THE ability of chief police officers to call on publicly-funded personal legal fees is likely to have a significant impact on a major misconduct and criminal investigation unfolding in Cleveland.
Chief constable Sean Price and his deputy Derek Bonnard have both been suspended since last August after they were arrested on suspicion of fraud, corruption and misconduct in a public office.
Neither has been charged with a criminal offence or been the subject of a disciplinary charge and both deny any wrongdoing.
But it is already nearly 10 months since both were arrested and the potential for a huge legal bill is apparent as Cleveland Police Authority’s own costs approach £2m.
Both officers are able to call on the legal cover paid for by their own police authority to defend themselves.
When North Yorkshire chief constable Grahame Maxwell was charged with gross misconduct it is understood his legal costs reached the £250,000 limit under the Chief Police Officers Staff Association (CPOSA) policy. North Yorkshire Police Authority’s (NYPA) own costs reached £300,000.
CPOSA will not disclose the level of the cover available to officers but the premium per chief officer has nearly doubled from £1,130 to £2.197 in the wake of the Maxwell case and it is believed cover now extends to £500,000.
This has implications for police authorities who know chief officers have potentially very deep pockets to call on if they have to defend themselves against misconduct allegations.
Cleveland Police Authority chairman Stuart Drummond said: “In times when the police are having to make cuts of over 20 per cent to their budget it is of concern that there has been an increase of over 75 per cent in these charges.
“At present, we don’t have full details of this. However, we will be looking into it to ensure that these fees are both appropriate and represent value for money.”
In the Maxwell case, NYPA criticised their chief constable for not admitting gross misconduct until the day his disciplinary hearing started in May last year.
In a statement issued after Mr Maxwell admitted the charge, which related to unfairly helping a relative in a recruitment drive, NYPA said: “It is perhaps regrettable that Mr Maxwell did not admit his guilt late last year.
“He could have avoided organisational and personal turmoil and unnecessary cost to the council tax payer. Instead, Mr Maxwell has sought, over the last six months, to avoid being held to account for his actions by pursuing spurious legal remedies and unsustainable arguments in his defence.”
David Griffin, vice president of CPOSA, said: “It is correct that cover for misconduct allegations is provided as part of the policy but we would stress that the fact that a misconduct investigation is instigated is not an indication of guilt on the part of the chief officer under investigation and it is reasonable that as part of the employment contract that they have professional indemnity insurance provided.”