Cleveland Police Drop Case Against Ex Chief

11 February 2015, 10:11 | Updated: 11 February 2015, 10:19

The legal fight to recover money paid to a disgraced Cleveland Police chief constable has been dropped by the police commissioner.

Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger has made the decision to end the challenge to recoup more than £500,000 that was paid to Sean Price.

A civil court hearing was due to take place next month but the case has been withdrawn after an agreement was made between the two parties that will see the sacked chief constable pay back £23,000.

Sean Price had slammed the exercise claiming he has no means of paying the money back even if it was proven that the bonus payments should never have been received.

The disgraced officer, who was fired by the force in October 2012 for gross misconduct, was sued for the cash by Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger, after his office replaced the former Cleveland Police Authority.

At a preliminary hearing in October, Mr Price claimed the legal costs of the claim had already reached £50,000.

Announcing the decision, Mr Coppinger said:
"I can confirm that this matter has been settled and the case has been discontinued."

"In reaching this decision, I took into account the chances of winning the case. I also considered the potential six figure cost implications to the force if we were to go to court and lose or go to court and win but be unable to recover our costs."

"I will not shy away from legal action where I believe it is in the best interests of Cleveland Police but the stark reality is that any money spent on litigation, means less money for frontline policing."

"The force has had to manage the extremely difficult task of losing 350 policing posts and £37m from the budget since 2011 and there is every possibility of further cuts."

"I have concluded in this case the best course of action is to agree to settle the matter and move on."

Last March, Mr Price was told he would not be facing criminal charges following a 41-month investigation into allegations of corruption in the force.

However, the spending culture of Cleveland Police justified the sacking of Chief Constable Sean Price and his deputy Derek Bonnard, according to chiefs.

In a document on the police commissioner's website, the crime commissioner, who was on the now defunct Cleveland Police Authority at the time of the illegal payments, says:
"These matters are understood to have been considered as part of the work of Operation Sacriston which did not result in criminal charges."

"I am keen to support Cleveland Police in moving on from these issues."

The civil court hearing entered on Mr Price receiving a £50,000 retention package and an honorarium of £24,000 - a bonus for cutting crime - during his time as chief constable.

When he took the top job in 2003, his salary of £125,000 included a £32,000 car allowance, £4,000 a year towards private school fees fir his son and £1,000 towards private health insurance.

By the time he was suspended in 2011, his total pay was £200,000.

Sean Price said:
"This was a difficult decision for me as I had a strong case that the payments were lawful and should not be repaid 10 years later."

"However the case has cost me several thousand pounds already and the public a great deal more. The only people benefiting have been lawyers."

"I made the decision that the best course of action was to settle now to prevent the costs escalating further."

"Not withstanding our differences, I would like to pass my best to all at Cleveland Police in dealing with the financial challenges facing the Force in the future."

A spokesperson for the Tax Payers Alliance said:
"This sorry tale has cost taxpayers an absolute fortune, on top of the money that may have been handed out incorrectly in the first place."

"The lawyers might be laughing all the way to the bank, but there should have been a more swift conclusion to this affair to significantly reduce the overall costs."