A police chief has a case to answer for alleged misconduct for providing an inaccurate account of how his mobile phone was damaged, a watchdog has found.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) reached the conclusion in relation to Mike Veale’s explanation to colleagues that the phone had been dropped in a golf club car park and inadvertently run over by a vehicle.
He subsequently explained to IOPC investigators that the damage was in fact caused when he swung a club at his golf bag in frustration after playing a poor shot during a round in September 2017.
The probe was launched in January in the wake of anonymous allegations that Mr Veale, the former head of Wiltshire Police, had deliberately damaged his police-issue phone to hide his contact with “various parties” over Operation Conifer, the force’s controversial investigation into the late former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath.
The IOPC said it had found no evidence that the damage to the phone had been caused deliberately or with the motive to conceal any information, and Mr Veale was found to have no case to answer for discreditable conduct.
IOPC director Catrin Evans said: “The evidence gathered points to Chief Constable Veale damaging his mobile phone entirely by accident.
“He then arranged for all data from the damaged phone to be retrieved, and we found no evidence to suggest he was motivated to conceal information.
“Mr Veale volunteered to our investigators that he was embarrassed by his behaviour over a momentary loss of self-control on the golf course, at a time of personal and professional stress.
“However, chief constables are expected to promote ethical values, lead by personal example and act as ambassadors for the standards of professional behaviour.
“That Mr Veale chose to give a different account to the truth, both verbally and in writing on several occasions and for some time, in our view amounted to a case to answer for misconduct relating to honesty and integrity.”
Operation Conifer was established to investigate historical abuse allegations against Sir Edward Heath, who was Prime Minister between 1970 and 1974 and died in 2005.
The two-year, £1.5 million inquiry examined 42 disclosures by 40 separate individuals.
Wiltshire Police concluded that, if Sir Edward had been alive, he would have been interviewed about seven disclosures under criminal caution – but officers stressed no inference of guilt should be drawn from the findings.
Of the remaining 35 disclosures, police found 19 would not have met the threshold for an interview because of “undermining evidence”, three were cases of mistaken identity, 10 were made by third parties, and three were made anonymously.
Following the publication of the IOPC’s findings, Mr Veale said: “It is important to emphasise that during the time I led the force through Operation Conifer, a highly politicised and nationally significant and sensitive investigation, I was regularly warned by close confidantes and members of the public I would be subject at some stage to vexatious and false allegations to tarnish my reputation. Sadly this has been the case.”
He said he had given a different account to some colleagues about the accidental damage to his phone to “avoid more unnecessary media attention and to spare my own obvious embarrassment for damaging my phone in such a ridiculous way and most importantly to ensure my colleagues were not aware of the pressure I was feeling at a time when I needed to be strong”.
He added: “The account I gave to some colleagues should not have been given. I regret that I gave any account at all as to why the damage was caused as there was no reason to do so as this was simply an accident. This was a mistake and I could have handled it differently.”
Mr Veale, who has since joined Cleveland Police, will be subject to a management action plan.
Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger said he agreed with the IOPC’s finding that Mr Veale had no case to answer over the allegation he had deliberately destroyed the phone.
He added: “Despite the enormous strain an unfounded allegation of this nature would place on anyone, CC Veale has conducted himself with the drive, energy and commitment required of him as Chief Constable of Cleveland.”