MP to seek second adjournment debate

Exactly six years ago, at the end of the day’s Parliamentary business, Gerry Sutcliffe rose to his feet from the green leather benches to begin his contribution to an adjournment debate on the subject of the John Elam miscarriage of justice case. This is what he had to say:

“I am pleased to see the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims in his place. I do not expect him to be able to respond in detail to the important issues that I will raise, but perhaps while he listens to my speech he will reflect on what advice he can give on the best course of action to take the matter forward.

“The last case that I raised in which I felt a serious injustice had been done was that of Private Lee Clegg, a soldier in Northern Ireland who was convicted of murder. After the intervention of his solicitor, Simon McKay, other Members from both Houses and myself, he was eventually cleared of the crime.

“I want to make it clear that I do not raise these matters lightly. On the whole, our legal system is fair and just. It was with great pleasure and pride that I served as a Minister in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice under the last Government. I therefore raise this case knowing the confines within which Ministers may speak because of operational issues and the legal process. I raise this case this evening because a number of things have happened that have made me want to put it on the record.

“Mr John Elam was convicted of a conspiracy to commit fraud and received a 10-and-a-half-year jail sentence in April 2008. He has now been released on licence. He has always maintained his innocence and has sought to appeal against his imprisonment. He had an appeal in 2010 that was turned down.

“A constituent of mine came to see me to raise his concerns about the safety of the conviction and the role of certain officers in West Yorkshire Police. As you will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, Members of Parliament are approached by many people who feel that the legal system has operated against them. Sometimes it is difficult to unravel what the issues really are. As any other constituency MP would do, I wrote to the appropriate Departments and West Yorkshire police, and I contacted Mr Elam’s then solicitors, Keith Dyson and Partners. I also had meetings with the West Yorkshire Police Commissioner [Mark Burns-Williamson].

“My interest was stirred even more when differing accounts of the case emerged. According to West Yorkshire Police, Mr Elam was an international criminal who had connections to the Russian mafia and was involved in money laundering and the drugs trade. However, according to his solicitor, Mr Elam was the victim of police intimidation and a dirty tricks campaign, which included a lack of disclosure at his appeal. I am not a lawyer, so I was unsure what legal avenues were available to resolve the conflicting stories. As MPs do, I asked around, seeking advice and receiving information from many sources. The responses led to my interest in the case deepening further.

“Mr Elam had only one previous conviction, for common assault—he threw a Toby jug at a pub landlord. How did that minor criminal evolve into an alleged international criminal? According to West Yorkshire Police, they were interested in Mr Elam in 2005 and sought approval to have him monitored and placed under surveillance as a dangerous criminal. Operation Teddington was set up, and a very large amount of resources was spent on the process. Covert action was used to monitor the bank accounts of the Medina Trading Company, which consisted of a restaurant and a car wash. Mr Elam has always admitted his involvement with the Medina company and its directors.

“The Yorkshire Bank held the accounts of the Medina company, and an employee of the bank at that time, Mr Richard Shires, passed on information relating to the accounts, and cheques, to DC Mick Casey of West Yorkshire Police, as confirmed by affidavit. During my investigations into the matter, I have submitted a number of freedom of information requests to West Yorkshire Police, through which I have discovered that a person called Mr Richard Shires was a serving special constable in West Yorkshire Police at the time the information was passed on. I have also discovered that a person called Mr Richard Shires subsequently became a paid constable in West Yorkshire Police and continues to serve to this day. I have tried to discover through a recent freedom of information request whether those Richard Shires were one and the same, but at this time I have not been provided with that information.

“If those Richard Shires were one and the same, there was a clear conflict of interest, and more to the point, the credibility of the information and cheques passed to DC Casey would be called into doubt. I think all would agree that it would never be appropriate for a bank employee who was also a serving special constable to assist with the inquiries of the very same police force he worked for.

“At the trial, the Crown was represented by Mr Jonathan Sandiford. No evidence was given about the wider concerns relating to Mr Elam’s criminal associations. In fact, Mr Sandiford stated: The prosecution case here is that the conspirators sought to conceal the fact that Mr Elam was the true owner of the companies acquiring the business in order to defraud creditors’.

“In summing up the case, His Honour Judge Wolstenholme said to the jury that ‘….what you must do is take the view that, well, something dishonest was going on with one or more of the defendants. They must all have been up to something, even if you are not sure what.’

“Subsequently, Mr Elam was convicted.

“Mr Elam’s case, supported by his legal team, portrays an entirely different account of the chain of events. Mr Elam claims that he was approached in the summer of 2004 by a police officer demanding £150,000 in cash to be paid immediately, and £30,000 annually thereafter. In March 2005, the police investigated Mr Elam’s business practices using the covert name Operation Teddington. It is alleged that, in June 2005, 49 officers were redeployed from the anti-terrorist taskforce to work on Teddington.

“As I said, in September 2005, Richard Shires was a paid employee of the Yorkshire Bank. He accessed bank accounts relating to the Medina restaurant and secured more than 3,000 cancelled cheques. A written affidavit by Mr Shires confirms that he delivered a bundle of those cheques to DC Casey. The Yorkshire Bank also confirms that it never received an order to produce from the courts.

“In 2006, John Elam was arrested, and then the Crown court trial began. Despite a wide-ranging three-year investigation, involving more than 300 officers, Mr Elam faced a single charge of conspiracy to commit fraud. He was convicted and served his sentence in HMP Wakefield as a category A prisoner, the highest security level. He had also been treated as a category A prisoner during his time on remand. Mr Elam suffered a stroke in prison and needed external medical support.

“It is my contention that, whatever the true situation, a number of questions remain unanswered and there are a number of public interest concerns. First, was a production order properly served to Yorkshire Bank, and what was the role of PC Shires? Secondly, what was the true cost of Operation Teddington, and were officers diverted from the anti-terrorism taskforce, who at the time were dealing with the 7/7 bombers in West Yorkshire? Thirdly, why was Mr Elam considered to be a category A prisoner, and who was the police officer that demanded money?

“I know the Minister cannot respond directly to individual cases and that the Criminal Cases Review Commission will take a fresh look at this case, but I am seriously concerned enough to raise these issues and the fact that, while out on licence, Mr Elam still faces issues related to the recovery of the proceeds of crime. A hearing that was suspended in October is due in February. I have tried to contact West Yorkshire police on a number of occasions about those issues, and I will continue to do so. I was heartened today when I had a more co-operative response from West Yorkshire Police because they knew this debate was taking place, and I hope to take the matter further.

“These are serious allegations and this is a serious case—as I said, I do not usually promote and push issues where I do not feel that a cause needs to be looked at. This is a sensitive case, but it is important that as constituency MPs we raise such matters when they are put to us, and that we try to get the best result for the constituents we represent, particularly where justice and the work of the police are concerned. It must always be held utmost that the police operate in a proper manner and that our legal system is operating at its best.

“I want to put this case on record. I am sure it will not end here and that we will have to deal with other issues. However, I believe that the other bodies involved—they know who they are—should look at this case in greater detail, and I look forward to what the Minister has to say.”

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Gerry Sutcliffe, former MP for Bradford South

The Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims (Damian Green) then rose to respond on behalf of the Government:

“I congratulate the Hon. Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe) on securing this debate and thank him for recognising at various stages in his speech that I will inevitably be constrained in what I can say in response to the specific points he has raised. He served in a distinguished capacity in both the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office under the previous Government, so he will recognise that as a Minister in both Departments I am doubly constrained in what I can say. I will, however, respond to his points about miscarriages of justice, applications to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, and police matters.

“Consideration of alleged miscarriages of justice is a matter for the independent Criminal Cases Review Commission, and ultimately for the appeal courts. I am aware that Mr Elam has made an application to the commission. It is therefore not a matter for the Government and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on that case on their behalf. I understand that Mr Elam has made a complaint to West Yorkshire Police that is still ongoing and being investigated by the force’s Professional Standards Department. Again, that disqualifies me from commenting on it.

“The Hon. Gentleman mentioned the background to the case, and I understand that Mr Elam and a number of co-defendants were prosecuted as a result of a major operation by West Yorkshire Police. There were a number of criminal trials against Mr Elam and other defendants in 2006, 2008 and 2009. Mr Elam was convicted of offences including assault and conspiracy to pervert justice, conspiracy to defraud, and doing acts tending or intending to pervert the course of justice. Custodial sentences were imposed following conviction, which have been served, and I understand that Mr Elam has appealed unsuccessfully to the Court of Appeal, against sentence on one occasion, which was heard in 2007, and twice against conviction—both those appeals were heard in 2010.

“As I have said, Mr Elam has made an application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which was established by the Criminal Appeal Act 1995. Its purpose is to review possible miscarriages of justice. Since 31st March 1997, the Commission has operated with the power to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice and refer convictions and sentences to the relevant appeal court for a new appeal. Its remit extends to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Commission replaced functions that were previously carried out by the Secretary of State. Parliament established the Commission specifically to be a body that is independent of the Government.

“A Commission review is rightly a long and thorough process. If Mr Elam’s application to the Commission concerns all the criminal proceedings to which he has been subject over a number years, the review will be complex and lengthy.

“It should be noted that the Commission has strong statutory powers to enable it to discharge its functions. It can direct and supervise investigations; approve the appointment of officers to carry investigations on its behalf; and gain access to documents and other relevant materials. I draw the Hon. Gentleman’s attention to the power in section 17 of the 1995 Act, under which the Commission can reasonably require any person serving in any public body to produce to the Commission any document or other material that can assist it in the exercise of any of its functions.

“Of course, “public body” includes the police, so the Commission’s powers pursuant to section 17 operate irrespective of any duty of confidentiality and allow the Commission access to information of the highest sensitivity. Accordingly, as I am sure the House can see, the Commission has the power to obtain and review the papers and materials held by West Yorkshire Police, provided the Commission believes it reasonable to do so, in connection with its review of Mr Elam’s conviction. I hope that that reassures the Hon. Gentleman that, when the time comes, the Commission can access and consider all material relevant to the review of Mr Elam’s application.

“The Commission has confirmed that an application from Mr Elam was received in January 2013. Mr Elam is now at liberty and, as I understand it, the case is not yet under active review. The Commission has informed me that it recently wrote to advise Mr Elam that the estimated date for the allocation of his case for review is January 2015. I appreciate that that is some 2 years after the original application was made and that, given the complexity of the case, it is likely to be some time before an outcome is reached once the review is under way.

“In addition, the commission has explained to me that it operates a system of priority for applicants who are in custody. For cases requiring a substantial review, the review is generally started 12 months earlier when applicants are in custody than when somebody is at liberty. Currently, the wait for those in custody is unduly long. The Commission is concentrating on allocating those cases to reduce the maximum waiting time.

“As I have said, although the Commission prioritises applications from people in custody, I am advised that it has a policy for affording priority to any individual case when appropriate. Perhaps Mr Elam wishes to pursue that, or perhaps the Hon. Gentleman can discuss with Mr Elam whether that is an appropriate course of action in his case. I should take the opportunity to repeat that the Government should not, and indeed cannot, in any way intervene or be seen to be intervening in a matter for the Commission and, if appropriate, the appeal courts.

“On the West Yorkshire Police investigation, I understand from them that Mr Elam’s solicitor contacted them at the end of last year to make a complaint about an officer involved in the 2005 investigation. West Yorkshire Police’s Professional Standards Department is currently in correspondence with Mr Elam’s solicitor about the matter and currently awaits a response. As the Hon. Gentleman has said, Detective Chief Superintendent Andy Brennan, the Head of the West Yorkshire Police Professional Standards Department, has spoken to him and informed him of the sequence of events surrounding the original complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

“The complaint was thoroughly reviewed, and the response was sent on 18 September advising that there was no evidence to support the allegation. A formal complaint was recorded by West Yorkshire Police’s Professional Standards department and, although Mr Elam and his representatives have been advised that the complaint will be subject to disapplication on two occasions, there has been no response to the letters.

“I understand that the Hon. Gentleman was advised that the process would not stop West Yorkshire Police’s Professional Standards Department from taking action on the information, especially if there is a suggestion of misconduct or criminality. I believe that Detective Chief Superintendent Brennan has also offered to meet the Hon. Gentleman to go through any outstanding allegations or suggestions of misconduct. As well as that offer—it is obviously a matter for him to decide whether to take that up—the Professional Standards Department strongly encourages Mr Elam, or any other person, to contact it should they have information that they believe may be relevant or of value. I think that that is all I can appropriately say at this stage.

“If after those stages Mr Elam is not satisfied with how his complaint to West Yorkshire Police was dealt with, or how he was notified of the outcome, he can appeal a decision to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which is the statutory guardian of the police complaints system. There are, therefore, further steps that he can take if he wishes to do so.

“The Hon. Gentleman raised three important specific points at the end of his speech. Let me address them as far as I can. The issue of the production order to Yorkshire Bank and the role of Mr Shires is specific to one or more of the criminal cases brought against Mr Elam. If that is a case he has asked the Criminal Cases Review Commission to consider, it will investigate the issues fully. It is therefore not appropriate for me to speculate on them. Information on the costs and diversion of police resources for the purposes of Operation Teddington is an operational matter for West Yorkshire Police, so I refer the Hon. Gentleman to it for the answer to that. On the question of where Mr Elam served his custodial sentences, the decision on which custodial facility a convicted prisoner is sent to is made by the National Offender Management Service. Its decision is informed by information and intelligence from various sources, and the Directorate of High Security has a responsibility to act on that information. It is not within its remit to investigate the details of the information provided by the sources it uses.

“It is clear from the important matters raised by the Hon. Gentleman that there are issues that need to be looked into further. As I have explained, the relevant and appropriate bodies are looking into those matters now. I therefore think that the sensible way forward is to allow the application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission to take its course. I hope that that satisfies the important points raised by the Hon. Gentleman.

Damian Green sat down at 5.18pm having given a polished and, patently, well briefed response, 22 minutes after the debate opened. The obvious, and legitimate question, is what has happened since? Is everything as straightforward as he makes out with regard to the various statutory bodies and the police in their treatment of miscarriage of justice victims and did the case pan out as he said it would. What follows here is a damning condemnation of all four: The Criminal Case Review Commission, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, West Yorkshire Police and Mr Green himself.

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Former Policing Minister, Damian Green pictured alongside family friend, Kate Maltby

Green was later sacked by Prime Minister, Theresa May, as First Minister after he admittted making misleading statements following the discovery of pornography found on his Commons computer in 2008. Those listening to the swish sound of whitewash being smoothly applied during his response to Gerry Sutcliffe wouldn’t have been too surprised at this turn of events. Mrs May was, of course, Green’s ‘boss’ at the Home Office at the time of the adjournment debate. She did not call for a review of any matters with which he had been involved as a result of his admission of dishonesty.

Other allegations raised against him by Kate Maltby, were found to be “plausible”, but no definitive conclusion could be reached about them as a result of “the competing and contradictory accounts” of the Minister and a female family friend who is nearly 30 years his junior, regarding inappropriate sexual behaviour.

Mrs May was heavily critical of the police in the way they carried out the raid on Green’s parliamentary office in 2008, when the pornography was discovered. One might fairly say that the former Home Secretary was not quite so robust when members of the public were victims of unlawful, high-handed and/or heavy-handed treatment by cops.

The first port of call for a member of the public having difficulties with the police should be his elected policing representative, the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), voted in by the public for that very purpose. Regrettably, the PCC for West Yorkshire is Mark Burns-Williamson, one of the worst in the country, in a field of plenty. His approach throughout the Elam fight for justice has been nothing short of disgraceful: He firstly lobbied his Labour colleague, Gerry Sutcliffe, to drop his involvement with the miscarriage of justice case. Burns-Williamson then, as he invariably does in other complaint cases, simply adopted the police postion without making independent enquiries: So, in the PCC’s eyes, Elam is a notorious Russian mafia gangster and unworthy of the assistance of the officer paid to perform that function. But when asked by Mr Sutcliffe to provide evidence, or substantiation, of that position  he could provide none. In fact, he refused to answer correspondence.

For a series of investigations into John Elam and others, that Gerry Sutcliffe believed had cost, in total, approaching £100 million of taxpayers money, and, at times, occupied up to 300 officers, the PCC ought really have been a great deal more rigorous in challenging the police narrative.

As far as West Yorkshire Police is concerned, their treatment of John Elam continues to be highly questionable. Despite almost ten years of intensive covert surveillance, of the most intrusive nature one can imagine, there was not one scrap of evidence that he fits their bizarre description as an international drug-running, money laundering, Russian mafia gangster produced at his trials. Despite many requests from Elam, his legal representatives, his MP’s, there has not been any evidence of the same genre produced in the intervening 11 years, either. Which makes the Burns-Williamson stance even more inexplicable.

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John Elam, in his office in Leeds, sizing up the next land development project.

He looks a long, long way from that, sloshing about on a brownfield construction site in Bradford in torrential rain on a cold, sleeting December morning rallying his workers from the front. Yet still the police pursue him; smearing him with banks and professional associates, making life as difficult as they possibly can to put his undoubted, almost unequalled, business acumen to use as a property developer. Very few would be able to start with less than nothing, from gypsy stock, and legitimately turn that into a £multi-million fortune.

There is also this troubling whiff of racism, and all the resentment infecting people of such unpleasant disposition, that appears to permeate into almost all of WYP’s actions. Is it the gypsy blood and the ability to wheel and deal, making ‘easy money’ by putting ‘back to back’ land packages together that gets their goat?

One senior WYP officer is alleged to have said at the time of the Sutcliffe adjournment debate: “How did that gypsy f****r get his case on the telly like that”.

Every complaint made on behalf of John Elam (he is in the later stages of his life, having made and lost several fortunes, getting to grips with reading and writing) is airily batted away by the police. Then kicked further into the long grass by the thoroughly disgraced IPCC (now the similarly disgraced IOPC). Aided and abetted by a police complaints system deliberately re-designed, in 2011, to hamper the public at every turn.

Two long-serving officers turned up to meet Elam at Gerry Sutcliffe’s office in Bradford in 2014, Simon Bottomley and Osman Khan. Both DCI’s at the time, who have gone on to be Heads of PSD at WYP. Bottomley is the present incumbent, having succeeded Khan last year. Both have a chequered history amongst those members of the public who have had the misfortune to complain against their local police force. Their disposition towards John Elam and Mr Sutcliffe was agressive and confrontational throughout. They had turned up in place of Andy Brennan, who had done a ‘moonlight flit’ and left WYP shortly before he was due to meet with the MP and Elam, as Damian Green had indicated he would. When Elam spoke to Brennan by phone he could offer no explanation for his ‘retirement’ from WYP. The meeting produced nothing of use to the fight for justice. The barriers were up and stayed up.

The stigma of the 7/7 bombings, and the effect of the withdrawal of WYP’s specialist counter-terror officers onto what appeared to be an almost wholly disproportionate vendetta, also rankles deeply with the force’s hierarchy. Further discrediting Elam is one of the only ways they can salve their conscience after 56 people died at the hands of three radicalised suicide bombers from Leeds, and one from Kirklees.

The CCRC did, eventually respond in April, 2016, three years and three months after the submission of the Elam appeal to them. Their detailed findings, and the flaws inherent within them, including what appears strongly as ‘verification bias’ and a lack of basic investigative rigour will be the subject of a separate, but linked, article on this troubling miscarriage of justice case.

The CCRC provided no satisfactory answers on the key issues concerning:

(i) Richard Shires and his dual and contemporaneous role with Yorkshire Bank and WYP.

(ii) The provenance of the Production Order which took nine years for WYP to eventually produce (in the end to Gerry Sutcliffe) and the Yorkshire Bank are adamant was never served on them at any time.

(iii) The true status of the alleged police informant, Andrew John Rudd. Whom it is said was acting as agent provocateur.

(iv) The classification of John Elam as a Category AA prisoner. Extraordinarily, and quite independently as an investigative journalist, I have obtained access to that information and about which there will be a seperate article naming the officer who provided what appears to be false and malicious information to HMP’s Director of High Security.

(v) The identity of the police officer who turned up at John Elam’s home in Scarcroft and demanded £150,000 in cash up front, and £30,000 per annum thereafter, ‘to make your [John Elam’s] problems go away’. No enquiries were made as to the whereabouts of the film from a covert camera situated in a bird box in a tree opposite (in the garden of a former Leeds United goalkeeper, Nigel Martyn).

(vi) The continued smearing of him as a very serious organised drug-running, money laundering, Russian mafia criminal, absent of even the smallest scrap of evidence.

What they did do, incredibly, was have at least one face-to-face briefing with West Yorkshire Police, the very organisation whose serious, and proven, wrongdoing was at the heart of the Elam CCRC appeal. It appears to have escaped the attention of the CCRC that WYP has the worst record of any police force in the country when it comes to serious, high profile miscarriages of justice. Dating back to the 1970’s and the deeply shocking Stefan Kiszko and Judith Ward cases (read more here). They are a police force that simply cannot be trusted to tell the truth or not tamper with evidence and/or witnesses. That is not fanciful speculation, it is an inalienable fact.

Most crucially, what they CCRC didn’t do was exercise their extraordinary powers to obtain disclosure independent of the police and prosecution filters or barriers. If they had, they would have discovered, as I have done, that covert surveillance on John Elam began accidentally in 1998 when an operation (my informant who worked on the case cannot recall the name) was mounted in East Leeds targetting other persons of interest to the police. Elam was a business associate of one of them. West Yorkshire Police say they have not been able to trace the operational name either, despite very specific information being provided to them that should make it a straighforward task

An operation that followed, codenamed Primary, did target John Elam but yielded nothing after three years of intensive, intrusive surveillance as they tried to link him to WYP’s ‘most wanted man’, Dennis Slade. A career armed robber whom the police fitted up in 2010 for a murder conspiracy he wasn’t part of. There was never any connection to find between the two men, socially or in business dealings, except for a fleeting introduction in a Leeds pub one evening. Slade’s conviction on that murder count was quashed by the Court of Appeal and the charged dropped one week into the re-trial in April, 2019 (read more here).

West Yorkshire Police misled Damian Green when they stated that surveillance on John Elam only began in 2005. It would have seriously harmed their case if the obsessive vendetta had been found to have begun five years earlier.

For my own part I can say this: I’ve known John Elam for seven years and either I am blind and stupid or he is a hard-working family man, unfailingly courteous, would walk a mile to do a man a good turn, would turn around rather than do him a bad one. His office is on one of the busiest corners in Leeds, he operates in a highly competitive business arena but appears to have the respect of his peers. Deals get done, and the wheels of the diggers and trucks turn. He is in the public eye insofar as he regularly takes his daughter and grandson out for meals and spends many weekends with them at their caravan at the East Coast seaside. That is not the lifestyle of a mafia gangster.

Like me, he abhorrs any form of narcotics and will not tolerate their use in his presence.

What I can’t say: That there is any evidence at all that he is the major criminal portrayed by the police. He is a one man band and has no association with any gang, apart from those carrying out groundworks on construction sites. He has the same computer in his office that he has had all the time that I’ve known him; he freely gives me access to that. He has just one ancient mobile Nokia phone that, apart from making and receiving calls, he struggles to use. There are no burner phones or SIM cards; no sophisticated means of encrypted communication used routinely by criminals, even the not-so-serious ones these days; no firearms; no weapons (and he wouldn’t even try to beat me in a fist fight). Nothing at all to support the notion of a criminal lifestyle and enforcer. His mode of transport is a 4 year old Ford Ranger open-backed pick-up truck. Not ideal if you are transporting illicit goods, cash or weapons.

What John Elam does have is a burning sense of injustice. It will never leave him. Why else, nine years after he was released from prison would he still be battling the police and the criminal justice system, spending whatever money he can raise on lawyers, trying to clear his name. The reader is invited to draw their own conclusion from that and look out for the follow-ups to this article which will appear in the coming weeks. This is a story that will run and run.

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Alex Sobel, MP for Leeds North West

APPEAL: If any retired or ex-West Yorkshire Police officer wants to come forward, anonymously or otherwise, with information that may assist in answering the questions still posed by this troubling case, they are asked to contact, in complete confidence, the office of John Elam’s MP, Alex Sobel. The Member for Leeds North West has been assisting Mr Elam, particularly with disclosure issues, for the past eighteen months. He has promised efforts will be made to secure a second adjourment debate in order to fill the gaps from the first one six years ago. They are, however, difficult to come by and Alex has not been at all lucky in the ballots that take place when pursuing other issues on behalf of constituents.

Alex secured a resounding victory at the recent General Election, securing a third term in office with a substantially increased majority. Very much against the trend for the Labour Party. John Elam, as a constituent campaigned strongly amongst his family, friends and associates for an elected representative he holds in high personal and professional regard.

 

Page last updated at 1650hrs on Tuesday 28th January, 2020.

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A cuckoo in the nest?

For the second time in just over a month, two days spent in the austere halls of Royal Courts of Justice gave further, and, at times, quite remarkable, insight into the inner workings of five different policing bodies: The Police Federation, a police force Misconduct Panel, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, a Police and Crime Commissioner’s (PCC’s) office and the Chief Police Officers Staff Association (CPOSA).

The two cases are both pathfinding judicial review claims, and the issues that fell to be determined by senior judges will have far reaching implications for both the police service and the wider public. One hearing was very much low key, the other attracted wide media coverage due, in the main, to the presence in court of three high profile policing figures, almost obsessive references to an even higher profile MP (Andy Burnham) and the backdrop of the scandal surrounding the Hillsborough Disaster cover-up by South Yorkshire Police.

Andy Burnham seen arriving at Birchwood Park, Warrington to hear evidence at the new Hillsborough inquests. Alongside is Steve Rotheram MP who has also campaigned tirelessly for bereaved families and survivors.

The first claim, heard on 8th February, 2017, before Mrs Justice McGowan, was listed as Thames Valley Police -v- Police Misconduct Panel (CO/2810/2016). The substantive issue was the challenge by the chief constable of that force to a finding of the Panel at the conclusion of a gross misconduct hearing. It was submitted on the chief’s behalf, via his counsel, Stephen Morley, that the Panel had got the decision ‘badly wrong‘.

The Panel’s finding was that the officer, PC White (named as an Interested Party in the proceedings), facing a breach of order and instructions charge, and multiple neglect of duty charges, should receive a final written warning. The charges against PC White concerned various items of property, to the combined value of £10,000, that he had kept and not actioned on police databases, in one case impacting adversely on a prosecution case. Other evidential materials were also found in his locker, and bag, during a subsequent search, that were not booked in, either.

The chief constable contended that the officer should have been dismissed as a result of ‘integrity failings‘, and the fact that ‘he knew he had done wrong’ and failed to correct his actions. It is the first time since police regulations were changed in 2015 – which affected the composition of Panels amongst other innovations – that such a challenge against a Panel finding has been mounted.

The Misconduct Panel, through its lawyer chairman, declined to take any part in the judicial review proceedings on the grounds that the claim form was improperly served and, in effect, the legal action was a nullity. The defence of the chief constable’s claim was taken up by the Police Federation, on behalf of their member officer, PC White. They were represented by the formidable Alexandra Felix, a specialist criminal and regulatory barrister.  Her submissions, made with some force, could be summarised thus

(i) Dealing with police misconduct matters, including criminal offences, is a management function. ‘It is about learning and development, not punishment’. In this sense, it is set apart from other professional bodies or services.

(ii) Discipline is an operational matter and the chief constable picks the Panel – ‘it’s his Panel‘ and ‘part of the internal process‘. As such, the chief constable did not have the legal capacity to bring these judicial review proceedings.

(iii) The filing and service of the proceedings, in their present form, was a ‘procedural failure’. Civil Procedure Rule 57.4 had not been complied with. As such, the proceedings should be struck out.

There was extended discussion and argument, in which the judge took full part, concerning the meaning of ‘integrity’ and where it falls, in a police misconduct sense, in relation to ‘honesty’. Both, of course, being fundamental requirements of being a police officer under the College of Policing’s Code of Ethics.

Judgment was reserved, pending further written submissions being made by all parties to the claim. It is awaited, with considerable interest, and is likely to become a cited authority whichever way the judge finds.

It was accepted by both counsel present in court that her findings would have far reaching consequences on police misconduct matters, and the role of disciplinary panels within it. Other than the judge, her clerk, three lawyers and the Police Federation representative, I was the only other person present in Court 5 for what had been a fascinating, and highly informative, hearing. Not least, the public airing of the proposition that the powerful, and extremely wealthy, Federation had an almost unshakeable grip on police misconduct matters, concerning all ranks between constable and chief inspector, and the consequent fate of their members accused of either serious misconduct, or criminal offences. If the Fed takes up an officer’s cause, removal from the police service is nigh impossible. But, if the rank and file ‘union’ withdraws support, then the officer concerned is, almost inevitably, cast to the dogs.

To those not so familar with the labyrynthine processes of the police misconduct regulations, it is worth pointing out that it is not within a chief constable’s very considerable powers to simply dismiss a police officer . All the necessary steps, within the statutory framework, have to be followed. Whether he (or she) agrees, or not.

The second judicial review application, a much higher profile case and played out before a packed Court 3, has already been the subject of two articles on this website [1] ‘Bad on their merits‘ (preview of the hearing based on disclosed pleadings) and [2] ‘Much ado about nothing’ (a report of proceedings in David Crompton -v- Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire). 

This article focuses on the specific roles of the South Yorkshire PCC, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary (HMCIC) and the Chief Police Officers’ Staff Association (CPOSA) in those proceedings, heard before Lady Justice Sharp and Mr Justice Garnham, and their approach to both evidential and misconduct matters.

The Chief Inspector, Sir Thomas Winsor, is one of the key links the joins the two cases, as he was a member of the Misconduct Panel that found ACC Rebekah Sutcliffe guilty of gross misconduct in the controversial ‘Boobgate‘ scandal, but deemed that a final written warning was the appropriate sanction. Most observers, including her own chief constable, felt she should have been dismissed from Greater Manchester Police. ACC Sutcliffe has been sent out on secondment to Oldham Borough Council and is unlikely to undertake an operational policing role again.

PCC Alan Billings was, of course, listed as defendant in the case and present in court throughout the hearing, alongside his chief executive, Michelle Buttery, and Communications Manager, Fiona Topliss. it was argued, on his behalf, before the court, that he had followed misconduct procedure (in this case Section 38 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibilty Act, 2011) to the letter. Albeit, ignoring the advice of HMCIC along the way (as he was lawfully entitled to do).

The court also heard that two press releases, issued after the Hillsborough inquest jury determinations, were not the catalyst for former chief constable’s suspension (the main limb of Crompton’s claim). But, rather, the straw that broke the camel’s back. There are many, including me, who believe Dr Billings, accepted on all hands as a decent, honourable man, should have stepped in sooner.

Since he was elected in October, 2013 there must have been deep concerns about the constant adverse publicity that Crompton brought to his force over such as his notably poor handling of the Rotherham abuse scandal, and the infamous Cliff Richard/BBC farrago, over which the pop star is now claiming in excess of £1 million damages [3]. For example, the embattled police chief suffered a series of severe maulings at the hands of the all-party Home Affairs Select Committee (see the 3rd September, 2014 session below, courtesy of The Needle Blog).

The chairman of that committee concluded, after hearing the evidence by David Crompton, that it was incompetence on a grand scale on the part of South Yorkshire Police.

The appearance of CPOSA in the Crompton claim comes by way of legal costs support for the former SYP chief constable. To the independent-minded observer this is a huge investment for, potentially, very little return. The claim was brought on the premise that if a decision to, firstly, suspend the disgraced chief constable then, ultimately, force his resignation, was quashed, it would ‘restore his damaged reputation‘. Which relies entirely on the premise that David Crompton’s reputation was not irreparably destroyed BEFORE he was suspended. On any reasonable view, it was in tatters, and ‘Disaster Dave‘ as he was dubbed in the national press in 2014, had, indisputably, been under constant media (and Parliamentary) attack from his very first week in office in April, 2012.

Very few people are aware that, at the time of his appointment to head up South Yorkshire Police, David Crompton was under investigation by the IPCC, who were managing an investigation by one of his former forces, Greater Manchester Police (GMP), into misconduct and racism allegations made by former West Yorkshire Police Legal Services Director, Ajaz Hussain. Crompton, as far as I can trace, has never spoken publicly about this. The officer investigating the Hussain complaints, David Whatton, had been a GMP senior officer colleague of Crompton’s between 2002 and 2004. Whatton, on any reasonable view a perverse choice of investigating officer, ultimately cleared Crompton of wrongdoing.

The proposition, therefore, appears to be that CPOSA will rally round a chief officer, however incompetent and discredited he (or she) appears to be. Given that it is an organisation that has, over the years received an extraordinary, and controversial, amount of public funding [3a] then such unconditional support is very troubling indeed.

Chief constables, and their deputies and assistants, are expected to set the highest possible standards and, to the man (or woman on the Clapham omnibus, it would seem entirely improper that they should they provide mutual aid to those that don’t cut the mustard. In this context, it was a suprise to me, at least, that a former chief constable I hold in high regard, Neil Rhodes, was alongside David Crompton for almost all of the two day hearing. In a curious twist of fate, Rhodes was also CPOSA friend to Hussain which had led to another high profile court drama in 2013 [3b].

Tom Winsor is, plainly, a busy man. He did, however, find time to spend the entire two days of the Crompton claim in court, following proceedings assiduously – as one would expect of a successful, and highly experienced, regulatory lawyer. Indeed, as claim and counter-thrust was made in submissions, by counsel for the various represented parties, it became clear that the Crompton case was not about the former SYP chief, at all. It was brought as a means for policing bodies to continue to police themselves, as they have done for almost two centuries. Sir Thomas is the cuckoo in the nest – and he is not at all content to eat scraps from any elected official’s table. Particularly, one who may be minded to remove a chief constable against his specific advice which, it was advanced on behalf, should be regarded as akin to statutory guidance. His criticism of the decision making, and capacity, of Dr Billings, the PCC in question, pulled no punches.

But is Sir Thomas, himself, above criticism in this matter? Definitely not, on the basis of submissions made to the court on his behalf: There are four key issues that invite scrutiny:

Screen Shot 2017-04-06 at 11.20.54
Sir Thomas Winsor, who took over as Chief Inspector in September, 2012 had previously made his name as a highly regarded lawyer and reforming rail regulator

(i) His HMIC inspection of South Yorkshire Police in June 2015 rated the force as ‘good’. A peer review in May 2016, managed by the College of Policing and the interim chief constable, Dave Jones, and involving a number of experts in their specialist fields, found serious failings in the management and operational effectiveness of the force [4]. The disparity between HMIC’s findings and the peer review is, so far, unexplained. It was not directly tested in court, although it formed part of the written submissions made on behalf of the PCC. In another curious turn of events, just two weeks after the court hearing concluded another HMIC inspection saw SYP heavily criticised.

(ii) It was asserted, without any evidence, supporting information or details of source, that public confidence was NOT adversely affected by David Crompton’s running of the police force in South Yorkshire. Contrast that with ample, and highly informed, feedback from a large number of elected representatives (MP’s, MEP’s and councillors) in the locality, and the public who interacted either with DrBillings personally, or via his office. Plus an almost weekly round of stinging media criticism of the force, and one might take the view Dr Billings was in a much better position to take a stance on this issue.  Indeed, it was his emphatic view that confidence in his chief constable had almost ebbed away when the decision was taken to suspend him. Even the Home Secretary of the day, Theresa May, knew the game was up for Crompton and South Yorkshire Police. It was, therefore, nothing short of astonishing that, from his London office, Sir Thomas could deem otherwise. A fair-minded observer might take the view that his motivation for doing so ought to be examined independently.

(iii) The proposition was advanced, on his behalf, that Sir Thomas had a ‘bird’s eye view‘ of the performance of police forces and, therefore, by default, chief constables. There seemed no good reason to single out Crompton for opprobium. Which, given the beleagured South Yorkshire chief’s well chronicled list of failings, turns attention to how bad some of the other chief constables must be, if Crompton is not ranked below them. It may also explain why so many chief officers have left the police service, in disgrace, over the past five years. Often retiring to avoid disciplinary sanction.

(iv) Much was made in court of the fact that Crompton had broadcast an apology, on behalf of his disgraced force on 12th September, 2012, the day of the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report. Reinforced, it was said by another apology on the day of the jury determinations at the new inquests. It was claimed, in court, on behalf of both Crompton and HMCIC that he had not resiled from those apologies. That was, quite simply, incorrect. Crompton’s true feelings and views about the Hillsborough Disaster – and the role of the Liverpool fans in it – were exposed in the national press following disclosure of emails sent both internally to other South Yorkshire Police officers and, externally, to other senior policing figures, notably Sir Norman Bettison and Sir Hugh Orde. Crompton challenged the Panel Report as one sided, and wanted to set up a PR offensive to counteract the bereaved families fight for truth, then justice [5]. Sir Thomas Winsor, and his his legal team, were silent on this point. Did he not know, or was it just another Crompton flaw that he was, conveniently, prepared to overlook?

The sum of all these parts is that HMIC, and their Chief Inspector, are not all they crack up to be. Others have raised well evidenced doubts concerning the police force inspections they carry out and, particularly, their lack of rigour. But that is not the chief concern: As a watchdog, with a crucial role in maintaining confidence in those charged with the public’s safety and security, how can Sir Thomas sit there, stony faced, and allow unevidenced assertions, and in some parts, what may be considered as untruths, about the policing abilities of, and the public confidence in, David Crompton to be presented as fact?

Another unspoken factor may have been the career record of Sir Dan Crompton, David’s father, which ended with service as a leading light in none other than Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. Crompton senior’s own adverse views on Hillsborough, and those bereaved families campaigning for justice, are also well known and for which he has steadfastly refused to apologise since they were first made public in 2013 [5].

Running a protectorate for the incompetent is, presumably, not what Her Majesty the Queen would have had in mind when she touched Tom Winsor’s shoulder with her sword in September, 2013. The revelations on the Strand, on two sunny days at the end of March, 2017, may yet be scrutinised, a short distance away along London’s riverside, before an MP’s Select Committee.

Page last updated: Thursday 13th April, 2017 at 1405hrs

[1] Neil Wilby – ‘Bad on their merits‘  24th January, 2017

[2] Neil Wilby – ‘Much ado about nothing’  29th March, 2017

[3] Neil Wilby – ‘David Crompton – The South Yorkshire Years’ 27th April, 2016

[3a] Yorkshire Post – Payouts to legal fund of shamed top officers set for axe 22nd January, 2013

[4] Daily Star – ‘Hillsborough Email Smear‘ 24th February, 2013

[5] uPSD WYP – ‘Sir Dan Crompton’  16th June, 2017

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

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

Copyright: Neil Wilby 2015-2017. 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.

Much ado about nothing?

An employment dispute that began in a glass fronted office block close to the Meadowhall Shopping Centre in Sheffield, was, eventually, played out in the hallowed halls of the Royal Courts of Justice on London’s Strand eleven months later.

It was no ordinary job, however, and the offices were those shared by the South Yorkshire Police (SYP) and its Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC). The Chief Constable of the beleaguered force was David Crompton and he was suspended from duty, by the PCC, Dr Alan Billings, on the afternoon of 27th April, 2016.

crompton-and-billings
South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, endorses his chief constable, David Crompton, within minutes of being elected to office in October, 2013.

Crompton ultimately resigned on 29th September, 2016 at the end of a process empowered by section 38 of the Police and Social Responsibility Act, 2011 (the Act).

At the time of his suspension, Crompton had already set his date for retirement from the force – which was planned to be 30th November, 2016.

A rolled-up permission and substantive judicial review hearing opened on 28th March, 2017 before Lady Justice Sharp and Mr Justice Garnham. David Crompton is the Claimant, the PCC, Dr Alan Billings, is Defendant and there are two interested parties: Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary (HMCIC), Sir Thomas Winsor, and the Police and Crime Scrutiny Panel for South Yorkshire (PCP).

Dr Billings was present throughout the hearing, as was Sir Thomas and David Crompton. The latter was accompanied by his wife and daughter, together with retired Lincolnshire Police chief constable, Neil Rhodes, who was there in his capacity as Chief Police Officers Staff Association (CPOSA) ‘friend’. CPOSA are funding the claim through a contributory insurance scheme.

Rhodes is no stranger to these type of proceedings and successfully overturned a controversial suspension by the then Lincolnshire PCC, Alan Hardwick, in 2013.

Submissions were heard, for most of the first day of the hearing, from counsel for the claimant and HMCIC (Hugh Davies QC and Clive Sheldon QC respectively) which amounted to much the same thing: The decision of the PCC was taken in haste, not properly thought through, was defective in process, failed to apply due weight to HMCIC’s findings and undertaken with a political, rather than a policing, agenda.

Further, the PCC chose to ignore the recommendation of HMCIC which, it was advanced, on his behalf, a considered, objective and expert review of the section 38 process that the PCC had set in train.

As such, the decision by the PCC to, effectively, dismiss the chief constable was born of ‘political imperative rather than objectivity’, ‘disproportionate‘ and ‘irrational’. He had also taken account of ‘irrelevant considerations‘ when later justifying the decision. It was further argued that the decision under challenge infringed on David Crompton’s Article 8 convention rights as it impacted on his family and future employability. Mr Davies had earlier described him as ‘a highly effective chief constable‘.

There were no allegations made by the PCC, against his chief constable, of breaches of Standards of Professional Behaviour which apply to all police officers.

A declaration by the court that the actions of the PCC were unlawful is sought by the claimant. Which, it is said, would go some way to restoring his ‘damaged reputation‘ [1].

In the submission of Mr Sheldon, the events that led to the suspension centred on the jury determinations at the new Hillsborough inquests – and two SYP press releases that followed. The second press release included the words ‘other contributory factors‘ as causes of blame for the stadium disaster. Much attention is focused on the meaning and intent behind those words. He said, with some force, that accountability – as called for by Andy Burnham – did not necessarily mean that ‘heads should roll‘.

When asked (not for the first time) by Lady Justice Sharp where – with a wide discretion of decision making – the boundaries were, Mr Sheldon submitted that ‘the correct test was the old-fashioned Wednesbury approach on reasonableness‘. There had, he said, been no damage to effectiveness and efficiency of the force as a result of the chief constable’s leadership, and common law recognises that the Wednesbury test is dependent in each case on the facts. Mr Sheldon also stated, with some emphasis, that ‘There was no loss of public confidence in South Yorkshire Police‘.

Although not a party to proceedings, the name of Andy Burnham, MP and Shadow Home Secretary, was mentioned more than any other by counsel. He had called for accountability from SYP following the findings of the new Hillsborough inquests. According to counsel, the chief constable was the main target of criticism. The significance of a telephone call from a male bereaved family member, and prominent Hillsborough campaigner, to Dr Billings, just ten minutes before the PCC suspended his chief constable, was also raised in court.

The advocate for the PCP, Adrian Phillips, made brief submissions to the effect that the Panel saw their role as peripheral to these proceedings, they were neutral on its outcome and, accordingly, their decision should not fall for scrutiny by this court. He also, helpfully, explained to the court the statutory composition of a scrutiny panel and how it came to be, in an area such as South Yorkshire, that the Labour Party would be almost entirely dominant. He rejected the proposition, advanced by the claimant, that the Panel’s decision was born of political bias.

Jonathan Swift QC spoke eloquently, and persuasively, on behalf the PCC. The main thrust of his submissions, which took up almost the entirety of the second day of the hearing, was that the decision taken by Dr Billings (to conclude the section 38 process by asking CC Crompton to resign) was one that was reasonably open to him to make, by way of his statutory responsibilty to hold the chief constable to account under section 1 of the Act. He also maintained that all necessary processes had been correctly followed, including the required consultations with HMCIC and the PCP.

In rejecting one of the claimant’s (and HMCIC’s) main thrusts of argument, Mr Swift said that their was no statutory requirement for the PCC to give special weight to the views of Sir Thomas. He had considered those carefully and, in his discretion, had rejected those views.

He also invited the court to view the decision to suspend the chief constable through a wider lens, that brought into view an increasing discontent with the running of the police force in South Yorkshire. Particularly, in the months prior to the announcement of the Hillsborough inquest verdicts. Most notably, with the ongoing controversy of the handling of the aftermath of the Jay Report.

It was not, Mr Swift advanced, a spur of the moment decision, triggered by events in Parliament during an exchange between Mr Burnham and the then Home Secretary, Theresa May.

There were also submissions from Mr Swift concerning both the timeliness and merits of three of the decisions challenged by the claimant:

(i) To suspend the chief constable

(ii) To reject the advice of HMCIC and continue with the section 38 process

(iii) To refer the matter to the PCP

In respect of the remaining decision – to finally ask the chief constable to resign –  Mr Swift agreed that permission for judicial review should be given to the claimant as the matter was, quite plainly, arguable. But, at the same time, invited the court to dismiss this fourth ground on its merits.

Mr Swift curtly also dismissed the alleged breach of Article 8 as being without merit.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Lady Justice Sharp told the court that judgment will be reserved on both the permission and substantive issues. The judgment is unlikely to be handed down before May 2017.

It is estimated that the two day hearing, with four legal teams representing the various parties, will end up costing either David Crompton’s insurers, or the South Yorkshire taxpayer, in the order of £150,000. And for what, the reader might legitimately ask? It seems, on the face of the submissions, that the claim was brought with two purposes in mind: To restore the reputation of David Crompton (there is no financial remedy either sought, or available, via this legal process) and to give HMCIC the final word in future section 38 processes as to whether a chief constable is dismissed, or not.

A preview of the court case, first published in January, 2017, in which the arguments of all parties is examined in some detail can be read on this website: ‘Bad on their merits‘ [2]

Page last updated Saturday 8th March, 2017 at 2055hrs

[1] Neil Wilby May 2015 – David Crompton: The South Yorkshire Years

 

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

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

Copyright: Neil Wilby 2015-2017. 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.