Police and Crime Commissioner 'frustrated' by investigation into Chief Constable

Chief Constable Will Kerr “strenuously denies” the allegations. Credit: Devon and Cornwall Police

The Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall says she has been left "frustrated" by an investigation into the area's Chief Constable Will Kerr.

Mr Kerr was suspended from his role and Devon and Cornwall Police's Chief Constable by Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for the area Alison Hernandez earlier this week.

The suspended police boss is now at the centre of a criminal investigation into alleged sexual offence by The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

Mr Kerr, who was formerly an assistant chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), says he strenuously denies any allegations of criminality.

Now Ms Hernandez has claimed jurisdictional issues led to delays in her suspension of Mr Kerr.

She said she referred an allegation made against Chief Constable Will Kerr to police watchdog the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) on 23 March of this year. 

The IOPC closed this referral almost a month later. It says this is because it related to allegations of criminal conduct which were alleged to have happened outside of its jurisdiction.

It says it later requested a second referral from the PCC so it could investigate alleged misconduct issues which do fall under its remit.

In her statement, Ms Hernandez said: “My decision-making process regarding suspension has been hampered by a distinct lack of clarity regarding which body was responsible for overseeing a complaint of this nature.

"There are lessons here for UK Policing. Police and Crime Commissioners are the appropriate body to make hugely significant decisions in this area, they must be provided with sufficient information to inform these decisions and investigatory bodies should be absolutely clear about their remits and jurisdictions. 

“The delays caused in this case are less than ideal for all concerned. I hope now that all agencies will move swiftly to bring this case to a resolution.” 

She also said she has been "frustrated" by the fact she has not been presented with any evidence to support the case made against Mr Kerr.

It is understood a Police and Crime Commissioner would not be given access to evidence surrounding an active investigation into any police officer.

In response to the PCC's statement, an IOPC spokesperson said: “Of course there are complications involved in a situation like this which involves two jurisdictions, but we have been working closely with the relevant authorities in Northern Ireland since March, initially the Police Service of Northern Ireland and then the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland."

They added: "When the initial referral was received from the PCC it was limited to the allegations of criminal conduct, which is something we didn’t have the authority to investigate as it is alleged to have happened outside our jurisdiction. We subsequently requested a second referral from the PCC so that we could investigate the alleged misconduct issues which do fall under our remit."

The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland confirmed it was made aware of the PSNI investigation into serious allegations in late March and is aware that the PCC was briefed by the PSNI on those allegations at that time.

The statement adds: "Having been made aware, the Ombudsman gave consideration to the nature of the allegations and the jurisdictional issues, conducted an assessment of the available information, and subsequently made a decision to commence an ‘own motion’ investigation on 1 June 2023.

"The criminal investigation began on 16 June 2023. The Ombudsman has engaged with the PCC since her decision to investigate and has ensured the PCC has had sufficient information on which to base those decisions for which she is responsible.

"The Ombudsman would not, however, share evidential material pertaining to an investigation."