MP threatens to take supergrass scandal to Home Secretary

AN MP is threatening to raise the West Yorkshire Police supergrass scandal with the Home Secretary if the local police commissioner does not take action to ensure accountability for shocking levels of misconduct.

West Yorkshire police commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson
West Yorkshire police commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson

Mark Burns-Williamson has so far insisted he is content with the way the force has handled the affair but he is coming under increasing pressure to explain why not a single officer was ever charged or disciplined over a catalogue of misconduct for which taxpayers may now pay the bill.

Leeds North East MP Fabian Hamilton said he was now seeking a meeting with Mr Burns-Williamson to press for action while George Mudie, Leeds East MP, said the commissioner had to fulfil the public role he was elected for.

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Mr Burns-Williamson, who was elected West Yorkshire Police Commissioner in November, did not respond to a request to comment.

The MPs’ interventions follow a three-part Yorkshire Post investigation which today concludes with a focus on how police repeatedly ignored rules when paying supergrass Karl Chapman thousands of pounds to ensure he kept co-operating.

A senior officer is revealed to have admitted regularly signing false payment declarations and police are also shown to have apparently delayed the start of payments to avoid having to disclose them to a trial.

The widescale police misconduct led to the quashing of Danny Mansell’s 1998 conviction for murdering Wakefield pensioner Joe Smales and the majority of Gary Ford’s convictions for burglary and robbery in 1996 also being overturned.

Both men were released in 2009 after spending a total of 20 years in prison on the basis of tainted evidence. Both have now launched damages claims against the West Yorkshire force which are likely to total in excess of half a million pounds.

Mr Hamilton said: “I will be seeking a meeting with the commissioner to discuss what’s gone wrong and how it can be put right. If we don’t get anywhere, I will approach the Home Secretary.

“It cannot be right that the police are like a closed shop and they do things in their interest and against the public interest.”

Mr Mudie said: “Here’s a situation that could cost the taxpayer a huge amount of money and one that raises serious questions of accountability both about what happened and why no action was taken.

“I see transparency and accountability as things a police commissioner should have at the top of their agenda.

“If that’s not happening, what is he doing?”

The force and the commissioner are currently withholding the findings of an inquiry into the lack of charges or disciplinary action on the grounds disclosure may not be in the public interest.

The investigation was ordered in 2011 in the wake of withering criticism from the Supreme Court when it released its judgment ruling Paul Maxwell, whose Joe Smales murder conviction had also been quashed, could face a retrial. He subsequently pleaded guilty.

The Supreme Court said the actions of officers. which included allowing Chapman free access to drink, drugs and sex and concealing it all when he gave evidence in court, amounted to perverting the course of justice, perjury and misconduct in public office.

The force and Mr Burns-Williamson have declined to respond to questions about why no action was taken.

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 Crown Prosecution Service (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 beyond stating there was “insufficient evidence”.

Despite the scale of North Yorkshire’s 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.

The force has not confirmed if any hearings even went ahead.

Only a small number of officers involved with the handling of Chapman remain with West Yorkshire Police.

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, 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 by the Supreme Court.