CM to convene Inquiry into decision by former Commissioner Ian McGrail to retire

The Chief Minister says he will be convening the Inquiry into the decision by former Commissioner Ian McGrail to retire.

Reacting to the Opposition parties' statements on the Attorney General's decision, Fabian Picardo says all aspects of the administration of justice in Gibraltar are entirely independent of Ministers, as they should be.

In a statement, Number Six Convent Place says there was no benefit to be had by any Minister from the decision taken by the Attorney General which it says he has taken entirely independently and without consultation with the Government.

It says the Chief Minister was himself only informed by the Attorney General of his decision AFTER he entered the Nolle Prosequi, and that Michael Llamas briefed the Government and the Opposition as to his decision and the reasons for it.

The Government says it regrets that the Leader of the Opposition has once again been resorted to the politics of making baseless allegations based on rumour that amount to no more than mud-slinging and misinformation.

It says it is not surprised that Ms Hassan Nahon has followed Mr Azopardi’s lead and issued a characteristically hyperbolic statement about the alleged demise of our demonstrably vibrant democracy and, even more remarkably, attacking the moral standing of the Attorney General.

Mr Picardo says there are no issues arising which he would consider to be uncomfortable for the Government.

He says nobody is above the law in Gibraltar, especially Ministers who have an obligation to set an example . He says at the request of the Royal Gibraltar Police, he gave a Witness Statement in this case to the prosecuting authorities and confirmed that he would be available to the Court to give evidence if required, and says this alone should demonstrate that the Opposition parties' assumptions are entirely wrong and designed to tarnish his reputation.

He says any speculation linking this case to the retirement of Commissioner McGrail will be brought to a close when the Public Inquiry makes its findings public, and adds that arrangements are being made so that a statement convening that Inquiry can be made next week.

The Opposition says it is obvious that the Chief Minister has been dragged kicking and screaming into saying he will issue a statement convening the McGrail Inquiry next week.

The GSD says it will be obvious to everyone that he has been forced to do so.

The GSD says in July 2020 The Chief Minister promised the Inquiry would be convened “within weeks”, and 19 months later it has still not been convened.

Keith Azopardi says if the Chief Minister regrets the speculation as to the causes why then they are self-inflicted wounds, because he had the opportunity to decisively and swiftly deal with this in 2020.

The Leader of the Opposition says his party stands by its statement that the effect of the AG’s decision to halt the Conspiracy to Defraud case is to bury politically embarrassing facts for the Chief Minister, and that the public interest exercise has not been properly balanced.

He says when Ministers exercise statutory or constitutional power it needs to be subject to checks and balances, and that is why the GSD has been calling repeatedly for the McGrail Inquiry that was promised. He says it is important for our democracy that the Inquiry be held independently.

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The Government has today convened a Public Inquiry, under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, into the retirement of the former Commissioner of Police, Mr Ian McGrail (‘the Inquiry’). A Legal Notice, containing the ‘Issue of Commission’ which is the document under the Public Seal of Gibraltar which formally convenes the Inquiry, has been published this afternoon.

A statement continued: “Given the circumstances into which the Inquiry will inquire, the Chief Minister has asked his Excellency the Governor, Vice Admiral Sir David Steel KBE, DL, to independently identify a retired High Court Judge to Chair the Inquiry.

“The Governor has identified Sir Peter Openshaw, DL, a retired High Court Judge of the Queen’s Bench Division in England and Wales, who has agreed to Chair the Inquiry.

“The Inquiry will inquire, as Sir Peter Openshaw, DL, shall, in his absolute discretion consider appropriate, into the reasons and circumstances leading to Mr Ian McGrail ceasing to be Commissioner of Police in June 2020 by taking early retirement.

“Sir Peter Openshaw, DL, is to ascertain the facts and report to the Government on the above matters.

“The full report will be published by the Government, subject only to such redactions as Sir Peter Openshaw, DL, may himself consider appropriate.

“Except insofar as Sir Peter Openshaw, DL, may determine, the Inquiry will be held in public at a venue, and to commence on a date, to be specified by the Government by notice in the Gazette.

“The dates for commencement of the Inquiry will depend entirely on the availability of Sir Peter Openshaw, DL, and Counsel.

“Further information about the conduct of the Inquiry, evidence to be taken by it and procedure etc, will be published and communicated to parties by the Inquiry itself in the usual way.

“Gibraltarian Barrister in independent practice in London and Gibraltar, Julian Santos, has been appointed as Counsel to the Inquiry.

“The Government has appointed Sir Peter Caruana KCMG, QC, to represent it before the Inquiry.”

The Chief Minister said: ‘As the COVID waters start to recede it is time to start this Inquiry. I also expect to soon be able to convene the COVID inquiry. In the context of this Inquiry, and to guarantee independence and perception of independence, I have asked the Governor to identify a retired High Court judge of England and Wales. Additionally, I have asked Sir David to sign the Commission establishing the Inquiry, under the Public Seal of Gibraltar. I look forward to receiving and publishing the findings of the Inquiry.’

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The GSD says that it welcomes the news that the McGrail Inquiry has now finally been convened. The party says this was an Inquiry which the Chief Minister promised in July 2020 would be convened within “weeks” and has only seen the appointment of the Commissioner last Friday.

A statement continued: “The Chief Minister has been dragged kicking and screaming into convening this Inquiry and the opposite of what he said he wanted in July 2020 has been the result – namely that many people think he has things to hide.

“In answers to questions from the Leader of the Opposition on 27 July 2020 the Chief Minister had revealed that the ex-Commissioner of Police had been asked to retire and that he had agreed that the Commissioner be asked to retire. It had also been revealed that the Acting Governor and the Chief Minister had had a conversation about the forced removal of the ex-Commissioner if Mr McGrail was unwilling to retire.

“In July 2020 the Chief Minister promised the swift appointment of the Inquiry so it would quell speculation and he said that nothing would be covered up. On 28 July 2020 Mr McGrail had issued a statement saying that “without an independent judicial assessment there is a real risk to the reputation of Gibraltar as an advanced parliamentary democracy under the rule of law.” Mr McGrail called for an Inquiry and added that “the standing and reputation of Gibraltar required it.”

“We note that the Chief Minister asked the Governor to identify an English High Court Judge “to guarantee the perception of independence” and that this has led to the appointment of Sir Charles (Peter) Openshaw. Given that the role of the acting Governor at the time and conversations the then holder of the role had with several parties (including the Chief Minister and ex-Commissioner McGrail) will also come under scrutiny it would have been better in terms of absolute perception of independence to ask the senior Gibraltar Judiciary, the Chief Justice and President of the Court of Appeal, to have identified the Judge to lead the Inquiry instead. Were the senior judiciary consulted by the Governor?”

Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi said: “It is now important that a full and comprehensive public inquiry be held as soon as practicable. This should now end the speculation that there has been about these circumstances and should uncover the truth of what happened. It is important to our democracy that this be so. The Police Commissioner occupies an important role in our democracy. It is essential for the reputation of our institutions and integrity of our democracy that all questions be examined and fully tested. It is vital to get to the unadulterated truth and to ensure that the independence of our democratic institutions has not been threatened.

“While the Report from Sir Peter Openshaw will be submitted to the Government in due course there should be a commitment to publish it fully and immediately that it is received by the Government.”

9th February 2022
As the wheels are set in motion for a public inquiry into the controversial early retirement of former Commissioner of Police Ian McGrail, I can reveal the investigation is likely to take retired judge Sir Peter Openshaw all the way to the Foreign Office.

Emails between the Office of the Governor in Gibraltar and the Europe Directorate at the FCDO show developments were closely monitored from the UK and that there were “confidential communications between the FCDO and its legal advisers.”

I can also exclusively reveal that in the days leading up to his sudden retirement officials at the Gibraltar Unit in London believed the “latest developments” which had already been “picked up in the local press” could attract UK media attention.

It’s not clear from the redacted documents if they are referring to speculation about Mr McGrail’s future or a fatal collision at sea which they refer to as “a complex set of issues” while drafting an update for an unnamed minister.

It was agreed they would say they were “aware of the issue, but it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage/while the Police Act process is ongoing.”

I’ve obtained copies of at least 11 exchanges under a Freedom of Information request. The emails are all heavily redacted but they reflect what London viewed as a “complex issue.”

They also reinforce something that we now know – the speed with which it all happened and that the retirement was not planned.

Mr McGrail announced his decision to go on the June 9, 2020. It was that very same day at 12.09 when the acting Governor Nick Pyle confirmed to the Foreign Office: “The Commissioner of Police submitted a formal written request for early retirement to me this morning which I have accepted. The Commissioner will be relinquishing command of the Royal Gibraltar Police with effect from 18:00 this evening.”

The reply from the FCO’s Deputy Director for Europe Anne Sheriff, not even an hour later was: “Thank you for all you have done to manage this complex issue. I’m glad that a resolution has been reached.”

Details of the exact recipients and senders of most of the emails have not been given to me but some of them were issued to ‘DL Gibraltar Political (sensitive)’ which is likely a distribution list. The staff on it are cleared to deal with sensitive material as is the case in many departments across Whitehall.

With significant chunks redacted from the correspondence it’s difficult to get a sense of the full picture but it’s clear there is huge sensitivity surrounding this story.

My first FOI request was rejected by the Information’s Rights Unit. After months of delay I was told that the “Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) does hold information relevant to your request, however it is being withheld.”

I only secured the release on appeal in a process that took another four months.

Much of it has still been held back and is deemed to be exempt from public release for various reasons including ‘personal data relating to third parties,' ‘the rights of the individuals concerned override any legitimate interest in disclosure of the information concerned’ and because ‘disclosure would prejudice the UK’s relations with Gibraltar’ – all standard language generally used when an FOI is rejected.

On that final reason, and in answer to my arguments to the contrary, the Team Leader of the Information Rights Unit told me that while they acknowledge “the public interest in transparency in that regard” it was considered “that release of internal correspondence between the FCDO and the Office of the Governor on sensitive issues would impact negatively on the trust and confidence between the UK and Gibraltar governments, which would not be in the public interest.”

The emails I’ve secured range from May 22, 2020, to July 28, 2020. Some show how the Convent continued to keep the UK informed on developments in Parliament. “The leader of the opposition will shortly be posing questions on the retirement of the former Commissioner of Police,” was the message on one of them, together with other lines blanked out.

The reply: “[Redacted] thank you for this update. An interesting development. It will be interesting to hear what [redacted] thinks possible next steps from [redacted] might be [redacted]”.

That evening an email with a link to the GBC news online story under the headline “Interim Governor had been ready to suspend former Police Commissioner, Parliament hears,” was circulated to a number of recipients, including the deputy director for Europe, copied in. The other recipients are listed as [sensitive] and [redacted]. It says that “as you can imagine, there have been quite a lot of phone calls about this!” and that the “response to press enquiries will be nothing to add to the answers given by the CM to the House.”

It’s clear, possibly unsurprising, that the twists and turns of Mr McGrail’s retirement have been followed closely from outside Gibraltar.

The next stage, as it stands at the moment, is the inquiry and its publication. The Chief Minister has said the findings will be published in due course. The GSD is already calling for him to commit to publishing the report “fully and immediately” once it’s received.

Many will be hoping that’s the case because a redacted report may have us guessing to fill in the blanks and this whole saga will need some sort of closure, not further speculation.

The GSD has said that the James Neish article in today’s Chronicle of redacted communications marked “sensitive” flowing between the Office of the Governor and the Foreign Office in relation to the early departure of ex-Commissioner McGrail “reinforces the view that this was a serious matter that was considered at the highest levels.”

The communications span the process before his early exit and include discussions on questions the Leader of the Opposition was posing in Parliament. The party says that such redacted communications “will only unfortunately raise more questions than answers.”

Leader of the Opposition Keith Azopardi said: “This was not just a casual retirement. There were circumstances and reasons which led to the early exit and it is in Gibraltar’s interests that these be fully reviewed. We already know from answers in Parliament that the Chief Minister was at the heart of those discussions. The partial communications disclosed today emphasise the need for full transparency in the forthcoming Inquiry so that the public can be confident of any independent review of the serious questions that arise. We have been saying for a long time that there is a public interest that we ensure that our democracy and our institutional checks and balances were not tarnished in the circumstances that led to his retirement. It is crucial for the Inquiry to be entirely transparent for there to be confidence in the process. It will not do for communications to be redacted or for the Inquiry process to be closed at any stage or the report redacted because if that happens it will leave questions in the air. A future GSD Government will ensure that the Inquiry Report is published immediately and in full.”

In reply to the GSD’s recent statement on the McGrail Inquiry, the Government says they should allow the Inquiry to “run its course and not provide any further, inane, political commentary that might prejudice it in any way.“

A statement from the Government follows below:

The Government notes the continued statements from the GSD in relation to the McGrail Inquiry.

The seriousness of the issue is not a discovery of note and neither is the fact that it involved consideration at the highest levels. Neither should the GSD be surprised that information disclosed in the context of a freedom of information request is redacted. The judge in the Inquiry, however, will have access to all relevant documentation and information, even if this has not been released to a journalistic inquiry.

What is certain is that once the relevant information is entirely in the public domain, the Government is confident that the many baseless conspiracy theories that the GSD Opposition has sought to feed will be seen to be exactly that, baseless conspiracy theories. The GSD will then be left to assess whether it was of any benefit to Gibraltar and our international reputation, whether its repeated, groundless speculation served any purpose whatsoever other than to unnecessarily tarnish the reputation of our nation in the eyes of international observers.

The Government has already committed to the full publication of the full report that is submitted to it by the Inquiry Chairman.

What the GSD now needs to do is to allow the judicial Inquiry to run its course and not provide any further, inane, political commentary that might prejudice it in any way.

James Neish reveals, in yesterday’s Gibraltar Chronicle, that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and its legal advisers were closely involved, on a continuous basis, in matters leading to and following on from the retirement of Police Commissioner Ian McGrail, but they bring other important and interesting matters to light.

Indeed, the GSLP-Liberals reply to the GSD, revealed in the press today, also raises eyebrows and questions. It admits that no secrecy is needed. So, why the cost and delay of any public inquiry? They can just come clean.

LENGTHY FCDO INVOLVEMENT

Despite that the disclosures were heavily redacted, they show that FCDO involvement continued throughout, even after the Gibraltar Police Authority (GPA) withdrew its notice seeking his retirement, and the Government paid a contribution to his legal fees.

It ranged from the 22nd May 2020, two weeks before the retirement was announced, till the 28th July 2020, the day on which Commissioner McGrail openly called for a public Inquiry. The Government agreed to hold that inquiry in Parliament on the 31st July 2020.

The Government, the FCDO and the Governor’s involvement continued, in the words of Commissioner McGrail, beyond the withdrawal by the GPA of the notice issued by “… the [GPA] which triggered the entire process …”.

To add to the mystery, he also said “… the Government paid a contribution to Mr. McGrail’s legal costs.” Costs are rarely paid unless an element of fault is accepted by the party paying them.

On what basis in law did that involvement by the Government and the Governor continue beyond that withdrawal? There is none.

Continued at link.

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Written by YGTV Team on 19 May 2022.

The inquiry into the retirement of the former Commissioner of Police Mr Ian McGrail will have its first Preliminary Hearing at the Garrison Library on the 22nd and 23rd June 2022 commencing at 10am.

A press note from the Inquiry Secretary continues:

Introduction

The Commission of Inquiry was announced on 4 February 2022. This Inquiry will examine into the reasons and circumstances leading to Mr Ian McGrail ceasing to be Commissioner of Police in June 2020 by taking early retirement. The Commissioner is to inquire, as he shall in his absolute discretion consider appropriate, into such matters, ascertain the facts and report to the Government (“the Inquiry”). The Inquiry was set up by His Excellency Vice Admiral Sir David Steel KBE, DL, Governor of Gibraltar, for the Government of Gibraltar, at the request of the Chief Minister on 4 February 2022. Sir Charles Peter Lawford Openshaw is the sole Commissioner.

The Inquiry has appointed Stephen V. Catania, of Attias & Levy, as Solicitor to the Inquiry. Stephen Catania is assisted by Sunil Chandiramani and Jemma Emmerson. As Solicitor to the Inquiry, Stephen Catania together with his team, is initially involved in drafting procedures, and gathering and reviewing evidence. He will also manage the process of taking statements and liaise with participants and their legal representatives.

Familiarisation Visit to Gibraltar

In line with the Commissioner’s intention that the Inquiry should operate correctly and maintain its progress, the Commissioner attended Gibraltar from 4 to 7 May 2022 to take the oath before a Justice of the Peace under the Commissions of Inquiry Act. During his visit, the Commissioner also held meetings with Counsel and the Solicitor to the Inquiry and familiarised himself with Gibraltar.

Website

The Inquiry is launching its website shortly to assist it in keeping the public informed of news relating to the Inquiry, forthcoming hearings and other information.

Next Steps

Over recent weeks, the Inquiry has sent out letters of request to parties to the Inquiry seeking information and documents relevant to its Terms of Reference. These process continues. While the requests have resulted in statements and exhibits being lodged with the Inquiry, for which the Commissioner is grateful, he considers that a Preliminary Hearing is now required to deal with procedural and administrative matters and to put in place directions to progress the Inquiry. The first Preliminary Hearing will therefore take place in public at the Garrison Library on the 22 and 23 June 2022 commencing at 10am, and an agenda will be announced shortly and will be posted on the

Inquiry website. The Commissioner expects that further hearings will be necessary over the coming months.

The Inquiry is conscious of the need to complete its work as soon as is practically possible and will continue to do all it can to avoid unnecessary delays. However, the timetable for completing its work inevitably depends to a significant extent on the information and documents provided by potential witnesses, which will have an impact on the time required to prepare for and complete the main hearing.

The Inquiry has recently published a ‘Protocol relating to Legal Representation at Public Expense’. This will be available on the website shortly.

The Inquiry will issue further press notices as necessary to update the public as to the timetable and nature of future hearings.