Police misconduct hearing for sexual offence to be held in private

A police misconduct hearing involving three senior officers after accusations of a sexual offence at a drinks party will be held in private, with the public and media banned.

Ch Supt Mark Warrender and Ch Supt Marc Budden were suspended after an alleged incident at a party held in Cardiff in June 2019 after a retirement function for the former Gwent police chief constable, Julian Williams.

The pair, together with Ch Insp Paul Staniforth, are due to face a misconduct hearing on 7 April, but its chair has ruled that it will be held behind closed doors after all three men and Gwent police appealed for it to be held in private.

It means that the only public record of the hearing – in which the three each face an allegation of gross misconduct – will be a summary posted on the force’s website that may have little more detail than the names and decision.

Avon and Somerset police carried out an independent investigation into allegations against Warrender and Budden directed by the Independent Office for Police Conduct. In March last year the Crown Prosecution Service said the men would not be charged.

It said: “We considered the offence of sexual assault against one officer and misconduct in public office and the improper exercise of police powers against the second officer.” Warrender was investigated over an allegation of sexual assault.

The force and the three officers argued that next week’s misconduct hearing should be heard in private to ensure the anonymity of a complainant is preserved, to protect the right to privacy of the officers, witnesses and their families, and to encourage others to report alleged wrongdoing in the future.

WalesOnline, the BBC and the Caerphilly Observer challenged the move by the force and the officers. WalesOnline argued strongly that the default position was that all proceedings in courts and tribunals should be conducted in public.

Its lawyers said that the media routinely covers cases involving alleged sexual offences, in which complainants receive lifelong anonymity. But the chair ruled it should be held in private.

Politicians in Wales strongly criticised the decision. Natasha Asghar, Conservative Senedd member for South Wales East, told WalesOnline that events such as the Sarah Everard case meant that there needed to be “totally transparency” in disciplinary hearings.

Another Senedd member, Laura Anne Jones, added: “Quite clearly it’s in the public interest for the public to hear the full facts of this case, especially in light of the recent problems with the Metropolitan police.”

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