The suspension of Lincolnshire’s acting chief constable Neil Rhodes has been quashed by a High Court judge.
Mr Rhodes was suspended from duty in February by the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Hardwick over “potential conduct matters”.
Mr Hardwick said he had taken the decision to remove the chief constable from duty after allegations he had mishandled an employment tribunal issue with a senior colleague from another force.
But High Court judge Mr Justice Stuart-Smith quashed the suspension at Manchester Civil Justice Centre yesterday and allowed Mr Rhodes to return to work, calling Mr Hardwick’s decision “irrational and perverse”.
The police and crime commissioner had claimed Mr Rhodes helped a senior Muslim lawyer from another force use his ethnicity to pursue damages after leaving his role, despite knowing the claim was a “contrivance”.
The court heard Mr Rhodes had helped West Yorkshire Police lawyer Afzal Hussain, who was dismissed from the force after 17 years and was suing his former employer, through a peer support scheme.
But Mr Rhodes strenuously denied any wrongdoing.
The court heard he was suspended after a phone conversation between him and Fraser Sampson, the chief executive and solicitor to the police and crime commissioner for West Yorkshire.
Mr Rhodes said he was calling to “broker a sensible and reasonable resolution” to Mr Hussain’s grievance by getting all parties around the table.
Mr Hardwick claimed that, during the conversation, Mr Rhodes indicated race was being used as “a lever”, which amounted to him helping push a discrimination claim he knew was unsubstantiated.
But Mr Justice Stuart-Smith said the commissioner failed to take into account Mr Rhodes’ unblemished and exceptional 27-year record as a police officer, which was “essential in any fair assessment”, adding: “In the result, I am convinced that the decision taken by Mr Hardwick to suspend Mr Rhodes can only be described as irrational and perverse.”
Mr Rhodes’ contract as acting chief constable, which began last year, runs until Monday.
When it expires he is expected to revert to his previous position as the force’s deputy chief constable.
An investigation into Mr Rhodes’ handling of the discrimination claim is being carried out by Sir Peter Fahy, of Greater Manchester Police.
Speaking outside court after the hearing, Mr Rhodes said the proceedings were “entirely unnecessary” and have taken their toll on him and his family.
He said: “I’m very pleased with the decision of the judge today who has declared my suspension irrational and perverse and therefore unlawful.
“I will return to work now and continue to serve Lincolnshire Police with the personal and professional integrity that I believe I have displayed over the past 27 years.
“I would very much like to thank the huge number of people in the Lincolnshire Police and ordinary members of the public for their messages of support which number several hundred.
“I’m really grateful to them and I want to get back to work right now to repay their faith in me.
“The last few weeks have taken a very heavy toll on me and particularly on my family.”
Mr Rhodes added: “The judgment today has demonstrated this was entirely unnecessary as the PCC’s concerns should have been resolved professionally and with proper investigation.
“I endeavoured to resolve this and had hoped common sense would prevail. I maintained a dignified silence in the media throughout. Court was absolutely my final recourse.
“I now look forward to a mature and constructive discussion with the commissioner about our future working relationship.”
Also speaking after the hearing, Mr Hardwick said he was “disappointed” by the verdict, which he said has raised serious questions about the role of police and crime commissioners.
He confirmed taxpayers will have to fund the legal costs but said he “didn’t have any idea” of the sum at this stage.
Mr Hardwick added: “What I’m concerned about is the effect this may have on other police and crime commissioners.
“There’s more guidance needed. It would appear that if police and crime commissioners make any decision at all they are going to have to be looking over their shoulder because this decision was made by a judge.
“Is it right that someone who is elected into a position has his decision overturned by a judge?”
Mr Hardwick said he was “acting on behalf of the people of Lincolnshire” and has not yet decided whether he will appeal the decision.
“I’m leaving that open,” he said.
Mr Hardwick later released a statement which said: “Whilst I accept today’s decision, I must emphasise that the court’s interpretation of the information I received is very different to mine. My concern is that in future, any decision made by a police and crime commissioner which could be considered contentious, is likely to be open to challenge in the courts. The investigation into the serious allegations is still ongoing under the direction of Sir Peter Fahy.”