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Chief Constable apologises after misconduct investigation finds he gave inaccurate account of how he damaged phone

Cleveland Police chief constable Mike Veale.
Cleveland Police chief constable Mike Veale.

The Chief Constable of Cleveland Police who oversaw an investigation into allegations of child abuse of against the late former Prime Minister Ted Heath has apologised after an investigation found he gave an inaccurate account of how his work mobile phone got damaged.

Mike Veale told colleagues he had dropped the phone and that it had been run over by a vehicle at the time he headed Wiltshire Police force.

In fact, Mr Veale accidentally caused the damage himself when he hit his golf bag with a golf club, which the phone was inside, in frustration at a bad shot.

An investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has found he has a case to answer for alleged misconduct for providing and maintaining the inaccurate account.

But it said there was no case to answer for an allegation of discreditable conduct after anonymous claims that Chief Constable Veale deliberately damaged his phone to cover up the alleged sharing of confidential information with the media.

Mr Veale, who was appointed Chief Constable of Cleveland Police in January this year, said he gave the different account because he was embarrassed at how the damage was caused to the phone and because he wanted to avoid more media attention into the high-profile investigation.

He will now be subject to a management action plan put in place by Cleveland Police Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger including an ongoing programme of professional development.

IOPC director Catrin Evans said: “The evidence gathered points to Chief Constable Veale damaging his mobile phone entirely by accident.

"He then arranged for all data from the damaged phone to be retrieved, and we found no evidence to suggest he was motivated to conceal information.

"Mr Veale volunteered to our investigators that he was embarrassed by his behaviour over a momentary loss of self-control on the golf course, at a time of personal and professional stress.

“However, chief constables are expected to promote ethical values, lead by personal example and act as ambassadors for the standards of professional behaviour.

"That Mr Veale chose to give a different account to the truth, both verbally and in writing on several occasions and for some time, in our view amounted to a case to answer for misconduct relating to honesty and integrity.”

Operation Conifer concluded that were Sir Edward Heath still alive, he would have been interviewed about seven of the allegations under criminal caution.

Following the IOPC's findings, Mr Veale said in a statement: “From the very outset of the IOPC investigation I informed Investigators that my mobile phone was damaged in an unforeseen accident while I was playing golf. Out of character for me I hit my golf club into my golf bag after a particularly poor shot and inadvertently damaged the mobile phone.

“I also informed the IOPC that I told a few of my colleagues at the time that the damage to my mobile phone was caused accidentally in a car park.

"During the course of this investigation I have had the opportunity to reflect on my actions.

"The account I gave to some colleagues should not have been given. My reasons were clear to me then and are now. I wanted to avoid unnecessary, sensationalist coverage in the media.

"I regret that I gave any account at all as to why the damage was caused as there was no reason to do so as this was simply an accident.

"This was a mistake and I could have handled it differently. With the benefit of hindsight I agree with Cleveland PCC Barry Coppinger that I could have acted differently. I want to take this opportunity to apologise for not handling this matter differently."

Mr Coppinger said he accepts the findings and added he is in no doubt that Mr Veale is the right person to lead Cleveland Police through a period of transformation.

He said: "Despite the enormous strain an unfounded allegation of this nature would place on anyone, CC Veale has conducted himself with the drive, energy and commitment required of him as Chief Constable of Cleveland.

"He was appointed to bring change and fresh thinking to Cleveland Police and he has not allowed this investigation to distract him from that course."

Mr Coppinger added it was 'fair and proper' to deal with the matter by management action saying: "As a result of that action, Mike Veale has been candid with me, the public and with the officers and staff of Cleveland Police that he should have handled the situation differently.

"His honesty throughout with investigators is very much to his credit - as is his contrition and his offer of an apology to the public and to colleagues."