Northern Ireland

Police Ombudsman 'investigating allegations of sexual offences' against former PSNI ACC Will Kerr

Devon and Cornwall police chief Will Kerr has been suspended following allegations of misconduct (PA)
Devon and Cornwall police chief Will Kerr has been suspended following allegations of misconduct (PA)

The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland has confirmed a criminal investigation into “serious allegations of sexual offences” has been launched into Will Kerr, the suspended chief constable of Devon and Cornwall Police, who previously served with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) for more than 27 years.

Will Kerr, who joined the Devon and Cornwall force in December 2022, was suspended by Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez.

In a statement this afternoon, Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland Marie Anderson said: “The Police Ombudsman commenced a criminal investigation into serious allegations of sexual offences against a former PSNI senior officer, currently the Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall, on 16 June 2023, using her own motion powers.

“The ombudsman will also consider the circumstances under which the allegations were investigated by PSNI.

“The office has been engaging with the IOPC (Independent Office for Police Conduct) on cross-jurisdictional issues in recent weeks, as well as with the office of the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner.

“Details concerning the precise nature of the allegations and any early investigative actions remain confidential at this time.

“Independence and impartiality are central to all Police Ombudsman investigations and the office will be robust in following the evidence to ensure that any police officer in breach of the law and who abuses their position of trust will be held to account.

“As the investigation is at an early stage, it is not possible to confirm a likely timeframe for its conclusion.”

Mr Kerr has spent more than 30 years in policing and was deputy chief constable at Police Scotland before joining Devon and Cornwall.

He served with the PSNI for more than 27 years and reached the rank of assistant chief constable there, leading on both serious crime and counter terrorism.

In 2015 he was made an OBE, and he received the King’s Police Medal in the New Year Honours earlier this year.

The PSNI has said it will support an investigation by the Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland into serious allegations of serious sexual offences against the suspended chief constable of Devon and Cornwall Police Will Kerr.

A PSNI statement said: “The Police Service of Northern Ireland is aware of a Police Ombudsman’s criminal investigation and will support the ombudsman as required.”

A statement issued by the office of Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez this afternoon said: “Pursuant to section 38(2) of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, Alison Hernandez, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall, has suspended the Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police, Will Kerr OBE KPM, following allegations of misconduct.

“The commissioner has referred the matter to the Independent Office for Police Conduct, which has confirmed it will commence an investigation.”

Devon and Cornwall Police confirmed deputy chief constable Jim Colwell would become acting chief constable following the suspension of Mr Kerr.

Mr Colwell said: “I understand our communities will be concerned about the reports in the media today regarding the suspension of Chief Constable Will Kerr KPM by the Police and Crime Commissioner.

“The PCC suspension of Mr Kerr follows a referral to the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

“I am keen to reassure the public that we will maintain our focus on delivering the best possible service to our communities.

“We have thousands of dedicated and professional officers, staff and volunteers within our force and strong leadership throughout which, when pulled together, mean we can continue to make improvements at pace to provide our communities with the highest levels of service they deserve.”

Mr Colwell added: “I will be stepping into the role of Acting Chief Constable on an interim basis to ensure consistency of leadership and service delivery of policing across the peninsula.

“This now remains a matter for the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner and the IOPC to investigate.”

A spokesman for the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said: “Following assessment of a referral from the Police and Crime Commissioner, we have decided to investigate allegations of misconduct against the Chief Constable of Devon & Cornwall Police, Will Kerr.”

Ian Drysdale, vice chair of the chief police officers staff association (CPOSA), said: “The Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police Force was today suspended in respect of an ongoing enquiry into legacy misconduct matters for which he is yet to be interviewed.

“CC Kerr recognises and respects the fact that accountability and due process are vital to any investigation, regardless of rank or position.

“He will continue to cooperate with any investigation and hopes that all matters are expedited so that they can be concluded without further delay.”

In a statement, Police Scotland said: “Will Kerr left Police Scotland in 2022. These allegations do not relate to his time at Police Scotland and it would be inappropriate to comment further.”