Blunkett demands the suspension of police chief after scathing criticisms

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The Chief Constable of Humberside was fighting for his career last night after David Blunkett ordered his suspension in the wake of a damning report into the handling of Ian Huntley, the Soham murderer.

The Chief Constable of Humberside was fighting for his career last night after David Blunkett ordered his suspension in the wake of a damning report into the handling of Ian Huntley, the Soham murderer.

In an extraordinary development David Westwood, the head of the Humberside force, insisted he was still in charge despite the Home Secretary's order for him to stand down.

The clash followed a devastating report into how the police failed to keep intelligence records and vet Huntley.

The inquiry by Sir Michael Bichard, published yesterday, concluded that there was a series of "deeply shocking" failures for which Mr Westwood must take personal responsibility.

Huntley was allowed to become a school caretaker in the Cambridgeshire town of Soham, where he murdered Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells, despite having a history of sexual abuse against young girls in Grimsby. Mr Blunkett told MPs in theCommons: "It is Sir Michael's view that the 'final responsibility for these serious failures rests with the Chief Constable, David Westwood'.

"The strength of the report's criticism of him [Westwood] has led me to conclude that, using the powers available to me ... I should require Humberside Police Authority to suspend Mr Westwood as Chief Constable forthwith."

He added: "The role of any chief constable has to be one in which the public have confidence. In the face of serious criticism, it is my responsibility as Home Secretary to question whether people in Humber- side can continue to have that confidence."

Humberside's police authority has been told to compile a report on Mr Westwood and deliver it to the Home Secretary by 6 July. But it looked fairly certain last night that Mr Blunkett had decided that the Chief Constable must go. He said: "When I receive the authority's report I will then decide whether to initiate the process which could lead to the retirement or resignation of the chief constable."

But in a defiant statement Mr Westwood said he would carry on in the job until his police authority told him otherwise. He said: "I am aware that the Home Secretary is asking the police authority to suspend me. They have not done so. Until they decide what their position is I will remain chief constable."

He added that he had made a "personal commitment" to see through reforms and improvements in his force.

In response a Home Office spokesman said Mr Blunkett's decision to order the chief constable's suspension was "unequivocal". But he added that the procedure may take several days to implement.

The Humberside Police Authority is to meet later this week. Mr Blunkett, however, can ignore recommendations made by the authority and sack the chief constable if he believes it is in the interest of "efficiency or effectiveness" for the force.

It was the first time Mr Blunkett had used new powers granted under the Police Reform Act 2002 to directly intervene in the running of a police force in this way.

Mr Westwood and his force were the subject of damning criticism in the Bichard inquiry report. It highlighted the force's failure to keep intelligence records of Huntley's history of alleged abuse and described an intelligence system that was in chaos. Sir Michael said Mr Westwood must bear the personal responsibility for the debacle. "The lack of awareness of the nature or scale of these problems ... over such long periods is deeply shocking," he added.

Cambridgeshire Police were criticised by Sir Michael for failures in vetting Huntley for his caretaker job and in a separate report, by HM Inspector Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the force was also criticised for its handling of the early stages of the Soham murder hunt in 2002. Sir Ronnie said there had been a "lack of grip" at the start.

Despite the criticism of Mr Westwood, the Labour MP for Great Grimsby, Austin Mitchell, argued yesterday that the Humberside Chief Constable should not become the scapegoat for all the failures that occurred and that the Home Office must also answer criticism.

He told Mr Blunkett: "It's not enough just to dump on Chief Constable Westwood because the report also highlights failings in your own department."

Chris Fox, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, added: "A chief constable's job is to drive up standards and responsibility has to be taken when those standards aren't at an acceptable level.

"However, this is a tripartite arrangement and it is sad when one individual seems to be carrying the whole can."

Sir Michael said: "As a result of intelligence haemorrhaged in an alarming way, the pattern of Huntley's criminal behaviour was not identified soon enough and the various investigations of Huntley might well have been handled differently if the officers involved had known about past incidents.

"There were very serious failings in the senior management of Humberside Police and the chief constable must take responsibility for not dealing with these earlier once he became chief constable in 1999."

THE BICHARD REPORT'S MAIN FINDINGS

Overall there were "errors, omissions, failures and shortcomings which are deeply shocking".

There was "not one single occasion" during all the authorities' contacts with Ian Huntley when record systems worked properly.

It was impossible to guarantee that other offenders had not "slipped through the net".

Humberside's local intelligence system was "fundamentally flawed".

Some top officers at Humberside failed to grasp the scale and nature of their problems until the inquiry proceedings.

No serious attempts had been made by government or police to deal with delays in entering intelligence into the Police National Computer.

The Home Office should "take the lead more effectively" in introducing a national intelligence computer system.

The Home Office should also share responsibility for the failure to set up such a system.

There were serious questions over North East Lincolnshire social services' treatment of allegations that Huntley had been sexually involved with underage girls.

Cambridgeshire Police made serious record-keeping and vetting errors.

Soham Village College failed to check Huntley's references.

THE MAIN RECOMMENDATIONS

A registration scheme for those wishing to work with children or vulnerable adults, which employers could access.

The urgent introduction of a national IT system for England and Wales to support police intelligence.

Investment in the Police National Computer to secure its future.

All applications for positions in schools should be subject to the enhanced disclosure requirement.

A national Code of Practice for all police forces on record creation, review, retention, deletion and sharing.

Training for head teachers and school governors to ensure interview panels understand the methods of safeguarding children.