ON the surface it sounded a most publicly spirited idea – two police chiefs cycling 300 miles from London to Paris in a sponsored bike ride to raise money for charity.
But former Cleveland police Chief Constable Sean Price and his then deputy Derek Bonnard’s fund raiser wasn’t quite what it seemed.
A misconduct report says it is believed they caused, or permitted, £1,277.65 to be paid from Cleveland police funds to help meet expenses from the trip.
But when the costs of travel – courtesy of a police driver – and the two men’s salary is taken into account the approximate cost to public funds was £4,911.11, not far off the £5,000 target they had set themselves to raise.
Two separate sums of £99 – registration for the event – were paid with Mr Price’s corporate credit card, although he claimed he was unaware of this and believed payment had come from his personal bank account.
Mr Bonnard told investigators the cycle ride was a “work event” and therefore the registration fees would be paid by the force.
Both registered for the ride, between July 22 and 26 2009, as individuals and on their joint fundraising web page did not refer to the fact they were police officers.
The former chief constable said cycle tops they both wore during the ride had the Cleveland police crest prominently displayed, “clearly supporting the fact that we were involved in our professional capacity”.
He also referred to the “hugely successful publicity” for Cleveland police and said the pair had raised more than £8,000 for the charity Christian Aid.
The report says that some of the explanations regarding the legitimacy of the bike ride as a charity event for Cleveland police are reasonable.
However all but two donors from Cleveland Police or Cleveland Police Authority stated to investigators they thought Mr Price and Mr Bonnard were participating in the event as private individuals.
Joe McCarthy, the chief executive of Cleveland Police Authority, made a donation of £500 using the authority's credit card. Two years later he refunded the money.
The two men were conveyed by Mr Price’s driver to the charity event in a Cleveland Police Authority-owned VW Caravelle vehicle and stayed overnight in a Holiday Inn which was again charged to a corporate credit card at a cost of £176.18. They also claimed the £91 cost of an evening meal for themselves and their driver.
Both men said they had taken annual leave. The report says that if they were, the legitimacy of claiming expenses and the use of a police driver “comes into question”. If not “there is some doubt over whether they should have been entitled to participate in such a bike ride in duty time”. Examination of force records showed no evidence of annual leave for either.
Following the ride Mr Bonnard wrote on an online blog about having a “big night out” in Paris and described “sitting having breakfast in the Paris sun”.
He returned to London with his and Mr Price’s bicycles and was picked up by the same member of staff and driven back to the North-East.
Mr Price, meanwhile, travelled to Brussels where he stayed for two nights in a hotel with Inspector Heather Eastwood, with whom he was in a relationship. He said he paid for the Belgium stay privately.
The report says that when they returned to Manchester Airport Mr Price again caused “unnecessary expense” to the taxpayer by arranging for his police driver to take him – separately from Eastwood – back to Teesside.
What they said...
Mr Bonnard said the loss to the force had been artificially inflated and claimed his own costs only amounted to £209.55 – the cost of registration, a hotel stay and evening meal. He said he did not solicit a donation from the police authority and did not see why "this is considered to be in any way improper".
Mr Price said the ride was undertaken in his official capacity, that he took annual leave for the event and the Belgium visit was a private trip.
The report concludes:
“There is evidence of gross misconduct on the part of both Price and Bonnard...It is suspected that Price and Bonnard acted in abuse of their authority and applied public money for their own personal benefit.”