Cross Border debacle

Page last updated Thursday 16th May 2013 at 1315hrs

The first question many would ask when reading this piece is ‘Why highlight a case that had it’s origins in 1998 and concluded over seven years ago?’ The answer to that is the outfall from the case still rumbles on to this day via the Operation Douglas and Operation Waldhorn inquiries which are still the subject of intensive press coverage. Another major investigative story by Yorkshire Post’s Rob Waugh is due on this subject within the next few days.

In bringing this historic case forward, uPSD invites comparison of the rigorous and wholly inappropriate pursuit of this matter to the lack of investigation of those West Yorkshire Police officers involved in the supply of drugs and prostitutes to a resident informant in the Operation Douglas case.

The striking difference between the two matters is that the junior officers (Cross Border team) were put through an awful ordeal founded upon the dishonest testimony of criminals, whereas the senior officers actually involved in the Operation Douglas corruption have never been subjected to any criminal or disciplinary proceedings even though there is substantive evidence identified by five Supreme Court Judges. This is totally wrong and against any principles of fairness or justice but, as readers of this website will conclude, West Yorkshire Police’s Command Team has, for a long time, not placed those principles on its list of priorities.

Between June 1996 and June 1998 the ‘Cross Border’ Policing Team operated in the high crime inner city Chapeltown/Harehills areas of Leeds.  It was based at the now-notorious Killingbeck Police Station. This unit of skilled and dedicated detectives was led by DS Dave Jowett. Their brief from senior management was to tackle the problems of robbery, burglary and drug dealing and bring the offenders to account. They were hugely successful, arresting 400 offenders in the two year period.  These were streetwise, practical detectives who operated effectively and within the law.

In 1998, totally unsubstantiated rumours suggested that DS Jowett’s team were supplying drugs, mainly heroin, to prisoners in return for admissions:  Very easy to allege by criminals facing lengthy prison sentences, difficult to prove but, unfortunately, for the detectives concerned not easy to disprove either. The team, despite achieving highly creditable results, was rapidly disbanded and the staff returned to other duties.

The Professional Standards Department (PSD) of West Yorkshire Police began an investigation codenamed Operation Passport under Superintendent Susan Day and Acting Chief Inspector David Grubb. Such serious allegations, although made by prolific offenders who were in custody awaiting trial for serious crimes, needed to be properly investigated. The widely-held belief amongst other police officers in the Force, and beyond, was that their accusers were in prison with an offender from Durham who had made similar unfounded accusations against officers from another police force. The Leeds villains had jumped on the bandwagon.  The villains were playing their ‘get out of jail free’ cards:  And why not?  They had everything to gain and nothing to lose with such a ploy.

In November 1998 disciplinary papers were served on the detectives, as is standard internal police procedure.  The officers saw such accusations as a hazard of the difficult job in dealing with dangerous criminals.  They were allowed to remain at work.

In March 1999 DS Jowett was served further disciplinary papers alleging that he had supplied, or was concerned in the supply of controlled drugs.  He was suspended from duty along with six fellow detectives.  The CID office was sealed off like a crime scene.  He was personally searched.  He was then escorted to his car, locker and desk which were all searched but, unsurprisingly, to no avail.   The other staff also suffered the same indignity.  They had to refrain from any contact with colleagues and were not allowed to visit any Police premises.

Police Complaints Authority member Alison McDougall had agreed that a total of nine officers (the seven referred to above plus two more) should face 42 disciplinary charges. She said at the time: “They are for alleged falsehood and prevarication, discreditable conduct, neglect of duty and being an accessory to a discipline offence”.

The officers remained suspended for FIVE years. During this time the suspects who had made the original allegations had their cases dropped.  These included armed robbery.  Most aggravating for DS Jowett is that the evidence against these offenders was so overwhelming that he is adamant that guilty verdicts would have been forthcoming, even without the admissions.  It was the weight of the evidence from good detective work that had resulted in the admissions, not any illegal inducements.

The PSD investigating officers visited the 400 prisoners who had been arrested by the Cross Border Team.  It is now known that many of these prisoners were offered inducements of non-prosecution, or reduced sentences, if they provided evidence against the suspended officers. To the credit of the vast majority they did not go along with these illegal practices.  The attitude of most criminals remains to this day, ‘Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time’.

They also know when they have been dealt with, properly and fairly, by skilled Police officers.  This approach often commands respect and sometimes co-operation when it is least expected. The accused officers were interviewed on many occasions.  DS Jowett was interviewed on ten separate days. He was interviewed about anything, and everything, including mileage claims, expense claims and overtime claims.

Of course, after such detailed scrutiny there had to be some disciplinary proceedings.  Thirty five years of police officer time had been lost whilst members of the Cross Border Team were on suspension.   Just to let the team return to work without any tribunals would have left the West Yorkshire Police Command Team with egg on their faces.

Seven Chief Constables from different forces were involved in the tribunals. West Yorkshire’s Deputy Chief Constable David Crompton was the chairman for some of the tribunals.  DS Jowett described it as a Kangaroo Court, where reasonable and carefully considered processes were notably absent. For example one witness, an Inspector, was at a crucial stage of giving evidence. He was instructed to get his pocket note book from Leeds, over the lunch break, and return.  A simple task you would imagine.  He later telephoned the Tribunal office and claimed he could not find his way back.  He was inexplicably excused by the Tribunal panel.

When Superintendent Day was giving evidence to the Tribunal she became upset and began to cry.  After a comfort break, the three accused officers were instructed to turn their chairs and face the wall whilst her evidence was concluded. There were a number of police witnesses, procured by PSD, that DS Jowett unequivocally states were lying to the Tribunals.  Why they would want to do that to fellow officers is beyond comprehension.

The Police Federation had engaged a solicitor, Fraser Sampson, who is now Chief Executive to the Police Commissioner (formerly in same role at discredited West Yorkshire Police Authority) to defend the officers. DS Jowett feels there were occasions when witness accounts were not challenged.   It was clear those witnesses were being untruthful.  This was very frustrating for the accused officers but they were reassured by Sampson that exposure of the lies would be exploited in a civil case to be brought against WYP, following the outcome of the disciplinary matters.

At the conclusion of the tribunals, unbelievably, one officer was sacked (required to resign) and DS Jowett was reduced in rank to Constable. No other disciplinary matters were proven and all officers were eventually allowed to return to work.

The sacked officer and DS Jowett were then granted leave to appeal to the Police (Discipline) Appeal Tribunal at the Royal Courts of Justice.  An independent panel led by an eminent QC considered the evidence.  The sacked officer was reinstated and Dave Jowett was restored in rank to Detective Sergeant. The restored detectives were then geared up for a civil case to bring West Yorkshire Police to account for the unwarranted, ill-founded and prolonged PSD investigation.  The support of the Police Federation was then, incredibly, withdrawn.  The only explanation being that Fraser Sampson had missed a deadline and they were now out of time.

The whole experience for all accused officers was devastating on both a personal and professional level.  Health and relationship problems developed and caused much heartache for those involved. Very few of the team have ever been promoted and DS Jowett was blocked from taking up a valued post due to ‘vetting’ issues. There was, and remains to this day, a stigma surrounding those members of the Cross Border Team.

Remarkably, there has never been any apology or acceptance on the part of David Crompton or West Yorkshire Police that they they got it wrong.