Outgoing Police Federation chairman Steve Williams: 'I worked with hardened criminals, but nothing prepared me for the police'

The Police Federation chairman, who quit this week, tells Paul Peachey how the organisation has brought disgrace on itself

One of the country’s most powerful police leaders has revealed how political intrigue, personal attacks and sustained opposition to long-delayed reforms forced his premature departure from the once all-powerful body brought low by the Plebgate saga.

Steve Williams, a 30-year career detective, said that his work had brought him into confrontation with hardened criminals – but it had not prepared him for the hostility he experienced from colleagues within the Police Federation of England and Wales.

Mr Williams said that his unexpected decision to quit this week had finally provided the key moment in persuading battle-hardened “blockers” to agree changes to an organisation that had repeatedly gone toe-to-toe with the Government over budget cuts and changes to the service – and  lost.

“I’m a seasoned cop, I’ve been around the block. I’ve dealt with an awful lot of people, bad people, in my time but it’s not how I would expect to be treated by colleagues,” the 53-year-old told The Independent in his first interview since he announced his resignation.

The two most senior figures and leading reformists of the organisation – that represents 127,000 rank-and-file police officers – said on Monday they were leaving after months of damaging attacks on the group, which had been damned for a “serious loss of influence” and incompetence in an independent report.

Mr Williams commissioned the review in the teeth of opposition from senior colleagues following a series of reversals over pay and condition negotiations, criticisms of lavish spending by senior figures and lack of influence over decision-makers. The battle continued this week after it emerged that rebellious branches had refused to tell the national leadership how much they had stashed in secret accounts.

His position had been precarious since he took charge. He said he had faced “hurdles, blockers and resistance” from within an organisation whose members had accused him of dictatorial and treacherous behaviour.

“I was constantly under this sort of pressure and people trying to do me down for what I was trying to bring about,” he said in an interview at the organisation’s £26m headquarters in Leatherhead, Surrey. “I’d been verbally, personally criticised publicly. I’ve been blanked, I’ve had emails, I’ve had texts. I’ve had some phone conversations. If I’m honest, it grinds you down. It was continual pressure.”

MPs published a previously unseen email this week written by Mr Williams in February in which he complained to senior colleagues that he felt he had been “gratuitously and cruelly bullied and humiliated”. The email followed an emotional and particularly bruising encounter with top officials over his plans but was never sent after a weekend’s reflection.

Mr Williams said he was disappointed that the email – shown to his former head of communications – had come to light as it raised questions about the pressures faced by his predecessor who died just before he was due to hand over the reins, aged 57.

“I was feeling very battered and bruised, I was feeling very emotional. I had had a tough time and a continual feeling of being under this immense pressure,” said Mr Williams of the email. “It was heartfelt at the time. I was just at a low point in my career. It was one of the worst days ever. It was a bad day and a bad weekend.”

Worn down by his bruising encounters and a weekly 550-mile round-trip to his family home in north Wales, where his wife and three young children live, he decided to quit last weekend. “I woke up on Saturday morning, bolt upright. I woke my wife up and said, ‘I’ve come to my decision: I’m going to retire from policing.’”

Mr Williams took over the organisation in December 2012, two months after the former Tory Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell resigned following a ferocious campaign by sections of the federation, which had accused the MP of swearing at a Downing Street officer and calling him a “pleb”.

The scalp of Mr Mitchell – who had denied using the toxic phrase – was seen as payback after government changes to the service and the appointment of Tom Winsor as Chief Inspector of Police after he had championed the changes. It subsequently emerged that a witness to the row was a Metropolitan Police officer who had lied about what he had seen. The officer, PC Keith Wallis, was jailed for a year in February.

Despite internal resistance, Mr Williams commissioned a review headed by Sir David Normington, a former Home Office permanent secretary, as his first act on taking over.

It called for greater control on branch officials, financial transparency and a number of other measures, reigniting simmering battles within the federation.

Sir David said this week that the departure of Mr Williams and the general secretary Ian Rennie marked a “dangerous moment” for the organisation in which blockers of reform could take hold of the organisation again.

But Mr Williams said yesterday that he was confident that with his resignation the battle for reform had been won and that his colleagues would back it at their annual conference in May.

“I think it [the resignation] has helped push the reforms a little bit further along – ‘Look, gosh, Steve Williams is going’ – and that attitude has perhaps helped to make the change. It’s time for me to hang up my helmet and move on and let someone else see through the inevitable changes.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk