Police chief sues officer over 'stolen' pounds 10,000: High Court to hear Condon action

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The Independent Online
A DETECTIVE suspended on full pay for four years is being sued by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in an attempt to recover more than pounds 10,000 the officer allegedly stole after it was handed in at his station.

The case against Detective Constable Terence Francis, due before the High Court in London shortly, comes after a criminal trial, in which he was accused of the theft, was suddenly halted in May 1991 just as it was due to finish.

A retrial scheduled for the following year was cancelled when the Crown Prosecution Service ordered that the case be formally discontinued, though the charges remain on the file.

However, after the Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, had to repay the pounds 10,590 to the finder, Mavis Johnson, in January 1993 because the owner had not been traced, he issued a writ suing DC Francis for the return of the money.

The action began at Woolwich County Court but has been tranferred to the High Court because the case, which stretches back nine years to when the money was first handed in, raises complex and important issues.

The cash was discovered by Mrs Johnson in the front garden of her home at Eltham in south-east London, and passed to police at Woolwich on 17 August 1985.

In the belief that the cash was the proceeds of a crime, the task of tracing the owners was assigned to DC Francis who took pounds 380 to a fingerprint laboratory for testing while the balance of pounds 10,210 was deposited at the prisoners' property office at Cricklewood in north-west London.

But the writ alleges that DC Francis collected the money from the laboratory and kept it, while he withdrew the other money from the property office in two lots later in 1985 and on 11 April the following year, which he is said to have retained.

During the 1991 trial, the prosecution maintained that police had taken a decision to give the money back to Mrs Johnson on 16 April 1986 as the owner had not been found. DC Francis, who denied the theft, was said by the prosecution to have been given written authority to withdraw the money by his inspector but it was never returned to Mrs Johnson.

Eventually she wrote to the police stating that the money had not been claimed. This allegation provoked a further investigation into where the money had gone.

The Commissioner is now suing DC Francis, of Dartford, Kent, for the return of the cash, or damages, and interest running at pounds 4.35 each day - which currently amounts to more than pounds 2,500 if calculated back to the date when the money was returned to Mrs Johnson.

A spokesman for Scotland Yard yesterday said it could not comment on the case because of the action before the High Court. Disciplinary action has been precluded because of 'medical considerations'.

It is expected DC Francis, who is contesting the action, may be retired on medical grounds on completion of the High Court hearing. Solicitors acting for him also declined to comment.