A former Conservative council leader has called for an inquiry after police shelved a four-year misconduct investigation into him – which he says wasted more than £1 million of taxpayers’ money.
Cheshire Police had been looking into Cheshire East Council’s ex-leader Michael Jones’s decision to award an £84,000 contract to a company run by his personal physiotherapist Amanda Weston in 2015.
But prosecutors decided that there was insufficient evidence to provide a ‘realistic prospect of conviction’, bringing the probe to an end.
Mr Jones has now hit out at the ‘spurious’ investigation, branding it a ‘politically-motivated attack’ by opponents on the council ‘in collusion’ with senior officers at Cheshire Police.
He has written to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, Cheshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner and Home Secretary Priti Patel, requesting an ‘urgent inquiry’ into the affair.
Mr Jones says that since the investigation into the Corefit contract started in 2016, the police have ‘dragged their heels’ which he claims has caused ‘significant and unfair damage’ to his reputation.
He stood down as council leader in 2015 following the allegations of misconduct , and in 2017 he resigned as a councillor. He is currently redeveloping the former Manchester Metropolitan University campus in the Crewe into the Apollo Buckingham Health Sciences Campus.
Mr Jones said: “It saddens me greatly that so much time and money has been wasted on this spurious investigation by Cheshire Police and it is no surprise that the CPS has agreed that neither I or Amanda Weston at Corefit have a case to answer.
“Regrettably, the same weak and incompetent leadership remains in place at Cheshire Police, and at Cheshire East Council, despite the many fine people who work for both organisations.
“I am greatly concerned that others in Cheshire are at risk of a similarly vindictive investigation and for that reason I have decided to call for an urgent inquiry into the conduct and aggressive behaviour of the police. It is not a step I take lightly – I have been a great supporter of the police throughout my career and enjoy excellent relations with the force in Crewe, employing several ex-officers at the Apollo campus.”
Nantwich-based Corefit was awarded a contract to deliver health and wellbeing services to thousands of pupils at dozens of schools across Cheshire East.
But Ms Weston says that since the investigation was launched the company has been unofficially ‘blacklisted’ by the council.
She said: “I am relieved at the CPS decision that I have no case to answer and hopeful that Cheshire East Council and others in the area can now judge Corefit purely on its performance. It’s a real tragedy that Corefit has spent so long in limbo during this fruitless investigation and particularly now while there is mounting evidence that school closures and isolation from friends during the Coronavirus pandemic is doing so much damage to children’s social and educational development.”
Mr Jones claims the CPS had criticised Cheshire Police’s handling of the case, but the force says it is not aware of any such complaint.
Cheshire East Council was plagued by allegations of misconduct and bullying over several years, resulting in several police probes.
A separate police investigation into grant funding for a primary school car park has also been concluded, with no further action being taken, although other cases are still ongoing.
A Cheshire Police spokesman said: “It is the duty of the police to properly investigate serious allegations of fraud and misconduct in a public office.
“This has been an extremely thorough investigation concerning some complex allegations. Such investigations take a great deal of time to conduct, but it is important that the necessary time and care is taken to ensure that the most complete file of evidence possible is submitted to the CPS and that they have sufficient time to review and make recommendations.
“The allegation was first reported to police in December 2015. A file of evidence was provided to the CPS in May 2018, and since then there have been continued discussions between the police and CPS on various points of the investigation.
“We are not aware of a formal complaint being submitted by the CPS about our handling of the case – in fact, on completion of the review, the CPS was very complimentary of the investigation and the file that had been prepared for them. We can not comment on the cost of the investigation as this information is not recorded.
“Our investigations into a number of other allegations reported to us by Cheshire East Council continue, and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”
A recent ‘peer challenge’ review, organised by the Local Government Association, found that the council – now under Labour-Independent leadership – has made ‘significant progress’ since 2015.