Former police commissioner in Northamptonshire stands trial accused of passing on details of investigation into Tory colleague
The former Police and Crime Commissioner in Northamptonshire passed on confidential information about a criminal investigation into MP Peter Bone to Tory colleagues, a court heard.
Adam Simmonds, 40, allegedly disclosed details of the criminal investigation into the Tory MP for Wellingborough, Peter Bone, between November 2013 and May 2014. No action was ever taken against Mr Bone.
Simmonds was elected in the first set of elections to the role in 2012.
Northants Police began a fraud investigation concerning Mr Bone and his wife, Jeanette, in 2013. The criminal probe, concerning the payment of fees for the care of an elderly relative in the care of the county council, was subject to rumour amongst Northamptonshire councillors and council officers and was eventually leaked to the press, the court heard.
But in March 2014, the Crown Prosecution Service informed Mr Bone no action would be taken against him.
Before becoming PCC, Simmonds worked for Northamptonshire County Council and remained active within the Tory Party.
He was provided with confidential information within his role, including updates into the investigation of Mr and Mrs Bone, Southwark Crown Court heard.
Simmonds was informed of the substance of the probe and how it was to be led.
He was also involved in discussions with the chief constable on the implications of such an investigation for the country.
After the police submitted their file to the CPS for their charging considerations he was informed as to the progress of those considerations by the Chief Constable and his deputy.
Simmonds is accused of passing on parts of that 'confidential information' to a number of friends and colleagues within the Conservative Party.
Doing so without the consent of the Chief Constable, the data controller, prosecutors allege constitutes an offence which Simmonds denies.
Jurors were shown email extracts detailing some of the updates from deputy chief constable at the time, Martin Jelly, to both Simmonds and former chief constable Adrian Lee during 2013 and 2014.
"Mr Jelly observes that 'clearly the investigation was sensitive and the briefings to the PCC were in confidence," said prosecutor Christopher Foulkes.
"He did not give permission for anything he shared with the defendant to be passed on to external organisations or individuals."
Mr Lee later confirmed he would have sought advice from senior staff before granting permission and "does not believe that he said or did anything to give the defendant the reasonable belief that he would give such consent".
The court heard that Michael Ellis MP, for Northampton North, was informed of the discussion on two occasions; once over the phone and a second time over an informal one-on-one chat.
"Both of those disclosures by the defendant took place before an article about the investigation appeared in the press because you will hear that in February 20124 there was an article in The Times," said the prosecutor.
"'Nobody suggests that the defendant was responsible for the leak to the press, to The Times newspaper which gave rise to the article."
Jurors heard that Mr Ellis recalled being told by Simmonds that "one or possibly two of the charges were apparently weaker than the others".
Chris Heaton-Harris MP said he became aware of the investigation when told about it by Simmonds during a meeting on November 7, 2013.
Early the following year Simmonds held a meeting at the council offices with Paul Bell, chairman of the Police and Crime Panel, along with his deputy Barry Graves.
"At the conclusion of the meeting Mr Simmonds asked his own staff to leave because he wanted to speak to Mr Bell in private," said Mr Foulkes.
"He then discussed the police investigation into Mr Bone."
He added: "Mr Bell understood the purpose of the meeting was that it was the Conservative party contingency plan.
"It was a Conservative party issue and not a Police and Crime Panel issue."
Mr Graves stated Simmonds informed them that the CPS had four files relating to Mr Bone which could "give them problems politically".
Leader of Northampton Borough Council, David Mackintosh, also recalled a telephone conversation with Simmonds the day before The Times article was published.
"He told Mr Mackintosh that there was a scandal about to break near Mr Mackintosh's constituency regarding Peter Bone MP," said the prosecutor.
"Mr Mackintosh described it as 'kind of like a gossip conversation, in so much as, have you heard about this'."
Jurors heard the council leader felt it "made sense" for him to be informed.
Mr Foulkes told the court there was "no question" that Simmonds knew he was making the disclosures and that the chief constable had not consented to them.
But he added Simmonds was likely to raise certain circumstances which allowed them to be made. Those include the reasonable belief he had a lawful right to make them, he had a reasonable belief that the data controller would consent to them or there was a justification in the public interest.
"The reason for him discussing the investigation at all with others was because Mr Bone was high profile and important to the Conservative party," said the prosecutor of Simmonds' account.
"If there were charges or a trial, would there be a resignation and a by-election and lots of media interest.
"His concern was what they would do to plan for a potential disaster."
He added that Simmonds "never held any information on Peter Bone as part of his job" and "wasn't sure that anything he discussed was a breach or was something he shouldn't be talking about".
Simmonds also stated he had never received any training in relation to the Data Protection Act.
"You will have to consider what effect the fact that others already knew about the rumours and were discussing this investigation what effect that had on the defendant's claim that he reasonably believed that he was entitled to disclose it himself," said Mr Foulkes.
"Whether or not what he knew from the police was also the subject of rumour or discussion from other sources, was it reasonable to believe that he was entitled, and that the Chief Constable would have consented for him, to perpetuate and confirm those rumours?"
Simmonds, of Leicester, denies a single count of breaching the Data Protection Act.
The trial continues.