Tribunal will decide fate of police chief

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A CHIEF CONSTABLE suspended following allegations of misconduct must face an investigation before an independent tribunal.

Frank Wilkinson, Chief Constable of Gwent, will be the first officer of his rank to be dealt with in this way.

The decision was made yesterday at a private session of the Gwent Police Authority, which Mr Wilkinson attended to make a statement about the allegations.

The affair, which is becoming increasingly embarrassing for the force, dates back nine months, when Mr Wilkinson, 51, was sent home after allegations surrounding the issuing of a speeding ticket to a prominent councillor and the award of contracts.

The allegations, made by the Deputy Chief Constable and Assistant Chief Constable, also concerned the secondment of scenes-of-crimes officers to assist the UN war- crimes unit in Bosnia.

The allegations were investigated by the Police Complaints Authority and the Crown Prosecution Service advised that no charges should be brought against the Chief Constable.

Mr Wilkinson, who has always maintained his innocence, spoke to the authority for 45 minutes yesterday.

After he emerged from the meeting at Caerphilly, in South Wales, he said: "We would all want it to be resolved as soon as possible. That would be to the benefit of the police force and the community in Gwent as well." Asked how he was dealing with the suspension, he said he would "rather be at work".

The police authority could have decided to ignore the allegations and reinstate Mr Wilkinson immediately. Instead, it decided to refer the matter to an independent tribunal, expected to be headed by a retired judge and assisted by assessors, including a chief constable or former chief constable. Until then Mr Wilkinson will remain suspended.

David Turnbull, chairman of Gwent Police Authority, said: "The tribunal will decide if the charges are to be dismissed or are proven. If proven, it will recommend to the police authority whether or not any punishment should be imposed.

"Every effort will be made to undertake the completion of the statutory procedure as speedily as practicable."

After the tribunal has heard Mr Wilkinson's case, the police authority will decide what action to take. Its powers range from taking no further action to dismissal.

The tribunal will be headed by a senior legal figure appointed by the Lord Chancellor and, if Mr Wilkinson should wish to appeal, he could only do so to the Home Secretary, Jack Straw.

Det Sgt Howard Salmon, chairman of Gwent Police Federation, said that the matter was affecting morale within the force.

He added: "We are obviously very concerned about the further delay in deciding these matters and we hope things will be brought to a satisfactory conclusion as soon as possible.

"This situation is unsettling for all parties concerned. We just hope that it will come to a conclusion very quickly and for the sake of the force that we can go forward."

While he has a reputation for a sharp mind, some claim Mr Wilkinson's manner has upset many people. Many within the force believe that even if he is cleared by the tribunal his position is now untenable.

"It would seem that the authority no longer has any confidence in Mr Wilkinson so it would be very hard to see how they would work together," said one source within the force.

Mr Wilkinson was appointed chief constable in January last year on a seven year contract. He was formerly deputy chief constable of Hertfordshire police and has almost 30 years' experience in police service.