Blunkett should take more blame for Soham errors, says police chief

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The Independent Online

A top-ranking police officer has criticised David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, for not accepting more blame for the blunders that led to the Soham murders.

Richard Brunstrom, the chief constable of North Wales, said yesterday that failings identified by the Bichard inquiry were not the sole responsibility of the Humberside police chief David Westwood.

"It is a fact that a significant number of the 31 recommendations in the Bichard report apply to the Home Office and Home Secretary, not to the police service," said Mr Brunstrom, speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"Bichard points out quite categorically that there has been 10 years of a lack of leadership from the Home Office in resolving these issues."

His comments come as Mr Blunkett faces a bitter stand-off with the Humberside Police Authority, which last week defied the Home Secretary's order to suspend Mr Westwood. Mr Blunkett is now threatening legal action against the police authority. It has emerged that they ignored expert advice from their legal team, and voted against suspending the Humberside police chief last Friday.

Mr Blunkett said he made his original decision to order Mr Westwood's suspension after "extensive deliberation" based on "the enormity" of the criticisms of the Humberside force by Sir Michael Bichard in his report on the Soham child murders. The Bichard report highlighted the failure of Humberside police to keep records of allegations of sexual assault against Ian Huntley before he moved to Soham.

But the authority's chairman, Colin Inglis, said that the Humberside chief worked for the police authority and that Mr Blunkett was not Mr Westwood's "line manager". "If the Home Secretary expected a rubber stamp then that, I'm afraid, is not what he's got in the Humberside Police Authority," he said on BBC1's Look North. "If the Home Secretary goes immediately to court without having considered the reasons why we have made the decision we have, then in my view he will be acting unreasonably."

Dr Ruth Henig, chairman of the Association of Police Authorities, said the police authority and Mr Blunkett should consider arbitration to avoid a court battle. "This is going to be dragged through the courts but what we need is a mechanism to bring the parties together," she said.