A suspended chief constable who is under investigation following alleged sexual offences has said he “strenuously” denies any allegations of criminality.
Will Kerr, Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police, is being investigated by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI) and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).
The PONI said its criminal investigation followed “serious allegations of sexual offences” against Mr Kerr, formerly the assistant chief constable at the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
He said in a statement: “In relation to the statement from the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland in which she named me as being the subject of a criminal investigation into serious allegations of sexual offences, I strenuously deny any allegations of criminality.
“I recognise and respect the fact that accountability and due process are vital to any investigation, regardless of rank or position. I will continue to co-operate with any investigation.
“I hope that all matters will be expedited so that they will be concluded without delay.”
The IOPC said its investigation, following a referral from the police and crime commissioner of Devon and Cornwall, related to “allegations of misconduct”.
The watchdog will consider whether Mr Kerr may have breached police professional standards relating to the allegations being investigated by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.
It is also investigating whether inaccurate information may have been provided as part of a previous vetting process.
The Chief Police Officers’ Staff Association (CPOSA) confirmed Mr Kerr was co-operating with the investigation, which it said related to “legacy misconduct matters” for which he had not yet been interviewed.
Marie Anderson, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, 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 June 16 2023, using her ‘own motion’ powers.
“The Ombudsman will also consider the circumstances under which the allegations were investigated by PSNI.”
She said the office had been engaging with the IOPC on cross-jurisdictional issues “in recent weeks” as well as the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office.
Mrs Anderson added: “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.”
The PSNI said it was aware of the ombudsman’s criminal investigation and would “support the ombudsman as required”.
Mr Kerr, who worked for the PSNI for 27 years, joined Devon and Cornwall Police in December 2022.
On Wednesday, Devon and Cornwall’s police and crime commissioner Alison Hernandez announced that Mr Kerr had been suspended as chief constable following allegations of misconduct.
In a statement, her office said Ms Hernandez had suspended Mr Kerr “following allegations of misconduct” and had referred the matter to the IOPC.
An IOPC spokesman said it had launched an investigation into allegations of misconduct against Mr Kerr following the referral from Ms Hernandez.
“Our investigation will consider whether Mr Kerr may have breached police professional standards relating to serious criminal allegations currently under investigation by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland,” he said.
“We are also investigating whether inaccurate information may have been provided as part of a previous vetting process.
“We are working closely with PONI and will provide updates when we can.”
Devon and Cornwall Police confirmed that Deputy Chief Constable Jim Colwell would become Acting Chief Constable following Mr Kerr’s suspension.
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.”
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.”
Mr Kerr has spent more than 30 years in policing and was deputy chief constable at Police Scotland before joining Devon and Cornwall Police.
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.”
While serving with the PSNI, Mr Kerr reached the rank of assistant chief constable, 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.
Ian Drysdale, vice chair of the CPOSA, said: “The Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police Force was today suspended in respect of an ongoing inquiry 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 co-operate with any investigation and hopes that all matters are expedited so that they can be concluded without further delay.”