MPs slam Lincolnshire PCC’s chief constable suspension

A report by MPs looking into the role of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) has described Lincolnshire PCC Alan Hardwick’s suspension of the chief constable as “disruptive” and “costly”.

The Home Affairs Committee report looks at the lack of scrutiny in the role of PCCs, and uses PCC Alan Hardwick’s suspension of Temporary Chief Constable Neil Rhodes as an example.

Hardwick suspended the chief constable earlier in the year over “conduct matters”, however the reasons were later thrown out in court and the action reversed.

MPs felt that his actions were operationally disruptive and costly, causing damage to the force’s reputation.

The report also felt PCC Hardwick suspended Rhodes with no regard towards his spotless records or character.

The report also criticises the local Police and Crime Panel for failing to meet on a regular basis to scrutinise the decision, and therefore further leaving the public in the dark about the issue.

They also felt the chairman of the, Ray Wootten, ended up too bogged down in “legal advice”. Councillor Wootten resigned from the role on May 16.

The report said:”This kind of intervention is potentially operationally disruptive and costly, and damaging to the reputation of the police force and individuals concerned; it should be undertaken only on the most rigorous grounds or where the risks of leaving the chief constable in office are high.

“In this case, the decision was overturned at judicial review by Mr Justice Stuart Smith who noted ‘serious error’ by the PCC in his ‘failure to engage in any assessment’ and disregard for the chief constable’s character and record.

“Following the decision to suspend the chief constable, the PCP failed to meet for over two months, with the Chair citing legal advice as the reason he was unable to convene a meeting.

“In the end, the powers and jurisdiction of his Panel were so unclear that he resorted to writing to the Home Secretary for clarification, at least to the East Lindsay District Council legal adviser apparently concerned.”

MPs argue that PCCs should have a register of interests, similar to that of MPs, to help hold the role to account publicly.

The report also concludes that when a PCC chooses to suspend a chief constable, they must inform the Police and Crime Panel, as referenced in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011.

The PCP must then then review the action as soon as possible.

A PCC would also have to provide the Panel and the chief constable a written explanation of the reasons for the suspension.

East Lindsey District Council hosts the Lincolnshire Police and Crime Panel.

The council’s Chief Executive, Stuart Davy said: “The Chairman of the Lincolnshire Police and Crime Panel, Councillor Ray Wootten has since appeared before the Select Committee, and issued a statement clarifying a number of points discussed in respect of the Panel’s role in relation to the scrutiny of the decision to suspend the Temporary Chief Constable and the legal advice received in informing a decision not to hold a meeting.

“On that basis, the evidence given at the meeting isn’t an accurate reflection of the legal advice that was given and we hope the Select Committee will review their report in light of this.

“The Panel has explained that it was not desirable to hold a meeting to discuss the suspension of the Temporary Chief Constable, whilst various legal and HR issues were still under investigation, for example the Judicial Review and the Sir Peter Fahy investigation, which is still on-going.

“It was important that the investigations were not compromised. Following careful consideration it was decided by the Chairman not to hold a meeting early on in the process.”