Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

No charges over PCC expenses leak

Mr Rhodes, left, with Prime Minister David Cameron (right) and Carlisle MP John Stevenson (centre), during campaigning for the PCC elections.

No one will be prosecuted after a six-month long police investigation into a whistle-blower who leaked a crime commissioner's expenses claims for chauffeur-driven cars.

A political row erupted after officers made a series of arrests and searched a property when the office of Richard Rhodes, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cumbria, called in police after his expenses claims were leaked to a local newspaper.

The £65,000-a-year PCC attended two meetings in a chauffeur-driven car, costing taxpayers nearly £700.

Mr Rhodes repaid the money - after the story appeared in print, but the arrests and police investigation caused uproar amid claims of heavy handed action by Cumbria Police.

The hunt for who leaked the details ended today with Cumbria Police announcing a 50-year-old woman, a civilian police worker, arrested in April on suspicion of data protection offences and misconduct in a public office, will face no criminal action. She remains suspended from work.

However a statement released by the force said a misconduct investigation will now begin in relation to any internal breach of the their own code of conduct.

Local MP Tim Farron said questions needed to be asked about the use of resources on such an investigation.

"I welcome the news that the final person who remained under investigation over the Richard Rhodes leaked documents case has been released without charge," he said.

"This is good news and vindicates what I and others have been saying for months - that these people are whistleblowers and not criminals."

The Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale added: "The police have spent a huge amount of money and time on this investigation while disrupting the lives and careers of a number of people with arrests.

"Given that people in Cumbria sometimes feel let down by the way the police allocate resources, questions should be asked about why the force spent so much time and resources on a case that affected the constabulary itself when we have finished with no action being taken."

Mr Rhodes had previously refused to answer any questions on the police's actions as a criminal investigation was under way.

Today his spokeswoman refused to answer questions and said: "This is a matter for the constabulary."

Mr Rhodes has refused to say who it was in his office who first called in police over the leak.

Though they were legitimate claims for business expenses incurred while doing his job, Mr Rhodes apologised for failing to check the near £700 cost before hiring a chauffeur-driven Mercedes to go to two evening engagements.

He made a second apology for not publishing his expense online as he should have done in the first place.

But Mr Rhodes, the Conservative PCC candidate elected last November and a former headmaster, has previously backed the police inquiry, saying: "We are talking about breach of procedure here."

Invoices for the hire car had been photocopied at police HQ and mailed to the Carlisle News and Star newspaper.

Mr Rhodes's office raised concerns with the force after the car hire cost was published in a story in the paper. The police then began their investigation.

Cumbria Constabulary say they have established internal whistle-blowing procedures for issues to be raised by officers and staff and they are under a duty to investigate any alleged unlawful disclosure of information.

A statement from the force added: "Any allegations relating to a breach of this position need to be investigated to ensure our communities can have trust and confidence in the way we deliver policing in the county."

The News and Star first published a story showing that Mr Rhodes's office was charged £313 to take him to and from his home in the south of the county to Rydal Hall in Ambleside in January.

Another bill of £385 was for a trip from home to the Pheasant Inn at Bassenthwaite Lake in February.

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Latest News

Latest Sport

Latest Showbiz