Police chief faces internal charge


Published: Friday 31st October 2014 by The News Editor

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A chief constable will face an internal charge of gross misconduct following claims that he made “inappropriate advances” to female colleagues and leaked internal emails.

Nick Gargan, from Avon and Somerset Police, was investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) over the allegations but will not face criminal charges.

After the IPCC probe, police and crime commissioner Sue Mountstevens decided Mr Gargan, who was suspended from his role in May, has a “case to answer” for gross misconduct.

In a statement, Ms Mountstevens said: “Following the conclusion of the IPCC’s investigation into allegations in relation to the improper disclosure of information and inappropriate behaviour towards women, made about Chief Constable Nick Gargan, I was provided with the IPCC’s report and had 15 working days to make a decision on whether or not to refer the matter to misconduct proceedings.

“The IPCC put forward a number of recommendations regarding Nick Gargan. In accordance with those recommendations, I have made the decision there is a case to answer for gross misconduct and therefore I will refer the allegations to a misconduct hearing in front of an independent misconduct panel. I will not be involved in the misconduct panel.

“The misconduct panel will consist of a leading counsel from a Home Office agreed list, who will act as chair of the panel, Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary or another HMIC inspector of constabulary nominated by him, and an independent member of the public.

“The members of the panel will decide if the allegations are proven or not and will present their recommendations to me. I will ensure that these recommendations are made public.

“The exact timing of the misconduct panel will depend on various factors, however it will take place as soon as possible, hopefully in the next few months.”

Ms Mountstevens was handed the IPCC report on October 13 and had 15 days to decide whether Mr Gargan had a case to answer for gross misconduct or misconduct.

The police watchdog investigated allegations that Mr Gargan “abused his senior position by making inappropriate advances to junior female colleagues”, it said.

As part of the investigation Mr Gargan was interviewed regarding allegations of gross misconduct and under criminal caution for alleged breaches of the Data Protection Act.

Speaking after the probe, IPCC deputy chairwoman Rachel Cerfontyne said: “Our investigation uncovered evidence that the Chief Constable may have breached the Data Protection Act by sending emails concerning police business, which contained personal data, to individuals unconnected to the force.

“Having carefully considered the evidence, I concluded that this was a matter for the PCC (police and crime commissioner) to consider under the disciplinary process.

“Under police complaints procedure, it is now a matter for the PCC to respond to me with a decision on what action she proposes to take as a result of our findings.”

A spokesman for the Chief Police Officers Staff Association (CPOSA) said: “We await specific details of the alleged breaches of the police code of conduct.

“It would be inappropriate to comment until they have been provided – except to say that Chief Constable Gargan will continue to cooperate fully with the process and wants to get back to work as quickly as possible.”

Yesterday, Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Panel found that Ms Mountstevens demonstrated a “serious error of judgment” and breached her code of conduct by revealing the identity of a whistleblower to Mr Gargan.

Ms Mountstevens admitted that, as part of a discussion with Mr Gargan before his suspension, she made him aware of a complainants name.

She maintained that at that time she was not in full possession of the facts or aware of the complainant’s whistleblower status and has since made a written and public apology.

The finding was published by the panel – which investigated the matter after the IPCC found there was insufficient grounds to suspect a criminal offence had been committed – as a “matter of public interest”.

It said it wished to clarify its finding of a “serious error of judgment” rather than a “mistake”.

Nigel Ashton, leader of North Somerset Council and chairman of Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Panel, said there were no formal sanctions available to the panel.

“A complainant provided sensitive and personal information to the office of the police and crime commissioner, and in doing so had a reasonable expectation of privacy,” Mr Ashton said.

“The panel has found that the commissioner demonstrated a serious error of judgment, not only in revealing their identity but by doing so to the person at the centre of the allegations.

“The panel has recommended to the commissioner that all staff in her office are familiar with and trained where appropriate in the key policies and procedures which underpin the standards of behaviour expected of her staff. This includes the whistleblowing policy and staff code of conduct.”

He added that it was “regrettable” that Ms Mountstevens chose to issue a public statement about the matter before the panel’s investigation had concluded.

“In response I must underline that we take this matter very seriously and consider her lapse in judgment to be serious,” Mr Ashton said.

“As the Home Office reminded us, ultimately police and crime commissioners are accountable to the public at the ballot box, and in publishing our findings we are ensuring that people are aware of our stance on this incident.”

A spokesman for the IPCC said: ” The Avon and Somerset police and crime commissioner has now responded to the IPCC’s investigation report concerning the conduct of Chief Constable Nick Gargan.

“We have written back to her to confirm our agreement to her decision to refer Chief Constable Gargan to a misconduct hearing. We will assist in providing relevant material to a misconduct panel, and will attend the future hearing.”

Published: Friday 31st October 2014 by The News Editor

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