TAXPAYERS are providing three quarters of a million pounds to pay for the personal legal expenses of the country’s most senior police officers – including those involved in highly-costly misconduct cases, the Yorkshire Post can reveal today.
In addition, tens of thousands more from the public purse is being spent on subscription fees for the chief police officers’ unofficial “trade union” even though its members are among the country’s highest-paid public officials.
In all, since it was formed in 1995, the Chief Police Officers Staff Association (CPOSA) has received millions of pounds in taxpayer funding yet it does not publish publicly available accounts.
Although the money has been paid over by publicly-accountable police authorities, those contacted in Yorkshire acknowledged they had never seen CPOSA’s accounts.
The revelations follow an investigation into the funding of CPOSA, which represents the interests of senior officers in every force across the country.
A Yorkshire MP who has been pressing for greater accountability over funding arrangements for chief officers described the findings as “staggering”, while police authorities have begun an investigation into the payments.
Skipton and Ripon Tory MP Julian Smith added: “What is even more alarming is the total lack of accountability and transparency about how this money is spent.”
In the current financial year, the public is paying £2,197 for CPOSA’s legal insurance policy for each of its 350 members who are made up of every officer from assistant chief constable upwards in each force, plus some senior civilian officials.
As well as more than £750,000 for legal fees, many police authorities – including all four in Yorkshire – are also paying the £275 individual subscription on behalf of each CPOSA member in their ranks.
Mr Smith said: “CPOSA is essentially the unofficial trade union of the country’s top police officers. I simply do not understand why they should not fund their membership from their own salaries as police officers of other ranks do.
“Taxpayers will also want to know exactly how much public money goes into CPOSA, what it is spent on and how much has been received from police authorities to this cosy club over the past 10 years.”
North Yorkshire Police Authority (NYPA) said the payments presented chief officers with a “war chest” to defend disciplinary action.
The amount charged to the public for personal legal cover has nearly doubled in 2012/13 after North Yorkshire chief constable Grahame Maxwell ran up a bill of around £250,000 before admitting gross misconduct last year.
In 2011/12, CPOSA charged £1,130 for each chief officer’s personal cover for what was understood to be a maximum spend of £250,000 for an individual case. CPOSA has now upped the fee to £2,197 and although it will not comment on the cover now available it is thought it extends to a maximum of £500,000.
NYPA chief executive Jeremy Holderness acknowledged it had not been appreciated the legal cover extended to defending misconduct claims.
He said: “Only as a result of the misconduct issues recently did the Authority discover that this also provided chief officers with a ‘war chest’ with which to defend disciplinary proceedings brought by their own police authority.
“The view of the authority is that it is unacceptable for the taxpayer to pay for legal costs incurred by public sector individuals in fighting disciplinary action brought by their employer.
Mr Smith said it was “a joke to have had taxpayers footing the bill for lawyers working both for and against North Yorkshire’s former chief constable.”
But CPOSA vice president David Griffin, Humberside’s deputy chief constable, said the organisation had received the payments since it was formed 17 years ago.
Asked about the increase in cost this year, he said: “The increase is a reflection of the general significant increase in the cost of providing professional indemnity insurance and a review of claims history over the past three years. The North Yorkshire case is included here.”
Mr Griffin also defended the principle of the public paying for personal legal costs, although he acknowledged that all police officers are already separately entitled to claim support from their police authority on a case-by-case basis.
“Chief police officers undertake roles that frequently expose them to risk of litigation or quasi-judicial proceedings by the nature of their role.
“This is recognised by police authorities in the provision of this cover.”