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Investigation Finds Chief Constable Mike Veale Gave “Inaccurate Account” of How He Broke Phone

(Updated and amended a couple of times)

From the Independent Office for Police Conduct (and widely reported elsewhere):

An Independent Office for Police Conduct investigation has found that Cleveland Chief Constable Mike Veale 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 heading up Wiltshire Police.

We found that Mr Veale had a case to answer in respect of his explanation to colleagues that the phone had been dropped in a golf club car park and inadvertently run over by a vehicle. Mr Veale subsequently explained to our investigators that the damage was in fact caused when he swung a club at his golf bag in frustration after playing a poor shot.

We began an investigation in January this year after anonymous allegations were received that Chief Constable Veale deliberately damaged his mobile phone to hide contact with various parties over Wiltshire Police’s investigation into Sir Edward Heath (Operation Conifer).

It was previously reported in January that Veale, who has now moved on from Wiltshire to Cleveland, was under investigation for breaking a phone. He has now been put on an “ongoing programme of professional development”, during which it will be explained to the chief constable that police officers ought not to tell lies.

The IPOC press release also links to the full report, which has further details:

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.”

The journalist mentioned here was very probably Simon Walters, the Mail on Sunday’s political editor; during Operation Conifer, Walters ran a number of articles on the subject, the most sensational being “Police Chief: Heath Was a Paedophile“, which famously introduced the suggestion – attributed to “a source” – that Veale believed the claims against Heath were “120% genuine”. Veale always denied having expressed an opinion about Heath’s guilt or leaking, but when the police investigation ended in fiasco without having discovered anything of substance he went to Walters to give his first interview, despite his former complaints that he had been misrepresented. (1)

The IPOC report includes the detail that Assistant Chief Constable Paul Mills recalled that “on the morning of 23 September 2017, the force media team made him aware that there had been a significant leak of information from the Operation Conifer report”; Mills attempted to contact Veale about it, but was unable to do so until Veale emailed him the next day with his false account of how his phone had been run over by a car. We are also told by the IPOC that Veale had told investigators “that during the game [of golf] he received several calls about an article that was due to be published in the Sunday Times the following day, which was highly personal and questioned his integrity and the integrity of Operation Conifer”. I wrote about this Sunday Times article at the time; it drew attention to links between Veale and a conspiracy theorist named Robert Green, but it was derived from an exchange that Green had published on his own website rather than a “leak”.

Oddly, IPOC makes no mention of another article that was published on the same day: “Police: If Ted Heath Was Alive Today We’d Quiz him under Caution on Child Abuse Claims” (discussed here), once again from Simon Walters at the Mail on Sunday. The article cited “Whitehall sources”, and it looks much more like it was based on a “significant leak from the Operation Conifer report” than the Sunday Times article. Yet this article is not mentioned anywhere in the IPOC report.

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).

On the other hand, though, if the damage was inflicted “accidentally on purpose” by hitting his golf bag in front of witnesses, why then afterwards resort to a different story to explain what had happened? And there is corroboration that Veale sought out data recovery, which is not consistent with wanting to “cover tracks” – although there is slippage in the IPOC report between one witness saying “he asked her to try to arrange the recovery of all of the data stored on the phone”, and an IT consultant who says Veale “asked him to recover some information that was stored on the device”.

The MP, meanwhile, is almost certainly Andrew Bridgen, who was bizarrely described by Veale as a “stakeholder” in the investigation. Bridgen was given advance access to the Operation Conifer report, which he commended to be media before the public were allowed to see it for themselves, and his involvement perhaps explains why a crime investigation was being channelled to the Mail on Sunday via a political hack (as suggested by Private Eye magazine last year – issue 1454, p. 10). Characteristically, Bridgen has now provided a media quote for the Daily Mail, stating:

‘This investigation, based on spurious and vexatious allegations carried out at huge cost to the taxpayer, has been nothing more than an attempt to smear the reputation of an honest policeman.’

However, Bridgen did not make any reference to the alleged conversation mentioned in the anonymous letter that led to the IPOC investigation. Bridgen’s statement here is hard to take given the huge sums that were wasted in Veale’s crusade to find evidence that Heath – who died in 2005 – was a child-sex abuser.

On the same day as Veale’s interview with Walters at the end of Operation Conifer, Veale also chose to be interviewed by Mark Watts, formerly of Exaro News. This was an odd decision, given how Watts had heavily promoted the discredited “Operation Midland” complainant. Watts’s explanation for the investigation into the broken phone is that this is “the establishment” taking “revenge” for Operation Conifer, although he covers both bases by referring to the story of Veale talking to the MP: “If true, who could have been listening in to a chief constable’s private comms?”

Meanwhile, self-described “police whistleblower” Jon Wedger has said on social media that he has today spoken with Veale, and that he (Wedger) believes that the investigation indicates “the vile paedophilic cover ups at the heart of the British establishment.” Wedger, who has previously been promoted by the Daily Express, maintains some mainstream links while being fully immersed in an “alternative media” conspiracy milieu that has seen him discussing Satanic Ritual Abuse with Bill Maloney and speaking at the International Tribunal for Natural Justice.

Footnote

1. The Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner, Barry Coppinger, has issued a statement expressing his support for Veale. It includes a detail about the second aspect of the letter:

A second part of the referral, concerning allegations Mr Veale had disclosed confidential information relating to ‘Operation Conifer’, was returned to the Wiltshire PCC in January to deal with in any manner he deemed appropriate, which was to take no further action.

Despite a recent report that chief constables have disparaged PCCs as “not that bright” and “absolutely bleeding hopeless”, the impression one gets is that they are usually compliant and do not in fact hold chief constables to account.