He rose through the ranks at a speed which astonished his peers, but his reputation came crashing down during two of GMP's most shaming episodes.

Steve Heywood was the senior police officer who came to symbolise the shocking GMP failures exposed by the fatal shooting of Anthony Grainger and the Rochdale sex grooming scandal.

Today he might be forgiven for not celebrating a hollow victory against his former employer which he claimed to have served with distinction for 28 years until March 7, 2017.

This was the day he had been forced to make a cringing apology to the judge in the Anthony Grainger public inquiry.

Anthony Grainger was shot dead by a police marksman

The assistant chief constable had previously given two days of evidence in which the QC for the inquiry had teased from him that details he had included on his 'contemporaneous' log he could not have known at the time, appearing to retrospectively justify his decision to authorise an armed swoop.

The same swoop which ended in a police marksman shooting dead Anthony Grainger in Culchech, near Warrington, in March 2012, one of the darkest days in GMP's history.

“I apologise unreservedly, sir, if I have given the impression of being unhelpful or, even worse, misleading. I have got an unblemished 28-year police career, sir, and I would never knowingly mislead a court of inquiry," Heywood told the inquiry chairman, Mr Justice Teague, when he was called back to give evidence for a third day.

But mislead the inquiry he did.

Steve Heywood

He left Liverpool Crown Court, where the inquiry was held, and never returned to work. He went off sick and was allowed to retire in October 2018, having trousered £250k in wages and pension contributions while he was away.

Five years earlier - in May 2012, just a few months after the shooting of Grainger - he had stood on the steps of the same court and ludicrously trumpeted a 'fantastic result for British justice' after nine Asian men were convicted of abusing five young white girls, sharing them with other abusers at sex parties across the north.

The vulnerable main victim had not been believed by police initially - the authorities believed she and other victims were making lifestyle choices rather than being victims of horrific crimes. More abuse happened until the investigation was resurrected.

Members of the Rochdale grooming gang

Fast-forward five years, and Steve Heywood - then an assistant chief constable in the north west counter terrorism unit - was again making a dart from Liverpool Crown Court, although he was making no public pronouncements on this occasion. He went home in shame and never went back to work following his excruciating apology to the Grainger inquiry.

Soon, he was facing a criminal investigation into the dodgy evidence he had given the inquiry although the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to charge him in November 2018.

He had quietly been allowed to retire, with his pension intact, the month before the CPS decision, taking advantage of a change in the rules which had prevented officers leaving while under investigation.

But, although he was gone, he was still facing a gross misconduct hearing being brought by his former employers GMP over the dodgy evidence he had given to the Anthony Grainger Public Inquiry. He couldn't be sacked, of course, as he had retired, but the pending disciplinary hearing could make a finding against him and bar him from returning to policing.

He was no longer facing criminal charges but there was a prospect that insult could be added to injury.

Not for the first time in the Grainger debacle, GMP didn't cover itself in glory and utterly failed over the subsequent 18 months to bring an adequate case against Heywood.

The force tried and failed to adjourn the hearing and, in the face of accusations from Heywood's QC that it was presiding over an 'omnishambles', it was forced to withdraw from the case, offering no evidence today (Tuesday) on the second day of a hearing which was mired in legal argument.

The collapse centred on covert intelligence gathered by the police investigation into Anthony Grainger, who police suspected was about to commit an armed robbery at a supermarket in Culcheth with two other men who were in his car when the armed cops intervened.

The precise nature of this intelligence has never been revealed but Heywood's legal team, in a written argument it put before this week's hearing, suggested the bar related to 'intercepted communication'. UK law enforcement agencies have the ability to intercept communications but it is not admissible in court as, it is argued, this could alert criminals to the tactics and methods used.

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Heywood's QC said GMP had broken the rules with such a long delay in bringing the case. He argued his client could not defend himself without being able refer to this secret intelligence - ironically the same argument former Chief Constable Sir Peter Fahy used to get a previous Grainger-related prosecution thrown out of court, this one alleging health and safety breaches in connection with the shooting.

The exasperated chair of the disciplinary panel, Nahied Asjad, slammed GMP for 'delays and procedural errors' as the case against Heywood collapsed.

“Public confidence in the police force can be undermined if the proceedings themselves are so flawed by delay and bad decision making that ultimately they lead to charges being dismissed,” she said.

The thorny question of this secret intelligence had been known since Sir Peter challenged the case against him in December 2014 but GMP simply hadn't resolved it by the time Heywood's hearing came around. In any case, Heywood's defence argued the law would not allow information which was discussed in secret session during the public inquiry to be revealed to the disciplinary hearing.

Sir Peter Fahy

The ruling was more proof that in the fatal shooting of Anthony Grainger there were no winners: certainly not Grainger himself, not GMP and not Steve Heywood, only losers and gradations of failure.

Mr Heywood was in charge of the hunt for Dale Cregan, then wanted for the murder of two gangland rivals, in September in 2012 when the one-eyed killer shot dead two female police officers in September 2012. He fronted up media appeals pleading with Cregan to hand himself - he did but only after he gunned down the two officers and threw a grenade onto their injured bodies.

The retired officers's QC told his disciplinary hearing this episode 'had a profound impact upon Mr Heywood's personal life and career'.

Following Cregan's lifetime sentence, he was said to have threatened revenge against the high-profile officer. GMP took the unusual step of buying Heywood's then home from him but reportedly didn't inform the subsequent owners of the threat.

Mr Grainger was shot in the chest by a police marksman known as Q9

"We apologise unreservedly for the errors which were made, in particular to the family and partner of Anthony Grainger and to all other involved parties," Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling said in a statement following the collapse of the disciplinary case.

The 345-page inquiry report published last year found that the shooting of Anthony Grainger was not unlawful and stopped short of recommending any further action to be taken against any of the police officers involved.

But it detailed how the operation was based on intelligence which contained 'serious inaccuracies, presenting a distorted and in some respects exaggerated picture of the threat Mr Grainger presented'.

The stolen red Audi in which Anthony Grainger was shot dead and the silver police Audi from which he was shot

The police marksman who shot him dead, known only as Q9, learned last month that he would not face disciplinary action as the police watchdog found he had acted 'honestly' on the flawed intelligence he was handed.

The collapsed disciplinary hearing was told Mr Heywood's firearms log contained inaccurate information about Mr Grainger's previous convictions.

Senior GMP insiders have told the M.E.N. they were amazed at Mr Heywood's ascent, one saying it he was 'promoted beyond his abilities'.

However, he was viewed by top brass as loyal and reliable blunt instrument who would always defend GMP, even though he was known to some by the unkind nickname 'cabbage head'.

Gail and Anthony Grainger

As far as Anthony Grainger's partner is concerned, Mr Heywood has 'got away with it'.

Gail Hadfield-Grainger, 37, from Bolton, told the M.E.N: "This just shows the massive lengths GMP will go to to cover their own backs and not the public interest. For them not to prosecute one of their own like this, it's an embarrassment to GMP. It just feels like the whole system was set up to fail. The police cannot be trusted to police themselves. I don't understand why it's left to GMP to police GMP.

"Hes got away with it. For a high ranking officer like that to act in that way is setting a really bad example to those officers he has been teaching and training. He's not followed the rules. Whilst under oath he's mislead a public inquiry. It wasn't just a case of someone breaking a leg. They shot and killed somebody. It's a death. They killed somebody."

Dale Cregan

IOPC Director of Major Investigations Steve Noonan said in a statement: "We are disappointed that, two years after our investigation concluded, Greater Manchester Police (GMP) has decided to offer no evidence in this matter.

“Anthony Grainger’s family, and the wider public, deserved to hear the evidence and Mr Heywood account for his actions.

“We acted quickly and decisively to examine Mr Heywood’s conduct once it was brought into question during the Anthony Grainger Public Inquiry in 2017. In May 2018, after our seven month investigation, we concluded he should face a public hearing to answer allegations that the evidence he provided to the Inquiry may have breached police professional standards relating to honesty and integrity and performance of duties. GMP agreed with our findings."

“Today’s developments mean that there can be no ruling from the police panel, as to whether or not Mr Heywood committed gross misconduct to a degree that would have justified dismissal, were he still serving.

“Three new investigations stemming from evidence given at the Anthony Grainger Public Inquiry, which reported its findings in July 2019, began earlier this year, and we will continue to work hard to ensure those allegations are thoroughly examined, that actions are accountable and lessons learned.”