Chief Constable Colin Port: "Call to retire left me humiliated"
BRISTOL'S police and crime commissioner left the city's chief constable "shocked and humiliated" in a showdown which led to his exit from the force, a court heard.
Details of the heated meeting emerged during a legal bid by Avon and Somerset Constabulary's outgoing Chief Constable, Colin Port, to freeze the process of choosing his successor.
A judge yesterday rejected Mr Port's attempt to take out an injunction which would have seen interviews of shortlisted candidates, due to take place tomorrow and Friday, called off.
But as he ruled that Sue Mountstevens had not acted unlawfully in asking Mr Port to reapply for his job, the judge said the newly-elected commissioner had been "responsible for the breakdown in the relationship" with a "successful and highly effective" chief constable.
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Mr Port said he was considering an appeal against the ruling.
During the hearing Mr Port's representatives claimed he was unlawfully "called upon to retire" by Ms Mountstevens within days of her election on November 15 last year.
Mike O'Brien QC, representing Mr Port, said the 58-year-old had enjoyed an exemplary police career and, when he went to the meeting on November 21 was confident of forming a good relationship with Ms Mountstevens.
Describing the meeting as "clearly mishandled", the barrister said: "She raised her voice to him; she slapped her hand on the table and told him that this was what was going to happen."
He said Mr Port was left with the impression that there was "no way" that his tenure would be extended.
Mr O'Brien added: "He went into the meeting in a very positive way but came out feeling shocked and humiliated."
The court heard Mr Port "walked out" of the meeting and shortly afterwards e-mailed his officers to tell them he was leaving the force and would not be re-applying for the chief constable's job.
Mr O'Brien said it was only later that Mr Port realised that he had been "called upon to retire" unlawfully and the area's Police and Crime Panel, which was created to supervise the commissioner, should have been consulted before any decision was made on his future.
Mr O'Brien argued that Mr Port was entitled to at least six months notice of any decision not to renew his appointment.
Lawyers for Ms Mountstevens, who disputed Mr Port's account of the critical meeting, insisted she never asked him to retire, only saying that she was "minded" to hold an open competition for the chief constable's role. They say he "unilaterally retired", that his term of office in any event ends on January 26 and that his case was based on a "fundamentally flawed" interpretation of the law.
Ms Mountstevens said she wanted a chief constable who could stay for longer than a year – the maximum length of contract Mr Port could sign up to at a time – and said her manner in the meeting had been conciliatory. She denied raising her voice or banging her hand on the table.
Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart ruled in favour of Ms Mountstevens, saying she had not acted unlawfully and said Mr Port had not been entitled to six months' notice.
But he said: "She, I am sorry to say, was responsible for the breakdown in the relationship which really occurred from the outset between her and the chief constable.
"I am extremely sorry that Mr Port's outstanding career has ended in such an unhappy way."
After the hearing a spokesperson for the commissioner's office said: "We are going ahead with the process to recruit a chief constable and we are holding our interviews this week to appoint the best candidate for Avon and Somerset."
She wished Mr Port "every success in the future".
Mr Port issued a statement which said he was considering an appeal.
He said: "This was never just about me. This was about the position of all chief constables."