2 Jul 2012

Weston quits south Wales PCC race, but wasn’t he barred already?

The Falklands war hero Simon Weston announced this morning that is pulling out of November’s election to become police and crime commissioner (PCC) in south Wales. On Twitter he said he had become “disillusioned by the fact it was getting (too) political & not serving the people”.

Weston’s decision follows a number of blogs on this site in the past two weeks suggesting that he would have been disqualified from standing anyway by the tough rules which bar people with criminal records from running for PCC if they have been convicted of crimes for which they might have gone to jail. These apply even if those crimes were committed as a juvenile, as occurred in Weston’s case (he was found in a stolen car around the age of 14).

Only last Thursday Weston appeared on a panel of PCC candidates which I chaired at the Local Government Association conference in Birmingham. Whilst he complained there that the race was becoming too political, he said nothing about withdrawing. But I thought it strange that he refused my request for an interview for Channel 4 News. He would not be doing any media interviews until September, he said, which struck me as a strange way to campaign.

I also understand that Simon Weston came very close to withdrawing from the contest last March, as he felt it was too difficult for an independent candidate to overcome the traditional party machines. But then he decided to press on.

Last Thursday I urged Weston to consult a lawyer about whether he would actually be disqualified under the law. He insisted there was no need to do so, as he was totally confident, he said, that he was not caught by the 2011 Police Act. I advised him that it might be best to sort the issue out now, and perhaps even get the law changed, whereas it could prove very expensive in legal costs if he was challenged once the election got underway. And I warned him if he was ultimately elected he might even face an election court.

Both the Home Secretary Theresa May and the Attorney General Dominic Grieve have recently expressed the view that Weston WOULD have been allowed to stand, but lawyers to whom I have spoken have expressed the contrary opinion. These include Ros Baston, a specialist in election law, who was previously a senior official with the Electoral Commission.

Weston’s decision means the PCC contest in south Wales will almost certainly be won by Labour’s candidate, the former Welsh First Minister Alun Michael, who is giving up his Westminster seat to enter the race in what is a very strong Labour area.

I would be very surprised if the tough law against people with criminal records standing in November doesn’t produce further casualties, once candidates read the wording of the act and consult their lawyers.

Simon Weston’s decision is another blow to ministers who had hoped the police commissioner elections would produce an impressive list of big-name non-politicians as candidates. But now the two biggest names to enter the fray – Weston and fellow army veteran Tim Collins – have both withdrawn within the space of about five weeks.

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