A report has shed new light on the probe into Lincolnshire Police commissioner Marc Jones’ role in the recruitment of a chief constable. Mr Jones, who has served as the police and crime commissioner for the county since 2016, had put forward Derbyshire’s assistant chief constable Paul Gibson as his preferred candidate to succeed Lincolnshire Police head Bily Skelly in 2020.
After the recruitment was abandoned due to ‘procedural complications,’ the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigated the commissioner for alleged misconduct in public office. Its investigation lasted almost a full year, from November 2021 until October 2022, and eventually exonerated Mr Jones.
He had consistently denied any wrongdoing. The IOPC published its report on Operation Motala, as it was known, on Thursday, November 9. Operation Motala was launched after members of a police and crime panel (PCP) had raised their concerns to the IOPC in June 2021 that Mr Jones had abused his position.
They were worried he had manipulated the selection process, misled panel members and attempted to force the panel’s hand by publicly announcing his preferred candidate before a decision had been made. Mr Jones had also sent letters to the panel’s chairman, which they called an attempt at intimidation, and he had publicly criticised them in an effort to discredit their investigation.
By terminating the selection process, members of the panel said he had tried to prevent its investigation. Three candidates, none of them referred to by name in the report, were interviewed as part of the selection process on September 2 and 3, 2020.
Candidate 3, Mr Jones’ supposedly preferred candidate, was scored highly by the commissioner. Other members of the panel felt Candidate 1 had outperformed them and expressed doubts over his fairness and objectivity.
He had allegedly ‘made his mind up early on’ and was later unable to produce evidence that backed up his scores, the report says. Over the two days, the pair of candidates achieved the same cumulative score.
Though the others felt Candidate 1 was the only clear option, Mr Jones said he wanted to introduce an additional stage to the process to work out some concerns he had about the individual’s performance.
In a statement to the IOPC, Mr Jones said he was torn between Candidates 1 and 3 – despite what the other panel members said – and that he did not think it was in the public interest to restart the process, which the others had suggested doing.
During the additional stage, Mr Jones again scored Candidate 3 ‘most generously’ and Candidate 1 ‘least generously,’ the report says, in comparison to adviser and former Leicester chief constable Simon Cole.
The commissioner relayed this to the PCP on November 27, though PCP chairman Chris Cook said he doubted ‘Marc gave the whole truth’. Before the appointment was announced, Mr Jones issued a press release saying that Candidate 3 was his preferred candidate and told the PCP it was ‘the usual thing to do’ as it would have ‘leaked out anyway’. The IOPC identified no issues with accuracy.
The reports say the selection process was terminated by the commissioner as the PCP could not assure him that the candidates’ data would be redacted and he wanted to avoid a public debate about their respective merits. He said in October, in a follow up press release, he would restart the process due to the complications and costs behind probable disclosure of candidate’s data.
Between November 3 and February 5 2021, Mr Jones sent four letters to the crime panel, the report says. The first, sent by external solicitors on his behalf, threatened the panel with legal action if they shared the independent member’s report on Candidate 1 with any third party and said there was ‘no public interest’ in an investigation into his rationale.
He later went on to ‘express dismay and disappointment the PCP was continuing its enquiries,’ and said ‘any residual confidence and trust he had in the PCP’s direction and leadership had ‘ebbed away,’ and would be hard to rebuild due to the PCP’s ‘wasteful and perplexing course of action’.
In the fourth letter, he urged the panel to ‘stop this wasteful use of public resources’. On March 20, he tweeted: “PCPs in current form are worse than a waste of money, they are a negative drain on resources. That doesn’t mean they could [sic] be better.”
He added that they were a ‘pointless distraction’ and said some of their scrutiny could be ‘very politically motivated and very corrosive’. Despite the PCP’s concerns, the IOPC found no evidence of any lawbreaking or wrongdoing.
The decision maker said Mr Jones had not been seeking to appoint someone who was a close friend, nor someone who lacked the appropriate knowledge, and that it was ‘understandable’ he had wanted to take a ‘holistic view’. The officer added in the report: “The decision maker highlighted that, if Mr Jones had sought to wilfully disregard the process, he could simply have recommended Candidate 3 as his preferred candidate after the initial two-day process.”
Though the additional stage ‘had a negative impact on many of the parties involved in the process, and potentially contravened the principles of merit, fairness and openness,’ the two candidates still scored the same. The officer added: “In light of the above considerations, the decision maker was of the view that advice from others remained just that; and that it fell to Mr Jones to consider that advice against his desire to appoint the most suitable candidate (in his opinion) to lead the force.
“Ultimately, the decision maker was of the opinion that Mr Jones’ approach was more indicative of unconscious bias, naivety or misplaced self-confidence, rather than any wilfulness amounting to potential criminality.” No issues were raised with the first press release and, despite its issues, the ‘prematurely issued’ second release’s content was not misleading – even if it ‘gave the impression Mr Jones was seeking to shift responsibility for the failed process away from him’.
The report concluded: “The decision maker agreed that Mr Jones may not have been completely open or sufficiently clear in some of his dealings with the appointment panel members, Chief Constable Cole, the three candidates, third parties he approached for advice, and the PCP. However, having carefully considered these matters, the decision maker felt that they were more appropriate to be considered by the PCP, as part of their review and scrutiny role, rather than by a criminal court.”
Chris Haward was eventually selected as the new chief constable in December 2020.