Former Commissioner of Police Ian McGrail has been charged with sexual assault on a female police officer while he was in post.
The charge was confirmed on Thursday afternoon by John McVea, a former Detective Chief Superintendent with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
Mr McVea was asked by the Commissioner of Police, Richard Ullger, to lead the independent criminal investigation as the Senior Investigating Officer.
Mr McVea also leads the investigation into an alleged data breach relating to a public inquiry into the circumstances around Mr McGrail’s early retirement.
“Further to information received, I was asked by the Commissioner of Police to lead an independent criminal investigation into an alleged sexual assault on a female police officer in 2018. The allegation was against the former Commissioner of Police Mr Ian McGrail,” Mr McVea said.
“Shortly before 7am this morning, Mr McGrail was arrested at his home on suspicion of Sexual Assault. He was taken for interview at New Mole House Police Station.”
“Following this interview process Mr McGrail has been charged with the offence of Sexual Assault and will appear before the Magistrates’ Court tomorrow, Friday 14th April. The alleged sexual assault happened at New Mole House Police Station while Mr McGrail was the Commissioner of Police."
“As the matter has now been charged to court, I am unable to expand any further.”
Mr McGrail will appear before the Magistrates’ Court on Friday at 10am.
Mr McGrail’s lawyer, Charles Gomez, issued a statement to the press hours after the charge was confirmed.
“Mr Ian McGrail vigorously denies any wrong-doing and is committed to presenting his defence to the Court as soon as a trial is set down for hearing,” the statement said.
“He appreciates the seriousness of the allegations and the importance of a fair trial for all parties involved.”
“He has the right to be presumed innocent and will work tirelessly to ensure that his reputation and rights are protected throughout the legal process.”
“Mr McGrail recognises the sensitive nature of this case and the absolute need for respect and privacy for all involved and their respective families.”
“We ask that the public reserve judgment until the facts are presented to the Court. Our client deserves a fair and impartial trial, and we are confident that justice will be served in due course.”
One of the two individuals arrested last November in connection with the data breach at the McGrail Inquiry has been released from arrest.
The other remains on police bail.
Last month the scope of the investigation, led by former Northern Ireland police detective John McVea, was widened to include other areas.
In answer to GBC questions, the Royal Gibraltar Police has now confirmed that one of the arrested individuals has been released from arrest.
Ian McGrail has had police bail extended until the 25th July.
The former Police Commissioner was arrested last month on suspicion of misconduct in public office, conspiracy to obtain unauthorised access to computer material, and unlawful obtaining of personal data.
The arrest was connected to material directly related to the data breach in the inquiry
Mr McGrail however has not yet been charged with any of these matters.
The McGrail Inquiry will be “catastrophic” for the reputation of the Royal Gibraltar Police, the outgoing chairman of the Police Federation has said, in a valedictory email that laid bare the fractious relationship between the staff organisation and senior management at the force.
In the email to officers, Maurice Morello, who is retiring from the force and leaving the post ahead of an election to choose a successor on May 23, pulled no punches.
He said RGP officers were “the backbone” of the organisation but were not backed by a senior management team which, he claimed, did not understand the Federation’s advocacy role in defence of its members’ interests.
Mr Morello said the already-difficult relationship between the RGP Command and the Federation had shifted “drastically” after the McGrail Inquiry opened and it became known that he and the Federation secretary would give evidence, “which will expose some of our top managers’ inappropriate behaviours”.
“The relationship deteriorated even further when several officers came forward with information, which could be very damaging to the RGP and several individuals,” he wrote in the email, which was first reported by GBC but a copy of which has been seen by the Chronicle.
“In recent months, I have seen Command more concerned at how these officers received protection, rather than the nature of the extremely compromising allegations, which have been made, some of which are criminal and which require investigating thoroughly.”
And he added: “This Inquiry will be catastrophic for the reputation of the RGP and the reputation of policing in Gibraltar.”
“What I worry about the most, is that you, in the front line and who deal with the public on a daily basis will be the recipients of the public’s comments.”
Mr Morello was hard-hitting too about the stance taken by the RGP in the inquest into the fatal collision at sea in 2020, in which a jury found the two Spaniards who died in the incident had been unlawfully killed.
He said the RGP had not supported the officers in the inquest and had then opposed a judicial review filed by the officers in a bid to quash the verdict of unlawful killing. Just last month, the Supreme Court dismissed the claim for judicial review, upholding the verdict.
The officers intend to appeal that latest decision but Mr Morello said the RGP would again oppose it, adding it was also seeking costs for the earlier claim.
Mr Morello described the RGP’s position as “an embarrassment”, adding: “I suppose it is easier to blame individuals than highlight organisational failings.”
“In all my years in policing, I had never witnessed such a gut wrenching display of abysmal leadership and poor decision-making on behalf of those leading the organisation...” he said in the email.
He said too that the application for costs would probably mean the Federation “forking out a large chunk of money”, adding this would “cripple” its finances.
“Who in their right mind would want to work for an organisation like this?” he said, adding: “The organisation has a particular talent of breaking officers.”
Mr Morello praised officers for their hard work and resilience and, despite his criticisms, insisted that “policing is a great career”.
But he said management of people in the organisation was “especially vital” and that the RGP Command did not excel at that, “despite what our senior managers may think”.
“This is something which officers have been complaining about since I can recall, and this never seems to improve,” he wrote in the email.
Mr Morello said the RGP had become “master at copy and pasting” UK policies and procedures “even though we know one size does not fit all”.
“No vision, no direction, policing by social media.”
The RGP declined to comment on the contents of the email, adding only that this was a matter for the outgoing Federation chairman.
But the force has in the past rejected persistent public criticism from the Federation, insisting it has taken wide-ranging steps over recent years to address shortcomings identified during independent audits by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, and has worked to place the focus on the well-being of its officers and support staff.
In a report last October, HMICFRS said the RGP had “significantly improved” its effectiveness by making “good progress” addressing its recommendations to promote best practice.
The HMICFRS audit of the RGP was a full and thorough inspection that covered major cultural, operational and leadership changes implemented over the past two years against the backdrop of heavy policing demands during Covid and as a result of Brexit.
It involved detailed documentary work and multiple interviews with serving police officers, as well as with personnel from other agencies.
The report was the third in six years and HMICFRS said the RGP had addressed around 80% of all recommendations in that time, some of which had been outstanding since 2016.
It found too that work was under way to address the remaining areas.
“We are pleased to report that the RGP has made good progress since 2020,” HMICFRS said in the report at the time.
“The force’s senior leadership team has prioritised addressing our recommendations and AFIs [areas for improvements].”
“This is part of its efforts to improve the force’s effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy.”
“It appointed officers to lead work on each of our recommendations and AFIs. It also set up a new governance procedure.”
“This has allowed it to oversee progress and implement change more effectively.”
Former police Commissioner Ian McGrail has been released from police bail in connection with one of the three suspected offences for which he was arrested last March.
Mr McGrail, 57, had been arrested by UK officers flown to Gibraltar to investigate an alleged breach of data relating to the McGrail Inquiry.
The former Commissioner was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to obtain unauthorised access to computer material, misconduct in public office, and unlawful obtaining of personal data.
He was granted police bail while the investigation continued but was not charged at any stage in relation to the suspected offences.
On Friday, the Royal Gibraltar Police confirmed that Mr McGrail had been released from police bail in relation to the suspicion of conspiracy to obtain unauthorised access to computer material.
It means he is no longer under arrest in respect of that suspected offence.
Mr McGrail remains under arrest and on police bail in respect of suspicion of misconduct in public office and unlawful obtaining of personal data.
Charles Gomez, Mr McGrail’s lawyer, declined to comment on the latest development.
After the arrest in March, however, Mr Gomez said in a statement on behalf of his client that Mr McGrail was confident investigators would soon find he had not committed any of the suspected offences for which he was arrested.
At the time, Mr Gomez said Mr McGrail had learnt in November 2022 of a possible breach of data kept by the Inquiry and brought it to the attention of the Inquiry, which referred the matter to the RGP.
“The importance of this is that had it not been for the reports to the authorities made by Mr McGrail, the data breach might have gone undetected,” Mr Gomez told reporters at the time.
‘LIVE AND ACTIVE’
On Friday after confirming Mr McGrail’s release from police bail, the RGP said the investigation into the inquiry data breach remained “live and active”.
Prior to Mr McGrail’s arrest in March, two other individuals had also been arrested by investigating officers.
One of those two people was released from bail some weeks ago, while the second remains under arrest and on police bail.
Nick Pyle, the former Deputy Governor and acting Governor at the time that former police Commissioner Ian McGrail took early retirement, has been engaged by the Chief Secretary to advise on civil service training and reform.
The development was revealed by Chief Minister Fabian Picardo as he responded to questions in Parliament from Keith Azopardi, the Leader of the Opposition.
Mr Azopardi asked the Chief Minister whether he believed it was appropriate to have offered Mr Pyle a job given his key role as a core participant in the McGrail Inquiry, which is examining the circumstances around Mr McGrail’s controversial early retirement.
Mr Azopardi said “it doesn’t look good” in the context of “a very delicate inquiry” that was investigating serious allegations which, he said, touched on the integrity of constitutional institutions.
The questions drew a stinging reaction from the Chief Minister, who said they “unfairly” cast “suspicions” on both himself and Mr Pyle.
He pointed out that both the Attorney General and himself continued to be employed and paid by the Gibraltar Government, irrespective of their status as core participants in the inquiry, and that this was “entirely proper”.
Mr Picardo said the assumption behind the question was that “somehow” a fee would be paid in return for “improper behaviour” in the context of the inquiry.
“Does [Mr Azopardi] genuinely believe that a senior civil servant, whether he's a UK civil servant or a Gibraltar civil servant, a senior civil servant who has become a core participant in an inquiry established under statute, can be coerced or bought, as he's suggesting, to give evidence in respect of that inquiry, which would be different if he had not been employed in respect of matters that happened three years ago, most of which are set out in writing, on email, on WhatsApp?” the Chief Minister told Parliament.
“And is the allegation that he will tell a different version of the truth of what happened three years ago if he's employed by the government to do a job that he can do for the benefit of the Gibraltarian taxpayer, for the benefit of the Gibraltar public service, and that if he were not so employed, he would give a different version of the truth?”
“My God, there is a different standard of integrity that [Mr Azopardi] applies to third parties than the one he would be expecting applied to him, because I do not believe that it is possible to even perceive that one can buy the evidence, the version of the truth, from someone in this situation.”
“But never mind, the leader of the Opposition can allege it not because it matters, not because there's any grain of truth in it, but just because by planting the seed of doubt, he seeks to grow a plant of alleged disrepute against the government on any issue.”
But Mr Azopardi maintained the pressure, insisting that “the perception is there”.
“How appropriate is it for the perception of that inquiry for the government to be offering a job to a core participant that was not an employee?” he asked the Chief Minister.
“That's the issue. That's the issue. Can you not see that?”
“Utter nonsense”, the Chief Minister countered, dismissing too any suggestion that the democratic integrity of Gibraltar’s institutions was in question.
“There is not one shred of evidence put in the public domain, or not put in the public domain, that can be used to sustain such a fanciful notion,” he said.
The Chief Minister said people could “rumour monger” freely – “God knows, in the past weeks I've had to put up with enough rumour mongering” – but that to question the integrity of institutions without a “scintilla of evidence” was to “play with our democracy”.
“I said that we would hold an inquiry into this because it was called for by the person who is the subject of the inquiry,” Mr Picardo said.
“And I said we will ensure that the inquiry is able to get to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
“The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
“When the truth is out, people will see that those who have talked about the democratic integrity of the institutions of Gibraltar being at risk are no more than jokers who deserve no credibility whatsoever, who have failed Gibraltar by raising spectres that will be seen to have been no more than utter ghosts.”
“And the people of Gibraltar will then judge.”
Responding to Mr Azopardi, the Chief Minister told Parliament that Mr Pyle had been retained “given his exceptional experience as a senior diplomat” and the fact that he was staying in the area of Gibraltar having left the post.
He said My Pyle was being paid a fee of £80 an hour for his work with the Chief Secretary.
The Chief Minister was asked when the engagement commenced and how much had been paid to date, but replied he did not have that information.
FORMER POLICE OFFICERS
Mr Azopardi also quizzed the Chief Minister on how many former police officers had been employed in the public service since June 2020 – the date Mr McGrail retired from his post - and whether they retained their former salaries or were paid within the scales of the new posts.
Mr Picardo replied that a total of 13 former police officers had been transferred from the RGP to different areas of the public service in that time.
He said salaries depended on different circumstances around any transfer.
He said officers who had sustained injuries during their duties in the RGP retained their former salaries, while those who transferred under the protection of whistleblowing rules did so on a “no detriment” basis as provided in law.
Those who transferred for other reasons were paid the salaries relevant to the post.
The GSD says the employment of former Deputy Governor Nick Pyle is “completely inappropriate while the McGrail inquiry is pending”.
A statement from the GSD follows below:
The engagement by the Government of former Deputy Governor Nick Pyle is completely inappropriate while the McGrail inquiry is pending. The Chief Minister has revealed he is being paid £80/hour or in other words a rate that would amount to over £155,000 if he were to work full-time for a year. That would be on a higher scale than even the head of the Civil Service, the Chief Secretary, is paid.
Mr Pyle was Acting Governor in 2020 and like the Chief Minister is one of the core participants in the circumstances that led to the early retirement of the former Commissioner of Police, Mr McGrail. Extremely grave allegations have been fielded in that case about misconduct and that raise issues about the independence of the police. Those issues have yet to be considered or explored by the Inquiry Chairman.
Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi, said: “For Mr Pyle to be given a job to advise on civil service training & reform in the meantime is staggering. He is not a known expert on civil service training or reform. He is not a member of the Gibraltar civil service. He is not an expert on Gibraltar public services or public sector administration. Why is he being employed at all? This simply looks like the Chief Minister giving him a job to keep him sweet while difficult issues are being looked at. Imagine the scandal in the United Kingdom if a serving Prime Minister gave a job to someone who, together with him, was central to the facts of an Inquiry in which the Prime Minister was accused of wrongdoing before that case had even been heard. It would be inconceivable and would receive public condemnation if it did happen. It looks really bad. It appears from the answers Mr Picardo gave in Parliament that he is oblivious to those issues. He apparently thinks anything goes, however it looks.”
The GSD has said that Mr Picardo “has no answer” to the point raised by the GSD and “resorts to lies and red herrings.”
A statement continued: “The basic unanswerable point is that in the midst of an Inquiry into the events of 2020 in which Mr Picardo is accused of wrongdoing he has scandalously given a job to a main participant in the discussions with Mr McGrail. That is wholly inappropriate and smacks of keeping him sweet while difficult things are to be decided upon. That is undeniably the perception. The idea that Mr Pyle has been appointed for his expertise is farcical and simply a convenient narrative given the other surrounding circumstances. Indeed, when asked in Parliament about how this had come about Mr Picardo said that it was “simply...because Mr Pyle indicated that he was staying in the area and therefore he’s doing this and other jobs in the area.””
Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi said: “It would be unimaginable for a serving UK prime minister accused of wrongdoing to offer a job to another key figure in the middle of an Inquiry before the case has been heard. That would be roundly condemned as a wholly inappropriate move.
“Mr Picardo is now desperately trying to say anything to survive and to divert from those undeniable perceptions. He has even gone as far as falsely saying that the GSD is smearing civil servants by talking about Mr Pyle. The thousands of Gibraltar civil servants won’t feel it is a smear campaign to name Mr Pyle, the former Deputy Governor, because he’s been offered a job by Mr Picardo. Many of those thousands of civil servants will think it is strange that Mr Pyle is being paid at a rate higher than the Chief Secretary when there are hundreds of civil service and public sector vacancies. If there is anyone devaluing our civil servants or undermining our public service and institutions it is Mr Picardo. There are former Chief Secretaries and other senior civil servants who will have a clearer grasp of the challenges of our public service who will also feel it is strange to see Mr Pyle’s appointment.
“Of course, we understand that Mr Picardo should want to raise red herrings and smokescreens in a bid to save his skin. But after 12 years people are used to his tactics. He plays the man and not the ball and in an endless tirade of half- truths, twists, spin or downright lies. It’s time for him to leave and the sooner the better. If there are questions about fitness to govern these are now squarely about him. He sees nothing wrong with what he is doing, he is mired in conflicts and fighting desperately for political survival in the face of crisis after crisis.”
The inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the early retirement of the former Commissioner of Police, Ian McGrail, has confirmed it will hold its next preliminary session on the 19th July at the Garrison Library.
In a statement then, it said it remained “committed and determined to fulfil its obligations”, and that it would continue its work, including providing disclosure to core participants and reviewing witness statements and documents.