Andy McSmith's Diary: The police need a better class of sponsors

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Martyn Underhill, a former detective chief inspector who is now Dorset’s elected Police Commissioner, has announced on his blog that he is trying to organise commercial sponsorship to help all five police forces in the South-west cope with cuts in their budgets. “The police family in Dorset is living in austere times with a shrinking budget and workforce,” he complains. “We are the lowest funded force and have seen the worst cuts. This is wrong, and I will continue to fight this…. I see huge potential benefits to forming appropriate sponsorship relationships with reputable organisations.”

The idea has found an instant opponent in Sergeant Nigel Rabbitts, chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Police Federation. “Why would any commercial enterprise want to sponsor the police?” he demanded, when asked by the Western Morning News.

The answer is obvious, surely. Any number of drug barons, fraudsters, embezzlers and other commercial operators who would willingly “sponsor” their local constabulary, if they only could. Indeed, is it not alleged that people working in the newspaper industry have in the past been quietly “sponsoring” selected officers from the Metropolitan Police Force?

Whip-round for a good cause

Out of the mess known as Plebgate, which has led to three arrests plus the resignation of the Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell, some good has come. The bicycle that Mr Mitchell was riding during his altercation with a police officer at the exit from Downing Street fetched more than £10,000 on eBay. The proceeds will go to the Nyumbani project in Kenya, which cares for children orphaned by the HIV epidemic.

Move along – nothing to see here

Today’s most overblown story concerned a minor accident in which Margaret Hodge, the tough chair of the Commons Accounts Committee, was involved while out canvassing the previous evening in Barking. She opened a car door without looking properly, and a cyclist ran into it. “She acknowledges that the accident was completely her fault,” an aide in her office said. “She apologised profusely to the cyclist, who was unharmed. They shook hands before he went on his way.” Even Plebgate – also much overblown – was more exciting than this, yet incredibly, for part of today, the Hodge misadventure was the “most read” story on the BBC news website.

Fancy dress not required

It is not often that a report in a local newspaper about a WI meeting takes off on the internet, but the account of the April WI meeting in the little village of Parkham, Devon, that appeared in today’s North Devon Journal is in a class of its own. Guest speaker was Captain Colin Darch, who came to talk about pirates. Entering into what they thought was the spirit of the occasion, the women came dressed up as pirates – only to learn, to their embarrassment, that Captain Darch, above with his hosts, had come to tell the harrowing story of how he was held prisoner by Somali pirates, in daily fear for his life.

Fortunately, Captain Darch was understanding. “They were lovely ladies,” he said. “They made me judge who was the best dressed which was a difficult choice. In the end, I decided to choose the one who had a fluffy parrot on her shoulder. Of course, there weren’t any parrots near the real pirates.”

Sleepless in Manchester – or maybe not

Linda McDougall, appearing on Radio 4’s World at One, drew attention to an interesting item in a published diary kept by the broadcaster and former Tory MP Gyles Brandreth. On 1 June 1971, he was in Manchester, where the previous evening he had watched his wife, Michele, reading the news on BBC North West. He recorded: “It’s not much fun for her. When she’s on late shift, she sleeps on a camp bed in the ladies’ loo, unless the star presenter needs it for one of his assignations. (He has different girls, daily.) The atmosphere is pretty sleazy.”

Who might that sleazy star presenter have been?