A SACKED chief constable fighting the bid of his former employer Cleveland Police to claim back £500,000 they said he should not have been paid has said he was entitled to it and no longer has the money.
Sean Price, who lives in North Yorkshire, was the first police chief to be sacked in 35 years when Cleveland Police dismissed him in October 2012 for gross misconduct.
The force’s Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger is now suing him for payments the force said he should not have received, as part of a “golden handcuffs” deal over several years to keep him in post in the years before the scandal broke.
A civil claim, expected to last two weeks, will take place in March.
Following a preliminary hearing before Mr Justice Coulson at Newcastle Crown Court, Mr Price told reporters the move was vindictive, that Mr Coppinger had been party to agreeing the payments when he was a member of Cleveland Police Authority, and that the case was a waste of public money.
Police authorities were replaced by PCCs’ offices following elections in 2012.
Outside court, he said: “It is a real irony that Barry Coppinger was one of the people who authorised those payments to me because they wanted me to stay in Cleveland Police, and it is now he that has tried to get the money back.
“I look forward to it. I don’t think it is lawful what they are trying to do, but a court is going to have to hear it.”
He referred to the £5 million cost of Operation Sacristy which looked at allegations of corruption in the force, and led to no-one being prosecuted.
“This feels like vindictiveness, ‘we need to win this whatever it takes’, and I have done nothing wrong.
“I haven’t got the money and this is a further waste of public money.”
Mr Price, who is representing himself in court, claimed the cost to the public so far in legal fees was £50,000.
“Imagine how much a two-week trial is going to cost.”
Mr Price said the payments made to him by Cleveland Police Authority in the mid-2000s were to stop him from switching forces, and he kept his side of the bargain.
“If it transpires they were not lawfully entitled to make those payments, that is their mistake not mine,” he said.
Mr Price was sacked after it was found he lied about helping the police authority’s chairman to get a job with the force.
Outside court, a spokesman for the Cleveland PCC said: “The office of the police and crime commissioner has a corporate responsibility to pursue this case on behalf of the public purse and it would be inappropriate to comment further until the conclusion of the ongoing litigation.”
It was revealed in March that Mr Price would not face criminal charges.
At the time, he said: “I have maintained my innocence in these matters from the outset, and am of course pleased with the decision of the CPS. However, I think it is an absolute disgrace that I have been kept on bail for such a long period without even being spoken to. My extremely high profile arrest ruined my life and my reputation, and it is now clear for all to see that it was completely unnecessary, disproportionate and unlawful.”