It is as though instead of a dog wagging its tail the tail should wag the dog. And all Nature would stand aghast before such an improper spectacle.” – Fräulein Schmidt and Mr. Anstruther by Elizabeth von Arnim
Another knife-attack was thwarted last week in Westminster. Overnight, on the same day, there were anti-terror raids in Kent and London. These were unconnected, but police say that they have foiled an ‘active terror plot.’ All this will blend into the background soon, as much as last month’s attack in Westminster already has. Not because we don’t remember anything, but because we never learn anything.
Behind the scenes there are police officers working tirelessly to protect the public. But other, ill intentioned people within the police service itself are also working behind the scenes. They are a cabal of individuals who are determined to see those same officers in financial peril if they are ever injured on-duty; even though legislation exists to protect those who protect us, if the worse happens to them.
Today we are going to talk about two particular individuals, both of whom have history in the recent scandal started by Staffordshire Police in their mass review program. The frequency these two names appear throughout the saga of injury awards is clear proof that lessons have not been learnt.
Back in 2008 Staffordshire was developing a serious case of frost bite in it’s cold feet over the zealous application of the infamous Home Office guidance 46/2004 which called for severely disabled former police officers to have their income instantly dropped by thousands of pounds just because they had reached 65 years of age.
The small legal minds of Staffordshire Police were in a bind. “What to do?”, they mulled. “We really want to do this. Think of the money we we can save. But something about this guidance doesn’t smell right”. Like any proud member of NAMF at the time they reached out to the one person they thought could provide some legal incantation to help clear the way..
Introducing the first of our dastardly duo: Nicholas Wirz, principle solicitor of Northumbria Police.
Michael Griffiths was Staffordshire’s force legal advisor at the time and, on behalf of the force’s director of resources, Graham Liddiard, Griffiths wrote to Mr Wirz on 27th September 2006 to ask whether Wirz had an answer to their concern that, by reviewing all with the intention of reducing everyone not on a band one, that they would breach discrimination law.
Specifically Griffiths asked:
Our particular concern at this time however relates to the potential effect, if any, of the soon to be implemented Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 upon the Home Office Circular.
My particular purpose in writing to you at this time is to ascertain whether or not you are in possession of any external legal advice regarding the matters referred to in your report
The report mentioned above is this NAMF guidance authored by Wirz and another grubby individual named Trevor Forbes.
Forbes is number two of our individuals of note. He is a former Inspector who joined ranks with Wirz and ran with the NAMF wolves, Forbes still to this day works as a freelancer for some forces defending their position in Police Medical Appeals Boards.
This NAMF guidance seems quite detailed on the Home Office invention of ‘cogent reasons’ doesn’t it? It is as if the Home Office authored it itself… or more likely the Home Office was using Wirz and Forbes as proxies. Perhaps another conspiracy theory is HOC 46/2004 was Wirz’s idea all along and he was the one who sold it to the Home Office.
Whatever the truth, back in 2006 Wirz and Forbes had a prominent role in the roll-out of unlawful guidance. Wirz happily used his position to slowly but surely influence decisions. He advised on every matter on reviews of injury awards that came to his court. This meant that every decision made in relation to Police Injury Benefit Regulations was influenced by Wirz as early as 2006.
We can’t find a comparable analogy of a qualified solicitor surviving the fall-out or pursuing an agenda that was later found to be unlawful, and yet managing to remain in practice. Whether or not the guidance was actually all his, or not, is irrelevant. The report referred to by Staffordshire shows that Wirz swallowed it whole and sung it out from the pulpit like a demented proponent of televangelism.
It’s quite likely a police officer found to be championing unlawful processes with such enthusiasm would find themselves on a gross misconduct charge.
Anyway, back to the Staffordshire and Wirz love letters.
Wirz obviously didn’t convince Messrs Liddiard and Griffiths. They bottled it and capitulated to an ‘agreement’ signed by themselves, local NARPO and the Federation.
On the 6th October 2006 Griffiths wrote back to Wirz saying:
Thank you for your very useful letter of the 2nd October 2006 in response to my earlier correspondence. […]
I am pleased to note that it is not just ourselves who are of the opinion that the Circular causes a degree of confusion which may require litigation to resolve. I shall forward a copy of your letter to Mr Liddiard for his consideration.
So what did Wirz say to Staffordshire police?
This is the Wirz letter to Staffordshire’s Mr Griffiths in full:
Apparently no external legal advice had been sought by Wirz or by NAMF (National Attendance Management Forum now re-branded as the National Wellbeing Engagement Forum). Wirz is the self-proclaimed authority in such matters so his arrogance probably prevented further legal examination of his mutterings.
Wirz starts his letter with this:
Thank you for your letter of 27 September 2006. I can confirm that I sought no external legal advice with respect to the matters contained in the joint note to members of the National Attendance Management Forum dated 24 July 2006
Wirz then says without a hint of irony that it is OK to review when Staffordshire wants to reduce awards, but encouraging former officers to seek a self-reviewed review shall not happen due to the drain on resources. He says:
Personally I believe an ex officer keeps the CRA, which applied at the time of an ex officers retirement, otherwise vast numbers of officers who have attained the old CRA and who are in receipt of injury awards will seek a review. No resources have been made available for this and the Home Office has not flagged this up
The highlight of Wirz’s assertions comes before his own definition of how compulsory retirement age can be used against a disabled former police officer. Apparently, he didn’t have a clue. In any case he doesn’t say whether Staffordshire should or shouldn’t concern themselves with worrying over discrimination and breaches of equality law:
As regards new age discrimination legislation, this, too, needs to be the subject of further guidance
An ambiguous lawyer’s answer if ever there was one! Guidance begat guidance seems to be his mantra. The cynic would say that no doubt Wirz would write the secondary guidance on the guidance, wrongly reassuring forces that there is in fact no breach of equality law.
But then even back in 2006, Wirz knew that forces like Staffordshire were guinea pigs and that he was walking on the wrong side of the knife’s edge. He knew the work he encouraged would light appeals. Realisation that anything Staffordshire does, as encouraged by people like Forbes and Wirz, will in all likelihood be challenged.
Wirz evens comes clean with this fact:
This matter will, in all probability, be resolved by the High Court when a case dealt with pursuant to 46/2004 is appealed.
Now that remark would be acceptable from anyone who hand no hand in the administration of police injury pensions, but is a remarkably incautious remark from a man whose influence over how injury reviews would be held was considerable. He seems to care not a jot that the Home Office guidance might be of dubious legal integrity. His attitude is to advise that administrators go ahead and possibly break the law. It is a gambler’s advice, not the carefully considered balanced view expected of a legal professional.
Indeed, Wirz’s prediciton was spot on. The issue was indeed resolved in the High Court – to the considerable inconvenience of the pensioners involved. The cases of Crudace, Slater and Simpson (along with a huge amount of Pension Ombudsman decisions) called Wirz’s guidance the unlawful perversion that it was..
So back to 2017.
Who is still the legal advisor to NAMF/NWEF? Answer: Nicholas Wirz of course. Who’s force has lost yet another judicial review about the unlawful interpretation of Regulation 37? Answer: Nicholas Wirz’s Northumbria.
And what police force is plunging head-first into another mass review catastrophe? Staffordshire. NAMF/NWEF is still at the heart of the problem.
Wirz is the tail that keeps wagging the dog. The lessons of the past have not been learnt.
The tentacles that spread out between Staffordshire & Wirz in 2006 are still clutching for hand-holds on brittle ground. This time it’s different though, as the lessons of NAMF has only been forgotten by those who listen to NAMF. The wealth of information available from dark times show that the benefit of doubt no longer exists. Staffordshire is looking down the dark wide barrel of a blunderbuss, which is primed, loaded and ready to fire. Wirz must know that Staffordshire is heading for large amounts of trouble with its mass review ambition. It will be a costly and futile mistake. But, Wirz has not a care. He gets paid no matter what.
IODPA exists to stop the vicious gamesmanship of people like Wirz, who in their efforts to always try to push their own interpretation of the Regulations, to the very great harm and distress of disabled former officers and their families.
We take no pleasure seeing Staffordshire squirm in its defence of its mass review program. It’s all so unnecessary. But sorry, Staffs, you can not defend the indefensible and hope to get away with it.