Supergrass files: Faustian pact led police into heart of darkness

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ONE of the darkest chapters in the history of West Yorkshire Police began in 1994 when the force made the fateful decision to enlist the services of Karl Chapman as a supergrass.

Within months, detectives began a Faustian pact which delivered all manner of improper favours in return for information on a clutch of career criminals.

For a while, the deal appeared to pay off. A series of convictions were secured with Chapman’s evidence, most spectacularly with the life sentences handed down to brothers Paul Maxwell and Danny Mansell in 1998 for the murder of Wakefield pensioner Joe Smales.

The brothers were found guilty almost entirely on evidence provided by Chapman who said he had given Maxwell details of a series of ‘soft targets’ for distraction or bogus official robberies while the two were in prison together in 1996.

After Maxwell was released from prison, the home of 85-year-old Mr Smales in Stanley, near Wakefield, where he lived with his brother Bert, then 67, was subsequently robbed in June and again in October.

The second robbery ended with Joe Smales being badly beaten and later dying from his injuries. The public outcry put police under pressure to deliver a result.

At the time of the killing, Chapman was giving evidence against an accomplice, Gary Ford, about the pair’s own series of bogus official burglaries and robberies.

By now the supergrass was also enjoying regular trips to the pub with police officers, access to heroin and alcohol while being held in a Leeds police station, a relationship with a female officer and trips to officers’ homes.

While enjoying himself at Millgarth police station as he gave evidence in Ford’s trial, Chapman began informing on Maxwell.

His role as a potential conspirator in the robberies at the Smales’s residence was sidestepped by the police who knew that without Chapman’s evidence they stood little to no chance of a conviction.

During Maxwell and Mansell’s eventual trial at the start of 1998, defence counsel persistently pressed Chapman and police officers on what inducements he had received.

But the pact between the supergrass and the police held firm. Both sides were prepared to lie in court and the reality of a catalogue of improper favours and cash payments remained concealed.

The brothers were subsequently both convicted and when they appealed, police officers were prepared to conceal the truth again. In November 1999, the Court of Appeal refused their application after hearing evidence from West Yorkshire Police at a hearing which excluded defence counsel on the grounds of public interest immunity.

However, the whiff of impropriety never went away and in 2001, the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) began a full inquiry into the murder investigation.

The CCRC appointed North Yorkshire Police to carry out the inquiry which turned out to be one of the biggest and longest in the force’s history.

Operation Douglas collated 375,000 documents and carried out 102 interviews over six years. In one of the inquiry documents, Det Chief Supt Peter McKay, who led the inquiry for most of the time but retired before its completion, said the information uncovered at times “defied belief”.

In 2008, the breathtaking scale of wrongdoing was relayed across 263 pages in a formal statement of reasons from the CCRC rendering the convictions unsafe due to gross prosecutorial misconduct.

The findings were accepted in their entirety and in December 2009 the Court of Appeal formally quashed the convictions.

But during Operation Douglas, Maxwell made admissions he was involved in the criimes and the court ruled he could face a retrial. With Chapman’s testimony irredeemably tainted, Mansell was set free.

Maxwell appealed to the Supreme Court which, in November 2010, narrowly ruled another trial could take place.

The following year, Maxwell dramatically pleaded guilty on the first day of the fresh trial. In July 2011, the Supreme Court published its judgment, previously withheld pending the outcome of the trial, and for the first some of the details of the police misconduct emerged into the light.

The devastating judgment revealed two of the five law lords thought police misconduct so severe no re-trial should take place.

West Yorkshire Police set up a fresh investigation, overseen by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), to reconsider why no officers had ever been prosecuted or disciplined.

To date, the findings of Operation Waldhorn remain withheld from the public. Responding to freedom of information requests from the Yorkshire Post, the IPCC, West Yorkshire’s Police Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson and the force itself all said they were considering whether it was in the public interest to disclose the findings.