Police chief hits back at attack on senior staff

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A ROW has broken out over criticisms of the leadership of Merseyside police force by a Home Office Inspector of Constabulary.

According to documents leaked to the magazine Police Review, an inspectorate report by Geoffrey Dear on the force says its senior management lacks the ability to develop and direct human resources at a time of change. James Sharples, Merseyside's Chief Constable, is said to have accused Mr Dear of 'gratuitously offensive sarcasm'.

The force, one of the biggest in the country, has only just recovered from the exposure of the activities of senior officers by the Alison Halford affair, during which Mr Sharples was criticised by his former assistant chief constable. This week, it was attacked by a forensic psychologist for its handling of the inquiry into the Carl Bridgewater murder case.

It is the second occasion on which Mr Dear, a former chief constable with West Midlands Police, has clashed with the chief constable of a force he is inspecting. John Newing, Chief Constable of Derbyshire, for which Mr Dear has refused to grant a certificate of efficiency, has accused him of failing to recognise the endeavours of the financially stricken force.

Mr Dear's draft report on Merseyside - which was sent to the force for comment before publication - is said to praise its work but criticises senior management for lacking the skills to deal with the changes facing the force.

'There is a need for the highest level of expertise and experience in the field of personnel management beyond that which is currently available to the force,' it says.

Mr Dear also notes that the force has not acted on previous advice. The report is also said to criticise child protection policies, public order training and says the force tolerates a level of racist and sexist banter - one of the complaints made by Ms Halford about senior officers.

In a 21-page letter of response sent to Mr Dear and to Merseyside police authority, also leaked to Police Review, Mr Sharples accuses Mr Dear of 'unfair and distorted reporting' and says that many issues have been taken out of context.

He says future inspections will have been jeopardised: 'The view is now widely held that openness and honesty has been exploited and misrepresented.'

The row was being seen last night as a sign of the increasingly tough role being taken by the inspectorate, which has recently appointed two outside lay members for the first time.