A self-serving police chief

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The Independent Online

Supporters of the Chief Constable of Humberside Police, David Westwood, complain that he is being turned into a "scapegoat" for failings that led up to the Soham murders two years ago. They argue that the actual killer, Ian Huntley, is behind bars and that to force the resignation of Mr Westwood, as the Home Secretary hopes to do, would be vindictive and unreasonable. The Humberside Police Authority, which met yesterday to decide Mr Westwood's fate, appears to sympathise with this view, and has called on David Blunkett to "reconsider" his decision to order the police chief's suspension.

Supporters of the Chief Constable of Humberside Police, David Westwood, complain that he is being turned into a "scapegoat" for failings that led up to the Soham murders two years ago. They argue that the actual killer, Ian Huntley, is behind bars and that to force the resignation of Mr Westwood, as the Home Secretary hopes to do, would be vindictive and unreasonable. The Humberside Police Authority, which met yesterday to decide Mr Westwood's fate, appears to sympathise with this view, and has called on David Blunkett to "reconsider" his decision to order the police chief's suspension.

They were wrong to do so. A scapegoat is a guiltless individual punished for the sins of others. Mr Westwood does not fit this description. Sir Michael Bichard's report into the Soham murders uncovered a catalogue of appalling mistakes which led to Ian Huntley, a sexual predator, being employed as a school caretaker. Many of these errors were made by Humberside Police, and Sir Michael concluded that "personal responsibility" for them falls upon Mr Westwood. In other words, these were not just mistakes made on his watch, but mistakes he ought to have spotted and rectified. Mr Westwood has simply been asked to take responsibility for his own failings.

The Chief Constable also feels he should remain in his post, on the grounds that he is best placed to implement the reforms in the handling of data which Sir Michael recommended. But this does not stand up to scrutiny. The failings of Humberside Police's handling of data on sex offenders were documented in close detail by the Bichard report - Mr Westwood is hardly the only person who knows which reforms are necessary.

It is regrettable that Mr Blunkett had to interfere in this matter, and he should not take it as a licence to remove chief constables whenever it may get him a few favourable headlines. It would have been far better if the Humberside Police Authority, or Mr Westwood, had read the Bichard report and concluded that the Chief Constable's position was untenable. But they failed to do so and, in this case, Mr Blunkett was right to intervene.

The scene is now set for a legal battle with the Home Secretary. This will do nothing to restore confidence in Humberside Police, and will delay the reforms which everyone agrees must be implemented immediately. By hanging on, Mr Westwood is serving no one's interests but his own.

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