If Surrey Police appear at times to have a symbiotic relationship with the Metropolitan Police, it could date back to the days when districts like Epsom, Elmbridge and Reigate were the province of the Metropolitan Police, and were only handed over to Surrey for policing a mere 15 years ago. This action effectively increased the area of Surrey Police’s responsibility by one third.
Unsurprisingly, this has caused problems within the force, and Kevin Hurley, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey has been, as the phrase goes, ‘crawling all over them’ in an effort to improve their ‘product’ – namely protecting the public.
Thus when Milly Dowler was murdered in Walton-on-Thames in 2002, the area had only been under Surrey Police’s remit for a brief 2 years – they simply didn’t know the local characters, nor the area, as thoroughly as the Metropolitan Police. Notwithstanding the appalling job that Det Ch Insp Brian Marjoram made of investigating, or not, her murder, it does make sense of the speed with which the Metropolitan Police moved in to arrest Levi Bellfield after he had had time to murder two more young girls – this time in territory policed by the Met. It might have seemed as though they were treading on another force’s ground – but it had been ‘their’ ground two years before.
In a meeting on the 3rd September 2015, the Chief Constable, Lynne Owens, in reference to the state of the force when she took over, said that:
“Officers tended to receive an allegation and then wait to make an arrest after gathering evidence.
They needed to change this and make an arrest and then gather evidence“.
Those assembled at the meeting seemed elated that this new method had raised them up to 38th in the league table of forces – coffee and biscuits all round!
The number of ‘VIPs’ alleged to have committed historical child abuse offences has increased substantially in the past nine months – Operation Hydrant, which is a ‘national’ collation of all ‘VIP alleged offenders’ show that, as of February 1, there were 2,328 such alleged offenders, awaiting an ‘investigation to find evidence’, 895 since May last year alone.
Around ten per cent (298) of the 2,328 alleged offenders are deceased. Of these, 1,585 are within institutions and 319 are classed as persons of public prominence. The list includes 157 from the world of TV, film, or radio, 91 politicians (local as well as national), 44 people from the music industry and 18 from the world of sport.
Back to the Surrey Police meeting – Nick Ephgrave, the Surrey deputy Chief Constable explained that ‘the rape detection rate one year ago was at 6% which was unacceptable’ but ‘that the changed approach to arrest’ – arrest first, investigate afterwards – had pushed the detection rate to 15.8%; further that:
‘the reviews showed that investigators were being overly cautious to victim’s wishes; victims were directing the investigations rather than officers using all powers to pursue a prosecution. It was of course important to respond to a victim’s wishes but there was a wider duty to protect the public and the approach needed to be rebalanced.
I doubt that statement will have improved his promotion prospects!
When it came to child protection, it appeared they were severely understaffed, and had brought in a lot of retired ‘Met’ officers who ‘lived locally’ to ‘offer some mentoring and expertise’. Staff recruitment was proving a problem; 25 new posts had been created – but ‘staff simply don’t want to work in child protection’ – so Lynne Owens was looking at a ‘bonus scheme’ to enhance retention.
In the previous year they had flagged 17 child protection cases, but this year they had pushed that up to 469…now if there is a child present in a household where there has been any allegation of violence between adults, the cry goes up ‘Flag it Danno’. This simple expedient had pushed them further up the tables in relation to child protection. More coffee and biscuits.
Kevin Hurley asked whether there was the possibility of a ‘Rotherham type’ situation arising in Surrey and whether they could cope with it if it did – we will never know the answer; that information was considered so sensitive that entire paragraphs have been redacted…..
I did idly wonder why Kevin Hurley should have been asking this question, I wasn’t aware of anywhere in Surrey that had a large ‘Rotherham type’ population, but then I discovered that he is the leader, treasurer, nominating officer, in the fact the only other officer of the ‘Zero Tolerance Policing‘ political party – apart from one Andrew Bignold, who is a toastmaster and the main inspiration behind a company, BloomsburyFilms, who specialise in opulent Indian weddings in leafy Surrey suburbs. What you learn eh?
Milly Dowler’s murder was not the only blot on the Surrey policing landscape. The original Guardian claim that the NOTW had ‘hacked’ Milly’s phone, later shown to be untrue, put them centre stage in the Leveson Inquiry. Sir Dennis O’Connor, a previous Chief Constable of Surrey (who had managed to weather the storm created when his Deputy was accused of assaulting two women and sexually harassing three others) gave evidence to Leveson in response to a question regarding the force’s relations with the media.
At the suggestion of the then Editor of the Sun, David Yelland, a resident in the county who suggested that Surrey ’presented itself poorly, hiding its light under a bushel’, I agreed to him and a member of his staff making a presentation to a range of staff at Mount Browne.
It may or may not be relevant that this meeting took place shortly after Mark Williams-Thomas, who has admitted his practice of briefing the tabloids when he thought it necessary, left the employ of Surrey Police.
In 2015, Sun reporter Jamie Pyatt was cleared of corruptly paying a Surrey Police Officer between 2002 and 2011. The Yelland ‘presentation’ had obviously made some useful new contacts, post-2000.
As the entire world is now aware, in 2012, an ex-surrey police constable made a documentary alleging that Jimmy Savile was a serial paedophile who ‘could have been stopped’ had the original complainants had the courage to make statements to Surrey Police which could produce verifiable evidence.
So successful was this documentary at convincing the world that a paedophile was a) a celebrity, b) at least 90, and c) worth suing, that when young Breck Bednar‘s mother phoned Surrey Police to complain that her son was being ‘groomed’ by an 18 year old – who later murdered him – they took no action. Despite his killer having been arrested three years earlier for a sexual assault on a 15 year old.
This then was the background to Kevin Hurley’s determination to force Surrey Police to improve their detection and conviction rates in respect of sexual violence of many hues.
Whilst he was initially full of praise for Lynne Owens professional ability, he is now being criticised for revealing that he had considered dismissing Owens in October after a series of highly critical inspection reports on Surrey police’s record on public protection and child-safeguarding work. Some commentators, notably Jim Gamble, were of the opinion that:
“If you wanted to dismiss your chief constable, you don’t wait until after they are in a new job to do it.”
Which is made it sound as though it was a hasty decision taken after she had taken up her new appointment with the National Crime Agency. It was a far from hasty decision, but one that Kevin Hurley has been trying to avoid taking for many months, giving Lynne Owens every opportunity to put matters right, and taking advice from a number of sources.
Most pertinent of all, he had no idea that she was considering a new job – not only did the National Crime Agency not take up references with him before offering her the appointment – the first he knew of it was on the same day she handed in her resignation as Chief Constable.
In September 2015, Hurley had advised Lynne Owens that he was considering using ‘Section 38’ – the mechanism for firing his Chief Constable;
The PCC stressed that he had been extremely concerned and disturbed following the scrutiny session on 3rd September to discuss public protection.
In light of that, he had reflected on his concerns and compiled a letter which highlighted the problems raised at the scrutiny, his assessment of public protection following scrutiny and the Chief Constable’s response to the scrutiny session.
The PCC asked that the CC read the letter and reflect on it.
Coincidentally, just as Lynne Owens was ‘reflecting’ on the contents of this critical report, she would also have been ‘reflecting’ on the happy coincidence of Keith Bristow, along with 6 other Chiefs of the National Crime Agency deciding they had had enough of being ordered to prioritise child abuse, and were unhappy with the level of control over them exerted by Theresa May.
Reading through the batch of e-mails and reports that (yes, I know I should get out more) Kevin Hurley has released this monring, you can literally feel his growing frustration with the opaque responses he was getting to his requests to Lynne Owens.
Culminating, to his intense surprise, in the November 26th announcement that:
a) Keith Bristow was standing down as head of the National Crime Agency.
b) His Chief Constable, Lynne Owens, was quitting.
c) Without any reference to him, Theresa May had appointed her head of the National Crime Agency.
Dear Home Secretary,
I wrote to you on 10th December in respect of Chief Constable Lynne Owens’ appointment as the new Director General of the National Crime Agency, highlighting an apparent lack of due diligence in the taking up of references.
I am now in possession of the finalised HMIC reports for Child Protection and Vulnerability which, as I expected, paint Surrey Police’s performance in an extremely disappointing light.
Indeed, Surrey is one of just four forces to be graded as ‘inadequate’. This follows closely behind the recently published HMIC efficiency report which assessed Surrey as requiring improvement.
Lynne Owens is now on annual leave in advance of her joining the NCA on 4th January. I am therefore no longer able to hold her to account for the operational failings of Surrey Police.
It would be remiss, however, if I did not formally draw these failings to your attention.
Although the NCA appointment has been made, I wish to vacate my responsibilities as her current employer by informing you of the shortcomings that have been identified.
By doing so, I have ensured that you are fully aware of the difficulties she has left us to face here in Surrey.
Yesterday, Ms Owens was on route to CEOPS and her supporter Jim Gamble former fiefdom, to further propagate the new policing of ‘arrest first, look for evidence afterwards’…..