Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Policing Board's £150,000 legal fees bill 'was reckless'

The Northern Ireland Policing Board has been accused of "recklessly" spending public money after it emerged that over £150,000 was spent on lawyers' fees unsuccessfully fighting a fair employment case.

On top of the legal expenditure, the board was also forced to pay £35,000 in an out of court settlement to the complainant who launched legal action after failing to be selected for interview for a top post within the police authority.

More than £85,000 was paid to the Crown Solicitors' Office, the Belfast Telegraph has learned. In addition, the lead barrister in the case, Patrick Lyttle QC, was paid £42,750 and junior counsel in the case Michael Wolfe earned £23,716 for his involvement over a seven month period.

The revelations have reignited concern over the board's financial expenditure.

Recently the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the running costs of the Northern Ireland Policing Board are massively higher than other UK police authorities. The board, which costs £8.3m a year to run, has a much higher overall budget than other comparative police authorities.

The fair employment case was taken by journalist and author Chris Ryder (right) who applied for the job of director of communications in July 2003.

Ryder failed to be shortlisted for interview and dissatisfied with the board's explanation, he launched proceedings in the Fair Employment Tribunal claiming that he had been unfairly discriminated against.

After almost five years contesting the case, the board agreed to an out of court settlement of £35,000 just before a full tribunal hearing was due to take place.

The board also had to pay Ryder's court costs of almost £12,000 after they went to the Court of Appeal to try and stop the case going to the Fair Employment Tribunal.

Ryder signed a confidentiality agreement after the settlement, but said he now wanted to break the agreement as he believed it was in the public interest to reveal "this gross misuse of a large sum of public money".

Ryder said that the board broke their own recruitment guidelines and then ran up a huge legal bill instead of addressing it.

He added: "Extravagance of this scale is never justifiable, but in the particular financial circumstances of the country over recent years, it is all the more unacceptable."

The Policing Board said that in 2008 the board and Chris Ryder resolved their differences on mutually acceptable terms and added: "In order to respect the integrity of that agreement, the board has no comment to make on the particular decisions, circumstances and costs relating to a case settled three years ago."

Former DUP Policing Board member Jimmy Spratt said that Ryder's case was a "reckless" expenditure of public funds and described it as "another clear example of a body that very clearly has been well and truly tried in terms of no perception of value for money."

Background

The Policing Board costs £8.3m a year to run, has a high overall budget and pays great salaries to members. It emerged a human rights lawyer is receiving more than £10,000 a month for consultancy advice and that thousands of pounds was spent on free flights for former Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde's family.

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