TAXPAYERS are facing a huge bill for the shocking misconduct of West Yorkshire Police officers which led to convictions in serious criminal cases being quashed, it can be revealed today.
Two men have launched claims for damages after spending a total of 20 years in prison on the basis of tainted evidence procured by officers who concealed a vast array of improper inducements to a supergrass.
Both Danny Mansell, whose conviction for murder was overturned, and Gary Ford, who had the majority of his convictions for robbery and burglary quashed, have formally served civil claims on West Yorkshire Police.
It can also be revealed that Mr Mansell’s solicitor is to formally challenge the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) over its decision not to prosecute any police officers despite a withering Supreme Court judgment which flatly stated officers had committed crimes. Matthew Gold said he was prepared to take the CPS to court if no adequate explanation was provided.
The solicitors for both men are reluctant to comment on the potential level of damages but it is understood to be at least £250,000 for Mr Ford and potentially more for Mr Mansell.
Leeds MPs Fabian Hamilton and George Mudie have called for officers to be held accountable but if no further action is taken it may now be that the only degree of accountability falls on the public purse rather than individual officers.
News of the legal action comes as the Yorkshire Post continues a special investigation into how West Yorkshire Police corrupted prosecutions by allowing supergrass Karl Chapman free access to drink, drugs and sex to induce him to give evidence but concealed it all from the courts. The truth about cash payments was also withheld by officers during a misconduct spree in the mid to late 1990s for which not a single officer was charged or disciplined.
Today’s second part of the investigation reveals how police gave money to Chapman which he used to buy heroin, how a senior officer misled a court over a £10,000 reward payment and how Chapman put a drunken custody officer to bed in a cell.
Mr Gold said he would be writing to the CPS to press for prosecutions against officers to be brought. He said: “Upon receiving a decision from the CPS, if it’s negative with inadequate reasons it’s likely that decision will be challenged by judicial review.”
He confirmed a formal claim for damages had been lodged with West Yorkshire Police. The force is due to serve its defence this month.
Mr Mansell spent 12 years in prison, including on remand, before his conviction for the murder of Wakefield pensioner Joe Smales was quashed in 2009. He was originally convicted with his brother Paul Maxwell, whose conviction was also quashed before he pleaded guilty at a retrial.
The Supreme Court ruling on whether Maxwell should face a retrial, published in July 2011, delivered devastating criticism of West Yorkshire Police and said the actions of officers amounted to perverting the course of justice, perjury and misconduct in public office.
One of the Law Lords, Lord Brown, said: “Scarcely less remarkable and deplorable than this catalogue of misconduct, moreover, is the fact that, notwithstanding its emergence through the subsequent investigation, not a single one of the many police officers involved has since been disciplined or prosecuted for what he did.”
Susie Labinjoh, the solicitor representing Gary Ford, confirmed a civil claim for malicious prosecution and misfeasance in public office had been served on West Yorkshire Police. She has also made a formal complaint to the force about the officers’ conduct.
Mr Ford, formerly of Leeds, was originally sentenced to 25 years in prison in 1996 for a string of bogus official burglaries and robberies. He was convicted largely on the tainted evidence of Chapman, who was his accomplice, and in 2009 his sentence was reduced to 11 years.
Including his time on remand, Mr Ford spent 15 years in prison when, taking the early release scheme into account, he would otherwise have spent seven years inside.
West Yorkshire Police confirmed proceedings had been issued against the force and said no further comment could be made.
Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire Police Commissioner, did not respond to a request to comment.
The force and the commissioner are currently withholding the findings of a recent investigation into the lack of charges or disciplinary action on the grounds disclosure may not be in the public interest.
The investigation was ordered in the wake of the Supreme Court comments and concluded late last year.
West Yorkshire Police and Mr Burns-Williamson have also declined to respond to specific questions about why no action was taken against officers.
Both did say they were content with of the findings of the recent inquiry, which was supervised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) but carried out by West Yorkshire Police.
North Yorkshire Police, who carried out a six-year inquiry into how West Yorkshire handled Chapman, prepared files on at least 10 officers for the CPS and many more disciplinary dossiers but ultimately not a single officer faced any action.
The CPS has declined to offer clarification for its decision-making when the Yorkshire Post provided names of a series of officers investigated, including those on whom files had been prepared.
A spokeswoman said the process would be too time consuming and the only explanation provided was “insufficient evidence”.
West Yorkshire Police maintained control of the disciplinary process after the Police Complaints Authority, the forerunner to the IPCC, declined to supervise the North Yorkshire inquiry.
Despite the scale of Operation Douglas, which detailed an astonishing level of misconduct, West Yorkshire Police’s professional standards department only requested final disciplinary files to be drawn-up on five officers.
No justification for why only a relatively small number of officers, none of whom were senior, were considered for disciplinary action has been provided by West Yorkshire Police. The force has not confirmed if any hearings even went ahead.
Only a small number of officers involved with Chapman’s handling are still with West Yorkshire Police.
The officer facing most disciplinary charges was Dc John Daniels, who had been Chapman’s main handler for five years. He faced 19 separate allegations, including breaches of honesty and integrity which if proven are normally a precursor to dismissal.
The allegations included Dc Daniels giving false evidence at court, obtaining informant payments under false pretences, failure to record payments and supplying alcohol to Chapman.
The other officers faced allegations of breaches of regulations connected to informant payments and falsely recording an “escape” from custody by Chapman when he had actually been allowed his freedom, which he used to visit a policewoman with whom he was having a relationship.
The Yorkshire Post investigation draws on a previously undisclosed 263-page report compiled by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) which led to the murder convictions being quashed in 2009 and hundreds more documents from Operation Douglas, the £3m North Yorkshire Police inquiry whose findings informed the report.
The contents of the CCRC report were accepted unchallenged by the Court of Appeal when the Maxwell and Mansell murder convictions were quashed later by the Supreme Court.