Elected police chiefs 'a law unto themselves'

 

Crime Correspondent

Elected police leaders can easily sack chief constables and avoid scrutiny for their decisions because of the threat of an embarrassing public row, say MPs.

The most senior police officers can be effectively ousted, even when they have done little wrong, and have little chance of fighting their own corner, according to the Home Affairs Select Committee.

A series of battles between top brass and police and crime commissioners led MPs to conclude that checks and balances on commissioners were too weak.

Their report followed the enforced retirement of Gwent Chief Constable Carmel Napier who told the committee earlier this month she had been bullied into leaving the force. She said that the commissioner, Ian Johnston, had threatened to humiliate and dismiss her if she refused to go quietly. She quit after taking legal advice – which meant a panel did not have to scrutinise the decision.

The dispute in Gwent was the latest battle between senior police and their elected counterparts. The High Court earlier this year called the decision to suspend the temporary Chief Constable in Lincolnshire “irrational” and “perverse” and ordered his reinstatement. It followed earlier court action by the former Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset who failed in his attempt to keep his job after claiming that he was “unlawfully induced to retire”.

Commissioners, who replaced police authorities in 41 force areas, were handed the power to set force budgets, and hire and fire chief constables.

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