Ex-chief of Cleveland Police calls high-profile probe ‘waste of £5m’ after hearing he won’t face criminal charges

AN ex-chief constable of Cleveland Police who was sacked for gross misconduct said he will not face criminal charges.

Sean Price had been under investigation as part of the Operation Sacristy inquiry into alleged corruption within the force.

NO CHARGES: Former Cleveland Police Chief Constable Sean Price

NO CHARGES: Former Cleveland Police Chief Constable Sean Price

He said: “I have maintained my innocence in these matters from the outset, and am of course pleased with the decision of the CPS.

“However, I think it is an absolute disgrace that I have been kept on bail for such a long period without even being spoken to.

“My extremely high-profile arrest ruined my life and my reputation, and it is now clear for all to see that it was completely unnecessary, disproportionate and unlawful.

“The ongoing and misguided criminal investigation has been a complete waste of £5 million of public money.”

Mr Price was on bail for more than two and a half years after he was arrested in August 2011.

He said he was not interviewed regarding any criminal matter during that time.

In October 2012 he became the first chief constable to be sacked in 35 years after he was found guilty of gross misconduct. The Independent Police Complaints Commission found he lied about his role in the recruitment of the former police authority chairman’s daughter.

He says his sacking was wrong and plans to appeal against it.

In a statement, he said: “It is well known that I completely deny the finding against me that led to my dismissal. The main evidence against me was from a single witness who was shown to have lied.

“I was denied the opportunity to call key witnesses in my defence because they too were under criminal investigation.

“Now the investigation has been quite rightly dropped, I know these witnesses are keen to put the record straight and an appeal against my dismissal will be a main priority for me.”

Mr Price initiated the Operation Sacristy inquiry and said he assisted external investigators despite concerns about their methods, which he likened to the TV show Life On Mars.

He claimed when confidential documents were lost on a local golf course, he directed a specialist search team should assist.

“It was clear to me the investigation lacked focus and direction and was following rumour and speculation as if it were evidence,” he said.

“My advice, and that of others, was ignored and the investigators seemed blind to the facts, indeed they seemed to view everything through a distorted prism that had to find criminality at any cost...it was back to the policing days of Life On Mars.

“No criminality has been found on my part.... because none ever existed.

“Having spent nearly 33 years being proud to be a police officer, I am very saddened that the police could have acted in such a way over such a long period of time.

“I have briefed senior politicians on the progress of this inquiry since my arrest, and they have often expressed their incredulity at what appeared to be happening.

“Understandably they were unwilling to take any action whilst a ‘criminal investigation’ was ongoing.

“Now is surely the time for them to ask for a full account of this shameful waste of public money, and finally stand up for the many people whose lives have been ruined by this vicious, self-serving witch-hunt.

“I am very proud of the outstanding successes which were achieved during my time as chief constable of Cleveland Police, and I am very saddened that the events of the last two and a half years may have overshadowed the great work done by all the officers and staff during my time in the force.”

Director of public prosecutions Alison Saunders confirmed there would be no criminal charges.

As a result of the inquiry, Mr Price’s deputy Derek Bonnard was also dismissed. Nine people had been on bail waiting to hear if they were to be charged.

Chairman of Cleveland Police Authority Dave McLuckie resigned as a result of the investigation and was jailed for perverting the course of justice after it came to light he passed speeding penalty points on to a friend.

Jacqui Cheer, who replaced Mr Price as Cleveland Police’s chief, said lessons had been learned from senior officers’ misconduct, relating to using corporate credit cards and expenses.

“There are now more stringent checks and balances in place to monitor the effective and efficient use of public resources,” she said. “These include reducing the number of corporate credit cards, reducing the allowance for executive vehicles, updated policies on gifts and hospitality and corporate credit cards.”

Mrs Cheer, who is the national policing lead for professional ethics, added: “The individuals investigated during the course of this inquiry have behaved unethically and inappropriately.

“They have let themselves down, they have let their colleagues down, and most importantly, they have let down the public they vowed to protect and serve.”

Keith Bristow, director general of the National Crime Agency, began the investigation when he was still chief of Warwickshire Police.

He said: “Operation Sacristy investigated a complex set of allegations relating to the disposal of assets, allowances, redundancy payments, hospitality, the receipt of favours, contracts and the misuse of public funds.

“The investigation followed the evidence and in accordance with its terms of reference it had to be necessarily extensive.

“It was independently reviewed and found to be thorough and focused. It did not receive the support or cooperation of those under investigation and was conducted as expeditiously and as professionally possible in the circumstances.”