A chief constable could face jail and an end to his 35-year police career for defying a High Court order to return computers suspected of holding a huge collection of child abuse images to a controversial expert witness.
Colin Port, Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset, was served with a High Court summons alleging contempt of court at his force headquarters yesterday. But Mr Port is adamant that he will not return 87 hard drives and 2,500 photographs of abuse seized from the home of Jim Bates, a forensic computer analyst.
Senior police sources told The Times yesterday that Mr Port believes that returning the material before it is analysed and investigated would be tantamount to a neglect of duty.
One said: He thinks the public would be appalled if he were to hand over these hard drives, which are suspected of containing images of child abuse, without examining them with a view to identifying the children, rescuing them and preventing any further abuse.
Avon and Somerset Polices inquiry into Bates began last year, soon after he provided a statement as an expert witness for the defence in the case of a Bristol man charged with possessing child abuse images that went to court in September 2008.
Bates, 68, is seen by some as the founding father of forensic computer analysis but his credibility was undermined when he was convicted in March last year of falsifying his qualifications and given a six-month suspended prison sentence.
Police and prosecutors were concerned when, despite his conviction, Bates obtained a copy of the suspects computer hard drive by saying that he was an assistant to a defence witness.