Criminal probe launched into police chief Will Kerr amid serious sexual offence allegations

Will Kerr has been suspended following allegations of misconduct. Credit: Devon and Cornwall Police

A criminal investigation has been launched following allegations of serious sexual offences against the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall Police.

Will Kerr, who joined the force in December 2022, was suspended by Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Alison Hernandez earlier today (26 July).

He was previously an assistant chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland Marie Anderson has now confirmed a criminal investigation has been launched into the allegations made against him.

In a statement, she said: "The Police Ombudsman commenced a criminal investigation into serious allegations of sexual offences against a former Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) senior officer, currently the Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall, on 16 June 2023, using her own motion powers.

“The ombudsman will also consider the circumstances under which the allegations were investigated by PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland).

“The office has been engaging with the IOPC (Independent Office for Police Conduct) on cross-jurisdictional issues in recent weeks, as well as with the office of the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner.

“Details concerning the precise nature of the allegations and any early investigative actions remain confidential at this time."

Will Kerr has been suspended by Devon and Cornwall's PCC Ms Hernandez.

In a statement, her office confirmed she has referred the matter to the police watchdog to investigate.

Jim Colwell has been appointed as Acting Chief Constable for the force on an interim basis. He said: “I understand our communities will be concerned about the reports in the media today regarding the suspension of Chief Constable Will Kerr KPM by the Police and Crime Commissioner.

"The PCC suspension of Mr Kerr follows a referral to the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

“I am keen to reassure the public that we will maintain our focus on delivering the best possible service to our communities.

“We have thousands of dedicated and professional officers, staff and volunteers within our force and strong leadership throughout which, when pulled together, mean we can continue to make improvements at pace to provide our communities with the highest levels of service they deserve.

“Public trust and confidence are at the very heart of our ability to police effectively and we are incredibly proud that in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly we have the support of our communities.

“I will be stepping into the role of Acting Chief Constable on an interim basis to ensure consistency of leadership and service delivery of policing across the peninsula.

“This now remains a matter for the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner and the IOPC to investigate.”

Will Kerr joined Devon and Cornwall Police in December 2022 when it had been placed in special measures by His Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, the policing inspectorate. 

The force was criticised over a mass shooting in Keyham in 2021 which saw five people shot dead by gunman Jake Davison before he turned the gun on himself.

Speaking following an inquest into the deaths of the Keyham victims, Ms Hernandez spoke highly of Will Kerr.

  • Watch Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez on Will Kerr's appointment

"I'm really pleased we've got a new Chief Constable and that leadership is strong," she said.

"I have every confidence that now, moving forward and not just in the firearms licensing department, but for the whole organisation, we'll see an improvement."

The IOPC has confirmed it is investigating the allegations against him.