My Lords, arrangements for the misconduct hearing of former Chief Constable Mike Veale are a matter for the Cleveland police and crime commissioner, and it would be inappropriate to comment further while those proceedings remain ongoing.
My Lords, what on earth is going on in Cleveland, where the PCC announced last August that an independent panel, chaired by a lawyer, would begin the gross misconduct hearing against Veale shortly, following a two-year inquiry by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, the report of which has not been published? Things seem to move very slowly where police misconduct is concerned. Has the Home Office noticed that a long-standing superintendent in Cleveland denounced Veale last month for subjecting her to, in her words, a “biased, flawed and … unfair” investigation, piling on yet further allegations against him? Is this scandal-ridden man to continue to rake in his £100,000 salary, plus expenses, from his kind friend, the current so-called Conservative PCC for Leicestershire and Rutland? In short, will the Home Office let this very rotten apple get away with it?
My Lords, I think my noble friend will concede that there is a process under way and that misconduct hearings must commence within 100 working days of the officer being served with a notice. But the legally qualified chair does have the power to extend the period of time when they consider it in the interest of justice to do so. It is a decision entirely for the chair, and it would be inappropriate to comment on such a decision.
My Lords, I will follow on from the excellent question from the noble Lord, Lord Lexden. The contract that Mike Veale has with the Conservative police and crime commissioner in Leicester, under which he has so far been paid £35,000, includes a clause that says that part of his role is to hold the chief constable of Leicestershire to account for implementation of crime strategies. Does the Minister agree that it is totally unacceptable that the chief constable of Leicestershire, with an unblemished record, should answer to someone facing a gross misconduct hearing?
My Lords, I declare my interest as immediate past chairman of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation. Whatever one’s views of Mr Veale, serious questions have been raised about Operation Conifer from all sides of the House as to whether it was truly impartial, honest or effective. When on earth are we going to get a genuinely independent review of Operation Conifer?
As my noble friend is probably aware, we do not have plans to commission a review of either the conduct of the investigation into the allegations or the findings of the investigation. There have been several levels of scrutiny. Operation Conifer was subject to its own scrutiny channel, which checked and tested the decision-making. There were two reviews by Operation Hydrant in September 2016 and May 2017, which concluded that the investigation was proportionate, legitimate and in accordance with national guidance. A further review in January 2017 and the IOPC have also considered specific allegations related to the former chief constable, as noble Lords will have heard this morning.
My Lords, this miserable stain has been spreading since 2015. For all the inquiries—many of which were the police authorities marking their own homework—is this really acceptable? When is this matter going to be finished with—later this year, next year or in another five years? Is it not about time we had an independent inquiry into all this? We could have somebody like Sir Richard Henriques, who knows all about it. It could be up and running very quickly to start restoring the reputation of a police service which, if I may say so, my own family over four generations and 150 years was happy to serve.
My Lords, I will not repeat what I said earlier on, but on the panel that will investigate this, we have a legally qualified chair, an independent panel member and a member of HMICFRS. In terms of independence, I do not think there can be any argument, and there is certainly no argument about the rightly named Independent Office for Police Conduct.
The IOPC report said that Veale had been found guilty of lying about damaging his work phone so that he could not be held accountable. I understand some senior Tories at No. 10 have done something similar, so what is happening with them?
My Lords, I will just repeat what I have already said: that the IOPC is by its very name independent and will conclude its investigations in due course. This House trying to get me to opine on an ongoing investigation is not the best idea for the outcome of that investigation.
I must say that the answers to the questions being asked seem like a “no comment” interview on the part of the Government. Let us just repeat some things. Mr Veale, the controversial former chief constable of Wiltshire, resigned after 10 months as chief constable of the Cleveland force in January 2019 following gross misconduct allegations. The IOPC investigated the claims over a two-year period and came to the conclusion that
“there was sufficient evidence to indicate that Mr Veale had breached the standards of professional behaviour”
“should face proceedings for gross misconduct.”
Yet he is now carrying out well-paid advisory work for the police and crime commissioner for Leicestershire. As has just been said, his responsibilities apparently include holding the chief constable of Leicestershire to account at a time when he himself faces an outstanding misconduct hearing. You could not make it up. At a time when trust and confidence in the police is not at a level we would wish, what action does the Home Secretary intend to take in respect of Mr Veale’s case, which is doing nothing—to put it mildly—to restore confidence and trust in our police? The whole situation with Mr Veale is a joke and a pretty sick joke at that. For how much longer does the Home Secretary intend to take a back seat? I thought she had responsibility for the standing and status of, and confidence in, our police force on a national basis. It is time she took action on this.
My Lords, as I have said, the misconduct proceedings are ongoing. If an independent panel finds a former officer guilty of gross misconduct, it can determine that the officer would have been dismissed had they still been serving. If that occurs, the officer would be placed on the College of Policing’s barred list, preventing them rejoining policing.
My Lords, the whole House holds my noble friend in high regard, but we have had this time and again. Another reputation is being besmirched—that of the Home Office itself. As the noble Lord opposite has just said, the Home Office has ultimate responsibility. Will my noble friend please, at the very least, tell the Home Secretary today that this House is virtually united in its concern at the way these events have been handled?
I note my noble friend’s comments. There is a process ongoing, and it would be wrong for me to opine on that process other than to say that it is ongoing. The Home Secretary has herself initiated a review into the IOPC, which will be commencing shortly, but I must stress that the police are operationally independent of the Home Office.
My Lords, if I may say so to the Minister, the sense of urgency from the House, in preference to what is happening in real life, is partly due to the police having created a mood of taking false allegations seriously and the undoing of that mood not being taken seriously. Does she recognise that those false allegations make it harder for real allegations to have credibility? That is why it is so important that this is not shoved down the road. In all seriousness, why are PCCs bringing in outside consultants and strategic advisers at any level? Would she at least tell us that this is a waste of time, part of a bureaucratic state and lack of responsibility and accountability?
I think the noble Baroness makes a very good point about false allegations. On the other hand, we must be mindful that allegations that are brought forward to the police must be thoroughly investigated. Clearly, there have been many convictions for non-recent child sex abuse. She asked me another question, which I cannot remember—