Soham proves the need for a national police force

The current structure of the police reinforces the fiefdom approach to catching criminals

Share

For most of my 18 years as the MP covering the area where Ian Huntley lived, I had constant run-ins with the Humberside Police Force.

For most of my 18 years as the MP covering the area where Ian Huntley lived, I had constant run-ins with the Humberside Police Force. It was created in 1974 out of the wretched local government reorganisation that merged Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire with the rural areas of North Lincolnshire, Scunthorpe and Grimsby. The new county was a disaster - sliced through the middle by the mile-wide River Humber. Eventually, in 1996, the Department of the Environment finally abolished this hated county, and unitary local authorities were established.

But, despite persistent lobbying by me to the then Home Secretary, Michael Howard, he refused to accept my case that the Humberside Police Force should also be abolished. I wanted my North Lincolnshire constituency to be covered by the Lincolnshire Police Force. Among other reasons, it seemed a recipe for disaster that these new Lincolnshire local authorities' social services departments should have to liaise with a police force headquartered in another county.

So when Sir Michael Bichard concluded yesterday that there were "systematic and corporate failings" in the senior management of Humberside Police - concerning the shortcomings relating to the maintenance of intelligence records - I was not surprised. Its priorities reflected the prejudices of the political heads of the local police authority based in Hull, and its pettiness knew no bounds. Once, during the final passage of a government Bill to abolish the 35p annual dog licence, I stated - in a Commons speech - that, like three million other dog owners, I had not renewed my licence. Days later, Humberside Police sent PC Plod to my constituency home to seek a ludicrous prosecution because I had broken the law that had been repealed by the time the paperwork was concluded. No wonder Huntley's name was missed while the Humberside force was otherwise engaged in such futilities - simply to get an embarrassing headline about the local MP.

The blame for the errors surrounding Huntley appears to have fallen solely upon David Westwood, the present Chief Constable who took over in 1999. From the tone of David Blunkett's Commons statement, it looks inevitable that he will now be forced out of office. The Home Secretary has used statutory powers available to him requiring the Humberside Police Authority to suspend the chief constable. Mr Westwood can certainly be blamed insofar as the failures of intelligence were discovered on his watch, but it is an outrage that he should bear the sole personal responsibility for Humberside's institutional failures which go back at least a decade.

The Bichard inquiry found that there was a scandalous neglect of record-keeping long before Mr Westwood took up his post, and I saw at first hand the shortcomings of a police force under his predecessor Tony Leonard, not least in the abysmal clear-up rate of recorded crime. Ironically, there may be something in Mr Westwood's claim that he, above anyone else currently serving as a chief constable, probably now has a better understanding of what needs to be done to ensure another Ian Huntley does not slip through the net.

But while the immediate blame game will centre on one individual police chief, it is actually an institutional failure in the way all our police forces are constituted that begs a wider question. Why do we not have a national police force? There are 43 separate police authorities in England and Wales, each headed by chief constables whose personal priorities and egos determine which aspects of the criminal law are given variable resources by the Home Office. They, in turn, can be tempted to waste these resources by spending according to the priorities of the local police authorities to whom they report, rather than the priorities of the Home Secretary. The representation of local politicians on these authorities can skew a Home Secretary's policies, so that performances between similar neighbouring police forces can be completely different.

Sir Michael's report rightly dwelt on the need for vetting arrangements of school employees to be based on shared intelligence and nationally specified criteria. Mr Blunkett stressed that the police national computer should be the cornerstone of intelligence, but he also noted that, at present, the 43 forces operate their own individual systems of intelligence gathering. All this is to be changed. But why stop there?

It is clear that national rules will now be the norm for intelligence gathering, but this must also be extended to all other aspects of national policing. Police authorities are too small - Cambridgeshire simply did not have sufficient resources to undertake the murder inquiry, and should have had instant access to extra national resources. The current structure of police authorities reinforces the fiefdom approach to catching criminals, and line management stops abruptly at the door of the chief constables. Only a national police force answerable to the Home Secretary, rather than to police authorities, can be the logical consequence of Sir Michael's report.

mrbrown@pimlico.freeserve.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: Senior Developer

£50k - 60k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We have an exciting Seni...

Opilio Recruitment: Senior Front End Developer

£50k - 70k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We have an exciting Seni...

Opilio Recruitment: Senior Digital Designer

£50k - 55k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An exciting opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Vertical Sales Director

Market related: Opilio Recruitment: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Buy from Amazon and Apple and it’s you that ends up owned

Boyd Tonkin
Hughes in Durban in 2009, celebrating the first of his two centuries in the second Test against South Africa  

Sport will always be risky – we must accept that, even in the wake of the tragic death of Phillip Hughes

Rosie Millard
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game