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Undisclosed Evidence of Indecent Images in Police Commissioner’s Safe for 14 years

(Posted on 12/03/20)

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A hard drive belonging to ex-Lord Mayor of Leeds Neil Taggart was kept in a police commisssioner's safe until after his sex offence conviction. Taggart was jailed in 2017 after pleading guilty to making and distributing indecent photographs of children.

Describing it as an "embarrassing" mistake, West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson insisted: "There's been no intentional cover-up with this."

The hard drive's existence was revealed by a police whistleblower. It had been "retained and stored" when Taggart ceased to be charirman of the police authority in 2003. 

"I can't think of any reason why they would have kept the hard drive," the whistleblower told the BBC. "It was expensive equipment. On a high-profile investigation for very serious offences of child sexual imagery, why have they not brought it forward? I don't know if he [Mr Burns-Williamson] withheld evidence, but given that it took so long to disclose this evidence, it does seem suspicious."

"I think it was within a secure safe within the police authority,” PCC Burns-Williamson explained. “That transferred over to the Police and Crime Commissioner's office but, certainly, I was not aware that it existed. Subsequently some images have been found on there, much later on, of course, and I can only assume he [Taggart] knew full well that was the case, and that's why he asked for it to be stored. 

“Of course, I'm sorry and I absolutely regret the fact that this hard drive existed and wasn't discovered until 2017. As soon as the member of staff recalled that something had been stored, West Yorkshire Police were immediately notified. I was notified on the same day, and I was as shocked as anyone that that was the case. It's embarrassing, yes. There have been errors made, so, yes, I absolutely do apologise for that."

Nazir Afzal, former Chief Crown Prosecutor for the North West of England and former Association of Police and Crime Commissioners chief executive called the PCC’s ignorance "staggering".

"This particular individual was extraordinarily high profile. He was the head of the [police] authority,” Mr Afzal commented. "They had that material apparently in the office from 2003, going back 14 years, before the sentencing hearing. Why suddenly did they think it was relevant to bring it forward two days after he pleaded guilty?

"We're talking about serious criminal material. The abuse of children, digital or video, is the abuse of children. It's not an image. It's a child being abused in real time. If that material is sat somewhere for the best part of 14 years questions need to be asked."

West Yorkshire Police said its Victim Identification Officer had assessed the images on the drive and been unable to identify the children involved.

Neil Taggart died last December.