Lincolnshire Police Chief Constable Neil Rhodes’ suspension from the force has been quashed in court on Thursday.
Lincolnshire Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Hardwick’s decision to suspend Mr Rhodes has been described as “irrational” and “perverse” by the judge after a hearing at the Administrative Court in Manchester.
Neil Rhodes returned as Lincolnshire Police Chief Constable on Thursday evening, but the contract for his temporary role expires on March 31.
Deputy Chief Constable Alec Wood, was named Acting Chief Constable during the suspension, is set to continue in the role from Tuesday.
Neil Rhodes is contracted for another year as Deputy Chief Constable. He took on this role under Chief Constable Richard Crompton, who retired in March 2012 and appointed Neil Rhodes as Temporary Chief Constable.
As previously reported, Mr Rhodes and the first elected Lincolnshire PCC Alan Hardwick were in court this week over Chief Constable’s suspension.
The PCC suspended Mr Rhodes on February 25 over matters relating to his involvement in allegations of racial discrimination.
Alan Hardwick claimed Mr Rhodes assisted West Yorkshire Police lawyer Afzal Hussain, who was suing his former employer after he was dismissed from the force after 17 years.
The PCC claimed Neil Rhodes helped the senior Muslim lawyer to use his ethnicity to pursue damages from the force, despite knowing the claim was a “contrivance”.
Mr Rhodes denied any wrongdoing and his lawyers argued that the PCC’s decision was “near nuclear”, done either through inexperience or without the appropriate advice.
Mr Hardwick’s lawyers argued that he was “justified” in suspending the Chief Constable.
The court ordered the costs of the case, estimated to be £50,000, to be met by the PCC, which has subsequently confirmed Lincolnshire taxpayers will foot the bill.
After the suspension in February, the PCC referred the matter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and put Acting Chief Constable Alec Wood in charge of the force meanwhile.
The IPCC referred the matter back to the PCC and said it will not look further into the matter because it did “not amount to serious corruption or misconduct.”
Sir Peter Fahy, the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, has also been appointed by the PCC to carry out an independent investigation into the matter.
Alan Hardwick said in a statement after the hearing: “Whilst I accept today’s decision, I must emphasise that the court’s interpretation of the information I received is very different to mine.
“My concern is that in future, any decision made by a Police and Crime Commissioner which could be considered contentious, is likely to be open to challenge in the courts. The investigation into the serious allegations is still ongoing under the direction of Sir Peter Fahy.”
Chief Constable resumes control
Chief Constable Neil Rhodes returned to Lincolnshire Police HQ on Thursday evening and issued his first statement since getting back in control of the force.
He said: “Having been reinstated as a Constable and Chief Constable, I have travelled back from the judicial review hearing at Manchester and have met with my chief officer team and have resumed control of the force.
“Over the Easter period I will be taking a long-planned period of leave and I look forward to serving the community of Lincolnshire as best I am able upon my return.
“I would very much like to thank the huge number of people in the Lincolnshire Police and ordinary members of the public for their messages of support which number several hundred. I am really grateful to them and I want to get back to work to repay their faith in me.
“The most important thing now is that all of our attention turns to policing the County of Lincolnshire,” Chief Constable Rhodes added.
‘Common sense prevailed’
Neil Rhodes also read a statement outside the court in Manchester, saying the proceedings were “entirely unnecessary” and took a toll on him and his family.
He said: “I’m very pleased with the decision of the judge today who has declared my suspension irrational and perverse and therefore unlawful.
“I will return to work now and continue to serve Lincolnshire Police with the personal and professional integrity that I believe I have displayed over the past 27 years.
“The judgement today has demonstrated this was entirely unnecessary, as the PCC’s concerns should have been resolved professionally and with proper investigation.
“I endeavour to resolve this and had hoped common sense would prevail. I maintained a dignified silence in the media throughout. Court was absolutely my final recourse.
“I now look forward to a mature and constructive discussion with the commissioner about my future working relationship.”
Reality check for PCCs
Lincoln MP Karl McCartney, who has previously written to Home Secretary Theresa May over the issue, commented: “After the decision by the IPCC not to investigate this matter, this verdict by the High Court in Manchester should be seen as a reality check for PCCs up and down our country.
“Commissioners need to think long and hard before taking the decision to suspend a chief constable, and as my initial reservations have borne out, this case just goes to show there are always two sides to every story.”
Calls for PCC resignation
Giles McNeill, Conservative Councillor for the Nettleham Ward, has called on PCC Alan Harwick to resign following the ruling.
Councillor McNeill said: “It is clear that Alan Hardwick is not up to the job of being Police and Crime Commissioner. He has bungled this suspension of the Chief Constable, Neil Rhodes.
“It was clear that something was amiss when, having referred the matter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, they decided that the matter was not sufficient for their investigation.
“The time has come for Commissioner Hardwick to do the honourable thing and resign,” Giles McNeill added.