Police chief fails in bid to block hearing

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A SUSPENDED chief constable yesterday lost a last-ditch High Court bid to stop a gross misconduct disciplinary hearing going ahead next week.

Cleveland chief Sean Price had asked a High Court judge to halt the disciplinary process on the ground it might prejudice an ongoing criminal investigation into alleged corruption at his force and the Cleveland Police Authority.

But Mr Justice Irwin gave the go-ahead for the hearing which will consider allegations Mr Price used “undue influence” in the appointment of the daughter of former Cleveland Police Authority chairman Dave McLuckie to a clerical role at the force.

The judge said the issues before the disciplinary panel would focus on a narrow area and there was “no real risk” of prejudice to any “subsequent Crown Court proceedings”. The High Court hearing in London was told if there are any subsequent criminal proceedings these would not involve the appointment of Mr McLuckie’s daughter.

For the first time it emerged that the case also includes allegations that Mr Price lied to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) about his involvement in the appointment and also told his personal assistant, Frances Bage, to lie to the IPCC. The disciplinary action was brought by the police authority following an investigation by the IPCC

The court was told the criminal investigation, codenamed Operation Sacristy, is looking into “allegations of a corrupt relationship” between Mr Price and Mr McLuckie.

Mr Price was suspended in August last year after he was arrested at his North Yorkshire home on suspicion of corruption, fraud and misconduct in a public office.

He also faces a further 18 counts of alleged gross misconduct but next week’s hearing focuses on the appointment issue only and no date has been set for the other disciplinary hearings.

If Mr Price loses the first gross misconduct case and is dismissed as a result, no further disciplinary hearings would take place.

The chief constable did not respond to a request to comment but has previously denied any wrongdoing.

An independent panel, chaired by Joanna Greenburg QC, will hear the case and Mr Price yesterday also failed in a bid to alter the make up of its four-strong membership.

Mr Justice Irwin rejected his argument that Cleveland Police Authority member Terry Laing had been briefed by police about allegations the panel would not hear and may be unable to make a fair decision.

The judge said Mr Price must pay the authority’s legal costs, estimated by lawyers to be £40,000, as well as his own, estimated at a much lower £10,000.

Earlier this week, the Yorkshire Post revealed Mr Price’s case was being paid for by a controversial taxpayer-funded legal insurance policy set up by the chief police officers’ unofficial trade union.

The Chief Police Officers’ Staff Association (CPOSA) has received a total of around £750,000 in payments from police authorities made on behalf each individual at chief officer rank this year.

The revelation that public funds are being used to fight gross misconduct cases has prompted the Association of Police Authorities to seek urgent talks with CPOSA in a bid to change the use of the legal insurance policy.

Mr Price’s estimated costs of £10,000 – significantly lower than widely anticipated for a judicial review – are expected to be picked up by the CPOSA legal insurance while it is unclear whether the same fund will pay Cleveland Police Authority’s costs or Mr Price will be individually responsible.

The disciplinary panel will convene on Monday with the main hearing expected to begin on Tuesday.