A MULTI-million pound investigation into allegations of corruption at a North-East police force has resulted in no criminal charges, the Crown Prosecution Service has confirmed.
The 41-month investigation into the spending culture of Cleveland Police was justified with the sacking of Chief Constable Sean Price and his deputy Derek Bonnard, according Operation Sacristy chiefs.
Ex-chairman of Cleveland Police Authority Dave McLuckie also resigned from his post and was subsequently jailed for perverting the course of justice after it came to light he persuaded a friend to accept speeding points for him.
The inquiry, overseen by Keith Bristow the director general of the National Crime Agency (NCA), looked at a complex set of allegations of misuse of corporate credit cards, expenses, hospitality and the issuing of contracts.
Two of the men at the centre of the investigation, Sean Price and Dave McLuckie, have hit out at the way they have been treated – with Mr Price describing the probe as a ‘witch-hunt’ and a ‘waste of money’.
In October 2012, Mr Price became the first chief constable to be sacked after an independent disciplinary hearing found him guilty of two charges of gross misconduct.
Now that that he is no longer facing the possibility of a criminal charge the former chief says he is planning to appeal against his dismissal.
He said: “It is well known that I completely deny the finding against me that led to my dismissal. The main evidence against me was from a single witness who was shown to have lied.
"I was denied the opportunity to call key witnesses in my defence because they too were under criminal investigation.
“Now the investigation has been quite rightly dropped, I know these witnesses are keen to put the record straight and an appeal against my dismissal will be a main priority for me.”
And the former chairman of CPA Dave McLuckie is calling on the people who initiated the investigation to be named in an attempt to show the investigation was flawed.
He said: “It is now clear that the claims of ‘serious corruption’ were never justified and those who repeatedly made those statements in an attempt to justify Sacristy should be called to account.
“Of course, there will be many who will try to now close the door and say that we should all ‘move on’ but that cannot happen unless those who have caused so much damage and incurred so much cost are properly answerable for their actions.”
Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions, said: “Having thoroughly reviewed the reports and evidence, we have determined that, whatever criticisms may be made about the conduct of the various suspects, including any police discipline findings, the available evidence does not give rise to a realistic prospect of conviction in connection with conduct relating to the administration of Cleveland Police and Cleveland Police Authority.
“There can therefore be no prosecution of the individuals considered.”
Keith Bristow, who led Operation Sacristy, said the investigation was carried out correctly and was fully justified.
He said: “As a result of our investigation and an independent investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), a number of people have been removed from public office. The former Chief Constable and Deputy Chief Constable were both dismissed without notice for gross misconduct.
“The former Chair of the Police Authority resigned and was subsequently convicted of perverting the course of justice. Several other people who were subject of investigation and also held senior public positions have left their jobs with Cleveland Police and the former Police Authority.”
While current Chief Constable Jacqui Cheer maintains that the force is in much better shape to prevent a culture of irresponsible spending reemerging at the force.
She said: “The individuals investigated during the course of this enquiry have behaved unethically and inappropriately. They have let themselves down, they have let their colleagues down, and most importantly they have let down the public they vowed to protect and serve.”
Stockton South MP James Wharton is calling for the force to move forward.
He said: "Hopefully, Cleveland Police can now put this difficult time behind them but it is clear there is a lot to do to ensure the force is properly managed going forward.
“There are serious outstanding questions about the scale and cost of Sacristy given than no charges are being brought against Sean Price. He has lost his job, been subject to very difficult public examination and debate and must be relieved to not now face prosecution, if this was ultimately nothing more than a misconduct investigation into him then the cost and scale are very difficult to justify.”