18 Apr 2013

Calls for police commissioner investigation over arrests

A Labour MP calls for the Home Secretary to investigate the conduct of Richard Rhodes, police and crime commissioner of Cumbria, after a third alleged “whistleblower” is arrested.

Richard Rhodes, police and crime commissioner for Cumbria

A police investigation was launched after details of two trips made by Mr Rhodes in a chauffeur-driven limousine at a cost of around £700 were leaked to the local press.

Last week two civilian police workers were arrested and suspended from their jobs. Both are on police bail until 25 May. A third member of staff was interviewed voluntarily and is also suspended.

On Thursday officers searched a property in Penrith and arrested a 54-year-old man on suspicion of peverting the course of justice.

“No involvement”

In a letter to the Home Secretary Theresa May, Labour MP Jamie Reed asked for an investigation into the alleged conduct of the office of the police and crime commissioner (PCC) for Cumbria.

Mr Reed cited allegations that the police investigation had been launched following a complaint made by the commissioner’s office to the chief constable:

“If true, this is clearly indefensible. Such an act would not only damage the office of the Cumbria police and crime commissioner beyond repair, but more importantly, damage the reputation of the Cumbria constabulary.”

But Mr Rhodes later issued a statement saying he had no “involvement or input” into how the police had dealt with the matter, adding “I am mindful that one of my key principles is to scrutinise the constabulary and as a result of complaints raised I have asked the chief constable to review as a matter of urgency the scale and nature of the investigation.”

Tim Farron, Lib Dem MP for South Lakes, described the arrests as a “threat to free speech and a very dangerous precedent”, saying:

“Details of the expenses of public officials ought to be publicly available anyway, we shouldn’t have to rely on leaks to find these things out.

“Most councils publish this information on a regular basis so why not the police commissioner?”

Long days

In a statement Stuart Edwards, chief executive of the Cumbria office of the police and crime commissioner, said the decision to hire a driver was taken in response to the commissioner’s heavy workload:

“As a result of the long hours the commissioner was working it was decided for personal safety reasons that support would be provided in terms of a driver for some evening functions with long and late return journeys.”

The statement added that the journeys involved had been between one and a half and two hours long and went on: “When the commissioner was appraised of the cost he immediately stopped the practice of hiring drivers. The commissioner has personally reiumbursed the full cost of the journeys.”

Appearing before the home affairs select committee, Theresa May told MPs that she would be looking into a claim in Thursday’s Times that over half of PCCs were failing to publish their expenses, budgets, contracts and tenders as required by law.

Mrs May stressed that PCCs were ultimately “accountable to the electorate”.