David Keane insists he followed legal advice from the ‘top QC in the land’ when pursuing ex-chief constable Simon Byrne’s gross misconduct inquiry.
Cheshire’s police and crime commissioner (PCC) was grilled on his role in putting forward 74 allegations against the officer at a police and crime panel meeting on Friday.
The panel hearing the case last year found that none of the 74 allegations amounted to either misconducted or gross misconduct – and the inquiry cost taxpayers £350,000, while Mr Byrne’s suspension cost £100,000.
But Mr Keane, who is also a Labour councillor in Warrington, told the police and crime panel he believed he was acting on sound advice – with the lawyer involved suggesting the allegations could have amounted to gross misconduct.
He said: “There wasn’t a decision made or a stage in this procedure, from the beginning to the end, that was not accompanied by full legal advice.
“It wasn’t [from] a local solicitor, it wasn’t a local barrister, it wasn’t someone who was merely experienced in these areas – it was the top QC in the land at dealing with these issues.
“It was clear to me from the legal advice received in the early allegations that if they were true, this could easily constitute gross misconduct.
“This is what the process was about – it was to ensure that allegations made by police officers and police staff which could, if proven, amount to gross misconduct was heard.”
Mr Keane told the police and crime panel that he was following the process on dealing with the conduct of chief constables set by Government.
He told members that there were no suggestions made to him of collusion between witnesses, and he insisted he is not aware of any compensation claims being made by Mr Byrne against the PCC office.
The police and crime panel raised concerns about the investigation leading up to the inquiry – and Mr Keane pointed the finger at North Yorkshire Police, which failed to interview Mr Byrne during the investigation.
He said: “I didn’t understand at all at the early stage that the investigator’s intention was not to interview the chief constable.
“I did try to confirm that with the investigator and I think it is clear that it would have been a good idea to interview the chief constable within that process – whether it was a requirement or not.”
Mr Keane also confirmed to the panel that Mr Byrne’s contract at Cheshire Police expired last June – and he was not excluded from applying for the position when the force hired Darren Martland this year.
Cllr Andrew Dawson, Conservative member on Cheshire West and Chester Council, admitted he had sympathy for Mr Keane’s position – but that he ‘set himself up to fail’.
He said: “Under any objective test, any of us putting forward 74 allegations and to have none of them proven or accepted is of itself extraordinary.
“I don’t accept that it is reasonable for the man at the top constantly to refer to the blame and the responsibility of others.
“It doesn’t matter whether it is North Yorkshire or the eminent QC that has been referred to repeatedly – they were all working to and for the commissioner.”
Cllr Dave Thompson, Labour member on Halton Borough Council, suggested that the Government process for resolving issues with Chief Constables was flawed – and called on greater input from the police and crime panel in future.
Asked if he would do anything different in future, Mr Keane added: “If I receive a complaint I would always have to consider it and apply the correct legal process, as I have.
“I would never, ever, not want to do that as commissioner. The alternative to doing that would be completely improper.
“The alternative would be to ignore a series of complaints from police officers and staff. The alternative might be criticised as sweeping something under the carpet.”
The police and crime panel will now send a written report on Mr Keane’s handling of the inquiry to the PCC and the Home Office.