COLLEAGUES of a highly-regarded and experienced police officer who allegedly wore a hat featuring the words 'I love weed' while on patrol have expressed disbelief that he is facing disciplinary action.

PC Simon Ryan is set to face North Yorkshire Police's first disciplinary hearing to be held in public, after being accused of wearing a black woolly hat back while on duty at Northallerton Police Station, and after being advised to remove it, put it back on while on mobile patrol.

The force is also alleging on a separate occasion, while searching a house, PC Ryan, who is said to have served in the force for more than a decade, made "handwritten annotations" on a document belonging to an occupant of the property.

PC Ryan has been charged with conduct amounting to a breach of the standards of professional behaviour expected of officers in areas including honesty and integrity, authority, respect and courtesy, equality and diversity, orders and instructions, duties and responsibilities and discreditable conduct.

During the three-day hearing at the force's headquarters next week, he will face a panel, including senior officers and a lawyer.

The panel will hear the facts of the case and if an officer is found to have committed gross misconduct the possible outcomes include dismissal, written warning and management advice.

Last night friends came to his aid, saying he was an exemplary officer who was only having a joke.

One colleague, who asked not to be named, said: "Simon is level-headed and sensible, an excellent cop who has amassed loads of experience working in the Northallerton area for many years now, and one that you want to have working alongside you.

"It's a great pity that it was felt necessary to hold a disciplinary hearing over allegations which appear to amount to high spirits.

"Police officers face some tough situations and sometimes it's necessary to let off steam by having a laugh."

PC Ryan could not be contacted over the weekend.

Home Secretary Theresa May announced last year that police misconduct hearings would be held in public to improve openness and accountability in policing and ensure public confidence.

North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan has campaigned for a fairer, more independent police complaints system and is introducing a dedicated team independent from the police to take initial reports.

She said the team will assess complaints and ensure they are handled properly and fairly, while serious matters would go straight to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.