Thursday, August 04, 2011

A "massive shock"

Never in the history of British policing has there ever been an instance where both a chief constable and his deputy have been arrested.

That is an indication of the magnitude of events in Cleveland Police yesterday, where Sean Price (pictured) and Derek Bonnard, respectively chief and deputy were arrested by officers under the leadership of Keith Bristow, chief constable of Warwickshire Police, in conjunction with officers and staff from North Yorkshire Police.

The pair were arrested a part of an investigation into suspicions of fraud and corruption, with indications that massive sums are involved. A third person was also arrested, the former force solicitor Caroline Llewellyn, who recently received £213,379 in a voluntary redundancy payoff.

Subsequently, the Cleveland Police Authority (CPA) - the force's governing body - suspended the two officers. Local sources say that this had been done speedily in anticipation of the Authority itself being suspended, as part of the investigation which has trawled in its two most senior officers. The chairman of the authority resigned three months ago when it too came under investigation.

Media reports suggest that there has been an investigation current since May, initiated by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and conducted by Warwickshire Police. Local sources, however, suggest that the inquiries started informally about February.

Interestingly, the slogan for the Cleveland Police is "putting people first", although it was not until now understood that the "people" to whom the slogan referred were Price and Bonnard, the latter allegedly holding open the till while his boss raided it.

This was in spite of Price being paid a salary of £191,905 last year, including, we are told, a payment of £54,421, which the police authority agreed to pay him to stop him being poached by other forces. Rather than poached, it now looks as if he will be fried – along with the reputation of his police force and the police in general.

The Police Federation locally has been quick to respond, its spokesman describing the news of the arrests as a "massive shock", expressing the view that the matter will be concluded "as quickly as possible". That is unlikely.

Price, who has headed Cleveland police for eight years, was already being investigated by the IPCC over the allegation that he used "undue influence" to shoehorn into a police job the daughter of the CPA's former chairman, Dave McLuckie.

With the criminal investigation now coming to a head, the chances of the affair dying down quickly are slight, especially as the arrests come only two weeks after the resignation of the head of the London Met, and an investigation into the former Met terror chief.

On top of that, Grahame Maxwell, the chief constable of North Yorkshire police, was given a written warning in May after admitting to gross misconduct for trying to help a relative get a job in his own force.

A former police chief constable is said to have told a newspaper that the arrests would raise "understandable public concern" over serious issues in the running of police forces. That, it must be said, has to be considered as the understatement of the century. Public confidence in the police – already fragile – now plummets to a new low.

These are our masters, and this is how they behave. If the allegations are proved, there must be a serious reckoning ... the rot has gone too far.