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GSD presses for progress on McGrail inquiry

Archive image of former Commissioner of Police Ian McGrail.

The GSD has called on the Gibraltar Government to push ahead with the public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the early retirement of former Commissioner of Police Ian McGrail, questioning the reasons for the delay.

Opposition Leader Keith Azopardi said the inquiry was in the interests of “transparency, good governance and our democratic checks and balances”, adding the GSD would not stop pressing for it.

Mr McGrail retired from the RGP early in June 2020, stepping down as Commissioner after a 36-year career and half-way through his term in the top post at the Royal Gibraltar Police, raising questions as to the reasons for the sudden decision.

Against the backdrop of wide speculation in the community, the Gibraltar Parliament was later told that Mr McGrail had been invited by the then Governor, Nick Pyle, and by Chief Minister Fabian Picardo to retire early.

No reasons were given for the decision, although in explanations to Parliament the Chief Minister referred to the collision earlier that year between an RGP vessel and a suspect speed boat, in which two Spanish nationals died and another two men were injured.

By July, Mr Picardo announced plans for a public inquiry that he said would put an end to “rumour and tittle-tattle” about what had transpired behind the scenes in the lead-up to Mr McGrail’s premature retirement.

He said it would take “some weeks” to set up.

The inquiry was announced after Mr McGrail issued a statement through his lawyer, Charles Gomez, and said that, without an independent judicial inquiry, there was “a real risk” to Gibraltar’s reputation as a parliamentary democracy under the rule of law.

“The standing and reputation of our dear Gibraltar requires it,” Mr McGrail said in the statement.

Mr Picardo replied at the time that the government did not believe there was a need for an inquiry but that Mr McGrail’s suggestion that Gibraltar’s reputation could be “tarnished” without one left it no other option.

He said the actions and decisions of the Gibraltar Police Authority, the then Governor and the Chief Minister himself had been “entirely proper and based on the legal advice received”, adding they would “stand the test of scrutiny”.

The Gibraltar Government had indicated its intention to move quickly to decide the parameters of the inquiry under the Commissions of Inquiry Act and appoint its head, who will be a UK High Court judge or a more senior member of the judiciary.

But while a UK judge willing to take on the inquiry has been identified, that person has not yet been formally appointed to the role and there is no date yet fixed for the inquiry to commence.

“Why is there such a delay?” asked Keith Azopardi, the Leader of the Opposition, in a statement issued on Tuesday.

“Who benefits from such a delay?”

“The retirement of such a senior office holder holding a key role independent of ministers in the circumstances that were widely reported at the time raised massive questions when it happened in June last year.”

“Those questions have not gone away and will not be buried.”

“The public inquiry should be convened without delay. We will not stop pressing for it.”

“It is in the interests of transparency, good governance and our democratic checks and balances for the truth to come out in the public interest and for the circumstances to be independently assessed.”

“I call on the Chief Minister to do what he said he would in July and appoint the inquiry without further delay.”

Mr Picardo had, in fact, already explained the reasons for the delay and the progress toward the inquiry in response to questions from Mr Azopardi during a parliamentary session last March.

Mr Picardo said the government had appointed Sir Peter Caruana, QC, as its counsel for the inquiry and had liaised with Mr McGrail's representatives during the summer of 2020 in order to progress arrangements.

But the pressures of the Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic meant the process of establishing the parameters of the inquiry and appointing its chairman, in common with much of government business, “had stopped dead”.

“It is true that we were not able to resolve this within a few weeks as we wanted to, which would have been my desired course of action,” he told Mr Azopardi at the time.

Mr Picardo added that the government would seek to progress the matter “as soon as possible”.

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