“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
― Desmond Tutu
And the elephant will thank you for being on its side.
Justice is rooted in morality. All laws are based on that which decent folk think is right. Injustice raises it ugly head when decent folk are gagged and afraid to speak out, or when people in power act not according to a moral sense, but for other, perverse, reasons.
Morality comes from us – we make it. It starts with a few biological sources, such as the basic survival instinct, and behaviours of social species. After that, human philosophy, theology, and assessment of harm versus benefit, establish the remaining nuances of morality.
The recent RSS newsfeed search of the BAILII database has revealed that Merseyside Police has historically had a disproportionately high number of judicial reviews compared to other forces and evidently has or had a moral compass that is badly out of kilter.
The Metropolitan Police (understandable given its size) and Northumbria Police (not surprising given the ubiquitous and nasty Nicholas Wirz is the force solicitor) are also widely referred to as either defendants or appellants at appeal.
There are apparent institutional deficiencies at the heart of the correlation between Merseyside and the frequency this force appears in England and Wales High Court (Administrative Court) Decisions cases concerning police injury pension decisions.
If you read the Judicial review transcripts it is easy to conclude that Merseyside had a culture where serving officers perceived they were being bullied, victimised or not supported. This led to a spiral down into sporadic and then long-term absence from work, as well as stress, depression, and no doubt the unseen dependence on alcohol or drugs; even manifestations of the physical symptoms that accompany such mental conditions. Complaints about management failures must have repeated themselves in occupational health referral meetings and HR offices but it is apparent that Merseyside forgot the principles of what was right and proper, and the cycle repeated.
Organizational culture, power, hierarchies and poor leadership capacity clearly contribute to a culture of failures. Quite likely Merseyside has glossy leaflets or fancily worded policies and procedures describing their approach to dealing with bullying, victimisation and other management failures. Often serving officers in difficulties will rely on the support of the occupational health unit but if the culture of an organisation is corrupt then the morals of the occupational health unit will prevent careers being saved and, as sure as night follows day, peoples’ health will deteriorate.
The courts have declared that the mere provision of an occupational health unit does not excuse a failure of a employer to provide decent working conditions. Intel Corporation (UK) Limited v Daw (2007) made it clear that there is a duty on employers to be proactive in reducing stress. There is a clear pattern that the occupational health unit at Merseyside seems to have been at best ineffective – at worse deliberately negligent.
It seems that morality within Merseyside’s occupational health unit, in it’s capacity to prevent the situations stated in the Judicial reviews, was found wanting. Where did the institutional culture to not help those in need come from? From the cold, impersonal commandments of senior managers?
Or from Mr Peter Owens?
Peter Owens is a retired Chief Inspector who served in Merseyside Police as the Head of Merseyside Police’s Occupational Health Unit, and now is employed as the self-styled Medical Retirement Officer (MRO) of the same force.
So, what motivates Mr Owens?
To quote from Freshexpressions.org, Mr Owens used his church connections to create a religious cell that included at least 4 high ranking officers.
Early in 2006, Peter Owens, Chief Inspector of the Occupational Health Unit at Merseyside police and a leading member of the Merseyside Christian Police Association, planted a church at work, known as Riverforce.
From the initial suggestion made by his vicar, it took a year to set up the first cell, which consists of four high ranking police officers.
It is disconcerting and unfortunate that freshexpressions.org also quotes Mr Owens stating in the same press release that “Christians were filling key roles in the force”. According to Merseyside’s 2015 equality publication 98% of serving officers are white and 43% have a religious affiliation, so it is no surprise that active Christians are well represented in senior management – what is of concern is the insinuation that a sect such as Riverforce, as an Evangelical Christian Support Group, is actively recruiting members within a civil authority.
The phrase “separation of church and state” is generally traced to a January 1, 1802 letter by Thomas Jefferson, addressed to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut, and published in a Massachusetts newspaper. Jefferson wrote,
“ I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
Peter Owens has managed to knock the wall down and truly embed the law with his church.
Belonging to a clique can only result in unconscious people preferences (biases) playing a significant part in the way Riverforce ‘cell’ members engage with others and the decisions others make about them. Perhaps it was connections such as this that led to Peter Owens being re-employed as the MRO directly after his retirement. A shoo-in, so to speak. The job application of the MRO was written in a way to certainly only be favourable to a preferred candidate given its narrow suitability to a small number of people with a specialised knowledge and interest – such as a former Head of Occupational Health with connections.
Whether nepotism did or did not actually exist, the mere perception of nepotism will poison the newly created MRO post that Mr Owens moulded for himself. What is corrupted is the ‘special trust’ and neutrality that now can never be invested in the position and makes the exploitation or misuse of authority a natural progression for the compromised post-holder. Baggage from previous decisions will haunt and prevent the correct administration of the Police Injury Benefit Regulations and the Chief Constable as the true Police Pension Authority, thinking he has a ‘safe pair of hands’ doing all his work for him, will be kept blind to the real travesty happening in his name.
Peter Owens has also been regularly attending NAMF (National Attendance Management Forum) meetings at least as early as 2004 as Merseyside’s ‘attendance coordinator’ – and we all know the thin moral fibre of NAMF is so weak and elastic that it stretches with them to commit whatever outrages they can get away with.
The tenure of Mr Owens overlapped all the Judicial reviews that Merseyside zealously pursued, and so there is high probability that the God fearing, faith moralistic Mr Owens was acutely aware, possibly even a leading protagonist, of the following legal proceedings:
The 2004 case of Gidlow concerned medically retired Police Sergeant Mr Reilly-Cooper who was given an injury award on appeal after the original SMP rejected the application. Dr Gidlow, the appeal SMP (this was before the days of PMABs), decided to uphold the appeal as in his view the Sergeant’s diagnosed adjustment disorder and mixed anxiety/depression being found as “an injury received in the execution of his duty as a police constable”. Merseyside disagreed and took the decision of the SMP to Judicial review where the decision of Dr Gidlow was quashed and the judgement made that Mr Reilly-Cooper will have to see another SMP.
The sorry episode chronicled from 1997 to 2001 shows that Mr Reilly-Cooper developed a psychiatric condition resulting from resentment and poor handling by the force of the grievance procedure over an allegation made against Mr Reilly-Cooper and his perception that he had not been supported by senior officers.
Simply put, Merseyside Police made him ill. Mr Reilly-Cooper’s complaint was that he felt that he was being punished for an allegation against him being upheld suggestively, though not directly expressed, even though he was found not to be guilty.
The occupational health unit, headed by Chief Inspector Owens, seemingly failed in their duty of care. Where is the moral compass here? Who made the moral judgement that it was acceptable to visit mental distress on an already ill individual, presumably to attempt to win a point about how the Regulations applied?
The 2009 case involved two former police officers who served with Merseyside, a Mr McGinty and Mr Hudson. PMAB panels found that each were permanently disabled from performing the ordinary duties of a member of the police force. Merseyside Police Authority disagreed and challenged the Board’s determination that the respective disablement of each was received in the execution of duty. Merseyside Police seemed eager to go the extra-mile to attempt to stop people getting injury awards.
In this case the Judicial review found in favour of the PMAB and rejected Merseyside’s appeal. The noteworthy aspect of the transcript is the theme that there were concerns of the fairness or propriety of the procedures that the Merseyside force took against Mr McGinty and Mr Hudson. Again Merseyside seemingly failed in its duty of care to its serving officers.
The 2011 Judicial review concerned a Mr Williams, whose claim involved the issue as to whether or not the former police officer, compulsorily retired due to permanent disablement as a result of psychiatric illness, could establish an entitlement to a police injury pension on the basis of – yes, you guessed it – that the psychiatric illness was received … in the execution of his duty. In this instance the appeal was upheld. Merseyside is nothing but consistent in reasons to force its former officers to the high courts after it neglected the same officer whilst in service. Not a good advert for the head of the occupational health department.
It is clear that this account includes reference to requests for training which were rejected and to Mr Williams’ perception that his employers were not listening to his concerns. It also refers to Mr Williams “struggling to cope” with his new duties. This is also consistent with a report produced by a Mr Ganley, a clinical psychologist, dated 22 April 2004, who in the course of recounting the history given by Mr Williams at the appointment, wrote:
“Due to imposed changes in 2001 Mr Williams was then transferred to get back to active service. From this period Mr Williams reports increasing stresses due to being overwhelmed with new aspects of the role. Mr Williams reported his concerns but he feels he was not given the extra support and training. Subsequently Mr Williams’ anxiety developed to such an extent that he developed significant symptoms of anxiety and depression and was unable to remain in his post.”
The Judicial review quashed the PMAB decision on points of law and ordered that Mr Williams shall be seen by another PMAB panel.
Who won or lost at the above court actions isn’t the point of this blog post. It is the fact that the Judicial reviews needlessly happened when it is clear by reading the transcripts in each and every case that if senior officers, personnel department and the occupation health unit had the moral compass to have treated the officers with fairness and compassion from the beginning it is arguable that the court actions would never had materialised in the first place.
The concern is how Merseyside Police mistreated these four former police officers and drove each to an illness so severe that they had to be medically retired. Once retired the officers came up against the full force of Merseyside who continued the trauma by pursuing them through the courts.
We question the values of an organisation which is apparently content to allow someone in a position of authority when this all happened to continue in a similar role in the present day.
In 2015 history repeated itself. How many retired Merseyside officers were similarly mistreated when they served and driven to medical retirement by the same senior management team that supposedly were there to lead, manage and support them?
Did Mr Owens ignore that the injury pension of victims such as Mr McGinty and Mr Hudson (Mr Reilly-Cooper and Mr Williams if they were eventually successful) are unique to that person’s individual circumstances of disablement and continued to review them anyway despite such a review only being allowable to occur at a suitable interval relevant to that individual’s circumstances. Or or did he take the cynical judgement to conveniently forget about a review of those who had the temerity to challenge Merseyside’s failures at the Administrative courts – if challenging them provides protection from future abuses then its a sure sign that it is never advantageous to acquiesce to bullies.
In any case, Regulation 37 does not empower a police force to neglect its duty of care. Where mental health issues are identified in an employee and the occupational health unit blithely ignores or participates in management failures to influence and strengthen the hold of the illness, to the extent that the person becomes so ill that they are medically retired then later, once that person is trying to move on with their lives, blindly reviewing them along with 501 others just reduce the financial burden of the force is inexcusable.
If that person suffers a repeated attack each and every time they are reviewed, just because they are a band three or four it is quite plausible, given Intel v Daw, for retired officers to consider bringing retrospective claims for personal injury.
When Chief Financial Officers foolishly cook up ideas to corrupt and misuse a Regulatory power to exert heavy pressure by mass reviewing everyone in order to extract money they should stop to think whether reopening any individual’s history will start a process that will generate many unpleasant and complicated problems, that they or their predecessors caused, over which they will have very little control.
The Chief Constable of Merseyside can not be neutral over this. He is the boss of both the mouse and the elephant. At present he is giving the nod to the elephant. We say this to the Chief Constable: elephant dung makes a whole lot more mess compared to mouse droppings.