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McGrail Inquiry to hold preliminary hearing in June

The Garrison Library, where the McGrail Inquiry is scheduled to start in March. Photo by Johnny Bugeja

The public inquiry into the controversial early retirement of former Commissioner of Police Ian McGrail will hold a preliminary hearing in June.

In announcing the date, the Inquiry said it was conscious of the need to complete its work “as soon as is practically possible” and “avoid unnecessary delays.”

The two-day hearing will take place at the Garrison Library on June 22 and 23, starting at 10am, and an agenda will be published shortly.

The preliminary hearing will deal with procedural and administrative matters and will also establish directions to progress the Inquiry.

The development comes after the chairman of the Inquiry, Sir Peter Openshaw, a retired UK High Court judge of the Queen’s Bench Division in England and Wales, paid a familiarisation visit to Gibraltar earlier this month.

During the familiarisation visit, he took the oath before a Justice of the Peace under the Commissions of Inquiry Act and held meetings with lawyers and the solicitor to the Inquiry, who will assist Sir Peter in his work.

The Inquiry was set up by Vice Admiral Sir David Steel, the Governor of
Gibraltar, for the Government of Gibraltar and at the request of the Chief Minister on February 4, 2022.

Sir Peter was appointed to head it and was tasked with inquiring “… as he shall in his absolute discretion consider appropriate, into the reasons and circumstances leading to Mr Ian McGrail ceasing to be Commissioner of Police in June 2020 by taking early retirement.”

“The Commissioner [of the inquiry, meaning Sir Peter Openshaw] is to ascertain the facts and report to the Government on the above matters.”

“Save as the Commissioner [of the inquiry] may in his discretion determine, the Inquiry is to be held in public at a venue, and to commence on a date, to be specified by the Government by notice in the Gazette.”

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

At the time, the Gibraltar Parliament was told that the Gibraltar Police Authority, having first obtained agreement from both the then Governor, Nick Pyle, and from the Chief Minister, had invited Mr McGrail to take early retirement. No reasons were given, however.

After he stepped down, 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.

In July that same year, Mr Picardo said that the government did not see 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.

The GSD has raised serious concerns about this issue on numerous occasions since, insisting it was in the interests of democracy that there be clarity as to why Mr McGrail left his post just two years into the job.

The Inquiry has appointed Stephen Catania, of Attias & Levy, as its solicitor. He will be assisted by Sunil Chandiramani and Jemma Emmerson.

Maurice Turnock has been appointed as secretary to the Inquiry.

Mr Catania and his team are currently involved in drafting procedures and gathering and reviewing evidence.

As solicitor to the Inquiry, Mr Catania will also manage the process of taking statements and liaise with participants and their legal representatives.

Over recent weeks, the inquiry has sent out letters of request to parties seeking information and documents relevant to its terms of reference, a process that is ongoing.

“While the requests have resulted in statements and exhibits being lodged with the Inquiry, for which the Commissioner [Sir Peter Openshaw] is grateful, he considers that a preliminary hearing is now required to deal with procedural and administrative matters and to put in place directions to progress the Inquiry,” the Inquiry said in a statement on Thursday, as it announced the dates for the first session.

“The Commissioner [Sir Peter Openshaw] expects that further hearings will be necessary over the coming months.”

“The Inquiry is conscious of the need to complete its work as soon as is practically possible and will continue to do all it can to avoid unnecessary delays.”

“However, the timetable for completing its work inevitably depends to a significant extent on the information and documents provided by potential witnesses, which will have an impact on the time required to prepare for and complete the main hearing.”

The Inquiry will soon launch a website to keep the public informed of news relating to its work, forthcoming hearings and other information.

It recently issued a “Protocol relating to Legal Representation at Public Expense” and expects to publish this on the website once it is live.

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