Lincolnshire Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Hardwick ignored legal advice over his suspension of Chief Constable Neil Rhodes, which cost taxpayers more than £165,000, a report by the county’s Crime Panel has found.
The report from the panel in charge of scrutinising the PCC said the “relationship between the PCC and TCC Rhodes prior to the suspension was marred from the outset,” but acknowledges they now have a good working relationship.
The panel “found no evidence that force performance was affected” during the dispute which started in February 2013.
However, the panel said it is “unclear from the decision record and accompanying legal advice, why the PCC felt the need to suspend TCC Rhodes from duty.
“We understand the reasons for investigation but have seen no evidence to persuade us that suspension was necessary or proportionate,” the report findings said.
“To suspend an individual (during investigation) for their protection from public scrutiny does not fall within the public interest criteria.
“In reality, investigation without suspension maintains confidentiality and avoids media interest – suspension of a chief officer places it in the public domain.”
The Crime Panel task group concluded that although “there is no doubt that the allegations required investigation,” they “do not accept that suspension was necessary or proportionate.”
The report also breaks down the costs incurred from the dispute, which total more than £165,000.
The costs include £37,000 paid to the PCC’s legal advisers prior to the Judicial Review, then £21,000 for the second firm of legal advisers consulted by the PCC.
A further £14,463 was paid to Sir Peter Fahy for his investigation into the matter, and £72,000 for the legal costs of Neil Rhodes, which are not final.
These costs will come out the of the PCC’s specific budget for his office.
In addition, the Crime Panel incurred professional service costs of £20,750 for completing their review, and task group members have not received payment for this work other than travelling expenses.
The Task Group costs will be paid from the Annual Government Grant provided to the Panel to undertake its statutory duties.
PCC Alan Hardwick was not immediately available to comment.
Chairman of the Task Group, Chris Cook, said: “We have interviewed many witnesses, including the Commissioner and Chief Constable; we have developed a detailed chronology of events before, during and after the suspension and we have reviewed hundreds of pages of evidence to enable us to form a credible and accurate report into the circumstances surrounding the suspension.
“The decision to suspend the Temporary Chief Constable placed Lincolnshire Police under the glare of the national spot light – attracting unfavourable media interest, public interest and, in the view of the Task Group, resulted in some costs that could have been much reduced.
“Whilst it is clear the Commissioner and Temporary Chief Constable have both moved on from the suspension, the recommendations we will put before the Police and Crime Panel on February 6 are based on the evidence provided to us during our review and lessons we feel strongly should be learned as a result of what happened.”
Lincoln MP Karl McCartney welcomed the report by the Crime Panel, believing PCC Hardwick’s actions were not appropriate or to standard, and lacked professionalism.
He said: “I welcome the Lincolnshire Police and Crime Panel Task Group’s Scrutiny Report into the Lincoln Police and Crime Commissioner, Alan Hardwick’s suspension last year of the Chief Constable, Neil Rhodes. The Chairman of the Task Group, Chris Cook and his Team have clearly spent a great deal of effort producing a thorough and persuasive report.
“Anyone in an elected position should act in a professional and courteous manner, regardless of any guidance in place or not. It was pretty clear to me at the time that the actions taken were not appropriate or of a suitable standard – suspending someone and then for a week giving no explanation at all as to what the allegations were.
“In this case the advice given and taken by those ‘professionals’ who work with the PCC was sadly substandard, disregarded completely the positions and career of those adversely affected and completely lacked professionalism as this draft report points out, extensively. This was entirely unprofessional form.
“The costs to police and senior police management morale, and in their time dealing with this issue, are probably extensive and, in this case, one could have guessed that the taxpayer would end up paying a substantial amount that would have been better spent protecting Lincolnshire residents and fighting crime.
“Many of those who gave and/or accepted advice that proved to be ill-defined, incomplete, inconclusive or just plain wrong, need to take a long look a themselves and their position.
“I have always had a very strong working relationship with Neil Rhodes, who I feel has led our local Police Force with a great deal of loyalty, respect and success since April 2012. Just this week it was announced by the independent Office for National Statistics that recorded crime in Lincolnshire has fallen once again over the last twelve months – and has fallen by some 18 per cent since 2010.
“This is testament to the hard work of Lincolnshire’s Chief Constable, his senior management team and his police officers in Lincolnshire who can be rightly proud of their success in cutting crime.”