It is striking that the Government has not denied the assertion that the Chief Minister and Attorney General called the Commissioner of Police into a meeting on 12 May 2020 to discuss the execution of a search warrant over someone close to the Chief Minister. It was asserted that the search warrant had been issued in an ongoing investigation of conspiracy to defraud in circumstances where Mr McGrail also made the grave allegation that the Chief Minister “stood to gain financially from the alleged fraud.”
At yesterday’s Preliminary Hearing the main represented parties – Mr McGrail and the Chief Minister, Governor and Attorney General – were all given the opportunity to set out their positions on the allegations of fact at the heart of the Inquiry.
Mr McGrail through his lawyers asserted that: “On 12 May 2020 the same day on which the search warrant was executed, the Chief Minister and the Attorney General called Mr McGrail into a meeting. They berated him for the intervention. The Chief Minister in particular was extremely angry and used intemperate language. The Chief Minister accused Mr McGrail of acting improperly.”
The core allegation that Mr McGrail was summoned to a meeting by the Chief Minister who angrily “berated” him about the execution of the search warrant was not denied in the hearing yesterday. Nor was the fact that a meeting was convened by the Chief Minister and Attorney General with the Commissioner to discuss the conduct of an operation and ongoing police investigation in respect of someone close to the Chief Minister.
While Government lawyers have set out the different and historic reasons why they say the Governor had lost confidence in Mr McGrail it is obvious from the submissions of both sides that there was not a specific denial of an attempt to discuss the conduct of the ongoing investigation in which a search warrant had been executed.
All this is striking because it raises fundamental issues about the boundaries of constitutional duties and the exercise of power by the Chief Minister when it comes to sensitive policing matters affecting individuals. In what circumstances is it ever appropriate for a Commissioner of Police to be summoned by a Minister to discuss a specific serious investigation about an individual close to that particular Minister? Preserving the operational and institutional independence of the Police from Ministers is absolutely crucial in our democracy so it is important for the Inquiry to run its course as soon as possible to get to the truth of what happened. We note the hearing is set for March 2023. It is in the public interest and in the interests of our democratic institutions for the Inquiry to establish one way or the other what exactly happened two years ago and for the findings to be published in full with no redactions.