The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland confirmed it has begun an investigation into Will Kerr, who was previously the deputy chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
Devon and Cornwall Police’s crime commissioner Alison Hernandez announced on Wednesday that Mr Kerr had been suspended as chief constable following allegations of misconduct.
The Chief Police Officers Staff Association said Mr Kerr was co-operating with the investigation, which it said related to “legacy misconduct matters” for which he had not yet been interviewed.
In a statement, 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 16 June 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 Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) on cross-jurisdictional issues “in recent weeks”, as well as the office of Ms Hernandez.
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.”
Mr Kerr, who worked for the PSNI for 27 years, joined Devon and Cornwall Police in December 2022.
A statement issued by her office on Wednesday 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.”
A spokesman for the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) confirmed that it had received a referral from Ms Hernandez.
The IOPC decided to investigate allegations of misconduct against Mr Kerr following an assessment of that referral, he confirmed.
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.
While serving with the PSNI he 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 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.”