Give rank and file their money back, MPs tell Police Federation after Plebgate

Organisation holding millions in reserves amid growing controversy

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The Independent Online

The police organisation that led the fight against government budget cuts to the service should pay back millions of pounds to rank-and-file officers after revelations about its huge cash reserves and secret accounts, MPs said in a damning report today.

The critical report is the latest blow to the Police Federation of England and Wales – which represents officers up to the rank of chief inspector – after a series of damaging episodes that revealed bullying within its upper echelons and chaos in its financial affairs.

The schisms emerged publicly during infighting over attempts to reform the body, after regional officials were accused of involvement in a plot to unseat former Tory Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell over the “Plebgate” saga in September 2012.

The head of the 125,000-member organisation, Steve Williams, announced last month that he would quit after a bruising battle against opponents of reform to the 95-year-old organisation and his attempts to wrest power back to the national leadership.

MPs said yesterday that the organisation’s complex structure meant Mr Williams and his predecessors had become mired in “interminable internecine power struggles which would not have been out of place in a medieval court”.

Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Home Affairs select committee, said: “We were shocked by the scale of bullying that we found at the Federation’s headquarters. It rivals any soap opera. It is disgraceful that any chairman should have been hounded out for championing the long-overdue reforms.”

Senior officials have been accused of lavish spending on credit cards with decision-making taking place during alcohol-fuelled late night discussions, according to Fiona McElroy, a senior spokeswoman for the body, who was dismissed after four months.

The organisation sits on reserves of some £70m, according to figures given to the Home Affairs Select Committee, with assets taking the total to some £107m.

The reserves included some £35m in accounts held by the organisation’s branches and their secretive “number two” accounts that were off-limits to the national leadership. The MPs said police officers should each receive £120 rebates for their subscriptions, which went up sharply in 2011.

The assets of the federation include a new state-of-the-art training and conference centre in Leatherhead, Surrey. In evidence heard by the MPs, it emerged that two senior officials travelled to Italy to secure the “toilet pods” for the £26m headquarters.

The federation had been under scrutiny from its members over its failure to reverse deeply unpopular Government reforms, including changes to pay and pensions, compulsory redundancies and cuts to force budgets.

The policies have sparked vociferous campaigns against figures including the Home Secretary Theresa May and Tom Winsor – the former rail regulator who outlined many of the changes in a review of the service – which called into question the political impartiality of the police.

The rows came to a head over the Downing Street incident involving Mr Mitchell, who bowed to sustained pressure and quit after being accused of swearing at a police officer and calling him a pleb.

Mr Mitchell denied using the toxic phrase but elements of the organisation sought to capitalise on the row with the help of a campaign orchestrated by the former shock jock and PR adviser Jon Gaunt.

It subsequently emerged that a witness to the row was a Metropolitan police officer who had lied about what he had seen. The officer, PC Keith Wallis, was jailed for a year in February.

Mr Gaunt had been paid £30,000 by the national leadership for two months’ work to use “blitzkrieg” tactics before the contract was terminated because of concerns over his approach.

The MPs called for an election of all members to decide the successor to Mr Williams, instead of the current system that is based on the election by a central committee.

In an interview with The Independent last month, Mr Williams said the 30-strong committee had accepted the need for reform ahead of next week’s annual conference.

Mr Williams said yesterday that work was “well under way” to put in place 36 changes recommended in an independent review by former mandarin Sir David Normington. “We welcome the Home Affairs Committee’s reiteration of the principles contained within that report and of its modernising agenda which we will be working to implement at our annual conference next week,” he said.

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