Avon and Somerset Police Chief Constable Nick Gargan is not to face any criminal charges following a probe by the police watchdog earlier this year. Despite this, Mr Gargan is to face an internal charge of gross misconduct over allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards women, including making inappropriate advances to a female member of staff. The probe, which was conducted by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), led to Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens concluding that the complaints against Mr Gargan were sufficient for the internal charge, and he has been suspended since May of this year. PCC Mountstevens had until the end of October to decide whether or not to go ahead with the internal disciplinary proceedings.
Ms Mountstevens commented: “I have made the decision there is a case to answer for gross misconduct and therefore I will refer the allegations to a misconduct hearing in front of an independent misconduct panel. The members of the panel will decide if the allegations are proven or not and will present their recommendations to me. I will ensure that these recommendations are made public.”
Mr Gargan, whose position as Chief Constable has been held by Acting Chief Constable John Long, is yet to comment on the affair. The chairman of the Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Panel, Mr Nigel Ashton, voiced concern about how long the gross misconduct charge had taken to be raised in the first place. Mr Ashton commented that the original complainant has the right to anonymity, adding that the chief constable himself was also ‘innocent until proven guilty’. Mr Ashton also added that it “should have been handled much more quickly”.
The complaint proceedings were complicated due to the PCC Sue Mountstevens’ naming of the person who had originally made the complaint to Mr Gargan himself. Ms Mountstevens was told by the force’s crime panel that she had made a mistake after receiving a complaint about her actions in naming the originally anonymous person. Ms Mountstevens commented that, with regards to the situation and the ensuing complaints, it is a situation she “could have handled better”. Ms Mountstevens has stated that she let the identity of the person who had filed the complaint against Mr Gargan be known to him after she had met with him to discuss concerns about the specific individual and their general state. Ms Mountstevens publicly apologised for her mistake, due to the fact that she had breached her own code of conduct. The force’s crime panel has chosen to publish the findings in the aftermath of Ms Mountstevens’ naming of the complainant, clarifying that it is being considered a “serious error of judgement” rather than a “mistake”.
In addition to the complaints of gross misconduct towards women, Chief Constable Gargan was also investigated over alleged data protection breaches, with the IPCC later saying that they did not feel Mr Gargan himself committed the offence. This is because Mr Gargan had previously been registered at the data controller for Avon and Somerset Police, and as such the offence can only be committed by someone who does not have the same access to the data to begin with.
When the decision to go forth with an internal charge of gross misconduct was first announced, Ms Mountstevens released the following statement: “Following the conclusion of the IPCC’s investigation into allegations in relation to the improper disclosure of information and inappropriate behaviour towards women, made about Chief Constable Nick Gargan, I was provided with the IPCC’s report and had 15 working days to make a decision on whether or not to refer the matter to misconduct proceedings. The IPCC put forward a number of recommendations regarding Nick Gargan. In accordance with those recommendations, I have made the decision there is a case to answer for gross misconduct and therefore I will refer the allegations to a misconduct hearing in front of an independent misconduct panel. I will not be involved in the misconduct panel.”
Photo credit: Policy Exchange