A POLICE officer who was accused of dangerous driving after chasing a thief has been cleared, with the judge saying it was a pleasure for him to be set free.

Skipton-based Pc Adam Steventon was suspended from driving duties and risked losing his career for simply “doing his job” after pursing thief Terence Maugh, 30, who drove off from a petrol station without paying.

Pc Steventon, 39, pursued Maugh for three miles at speeds varying from 30 to 80mph from Skipton towards Keighley before jumping a red light at 30 to 40mph. Eventually Maugh crashed into a Citroen C4, but Pc Steventon did not give up. He got out of his police Vauxhall Astra jumped a wall and ran after the thief for quarter of a mile across a field to arrest him.

Maugh was jailed for 12 months for dangerous driving and making off without payment and Pc Steventon, who has 15 years experience of “blue light calls”, was charged with dangerous driving.

A jury took 45 minutes to find him not guilty of the charge, if found guilty he risked a driving ban and even prison.

Pc Steventon, whose mother and father were in court during the three-day trial, dropped his head and smiled at the verdict.

Judge Paul Watson QC told him: “Adam Steventon you are a police officer of 20 years standing. You are a highly-regarded professional officer. On March 12 last year you had to make a judgment call against a background of a lack of training by your police force. You made that call in the belief it was in the best interests of the public. There will be others that say you deserve praise rather than prosecution. After all you, and your family has been through, it would be an affront to natural justice if you were to face any other internal disciplinary procedure. I hope that will not be the case.

“It only remains for me to say it is a pleasure to say you can go free from court.”

Speaking outside court Pc Steventon said: “I am glad it is over. I was only doing what I thought was my job. I actually do like my job. I just want to get back to work.”

A colleague on the steps of Hull Crown Court said: “It is a disgrace this has been brought to court for doing his job. Police officers are just there trying to help. What would they say if he had just let him go? They would say he was not doing his job.

“This case meant he has sold his car and it his life turned upside down. It is very stressful. He is good police officer who had to make a split second decision and made the right one.”

Police Federation representative Mike Stubbs who supported Pc Steventon at court said: “It is a hugely disappointing that this case ever came before a court.

“Internal review processes could have identified the training issues which emerged during this case for all those involved, not just Pc Steventon. Instead a proactive and effective officer has been on restricted duties for 15 months, to the detriment of the public of North Yorkshire.

“Our Chief Constable holds the view that police officers are modern day heroes who walk towards harm to protect the lives of others and I fully agree with that sentiment. But the incidents which those modern-day heroes deal with, do not always go exactly to plan - police officers should always be accountable to the law, but they also need the reassurance that they will be dealt with fairly and proportionately.”

The court heard police officers can break speed limits and go through red lights as long as the driving is for police purposes. They also have a defence of being allowed to use reasonable and proportionate force to stop a criminal act taking place.

Pc Steventon told the jury he was working the 3pm to 11pm shift in a 1.3 Astra with a female special constable when they saw a Vectra pull into the Tesco petrol station and its driver begin to fill up with petrol. He admitted his “police nose” made him suspicious of the poor condition of the car and knew when it mounted the kerb and rapidly speed off the driver had not paid.

“My first thought was: I have just scene a crime and I have to apprehend the offender,” said Pc Steventon. “My mental plan was to follow the vehicle, so that I could notify the traffic officer on duty. I did not think I was doing anything wrong. I just thought I was doing my job. I do not think my driving was dangerous or put others at risk at any time.

“I thought, Andy, the traffic officer was close by. We were not pursing, we were just following at the time. Pursuit is getting behind the car, blues on, lights on, using tactics to get it to stop.”

He said when he got to the queue of traffic for the road works he had a split second to make a decision.

“As I got to temporary line of cars things had slowed to roughly 30mph to 40mph. Pretty soon I come up to a red traffic light and the Vauxhall went through. I went through on red for exactly the same reason.

“I had my blue light on. If anyone was coming I was trying to warn them. I was at least 20 metres behind. I thought I needed to be a good safe distance, if he braked suddenly I need to brake too. I saw the collision with the Vectra and the Citroen. I pulled up behind the Vectra. It was a normal controlled stop.”

Maugh, was initially questioned and released only for Pc Steventon to arrest him again months later as a passenger in a car with stolen number plates. Maugh was jailed for 12 months at Bradford Crown Court for dangerous driving and making off without payment.

The court heard Pc Steventon was given a North Yorkshire Superintendent’s letter of appreciation for following a burglar’s van in a patrol car until he was arrested in 2012.

The force was criticised in court for its weak command from the control room during Pc Steventon’s pursuit. He was not once told to stop, instead the control room operator continued to asked him question which he relayed In a statement read to court North Yorkshire Police Inspector Craig Linton said: “Pc Steventon has natural ability to look for and find offenders which many other officers do not have. He has what used to called a “Bobby’s instinct”... which has resulted in being one of the most productive police officers I have supervised over the past 20 years. His natural person is always calm and collected. He is polite and speaks well with members of the public, a natural hard worker with an excellent temperament.”

Defence barrister Adrian Keeling said police investigating the crash ignored the Citroen driver’s statement he thought the thief was to blame. Instead the police relied on a traffic light controller who said the police car was just 5 metres behind Maugh’s Vectra but he never saw the crash. Prosecutors pointed to the Association of Police Officers guidelines introduced in 2011, which make police traffic pursuits off limits to beat bobbies.

Mr Keeling said “This goes against the instinct of a police officer who wants, for a better expression, the bad boys to be caught. If you employ this policy to the letter it means if you have a police officer who sees a crime, who is not pursuit trained or not in a pursuit vehicle, they cannot do anything. If an officer saw a bank being robbed or someone shot and or even worse, the policy dictates they must pull over in their car, in a matter of yards and turn the ignition off.”

North Yorkshire Police were criticised in court for not giving Pc Steventon training which would have meant he knew of the 2011 policy. Federation spokesman Mike Stubbs said: “The ACPO rules are in place and we as a Federation accept them. However, there are some forces which offer initial-pursuit training which would have allowed him to follow. Sadly Pc Steventon was not offered any further training after he joined North Yorkshire Police.”