Hardwick quizzed by MPs about decision to suspend top cop

Ch Con Neil Rhodes Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Hardwick.
Ch Con Neil Rhodes Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Hardwick.
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Two of Lincolnshire highest profile elected policing figures have been probed by MPs at a Home Affairs Committee meeting in Westminster.

Police and crime commissioner for the county Alan Hardwick and Police and Crime Panel chairman Coun Roy Wootten were summoned to appear before MPs at the meeting.

Mr Hardwick was quizzed on the overturned suspension of Lincolnshire Police’s chief constable Neil Rhodes by the committee, chaired by Keith Vaz, MP for Leicester East.

Mr Vaz asked him if he stood by his decision to suspend Neil Rhodes in February over an allegation over an employment dispute, which was overturned in the High Court in March.

A judge labelled the suspension “irrational” and “perverse” but Mr Hardwick insisted he stood by the suspension at the meeting on Tuesday.

“I still maintain that my interpretation was correct, the judge disagreed with me,” said the commissioner.

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

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.

Within the meeting it was revealed by Keith Vaz that Mr Hardwick had been left with a £50,000 bill from the High Court case, which the commissioner admitted was “news to me”.

“The money will come from the budget of my own office, which is £450,000 per year,” he said, confirming the taxpayer will foot the bill.

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,” he said.

Asked if he would apologise to Neil Rhodes if Sir Peter Fahy found Mr Hardwick to be in the wrong over the suspension, he confirmed he would.

Mr Hardwick, who has no deputy commissioner, also revealed that he had recently been ill and had left his chief executive, who is not elected, to deputise.

Lincolnshire’s Police and Crime Panel chairman Coun Ray Wootten was also called to give evidence to the committee.

He was asked why it took 72 days to organise a crime panel meeting, which was held last week, in the wake of the suspension of Neil Rhodes.

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,” Keith Vaz told him.

Coun Wootten said the crime panel’s legal adviser had told him they had 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.

Keith Vaz then asked Coun Wootten why members of the public were “not allowed” into the extraordinary meeting held last Thursday.

“We were unaware that there were members of the public waiting,” he replied, revealing that a panel member had also been unable to enter the chamber until the meeting had finished.

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?”

Another MP said he was “flabbergasted” by what he had heard but Coun Wootten claimed East Lindsey District Council have pledged only to issue a formal apology if there is sufficient coverage of the incident in the media.

Mr Vaz said the committee would be writing to the council’s chief executive Stuart Davy for an explanation.

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.