Danny Major always wanted to be a police officer – just like his father Eric. ‘Dad was a police officer for 32 years,’ Major says. ‘Like any child, you see what your parents are doing and you want to be like them.’
PC Danny Major’s six-year career in the force came to an end in 2006 when he was found guilty of assaulting a drunken teenager in custody, sacked and jailed. Major, who was a uniformed patrol police officer in Leeds, has always denied any involvement in the assault that left a drunken 18-year old badly beaten one night in September 2003.
The week before Christmas a report arrived at West Yorkshire Police which, the family hopes, will finally clear Danny’s name. They also believe it will expose a shocking cover-up. Almost three years have passed since the neighbouring force, Greater Manchester Police began its investigation – Operation Lamp – into what happened that night. It was tasked with looking into an ‘alleged conspiracy to pervert the course of justice’ by the officers who gave evidence against Major.
West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson commissioned the review. In a statement issued to www.thejusticegap.com, Burns-Williamson acknowledged how difficult it had been for the Major family. ‘I know they are frustrated at the length of time it has taken to compile this report but it was vital that the investigating team left no stone unturned,’ he said.
Burns-Williamson said he would take some time to review the report. But he went on to say:
‘The evidence supports the premise that there may have been a miscarriage of justice and that there is sufficient “fresh evidence” to support the case being referred back to the Criminal Case Review Commission.’
This miscarriage of justice watchdog has confirmed it has received a copy of the report. The investigation raises a serious question over the competence of a review by the CCRC which refused to refer the case back to the Court of Appeal. In May 2014, BBC Radio 4’s File on Four asked the CCRC’s chair Richard Foster why the body had not commissioned a police force to investigate the powers. ‘I stand by that judgement and if that investigation turns up anything new and it’s put to us, we would of course look at it,’ Foster said.
‘This is obviously an important development in this long running case which has previously been looked into by a number of agencies,’ Burns-Williamson said. ‘It is important that no one now rushes to judgement and that any legal proceedings resulting from this be allowed to run their course.’
Danny Major spoke to the Justice Gap the week before the Operation Lamp report was sent to West Yorkshire police.
As for the future, Major hopes to go back to the old job. ‘I would certainly return to policing,’ he says. ‘I’m not sure whether I would trust West Yorkshire police as an employer given what they have done to me already.’
An unorganized rabble
PC Danny Major arrested the 18-year old Sean Rimmington following a fracas in the early hours at Millgarth police station in Leeds. During attempts to make the arrest, Rimmington punched Major twice in the face and, it was claimed, the officer lost his temper.
Danny Major was found guilty in 2006, a first trial collapsed when the jury failed to reach a verdict. He was convicted of assault relating to punches thrown outside the Bridewell custody suite, as well as an assault in the police cell. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison, and served four.
Major says the experience had been devastating for him and his family.
‘It has been all consuming. I still wake up in the night thinking about it. I am very determined to clear my name. I will not ever stop. In fact, everything that I worked so hard for is based upon me clearing my name.’
Danny Major has always claimed that he was the innocent victim of a major cover-up. ‘I can take one corrupt police officer – you expect good and bad anywhere – but not a corrupt police force,’ his mother Bernadette told me.
At the trial, Judge Roger Scott called the Leeds police were a ‘shambles’ and said that the station was ‘not fit for purpose’.
‘We saw an unorganised, unsupervised rabble. In my view, it requires further investigation and possible charges against a large number of officers.’
Judge Roger Scott at Bradford Crown Court
Despite everything, Major was confident that Greater Manchester Police would deliver. He reckons that he was ‘eliminated from inquiries’ as a suspect as long as two and a half year ago.
‘A lot of the main players at the top of West Yorkshire Police have gone,’ he says. ‘There are a lot of people trying to make a name for themselves coming through by taking on their predecessors. It could be a case of old-fashioned patricide.’
The fact that such an incident could ever have taken place and gone unrecorded was always astonishing. Despite efforts to get hold of CCTV footage of the Bridewell station on the night, it was only during the course of the last week of the second trial – after the main prosecution witnesses had given evidence – that 13 hours of recording came to light. Major reckons that footage contradicted the evidence of the officer who implicated Major – see Channel 4 News.
‘There were so many cameras in the Bridewell,’ Danny Major recalls. ‘All on the same system but, apparently, none were working. Five tape machines should’ve been running, but only two tapes were ever seized – all the others were broken or not recording.’ According to Major, an alarm would sound when the tapes needed changing. ‘It was not possible not to have the tapes recording. The system was set up for that not to happen,’ he says. ‘It’s quite clear what was happening.’
What can he remember of the night in question? ‘It was all down to laziness, and no particular vice,’ he replies. ‘The work was way below the standard be expected anywhere, never mind a custody suite. People die in custody suites. Looking back on what was going on, I’m surprised that people were not dying on a weekly basis.’
Any why did he end up the fall guy? ‘I think when they decided to stitch me up they thought he [Rimmington] was going to die. When it turned out his injuries had not been so severe they had no other option but to run with it.’
‘I wanted to do my bit’
Major, who has a degree in microbiology from Huddersfield University, had no illusions about the realities of joining the force. He recalls his dad working shifts on Christmas Day. Nor was he oblivious to the dangers of a life in the force. ‘Dad was almost killed during the miners’ strike.’ He was hit by a piece of concrete leaving him with a detached retina, a brain injury and left nearly blind in his left eye. Ironically, his father was briefly a miner before joining the force.
So what did it mean to young Danny Major to be a police officer? ‘I wanted to do my bit for the community,’ he replies. ‘I am very proud that my family has been in Yorkshire for centuries. I saw it as only right that I went out and get myself an education and give back to the community.’
Major – who is married with two children under the age of three – has been working in a call centre since 2008. Major reckons if he had stayed with the police without progressing he would be on £32,500 a year. ‘I am earning just over £19,000,’ he says. ‘People always say: “You did your four months in prison – and it is done and dusted”. But for me, I am still serving a sentence.’
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council's journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year's Criminal Justice Alliance's journalism award