Top officers may face charges over cover-up claims

Police chiefs are among force staff who could face prosecution for perverting the course of justice in murder trial

Two serving chief constables could face criminal charges over claims that their former force hushed up the activities of a corrupt unit to secure convictions in a gangland murder trial.

Prosecutors will consider charging 14 officers including current chief constables Suzette Davenport and Adrian Lee after the convictions of five men were quashed for what judges said was an “apparent serious perversion of the course of justice”.

Staffordshire officers promised a £20,000 reward to a witness at the 2002 murder of Kevin Nunes to ensure he gave evidence against fellow gang members, according to a Court of Appeal ruling last year. Officers also took the witness drinking, went with him to nightclubs and covered up other crimes that he carried out, according to the ruling.

The behaviour of officers in the witness protection unit was exposed by a whistleblower and Ms Davenport – now chief constable of Gloucestershire – ordered a report into the claims.

But the 73-page report was never passed to defence teams for the five men who were convicted of murder the following year. Because of this, they were denied the opportunity to expose the unit as a “dysfunctional organisation fractured by in-fighting, containing officers whose honesty and integrity were open to question,” according to the ruling by three Appeal Court judges.

The five men were given sentences of more than 135 years for murdering the 20-year-old following a trial based largely on the evidence of the witness, Simeon Taylor, who was not prosecuted but allegedly drove the killers and victim to the scene of the hit. Mr Nunes, a talented footballer once on the books of Tottenham Hotspur, was found dead on a country road in Staffordshire.

Following a two-year inquiry, papers have been passed to the Crown Prosecution Service on five officers in the witness protection unit, the police watchdog said yesterday. A file of evidence will be passed in the coming weeks into nine more senior officers, including four officers holding chief officer rank.

They include Ms Davenport, Gloucestershire’s police chief and one of eight women chief constables in the country, and  Mr Lee, who as Northamptonshire Chief Constable this week led calls for privately-run “drunk tanks” to hold inebriated revellers.

Other officers include Staffordshire Deputy Chief Constable Jane Sawyers who was first approached by the whistleblower when head of the force’s disciplinary team, and Assistant Chief Constable Marcus Beale, who has overseen a series of successful terrorism operations since moving to the West Midlands. A West Midlands police spokesman said it awaited the CPS’s decision.

The 14 officers, who all worked for Staffordshire police at the time of the inquiry, have been interviewed by investigators at least twice.

Ms Davenport was yesterday backed by her local police crime commissioner Martin Surl, who said: “This investigation has been going on for a number of years and I will be glad when it has been brought to a conclusion.”

Chief Constable Adrian Lee said: “I welcome this development because it brings the conclusion closer.”

Staffordshire chief constable Mike Cunningham, said: “The submission of files to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) today was entirely expected.... It’s a matter for them – not the police – to independently establish if wrongdoing has taken place.”