24 Mar, 2024 @ 14:00
5 mins read

OPINION: Are the games finally over? Gibraltar’s McGrail corruption inquiry set to go ahead next month after two years of delays

THE various machinations, manoeuvring and chess moves that have dogged the McGrail inquiry since it was announced in February 2022 may be entering their end game.

The checkmate seems to be the passing of new public inquiries legislation, which the government claims will put the hearing on a surer footing.

However the critics were quick to point out that it would also damage the McGrail inquiry’s independence by granting the government greater powers to interfere.

The inquiry will look into the circumstances surrounding the early retirement of former Police Commissioner Ian McGrail, who alleged that the Chief Minister himself pressured him out of the job.

Thus, new legislation that gives the Chief Minister the power to delay or shut down an inquiry into his own conduct is a clear conflict of interest. 

Fabian Picardo
Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo

Why else go to the bizarre lengths to rush the new law through Parliament before the hearing starts on April 8?

But there is another side of the coin. 

If the government is going to be subjected to a fully independent inquiry into its own conduct, it stands to reason that it wants the most effective and efficient legislation underpinning it.

What through one prism looks like the fingerprints of a flagrant cover up, from another may just be a reasonable move to ensure the inquiry can properly do its job.

The government has stated that it will ‘confirm on the record in Parliament’ that it has no intentions to abuse its newfound powers with regards to the inquiry.

Should it do this, it would go some way to showing good faith in an endeavour that has continually been undermined by developments that have seemed distinctly bad faith.

These include trumped up sexual assault charges against McGrail, as well as a criminal investigation into whether RGP officers were bribed into testifying against him.

Let’s hope the games are over and the inquiry will finally be able to get to the bottom of the McGrail case ‘without fear of favour’, as they say. 

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Government hits back as Transparency International calls for controversial new bill to add anti-interference clause as the McGrail inquiry looms

THE government of Gibraltar is facing calls to include guarantees in the upcoming public inquiry bill to ensure it cannot be used to interfere in the McGrail inquiry.

Transparency International UK has sounded the alarm over the new bill, which will effectively hand the government powers to delay or even shut down public inquiries. 

It is set to be controversially rushed through Parliament on Friday – bypassing the usual mandatory six-week debate – and pointedly less than a month before the McGrail inquiry begins.

The anti-corruption watchdog likened the move to ‘moving the goalposts and appointing yourself referee when you’ve just been cautioned for foul play.’

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo hit back, asserting that the new legislation will be ‘more agile and modern’, before adding he has ‘no intention of using it to stop the inquiry’. 

The much-delayed investigation is looking into whether Picardo placed inappropriate pressure on former Police Commissioner Ian McGrail, 58, or interfered in police investigations before the latter’s shock retirement in June 2020.

Transparency International also questioned the timing of the new legislation, coming just three weeks before the inquiry begins on April 8.

Ian Mcgrail Rgp
Former Royal Gibraltar Police Commissioner Ian McGrail

“Given what’s at stake for the government and some leading figures, it’s understandable why some people are less than trusting of the government simply giving their ‘word’ they won’t use these new powers to interfere,” said Steve Goodrich, Transparency International Head of Research and Investigations.

Speaking exclusively to the Olive Press, he continued: “It should be relatively straightforward for the government to offer cast iron guarantees in the legislation that they will not and cannot interfere in the inquiry’s terms of reference, pace, or when it ends.”

He also claimed there had been no ‘cogent argument’ for the need to update the old legislation and rush it through now.

“It’s clear that this move is at least intended to intimidate the [McGrail] inquiry and possibly seek to fetter its independence,” Goodrich continued.

“The ones bringing forward the bill and those who’ll stand to benefit are the same people who are going to be grilled by the inquiry.

“Under the current legislation it is the chair of the inquiry [retired British judge Sir Peter Openshaw] who has most of the discretion in how it proceeds.

“But under the new law, the very people being questioned would have much more of an ability to influence the inquiry. So there is quite clearly a conflict of interest.”

The Overseas Territory has argued that the new bill will modernise the existing Gibraltar Commissions of Inquiries Act, which dates back to 1888.

They also claim that it will be a direct copy of the more modern UK Inquiries Act, which dates from 2005.

“I’m not bringing to Gibraltar Vladimir Putin’s inquiries law,” Picardo told GBC News.

“I’m bringing in the most progressive and modern inquiries law there is in the United Kingdom.

“Not in order to have the power to be able to stop the inquiry, but in order to give the inquiry the agility and the modernity that it would have if it was being held in the UK.”

He pointed out that it was the same legislation that underpinned the UK’s Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war and the ongoing Covid inquiry.

The opposition Gibraltar Social Democrats called on the government to abandon their plans to pass the bill before the ‘McGrail Inquiry concludes its work’.

“The Chief Minister, Government and Office of the Governor are all deeply conflicted here,” the opposition ruled in a statement.

“There should be no step taken that looks as if any of those deeply conflicted parties are seeking to affect the Inquiry process.”

When contacted by the Olive Press, the government directed this newspaper to a press release which reiterated that it will ‘confirm on the record in Parliament that it has no intention to and will not seek to exercise the power to suspend or cancel the McGrail Inquiry or to otherwise affect its ability to fully and properly inquire into the reasons for the former Commissioner of Police’s early retirement.’

With this declaration, it looks like the inquiry is finally set to take place nearly a full four years after McGrail claimed he was forced from his job amid ‘misconduct and corruption at the highest level of government’.

The former commissioner announced he was retiring as Commissioner of Police after serving just two years of a four-year term without revealing his reasons behind the move at the time.

The Olive Press is aware of the allegations but will await the inquiry before publishing them.

The government went on to claim the former commissioner resigned because he had lost Picardo’s confidence and that of the then-Governor of Gibraltar, Nick Pyle.

The decision to retire early after 36 years with the Royal Gibraltar Police provoked fierce speculation and questions in parliament, with McGrail himself calling for the matter to be properly investigated.

An inquiry was set up at the request of the Chief Minister in February 2022, but it has since been dogged by a constant stream of delays and controversies, including Covid, a March 2023 data leak and ‘logistical problems’ in finding an appropriate judge.

In a further shock twist, McGrail was arrested for sexual assault in April 2023, but later cleared of all charges.

The inquiry’s most recent September 2023 start date was delayed once again over a criminal investigation into whether former and current police officers who testified against McGrail had received inducements.

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