A POLICE chief has hit back at national media criticism over his leadership and handling of incidents including the Gatwick drones chaos.

Chief Constable Giles York was made the subject of a Mail Online article accusing him of “ducking” press scrutiny at moments when his force was under fire in the public eye, and accusing him of PR appearances for charity events.

His comments follow a front page article in the Daily Mail which branded the force “clueless” in its response to the fiasco at Gatwick, where 140,000 passengers were affected by the drones.

But the chief has hit back at the article by the Mail Online, accusing the website of inaccuracies and not being balanced in its reporting of his time as chief.

He said: “I am aware of the recent online article in which my visible leadership of Sussex Police operations was brought into question, with inaccuracies, and without balance. I refute these claims in the strongest terms.

“I am particularly saddened that the article portrays local fundraising for Sussex charities as PR opportunities.”

The row erupted over the Gatwick fiasco, where innocent couple Paul Gait and Elaine Kirk were quizzed by police for more than 36 hours.

They were named widely in the national press after the police revealed the ages of a man and a woman they had arrested in Crawley, but were both released without charge.

The Mail Online accused Mr York of making only one media appearance, and said he had made it ten days after the incident.

It referred to an appearance on BBC Radio 4, where there was some confusion when he said that some of the drone sightings would have in fact been police drones.

The force’s handling of the operation, which has so far seen no arrests, was criticised by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.

He said the force had not handled its communication response well.

But in response to the claims that it took ten days for a media appearance, Mr York pointed out that he appeared on BBC Radio Sussex on December 20, the second day of the chaos.

Sussex Police said: “The Chief Constable has been fully involved from the start of this unprecedented illegal drone incident, liaising with strategic partners, including GAL, the Metropolitan Police and the Government throughout.

“It is routine for other senior officers to talk to the media regarding operational updates on significant incidents such as this.”

In the article, the Mail Online posted: “On at least six occasions in just over two years when Sussex Police has faced serious criticism, been slammed by the police watchdog, or has had to apologise over seriously mishandling a major investigation, Mr York has not spoken to the press at all.”

Giles York, Chief Constable of Sussex Police, pictured during a media event at Churchill Square, Brighton.. Giles York, Chief Constable of Sussex Police, pictured during a media event at Churchill Square, Brighton..

But the force said that Giles York has spoken to the media regularly on major issues, including talking to the press for two hours in the wake of the Shoreham air disaster.

He has also spoken with media organisations, including The Argus, on issues such as police officer numbers, strategies for fighting crime, policing models going forward, and in response to issues such as police misconduct investigations.

The Mail Online accused the force of “bungled” murder investigations, and said apologies or comments were issued by an unnamed spokesman or by one of Mr York’s deputies.

One of the incidents the report noted was the murders of Caroline Devlin and Susan Nicholson.

Killer Robert Trigg was in a relationship with the two women, who were killed within five years of each other in Worthing in 2006 and 2011.

But according to the news report, detectives did not find the similarities between the cases suspicious and treated Trigg like a bereaved lover rather than a suspect.

Susan Nicholson’s 81-year-old mother Elizabeth Skelton spent thousands and suffered a mild heart attack trying to get justice for her daughter.

She said: “We wrote to the Giles York personally and asked for help. The Chief Constable should be coming out and answering questions.”

The IOPC is investigating the handling of the murder inquiries.

But the force said it is standard practice for senior officers with portfolios for a specific area of business to speak on the issue on behalf of the force, rather than every comment coming from Giles York himself.

The article also accused the chief of being happy to pose for photographs such as for charity events like the ice bucket challenge, an April Fools video reporting his intention to enter the World Conker Championships, and Sussex Police’s sponsorship of a Snowdog in Brighton.

But Mr York said he was saddened that his charity work was criticised.

He faces regular scrutiny at a monthly Performance and Accountability meeting hosted by Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne.

She said the chief regularly briefed her about the “painstaking” inquiry over the Gatwick drones, and said the police operation has been backed by the Government and by the Metropolitan Police.

In reply to the article, she said: “I have found the recent personal attacks on our Chief Constable distasteful and an unwanted distraction from the real issue which will concern the public; a complex and continuing police investigation now including colleagues at Heathrow following sightings earlier this week.

“The picture that has been painted of Mr York fails to highlight his police career of exemplary public service.

“He has a legacy of leading many successful investigations including his consistent efforts to keep the people of Sussex safe. He has been nationally recognised and awarded the Queen’s Police Medal.”

Meanwhile Unison union organiser Andy Stenning, who represents police and justice staff said Mr York was not unpopular among the rank and file.

He said: “Mr York may not have a high media profile, but he leads from the front and is getting the job done.”