‘No conspiracy or collusion’ behind McGrail retirement, Inquiry told

Nick Pyle, the interim Governor at the time former police Commissioner Ian McGrail took early retirement in June, 2020, said on Wednesday there was “no conspiracy or collusion” around his loss of confidence in Mr McGrail.

In evidence to the McGrail Inquiry on Wednesday, Mr Pyle said his decision hinged “unequivocally” on his belief Mr McGrail withheld from him timely information about the location of a fatal collision at sea on March 8, 2020, in which two Spanish nationals died.

And he said that to this day, he did not feel it was right there was still no justice or accountability after an incident in which two people had died, and that he questioned if this might have been different had there been Gibraltarian fatalities.

Mr Pyle was giving evidence about events that led him, together with Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, to recommend in May, 2020, that the Gibraltar Police Authority consider inviting Mr McGrail to retire early.

Both men had lost confidence in Mr McGrail, they say for different reasons, and the Inquiry has heard Mr Pyle was prepared to use powers to ask the Commissioner to resign if necessary.

Mr McGrail’s lawyers have alleged that the former Commissioner was “muscled out” of his job under relentless pressure triggered by the RGP’s decision on May 12, 2020, to attempt to execute search warrants at the office and home of James Levy, KC, a senior partner at Hassans who at the time was a suspect in Operation Delhi, though he was never arrested or charged.

They told the Inquiry Mr McGrail had been subjected to an “unfair, frankly shambolic and sham” process “stage managed” by the Chief Minister, a claim the Government parties firmly deny.

Mr Pyle told the Inquiry that by May 2020, he already had concerns about certain issues relating to Mr McGrail including the runway incident in 2017, the HMICFRS report on the RGP and “anecdotal” reports of bullying, a fractious relationship with the Gibraltar Police Federation, and his own wider view that the force needed modernising.

Mr Pyle said none of these alone were enough to lose confidence in the Commissioner and that he had not raised his concerns directly with Mr McGrail, or in any formal context.

But he said the collision at sea proved a tipping point in his thinking that pulled his concerns together.

On May 14, Mr Pyle was contacted by the Chief Minister who had his own concerns about Mr McGrail, some of which overlapped.

In a meeting on May 15, they each set out their views and, among them, Mr Picardo spoke about the search warrants on May 12, the Inquiry heard.

According to Mr Pyle, Mr Picardo explained his belief that the RGP should have gone for a less intrusive route than a search warrant to secure evidence from Mr Levy; that the RGP had acted “against” advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions - in fact, the DPP gave no advice on the warrant - and that Mr McGrail had lied to him by claiming the RGP had acted on the advice of the DPP, something Mr McGrail denies saying.

Asked by Julian Santos, counsel to the Inquiry, whether he would have raised his concerns about Mr McGrail with the Chief Minister had Mr Picardo not contacted him first, he replied: “Yes, absolutely. I would.”

“The lack of confidence was from both of us, for ultimately different reasons,” Mr Pyle later added.

“The coincidence of timing of these matters of importance to both of us coming together at the same time may be coincidental, but that's all they were.”

“There was no conspiracy or collusion.”

Mr Pyle said he found it “quite insulting”, given his decades-long diplomatic career including work in conflict zones like Somalia, that it could be suggested he had been “manipulated” by the Chief Minister.

Mr Pyle told the Inquiry he was aware at the time of the Chief Minister’s relationship with Mr Levy, though not of his stake in 36 North, the company at the centre of Operation Delhi, through his sabbatical partnership in Hassans, which owned a third of the company.

Operation Delhi was an investigation into the alleged “hacking and sabotage” of the National Security Centralised Intelligence System [NSCIS], and into an alleged conspiracy to defraud Bland, the private company that operates the system.

Mr McGrail’s lawyers have alleged that both Mr Levy and Mr Picardo, as partners of Hassans, the latter on sabbatical, stood to gain financially from the alleged fraud and, that the RGP was put under improper pressure to protect Mr Levy.

Mr Pyle said he held the Chief Minister in high regard and that he was “not minded and not bothered” about Operation Delhi in a way that would have influenced his decisions.

Mr Santos asked: “You refer to the faith that you had and have in the Chief Minister. Knowing everything you do now, about that investigation and about his links to 36 North and to Mr Levy and Hassans, do you consider that he was in a sufficiently independent position to be involved in the process?”

“I suspect that he considered that very carefully himself and would do nothing that would put his position and reputation at risk,” Mr Pyle said.

“So I assume that he fully considered that himself.”

“And again, as I said, I have no reason to doubt the Chief Minister’s actions or motives.”


Much of the questioning on Wednesday focused on the March 8, 2020, collision between a police vessel and a rigid-hulled inflatable launch, especially its immediate aftermath.

The collision happened just days before a Brexit negotiating round and the Inquiry heard there was concern that if it had occurred in Spanish waters, it could prove “a curve ball” that might derail progress in the talks.

Mr Pyle said the incident could have created political, financial, reputational and sovereignty implications and that his overriding concern from the outset was to establish where it happened and inform officials in the UK embassy in Madrid and in London, up to ministerial level.

“Outside of concern for the welfare of those involved in the incident, [he needed to know] was where it happened,” Mr Pyle said, adding he needed only information on whether it was inside or outside British waters, and not necessarily the exact location.

“I didn't really need to know anything else at that moment.”

The Inquiry heard that in the morning of March 8, Mr McGrail and Attorney General Michael Llamas, KC, were briefed on provisional coordinates from the Guardia Civil suggesting the collision occurred well inside Spanish waters six miles off Santa Barbara beach in La Linea.

The briefing included printed copies of a map showing a plot of the provisional coordinates.

Mr Pyle had been alerted by Mr McGrail by text message earlier that morning about a “critical incident” at sea but had not received any further update six hours later.

At around midday, Mr Pyle “engineered” a visit to New Mole House while walking his dog and met with the Commissioner.

The then interim Governor claims he asked about the location and was told by Mr McGrail that it “could be in, could be out”.

He said he was not told about the Spanish coordinates or shown the map, adding these would have “firmly told me unequivocally” that the collision occurred outside British waters even if the exact location had yet to be confirmed.

Later that day Mr Pyle reported to the Foreign Office that the location was not yet clear, having first double-checked his facts with Mr McGrail.

“Mr McGrail should have told me directly himself when I asked, and he should certainly not have misled me on the Sunday [March 8] when I cleared a draft email I was sending to London on the most important issue of the day,” Mr Pyle said.

That night Mr Pyle had dinner with the Attorney General and, while he could not recall it specifically, said it was “inconceivable” they did not discuss the location of the collision, which Mr Llamas by then knew had likely occurred in Spanish waters.

In an update to the Foreign Office the following day, Mr Pyle said it was likely the incident happened in Spanish waters, his first message to London with that information.

But Mr Pyle told the Inquiry it was not until March 11 that Mr McGrail confirmed to him directly that it was “highly probable” it took place outside British waters.

Mr McGrail disputes Mr Pyle’s version of events and insists he was transparent throughout what he described as a fast-moving and difficult situation with multiple strands including the risk of public disorder.

Mr Pyle said he did not know why Mr McGrail would not have shared that information with him, accepting that initially it might have been oversight.

He acknowledged too that he did not challenge Mr McGrail between March 8 and March 11 after obtaining the location from other sources, though he could not explain why.

But Mr Pyle was clear that what he perceived as a crucial information gap became the key issue in his loss of confidence in Mr McGrail.

“The incident at sea is the only issue that, with respect, matters to me in terms of losing confidence,” Mr Pyle said.

“Looking at the airfield incident, the helicopter incident, the [Gibraltar Police] Federation, the bullying, the reports and this sort of stuff, on their own would not cause me to lose because I believed they could be rectified and put right.”

“The incident at sea could not be put right.”

“We have an issue where two innocent people were killed in an illegal chase by a vessel that had been weaponised [with a serrated bow log defender], that took place X number of miles…inside Spanish waters, for which there has still to be justice, and there's yet to be accountability.”

“And I just didn't think, and still don't think, that that is right.”

“And the question I occasionally ask myself is whether that level of accountability and responsibility would have been different had, for example, everybody in that incident been killed, or those on the boat had not been Spanish and had been Gibraltarian.”

“And I think that's what I was beginning to formulate in my mind before I went to see the Chief Minister, which is why I just said earlier that I just was beginning to feel that a change of leadership of the RGP was necessary.”


Mr Pyle was questioned by Mr Santos on the events around a meeting in late May, 2020, at which he and the Chief Minister invited the Gibraltar Police Authority to consider inviting Mr McGrail to take early retirement.

Mr Pyle said Dr Joseph Britto, the chairman of the GPA, had not been presented with a “fait accompli” when he and the Chief Minister described their loss of confidence in Mr McGrail at the meeting in The Convent.

But he acknowledged that once the Governor and the Chief Minister had lost confidence in a Commissioner of Police, “I think there’s only one outcome from this”.

Mr Pyle said he made clear he would be ready to consider using default powers allowing him to ask the Commissioner to resign.

Mr Pyle had expected the meeting with Dr Britto to kick off a “robust” statutory process in which the GPA would probe the loss of confidence, seek whatever additional information it required and ask Mr McGrail for his response, before reaching a decision on whether to issue a retirement invitation letter.

One possibility he had considered was that the GPA might disagree with the views of the Governor and Chief Minister, he told the Inquiry.

“This is what I thought was the start of a process where more information would have been provided, Mr McGrail would have made his representations and the GPA would have then sort of gone into recess and considered views, and [would have been] quite within their right to ask further questions, if not evidence from the Chief Minister as well,” Mr Pyle said.

He considered the GPA had been provided with sufficient information to commence and properly execute that process, which he expected would take some time.

The GPA took a decision just days later.

Mr Pyle said that after the GPA decision, the Chief Minister had been asked for assistance by Dr Britto with drafting the GPA’s letter to Mr McGrail.

It was agreed that Mr Picardo would advise Dr Britto, although drafts of the correspondence were shared with the Governor too.

Mr Pyle was “nervous” that Mr Picardo was taking the lead in an area of competence that was London’s and that there was a risk of crossing a constitutional line.

But after consulting with the FCDO officials in London, he reached the conclusion it was the right decision “on balance” and that their roles were largely even.

After the letters were sent, the GPA, challenged by Mr McGrail’s lawyers, acknowledged it had made a procedural flaw by inviting the Commissioner to retire without first properly hearing his views, and by reaching its decision without the necessary quorum.

After taking legal advice, the GPA withdrew its letter, opening up the possibility of Mr Pyle using his powers in default to ask Mr McGrail to resign.

In the event Mr McGrail, who says he was under “intolerable pressure” by this point, chose to seek early retirement.

Mr Pyle said he never imagined having to face such “an incredibly difficult position”, adding: “And I wanted to get it right, in the right way, for the right reasons.”

“I may not have got everything right,” he said.

“But I don't think in terms of process I got much wrong.”

“And in terms of how I conducted myself, my conscience is clear.”


Earlier in the session, Mr Pyle was also asked about the runway incident in 2017 and the subsequent arrest of three senior military officers on suspicion of perverting the course of justice and obstructing police over their handling of a serviceman suspected of being a paedophile.

Mr Pyle, who was acting Governor at the time, said his concern arose from the manner of the arrests and not from the runway incident a fortnight earlier, dismissing the suggestion that the situation could have been defused at the outset had he been more assertive.

“I still find it quite incredible to this day that, two weeks after an event which nearly caused a rupture in the relationship between Gibraltar and the MoD/UK, after the issue of jurisdiction had been resolved, that two and a half weeks later, a decision was taken to arrest three senior military people when I’d have thought the opposite should be happening and steps were being taken to ensure that this wouldn't happen again,” Mr Pyle said.

“Are the RGP not entitled to make their own operational decisions as to the conduct of arrests?” Mr Santos asked.

“Absolutely. I don't think anybody was suggesting otherwise,” Mr Pyle replied.

“I just think that was the wrong call.”

Mr Pyle said there was “fault on both sides” for the fallout from the incident, but that only the MoD officers had apologised.

“To this day I have still not seen any apology for any actions by the Royal Gibraltar Police,” he said.

Mr Pyle was asked too about the recruitment process for Mr McGrail as Commissioner, which he had described as “abject” in a message to the Chief Minister.

He apologised unreservedly to the GPA for using that word, which he accepted was too strong.

The Inquiry had heard evidence that Mr Pyle told GPA member Edgar Lavarello he would not support either candidate, and separately told then chairman John Gonçalves that he would not support Mr McGrail.

But Mr Pyle insisted he had not prejudged the contest between Mr McGrail and then Acting Commissioner Richard Ullger, and denied making those statements.

“If I had said that as bluntly as that…I would have recused myself from the process,” Mr Pyle said.

“I can hardly say something to the chair of the GPA and one of its members and then do the opposite.”

He said he believed both had been credible candidates for the post of Commissioner but that he had supported Mr Ullger.

Mr Pyle said he believed the recruitment process should be widened to allow for applicants from Commonwealth countries, though Mr Gonçalves told the Inquiry the proposition received no support from the GPA members.

Mr Pyle said “the idea was to have a broad field” to ensure Gibraltar had “the best person for the role”.

Mr Pyle, who has since left the FCDO and is currently working as a consultant for the Gibraltar Government on civil service reform, was asked whether the role allowed him to give independent evidence to the Inquiry.

Mr Pyle was clearly taken aback by the question and said he was under oath to tell the truth, adding he found the suggestion “slightly odd”.

“What about the perception of such a role being offered during the course of the Inquiry?” Mr Santos asked.

“I can see that optic, but I think those that know me well enough and know of my background and my integrity haven't really raised any concerns about that,” Mr Pyle replied.

Mr Pyle said the consultancy role had been endorsed by the Governor and cleared by the FCDO.

Mr Pyle will continue his evidence today and is the last witness on the Inquiry’s schedule.