Probe chief breaks silence

Cleveland Police HQ
Cleveland Police HQ

THE man leading a criminal investigation into a police authority spoke publicly for the first time about the probe that has already cost £1m.

Keith Bristow, director general of the National Crime Agency, is leading Operation Sacristy that is looking at potential criminal and misconduct matters relating to Cleveland Police Authority.

So far, five arrests have been made, including Cleveland’s Chief Constable Sean Price and his deputy Derek Bonnard, and 10 people and three organisations have been pinpointed as part of the inquiry.

Mr Bristow took part in a press conference yesterday for the first time since the allegations came to light and confirmed that they relate to contracts and assets concerning Cleveland Police.

But he would not say what external organisations were being looked at as well.

Mr Bristow said: “We are investigating senior police servants and businesses.

“There are a lot of complex matters surrounding contracts and assets and that’s before we talk about issues around the misconduct investigation.

“Our resourcing levels are being constantly reviewed, and we want to be accountable and transparent.”

He added that there is no time frame on the investigation as detectives “follow the facts and the evidence as professionally and quickly as possible”.

Mr Bristow was also keen to hit back at statements made by Mr Price in a TV interview that detectives were acting “unlawfully” and the accused had not been told what was being investigated.

Mr Bristow said that not one official complaint had been made, adding: “We have tried to tread a careful line between providing factual information while note adding to any general public speculation and comment.

“There are those who have tried to play out issues in public and misinterpreted the investigators and myself.”

Mr Bristow was joined at the force’s Ladgate Lane headquarters in Middlesbrough by the chief executive of Cleveland Police Authority (CPA) Stuart Pudney.

The new chairman of the CPA, Hartlepool Mayor Stuart Drummond, was due to attend but sent his apologies as he was attending a Hartlepool Borough Council budget meeting.

Mr Pudney said the CPA have requested government help and revealed that forces are expected to have a one per cent emergency fund by the Home Office, which equates to £1.4m.

That figure is expected to be hit by the investigation in March and Mr Pudney is hoping all funding from then will be provided by the government.

But he is also remaining hopeful that the original £1.4m will be reimbursed as well.

He said: “The money for the investigation will not come from budgets that have been given to the Chief Constable to deliver front-line policing such as neighbourhood and response.

“This does not mean that the cost of the investigation does not present the authority and force with further financial challenges. It does in that in the future those reserves will have to be topped back up.

“This is the reason why we have applied to the Home Office for a special grant to assist with some or all of the cost, and we are currently awaiting a response.”

There are currently 24 police officers and staff from the West Yorkshire, Warwickshire and North Yorkshire police forces working on the inquiry.

In August, detectives arrested Mr Price and Mr Bonnard. More recently, Councillor Dave McLuckie, who stood down from his role as chairman of the CPA in May, was also arrested.

All three strenuously deny any allegations and are on bail without charge until April along with two other people.