Police chief 'lied to lawyer and spent public cash on affair cover-up'
A police chief lied to the force's top lawyer and spent public money to cover up the affair he was having with another high-ranking officer, a tribunal has heard.
Revelations of a second affair at the top of Northumbria Police also emerged, as more claims about the tangled web of relationships between senior officers were aired.
Former chief constable Mike Craik was accused of lying to head of legal services Denise Aubrey about his fling with his assistant chief constable, Carolyn Peacock.
Mrs Peacock's chief superintendent husband, Jim, is then said to have punched Mr Craik at a barbecue after learning of the affair.
Details of a second affair involving groin stroking at work, "nipples with tassels" and "hula hoops" were also revealed, which allegedly involved assistant chief constable Greg Vant and Mr Craik's secretary, Juliet Bains.
Mr Vant was accused of sexually harassing Ms Bains by Mr Craik, but the tribunal heard she never made a complaint.
The tribunal in North Shields was convened after Ms Aubrey, 54, was sacked for gross misconduct after she allegedly disclosed information about the affairs.
She denies this, and has instead accused her former bosses of "unfair dismissal following a protected disclosure, sex discrimination, disability discrimination, victimisation and harassment".
Ms Aubrey said she had been asked by Mr Craik to advise him on libel and trying to keep accusations of the affair out of the media.
"I don't know if he lied to me, but from what I have found out since I think he did," she said.
"At the time he told me it had not happened and I acted on those instructions. But something did happen because of what was revealed to me."
She said: "If we used public money to cover it up then we do have an issue here and a potential criminal investigation."
In her statement, Ms Aubrey said "Vant was another very senior officer. I was called to advise Craik, who was angry as he suspected Vant of sexually harassing his then-secretary.
"An allegation of sexual harassment, if proved, would amount to 'discreditable conduct' and could undermine public confidence in Northumbria Police.
"Craik wanted to suspend Vant, but I advised him he had no power to do so under the regulations then in the force.
"Vant was also suspected of lying to Craik about his relationship with Bains and there was also an issue about inappropriate use of Northumbria Police equipment.
"Emails and texts were received which from memory contained bizarre references to 'ghosts' which Craik feared were being sent to scare Bains.
"There were other comments concerning, from memory, 'hula hoops' and 'nipples with tassels,' obviously some private banter between them. I believe that copies of these texts have deliberately been removed from the file."
After an internal investigation Vant was sent on secondment, but Ms Aubrey said she worried what they had done "smacked of covering up allegations" as "any finding of dishonesty against an officer of rank would either lead to his dismissal or hinder his career ,and it was felt it would be disproportionate to put Vant into so much jeopardy".
Northumbria Police had sought to stop the allegations about Mr Craik, Ms Bains and the Peacocks being fully reported through requesting the court ban them from being named.
But Judge Humphrey Forrester withdrew the order he had initially made after listening to representations on behalf of the press from barrister Gervase de Wilde.
Daphne Romney QC, for Ms Aubrey, said: "It is not just about officers having affairs, the reason she was giving advice to Mr Craik was the press had heard of a story about a punch-up.
"He did not call her in to say 'I'm having an affair', the reason that she was called in was to try to do something about stories that there was an incident in which a blow was traded, the police called and a log destroyed.
"She has now found out from several members of the police that this did happen."
Mr Craik and the Peacocks, who are all retired, were not present at the hearing, but it was said they deny the affair and that the incident at the barbecue ever took place.
In her case against the force, Ms Aubrey claimed that "overt sexism was rife" and that "a male chief inspector told me that I had been appointed as the token woman".
She alleges she was bullied by Chief Constable Steve Ashman, who was Deputy Chief Constable when the allegations begin, and that "after two decades of dedicated service, Northumbria Police ruined my life, my mental health and my career".
The hearing was told by Ms Romney the barbecue incident, which took place in 2007, had attracted attention from Operation Elveden, an investigation into allegations of inappropriate payments to police officers and other public officials.
Ms Aubrey said Northumbria Police had been instructed to investigate whether there had been a leak about the alleged affair, but reported back that as there was no incident log, there had been no incident.
She said: "So it is not simply a matter of whether two or three people were involved in a scuffle, but also an investigation of how that was used in covering up and misleading a criminal investigation."
The case continues.