Friday 03rd December 2021,
North Yorks Enquirer

NYP: Media Ops in North Yorkshire

NYP: Media Ops in North Yorkshire

by TIM HICKS

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Introduction

The NYE has consistently spoken out against attacks on freedom of speech in North Yorkshire by Scarborough Borough Council, North Yorkshire Police (NYP) and the former Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner (PFCC) Julia Mulligan.

Journalists and police officers are now raising exactly the same concerns about media suppression by the Chief Constable and the PFCC, the NYE has been raising for years.

Other viewpoints on NYP media operations

Richmondshire Today 

Hold the Front Page (HTFP) is the UK’s national website for journalists. This HTFP article by David Sharman quotes concerns by Richmondshire Today editor Joe Willis about media suppression by North Yorkshire Police:

“Editors and reporters who deal with North Yorkshire Police have criticised the force after it introduced new guidance detailing the service it will provide to the media.

The force says in the guidance that journalists are to “assume” the only information available about incidents is what has been proactively published by its corporate communications department, adding it is now unable to respond to media enquiries about incidents including “lower-level” assaults or disturbances, anti-social behaviour, criminal damage and road traffic collisions.

North Yorks Police says the measure has been implemented on the grounds that the department is “not resourced to just provide a media response service”. Joe Willis told HTFP: 

“Basically, if you want any information on anything deemed to be a ‘lower-level incident’ you’re not going to get it unless the force decides to put it on its own website/Facebook pages. 

There’s a long list of what constitutes a lower-level incident, many of which are the bread and butter of local news outlets. But they’re not actually going to tell you you’re not going to get it because they won’t reply to queries they deem are about ‘lower-level incidents’. 

It leaves you sat wondering if they got your email, if they’re working on it or if they’ve just deleted it. It’s Kafkaesque in its absurdity, Pravdaesque in its intent and definitely bloody rude and disrespectful to local journalists who have had, until now, excellent working relationships with police officers and the police media department.

As well as being a slap in the face for local journalists, it is not helpful to the communities they work in. The public should be able to know what’s happening in their neighbourhood, and it shouldn’t be the job of the police to decide what they should know and what they shouldn’t.

It should be pointed out this isn’t the police saying ‘we are withholding information for operational reasons’ – this is the police saying ‘we’re not going to tell you because we’re too busy updating our own website and Facebook pages.” 

Joe added the new policy also made following cases through the courts “more difficult”. He said:

“We won’t know what’s happened and if arrests have been made unless they deem to put the info on their own channels.

Even if it’s not ‘lower-level’, the force put it on their own channels rather than send a statement and journalists have been told to assume that that’s the only information they’re going to make available, so getting further guidance is out of the question.

As part of the changes, they’ve also recently told their own officers to delete their personal Twitter accounts which were a good source of information and really helped to humanise local police officers.

And to top it all off they’ve told officers all media enquiries should go through the press office so you can’t even get information from the local neighbourhood sergeant or inspector.”

The Yorkshire Post

HTFP also quoted Yorkshire Post senior reporter Susie Beever:

“I’m sure North Yorkshire Police has its reasons for this, but whatever they are, the public has the right to know.”

Police forces in general have shifted in recent years to a more PR-esque approach to what they do and don’t tell the media (and therefore, the general public)”.

The article went on to cover NYP media policy:

“In its guidance, North Yorks Police said the new guidance was based on College of Policing authorised professional practice for media relations and other codes of practice, including those that protect victims, personal data and operationally-sensitive information, as well as taking into account the force’s “strategic priorities” and British media law.

In a statement, the force said:

“It is also based on the force-agreed objectives for how we prioritise our newsdesk service.

Our corporate communications team is not resourced to just provide a media response service, it is required to cover the spectrum of corporate communications responsibilities. 

We have to use our resources in a way that supports a policing purpose or builds public confidence in the police. 

We recognise the media’s role in holding the police to account and that like us, the media works in the interest of the public, and on the basis of public interest.”

North Yorkshire Police Federation

Former Chair of the North Yorkshire Police Federation Mike Stubbs comments on Force media policy are incisive:

In 2015, as Chair of North Yorkshire Police Federation, I called for an open and honest conversation with the public of North Yorkshire about how the drastic funding cuts would impact on policing in their communities. Instead, under Julia Mulligan’s stewardship, North Yorkshire Police embarked on a smoke and mirrors public relations campaign, which has paraded successive ground-breaking initiatives, but kept hidden the real outcomes:

    • What was not so widely publicised was that just 9 months later, in April 2019, there was a voluntary redundancy programme for staff in the Force Control Room. This was so badly managed that it became simply a ‘Golden Goodbye’ for many staff who were approaching retirement in any case. Not only that, too many staff were allowed to leave, causing a crisis in call handling.
    • Following the takeover of North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, the Enable initiative was launched, to bring together the back office functions of both organisations. https://www.northyorkshire-pfcc.gov.uk/decision-notices/dn-04-2020-enable-north-yorkshire/ So far, the major achievement of Enable seems to have been to grant substantial pay rises to the senior managers within it. This followed a bench-marking exercise against their colleagues in North Yorkshire County Council. According to their website, NYCC is ‘the region’s largest employer with a workforce exceeding 15,000 people’. By contrast, it appears that North Yorkshire Police and North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service have a combined workforce of less than 3,000.

Before she leaves office, Julia Mulligan owes the council tax payers of North Yorkshire an explanation as to where their money, which was supposed to be invested in increased staffing in the Force Control Room, actually went. The answer probably lies somewhere in the mystery that is the black hole in North Yorkshire Police finances. Again, this has been carefully hidden from the public.  

Prior to the unexpected departure of Chief Constable Dave Jones in 2018, circulations inside the force put the shortfall at £4 million. By the time he actually left, that had risen to £7 million. After that, figures were no longer published, even internally, but rumours of £11 million plus circulated in the force. The position was so dire that consultants Price Waterhouse Cooper were brought in, to advise North Yorkshire Police on how to make savings. How much these consultants are being paid appears to be a closely guarded secret, even their presence has gone unacknowledged.

And yet, despite the mismanagement of North Yorkshire Police’s finances, Julia Mulligan was handed control of the county’s fire service. The only meaningful opposition came from the redoubtable Baroness Harris of Richmond, a former Chair of North Yorkshire Police Authority.

In a House of Lords debate, she said: 

“Indeed, it appears that she (Julia Mulligan) has led North Yorkshire Police into its worst financial crisis since the millennium. There is a £10m shortfall this financial year, which may come as a surprise to the people of North Yorkshire as there has been no public acknowledgement of this gathering storm.” https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/north-yorkshire-police-and-fire-tsar-julia-mulligan-accused-not-being-suitable-hold-such-vital-office-205518 

So how can all of this have slipped by the public of North Yorkshire, apparently unnoticed? The answer to that lies in one of Julia Mulligan’s earliest decisions – a ‘money-saving initiative’ to share a press office with North Yorkshire Police. In practice, this turned the North Yorkshire Police press office into a propaganda machine for the PFCC.

The impact of that has been disturbing. North Yorkshire Police’s press output has become an unrelenting source of ‘good news only’ stories. Many of the issues I have identified above have simply gone unmentioned and, consequently, unreported by the media.

Media relations in North Yorkshire Police have become something a communist regime would be proud of.

Local journalism is the bedrock of accountability – without it, scrutiny of public services is almost non-existent. Added to North Yorkshire Police’s cavalier approach to Freedom of Information Act legislation, and the recent ban on officers and staff operating their own Twitter accounts covering policing matters, these are worrying developments.

The original aim for Police & Crime Commissioners was to increase transparency and accountability, compared to the ‘anonymous’ police authorities. The impact in North Yorkshire has been entirely the opposite.

The timing of the announcement of Julia Mulligan’s appointment as Chair of the Police Advisory Board for England & Wales, just 2 weeks before the election of the next PFCC for North Yorkshire, appears cynical – a political ploy to create a veneer of competence for a Conservative PCC who lost the support of her own local party. Airbrushing that bolsters the election chances of her successor as Conservative candidate.

(The announcement that Mrs Mulligan had been appointed as a Director of the Independent Office for Police Conduct was delayed until after the election, probably for the same reason). To be covered in a forthcoming article:

It would be easy to lay all these ills solely at the door of Julia Mulligan. But they would not have been possible without the complicity, willing or otherwise, of the force’s senior officers. [Editor]

The Harrogate News

This incisive and well written Harrogate Informer article reveals that PFCC Mulligan spent thousands of pounds of public money on hiring a communications manager. It quotes PFCC Mulligan as saying:

“The Chief Constable and I are in full agreement about the crucial importance of communications to the effectiveness of operational policing. What’s more, at present a senior police officer runs the communications team. It is clear that police powers are not required for this essential support role and that a communications professional would do two things: improve the service to the public and allow the senior officer to devote more of their time to front-line policing.

Any attempt to portray this appointment as anything other than an important move to improve the service to the public and enhance the capabilities of North Yorkshire police demonstrates a poor understanding of modern day policing and the need to effectively work with the public in keeping us all safe.”

The article goes on to assert:

“Julia Mulligan has an indifferent relationship with many of the regional media outlets, demonstrated by a pre-emptive statement in her quote that if the decision is portrayed as anything other than positive then there is lack of understanding in modern policing.”

In summary, all the above parties have independently raised the same concerns about police media policy in North Yorkshire.

The NYE’s experience of NYP media operations

The NYE has experienced the same approach from NYP as the journalist’s quoted above, only in a very much more extreme and aggressive form.

It started when it criticised NYP over the way it handled a case of elder abuse committed against an OAP and was intensified when we exposed the inexcusable failure of Scarborough CID to arrest Peter Jaconelli and Jimmy Savile, and that the Chief Constable and Deputy Chief Constable had received thousands of pounds in tax free, unaccounted for payments for “personal development”.

However, it was significantly ramped up when Chief Constable Winward assumed command of NYP on the 16th of April 2018. The next day she wrote to me announcing that she was cutting off contact between her force and the NYE, on the grounds that I was not a journalist and the NYE was not a media outlet.

Download the PDF file XXX.

Initially I was shocked that Chief Constable Winward’s top priority was not terrorism, knife crime, cross border drug dealing, sexual abuse of children, people trafficking, rural crime etc. etc. It was the NYE. [*1]

I raised this with the NUJ which confirmed that no other journalist in the UK has ever received a letter like this. It was so concerned that it wrote to Chief Constable Winward formally raising its concerns over this new and unprecedented approach to media relations. -The first and only time the NUJ has had to write to a Chief Constable in these terms in the history of the British Police Service.

In the latest incident of media suppression, on the 3rd of March 2021, I received two letters from a lawyer acting on behalf of Chief Constable Winward and PFCC Mulligan. Both letters essentially confirmed that the OPCC and NYP would not respond to media enquiries from me because:

the volume of your correspondence is excessive, unreasonably persistent and that (whilst some correspondence is appropriately raised with this office and the complaints team) the nature of your correspondence is often unreasonable, derogatory containing unsubstantiated allegations/assertions, or constitutes ineligible purported complaints. Your behaviour in corresponding in this manner is unacceptable due to the substantial impact that responding to you alone has on public resources.

This is deeply concerning. It demonstrates the total failure of oversight in North Yorkshire. Far from holding the police to account, PFCC Mulligan was participating in an agreed jointly coordinated strategy with the Chief Constable, to suppress the NYE by cutting off access to information. Information the public has a right to know and to have disseminated to it by the media.

Overview

As Mike Stubbs points out above, the media in North Yorkshire has been hopelessly ineffective in holding the Police and PFCC to account, or revealing information they do not want exposed. In my view this is because:

  • The Chief Constable and PFCC aided by extensive and very well paid teams of PR wonks, who have done a very good job of withholding and concealing information from the public.
  • The NYP Corporate Communications Team has been reduced to a “Pravda”, issuing good news only short stories, which have “crowded out” stories they do not want covered.
  • The Chief Constable and PFCC have access to a particularly capable legal team that has managed an aggressive policy of retaliation and exclusion on behalf of the Chief Constable and PFCC against the NYE.
  • The decline in local media generally, which I covered for the NUJ: NYE journalist wins NUJ prize. This means that local media is so under financed and under resourced, that it has become dependent on press releases from the police. For commercial reasons local media cannot afford to jeopardise this source of low cost, core content.
  • The lesson of how the NYE has been treated has not been lost on other media outlets. To some degree this, coupled with commercial considerations has deterred them from challenging the police. The statement quoted in the Harrogate Informer above that anyone that criticises the appointment of a PR manger does not understand modern policing, is a low level example of a pre-emptive warning not to criticise.

The NYE believes in holding public bodies to account through persistent investigative journalism. Hence the quote from George Orwell above, which sums up the NYE’s ethos.

It is the only local media outlet in North Yorkshire that has been effective in in holding the police and PFCC to account. Witness the list of scandals it has exposed. It can do this because it is not constrained by commercial considerations.

Hence the reason its journalists have been the subject of such a disproportionate level of attention from NYP. Which in my belief amounts to retaliation for printing something “someone does not want printed” (i.e. the Chief Constable and PFCC).

Following on from the appointment of a PR Manager, the Chief Constable and PFCC split the joint Corporate Communications Team into two, one team for the Chief Constable and another for the PFCC. This led to an increase in the number of PR ‘wonks’ employed at the taxpayers’ expense, which we were all told was to “improve the service to the public”. Here I am reminded of Detective Superintendent Stephen Fulcher’s [*2]  views on the career-minded, politically correct, PR obsessed, Chief Police Officer that gets to the top in the police service of today:

“There are a lot of people who have got to quite senior positions without ever conducting a major crime enquiry, strange as that may appear. That was just one reason why I didn’t want to join their club. I had always been driven by the need to catch criminals. To my mind most senior echelons in policing today weren’t police officers at all, they were merely puppets blowing with the political wind”.

In fact, despite the additional money and resources expended on PR Wonks by NYP and the OPFCC, the quality and amount of information released to the public has decreased as described above. Some examples the NYE has come across:

  • During the recent PFCC elections it transpired that the OPFCC had published inaccurate numbers of staff on its website.
  • NYP recently published a photograph on Social Media showing a group of over thirty police officers socialising together outdoors, which is contrary to the current COVID regulations, without stating the photograph was taken in 2019.

Working on this information provided by NYP, one of our journalists ran this article on it http://nyenquirer.uk/nyp-break-corona-laws/, which implied that the officers breached the Coronavirus regulations. None of the NYP PR wonks considered that the social media posting was misleading, harmful to the reputation of NYP and damaging to its efforts to maintain public safety. Nor did they issue a correction. It took the intervention of PFCC Allott to ascertain the situation so that this clarification could be issued.

The public has a right to know how their money is spent and how the Police and PFCC are performing. The media has a duty to inform the public of these and other issues, and hold the police to account.

Denying the media access to information prevents the media from doing this.

Using the pretext of protecting public resources to deny media access, in retaliation for legitimate criticism is an abuse of power and of the public trust. It is an attack on free speech and the freedom of the press, which is deliberately aimed at preventing accountability and denying the public access to information they are entitled to.

It remains to be seen if the election of the new PFCC Philip Allott will lead to a change in policy.

No other force in the history of the British police service has been subjected to so much sustained and severe criticism over its media policy as North Yorkshire Police under the leadership of Chief Constable Winward.

It appears obvious that NYP is ruthlessly applying Information Warfare techniques to supress the media, prevent accountability and inhibit free speech.

This will be covered in more depth my next article: IW6 Media Suppression: The NYP Prototype.


*1 Editor: Positively, the letter demonstrates the Chief Constable reads the NYE and it’s her top priority.

*2 Detective Superintendent Stephen Fulcher was one of the top detectives in the British police service. He is famous for convicting the serial killer Christopher Halliwell. His story can be read here: The Breaking of Detective Superintendent Fulcher

 

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