Wright and wrong: The independence of Police commissioners is vital


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The Independent Online

When the Coalition Government decided to place more power in the hands of the electorate and subject individual police forces to the scrutiny of an independent, democratically elected supervisor, the point was that the post should, indeed, be independent. That is to say that the police and crime commissioner should be very difficult, if not impossible, to remove.

That is a necessary condition of independence for such a public official – to be free from being threatened by other vested interests – and a principle worth defending, even in perverse circumstances, as in the case of Shaun Wright in South Yorkshire. The entire political establishment, including the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the Labour leader Ed Miliband, Rotherham council, the Police and Crime Panel that oversees him and even his own deputy, have publicly called on him to quit, in the light of the report into the Rotherham abuse scandal. Mr Wright may, as he claims, have had many messages of support, but the public as a whole is appalled at his record. He has now been reported to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which may further undermine Mr Wright’s authority, were that possible.

Mr Wright, as a discredited figure, will be a lame duck commissioner, meaning that local people will – in effect – be deprived of the democratic oversight that the role of police and crime commissioner was designed to deliver. Regrettable as that situation may be, it is still better than retrospective legislation aimed at his removal.