Taxpayer pays out millions as probe drags on

THE inquiry into alleged wrongdoing at Cleveland Police began two years ago but initially did not involve the two chief officers now suing over their arrest last year.

Back in May 2010, the now suspended chief constable Sean Price initiated an investigation himself after a retiring senior detective made allegations surrounding Cleveland Police Authority chairman Dave McLuckie.

Two months later HM Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) Roger Baker was called in to oversee inquiries and who, in turn, asked North Yorkshire Police to begin an investigation.

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It is not clear when Mr Price and his deputy, Derek Bonnard, were identified as suspects but in April last year HMIC announced Warwickshire chief constable Keith Bristow – who was in the process of becoming head of the new National Crime Agency – was now to oversee what was to be known as Operation Sacristy.

Three months later, in August, Mr Price and Mr Bonnard were dramatically arrested in dawn raids at their homes. It was publicly stated that the alleged offences were fraud, corruption and misconduct in a public office.

After the initial interviews, police bail dates have come and gone with no further interviews and both officers now not due to answer bail again until October.

By then, they will have been suspended for 14 months with Cleveland Police paying them around £300,000 in wages to stay at home.

The inquiry itself – paid for by Cleveland Police Authority – has run up bills approaching £2m.

The inquiry – codenamed Operation Sacristy – is also considering misconduct issues but Mr Price was clear that the criminal allegations were the more important and pressing priority and they were the reason for preparing to sue for unlawful arrest.

“I’m very happy to deal with the misconduct issues but I want the criminal allegations to be dealt with first,” he said.

“I was arrested at 6am, not for misconduct issues but for alleged criminality. Nothing has happened since.”

Mr Price and Mr Bonnard said they had been informed that the allegation leading to the execution of a search warrant at their homes in August – which related to Mr Bonnard’s hiring of a van – is no longer being treated as a criminal matter.

“In police interviews I have answered every question put to me and at no stage has any criminal allegation been put to me.

“Both Derek Bonnard and I have contacted the Sacristy team regarding our availability for interview,” Mr Price said.

“I am totally innocent and determined to clear my name. I also believe the public, who are funding the bill for this enquiry, deserve to know exactly what has gone on. This legal action is the first step in that process.”

Both men made clear they want to return to their jobs although the practicalities of such a move would present significant difficulties for Cleveland Police Authority after such a long time away.

Cleveland Police Authority, who have temporary chief officers in place, declined to comment on yesterday’s developments or when any misconduct charges may be brought.

Dave McLuckie resigned as police authority chairman last May and was arrested on suspicion of corruption in November.

The Yorkshire Post has previously revealed details of his corporate credit card records, including one restaurant bill in excess of £700 and others in excess of £300.

Coun McLuckie was also present, with other officials including Mr Price, on three foreign trips which cost Cleveland Police Authority more than £30,000.

He denies any wrongdoing.