Page last updated Wednesday 18th November 2015 at 0720hrs
‘This report will blow West Yorkshire Police apart’.
Sounds melodramatic, but these are the words to me of a well placed insider about an investigation into the fit-up of an up-and-coming police officer by his Leeds Bridewell colleagues, twelve years ago.
That bombshell revelation also falls into the same crater as my own sphere of knowledge. Which is much more than most, as I was instrumental in setting the Terms of Reference for the investigation in my role as complaint advocate to the family of ex-PC Danny Major.
Danny had only one dream as a boy. To follow in the footsteps of his devoted father, Eric, as a career policeman. On my frequent visits to the Major family home I watch Danny’s young nephew play with the toy police cars that have become family heirlooms. Soon Danny’s own bright-as-a-button little boy, Matthew, will be dreaming of driving those same police cars as he plays with them. It breaks my heart that we have still not cleared Danny’s name.
A trusted and well-liked bobby of the old school, Eric Major retired in 2011 after 31 years exemplary service with West Yorkshire Police. Danny’s own rise through the ranks ended abruptly in 2006 – after only six years – when he was convicted of assaulting a drunken, violent teenager he was attempting to arrest in the centre of Leeds. He was subsequently jailed for fifteen months (released after only four) but Danny, a university graduate, feels he is still serving a life sentence as he waits for the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) still to consider his case for a second time.
In November 2006, after three trials, Danny was convicted of actual bodily harm and common assault which resulted in a sentence of 15 months imprisonment. He was acquitted of a further charge of common assault. It was alleged that on 6 September 2003, he arrested Sean Rimmington for being drunk and disorderly while on duty near Millgarth police station in Leeds city centre. The prosecution claimed that Danny kicked Rimmington twice in the ribs while he was handcuffed in a police van in the docking area outside Leeds Bridewell. On reaching the cell area, Major was alleged to have removed Rimmington from the van by throwing him head first onto a concrete floor and punching him in the head on at least four occasions.
In the police cell within the Bridewell, the prosecution claimed that he assaulted Rimmington by punching him five to six times in the face, causing injuries to his nose. Danny says he committed none of the alleged assaults, which either didn’t happen at all or were, instead, committed by other police officers. The police failed to disclose CCTV footage that could have helped the defence; it was discovered by accident in the final days of second trial when it was too late to be used in court. The footage was subsequently presented to the CCRC, who refused to refer Major’s case back to the court of appeal on the grounds that they did not materially enhance the defence’s case at trial and would not be seen as new evidence, or argument.
Danny’s imprisonment was a police trade-off for, what the court heard at the second trial, was the concealment of the “shambolic” state of affairs in the Leeds Bridewell custody suite. Judge Linda Sutcliffe QC was not wrong. Amongst the many failings were the falsification of an entire night shift’s custody visiting records, right under one of the CCTV cameras (belatedly disclosed to the Major family) and with running, comedy-act, commentary provided by the officer involved, PC Richard Roberts. Better known to colleagues as ‘Ivan’. A senior PSD detective has commented that “there was no proactive supervision” in the Bridewell which resulted in prisoners not booked in, cell visits not made and others taken to wrong cells. Nearly ten years after Sean Rimmington received a series of injuries whilst in custody, West Yorkshire Police still have no explanation for concealing the missing 13 hours of CCTV footage which would have cleared Danny Major’s name at Court. Nor have they produced any film from the other five cameras they alleged were not working on that night.
In the hours after the incident, and whilst he was at St James’s Hospital receiving treatment for injuries inflicted by the prisoner, Danny was accused by another police officer of punching the comatose teenager thus causing his injuries. He was suspended from duty but, he says, was not overly concerned, initially. “The Bridewell has cameras everywhere,” he says. “Alarms go off if film is not in them. It is not somewhere you commit offences. When I heard the allegations I told them: ‘Just look at the CCTV cameras’. Then, my own force’s Professional Standards Department claimed that at least five cameras weren’t recording.” It was, to say the least, an operational and mathematical improbability that so many cameras had failed on one night in the main custody cells in a city the size of Leeds.
The first trial was stopped as an abuse of process as a result of a number of flaws connected to disclosure of evidential materials to the defence team by the police and CPS – and the Crown’s presentation of its case. At the second trial, at Bradford Crown Court, the jury heard that officers at Leeds Bridewell failed to follow even basic procedures as outlined above. The jury was unable to reach a verdict and discharged by Judge Sutcliffe. The third and final trial also saw another judge, the late Roger Scott QC again repeat the view that the custody suite was “a shambles”. He criticised senior police officers, including Detective Inspector Michael Green, and called the Rimmington custody record “a document of fiction”. Perjury, by any other name, once its contents were alluded to under oath. Green is expected to face criminal charges as a result of the findings of Operation Lamp.
The “Shambles” as described by Judge Scott was the headline that covered most of the front page of the Yorkshire Evening Post the following day.
Danny was acquitted of assaulting the teenager whilst putting him in the van on a jury count of 12-0. The jury simply did not believe his accuser, PC David Oldroyd. Danny was, however, convicted of assaulting him while taking him out of the van which, once the proximity of another police vehicle in the caged and CCTV’d Bridewell van dock is affirmed, that alleged attack becomes a physical impossibity. He was also convicted, by a majority of 10-2, of the cell assault. The police’s key witness PC Kevin Liston has now left the force in disgrace, after committing a whole series of assault/drug/sex based offences before and after the trial. Liston was kept ‘clean’ by the Professional Standards Department (PSD) of West Yorkshire Police after committing around twenty criminal offences over a ten year period. That was the price the force had to pay for the lid not coming off the huge cover-up that was in play. Oldroyd and Liston are also expected to face criminal proceedings once West Yorkshire Police are forced to act upon the report.
In January 2013, Greater Manchester Police was appointed to review the PSD investigation that led to Danny’s conviction. The codename is Operation Lamp and it began with Supt Peter Matthews as Senior Investigation Officer. It was an investigation that was expected to last six months, but the amount of material previously undisclosed material plus the lines of enquiry flowing from that have extended the time required for both the detective work and report writing. Matthews retired at the end of 2013 and was replaced as SIO by an officer who had worked on it from the outset, DCI Julian Flindle.
Both Matthews and Flindle – and indeed the rest of the Manchester detectives involved on Lamp – developed a very good rapport with the Major family from the outset and have been impressed by the sheer scale and reach of Eric Major’s own detective work on the case before their own work began.
There has also clearly been some behind-the-scenes political wrangling as the investigation was, to all intents and purposes completed in December 2014. It is expected to at the very least infer, if not expose directly, that the drive to convict and then dismiss Danny Major from the police service extended to the top management of West Yorkshire Police. David Crompton, now the Chief Constable at South Yorkshire Police, was the officer who dismissed Danny at a misconduct hearing following what his mother, Bernadette Major described as nothing more than a “kangaroo court”. At the time, Crompton was the infamous Sir Norman Bettison‘s Deputy.
The report was finally signed off on November 6th, 2015 by ACC Garry Shewan, who is Gold Commander for Operation Lamp, and is expected to be presented to the Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire, and the Chief Constable, in early December.
The Manchester detectives have also been liaising with the CCRC throughout the investigation and the findings of the report are expected to be presented to them within the next few weeks. These should be sufficiently persuasive for the CCRC to refer the matter back to the Court of Appeal for a second time. Danny Major continues to be represented in his dealings with the CCRC by Maslen Merchant at Hadgkiss, Hughes and Beale, a Birmingham firm of solicitors.
On 9th November, the family’s MP, Mary Creagh, tabled a Parliamentary question over the case to the Secretary of State for the Home Department: ‘What discussions she has had with West Yorkshire Police on the review commissioned by the Office of the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, and conducted by Greater Manchester Police, into the conviction of Mr Danny Major’. A holding reply was provided by the Home Secretary on 16th November to the effect that an answer will be provided as soon as practicable.
In the meantime, battle is joined with the West Yorkshire PCC, and the force, over the provision to the Major family, as key stakeholders, for an unredacted report to be provided to them.