Saturday 20th July 2019,
North Yorks Enquirer

A Letter from the Chief

A Letter from the Chief

by TIM HICKS 

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Introduction: The four estates of government

Within a democratic system of government there are four estates of government:

Source: Standard accepted definitions from Wikipedia.

Crime journalists are unique, because they operate in both the Fourth and Second estates. When they are holding public bodies (including the police) to account, they operate in the Fourth Estate. But when they are working with the police in publicising media appeals for information, they are acting in the second estate, as agents of the executive.

As an internet news magazine, the NYE is clearly by any definition a news media organisation, which operates in the fourth estate holding public bodies to account and in the second estate assisting the police with appeals for information.

The importance of press freedom in a democratic society

Access to a free and independent press is vital in a democratic society. Here I quote from the “Declaration of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on the protection of journalism and safety of journalists and other media actors”. (In full here):

“Journalists and other media actors in Europe are increasingly being harassed, intimidated, deprived of their liberty, physically attacked and even killed because of their investigative work, opinions or reporting. This alarming situation is not exclusively limited to professional journalists and other traditional media actors. …the scope of media actors has enlarged as a result of new forms of media in the digital age. Those at risk also include others who contribute to inform the public debate and persons performing journalistic activity or public watchdog functions. 

The right to freedom of expression, to receive and impart information, ideas and opinions without interference is guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights it constitutes one of the fundamental principles upon which a democratic society is based. The public watchdog functions of the media are crucial for upholding these rights and for the protection of all other human rights. Misuse of power, corruption, discrimination, criminal activity or human rights violations have come to light as a direct result of the work of investigative journalists and other media actors. Making the facts known to the public is essential for redressing such situations and holding to account those responsible. 

Journalists and others who perform public watchdog functions through the media are often in a vulnerable position vis-à-vis the public authorities or powerful interests groups because of their role in informing the public and provoking debate on issues of public interest. Obstacles created in order to hinder access to information of public interest may not only discourage journalists and other media actors from fulfilling their public watchdog role, but may also have negative effects on their safety and security. 

Attacks against journalists and other media actors constitute particularly serious violations of human rights because they target not only individuals, but deprive others of their right to receive information, thus restricting public debate, which is at the very heart of pluralist democracy. 

A favourable environment for public debate requires States to refrain from judicial intimidation by restricting the right of individuals to disclose information of public interest through arbitrary or disproportionate application of the law, in particular the criminal law provisions relating to defamation, national security or terrorism. The arbitrary use of laws creates a chilling effect on the exercise of the right to impart information and ideas, and leads to self-censorship. Furthermore, prompt and free access to information as the general rule and strong protection of journalists’ sources are essential for the proper exercise of journalism, in particular in respect of investigative journalism.

National Police Chiefs Council policy on the police and the media

Deputy Chief Constable Gareth Morgan, the National Police Chiefs Council Lead for Media Relations summed this up perfectly in this quote:

“The media also play a vital role in holding the police service to account and in connecting us with the public – this includes highlighting when things may have gone wrong or where policing is under legitimate scrutiny. The relationship should also therefore be challenging and we need to recognise the role the media discharge on behalf of the public in ensuring that we are accountable. The responsibility to be open, transparent and accountable is part of the Code of Ethics and sits with everybody in policing. 

In recent years there has been a perception, rightly or wrongly, that the police have withdrawn and communicate less openly with the media. This does policing a disservice and I am determined that we need to reset the relationship with the media – an appropriate and professional relationship between the police and the media is in the public interest.”

A Letter from the Chief: Chief Constable Lisa Winward’s policy on North Yorkshire Police relations with the media

Chief Constable Lisa Winward assumed temporary command of North Yorkshire Police (NYP) on the 16th of April 2018. A few days after the extraordinary 29th of March 2017 departure of Chief Constable Dave Jones, at no notice. Which left then Deputy Chief Constable Winward in command.

I met Chief Constable Winward in 2011, when she was the Superintendent commanding York. She was very well turned out demonstrating pride in appearance and attention to detail. I assessed her as being well organised, methodical, intelligent and articulate. I have watched her meteoric rise up the chain of command in NYP with interest.

I was nevertheless very surprised when her office e mailed me the day after she assumed command of NYP with a letter attached in pdf format.

Initially, given the adversarial nature of the relationship between the North Yorks Enquirer (NYE) Internet News Magazine and NYP, I was incredulous that Chief Constable Winward would write to me on her first full day in role. Then I became concerned that now she was Chief Constable and therefore unrestrained by Chief Constable Jones, that she was going to try and have me arrested again.

So the reader will no doubt understand that I accessed the attached letter with some trepidation. It transpired to be a letter dated the 3rd of April from Chief Constable Winward’s Staff Officer Inspector Alex Butterfield. Its content was extraordinary. It is reproduced below.

Download the PDF file BUTTERFIELD_LETTER.

Initially I was shocked that, with all the things that are going on in North Yorkshire, Chief Constable Winward’s top priority on her first day in office was not terrorism, knife crime, cross-border drug dealing, slavery, sexual abuse and grooming of children, trafficking, etc, etc – or any of the other challenges facing the police nowadays.

It was me.

Then I was flattered. Inspector Butterfield’s letter shows that the NYE is right up there on the Chief Constable’s radar. No other journalist in the UK has received a letter like this so far as I or the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) are aware, so I concluded that this must be because she is an avid reader of my articles and takes note of what they say.

Download the PDF file DAWSON_LETTER.

The NUJ raised all the relevant issues arising from Chief Constable Winward’s new policy. However, essentially Chief Constable Winward ignored the points that Mr Dawson made and has carried on applying her policy.

An assessment of Chief Constable Winward’s policy on relations with new media when it acts in the Fourth Estate.

As part of Chief Constable Winward’s policy, on the 10th of June 2019 I was designated as “vexatious” within the meaning of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act by Ms Liz Fryar of the NYP Legal Department, when I asked questions about Chief Constable Winward’s expenses.

This means that Chief Constable Winward has used the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act to ensure she does not have to respond to any further enquiries from me on any topic. Thereby putting her above any media scrutiny from the NYE, which was obviously her intention when she wrote her letter of the 17th of April 2018. She has for some time been ignoring correspondence from me.

Ms Fryar also withheld information requested under the FOI Act on which hotel Chief Constable Winward stayed at for an FBINAA conference, citing the threat of a terrorist attack on the hotel in Helsinki. In comparison, the hotel Chief Constable Winward stayed at for a similar conference in the UK – which has a much higher terrorist threat – was released by Avon & Somerset Police Corporate Communications Department – which, in my experience is efficient and has a normal relationship with the media, including new media.

The implementation of the policy specified in Inspector Alex Butterfield’s letter dated 3rd of April 2019 was a personal decision of Chief Constable Winward. It changed the official policy adopted by all previous Chief Constables of North Yorkshire. No other force in the UK that I am aware of, or the NUJ is aware of, has adopted this policy of isolating and ostracising, a media outlet.

The approach taken by Chief Constable Winward to North Yorkshire’s only new media outlet is a classic example of the type of conduct that Deputy Chief Constable Morgan is so critical of, above (“withdrawn and communicate less openly”).

Declaring me as vexatious under the FOI Act because I have asked questions about Chief Constable Winward’s expenses is a classic case of “Obstacles created in order to hinder access to information of public interest may not only discourage journalists and other media actors from fulfilling their public watchdog role”. The provisions of the Freedom of Information Act do not release Chief Constable Winward from her duty to act openly and transparently, as set out in the College of Policing Code of Ethics.

The “Declaration of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on the protection of journalism and safety of journalists and other media actors” was adopted by every European Government including the British Government. It specifically condemns the practices currently adopted by NYP under Chief Constable Winward’s leadership. Only the Russian Government refused to subscribe to it. It therefore appears that the only public officials in Europe that reject these principles are:

  1. President Vladimir Putin.
  2. Chief Constable Winward

There have been four major impacts of this policy, which has been very skilfully introduced by stealth: 

  1. Lack of accountability of the police to the media

The Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner has backed Chief Constable Winward up in this and is also refusing to respond to correspondence. So the outcome is that the Chief Constable is completely unaccountable (as were the notorious Chief Constable Maxwell and Deputy Chief Constable Briggs. BBC report here.)

This appears to me to be contrary to the College of Policing Code of Ethics requirement to be open, transparent and accountable.

  1. Failure of leadership

As a Chief Police Officer generally, and as Chief Constable particularly, Chief Constable Winward has to set an appropriate example for the officers in her force to follow. By publicly contravening the College of Policing code of ethics on an ongoing basis, she has failed to achieve this. A classic example of failure of leadership.

  1. Denial of access to information the public are entitled to.

The impact Chief Constable Winward’s new policy is that the NYE’s readership, most of whom are North Yorkshire taxpayers, are being refused access to information they are entitled to have. Some examples:

  • Why did Chief Constable Winward charge expenses for attending an FBI conference in Hereford, when according to the FBINAA there was no a conference in Hereford?
  • Why did Chief Constable Winward book four days in a four star hotel in Bristol over the weekend, when the FBINAA conference started on the Monday?
  • What is Chief Constable Winward’s justification for flying across Europe to attend training, in four-star luxury hotels which included social events and networking, when the training could be provided in the UK?
  • Why are Chief Officers of North Yorkshire Police allowed to book their training and travel without any prior authorisation or approval? A classic failure of financial control.
  • Why is Chief Constable Winward refusing to reimburse the private element of the expenditure on her FBINAA alumni conferences?
  • Why did Deputy Chief Constable Tim Madgwick receive thousands of pounds of North Yorkshire Police funds, to pursue his private hobby?

It appears that implementing this new policy was a very smart move for Chief Constable Winward. NYP has been hit with financial scandal after financial scandal over Chief Officer’s expenses. It still does not maintain minimum standards of financial control or maintain the same standards as other public sector organisations. NYE article here.

Yet answers to these questions have been withheld, even though the public have a right to know them; presumably because they could be embarrassing to NYP, Deputy Chief Constable Madgwick (Retired) and Chief Constable Winward.

Conveniently, her new policy means she does not have to respond to any further enquiries from me on her expenses, or any other topic. Thereby evading her duty to respond to legitimate media scrutiny, or to address the issues.

  1. Failure to investigate serious crime

As part of separate NYE investigations into cold cases in North Yorkshire, we developed information that:

  • Serial Killer Christopher Halliwell had been sighted in Scarborough, which was released in an article on the 8th of November 2018.
  • In respect of a murder investigation we could “make a credible suggestion as to the probable identity of the mystery caller that first alerted your force to the location of the body in August 1981. I believe this man remains the prime suspect in the case, although I think this is a major error in the original investigation”. NYE article here.
  • In respect of the same murder investigation, the NYE developed three witnesses, one of whom gave a credible identification of the victim and a sighting report of a person -Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe – who could be the perpetrator. NYE article here.

A police officer will normally access any source of information, including known criminals, to progress a case. You would think that the Chief Constable would be interested in this information, but there was no follow up from NYP. When I wrote to Chief Constable Winward asking for a meeting to pass information on, she ignored my e mail. None of the witnesses have been followed up on by NYP. Presumably on the Chief Constable’s orders under this new policy.

Conclusion: An assessment of Chief Constable Winward’s relations with new media.

Clearly Chief Constable Winward has adopted an aggressive and retaliatory media strategy of cutting all contact between her force and the NYE. None of the other forces that the NYE works with has done this and maintain normal relations with the NYE.

I personally believe this is because of the NYE’s success in exposing failures in her force when it acted in its role in the Fourth Estate, Chief Constable Winward has retaliated by refusing to interact with it when it acts in the Second Estate. Thereby preventing the pursuit of all lines of enquiry generated by the media. However that is only my opinion, I could be wrong. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is that under Chief Constable Winward’s leadership, NYP is not pursuing normal policy with the media and is failing to follow up on intelligence generated by local media.

Bizarrely, although I cannot get any response out of anyone in NYP over the expenses issues or the intelligence we have developed on serious crime. When I raised questions about the Chief Constable’s policy on the politically correct “misogynistic hate crime” issue, I got a full response back almost immediately on “this important topic”.

Well pardon me, but I am sure our readers will agree with me when I say that in my opinion  murder is a more serious matter than “misoqynistic hate crime”. Many female Chief Police Officers agree with me on this, NYE article here.

Yet Chief Constable Winward will only interact with the NYE on the misogyny issue, but not on serious crime. This appears to me to be highly revealing about the Chief Constable’s views on policing priorities.

This leads me to the inevitable conclusion that Chief Constable Winward has absolutely no understanding of the role of the media in a democratic society, or of:

  • Her duty to release information under the European Convention on Human Rights and the Freedom of Information Act: “The right to freedom of expression, to receive and impart information, ideas and opinions without interference is guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights it constitutes one of the fundamental principles upon which a democratic society is based. The public watchdog functions of the media are crucial for upholding these rights and for the protection of all other human rights. Misuse of power, corruption, discrimination, criminal activity or human rights violations have come to light as a direct result of the work of investigative journalists and other media actors. (The Peter Jaconelli/Jimmy Savile scandal, arguably the worst case of corruption in the history of North Yorkshire Police that was exposed by the NYE is a classic example). Making the facts known to the public is essential for redressing such situations and holding to account those responsible.”
  • The requirements of modern police media operations.
  • The way internet media journalism has developed into the mainstream (“the scope of media actors has enlarged as a result of new forms of media in the digital age”).
  • What constitutes an appropriate relationship between the media and the police.
  • Her duty to be held accountable to the public through media comment.
  • Her duty to apply the anti-terrorism legislation and concerns about terrorism strictly in accordance with the assessed threat of terrorism. Not as a pretext to justify withholding information on her expenses.
  • Her duty to ensure all sources of information and intelligence are developed and made available to her officers, from whatever source and followed up.
  • Her duty to act in the public interest, not the reputation of her force or her own best interests.

This is deeply concerning. How can Chief Constable Winward’s conduct be compatible with the College of Policing Code of Ethics requirement to be open, transparent and accountable, government policy, or her duty to investigate crime?

Chief Constable Winward and Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan were provided with an initial draft of this article and asked for a comment. None has been forthcoming, but if we receive one, I will do everything I can to ensure it is published.

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