Avon and Somerset Police chief Colin Port's High Court battle in bid to save job
The outgoing Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset is taking the new Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) to court in a bid to save his job.
Colin Port, the head of Avon and Somerset constabulary has applied to the High Court for an injunction, due to be mentioned in front of Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart at the Royal Courts of Justice this morning, and, if successful, interviews of candidates pencilled in for this Thursday and Friday will have to be cancelled.
Mr Port’s contract expires on January 26, and he took the decision to stand down after eight years in the job in November, the day after Sue Mountstevens was sworn in as PCC.
Shortly after her election in November, she told him he would have to reapply for his job if he wanted to extend his tenure – something he said he had “no intention” of doing.
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Ms Mountstevens wants an “open” and “competitive” appointment process and, ideally, a chief constable who will be in situ for the whole of her term as commissioner – until May 2016.
Given the length of his tenure, Mr Port can only now extend his contract by a year at a time.
The wheels have been in motion to find a new chief constable for more than a month and a shortlist has been drawn up by the commissioner’s office. But Mr Port has now thrown a huge spanner in the works. He appears to be trying to temporarily extend his tenure by requesting six months’ notice that his contract would not be renewed – to which he believes he is entitled.
However, as the commis sioner only took over from the outgoing police authority after the election on November 15, that has been impossible. And, technically, the decision to step down was made by Mr Port himself – not Ms Mountstevens.
A statement from her office said: “After publicly announcing on November 22 that he intended to retire at the end of his fixed-term appointment on January 26, 2013, we were surprised to receive a legal letter from Chief Constable Colin Port, on Friday, December 21, requesting six months’ notice and an injunction blocking the interview process for a new Chief. We believe his claims are unfounded and we will resist them.”
Avon and Somerset police spokeswoman Catherine Foster said: “There are judicial proceedings on-going between the Chief Constable and the Police and Crime Commissioner and therefore, because those proceedings are active, it would not be appropriate for us to comment.”
It is unclear whether both Mr Port and Ms Mountstevens would be in court in person today, as it is “the commissioner” as a body that could be subject to the injunction, not as an individual.
The commissioner has the power to hire or fire a chief constable, but that decision can be vetoed, with a two-thirds majority, by the new regional Police and Crime Panel, made up of councillors and independent members.
Last month, Ms Mountstevens said: “Colin has achieved a great deal over the last few years. If we could have worked longer together that would have been the best way forward.
“But we’ve got real challenges in the constabulary, with the pressures of the Government’s comprehensive spending review. I believe the new chief constable needs to be in place for a significant amount of time for us to address those challenges.”
From January 26, Deputy Chief Constable Rob Beckley is due to become Acting Chief Constable.