From our “Better Late than Never” department….
We note that the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC, formerly IPCC) recently published its findings that Cleveland Chief Constable Mike Veale, who headed the ill-fated investigation into historical allegations of child sexual abuse against Sir Edward Heath, “has a case to answer for alleged misconduct for providing and maintaining an inaccurate account of how damage to his work mobile phone was caused”.
While Veale initially claimed that the phone had been damaged when he’d dropped it in a golf club car park and then accidentally run over it, he later admitted to the IOPC investigators that he had damaged the phone when he’d swung a club at his golf bag in frustration at a bad shot.
A trivial matter, one might think. But wait—it seems that the IOPC was tipped off via an anonymous complaint that Veale had intentionally damaged his phone to hide contact with various parties during the Project Conifer investigation.
This is where things get decidedly weird.
According to the full IOPC report,
On 23 November 2017, the IOPC received an anonymous typed letter dated 25 October 2017. This letter alleged that Chief Constable Veale and a Conservative MP had collaborated in leaking information about Operation Conifer, an investigation into alleged child abuse by Sir Edward Heath, in an attempt to boost public opinion of Chief Constable Veale.
The letter alleged that Chief Constable Veale had spoken directly to one journalist on a number of occasions, and had told the MP that “he was going to cover his tracks by destroying his phone so records of contact between him and [name redacted] could not be traced.”
According to the IOPC, this allegation, if proven, would amount to gross misconduct.
As Barthsnotes points out, it seems likely that the journalist in question was Simon Walters of the Mail on Sunday, who ran the first story in which Veale was quoted as saying that the allegations against Heath were “120 per cent” convincing. This created quite a sensation at the time, and Veale claimed he had been misrepresented; he claimed to have expressed no opinion as to the veracity of the allegations.
However, when Project Conifer crashed, sputtered, and banged its way to a halt, Veale gave his first interview to none other than Walters.
The MP seems likely to be Andrew Bridgen, Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire, to whom Veale was accused of having leaked a confidential report in October 2017.
What happened to the phone?
The IOPC report states that Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills, who was Veale’s immediate subordinate, had a good recollection of his boss’s original version of how the phone was damaged:
…[S]ome time on the morning of 23 September 2017, the force media team made [DCC Mills] aware that there had been a significant leak of information from the Operation Conifer report. He stated that he tried to reach Chief Constable Veale via phone from around lunchtime that day, and throughout the afternoon into the early evening, but he did not answer. He stated that this was out of character for Chief Constable Veale, as he usually came straight back to him. He stated that it was “clearly challenging” not to be able to speak to Chief Constable Veale, as he wanted to discuss the scale, extent and consequences of the leak.
He stated that on the morning of 24 September 2017, he saw that Chief Constable Veale had sent an email from an iPad to the Chief Officer group at 6.05pm on 23 September 2017, explaining that his phone had been “ran over by an unsuspecting vehicle”.
The “significant leak of information” turns out to have been the Sunday Times article which revealed that Veale had been receiving advice regarding the Heath investigation from none other than Robert Green. As Barthsnotes points out, this information was not published as a result of a “leak”, but as a result of information which Green had published on his website at the time.
It seems odd that the IOPC focuses on the Sunday Times article, which was demonstrably not based on a leak, but fails to mention a Mail on Sunday article by Walters the same day, which broke the story that had Heath been alive today, he’d have been interviewed under caution.
This article looks much more likely to have been based on information from inside Project Conifer than the Sunday Times one, so it’s odd that it seems to have been overlooked in the IOPC report.
Following the phone incident, Veale “confirmed that he had asked for data to be recovered from the phone, and pointed out that he would not have done so if he had wished to dispose of evidence”.
Ms F, one of Veale’s colleagues,
…stated that he was very upset about the damage to his phone, as it contained information of a personal nature that was important to him. She stated that he asked her to try to arrange the recovery of all of the data stored on the phone.
Another witness, Mr D, an IT contractor, said that a colleague of Veale’s had brought him the phone and “asked him to recover some information that was stored on the device”.
Yet later in the IOPC report, DCC Mills seems to have had the opposite impression:
[Mills] stated that he asked Chief Constable Veale whether he had returned the damaged phone to the force, and he replied that it was so badly damaged that he had not done so at that time. He stated that Chief Constable Veale used words to the effect of, “it was like someone had taken a baseball bat to the phone.” He stated that he did not see the damaged phone.
As Barthsnotes states,
The whole thing is a bit of a mystery. Whoever sent the letter knew that Veale had broken his phone, but if the sender’s purpose was malicious (as Veale maintains) it seems remarkably good luck for this person that it turned out that Veale had told a lie to explain the damage – which just happened to have occurred the day before leaks from within Operation Conifer provided the basis for new story in the Mail on Sunday (whereas the IPOC report instead focuses on the Sunday Times article).
The IOPC’s conclusions
In its media release, the IOPC stated,
Our investigation found no evidence that the irreparable damage to the phone had been caused deliberately or with the motive to conceal any information, and Mr Veale was considered to have no case to answer for discreditable conduct.
IOPC director Catrin Evans, who oversaw the investigation, said: “The evidence gathered points to Chief Constable Veale damaging his mobile phone entirely by accident. He then arranged for all data from the damaged phone to be retrieved, and we found no evidence to suggest he was motivated to conceal information. Mr Veale volunteered to our investigators that he was embarrassed by his behaviour over a momentary loss of self-control on the golf course, at a time of personal and professional stress.
“However, chief constables are expected to promote ethical values, lead by personal example and act as ambassadors for the standards of professional behaviour. That Mr Veale chose to give a different account to the truth, both verbally and in writing on several occasions and for some time, in our view amounted to a case to answer for misconduct relating to honesty and integrity.”
In other words, the official word is that he didn’t break the phone on purpose to cover up conversations he wished to remain private, but that it’s wrong for police to lie, as it calls into question their honesty and integrity.
It certainly does make us wonder.