Top policeman facing dismissal after gross misconduct ruling over lost documents
A senior counter-terrorism officer who lost top secret documents which were stolen from his car could be dismissed after a disciplinary panel's finding.
A special case panel found the case for gross misconduct against Assistant Chief Constable Marcus Beale, of West Midlands Police, proven at a hearing at force headquarters on Tuesday.
Mr Beale, 54, left the documents in a briefcase in his car boot for five days, in which time he went to the pub, went for a weekend away with his wife - leaving the car parked at a train station - and went supermarket shopping.
He only discovered the case was missing when he stopped at Warwick Services on May 15 2017 while on the way to Oxford.
The briefcase, containing four documents, included minutes from a high-level counter-terror meeting, counter-terrorism local profiles, details of regular organised crime and highly sensitive information about a high-profile investigation.
Fiona Barton QC, representing the force, said: "The impact could have been catastrophic.
"It is a matter of luck the documents do not appear to have seen the light of day."
Delivering the panel's verdict, chairman Corinna Ferguson said: "We have carefully considered the submissions and we have concluded this was an incident of gross misconduct."
Mr Beale, who headed the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit, was prosecuted last year, and admitted a breach of the Official Secret Acts at Westminster Magistrates' Court in December, for which he was fined £3,500.
At his disciplinary hearing, his QC John Beggs had urged the panel to recognise the "exceptional circumstances" of Mr Beale's case and his past pedigree as an officer of nearly 30 years.
The three-member panel has already been told Mr Beale would be retiring in April, come what may.
Mr Beggs said: "It is not in dispute that there was misconduct.
"It is not in dispute it is conduct likely to bring discredit on the police service.
"My task is to seek to persuade you that in the exceptional circumstances of this case; of this officer's career history and his contribution to policing, most particularly to counter-terrorism policing; and the prevention from death and serious injury and the impact on the community.
"This panel can - and we suggest should - find it is not gross misconduct."
He added: "The purpose of these proceedings is not to punish the officer a second time for the same offence."
Mr Beggs, sitting next to Mr Beale, said: "Save for this blemish on his career, ACC Beale has at all times in virtually 30 years upheld the highest standards of policing.
"Nobody is going to suggest he needs to be deterred from a repetition of his misconduct nor do I anticipate that it applies nobody is going to suggest he himself is a danger to the public."
Mr Beggs said: "The question in your mind may be, how can an officer of such an outstanding calibre have made such a mistake?
"Anything I say is speculative; is it because he is doing exceptionally long hours, five days a week, in punishingly difficult circumstances - he does not know.
"It may be nothing more complex than that even the finest human beings and professionals make mistakes."
Plaudits from serving and former chief officers, community leaders, trade union Unite, and the military were read, paying tribute to Mr Beale's "competence and professionalism" as "one of the police's finest leaders".
He said Mr Beale's error was "wholly and extremely out of character".
However, Ms Barton QC said: "The documents should never have been in a locked briefcase and in an unattended car certainly not for a few minutes, let alone days."
The panel will deliver its recommended sanction later.
But the final decision on Mr Beale's future with the force then rests with Chief Constable David Thompson.