Rash of inquiries shakes up forces in the North

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THE investigation into the conduct of Cumbria chief constable Stuart Hyde is one of a rash of recent inquiries upsetting the hierarchies of police forces in the north of England.

Grahame Maxwell’s narrow escape from dismissal as North Yorkshire chief constable in May 2011, after he admitted gross misconduct for nepotism, was followed by suspensions, arrests, a resignation and a sacking affecting Cleveland, West Yorkshire and most recently Lincolnshire Police.

The reasons for the sudden surge in misconduct and potential misconduct cases involving chief officers are unclear, with various theories advanced as to why previously rare actions have become relatively commonplace.

The impending abolition of police authorities in November last year may have encouraged some to leave their mark; alternatively newly elected police commissioners might now be keen to flex their muscles.

It is also possible that when Mr Maxwell became the first chief constable found to have committed gross misconduct for more than 30 years it showed even the most powerful of public officials can be brought down and eased the inhibitions of would-be whistleblowers.

Whatever the reasons, the conclusion of Mr Maxwell’s case was followed three months later by the arrest and suspension of Cleveland’s chief and deputy chief constables, Sean Price and Derek Bonnard, amid corruption allegations swirling round the force.

Mr Price was subsequently sacked last October after being found to have lied during an inquiry into nepotism and remains on police bail.

Mr Bonnard has been released from bail but still awaits a disciplinary hearing for alleged gross misconduct.

Stuart Hyde was suspended by Cumbria Police last September over unspecified allegations relating to his management which are understood to have come from staff within his force.

In October last year, the fallout from the independent inquiry into the Hillsborough football disaster led to the resignation of Sir Norman Bettison as West Yorkshire’s chief.

And last Tuesday Lincolnshire’s chief constable Neil Rhodes was suspended by police commissioner Neil Hardwick over unspecified conduct allegations.

In each case, the senior officers are able to draw on hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal costs courtesy of public funding provided to a legal insurance scheme run by the Chief Police Officers Staff Association.

The Yorkshire Post has previously revealed that police authorities up and down the country have paid an annual fee of £2,197 for each officer at assistant chief constable level and above to CPOSA’s legal fund.

The money was used by Grahame Maxwell to run up costs of £250,000 fighting his gross misconduct case.

The new police commissioners for North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Cleveland have since said they are ending the payments for chief constables.