Monday 28th November 2022,
North Yorks Enquirer

The Belfast Disconnections: The Quest Continues

Attention!

Attention!

Tim Hicks continues his series of articles investigating Chief Police Officers expenses, which has been very popular with our readers. Tim is a Chartered Accountant with extensive experience in auditing expenses claims.


The Belfast Disconnections: The Quest Continues

by TIM HICKS

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Introduction

In accordance with its duty as journalists to hold public bodies to account, the NYE team has for some time been investigating the profligate misuse of public funds by North Yorkshire Police (NYP), the former North Yorkshire Police Authority and the Office of the Police Fire and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire.

I have written a series of articles on the results of my analysis of Chief Police Officers expenses. This article concerns NYP’s former Chief Constable Dave Jones and his mysterious taxpayer funded trips to Belfast.

Background: Chief Constable Dave Jones

The entry for Chief Constable Jones on the NYP website is as follows:

“In June 2013 Dave Jones was appointed as North Yorkshire’s new Chief Constable. Mr Jones was recruited from the Police Service of Northern Ireland having begun his career with Greater Manchester Police (GMP) in 1986.

Mr Jones brought a wealth of knowledge and experience with him having been responsible for the rural region of Northern Ireland and the lead for tackling organised crime and terrorism in Greater Manchester.”

Chief Constable Jones retired as chief constable of North Yorkshire Police in April 2018.

In my article “The Leeds, Belfast & Harrogate Connections” , I covered the way Jones:

  • Voted himself Police funds to pay for his legal expenses for a civil legal action against journalists from which he stood to benefit financially. The action failed and costs the North Yorkshire taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds.
  • Used Police funds to pay for his attendance at a Police Federation dinner dance in Harrogate.
  • Used Police funds to fiinance two trips to Belfast, for which there is no explanation given.

This article is solely concerned with the latest developments concerning the two trips to Belfast.

The Belfast Connection 1

I was surprised to see the costs of a weekend in Belfast being charged to the North Yorkshire taxpayer in September 2014. A few innocent explanations for this expenditure occurred to me, but were quickly eliminated:

  • Could it be attendance at a training course? There are no course fees and it took place on a weekend.
  • Could it be Chief Constable Jones was giving evidence in a trial, or assisting with a case he had been working on during his time in the PSNI? If this was so, then the expenditure would have been paid for by the PSNI and it would not have taken place on a weekend.

Cost to the taxpayer £407.52

The Belfast Connection 2

Chief Constable Jones’s 2017 expenses revealed another conundrum. Interpreting his expenses, it appears that on Tuesday 9th May 2017 he flew to Belfast and stayed overnight at a hotel. On Wednesday 10th May he flew to London Heathrow, travelled by train to London Kings Cross and stayed overnight in a hotel. Then on 11th May he travelled to Thirsk by train.

I cannot think of any reason he should go to Belfast for a day. Nor can I understand why he should return via London, not Leeds or Manchester.

Cost to the taxpayer £409.82

The NYE investigation

Clearly, these matters required further investigation.

I wrote to Chief Constable Winward to ask her for an explanation of this expenditure. I also asked her to contact Chief Constable Jones to ask him what the journey was for.

She responded promptly and courteously declining to comment. She did however confirm that my request had been treated as a Freedom Of Information request and forwarded to the Civil Disclosure Team. Inevitably, the FOI request came back from Ms Liz Fryar, who is a Legal Officer who deals with Civil Disclosure: “I am not obliged to provide you with a response to your request”.

This caused me some concern for three reasons:

  1. It is not true. The taxpaying public of North Yorkshire have an absolute right to know how their money is spent. That is why Chief Police Officers are required to publish their expenses. Further, it is contrary to the requirement for open policing and public accountability
  2. If this expenditure was bona fides and innocent, a simple explanation would have resolved the issue and that would have been that.
  3. Following on from all the financial scandals that have plagued NYP for many years (listed here and here), their failure to respond to my concerns simply raises suspicion and mistrust amongst the NYE’s readers

So I wrote to the Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner at the time, Philip Allott, who was responsible for holding the Police to account. I asked him to confirm what the expenditure was for. He did not respond.

Following the departure of Commissioner Allott, I wrote to the new Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner Ms Zoe Metcalfe, asking her to confirm what the expenditure was for. She did not respond either.

So it appears all of the people paid to hold the Police to account and respond to my enquiry had closed ranks behind Chief Constable Jones, to withold information that the public are entitled to know. This is known as stonewalling.

The Stonewall Brigade

    1. Top Left: Chief Constable Dave Jones: Flew to Belfast at the expense of the taxpayer although the NYE can find no discernable official reason to do so. He refuses to reveal what his justification for this expenditure is.
He is being loyally backed up by:
    1. Top Right: Chief Constable Lisa Winward: Also refusing to reveal what the justification for this expenditure is.
    2. Bottom Left: Police Fire and Crime Commissioner Philip Allott (Conservative): Also refusing to reveal what the justification for this expenditure is.
    3. Bottom Right: Police Fire and Crime Commissioner Zoe Metcalfe (Conservative): Also refusing to reveal what the justification for this expenditure is.
    4. Not Shown: Ms Liz Fryar, Legal Officer – Civil Disclosure: Also refusing to reveal what the justification for this expenditure is.

This is concerning.

Why can’t the people of North Yorkshire have information on how their money has been spent?

If there is a rational explanation, why will NYP not state what it is?

Most concerning of all is that both Police, Fire & Crime Commissioners and the Civil Disclosure Unit are supposed to release information to the public, but in fact are witholding information for no reason.

The NYE’s quest for the truth continues

Being determined to get to the truth, I wrote to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), asking it to confirm what police duty Chief Constable Jones was on in Northern Ireland and it eventually came back confirming that it didn’t know either.

It therefore appears on the face of it that Chief Constable Jones’s visits to Northern Ireland were not for duty reasons.

It should be emphasised that there could be an innocent explanation for this expenditure.

The important thing now is to find out what the expenditure was for. So I will be writing to the North Yorkshire Police, Fire & Crime Panel (the body responsible for supervising Commissioner Metcalfe) asking it to confirm this.

I will of course let the NYE’s readership know what response I get from the panel in due course.

The series of articles run by the NYE on Chief Officer’s expenses are about upholding the principles of openness, financial control, transparency and accountability over taxpayers funds.

NYP has always been given the opportunity to clarify what it is for, but has never responded openly with an explanation. Instead it has stonewalled at all levels to withold information.

This is why it is so important that when faced with a deliberate policy by both the Chief Constable and the Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner of witholding information the public is entitled to have. That the police are held to account by a free press.

The NYE will therefore continue to relentlessly pursue the truth – whatever it is and wherever it takes us.

I will report back when I have a response from the Police, Fire & Crime Panel in due course.

Coming next in the series

  • The Police, Fire & Crime Panel respond on the Belfast Disconnections
  • Joanna Carter and the undisclosed, unexplained and unauditable expenses.
  • Chief Officers’ Expenses, the cost so far.
  • The Sibenik Connection:
  • The Kiev Connection
  • The Ghent Connection
  • The Oslo Connection

Right of Reply

If you are mentioned in this article and do not agree with the views expressed in it, or if you wish to correct any factual inaccuracy, please let me know using the letters@nyenquirer.uk email address and your views and a correction will be published if appropriate.

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