MP calls for suspension of former Hampshire chief constable

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A chief constable should be suspended while an investigation into his management of a child sex abuse inquiry is ongoing, an MP has said.

Avon and Somerset Police’s reputation is suffering while the “serious” allegations against Andy Marsh “hang in the air”, according to Ian Liddell-Grainger.

He also claimed Avon and Somerset is now a “police farce” and labelled the force’s police and crime commissioner (PCC) Sue Mountstevens “incredibly thick”.

The Conservative MP’s outburst came during a Westminster Hall debate in which he focused his remarks on the investigation into Mr Marsh, a former chief constable of Hampshire.

MPs heard Mr Marsh was deputy chief constable of Hampshire Police when former pupils of Stanbridge Earls School, Romsey, made claims of sexual abuse.

Mr Liddell-Grainger said “something rotten seems to have taken place” at the school but noted by 2011 nobody had been prosecuted following investigations by the local authority, Ofsted and the police.

He said the number of allegations increased and there were questions over how thoroughly the police examined it, with Mr Marsh Hampshire chief constable at this stage.

Operation Flamborough was set up to examine how officers investigated the claims and MPs heard Mr Marsh was cleared in 2014.

In May it was announced Mr Marsh, who became Avon and Somerset chief constable in February 2016, succeeding scandal-hit Nick Gargan, was subject to a further complaint relating to his role investigating the sex abuse allegations.

Mr Liddlell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset) said: “I’m not happy with the situation. It is obvious the accusations were likely to follow Mr Marsh.

“They may be vexatious, they may be all legitimate. This is for the new inquiry to determine.

“But while they hang in the air this does absolutely no good for the reputation and morale of the Avon and Somerset police force.

“The police and crime commissioner deserves to take the blame for another expensive fiasco and mistake.”

Mr Liddlell-Grainger, who earlier noted Mr Marsh is married to Nikki Watson, an assistant chief constable at Avon and Somerset, added: “The police chief constable Andy Marsh should be suspended, like she’s done with all the others, until this is cleared up.

“These are not trivial, fly-by-night allegations, these are serious allegations. You cannot pretend they haven’t been made, you cannot pretend they are not current.

“Why he’s still there is beyond me. I think one of the reasons is because if he goes it’s his missus that takes over - that could make the breakfast table quite interesting in the Marsh household.

“I suspect also that Mrs Mountstevens has once again lost her nerve. She doesn’t know what to do - like I say, she isn’t bright. I’m being generous.”

He went on: “Avon and Somerset is becoming a police farce not a police force.”

Earlier, Mr Liddell-Grainger - when recalling Mrs Mountstevens’ handling of the previous case of Mr Gargan - told MPs: “I don’t think Mrs Mountstevens had a clue. She isn’t bright - she’s in fact incredibly thick.”

Policing Minister Mike Penning said he is “enormously restricted” in what he could say on the investigation concerning Mr Marsh, telling the debate he should not interfere in the process.

He said: “These are very serious allegations. I think it’s very important that they are investigated fully.”

Mr Penning added: “The ongoing investigation does mean that there is uncertainty and I fully accept (Mr Liddell-Grainger’s) concerns and I also fully accept that like in the other 43 forces that I’m responsible for, the boys and girls on the beat do a simply fantastic job on a day in, day out basis.

“It is, as he alluded to in his comments, deeply unsettling that you have a force that has had so many chief constables over a short period of time.”

Mr Penning said these decisions were for the PCC and local community.