Top police officer facing dismissal after losing secret documents
Assistant Chief Constable Marcus Beale had the documents in the boot of his car for five days while he went on errands.
A senior counter-terrorism police officer who lost top-secret documents which were stolen from his car has been recommended for dismissal over the error by a disciplinary panel.
Assistant Chief Constable Marcus Beale of West Midlands Police was found to have grossly misconducted himself after leaving the material in a locked briefcase in the boot.
Beale, 54, is just weeks from retirement but is now set to lose a £215,000 tax-free pension lump sum, the hearing in Birmingham was told on Tuesday.
The impact could have been catastrophic Fiona Barton QC
The officer, praised as “one of the police’s finest leaders”, left the documents in the car boot for five days, during which he went to the pub, went for a weekend away in London with his wife, and went supermarket shopping.
The documents were never supposed to leave police premises, the hearing was also told.
Delivering the panel’s verdict, Corinna Ferguson, chairman, said: “We have decided to recommend dismissal as the appropriate outcome.
She added: “We consider this as the necessary sanction for what we regard as a serious breach of protocol as to the handling of top-secret and secret material, as it is necessary to retain public confidence and the reputation of the police.”
The final decision on Beale’s future now rests with Chief Constable David Thompson, in a meeting scheduled to take place in the next few weeks.
Ms Ferguson added it was “an extraordinary mystery” as to how the documents had been stolen, with no sign of forced entry, but added it was not a matter for the panel to resolve.
He only discovered the briefcase was missing when he stopped at Warwick Services on May 15 2017, while on the way to Oxford.
The case containing four documents included minutes from a high-level counter-terror meeting, counter-terrorism local profiles, details of regular organised crime and highly sensitive information about a high-profile investigation.
Fiona Barton QC, representing the force, said: “The impact could have been catastrophic.
“It is a matter of luck the documents do not appear to have seen the light of day.”
Beale, who headed West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit, was prosecuted last year, and admitted a breach of the Official Secret Acts at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in December, for which he was fined £3,500.
At his disciplinary hearing, his QC John Beggs had urged the panel to recognise the “exceptional circumstances” of Beale’s case and his past pedigree as an officer of nearly 30 years.
The three-member panel have already been told Beale would be retiring in April, come what may.
Mr Beggs said: “It is not in dispute that there was misconduct.
“It is not in dispute it is conduct likely to bring discredit on the police service.
“My task is to seek to persuade you that in the exceptional circumstances of this case; of this officer’s career history and his contribution to policing, most particularly to counter-terrorism policing; and the prevention from death and serious injury and the impact on the community.
“This panel can – and we suggest should – find it is not gross misconduct.”
Mr Beggs, sitting next to Beale, said: “Save for this blemish on his career, ACC Beale has at all times in virtually 30 years upheld the highest standards of policing.
Plaudits from serving and former chief officers, community leaders, trade union Unite, and the military were read, paying tribute to Beale’s “competence and professionalism” as “one of the police’s finest leaders”.
He said the incident had been “wholly and extremely out of character”.
Asked what the financial cost would be to Beale, currently suspended on his £119,000-a-year salary, Mr Beggs said the penalty would be “significant”.
However, Ms Barton said: “The documents should never have been in a locked briefcase and in an unattended car certainly not for a few minutes, let alone days.”