Britain’s police officers are beset by infighting between ranks, leading to a damaging internal rift in the aftermath of the Plebgate scandal which threatens to undermine their opposition to the Government’s police reforms.
The Police Federation, which represents 131,000 officers up to the rank of chief inspector in England and Wales, is split over plans to reform itself after setbacks in its campaign to protect officers’ pay and conditions, and the firestorm over its role in the downfall of the former Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell. The dispute has pitted constables – who represent the majority of the membership – against more senior ranks in the organisation.
It has also sparked fury among rank-and-file officers who say the dispute is hampering the group’s fight against government reforms to cut pay, end the jobs-for-life culture and change pensions. “The Home Office must be clapping its hands with glee,” one Federation source told The Independent. “The Federation is doing to itself everything that the Government would want.”
Mr Mitchell’s confrontation with officers in Downing Street provided a rallying point after a series of reversals in 2012 during police officers’ battles against government reforms. The most vocal opponents of Mr Mitchell came from Federation members in the Midlands where officials repeatedly pressed for his resignation.
Mr Mitchell eventually quit, but Scotland Yard later launched an inquiry after allegations of a conspiracy and that officers colluded to leak details of the confrontation. Mr Mitchell claims he is the victim of a stitch-up.
Three Federation officials from the Midlands are under investigation over comments they made to the media after a meeting with Mr Mitchell. The incident led to a rift between the national leadership and the branch officials. The dispute prompted the review – headed by the senior civil servant Sir David Normington –which is due to report in January next year.
However, the constables’ branch has suspended payments to headquarters for more than a fortnight in protest at plans for the future of the staff association. Officials held a series of crisis meetings which failed to resolve the dispute. Police message boards were filled with angry comments and some called for constables to split from the organisation. “Divide and conquer,” said one anonymous posting on the Police Oracle website. “If it carries on like this we may as well kiss goodbye to what little leverage we have with pay and conditions.”
The review was the first announcement by the Federation’s new leader, Steve Williams, and is seen as a push for more central control.
“We remain open to dialogue and we hope there will be a resolution,” said Will Riches, chairman of the constables’ branch. “This isn’t about a split – this is about ensuring we have credibility with the Government, our members and the public we serve.”
Federation sources told The Independent that the latest row is a build-up of tensions between members who wanted more militant action to protect current working conditions and a new leadership which has embarked on a less confrontational approach to government changes.
The issue is set to provide a stormy backdrop to the body’s annual conference next month, which will be addressed by the Home Secretary Theresa May. She was heckled and jeered at the event last year.
“The members haven’t seen any leadership or willingness to fight on behalf of its members. There’s a reluctance to allow even more power to go to the centre,” said the source.
Mr Williams said the review was designed to ensure the association was “representative”. “We are a professional body and are seeking to ensure all voices are heard and all issues are dealt with for the benefit of all concerned.”