'About time,' say the senior officers whose leader became a millstone

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The Independent Online

Paul Whitehouse may have praised the "integrity and professionalism'' of the police officers under his command yesterday but many were unwilling to return the compliment to the Chief Constable of Sussex.

"About time," was the curt response from one senior officer. "He should have gone ages ago. He has been the author of his own misfortune.

"We could have been much more open with the Ashley family. The Chief Constable mishandled this from the moment he opened his mouth after the shooting.

"Most people realise this was inevitable. He could have done this quite a while ago and it's a shame it had to come after comments from the Home Secretary."

The Chief Constable still had some supporters yesterday but many of the rank and file had deserted him.

"About a quarter of the senior officers strongly agree that he mishandled the situation and about a quarter completely disagree. The rest have been sitting on the fence, waiting to see what happens,'' said one officer, who revealed that many on the force believed the inquiry team from the Kent Constabulary had done a good job. "There were clearly mistakes made and there was an unfortunate macho culture in that firearms team. Things needed changing. We should have faced up to that a long time ago.

"By going public the way he [Whitehouse] did, saying he was satisfied by the use of firearms by officers, he put those conducting the inquiry in an impossible position. But to their credit they stuck to their task of investigating the matter."

Even those willing to speak publicly about Mr Whitehouse's resignation admitted his departure would at last offer an opportunity to begin putting the whole sorry saga behind them. "The buck of accountability had to stop with someone,'' said Inspector Graham Alexander, chairman of the Sussex Police Federation.

"Clearly something had to happen at some point so that everyone could get on with their lives. You hear the expression 'closure'. We are still a long way from that but perhaps this is the start of that process.

"For the past three years the issues surrounding this case have bedevilled this organisation. It has done that at the expense of lots of other good work that has been going on," Inspector Alexander said. "The feeling is that an era of Sussex Police is drawing to a close.''

Superintendent Graham Cox, deputy chairman of the Sussex Superintendents' Association and Hove Divisional Commander, agreed. "I feel sorry Mr Whitehouse's career has ended in this fashion. However, it is important he leaves because it is the only way Sussex Police can move on.''

Superintendent Cox, who was a senior investigator in Complaints and Discipline at the time of the shooting, praised the dignity of Mr Ashley's family in dealing with the matter.

"I would hope, now that Mr Whitehouse has announced his intention to retire, someone from Sussex Police will be able to make contact and begin to build bridges, at least offer a proper apology and explanation for what went on.''

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