The Maxwell saga: a Clash of Politics and Priorities?

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Well I don’t know if Grahame Maxwell was ever a Punk Rocker or indeed a fan of The Clash however, given his recent career debacle, I would expect him to be feeling like something of an outcast, if nothing else?

Whilst the hounds continue baying for him to stand down from his post of Chief Constable, perhaps he is now shuffling around the ivory towers of North Yorkshire Police HQ humming to himself; ♪♫♪ Should I stay or should I go? ♪♫♪

Oh how the mighty have fallen… And ‘fallen’ is exactly what he has done; he may have made what some (arguably) suggest was a simple error of judgement but the fact remains, he actually had the balls to admit to the charge of Gross Misconduct. Given that factor alone, can someone who admits such guilt remain in a position that sits in judgement of others who may face similar types of charge?

An old colleague of mine (also now retired) recently wrote to the North Yorkshire Police Authority on this issue. His concerns are broadly similar to mine and those of the workforce and public (see below). I have his authority to reproduce his letter here however, he has asked (for now) that I preserve his anonymity…

I write following the release of your statement concerning the Chief Constable, which was no doubt intended to draw a line under this affair, even though the authority recognises that many people will have concerns and may disagree with the outcome. The final paragraph calls upon those who have the best interests of the North Yorkshire Police Service to support Mr Maxwell, and implies that those who think otherwise are somehow not supportive of the service. As someone who has served the community of North Yorkshire since its’ inception, rest assured that this is not the case.

You assert that you are the disciplinary authority, in law, for senior police officers, but make no mention of the Chief Constable’s role in the disciplinary process involving those lesser members of the organisation that he leads, and the effect on them. That will be of little comfort to those members of support staff recently dismissed, including the two involved in this affair, who’s misdemeanours were (arguably) far less serious than those involving the Chief Constable. The deafening silence surrounding that issue speaks volumes.

I consider that the authority is distancing itself from this decision, by being mindful that four senior eminent independent people decided that a final written warning was the most appropriate way of ending this affair. There are many historical precedents in which either individuals or groups of such persons have arrived at decisions that have ultimately proved to be wrong. I believe that this is one such case.

You say that the authority has been at pains to ensure that as much information as possible was put into the public domain, which is to your credit. However, the decision to hold the disciplinary enquiry behind closed doors was arguably not the best way to allay the publics concerns, and appears contradictory to your desire for transparency. Even if that decision was not yours to make, then it would be hard to believe that you were unable to have any influence in this decision.

Although you have been closely monitoring public opinion on this matter and that the views of the public that you are aware of differ, it is sad that you can only summarise this as “roughly equal proportions”. When something has been closely monitored, it is not unreasonable to expect a more precise summation of the results of this monitoring to be made available. In their absence, it could lead to the suspicion that “roughly equal” might be on the wrong side of what you’d prefer.

The authority stresses the importance that senior staff within North Yorkshire Police “appear” to be supportive of Mr Maxwell’s continuing leadership, which really comes as no surprise. It would be surprising for it to be any other way, given the close working relationships involved and the effect on the careers of those who chose to express any contrary views. I am therefore not persuaded that the “appearance” of support is a compelling argument either way. After all, it is not unknown for colleagues of beleaguered individuals to close ranks against those with opposing views.

Few will be surprised that the question of “organisational stability” has apparently been a factor in arriving at this decision, although it doesn’t explain how, why, or even if that aspect was considered by the four senior eminent independent persons when arriving at their decision. If it was a factor, then one could argue that it shouldn’t have been, as such a consideration is not available to those lesser mortals subjected to the disciplinary process.

The responsibility for the vacancy in the Deputy Chief Constable position and the subsequent reliance on a small number of talented senior staff should hardly be a surprise to anyone either.  As I recall, the breathtaking speed of Mr Brigg’s departure was made with your consent and the implications of his departure should have been apparent. Yet again, I find myself unconvinced that this should be a persuasive argument in this matter.

Of course Mr Maxwell will have given personal assurances of his continuing commitment to North Yorkshire Police and the wider community. Anyone in such a position would promise the sun, moon and stars if he or she thought it might help them to cling on to power.  What is surprising is that you should seek to use his somewhat belated expressions of contrition as a reason, given the reported allegations that he sought to discredit the investigative process from the outset! That’s not the “normal” response of anyone who finds himself in a very difficult situation when trying to cling on to their position, quite the opposite in fact.

In conclusion therefore, much emphasis and reliance has been placed on the statutory responsibilities and legality of the processes involved in this affair, and no doubt the full “letter of the law” has been applied. However, there is also a moral dimension to this affair that arguably surpasses the legalities, along with what is sadly becoming an old-fashioned sense of duty and service. Most of us instinctively know the difference between what is right and what is wrong, and we have the right to expect that from our Chief Constable. In this, at least, he appears lacking.

My friend has now received a reply from Mr Jeremy Holderness, the CEO of NYPA which, in the interest of ‘openness, honesty and transparency’ to the debate, is also reproduced here in full (see below)…

Thank you, Mr XXXXX, for letting NYPA know your views on this matter, all of which are very well argued. As an aside, I think that the one positive element of this sorry saga has been that the post-verdict debate has been, in the main and in my experience uniquely, very mature. Your email is the most recent example. However, there are some elements of what you say that I need to respond to.
I can assure you that the inference you have drawn in your first paragraph was not NYPA’s intention. We know that there are many people who will continue to support NYP even though they cannot bring themselves to support Mr Maxwell. I am sorry if we inferred otherwise.
The Chief Constable had no personal role in the discipline of the Police personnel under his control. His duties in the Office of Chief Constable were undertaken by an Assistant Chief Constable in NYP, with the hearing conducted by an ACC from another Force. Appeals against the decisions to dismiss were heard by the Authority.
NYPA had no voice in the decision of the IPCC to hold the Maxwell hearing in private. Had it been consulted, it is likely that the Authority would have maintained its desire for full transparency and requested a public hearing. However, it was not afforded that opportunity but understands the decision of the IPCC to hold it in private due to the need  not to delay matters even longer.
My point about the balance of public opinion was made, perhaps clumsily, to show that there is not an overwhelming public view one way or another. Had there been, I am sure NYPA’s Members would have weighed that fact very heavily in its judgement.
So far as your last paragraph is concerned and from someone who has been in public life nearly as long as you, I can merely make a personal observation thus…….’quite so.’
Thank you once again for taking the trouble of contacting us and putting your points so well.

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