8 Jan 2013

Police chief loses court battle against commissioner

A chief constable who tried to block his replacement after a row with the new police commissioner loses an unprecedented legal battle in the high court.

Colin Port, chief constable of Avon and Somerset Police, wanted the court to block the hiring of a new chief after his contract runs out on 26 January.

Mr Port, 58, who has been in the post since 2005, refused to re-apply for his own job after the new police commissioner Sue Mountstevens told him there would be an open competition for the job. He complained that he had “effectively” been “called upon to create a vacancy, to retire”.

However Mr Justice-Edwards Stuart ruled in Ms Mountstevens’ favour, following a high court hearing in London, and said she had broken no rules in her dealings with Mr Port.

The police commissioner said she was “delighted” with the judge’s decision.

No intention to retire

The row between the pair began at a meeting held a day before Mrs Mountstevens, 57, officially began work in November. Mr Port said that the newly elected police commissioner had “banged her hand on the table” and said “things would be different”. He said she had a “vision for a new way of working”.

Although his term as force head was due to end later this month, he said he had no intention of retiring and wanted his appointment extended for another year.

“I’m extremely sorry that Mr Port’s career has ended in such an unsatisfactory way,” Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart said.

He said Mrs Mountstevens had not acted unlawfully and said Mr Port had not been entitled to six months’ notice. The judge said putting a halt to interviews would “damage” the force and said the application process should run its course.

But he said there was no dispute that Mr Port had been a “successful and highly effective” chief constable and said he had not reached his conclusions on the case with “any great enthusiasm”.

Confidence shaken

Mr Port, 58, began his police career in Manchester in 1974 and has also worked in Norfolk and Northern Ireland.

Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart also said Mr Port was not to blame for the breakdown of the relationship with Mrs Mountstevens.

“Mr Port went into that meeting on the 21 November in the spirit of hope and confidence and emerged 30 minutes later very shaken and with his confidence in the police and crime commissioner significantly damaged,” said Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart.

“Whether she intended the meeting to have the consequences that it did or whether she just mishandled it probably doesn’t matter for the purposes of this hearing. But I am satisfied it was one or the other.”