Non-Essential Journeys #20: Sturgeon and NYP Chiefs compared
by TIM HICKS
Readers will not be surprised to read that I am of the opinion that the NYE readership is intelligent and enquiring, and takes the time to ensure it is well informed on current affairs at a local and national level.
I therefore have no doubt that they will be aware that Mrs Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, has recently been observed by the media attending a funeral wake where she breached the COVID-19 regulations. BBC article here.
Mrs Sturgeon has recently sacked both MP Margaret Ferrier for taking a train journey while infected and her Chief Medical Officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, for making an unnecessary journey.
So it came as a huge surprise to me when Mrs Sturgeon made a stupid, momentary lapse while attending the wake of a Scottish government civil servant who died from COVID-19.
Specifically, she took her mask off briefly while she was talking with other mourners, while maintaining the correct social distance.
In response to the outpouring of public criticism in the media, Mrs Sturgeon publicly admitted that she had made a mistake and immediately issued a public, sincere and contrite apology for her oversight.
Allegations of Hypocrisy
Police Scotland issued a statement that it did not fine Mrs Sturgeon because she had recognised she had breached the regulations and had apologised.
Following Mrs Sturgeon’s sacking of Mrs Ferrier and Dr Calderwood, some have alleged hypocrisy against her because she did not resign. However, I would differentiate these three cases, on the grounds that Mrs Ferrier and Dr Calderwood committed pre-meditated deliberate acts of disobedience to the regulations, whereas Mrs Sturgeon is only guilty of a momentary lapse and her transgression is therefore of a much lower level of magnitude.
Some commentators have taken the view that Mrs Sturgeon has been given preferential treatment and she should have been fined. I am of the opinion that we are all human and if we make a mistake, the correct response is to apologise and mask up – and that should be the end of it.
Chief Inspector Rachel Wood of North Yorkshire Police (NYP) has confirmed that the approach taken in North Yorkshire is “engaging, explaining and encouraging people to do the right thing, only resorting to enforcement as a final measure”. This is in accordance with national guidelines. So it appears to me that if this had happened in North Yorkshire, or anywhere else, Mrs Sturgeon would not have been fined and NYP would have very properly taken the same line as Police Scotland.
I would also observe that the Metropolitan Police declined to arrest and charge Mrs Ferrier; whilst Police Scotland arrested and charged Mrs Ferrier yesterday. Demonstrating that unlike North Yorkshire Police (NYP), Police Scotland is enforcing the law evenly against prominent public figures.
I am therefore satisfied that Mrs Sturgeon has not received preferential treatment because she is a prominent public figure and should be congratulated for her honesty, and the way she has handled this regrettable oversight. Scottish public opinion, as expressed in the Scottish media so far as I can tell, appears to be supportive.
However, regrettably, that is not the situation amongst pubic figures in North Yorkshire.
The police response to COVID 19 breaches by prominent people in Scotland and North Yorkshire compared
Two prominent persons, Chief Constable Lisa “Air Miles” Winward and Deputy Chief Constable Phil Cain have both committed transgressions of the COVID-19 regulations, which have attracted criticism of them in the national media – thereby bringing discredit upon North Yorkshire Police.
Both are prominent public figures. Neither has issued any denial of the allegation raised in the NYE and the national press that they have breached the COVID-19 regulations. The implication of this is that, de facto, it would appear both officers concede the allegation is accurate.
However, unlike Mrs Sturgeon, neither has issued any statement, explanation or apology.
They appear to be maintaining their right to silence, because unlike Mrs Sturgeon, they do not have enough humility to admit their mistake, apologise and move on. Nor, it appears, do they accept that as pubic figures and Chief Police Officers, they are equal under the law with everyone else and have a duty to be accountable to the public through the media.
SNP MP Mrs Margaret Ferrier
Arrested and charged by Police Scotland. Based on the way the Chief Constable and Deputy Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police have been treated, if she had been in North Yorkshire, no action would have been taken. Why can’t the people of North Yorkshire have impartial policing to the same standard provided by Police Scotland?
I can do no better than quote Professor Hugh Montgomery, who heads an intensive care at London’s Whittington Hospital, and leads a research group at UCL is quoted in this BBC Article as saying:
“We are in a lot of trouble in UK intensive care now. Just huge numbers coming in, my heart goes out as well to our emergency departments, seeing a tsunami in the last week or two of cases. Everyone is working at maximum stretch.
It is making me actually very angry now that people are laying the blame on the virus, and it is not the virus, it is people, people are not washing their hands, they are not wearing their masks. People will die.”
He expressed the view that anyone not social distancing or following the rules had:
“…blood on their hands. They are spreading this virus. Other people will spread it and people will die. They won’t know they have killed people but they have. I am watching whole families getting wiped out here, and it’s got to stop.”
The wider implication of this conduct for North Yorkshire Police
The nature of their duties puts Police Officers at a higher risk of infection than the public. They can’t work from home and sometimes have to go into close contact to make arrests.
A recent outbreak of COVID-19 amongst officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland resulted in two Police Stations being closed. Eight officers tested positive for COVID-19, another fifty one were removed from duty, and had to self-isolate at home.
So it is particularly disappointing to see that Chief Constable Winward and Deputy Chief Constable Cain have potentially endangered the health of their colleagues by making unnecessary journeys, not observing social distancing and not wearing masks.
Neither Chief Constable Winward nor DCC Cain have apologised, commented in any way, or admitted any wrongdoing, or suffered any criticism for their actions. Worse, a complaint I made about them on the 23rd of June 2020 has been ignored. A clear abuse of power.
In short, on the face of it they both appear to have abused their positions to obtain preferential treatment for contravening the Coronavirus regulations, to have behaved as if they are above the law, and not subject to service discipline. Should either Officer issue a denial of this allegation, I will of course ask that it is published in the NYE and issue a retraction.
This also puts both of their subordinates Chief Inspector Rachel Wood or Superintendent Mike Walker -North Yorkshire Police’s Gold Commander for its response to the COVID 19 pandemic in an impossible position.
Superintendent Mike Walker
The police will not tolerate anyone who willingly puts others at risk, by refusing to abide by the regulations. Anyone that acts in such a reckless and irresponsible manner should expect enforcement action to be taken against them unless they are a Chief Police Officer. You should stay at home and save lives, unless you are the Deputy Chief Constable attending a retirement party at Scarborough Police Station, or the Chief Constable unnecessarily visiting Selby Police Station.
Chief Inspector Wood has been quoted as saying:
“To see people having parties and jeopardising that progress is really quite shocking”.
Yet neither Chief Inspector Wood nor Superintendent Walker have taken any action or made any comment about their Chief Officers’ attending a retirement party and undertaking unnecessary journeys. This appears to me to be a fairly clear cut case of double standards and failure to apply the law even-handedly.
This leaves Superintendent Walker and Chief Inspector Wood apparently in breach of the following College of Policing Code of Ethics requirements for police conduct for:
- Honesty and Integrity generally (1).
- Conduct (9).
- Challenging and Reporting Improper Conduct (10).
– requirements they have a duty to uphold. This undermines their credibility and authority, both to their fellow Police Officers, and also to the public.
On a historical note, this is the same type of conduct for which Chief Constable Stanley Parr of Lancashire Constabulary was dismissed from the service.
So what sort of example is that for Superintendent Walker and Chief Inspector Wood to set to the Police Officers under their command?
Neither of these Officers deserves to be put in this position by their Chief Officers.
Standards of discipline and accountability in NYP compared to Warwickshire Police.
Happily, this sad and sordid state of affairs is not replicated in any other UK force, so far as I can ascertain.
As an example, five Warwickshire Police Officers who breached the regulations by attending a barbecue caused an outbreak of Coronavirus at their police station which affected six of their colleagues.
A spokesperson for Warwickshire Police said:
‘In May 2020 Warwickshire Police identified that five police officers, whilst off duty, may have breached the Covid-19 regulations which were in place at that time. ‘In such circumstances with members of the public, the retrospective issuing of fixed penalty notices was not undertaken, with the force preferring instead to follow the national approach of all police forces at that time which was to explain the regulations and encourage compliance.
However, recognising the importance of the role we have in protecting the public during the pandemic, we take all allegations of breaches by staff extremely seriously and as such all the officers were subject of a formal investigation and subsequent internal disciplinary proceedings.’
It appears to me to be wrong that in Warwickshire, Police Officers who breach the regulations are subject to disciplinary proceedings, but in North Yorkshire they are not.
Further, this appears to confirm a personal view I have held for some time; that under the leadership of Chief Constable Winward, NYP maintains very much lower standards of discipline and accountability than other forces. In this case Warwickshire Police.
The failure of journalism in Yorkshire
There is another issue here.
The duty of journalists in a democratic society is to hold public bodies and figures to account. This is an important constitutional safeguard.
In respect of this issue, the media in Scotland has held First Minister Sturgeon to account whilst giving balanced coverage. It has done a good job.
However, sad to relate, the same cannot be said of the media in North Yorkshire. None of the mainstream media outlets in Yorkshire have run with the news that the Chief Constable and Deputy Chief Constable are alleged to have breached the COVID-19 regulations, although it has been run in the national press and the NYE.
Why is this?
In the author’s opinion that this is because they are dependent on good relations with the Chief Constable to obtain NYP press releases and briefings. Chief Constable Winward maintains an aggressive media policy of cutting off cooperation with the NYE. I believe this is because the NYE is the only media outlet in North Yorkshire that consistently holds her, North Yorkshire Police, and Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire Mrs Julia Mulligan to account, through public criticism.
This fact will not be lost on the other media outlets in North Yorkshire.
Hence, perhaps, the reason the local media in Yorkshire are servile and do not criticise North Yorkshire Police or Chief Constable Winward. If so, it shows that Chief Constable Winward’s aggressive media policy has worked very well for her.
Paradoxically this has worked to the NYE’s advantage, because it has attracted a thinking, intelligent readership that wants incisive, quality journalism which addresses the major issues in North Yorkshire, instead of pussyfooting around them.
Be that as it may, the NYE will continue to bring its readers up-to-date crime reportage that does not shy away from controversy, or of criticising public bodies and influential public figures.
The NYE will also continue to support the efforts of the NHS and the vast majority of North Yorkshire Police officers and staff to protect the public by:
- Promulgating police information on the lockdown rules (see below).
- Promulgating appeals for donors who have recovered from COVID-19 from the NHS Blood and Transplant service. Example here.
- Making clear its support for the efforts of Superintendent Mike Walker – Gold Commander for North Yorkshire Police (NYP) – response to the pandemic – and his Officers to protect the public.
- Ridiculing North Yorkshire Police Chief Officers for breaching the Coronavirus Lockdown Regulations. Thereby protecting our police officers by deterring Chief Officers from spreading the infection across multiple police stations and Force Headquarters.
- Highlighting cases of prominent figures that breach the lockdown to raise awareness and try to encourage leadership by example.
- Promulgating cases of successful police operations against those that transgress the lockdown regulations, to try and deter members of the public from endangering everyone’s safety by indulging in unnecessary journeys and social gatherings.
The Lockdown Rules
You can access the lockdown rules using the links provided by NYP below.
In this context, to deter people from breaching the lockdown rules, if you become aware of a public figure or police officer breaching the lockdown rules, please photograph or video them using your mobile ‘phone and inform the NYE using the email@example.com e mail.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org e mail address and your views, and a correction will be published if appropriate.