Inside Greater Manchester Police's culture of denial, obfuscation and secrecy
When England's second largest police force was placed into special measures last December, it represented the single biggest public service failure to hit Greater Manchester in years.
Yet by the time the crisis at GMP officially started emerging last year, the warning lights had long been flashing, for victims, external organisations and many rank-and-file police officers themselves.
For while the headline criticism of the force was that it missed 80,000 crimes last year, according to the policing inspectorate, behind that sat something harder to measure: a broken culture. It is something impossible to count in a spreadsheet, or to list in a league table; hard to trace its history or arrest its development. But it is just as fundamental to understanding both what went wrong in the force and to turning around its fortunes.
A six-month investigation by the M.E.N. has uncovered a pattern, believe experts, that has echoes of policing scandals such as Hillsborough and, more recently, the findings of the Daniel Morgan Inquiry into the Metropolitan Police - a tendency towards obfuscation, denial, secrecy and an instinct to defend the indefensible.
It takes in misleading and inaccurate statements, denial of official criticism and legal stonewalling; police officers fearful to report failure and those attempting external scrutiny being brushed off.
GMP is now under new management, with its latest Chief Constable due to announce his transformation plan on Friday.
Understanding and fixing the causes and solutions of what was dubbed a ‘rotten’ culture four years ago will surely have to be central to that, however, if GMP is to truly turn the page.
The public inquiry into the death of Anthony Grainger, the 36-year-old armed robbery suspect shot dead by GMP in Cheshire almost a decade ago, was a one-stop-shop for the kind of cultural criticisms levelled at the force in recent years.
Its findings, issued in June 2019 after hearings in 2017, were damning - on culture as much as competence. The judge, His Honour Judge Teague QC, blasted the force’s lack of candour, both at an organisational level and among several individual senior officers.
Testimony from one Assistant Chief Constable, Steve Heywood, was branded ‘highly misleading’ by the judge. Testimony from a second ACC, Terry Sweeney, was deemed ‘seriously misleading’.
The senior officers had presented their firearms logs - the paper trail in which they were supposed to have jotted down what they were doing - as though they had been written at the time. Bit by bit, the inquiry unpicked the evidence, concluding the officers must have filled them in later in order to show themselves in a better light.
Heywood was even accused of using two different pens to confect the impression of a contemporaneous record, in a plot twist that would not be out of place in an episode of Line of Duty.
He also insisted some evidence be heard in secret, because it relied upon sensitive intelligence. The inquiry then discovered that there was, in fact, 'no such intelligence'.
His testimony - described as ‘cringeworthy’ by several in court, due to the ferocity of the cross-examination and his crumbling in the face of it - ‘lacked candour’, while ‘very little of ACC Sweeney’s narrative is accurate’, said the judge in relation to one section of evidence.
Crucially, the criticism wasn’t limited to individuals.
Judge Teague accused GMP of an ‘unduly reticent, at times secretive attitude’ and blasted ‘a failure to disclose relevant material promptly to the inquiry’. (It would not be the last time the latter criticism was levelled in court in 2019. Five months later GMP were branded ‘diabolical’ by a grieving relative during the Manchester Arena Inquiry, after it once again failed to provide key evidence on time, seven months after being asked for it. GMP apologised. The QC acting for families, Pete Weatherby, noted ‘one would have thought’ the force might have learned its lesson.)
Teague also criticised the force’s own self-commissioned review in the wake of Grainger’s death, which saw it call in the College of Policing to look at what had happened. GMP chose its own terms of reference, which Justice Teague deemed skewed from the outset towards ‘generating conclusions that would tend to favour the force and enhance its public image’.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission - the police watchdog at the time - had also failed during its own inquiries to retrieve Steve Heywood’s original log, the judge noted. The paperwork mysteriously vanished during the five-year period between the shooting and the public inquiry, before reappearing, with GMP unable to explain why.
Leslie Thomas QC, representing Grainger’s family, labelled GMP ‘rotten to its core’.
GMP wrote to Justice Teague in response to the Inquiry, apologising, although not before listing almost two pages of justifications for its failure to disclose information as requested, including noting that the inquiry’s timetable had been ‘very demanding’.
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Just a few weeks earlier, the force had responded to an entirely separate raft of external criticism.
In May 2019 Her Majesty’s Inspectorate had identified a decline in performance, warning that too many crimes were being wrongly downgraded as unworthy of investigation; of a lack of strategy within neighbourhood policing; and of worries about its treatment of vulnerable victims.
Unlike HMI’s positive assessments, GMP rejected its critical conclusions.
"Whilst we accept some of these findings, there are others which we have challenged. In particular we do not agree that our performance has declined since the last report,” said the force at the time.
"We have made many improvements since the last report and we already have a plan in place to continue to make further improvements where we need to do so.”
GMP’s denial would ultimately catch up with it the following year. At the end of 2020, it was placed into special measures after HMI visited again, largely as a result of the same failures - which had become even worse in the meantime.
Insiders believe that move was coloured not only by the failure to record crime and look after victims, but by the way the force responded to the criticism. By that point nearly 100 HMI recommendations, some of them dating back more than five years, were still outstanding, but GMP was still unwilling to accept the inspectorate’s latest assessment.
Deputy mayor Beverley Hughes later claimed the force leadership had initially told the mayor’s office, and inspectors, that HMI had ‘got it wrong’.
“The inspector herself was very upset at that reaction which she perceived, because she did not perceive that the senior leadership of GMP were accepting her findings,” Baroness Hughes told Stockport councillors in March this year.
For several experts spoken to for this article, the kind of pattern playing out in GMP through these episodes reflects something fundamental in British policing. Protecting the reputation of policing and protecting the public interest is often considered one and the same, they say. On a basic level, the two become inextricably linked in the minds of senior officers.
“The risk of reputational damage is extremely important to policing - and chief officers are expected to protect their forces from reputational damage which may seriously damage public confidence in the ability of police to enforce the law,” says Dr Graham Smith, a senior law lecturer at Manchester University, who has been called in to investigate GMP’s Professional Standards Branch - which deals with internal conduct issues - in the past.
“That was made clear in the acquittal of police officers charged with offences arising out of the Hillsborough tragedy.”
Nevertheless he thinks GMP is a ‘case study’ in that kind of behaviour.
He draws parallels with the Daniel Morgan Inquiry, published this summer, which looked at how the Metropolitan Police had repeatedly failed to properly investigate a murder in which its own officers were potentially implicated. That panel found the current Met had provided ‘unjustified reassurances, rather than candour’ and applied ‘denial’ in order to protect its reputation.
Dr Smith’s notes the panel concluded that amounted to ‘institutional corruption’ and says his own experience looking into GMP’s track record on conduct and employment tribunals bears out similar patterns.
“I could observe this taking place after researching disproportionality in professional standards in GMP some ten years ago, with the force defending and losing employment tribunals,” he says.
“GMP’s strategy was to attempt to protect their reputation by defending the indefensible - which backfired on them when they lost.”
So how did GMP reach a point, in late 2020, where that determination to avoid reputational damage ultimately helped its reputation to unravel?
A raft of former police officers spoken to for this investigation, with decades of experience between them, point to a similar mixture of factors. Notably many appear to overlap with the new Chief Constable’s own analysis due to be fleshed out further this week.
They all believe poor leadership, weaknesses in the promotions system, lack of external scrutiny and a series of bad organisational decisions underpinned both the force’s operational and its cultural decline.
One former Chief Superintendent recalls that, a little over ten years ago, the force leadership became markedly less interested in performance management. Prior to that there had been a ‘performance culture’, he argues, one that involved more rigorous internal challenge. But over time he noticed a ‘sloppiness’ creep in.
“I think GMP’s problems are not unique to GMP, but it is an outlier,” he says, “and I think it dates back to the culture of not performance managing.
“And there was a wooliness to decisions. You’ve got to be evidence based.”
The ex-cop points to specific decisions - such as moving Chief Superintendents away from their patches and being given much bigger areas to oversee, a move now being reversed by the new Chief - that undermined the force’s effectiveness over time. But by that point, internal challenge had dwindled, he argues, and so too had external challenge from local authorities.
Previously the latter had come partly from the former police authority, he believes, scrapped in 2012 to make way for the police and crime commissioner system, but also through the relationships Chief Supers had with councils on the ground. But challenging the decision to cut Chief Supers was almost considered ‘heresy’, he recalls.
“I warned it was going to fall apart,” he adds, but believes even those who agreed kept their heads down, hoping for promotion or not wanting to be ‘ostracised’.
His words have echoes of many councillors spoken to by the M.E.N. in recent years, who felt their connection to the force at local level dwindle. Under the new Chief, GMP has just hired a raft of new Chief Supers and is putting them back out on division, with their patches once again matching the ten local authorities.
The former cop also lists a number of other changes - such as the scrapping of divisional CID, the ‘wholesale closure of custody offices’ and a determination to make officers ‘omnicompetent’, rather than specialist - that he believes were not based on evidence.
“It made life much harder for front line officers who lacked the resources, support or training to deliver a proper service to the community.”
As those difficulties were felt, it was then hard to speak up about problems, says one former detective sergeant.
“Nobody wants to be blamed, do they?” he points out. “And then everyone starts hiding.”
He points to the loss of demoralised officers to other forces as a warning sign.
“Something is telling when a force is haemorrhaging staff - and experienced staff - to that level,” he says of an initial exodus to Cheshire and more recently to Lancashire.
“Who do young police officers go to for guidance?
“The whole force was falling apart and as performance declined, GMP doubled down. Clearly the report that came through from HMIC was then damning.”
Sir Peter Fahy, who led the force between 2008 and 2015, sees the picture differently - although he agrees GMP has cultural problems and that in the wake of the police authority system being scrapped, scrutiny of the force has become weaker.
Nevertheless he says his move away from performance measures on taking up post was driven by the force having become ‘obsessed’ with targets over the previous years, which itself was causing cultural problems.
“At its worst,” he has written previously, those targets had “had led to a bullying culture and a range of unethical behaviours,” in order to hit specific statistical measures.
He also still believes his reorganisations, which are now being unwound by the new Chief, were the right thing to do.
“I would certainly defend reducing the number of Chief Superintendents and bringing some of the divisions together to share expertise - and this is something all other forces have done,” he says.
“In GMP there were nine levels between me and the officer providing the service on the street. “There is no other modern organisation that tries to operate with this level of hierarchy. All that shapes culture.”
All big city policing breeds 'powerful cultures’, he believes - the combination of major events, deprivation, a ‘feeling of siege mentality’ and a ‘macho political culture’ as the backdrop.
It is easy for a leader, ‘particularly a new one’, to be ‘naïve about the power of culture and to live in a management bubble, seeing what they want to see and hearing what those close to them think they would like to hear’.
“GMP is indeed defensive,” he adds, “as are most police forces and indeed big organisations.
“As the Chief you constantly have the force legal department, insurance companies, press office and sometimes politicians telling you to be careful what you say or, indeed, say nothing.
“I think that is the reality for many public service leaders.”
He agrees, however, that the old police authority system ‘had the capacity to carry out closer scrutiny’ than the police commissioner system that replaced it, ‘but also to have the time to really understand the force and the challenges it faced’.
The old police authority spent a lot of its time ‘scrutinising major spending and IT projects’, he notes.
Since 2017, however, there has also been an added factor for Greater Manchester, which is unusual in now having a police and crime commissioner who is also mayor, therefore not focused full-time on policing - although Andy Burnham has delegated the task to Baroness Beverley Hughes. London has the same set-up, with Sadiq Khan wearing the same two hats, but scrutiny there is stronger ‘because of its relationship with the Home Office’, argues Sir Peter.
In areas where the police commissioner only has one job, unlike Greater Manchester, he adds, the PCC has ‘a lot more time to get to know the force and also to be active at the national level on policing’.
Many of the biggest decisions taken within the force over the past decade, first under Sir Peter Fahy and then under his successor Ian Hopkins, were taken against the backdrop of austerity. It lost 2,000 officers in the initial years of cuts, a blow even GMP’s sternest critics would acknowledge was significant.
But close observers noticed a corporate narrative then crept in that used austerity to defend all weaknesses - from computer system failures to poor investigations.
Many Labour politicians repeated the line, even if some had private concerns.
Perhaps the most significant commentary on that narrative comes not from former officers but from the new Chief Constable himself. Stephen Watson had himself been leading a major force - South Yorkshire - during the same period. But on day one at GMP, he made clear that austerity was no excuse for its problems.
He reserved his strongest comments for the ‘Citizens’ Contract’, however, a policy launched by the former Chief and mayor’s office in 2018, which told the public they would have to play their part thanks to cuts.
Watson called it ‘complete tosh’ in an interview with the M.E.N. this summer, arguing it effectively told the public ‘can you just stop troubling us, because we're really busy and you just don't understand how hard it is for us’.
There is one final common thread in the interviews carried out with current and former officers interviewed for this piece, however: a broken promotions system. Among critics of the force, including many former officers, the word ‘cronyism’ crops up a lot.
It is, again, an issue the new Chief has referred to obliquely, noting that ‘organisational justice’ must now apply across the piece, including - he has specified - to promotions.
The former Chief Super argues GMP’s approach to career progression became less rigorous during the course of his career. In the late 1980s the then-Chief Constable David Wilmott had introduced an assessment centre for that purpose, one that saw officers take part in group, situational and written exercises to prove their abilities to an officer one rank higher - with candidates anonymised for some of the tests.
“That was gradually eroded to an essay and a meeting with the chief officer board,” he says, adding that the essays were not invigilated and there were rumours at the time that people were getting others to write theirs for them.
He believes some officers shot up the ranks without the necessary experience or skills as a result. “It became all about patronage.”
Sir Peter insists he did spend a ‘huge amount of time’ trying to make promotions fairer, bringing in outside people to sit on selection panels. He points to the success of former GMP now officers in other forces - such as the Chief Constable of Northants, Nick Adderley - as examples of where it was successful.
But, he adds: “In my experience there is no perfect police promotion system because so much of it is subjective as beyond the rank of inspector there is no qualification system.”
Yet a great many current and former officers spoken to by the M.E.N. believe the way promotions have been handled within GMP in recent years has been a major factor in the force’s problems. Another former senior detective sees it as a key root cause.
“Now we’ve got issues and problems,” they say.
“This is the result.”
It is crucial in any analysis of the police not to forget victims of crime.
Many victims, it is important to stress, will have received a good service from GMP in recent years, even if the thousands whose cases were not recorded or investigated are now a matter of public record.
Nevertheless the force’s defensive corporate attitude made itself felt among some of those struggling for justice, including some extremely vulnerable people.
In November of last year, the Centre for Women’s Justice wrote to GMP on behalf of three Rochdale grooming victims, for whom it had begun legal proceedings against the force in summer of 2019.
In a complaint to Andy Burnham last November the CWJ said that ‘on the rare occasions’ in which GMP’s legal department had engaged since, it had been ‘defensive, dismissive and rude’.
“Our clients feel insulted, and are very distressed. We cannot even advise them how many more months they will have to wait before hearing back from GMP.”
The stories of the women in question will be grimly familiar to those who followed the Rochdale scandal. One was 12 when she was first raped under horrific circumstances and would go on to testify in the grooming trial - but GMP never arrested or charged her own abusers.
GMP blanked the legal letter for three months, said the CWJ, before failing to respond to correspondence on around 20 subsequent occasions and repeatedly missing deadlines to lay out its own legal position, meaning full-scale court action - and extensive taxpayer costs - would become more and more likely, rather than a settlement out of court.
(The M.E.N. tried in April to find out how much GMP has spent on litigation in the last few years, but our FOI request was rejected on the grounds that it would take too long for it to find out.)
One of the three women told the M.E.N. how the force’s legal approach had left her feeling.
“I think more than anything, it's a slap in the face,” she said in March, as GMP launched a new drive for historic CSE victims to approach them, in the wake of a damning mayoral inquiry into past CSE failures.
“It’s embarrassing. They are asking more people to come and speak to them, but they won’t deal with us.”
The CWJ’s letter noted that the Director of Public Prosecutions, as a co-defendant in its action, ‘have been equally frustrated by GMP legal services who, as we understand, will not communicate with them either’.
It pointed to 'similar complaints' in another big legal case opening at around the same time its legal action began - the Manchester Arena Inquiry.
Andy Burnham’s deputy, Beverley Hughes, apologised in response to the CWJ and said she had asked the Chief Constable to review conduct in the case and ensure progress by Christmas. But he stepped down a few weeks later.
Former GMP detective-turned-whistle-blower Maggie Oliver, whose charity the Maggie Oliver Foundation has been supporting the victims with their action, says nothing has moved on in the case.
“Action has had to be served in court,” she says, “which was totally avoidable. More pain for the girls, more wasted money for GMP.”
Recent years have been punctuated by a striking pattern where GMP is concerned: former officers such as Maggie Oliver speaking out about the force’s culture. That is a difficult task in any public organisation, but especially tough in the police.
There have been too many examples to list in detail here, but several patterns emerge in the cases looked at by the M.E.N.
They include multiple allegations of officers trying and failing to raise concerns; in several cases the officers allege trumped-up internal misconduct investigations were then carried out into them as a result. More than one involves claims their phones were illegally intercepted, including the notorious case of Chief Inspector John Buttress.
To this day, he believes Professional Standards only investigated him because he raised concerns about GMP’s treatment of a colleague, after which a catalogue of claims were levelled against him, ranging from fiddling his mileage to tax evasion, on the basis that he was volunteering as a church organist. The force flew a helicopter over his house to aid its inquiries, a move he points out would normally be reserved for a major serious crime investigation. Ultimately he was charged with mortgage fraud, after failing to pay a £75 banking fee.
Buttress was cleared at court in 2015, but not before it emerged that a key page of mitigation in the prosecution bundle had gone missing; one that showed his bank considered the £75 an easily rectifiable error.
The force were also found to have intercepted his girlfriend’s phone illegally, later apologising and saying the buttons had been pressed accidentally while in the care of PSB. The policing watchdog accepted the explanation and the officer was not disciplined.
A second officer spoken to for this article says they too had their phone intercepted, however, after highlighting allegations of corruption during the Operation Holly investigation into the business affairs of Salford gangster Paul Massey and other organised criminals.
That operation would collapse in 2017 as a result of those allegations, although GMP would later find there to be no corruption issues to answer.
The former detective is one of several to believe those claims were ‘swept under the carpet’, however. Shaken after the experience, they took their pension and walked, rather than face the stress of a tribunal.
“I’ve got my family. I can let this take over my life, or I can move on and start a new career.”
Meanwhile a decorated ex-cop who says he tried to raise concerns at around the same time, in his case about chronic bad behaviour on the force’s Counter Corruption Unit, describes a similar pattern. He says his concerns were ignored over a long period, before a PSB investigation was eventually launched into him for an alleged assault, a claim he says was fabricated. He, too, considered a tribunal, but similarly retired instead. He describes the experience as like a bereavement.
“Being a whistleblower is not a career path,” he says. “You fall into doing the right thing - and the effect of that is you end up in a very lonely place and you end up isolated professionally and physically and certainly spiritually and mentally.
"I can only describe GMP’s betrayal of everything I believed in - 'good verses bad' - as like a family bereavement or divorce.”
In summer 2018, a serving detective - Paul Bailey - and two retired detectives, Pete Jackson and Maggie Oliver, went to the mayor’s office armed with a catalogue of such concerns and others besides. The mayor’s office took the view that most had already been investigated by the policing watchdog, although it had launched an inquiry into Maggie Oliver’s longstanding concerns around child sexual exploitation, which were subsequently proved right.
At that meeting, the officers also urged the mayor to carry out an internal review into the force’s ‘rotten’ culture. Paul Bailey believes that has also since also been proved right.
"Time has proven that the concerns that Maggie, Pete and I brought to Andy Burnham, and his deputy, were well founded and absolutely correct,” he says.
The former Operation Holly officer says the problems they witnessed within GMP are a source of sadness to this day.
“I just hope this new guy has the strength of character to rebuild it,” they say.
“But you have to acknowledge what's gone wrong first.”
The ‘new guy’ is Stephen Watson, who took over as Chief Constable in May.
He knows a thing or two about problem cultures in UK policing. Not only is he national anti-corruption lead, but he has come to GMP from South Yorkshire, where it had been his task to turn that force around in the wake of Hillsborough.
Top of his in-tray on arrival had been a piece of work carried out by Pricewaterhousecooper earlier this year on behalf of the mayor, aimed at providing a ‘root and branch review’ of the force. While it is still yet to be published - the report is expected to finally materialise tomorrow - it is understood to have formed damning conclusions about both the force’s leadership and culture.
The M.E.N. asked him directly in July about the pattern seen in GMP’s corporate behaviour in recent years, including the findings of the Grainger Inquiry. How do you go about turning around a situation like that?
He said he ‘wouldn’t want to overstate’ how widespread the issue is.
“It's sometimes easy to assume that that's the ingrained nature of the organisation and I think that that's a stretch,” he said.
“I think it happens, and has happened here, and if it happens once it's too often. But I think for the most part people are good, decent, honest folk.”
Nevertheless, he said, there are issues that need to be addressed, notably ‘right from the top’.
The values of the organisation, he added, need restating and baking into everything that it does - including the promotions system. That includes 'who do we pick, who do we train, who do we promote; in extremis if people get themselves into a pickle, what is the almost the totemic standard against which we make a judgement as to whether they get slapped legs or thrown out of the organisation?'
“Point number two is leadership. If leaders don't model the values and model the standards personally, it doesn't end well.
“I'm making no judgement on those who've gone before. But all I would say is that the GMP that I lead, and the leaders that I lead, if they don't model the values, then they will not flourish in this organisation.
“Because if we cannot be equal to what it is we're asking of our people, then we've no business being here.”
That means, he added, zero tolerance for dishonesty.
“If you're going to tell lies, you're out, because I have nowhere to go with people who tell lies, because trust and honesty are not malleable in our world.
“They are brittle constructs - they either exist or they're broken. And if they're broken, you can't perform your role. You're out...what’s right is right, what’s wrong is wrong.”
Asked for comment specifically on this article, the new Chief added: "It is absolutely right that we are held to account by the community, political stakeholders and all those who interact with us, to ensure that we are delivering the standard of service the public rightly expect of us.
"Whilst I cannot comment on every regrettable moment in which GMP has not lived up to expectations, I can promise that I seek to lead the type of police force I know that the communities of Greater Manchester deserve. Where past mistakes have been made, we will do more to learn from them. Where we have failed to deliver strong and effective police services, we will improve. Where we have been found wanting, we will try harder.
"In the few months that I have been here, I can see an organisation that comprises a great number of officers and staff who are committed, professional, compassionate and courageous; who do things every single day that most either could not, or would not do.
"To harness this vast latent potential requires us to focus on the basics of policing: fighting and reducing crime, keeping people safe and caring for victims; supported by strong, steadfast leadership to drive the force in the right direction. It is in these areas that my plans for the future of GMP depend on, and which I intend to fully update the public on in the coming days."
GMP’s last Chief Constable, Ian Hopkins, has been approached to comment on the patterns identified in this article but did not respond.
Some will believe GMP’s defensiveness in recent years is now in the past - so should be left there.
But certain episodes are still playing out, including for rank-and-file police officers struggling to do their jobs.
Days after the Grainger Inquiry was published in 2019, cops and civilian staff began raising concerns about the force’s new computer system.
We revealed the problems with iOPS - or, more specifically, Police Works, the Capita-built element used by the front line - in July 2019 and have followed police officer concerns ever since. Police Works has since proved such a demonstrable failure that Stephen Watson said early on that he may have to ditch it, despite the inevitable disruption and cost that will involve. Back in the summer of 2019, however, GMP was unwilling to countenance that it might be fundamentally flawed.
Whistleblower accounts of the system’s failures continued to flood into the M.E.N. as a result, while safeguarding agencies also raised concerns. But GMP doubled down. These were ‘teething problems’, it suggested, or an inability of some officers to adapt to new IT. The wave of frontline concerns - which related to, among other serious problems, the impossibility of the search function, lost intelligence, lost safeguarding referrals, missing firearms markers and endless hours of wasted officer time - were actually the symptoms of austerity-induced stress.
Councillors nevertheless became jumpy due to the string of headlines. In September 2019, two months after the system’s launch, a GMP briefing was circulated to town hall leaders.
The ‘cutover period’, or the time during which the force moved from its old systems to its new one, had in fact ‘worked well’, it insisted. “iOPS is demonstrating stability as a platform,” it claimed, before adding: “Recent negative media attention has not been helpful and often reporting from unreliable or uniformed [sic] sources.”
Many of those sources were indeed uniformed and working in a whole range of ranks, specialisms and divisions. But they were far from unreliable. Both police officers and the press had simply been hitting the same institutional brick wall, one that would take painfully long to crumble.
Six months and many outages later, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate found the system had been hiding hundreds of domestic violence and other safeguarding cases in its backlogs. The force did not have full sight of what was in those queues, it found, despite the deputy mayor telling councillors the previous October that it did, presumably as a result of a briefing by GMP.
At the time of writing, the computer system is still there and still causing the same problems. No officer spoken to by the M.E.N. believes Police Works is fixable.
In the meantime, many officers have thrown in the towel to leave for Lancashire Constabulary, which was able to promise the luxury of a functioning IT system. The cost of Police Works to the public purse is still yet to be revealed, despite repeated questions from the M.E.N, and its cost to victims will be unquantifiable.
“I think it’s worse than austerity, what it’s done,” says one officer with decades of experience under his belt. “Two years on, and it’s still no better. The full story will make a good book one day on how this failed computer system crippled a force.
“We’d honestly be better back on pen and paper, the old card index of intel and paper briefings, like in the 80s and 90s.
“The damage this system has done to public safety in Greater Manchester is incalculable.”
Senior command and politicians are now looking, in 2021, both to fix the force and draw a line under what went before.
In part two of this investigation the M.E.N. will look at how GMP intends to mend itself - and how political scrutiny might be strengthened, under a mayoral model that is still in its relative infancy both here and elsewhere.
Those in charge have already admitted to a long-standing cultural problem in the force. Andy Burnham himself pointed to an ‘overly defensive culture’ in GMP on the day he announced the last Chief’s departure last December. In March he expanded on that at a Stockport council meeting, in which he noted his long experience of the force, originally as MP for Leigh.
“If I go back into my 20 years, I don’t think personally the culture has ever been what it needs to be within GMP,” he said, highlighting ‘a negative, excuses culture in parts of the force, and, higher up the organisation, a failure to be open about the issues the force has and a tendency to be defensive about issues’.
The M.E.N. asked Andy Burnham’s office whether, between being elected as mayor in 2017 and December 2020, he could or should have done more to challenge that culture.
A spokesperson for the mayor said he had established his independent review of child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester - including the way in which policing investigations had been handled - ‘within days of taking office’ four and a half years ago. That inquiry would go on to identify major failures in GMP’s approach to its 2004 Augusta operation in Rusholme, which had been dropped despite known suspects walking the streets.
“The review process revealed serious issues within GMP relating to a lack of transparency and obstructive behaviour,” added the spokesman.
“This increased existing concerns held by the mayor with regard to the nature of the culture within GMP. They were further compounded by an independent review into the iOPS system.
“The mayor was challenging the former leadership of GMP on these issues when the HMICFRS report of December 2020 corroborated his concerns. He immediately acted on it and made the decision that a change of leadership was needed.
“The new Chief Constable, Stephen Watson, has made an impressive start to his time in charge of Greater Manchester Police. He is instigating changes which the Mayor believes will improve the culture of the force. His detailed proposals concerning the future of the force will be made public at the end of this week.”
In the meantime, however, some experts believe GMP’s recent past has echoes of other episodes in British policing.
Dr Graham Smith, the expert who was called in to look at GMP’s PSB a decade ago, believes only an independent inquiry - on the same model as the Hillsborough Inquiry, using a panel of experts from different fields - would ever truly get to the bottom of things.
“I think there should be an independent inquiry into GMP,” he says. “Burnham should do it. What it would bring out is this history. GMP is a good case study of everything that’s going wrong in policing in the UK.”
Human rights lawyer Pete Weatherby QC also has strong views about GMP’s track record in the past few years. He represented the partner of Anthony Grainger in the inquiry into his death and, bringing events right up to date, is now representing families in the Manchester Arena Inquiry.
Weatherby was closely involved in the Hillsborough Inquiry, which resulted in a call for a new law, tabled in Parliament by Andy Burnham just before he became mayor - the ‘duty of candour’ law. It would force public bodies to be proactively truthful in investigations, inquiries and court proceedings.
Hillsborough, he says, is the ultimate example of what can happen when forces put reputation before candour.
“It’s a bit dangerous to draw direct parallels,” he stresses of GMP and the Hillsborough cover-up. “But if you look at how it happens, it’s the same problem - just a different canvas.”
Fundamentally, says Weatherby, his concerns about GMP have always come down to candour.
“My observation is that GMP has a history of obfuscation: hiding things to avoid accountability,” he says.
“The theme of this is that they have been so fixated on avoiding reputational damage that they will not admit they’ve failed.
“And that, to me, is an absolutely key problem and very much a British disease - that public authorities, generally, have a lack of candour. If you trace it through the public inquiries, Hillsborough is the absolute paradigm.
“Institutional defensiveness - the culture of denial as a default position - trumps candour, frankness, and sometimes the truth itself.
“A lack of institutional candour is anathema to any investigation or inquiry - because it prevents accountability. And it prevents real change for the future.”