In 2012, Cleveland Police Authority’s External Auditor asked that the authority should examine the scope to recover payments to former Chief Constable Sean Price.
In consideration of this and on the recommendation of its then Monitoring Officer, the former Police Authority reached the decision to pursue payment recovery.
I took office as Police & Crime Commissioner shortly afterwards. After taking office, I considered all of the circumstances and legal advice. I determined with the Chief Executive and OPCC legal advisors, that if the action were to continue, it be on the following basis:
- That the action was brought by the Office of the Police & Crime Commissioner rather than me personally;
- That costs would be managed and controlled as appropriate;
- That the action could be halted at any time deemed appropriate by the PCC.
With that in mind, I determined the appropriate course of action would be for me to respect the decision of the former Police Authority. I would allow civil litigation to proceed as part of our commitment to examine the scope of recovery.
The case is based, in the main, on the legal argument that the former Authority made payments by mistake and in principle, such payments are recoverable from the recipient. Former Chief Constable Price has defended the case from the outset.
Former Chief Constable Price has recently extended an improved offer to finalise the litigation. In the circumstances, I considered I was under a duty to give careful consideration to the offer. It invited me to discontinue litigation on payment of £23,000.
Although the offer represents a modest proportion of the sum the Authority wanted to recover with its legal costs, it was extended in good faith by Mr Price by reference to his ability to pay.
Before consideration of this offer, Mr Price was informed he must allow access to certain financial documents in an attempt to ascertain what funds he has available. Mr Price has allowed access to these documents.
I concluded that I faced a choice either to accept a sum which Mr Price had demonstrated he could afford, or proceed to court risking an estimated overall six figure sum in court costs which was unlikely to be realistically recoverable.
When weighing up this offer, I considered how best to serve the best interests of the public of Cleveland in view of my assessment of the following factors:
- The chances of winning this case, were it to go to court based on legal and other advice received
- The estimate of approximately £30,000 of external barristers’ fees incurred to date and the costs of the OPCC’s in-house solicitors.
- The overall question of cost to the public purse at a time of austerity of investing in litigation, when I have given a commitment to ensuring resources are focussed on retaining and developing neighbourhood policing, delivering a better deal for victims and witnesses and addressing reoffending.
- The fact that several other PCCs and Police Forces considering litigation of this nature have decided against bringing the matter to court
- The fact that these matters are understood to have been considered as part of the work of Operation Sacristy, which did not result in criminal charges. I am keen to support Cleveland Police in moving on from these issues.
- The undertaking of the former Police Authority to the auditor to ‘examine the scope’ for recovering this money.
- My responsibility to deal proportionately with a claim which is against a private individual by reference to his ability to repay even if ultimately ordered to do so by the court.
- My duty to reach an appropriate outcome to the litigation to recover losses to the police fund in a way which is appropriate and which satisfies the public interest; and
- The importance to the public interest of resolving such doubt as exists about the law on additional payments to chief officers.
Although ending the claim will mean that the court will not have the opportunity to address the legal questions, I have determined that it would be appropriate to conclude the matter on the basis of the payment of the sum offered.