Saturday, December 06, 2008

Corruption among elite British police squad exposed

A culture of gambling, moonlighting and drinking exists in the Metropolitan police squad responsible for protecting the Queen, according to court documents filed by a former royal protection officer. Crown prosecutors are trying to strike out sensitive parts of the defence statement by Paul Page in which he claims widespread professional misconduct within the squad.

He also refers to alleged security breaches involving female guests of the Duke of York and an occasion when a senior member of the Royal Household left his briefcase at a lap-dance club. Mr Page made the statement in response to fraud charges he faces after an internal investigation by the Met into a multimillion-pound spread-betting syndicate run from a locker room in Buckingham Palace. The syndicate - known as the Currency Club – involved dozens of royal protection officers. It collapsed last year with losses of more than 1 million pounds.

During a recent hearing the Crown Prosecution Service took the unusual step of asking a senior judge to rule that much of Mr Page’s defence case statement relating to his ten years at Buckingham Palace was “totally irrelevant” to the criminal case against him. However, his barrister countered that the activities of the spread-betting syndicate should be considered within the wider context of ill-discipline and management failure in the supposedly elite Royalty Protection Department (SO14). If the application in front of Judge Geoffrey Rivlin, QC, the Recorder of Westminster, is successful, then the Met will not have to disclose a large number of sensitive documents to Mr Page’s legal team.

Andrew Mackinlay, Labour MP for Thurrock, said he was dismayed at the “arrogance” of the CPS. He said: “The Royal Family and Household are not above the law; neither are the inner workings of the Metropolitan Police. Nobody would entertain such an application if it were Joe Bloggs. My constituent is entitled to present his case in full.”

The judge could hear a full strike-out application at Southwark Crown Court before Christmas. However, after studying Mr Page’s defence case statement at the hearing on October 21, Judge Rivlin has ordered that all parties should be represented by Queen’s Counsel – an indication of the seriousness of the case.

Scotland Yard has also recognised the case as a high priority and convened a “Gold Command” team of senior officers to oversee its progress because of the potential embarrassment to its reputation and that of the Royal Family.

Mr Page, 37, a father of five, was sacked from the Met earlier this year and then charged with fraudulent trading, which he denies.

Documents seen by The Timesshow that the Currency Club flourished for six years, gambling on movements in foreign currencies and commodity prices. It grew to involve more than 100 officers from the Met and at least three other forces. Armed SO14 officers are said to have used police cars to courier tens of thousands of pounds in cash between palaces while on duty. It collapsed last year with heavy losses, leading to recriminations between police and civilian members and a corruption investigation codenamed Ascerio.

Mr Page’s defence case statement refers to a series of alleged security breaches at Buckingham Palace during the period 1997 to 2003. The statement goes on to identify the Duke of York as the Royal Family member who allegedly most “abused” his position. It refers to a number of women the prince privately entertained at Buckingham Palace but names only one – Ghislaine Maxwell, daughter of the late Robert Maxwell. It alleges that women would visit the prince at all times of the day without going through proper security protocols. SO14 officers were then ordered to abandon their posts and drive some guests home. Those who dared to raise objections were verbally abused. A spokesman for the Duke, Britain’s special representative for international trade and investment, declined to comment on what he said was “a security matter”.

The Times understands that the defence statement also refers to an incident when a senior member of the royal household returned to Buckingham Palace late one night complaining that he had been ejected from a nearby lap-dance club without his briefcase. Mr Page was sent to retrieve the case and take the man home.

Questions about the quality of the security provided by the Met to the royal family have dogged the force since an intruder gained access to the Queen’s bedroom in 1982. More recently, the competence of SO14 was at issue when a comic dressed as Osama bin Laden and fathers’ rights campaigners dressed as Batman and Robin penetrated security in broad daylight.

Sources with knowledge of the statement say it claims that protection officers would take it in turns to keep watch, allowing colleagues to sleep through their shifts. Others whiled away long hours on duty by watching TV and DVDs, with one officer nicknamed Barry Norman, after the television presenter and reviewer, because he saw so many films. Mr Page’s lawyers declined to comment.

A CPS spokeswoman denied that the strike-out application was unusual and defended the move by saying that it would save court time. [What a pathetic excuse!]

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

No comments: