Former Yorkshire chief constable wins High Court challenge over decision requiring him to quit

David Crompton has won his High Court case.
David Crompton has won his High Court case.
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South Yorkshire's former chief constable has won a High Court challenge over the decision requiring him to resign.

Judges sitting in London today quashed the decision to suspend David Crompton and effectively force him from his £162,000-a-year role over a controversial statement he made after the verdicts in the new Hillsborough inquests.

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Lawyers for Mr Crompton claimed there was no "fair or reasonable basis" for police and crime commissioner Dr Alan Billings to take the draconian step of forcing him out of office in South Yorkshire.

And in a judgement released this morning, Lady Justice Sharp and Mr Justice Garnham ruled that the "final decision to require the chief constable's resignation was wholly disproportionate".

Dr Billings said he was "disappointed" by the ruling and would be taking his case to the Court of Appeal after being denied leave to appeal the decision at the Queen's Bench Division, where it was issued.

His office revealed that the it had incurred legal costs of £72,000 for the Section 38 process which saw Mr Crompton removed from his job, and as of June 7 a further £85,000 in legal fees.

And Mr Crompton criticised the PCC for spending "a huge amount of public money" on the case which he said would have been better spent on operational policing.

Mr Crompton issued the statement which cost him his job in the wake of April 2016 inquest findings into the deaths resulting from the Hillsborough stadium disaster 27 years before. A jury concluded that police conduct contributed to or caused the deaths of 96 football fans.

The statement, which said police failures in 1989 "had to be put into the context of other contributory factors" seemed to go back on an earlier apology issued in 2012 by seeking to focus on the behaviour of Liverpool support.

The day after the findings were delivered, the PCC decided to invoke a procedure under which Mr Crompton was suspended and ultimately required to resign that September.

During the High Court proceedings in March, Hugh Davies QC said Mr Crompton, who had intended to go in November 2016 after 30 years of distinguished service, was not involved in his force's underlying failures at Hillsborough or its response to the disaster.

Nor was he implicated in any of the jury's adverse findings, he told the judges.

As chief constable in 2012, he made a public apology on behalf of the force following the findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel.

Counsel said the PCC decided to require his resignation, not because of any alleged wrongdoing associated with the underlying events, but because of a press release he issued in response to a question raised by then shadow home secretary Andy Burnham.

Mr Davies said the PCC's assessment was that this press release constituted a "serious misjudgment" which had "damaged trust and confidence" in South Yorkshire Police.

Asking the court to quash the decision, he said: "The claimant submits that the defendant had no fair or reasonable basis for taking the draconian step of forcing him out of office, and that the decision was unlawful."

Jonathan Swift QC, for the PCC, had argued that the claim should be dismissed as it was bad on its merits and challenged matters which had been entirely overtaken by the September 2016 decision calling upon Mr Crompton to resign.

He said that, although that decision was plainly controversial, the assessment fell squarely within the discretion and responsibility available to the PCC as the person with the electoral mandate to hold the chief constable to account for his actions.

The PCC was entitled to conclude that public trust and confidence in the chief constable had been damaged by his actions, he submitted.

In a statement after the judgement was issued, Mr Crompton said: “I welcome today’s decision by the court to overturn the Police and Crime Commissioner’s decisions first to suspend me, and then to require me to resign.

"The court's judgment concludes Dr Billings acted unlawfully from start to finish, branding his course of decision making ‘irrational’, ‘perverse’, 'unreasonable', 'misconceived' and 'wholly disproportionate'.

The public and a police force are entitled to expect their Police and Crime Commissioner to act fairly and rationally. The history related by the court demonstrates a complete absence of both.

"Similarly, the court found the Police and Crime Panel's reasoning in support of Dr Billings to be 'thin and unconvincing'.

"Dr Billings has spent a huge amount of public money trying to defend actions which he was advised in the strongest terms not to pursue by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary.

"It is highly significant that today’s judgment repeats almost all of the arguments made originally by Sir Thomas nearly a year ago in his advice under the statutory process to the Police and Crime Commissioner. This money would have been better spent on operational policing.

"In the circumstances I believe no further comment from me is necessary. The judgment, which is damning, speaks for itself."

In response, Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “I am disappointed by the judgement that has been handed down by the High Court today.

“I will be seeking permission to appeal the outcome, from the Court of Appeal, as this decision has potentially serious implications for the governance arrangements for the police service generally and not just in South Yorkshire.

"I will be consulting about that with the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners before deciding how to proceed, as I recognise the process has already been expensive and it would not necessarily be in the interest of the South Yorkshire tax payers to foot the bill, despite the national importance of the decision in this case.”

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