If it is correct, that the ex-Lord Advocate used over fifty thousand pounds of taxpayers money to pursue a private 2012 action (1) (which in all the circumstances, could only be regarded as of a dubious nature) using a lawyer who has since been suspended from public office for large-scale fraudulent financial dealings (“He said there had also been a later diversion of £200,000 “to the personal account” of Mr Watson, then senior partner at Levy & McRae.)(2), it is hard to explain how the British Home Secretary Theresa May could justify her assessment of Dame Elish as follows: “someone with the ability to work closely with victims, families and the police alike, and with a proven track record of being willing to ask difficult questions”(3); or indeed to appoint her to the chair of an enquiry into deaths in custody, when she is aware that the solicitor that formerly represented her in a private action, is now representing police officers currently under suspicion of being involved in such a death (4).
On three counts therefore to choose Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC to chair the independent review into deaths and serious incidents in police custody appears most questionable. First, there appears a putative case that Dame Elish abused her public position to pursue a private matter and inexcusably used public funds to do so; second, chose to use a solicitor in the matter, that has subsequently been required to relinquish his public role as Sheriff as a result of alleged massive fraud; and that same individual who acted for her in a private capacity, is now apparently representing officers accused of being involved with the unlawful death of a person whilst in police custody, the very topic that she has been put in charge of(5). If all this does not at least amount to a ‘conflict of interest’, tell me what does.
The recent appointment and judgements of English judges and Chairpersons, does not inspire confidence. We have witnessed the shambolic start to The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) not only having to go to New Zealand to find a chairperson after two failed attempts, but more recently permanently losing the confidential submissions! (6 & 7) Then we had the inexplicable judgement of Judge Pauffley in the Hampstead case (8 & 9) after involvement in a similar one in Scotland in which Angiolini was also involved,(10)) followed by the abject failure of Court of Appeal judges to allow the case to be re-examined. Along the way we have seen how the Iraq Inquiry under Sir John Chilcot started in 2009 still has not reported.(11)
Could the common thread be the potential for significant embarrassment – or worse – of important people or even the government itself?