But just 14 months after walking through the door for his first day at the county force’s headquarters in Wakefield, Belfast-born Mark Gilmore’s time as Yorkshire’s most senior police officer came to an abrupt end.
In June 2014, West Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson, who chose him for the job over three other candidates, announced that he’d been suspended on full pay over alleged “criminal activity during his time in Northern Ireland”.
He would never return to his circa-£170,000-a-year job, though he did not formally leave policing and continued being paid until his retirement last August.
The nature of the investigation that prompted his suspension, and the reason for his continued absence when it was lifted less than a year later, have remained largely mysterious ever since.
But documents filed by Mr Gilmore and Mr Burns-Williamson at the High Court, obtained by The Yorkshire Post, can finally shed light on a saga that has so far cost taxpayers nearly £700,000 and sparked a legal case against police in the former Chief Constable’s native Northern Ireland.
The criminal probe carried out by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, where Mr Gilmore has a family home, centred on alleged bribery and misconduct in public office and relates to vehicle contracts between the force and Donnelly Motor Group (DMG) worth £14m.
Among the suspects was Mr Gilmore, a former PSNI officer himself before moving to West Yorkshire, his close friend and former colleague Duncan McCausland, and Terence Donnelly, the owner of the leading Belfast car supplier. All were later told they would not be prosecuted.
As part of the inquiry into these allegations, which Mr Gilmore said were “misconceived” and had a “devastating impact” on him, he was interviewed under criminal caution over three days and had his house searched, but was not arrested.
The following April, prosecutors announced that he would not face charges, and within a few months all nine people questioned as part of the PSNI probe were told there was no prospect they would be convicted due to a lack of evidence.
But Mr Burns-Williamson, who took delivery of 3,500 documents from the PSNI’s investigation, decided his appointee still had questions to answer over his conduct.
When the Independent Police Complaints Commission declined to look fully into the case, he commissioned Assistant Chief Constable Tim Jacques of Lancashire Police to carry out his own investigation.
The Chief Constable’s suspension was lifted, but he was kept on full pay and allowed to work remotely on an intranet project for the National Police Chiefs Council.
The two main claims against Mr Gilmore, both of which he denied and said were “simply without foundation”, relate to his dealings with DMG.
One was that he had been involved in an ‘inappropriate relationship’ with senior executives or associates of DMG since 2013, and had used this relationship to improperly promote DMG within West Yorkshire Police and the other Yorkshire forces.
Secondly, he was accused of using his relationship with DMG “in a professional capacity to benefit personally by the purchase of a VW Golf” for his son Mark Gilmore Junior.
According to Mr Gilmore’s court papers, he invited a DMG representative to independently review West Yorkshire Police’s vehicle fleet department to measure its approach and performance against industry standards.
He said he made it clear that there could be “no business benefit in this for DMG or anyone else who chose to do it”, and in any case the car supplier operated only in Northern Ireland.
In his response, Mr Burns-Williamson points to sections of the Lancashire Police report which potentially invite a different conclusion.
Though DMG did not operate in England and Wales, it said Terence Donnelly had an interest in another vehicle company which did supply in England.
It added that a new company called Mountcarn, connected with DMG, was developing a concept police vehicle, with a view to supplying it to police forces in the UK.
And according to the report, during a DMG visit to West Yorkshire Police in 2013, police staff said company representatives were “fishing for business” and “providing a sales pitch”.
On the subject of the car purchase, Mr Gilmore said the vehicle had been classified as an “ex-demonstrator” and used for rental, which was part of the reason his wife was able to buy it at a discount.
He said such discounts are routinely given by dealers to members of the public and “there was no sense in which the claimant used his public position to secure a discount”.
The PCC’s legal papers refer to a section of the Lancashire Police report which says the decision to make the new VW Golf, apparently Mr Gilmore’s favoured vehicle, a demonstrator came after a conversation with Terence Donnelly.
It said: “The investigator properly noted that on one view, the deal obtained by the claimant was unique, negotiated at a high level with DMG and with an additional period of time during which the vehicle was insured by DMG.”
In the end, the Lancashire report, handed to Mr Burns-Williamson on July 26, 2016, said Mr Gilmore did have a case to answer over the purchase of the car, and that if gross misconduct was proved at a hearing, dismissal would be justified.
But the investigator’s view was that he did not have a case to answer for misconduct over his allegedly inappropriate relationship with DMG.
Mr Gilmore describes the decision over the car purchase as “irrational”, though the PCC said the investigator was “plainly entitled” to reach the conclusion he did.
Mr Burns-Williamson’s document said: “At the very least, there may not have been clear separation between the claimant’s professional and private dealings with DMG, which gave rise to an obvious risk that public confidence in policing may be undermined.”
And in his legal arguments, Mr Burns-Williamson said that after considering the report he believed the officer had a case to answer on both counts.
He sent a copy of the report to Mr Gilmore on August 2 so he could make representations. According to the PCC, Mr Gilmore said he had concerns about the document, and made it clear he was considering retiring.
He announced his decision to retire on August 8, and the PCC had no power to stop him. Though new regulations were brought in the previous year stopping officers from retiring while facing misconduct allegations, they did not apply in this case as the conduct in question occurred before the change in law.
Mr Gilmore said the PCC was entitled to stop him from retiring. His application to the Administrative Court is based on his claim that the PCC is still obliged to make a decision on whether he has a misconduct case to answer, but has failed to do so.
The crime commissioner said in response that this is ‘disingenuous’. He added: “The claimant wished to retire and did so, taking his full pension.
“He ceased to be a member of the police service and therefore was not, and is not, amenable to statutory police misconduct determinations. That is the effect of retirement which the claimant plainly intended.”
According to the police and crime commissioner’s office, the total cost of the saga so far is £697,830.
Mr Gilmore’s claim for a judicial review is not the only legal case resulting from the Northern Irish investigation. He is making a civil claim against the PSNI, claiming the probe was “negligent” and involved “misfeasance”, or the wrongful use of lawful powers.
At the same time, Mr McCausland, who was arrested as part of the probe, is seeking damages for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment.
In a statement to The Yorkshire Post, Mr Gilmore’s solicitor Ernie Waterworth said the document submitted by the PCC gave “a one-sided and gravely slanted impression”.
He said: “They are disingenuous and selective and do not reflect the forthright and irrefutable standpoint of my client.
“Mr Gilmore has been exonerated of any wrongdoing or any misconduct not once but twice by the IPCC and the Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland.
“He retired from his post as Chief Constable secure in his values and confident that he had always behaved with integrity throughout his 32-year career in policing.
“As the matter is now the subject of a legal process, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time, other than to reinforce our client’s contention that he did nothing wrong.”
Mr Waterworth, who also represents Mr McCausland, said prosecutors had “fully exonerated” his client and all other parties.
A spokesperson for Terence Donnelly said: “Mr Terence Donnelly always maintained that he would be completely exonerated in relation to all allegations arising from the PSNI investigation. Throughout the investigation he consistently denied all allegations of wrongdoing whilst fully co-operating with the PSNI.”
Mr Burns-Williamson said in a statement: “My overriding consideration throughout has always been what is in the best interest of West Yorkshire Police and most importantly the public of West Yorkshire who need a strong and effective police service, keeping them safe and feeling safe.
“I have taken legal advice throughout this period and the actions I have taken I believe to be proportionate and have absolutely been in the best interest of West Yorkshire Police and the communities it serves.
“I am disappointed that six months after he decided to retire that Mr Gilmore has requested a Judicial Review which I will be fighting robustly as his claim is misconceived, out of time and at further cost to the taxpayer.”