Chief Constable Colin Port claims he was unlawfully asked to retire
Details emerged in court today of a heated meeting at which Avon and Somerset Chief Constable, Colin Port, says he was unlawfully "called upon to retire" by the Police and Crime Commissioner within days of her election.
Sue Mountstevens, who was elected on November 15 last year, faces claims that she raised her voice and slapped her hand on the table during the meeting six days later, leaving Mr Port feeling "shocked and humiliated".
She denies asking him to quit - insisting he "resigned unilaterally" - but Mr Port has now gone to the High Court in London in an 11th-hour bid to block recruitment of a successor, with candidates due to be interviewed on Thursday and Friday this week.
His counsel, Mike O'Brien QC, said Mr Port, 58, had enjoyed an exemplary police career and, when he went to the November 21 meeting, was confident of forming a good relationship with Ms Mountstevens and having his appointment confirmed for up to another two years.
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Describing the meeting as "clearly mishandled", the barrister said of Ms Mountstevens: "She raised her voice to him; she slapped her hand on the table and told him that this was what was going to happen".
Mr Port was left with the impression that there was "no way" that his tenure would be extended and that Ms Mountstevens was bent on holding a recruitment competition for a chief constable who would serve five years, the court heard.
Mr O'Brien added: "Mr Port has done extraordinarily well; his record speaks for itself. He went into the meeting in a very positive way but came out feeling shocked and humiliated."
Mr Port was "presented with a fait accompli" after Ms Mountstevens "made it clear she wanted his job" and that she "wanted a vacancy to fill", claimed the barrister, who added: "She had just been sworn in and she decided to assert her authority over the chief constable."
The court heard Mr Port "walked out" of the meeting and shortly afterwards emailed his officers to tell them he was leaving the force and would not be re-applying for the chief constable's job.
Mr O'Brien said it was only later that Mr Port realised that he had been "called upon to retire" unlawfully without the safeguards enshrined in the Police and Social Responsibility Act 2011 having been observed.
The Police and Crime Panel - which the barrister described as "the voice of the people" - should have been consulted prior to Mr Port being asked to resign and he should have been given the right to fully put his case before any decision was made.
Parliament had intended that Police and Crime Panels should supervise commissioners and ensure that they do not act in an "arbitrary or capricious" way and Mr O'Brien added: 'She tried to short-circuit the voice of the people; she thought that she was it, but she wasn't".
Speaking of the wider importance of the case, the barrister said: "Mr Port is concerned about the effect it will have on the wider police service if a commissioner can just walk in and say 'you're finished; you've got to retire'".
Emphasising that chief constables are appointed by the Crown, Mr O'Brien said the issues raised by the case go to the route of their operational independence.
Also arguing that Mr Port was entitled to at least six months notice of any decision not to renew his appointment, the barrister said that was essential for efficient policing and to ensure a smooth transition between chief constables.
Mr Port is asking Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart to grant an injunction forcing an end to the process of recruiting his successor. He also wants the judge to direct that he remains in office, at least until after the Police and Crime Panel has heard his case.
Arguing that the chief constable and commissioner can continue to work together, Mr O'Brien emphasised that Mr Port does not consider Ms Mountstevens unprofessional and that there is "no high level of personal antagonism" between them.
Lawyers for Miss Mountstevens, who disputes Mr Port's account of the critical meeting, insist that she never asked him to retire, only saying that she was "minded" to hold an open competition for the chief constable's role.
They say he "unilaterally retired", that his term of office in any event ends on January 26 and that his case is based on a "fundamentally flawed" interpretation of the law.
The hearing continues.