The Lincolnshire police and crime commissioner’s decision to suspend his chief constable was ‘irrational and perverse’ a high court judge ruled today.
Neil Rhodes was suspended by Alan Hardwick, in February, who beleived the chief constable helped a senior Muslim lawyer from another force use his ethnicity to pursue damages after leaving his role, despite knowing the claim was a “contrivance”.
However, a high court judge in Manchester ruled the decision was “irrational and perverse” and quashed Mr Rhodes’ suspension.
Mr Rhodes assisted West Yorkshire Police lawyer Afzal Hussain, who was dismissed from the force after 17 years and was suing his former employer, the court heard. He strenuously denied any wrongdoing.
Mr Rhodes was suspended following a telephone conversation between him and Fraser Sampson, the chief executive and solicitor to the PCC for West Yorkshire, the court heard.
The chief constable said he was calling to “broker a sensible and reasonable resolution” to Mr Hussain’s grievance by getting all parties around the table.
Lincolnshire PCC claimed that, during the conversation, Mr Rhodes indicated race was being used as “a lever”, which amounted to him helping push a discrimination claim he knew was unsubstantiated.
It said his suspension until matters were resolved was in the public interest.
Judge Justice Stuart-Smith said the two-day hearing at Manchester Civil Justice Centre was not to determine the facts of the discrimination case but to assess whether Mr Rhodes was lawfully suspended.
He said Mr Hardwick had interpreted Mr Rhodes’ comments during the phone call in a negative way, when other positive inferences could have been drawn.
Mr Justice Stuart-Smith said the commissioner also failed to take into account Mr Rhodes’ unblemished and exceptional 27-year record as a police officer, which was “essential in any fair assessment”.
He also said the argument that it was in the public interest to suspend Mr Rhodes would be compromised by the “inadequate and unjustifiable assessment of the state of the case as it stood before him”.
Mr Justice Stuart-Smith added: “In the result, I am convinced that the decision taken by Mr Hardwick to suspend Mr Rhodes can only be described as irrational and perverse.
“I therefore quash the decision. In doing so I repeat that the court cannot and does not attempt to prejudice or predict the outcome of any investigation that may take place.
“This judgment is solely a ruling on the legality of the decisions to suspend and maintain the suspension.”
An investigation into Mr Rhodes’ handling of the discrimination claim is currently being carried out by an independent force.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “It is for PCCs to make decisions around appointing, suspending and removing chief constables.
“The PCC will wish to consider the court’s judgment. We understand that an investigation is still ongoing and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”
Mr Justice Stuart-Smith ordered the costs of the case be met by the PCC, which has subsequently confirmed that the taxpayer will foot the bill.
Speaking outside court after the hearing, Mr Rhodes said the proceedings were “entirely unnecessary” and have taken their toll on him and his family.
He said: “I’m very pleased with the decision of the judge today who has declared my suspension irrational and perverse and therefore unlawful.
“I will return to work now and continue to serve Lincolnshire Police with the personal and professional integrity that I believe I have displayed over the past 27 years.
“I would very much like to thank the huge number of people in the Lincolnshire Police and ordinary members of the public for their messages of support which number several hundred.
“I’m really grateful to them and I want to get back to work right now to repay their faith in me.
“The last few weeks have taken a very heavy toll on me and particularly on my family.”
Mr Rhodes added: “The judgment today has demonstrated this was entirely unnecessary as the PCC’s concerns should have been resolved professionally and with proper investigation.
“I endeavoured to resolve this and had hoped common sense would prevail. I maintained a dignified silence in the media throughout. Court was absolutely my final recourse.
“I now look forward to a mature and constructive discussion with the commissioner about our future working relationship.”
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