“Bottom line is, even if you see ’em coming, you’re not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwards that counts. That’s when you find out who you are.”
― Joss Whedon
On the last Friday in the month of May three years ago, in the undoubtedly swanky splendour of his official residence in the Portishead headquarters of Avon & Somerset Police, Julian Kern the newly titled Director of Resources must have given a good impression of a coiled snake preparing to leap. Eager to dig his fangs into the seemingly juicy and succulent meat of a defenceless prey, Julian had seized on Police and Crime commissioner Sue Mountstevens’s decision to reduce what she saw as the unproductive cost of honouring the force’s obligation to pay injury awards to disabled former police officers.
Kern was a finance director before he was given the dual responsibility of HR. Thus Mountstevens’s plan made perfect sense to his pounds and pence mind. Pay pensioners less, and use the money elsewhere. To Kern it must have seemed to be a no-brainer. In the event it was, but not in the way he anticipated. Kern as a snake bared his fangs and leaped, only to strike not soft yielding flesh but concrete, ‘honey badger-like’ resolve.
Sixteen former officers were selected to have their injury pensions reviewed. The selection was made on the basis they were all in receipt of the highest level of injury pension and were all relatively young. In the warped minds of Kern and Mountstevens, the sixteen represented a long term drain on the force budget. They were a carefully chosen sample whose injury awards stood to be paid for the greatest number of years unless they could be reduced. As they were on the highest band there was no danger of their pensions being increased by a review – they could, however, with a fair wind and a compliant SMP be reduced.
Let us just remind ourselves what Mountstevens wrote to the then Policing Minister in August 2013. She wrote:
‘I have recently been looking into the area of “injured on duty” (IOD) police officer pension enhancements and found that a significant part of my budget is consumed every year on these payments which generate no benefit to the people of Avon & Somerset.’
Let’s also just remind ourselves what Mountstevens put on record at a HR Portfolio Update meeting, minuted at page 6.
‘Injury on Duty – The OCC have over 300 ex-officers receiving IOD enhancements costing c£6m in total per annum. This is very high compared to other forces. There is a duty to review these and OCC are now conducting a “test” review of 16 cases – stating with the youngest/highest bands.’
So, the sixteen were selected not for any reason to believe their disablement had improved. They were to be guinea pigs to test the plan to reduce the cost of paying injury pensions.
Moreover, disabled former officers were seen as nothing more than a worthless burden.
Mountstevens even made the odious and crassly inappropriate comparison of those former officers who had been injured on duty through no fault of their own with a fleet of high mileage cars.
‘The annual cost of these lOD’s to the force is in excess of £5.5m (2% of our annual budget). This is more than it costs us to run our fleet . . .‘
It was against this money-grabbing background that Kern considered it highly likely that he, and his Z-team of HR minions and doctors (cough) Bulpitt and Johnson, could whizz through reviews of the injury pensions of all 500 disabled former officers in nine months.
Supernintendo Markay & Peter Owens of Merseyside, Stephen Mitchell of Nottinghamshire and Lesley Ann Knowles of Northumbria all squawked a tuneless wail from the same accountant’s hymn-sheet.
Reality dawned soon enough. What seemed like a walk in the park, resulting in some handy savings, turned into a slog in thigh deep mud. Pensioners pointed out to the PCC and to HR and Kern that the reviews were being conducted unlawfully. The promise of a swift conclusion of a mass review program dissipated rapidly as the realisation dawned that pensioners were well organised and would fight for their rights. Of the sixteen original reviews, a significant portion of those sixteen still haven’t received closure from the unlawful review process. Four of the sixteen are still awaiting conclusion – three years later; a further two are still undergoing appeals to PMAB. As to the remaining 486 IOD pensioners – they have had to live with the uncertainty generated by the prospect of a review for three years now.
To date, Mountstevens and Kern have cost ‘the people of Avon & Somerset‘ ™ ~ Sue Mountstevens hundreds of thousands of pounds (yes, you read that correctly, that’s six figure numbers we’re talking) in their fruitless attempt to abuse the police pension regulations. Most of the money pocketed by the SMP, Dr Philip Johnson.
Throughout the self-generated pandemonium of a team of incompetents doing something they don’t understand how to do it, when asked, Kern has always disingenuously stated that everything is to plan and he is doing it all correctly and lawfully. How much longer can Kern continue to claim the sun goes around the earth, or that the Emperor is wearing fine clothing? The clock is still ticking.
So back to the last weekday, a Friday, in the month of May – three years ago exactly – when, with characteristic oppressive malevolence, letters announcing the intention to review were sent out, timed to hit the letterbox of the recipients on a Saturday. Saturday 31st May 2014 to be exact.
The weekend receipt of such nasty letters is a practice still favoured by such forces as Merseyside, Staffordshire and Northumbria.
You see, it gives the disabled person shocked and worried by the very obvious threat to their pension a full 48 hours in which to suffer anxiety and have any mental health symptoms exacerbated before they can seek help – help which is only available on the following Monday at the earliest.
This can not go unnoticed as it is beyond the realms of chance that a Saturday is when this sort of letter always hits the mat. This abuse has a descriptive term: “white torture” – it is a form of sensory deprivation through isolation favoured by North Korea and those who administer police injury pensions.
Speaking of Merseyside, with the coordination of a bloat of hippopotamus performing synchronised swimming, that force joined the fray by reviewing 502 IOD pensioners in a space of only 9 months. They achieved this purely by getting their resident medical retirement ‘officer‘, Peter Owens, to demand, with threats, that IOD pensioners tell him their earnings. On that irrelevant scrap of information Owens decided who might have experienced a substantial alteration in their degree of disablement, and who had probably not. He conveniently ignored the little legal requirement of having only a duly qualified medical practitioner decide the medical question of substantial alteration. He also chose to ignore the small legal point that an individual’s uninjured earning capacity could be higher than their former police salary.
Nottinghamshire mirrored Merseyside but, with flash of misplaced egotism, felt the need to get Stephen Mitchel (HR manager/NWEF deputy chair) and Dr Ralph Sampson to gloat to the national attendance management forum in a powerpoint presentation that’s it is all about the money and used twisted examples of dubiously reduced injury awards but conveniently left out that a proportion of those reduced won their award back on appeal.
Without thought, Staffordshire has also jumped into the murky waters and started a mass review program. We in IODPA say to Staffordshire police pension authority, ‘Good luck with that, mate. See you in court.’
An independent observer might well think this sort of action by these forces was co-ordinated; possibly even sanctioned by the heady mix of nasties who attend NWEF conferences.
There is a lot going on behind the scenes that we can’t talk about publicly due to the ongoing legal cases, but in each of the forces listed here there are appeals ongoing. Judicial reviews take time to get before a judge and pension ombudsman decisions take an age to get to an adjudicator – the lag is both frustrating and annoying but it’s clear that we have a better idea of the weather signs of the inevitable incoming storm than the forces themselves – where typically the left hand can’t see the jerking, dying twitches of the right hand. Exampled in the Notts presentation, forces spin their dubious outcomes favourably and rarely confer the bad news to each other as not to lose face.
Perhaps if Northumbria or Avon & Somerset used the college of policing’s internal group chat system called POLKA to honestly tell of the real firestorm they find themselves in, instead of swapping notes between SMPs in how to subvert the Regulations, forces like Staffordshire wouldn’t blunder ponderously into the same pit of despair. www.college.police.uk/What-we-do/Research/polka/Pages/POLKA.aspx
POLKA (the Police OnLine Knowledge Area) is a secure online collaboration tool for the policing community to network, ask questions, share insights, discuss ideas and suggest new ways of working.
We are aware of HR drones and SMPs (the supposedly independent medical authority) forming POLKA groups as the means to build contacts and then immediately jumping into using WhatsApp to continue their heinous discussions.
Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has criticised the impressive security of WhatsApp by saying the police and intelligence agencies need to be given access to WhatsApp and other encrypted messaging services to thwart future terror attacks. Oh, the irony that those under her employ are using the same platform to swap their own devious recipies!
Why would honest public employees use an encrypted social media tool in an attempt to escape the open and honest disclosure of public decision making processes as demanded by the Freedom of Information Act? Rhetorical question of course, honest employees would not.
It is not just the fact of attempting mass reviews which is indisputably unlawful. The devil is also in the detail – in the way individual disabled former officers are treated by those in HR; we know of one retired officer who had their injury award removed on the fabricated charge of failing to attend a medical examination. We should not have to remind pension authorities of the fact that an injury pension cannot be ceased in this way.
But this particular incident was quite a feat in the interpreted perversion of ‘failure to attend‘ when the SMP, a psychologist, the retired officer, spouse and Federation rep all sat in the same room for the best part of a day.
When the offending force was reminded of this fact by way of a letter from a solicitor offering to have the issue tested by way of judicial review, the force reinstated the pension a week later.
It was established that this medical examination of the former officer by the force’s tame SMP was nothing more than a sham. The former officer did attend – with their partner and a Federation representative as mentioned above – the SMP just unilaterally decided the questions he asked had not been answered sufficiently.
The truth of it is that the SMP had made up his mind and refused to listen and so sent a missive to the shameless force that he thought the pensioner should be punished for his definition of non-compliance. Totally unlawful but sadly a true story. The ineptitude of police forces know know no bounds when it comes to “doing the legs” of those it medically retired.
So three years on, where are we? We have seen the formation of IODPA – and what a journey it’s been. IODPA was created in the chaos of 2014 when three forces who attended the National Attendance Management Forum thought they could ride roughshod over those injured and retired from the police.
From fortnightly informal meetings we have evolved to a national association which holds two conferences per year, attended by our members, lawyers and like-minded individuals. We are able to instigate training sessions, taught by legally qualified experts, attended by Federation and NARPO representatives.
Every second of every hour our presence serves to counter the misinformation spouted by the likes of Nicholas Wirz, the principle Solicitor of Northumbria and so-called legal advisor to the laughably recently re-branded National Welbeing and Engagement Forum.
Social media has helped us spread our message world-wide. Our Facebook page, with short soundbites, has thousands of daily hits but tellingly people many continue to still take 5 to 10 minutes out of their hectic life to read our blogs. This map shows the views by countries of this website.
We thank our constant readers and our supporters.
The likes of Wirz, Kern, Mounstevens, Owens, and all the corrupt SMPs who willingly follow their instructions are put on due notice that they will never succeed in continuing to abuse disabled former officers and their families. Nor will they ever succeed in their attempts to twist, evade or corrupt the Regulations. IODPA, and pensioners, have the resolve and the means to challenge and defeat them and we will do exactly that.