Lincolnshire Police chief constable Neil Rhodes’ suspension will cost Alan Hardwick’s office ‘£50,000’

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Lincolnshire Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Hardwick has confirmed taxpayers will foot the £50,000 legal bill after he suspended the acting chief constable.

Mr Hardwick was questioned by MPs yesterday (Tuesday) at a Home Affairs Committee meeting in Westminster.

During the meeting, which was looking at leadership and standards in the police service, Mr Hardwick was asked about the overturned suspension of Lincolnshire Police’s chief constable Neil Rhodes.

Mr Hardwick suspended Mr Rhodes in February for alledgedly mishandling the employment tribunal of a lawyer from another force.

The suspension was overturned in the High Court in March with the judge calling the suspension “irrational” and perverse”.

Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee Keith Vaz, MP for Leicester East, revealed during the meeting that Mr Hardwick had been left with a £50,000 bill from the High Court case, which the commissioner said was “news to me”.

Mr Hardwick said: “The money will come from the budget of my own office, which is £450,000 per year.”

Mr Vaz also asked Mr Hardwick if he stood by his decision to suspend Mr Rhodes.

Mr Hardwick replied: “I still maintain that my interpretation was correct, the judge disagreed with me.”

He described the decision to re-instate Mr Rhodes as current temporary chief constable despite his contract ending on March 31 as a “U-turn on my part”.

He added: “We are both professionals, we have a good and sound working relationship.”

Asked if he was embarrassed about the coverage of the suspension, Mr Hardwick replied: “I would rather be in the news for more positive reasons.

“There is still an investigation going on, led by Sir Peter Fahy, and I spoke to Sir Peter yesterday and we’re confident that the decision from his investigation will be with me within four weeks.”

Asked if he would apologise to Mr Rhodes if Sir Peter found he had been wrong over the suspension, Mr Hardwick confirmed he would.

Mr Hardwick, who does not have a deputy commissioner, also revealed that he had recently been ill and had left the chief executive at Lincolnshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Malcolm Burch, who is not elected, to deputise.

Chairman of Lincolnshire Police and Crime Panel Ray Wootten, a Conservative Lincolnshire county councillor, was also called to give evidence to the committee.

The role of the panel is to oversee the commissioner.

Coun Wootten was asked why it took 72 days to organise a crime panel meeting in the wake of the suspension of Mr Rhodes. The meeting was held last week,

Coun Wootten blamed the delay on conflicting legal advice he had received over the panel’s remit.

“This is a very serious matter which we must probe,” Mr Vaz told him.

Coun Wootten said the crime panel’s legal adviser had told him they no remit to look into the suspension of the police constable, advice which was later found to be incorrect when Damien Green, the Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice, contacted him.

Mr Vaz then asked Coun Wootten why members of the public were “not allowed” into the extraordinary meeting of the panel held at Tedder Hall in Manby in Louth on Thursday.

Coun Wootten said: “We were unaware that there were members of the public waiting.” He also said a panel member had also been unable to enter the chamber until the meeting had finished.

Mr Vaz said the committee would be writing to East Lindsey District Council for an explanation as to why people weren’t let into the meeting in Manby.

Mr Vaz labelled the whole situation “farcical”. “No wonder it has reached the national press,” he said.

“Don’t you think the people of Lincolnshire deserve an apology?” he asked.

Coun Wootten also called for crime panels to be handed more powers to scrutinise and, if required, challenge the decisions of police and crime commissioners.

Also called to give evidence were Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire police and crime commissioner, Tim Passmore, Suffolk police and crime commissioner and the respective crime panel chairs for the two areas.