How can Dave Jones and Julia Mulligan justify conducting police operations in this manner – and for whose benefit are these ‘investigations’ actually being run?

There are, currently, at least 409,970 reasons for the Secretary of State, or the Home Affairs Select Committee, to seek answers to these questions.

Both Chief Constable Jones and Mrs Mulligan have been approached for comment on this article. None has yet been forthcoming from Jones, but a spokesman for the Commissioner said: ‘It would be inappropriate to comment on an ongoing legal matter‘.

North Yorkshire Enquirer‘s Nigel Ward said this: “At the material time, I was passing North Yorkshire Police a large volume of information regarding SAVILE and JACONELLI and was profusely thanked, by detectives, for my contributions. But during that same period, it seems, the police were plotting (unsuccessfully) to nail me on criminal harassment allegations made by Jane Kenyon. I refute those accusations made by her, entirely“.

But the last words should belong to Lord Maginnis of Drumglass who most presciently commented in Parliament, about North Yorkshire Police, in 2012:

That particularly dubious Constabulary merits careful investigation”.

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Page last updated Tuesday 10th May, 2016 at 1205hrs

© 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: North Yorkshire Enquirer, Yorkshire Television, Darlington and Stockton Times and Office of Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire

 

‘Complete capitulation’ follows the fall of Rome

The decision of the North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Julia Mulligan, to use a blank cheque drawn on policing funds to finance a civil harassment claim is one that has already attracted a good deal of controversy. With more certain to follow as the case unravels.

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Efforts at unpicking both the history and the rationale behind this extraordinary and unprecedented decision have so far met with obfuscation, obstruction and downright lies from the police and the PCC’s office. Paint in a gratuitous smear, or two, and the picture is complete of a police force and an elected policing representative deeply resenting any form of scrutiny.

This report draws on information from a variety of sources. Most of it routine for an investigative journalist – published articles, freedom of information requests, Google searches, trawls of court and public records, telephone or face-to-face interviews with those involved who are willing, or able, to talk.

But this particular probe has also ventured into the less usual: clandestine meetings with informants, unannounced telephone calls from ‘no caller ID’ numbers, correspondence with a prisoner in jail, materials pushed through the letterbox or sent anonymously via post.

It is also clear, upon their own admission, that emails and letters sent to police HQ and the PCC’s office in connection with a legal challenge to the funding have either been interfered with, or disappeared. An extraordinary situation by any measure and one which the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) were asked to examine. Unsurprisingly, the IPCC completely avoided any mention the issue in a recent appeal assessment that ranks as one of the worst I have ever seen.

The pleadings in the civil court dispute, the merits of the case, or the people involved in it, form only a peripheral part of this report. It is the funding decision, and the actions leading up to it, that is the core subject of scrutiny. The formal Decision Notice was published by Mrs Mulligan on 29th September, 2015, almost twelve months after one of her employees authorised expenditure of a huge amount of taxpayer cash on a private legal matter – and exactly four months after the absence of the notice was drawn to the attention of her staff.

Indeed, it would not have been published at all were it not for considerable pressure exerted on social media (see example below); or by way of a formal complaint to the Police Scrutiny Panel in July 2015 concerning the absence of the notice from her website and via email communications between the Chief Constable’s Finance Officer, Jane Palmer, and myself in August 2015 regarding inspection of the police force’s annual accounts.

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The complaint raised against Julia Mulligan also particularised, amongst a number of other issues, concerns about the PCC not holding her chief constable to account over serial failings in the disposal of freedom of information requests (read more here). Despite the Scrutiny Panel, incredibly, not upholding the complaints concerning either the missing Decision Notice or the FoI failings, it has become clear that nine information requests made prior to October 2015 concerning the harassment claims are still unfulfilled. This nugget came from the North Yorkshire Police’s own Civil Disclosure Unit in an outcome dated 8th January, 2016 to Ms Angela Snodgrove, via the What Do They Know website (see NYP outcome here), and gives a clear indicator of the police mindset in seeking to conceal the truth over this financial farrago. A check on NYP’s FoI disclosure log suggests that they are all still unfulfilled.

The police investigation that led to the issuing of the civil harassment claim is styled Operation Hyson. It has been established that Hyson began almost as soon as its predecessor, Operation Rome, ended on 17th July, 2014. Rome was a criminal investigation which focused on two of the three defendants in the civil claim. Opened at the end of 2011, it was a complete, embarassing, and very costly failure for the force. It cannot be judged any other way when detectives spend 31 months attempting to prosecute three people for harassment, without even issuing a singe Police Improvement Notice (PIN) and interviewing only one of the three ‘suspects’?

The fall of Rome was also a major blow to former Police Authority Chair, Jane Kenyon, who was a prime mover behind Operation Rome and reportedly livid when the Crown Prosecution Service refused, on two separate occasions, to prosecute the ‘suspects’ of allegedly harassing her.

Miss Kenyon is also a central figure in the civil claim and, of course, a long term political ally of the Police Commissioner who is funding the legal fees.

A clue to the timings is found on an invoice from barrister Simon Myerson QC in which he refers to both Rome and Hyson (named after a Chinese green tea called Lucky Dragon). The first Hyson conference appears to be a near five hour marathon at Newby Wiske police HQ on 6th August, 2014 which plainly featured Mr Myerson. This meeting took place just over two weeks after Deputy Chief Constable Tim Madgwick had written to the alleged harassers saying there would be no criminal action taken against them. DCC Madgwick (pictured below) is another pivotal claimant in the civil case who is benefiting from – and presumably voted for – a huge amount of public funds to finance his private legal claim over his hurt feelings. He is also a friend of Miss Kenyon and corresponds with her in familiar terms.

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From documents disclosed to me it is also clear that following the initial Hyson meeting  Mr Myerson’s junior barrister, Hannah Lynch, spent every day for two weeks at police HQ in Northallerton, beginning 11th August, 2014, in conference about the newly instigated investigation. Whilst it is not known who else was present at these daily conferences we do learn from Miss Lynch’s invoices to NYP that Operation Hyson was the subject matter.

It was abundantly clear that, from its outset, Hyson was a major financial undertaking for the police force. It is also reasonable to infer that the police decision to proceed with the civil harassment claim – and fund it – had been taken at the 6th August meeting between the police and Mr Myerson. If not, before.

On October 3rd, 2014 it is claimed that the PCC and the Chief Constable say that they verbally tasked the Force Solicitor, Jane Wintermeyer, with collecting what are described as ‘manual estimates’ from five different departments that had allegedly incurred costs in pursuing Operation Rome. Four days later, the senior partner of Leeds solicitors Ford and Warren, Nick Collins, began billing North Yorkshire Police.

Another recent freedom of information request has revealed that Mrs Wintermeyer was Mr Myerson’s instructing solicitor prior to 7th October. Enquiries have also revealed that no lawyers ‘beauty parade’ took place before the awarding of a very substantial legal engagement to Mr Collins’ firm. NYP tell me that a process called a Single Access Tender (SAT) was invoked after Mr Myerson recommended Ford and Warren as his preferred instructing solicitor. Further details of that SAT, and the supporting documents behind it, have now been requested from NYP. The chronology put forward previously, concerning the events surrounding these legal arrangements, give rise to the strong suspicion that those documents may not exist.

An estimate of £202,000 was given to the police for the cost of the legal action fronted by Ford and Warren. This would, of course, also include the services of counsel, Mr Myerson and Miss Lynch, but exclude Value Added Tax (VAT), the treatment of which may yet become a controversial issue for the force if it has been reclaimed by them as input tax.

By 8th October, 2014 Miss Lynch had clearly started billing for preparation work on the civil harassment claim and another conference – the twelfth in just two months – took place at police HQ, involving her, two days later.

According to Mrs Wintermeyer, yet another conference took place soon after – on October 15th, 2014 –  at which the PCC’s Chief Financial Officer, Michael Porter, was asked to ‘authorise expenditure that would allow proactive legal action in respect of the alleged harassment of persons including NYP officers and staff‘. Mr Porter splits his role under Mrs Mulligan with similar duties for the Cleveland PCC. Mr Myerson was also present at this meeting.

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The ‘manual estimates’ for the Operation Rome costings were delivered on 12th January, 2015. The total put forward by Mrs Wintermeyer was £409,970.90 (the breakdown of her costings can be viewed here).

Fourteen officers had, allegedly, been involved in the Rome investigation and whilst the legitimacy of some of the number of hours, days and months actually dealing with harassment – as opposed to other viable complaints, correspondence or criminal enquiries – need to be clarified, the hourly rates used in the calculations appear highly questionable. To the extent that NYP have been tasked via another Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) request to provide substance to their figures. For example, the rate for an hour of a chief officer’s time is £35.93 whilst detectives investigating harassment (presumably at detective constable and sergeant rank) are rated at £23.24. Common sense suggests that both cannot be correct.

North Yorkshire Police have broken the law (yet again) in failing to determine that FoIA request within the statutory 20 working day period.

It would also strike the independent observer as odd that ‘back of the envelope’ cost calculations should take over three months to collect and collate, by the Force Solicitor, when both Mrs Mulligan, and the Chief Constable, each employ a highly remunerated and professionally qualified Chief Financial Officer. Both of whom might, reasonably, be expected to have such details at their fingertips.

Another curiosity is that a FoIA request determined jointly by NYP and the PCC on 1st December, 2014 stated that they could ‘neither confirm nor deny’ that the same financial information being collected by Mrs Wintermeyer actually existed (read FoI decision here).

A more recent FoIA outcome (1oth March 2016) delivered by NYP via the WhatDoTheyKnow website (read in full here) casts even further doubt onto the authenticity of the £410,000 estimate. NYP say that Mrs Wintermeyer’s costings were not even broken down year by year (2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014) which any book-keeper, with an ‘O’ level in mathematics, would deem to be a basic requirement. How can some officers have analysed their time down to the minute and, yet, not know the date they allegedly did the work on Operation Rome? The whole Wintermeyer exercise lacks a ring of truth. A remark that can also be made about a number of her contributions to Operation Hyson. To the extent that she is now the subject of formal Code of Ethics complaint (read more here)

On the same day as Mrs Wintermeyer’s ‘costings’ were delivered to her employers (12th January), she says ‘advice was provided to the PCC regarding the lawfulness of expending money from the police force budget for Operation Hyson’. She doesn’t say from whom, but goes on to say ‘On or about January 13th, 2015 advice was provided from a leading barrister‘. It is not clear upon whose instructions that the ‘leading barrister’ was acting, what those instructions actually were, or the advice given, or to whom, as Mrs Wintermeyer is claiming legal privilege. Curiously, Mr Myerson on his detailed invoice for the day in question makes no mention of providing such opinion.

Following publication of this article, Mrs Wintermeyer has backtracked from her 13th January claim and has now put forward another unlikely proposition: That Mr Myerson gave the Police Commissioner his professional opinion over the vires of the funding of the civil claim in open meeting on 15th October, 2014. Whilst, seemingly, not instructed by solicitors retained by her.

Less than a week after the highly questionable Operation Rome costings and purported legal advice were given to Mrs Mulligan and the Chief Constable, Mrs Wintermeyer says the decision was made to issue civil proceedings against the subjects of the Rome criminal investigation.

But the date given for that decision – on or about 19th January, 2015 – cannot be true, for a number of reasons. It must been taken been taken months earlier. Operation Hyson, as we know from Mr Myerson’s invoices, was underway almost as soon as Rome collapsed in July 2014. Hyson is, to all intents and purposes the collection of evidence for, and the pursuit, of the civil litigation. Another clue is that, according to a very reliable source, three of the claimants’ witness statements were drawn up and signed before 19th January. Another clue from Mr Myerson’s accounts is that he was working on his skeleton argument and a draft order on 13th January.

But the most compelling reason is that the huge amount of materials exhibited with the harassment claim form could not have possibly been assembled, printed, collated, boxed and sent to the court, the nine claimants and three defendants on the following day. It takes a porter’s trolley to wheel them into court. Included in those boxes full of lever arch files is a witness statement from Mrs Wintermeyer that names twelve other individuals as potential claimants in the harassment proceedings, including the Temporary Chief Constable of Cleveland Police, Iain Spittal (pictured below); retired NYP ACC Steve Read and five other NYP officers. Two of them at managerial rank. Four of them still serving and one retired.

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That statement also makes clear that approaches had been made by Mrs Wintermeyer to councillors and officers of North Yorkshire County Council, City of York Council, Scarborough Borough Council and Leeming Parish Council, amongst others, to canvass backing for NYP’s harassment claims. This is a process that must have taken weeks and months, not hours.

It is not clear upon whose instructions Mrs Wintermeyer was acting, in what appears to be unethical touting using the temptation of free legal funding, courtesy of the unwitting taxpayer, in the name of North Yorkshire Police. It is unprecedented and scandalous conduct by a police force, or any other public authority for that matter, following extensive searches to find a similar example. For a solicitor (and an officer of the Court) to indulge herself in such practices may also pose regulatory, or court procedural, issues.

Significantly, the number of claimants has seemingly reduced by one, not increased: Retired Superintendent Heather Pearson (pictured below) no longer appears on formal court documents, including the Consent Order agreed on 9th February, 2015. The fact that her witness statement was not signed, or dated, at the time of service may have a bearing on that. Ms Pearson was a senior officer on the failed Rome investigation under DCC Madgwick’s direction. By contrast, none of the twelve named by Mrs Wintermeyer, or the many other and so far unnamed public officials, have come forward to join in the financial free-for-all.

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But it was at the end of January 2015 where it all started to go wrong for the police, its PCC and all the others involved in Operation Hyson. Having taken almost six months gathering information for their legal claim, the decision was taken to abandon the Court’s strict requirement for pre-action protocol to be followed. This involves a letter before claim being served on defendants so that they can marshall their own resources and attempt to narrow issues between the parties, before the expense of court costs is incurred. A decision made all the more extraordinary insofar as the principal target of the litigation, Mr Peter Hofschröer, was incarcerated in HMP Wandsworth, having been arrested by NYP in York city centre six weeks earlier.

The court papers show that they were sealed on 20th January and it has been established that process servers were engaged to hand them to the defendants the day after. The cost of that exercise was over £1,000 for delivering two boxes containing fourteen oversized lever arch files to three addresses.

An interim hearing date at Leeds High Court had already been set for 9th February, 2015 by the time proceedings were filed and served. Whether the defendants were available to put their case to the judge, or not.

On the face of it, the action of the police gave every appearance of a legal ambush. It is also a fair assumption that they either did not expect the two journalist defendants, Tim Hicks and Nigel Ward (pictured below), to turn up at court – or they would attend unrepresented and find themselves facing a leading QC and a junior barrister.

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In the event, after a hasty scramble, representation was arranged for the journalists via Nottingham law firm, Bhatia Best, and London human rights barrister, Ian Brownhill. It was a smart move as no injunctive relief was granted for the nine claimants and there was no order for costs. The Daily Mirror journalist in court at the time, Mark Lister, described the Consent Order agreed by Mr Brownhill and Mr Myerson as ‘a complete capitulation‘ by the police’s lay claimants.

Mr Brownhill also raised the moot point that, in his opinion, the funding of the civil action by the police was potentially ultra vires or in layman’s terms, in breach of common law. NYP’s legal team had, at first, tried to conceal from the defendants’ lawyers that the police were, in fact, financing the claim. Nowhere, in fourteen lever arch files of pleadings, could a certificate of funding be found. Which hardly suggests that NYP were brimful of confidence that such an arrangement would withstand judicial scrutiny.

Neither did the fact that Julia Mulligan had opted not to inform the North Yorkshire taxpayers about the fact that she had committed well over £200,000 of their money, taking sides in what her solicitor describes, disingenuously, as a ‘family dispute’. No formal Decision Note was published in October 2014 when the agreement to spend this money was allegedly made with the Chief Constable and, as rehearsed in some detail above, the public would not have been informed at all without my intervention. A fact admitted by Mrs Wintermeyer in correspondence between us.

This refusal to publish details of the decision to fund a private legal claim does not sit easily with the PCC’s repeated assertion of ‘openness and transparency’ in her approach to her elected representative role or, indeed, her lawful obligations under the Elected Local Policing Bodies (Specified Information) Order, 2011 at Schedule Part 1 5(d) which states: ‘a record of each decision of significant public interest arising from the exercise of the elected local policing body’s functions, whether made by the body at or as a result of a meeting or otherwise

Mrs Mulligan, Mrs Wintermeyer and the PCC’s Chief Executive, Joanna Carter, are all silent over what they knew about Operation Hyson – and they are all also currently claiming it is uncosted as far as NYP internal charges are concerned – from its inception at the beginning of August 2014 until the meeting on 15th October, 2014, where it is said that Mr Porter approved the expenditure of Ford and Warren’s budget estimate of £202,000.

Ms Carter was Treasurer to the defunct North Yorkshire Police Authority (NYPA) from 2005 to its cessation. A very troubled period in which there were repeated scandals over alleged misuse of public funds by senior police officers. Throughout that period Jane Kenyon was, significantly, Chair of NYPA.

Piece by piece, the picture on the front of the Lucky Dragon jigsaw box begins to shape up.

By May 18th, 2015 the legal costs incurred by solicitors and counsel retained by NYP on Operation Hyson had run up to £141,737.94, almost 75% of the budget. On 29th May I first raised my disquiet with Mrs Mulligan, and her staff, about the missing Decision Notice and lack of other information to which taxpayers were entitled. Those legitimate concerns were studiously ignored.

Poor engagement with constituents, and journalists, has been a consistent feature of the PCC’s tenure and she has twice been upbraided by the Police and Crime Scrutiny Panel (PCP) on this issue. On one of those occasions, in December 2013, she was asked by the PCP to apologise to one of the two journalists involved in this action as defendant, Tim Hicks. Mrs Mulligan has steadfastly refused to do so ever since. Not only undermining her own credibility, bringing the complaints system into disrepute but, most crucially, calling into question her own personal motivation for funding the costly harassment action against Mr Hicks, with the public’s cash.

A case management hearing on 26th June, 2015 was the next court outing for the police’s high-powered and hugely expensive legal battalions, which no doubt contributed to the uplift in the lawyers’ bills to £164,602 by the end of September. This was the figure published in the long-overdue Decision Notice which appeared, unheralded, on the PCC’s website on the 29th of that month.

Submissions made by Mr Myerson in his skeleton argument ahead of the June hearing included the false claim that I had been in Leeds High Court on 9th February (rather than in my sick bed at home) and an equally ludicrous assertion that I had ‘harassed’ Chief Constable David Jones and eight other claimants by posting articles and messages on behalf of Messrs Hicks and Ward. This harassment claim was not particularised, which was unsurprising as there are no such harassing articles or messages. Significantly, there has been no contact from either Mr Jones or his police force, since the hearing, that remotely concerns such allegations. It amounted to nothing more than a blatant attempt by North Yorkshire Police to smear.

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The Decision Notice makes no attempt to account for the delay in publication, or the unusual circumstances in which Mrs Mulligan was compelled to comply with her lawful obligations. Most crucially, it does not mention that her two most senior officers, the Chief Constable and his Deputy, were to benefit by at least £24,000 each from the arrangement. We are back, it seems to the bad old North Yorkshire Police days of the Della Canning, Grahame Maxwell and Adam Briggs style of management.

The whole matter of the PCC’s Decision Notice has the uncomfortable feel of sleight of hand and historical revisionism, not assisted by Mrs Wintermeyer’s refusal to provide documentary evidence to back up the claims made in the notice. Such as email communications between the PCC and Mr Porter or Joanna Carter between August and October, 2014. Mrs Wintermeyer’s preoccupation with attempting to smear me over a similar civil harassment case, in which I recently succeeded against the IPCC and their three publicly funded lay claimants, did more to undermine her credibility than mine. A link between the two cases is that one of the IPCC’s claimants against me, Senior Oversight Manager Rebecca Reed, was also approached to join in with NYP’s harassment action. This information was taken from the Miss Reed’s own witness evidence in a third money-no-object, publicly funded harassment action which concluded on 18th February, 2016 at Leeds County Court. The defendant refused to participate in the proceedings claiming that his Article 6 convention rights were being breached by the Court.

Less than three weeks after publication of the Decision Notice, on October 16th 2015, Mrs Mulligan was telling a former local councillor at a Whitby Rotary Club lunch that ‘the spending tap has been turned off‘ as far as Hyson and the civil claim was concerned. She was, it seems, either being economical with the truth or was being misled by police’s chief officer team.

Notwithstanding the PCC’s claim, there have been two more court hearings in Leeds since the Decision Notice appeared. On 27th November 2015 and 20th January, 2016. At the first of those hearings judgment was awarded against Mr Hofschröer which leaves the two journalists as the remaining defendants and legal costs spiralling out of control – and very likely well beyond the budget figure of £202,000.

With a trial date now set for 20th July, 2016 legal costs are likely to run over to £400,000 with another large chunk of senior police officer time occupied on top of the financial burden.

The one saving grace as far as the PCC’s legal costs are concerned is that the police QC, Simon Myerson (pictured below), has absented himself from the latest two hearings, although he is still on record at the court as leading barrister for the claimants. When approached on the Twitter social media website as to why a QC was running a county court harassment claim he stated that ‘the law is complex and the point is novel’. That was taken to mean whether the funding decision was vires or ultra vires. When this was put to Mrs Wintermeyer in subsequent correspondence between us she claimed the issue of vires was not at all novel.

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Mr Myerson charges the police £300 an hour to give opinions and advocate in their cause. Even when he is travelling in his car, with expenses on top. Yet, he is happy to spend an inordinate amount of time on Twitter ‘arguing’ for free, and ‘losing’ on a surprising number of occasions.

Two freedom of information requests concerning sight of the up to date bills from Mr Myerson, his junior colleague, Miss Lynch, and Weightmans have not yet produced a response from NYP. The first of those was made on 8th January, 2016 and the police have, to the surprise of no-one, been prepared for the umpteenth time to break the law rather than comply.

A separate freedom of information request, concerning the independent legal advice received by Mrs Mulligan about the legality of the civil claim funding, also remains unfulfilled. It simply asks for sight of the invoices from the solicitor and barrister who provided the opinion. A similar request was made concerning the ‘opinion’ sought by the PCC’s auditors, Mazars LLP, that enabled them to pronounce, belatedly, that the use of public funds to fund private litigation is lawful. They are also now overdue for disposal.

So much then for Mrs Mulligan’s and the Chief Constable’s approach to openness and transparency. A phrase that is repeated no less than four times in the PCC’s Decision Notice. Doth the lady protest too much?

An update to the PCC’s Decision Notice and a sharp upward revision of the budget for the legal expenditure is eagerly awaited, as is requested comment on this report from the two police chiefs.

A clarification on the position regarding Value Added Tax and P11D benefits in kind for the police employees named in the civil claim, would also be most welcome by the taxpayers of North Yorkshire and beyond.

The cost of silencing journalists via the civil courts doesn’t come cheap, as the IPCC recently discovered, and neither is it guaranteed to succeed.

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Page last updated Thursday 19th May, 2016 at 0745hrs

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

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

 

Cost of silencing police force critics now approaches £1 million

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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