Payouts to legal fund of shamed top police set for axe

New North Yorkshire police commissioner Julia Mulligan.
New North Yorkshire police commissioner Julia Mulligan.
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TWO of Yorkshire’s new police commissioners have called a halt to the controversial public funding of chief police officers’ personal legal expenses, the Yorkshire Post can reveal.

The commissioners for the North and West Yorkshire forces – whose chief constables have had access to hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal fees to defend misconduct cases – have both decided taxpayer funding of the chief officers’ unofficial ‘trade union’ will now end.

Cleveland’s commissioner is also halting the public funding which was used by former chief constable, Sean Price, to defend disciplinary action for gross misconduct before he became the first chief to be sacked in 35 years last October.

It has previously been revealed taxpayers are providing up to £750,000 a year nationwide to a personal legal insurance fund for the country’s most senior police officers which has been described as a “war chest” to defend gross misconduct cases. The money is paid to the Chief Police Officers’ Staff Association (CPOSA), with the public also funding CPOSA subscription fees on behalf of many chief officers – despite their annual salaries being among the highest in the public sector.

But the recently elected commissioners for North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Cleveland have now said that the new chief constables all three are in the process of appointing will no longer receive taxpayers’ money to pay their CPOSA fees.

North Yorkshire commissioner Julia Mulligan said: “I am certain the public would not wish to see their council taxes used to fund private subscriptions to what is in effect a trade union. It is usual practice for people who join a trade union do so in a private capacity and to fund it privately. I see no reason why senior police officers should be any different.

“What’s more, in the past such payments have been used by chief officers to provide a ‘war chest’ with which to fight disciplinary proceedings. This means that the taxpayer has in effect helped fund both the prosecution and defence of disciplinary proceedings. However, if the new Chief Constable wishes to pay such subscriptions privately from his or her own means then that is their own decision.”

The former North Yorkshire Police Authority, which – along with authorities up and down the country – was replaced by the police commissioner regime in November, was the first to recognise the financial muscle the CPOSA funding was providing to already highly-paid public officials.

Former chief constable Grahame Maxwell ran up a £250,000 legal bill when defending gross misconduct proceedings as North Yorkshire chief, before admitting the charge on the eve of a disciplinary hearing in May 2011. The police authority ran up its own costs bill of more than £200,000 – around £180,000 of which it estimated would have been saved had Mr Maxwell admitted his wrongdoing at the first opportunity.

The costs surrounding the Maxwell case prompted a Yorkshire Post investigation which last year revealed police authorities were paying £2,197 in legal fund contributions for each of CPOSA’s 350 members who are made up of assistant, deputy and chief constables plus some senior civilian officials. The police authority contributions were found to have nearly doubled in 2012-13, largely thanks to the costs run up by Mr Maxwell’s case.

In addition, many authorities –including all four Yorkshire forces and Cleveland – were paying each chief officer’s individual £275 CPOSA annual membership fee.

The issue has been thrown into sharper focus by a marked increase in the number of chief officers facing disciplinary or criminal investigations.

Former Cleveland chief Sean Price was able to use the fund to defend a gross misconduct case including launching a judicial review to try to stop his disciplinary hearing going ahead.

West Yorkshire’s former chief, Sir Norman Bettison, has the same access to the CPOSA fund to defend misconduct allegations and potentially any criminal prosecution against him arising out of allegations surrounding his role as a South Yorkshire officer in the aftermath of the Hillsborough Disaster. Sir Norman, who resigned as West Yorkshire chief in October amid the fallout from the Hillsborough Independent Panel report, denies wrongdoing.

West Yorkshire Police Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson, said: “The package for the new chief constable will not include the payment of CPOSA fees. In relation to the other chief officer ranks, this will be a matter for the chief constable in consultation with the commissioner, who ultimately provides the budget to the chief.”

A spokesman for Cleveland commissioner Barry Coppinger said: “During the recruitment process for the new Chief Constable it has been made clear that the remuneration package does not include subscription and fees for CPOSA.”

Terms for deputy and assistant chief constables are decided by chief constables. However, it is understood commissioners are expecting chief constables to end CPOSA payments.

A spokesman for Humberside commissioner Michael Grove, who is recruiting a new chief constable, said the CPOSA payments were under review. His decision carries extra resonance as Humberside’s deputy chief constable, David Griffin, is CPOSA’s vice-chairman and co-ordinates the Panel of Friends which supports chief officers facing misconduct claims.

Mr Griffin said: “CPOSA will not be commenting on individual contract arrangements.”

A spokesman for South Yorkshire commissioner, Shaun Wright, who is the only Yorkshire commissioner not in the process of appointing a new chief constable, said the payments were similarly under review.

A Home Office spokesman said its regulations on pay and allowances did not require police authorities or police commissioners to pay for this insurance.

He said the Home Office had written to the Association of Police Authority Chief Executives last autumn clarifying the legal framework for payments to chief officers.