HIGH COURT bailiffs entered the headquarters of the biggest police force in Wales after an administrative oversight resulted in a convicted criminal winning a judgment said to total £1.6m against it.
The bailiffs arrived unexpectedly at the Bridgend HQ of South Wales Police, went into the building and began labelling items of equipment for removal.
Astonished drivers of police vehicles received radio messages warning them not to come near the HQ in case the vehicles were seized by the bailiffs.
One insider said, "The arrival of the bailiffs came as an enormous shock to everyone. They came into the HQ and went round putting labels on computers and other office equipment saying the items were not to be removed by order of the High Court. Apparently the bailiffs had back-up protection arranged with Gwent Police.
"There was a real panic on about the vehicles. If the bailiffs had got hold of a couple of Volvos worth £60,000, it would have been a massive embarrassment.
"Everyone is being cagey about what went wrong that led to this situation. There has been speculation that some big bills have been left unpaid."
In fact, the bailiffs arrived after a man who cannot be identified for legal reasons won a court judgment against South Wales Police that had not been defended as a result of an administrative oversight. It is understood that while the man concerned has been convicted of at least one offence in the criminal courts, legal proceedings are still ongoing. For that reason the police are reluctant to be more specific about the nature of the High Court judgment that led to the bailiffs entering the force HQ.
After we approached South Wales Police for an official statement about the incident yesterday, Deputy Chief Constable Paul Wood said, "On Friday last week, High Court enforcement officers arrived at South Wales Police headquarters in Bridgend to execute a judgment obtained by a man who is suing the force in relation to his prosecution.
"South Wales Police took immediate steps in applying to the courts to set the judgment aside, and the Chief Constable's application was granted by a Judge at Cardiff County Court. The bailiffs subsequently withdrew, without any property being seized, and the case is proceeding in the courts.
"At no time was the operational capability of South Wales Police put in jeopardy."
Because of the legal sensitivities of the case, Mr Wood was said to be unable to comment further.
It is understood that the original judgment against the force was not obtained by any of those involved in the high-profile miscarriage of justice cases that followed South Wales Police investigations in recent years. Nevertheless, the individual who brought the case alleges he is owed around £1.6m by the force.
Another police insider said, "This is the most amazing thing that has occurred at headquarters since I have worked here. It is not something you expect during a normal day at work - the idea of equipment being seized from a police headquarters sounds more like an Ealing comedy than something that actually happens."
It is normal procedure for bailiffs acting on behalf of the High Court to notify the police when they are about to seize goods from a premises. In this case, it is not known whether South Wales Police would normally have been the force involved in acting as a back-up for the bailiffs.