Central Government Influencing Local Appointment of Chief Constables


Thursday, June 21st, 2012. 2:54pm

Home Office Header From One of the Released Documents

Home Office Header From One of the Released Documents

This article is written by me, Richard Taylor, in an entirely personal capacity, and not as a WhatDoTheyKnow volunteer.

On the 15th of September 2010 a document was sent by the UK Home Office to a request thread on mySociety’s Freedom of Information website WhatDoTheyKnow.com, the document was completely unrelated to the Freedom of Information request it was sent in response to.

We don’t know why it was sent, it could have been an accident, or it could have been a whistleblower within Government trying to use WhatDoTheyKnow as a “WikiLeaks” kind of site to release material they thought should be in the public domain.

The material relates to deliberations of the Chief Constable appointments committee at Dyfed-Powys Police Headquarters in Camarthen on Friday the 28th of March 2008. It is correspondence between elected Carmarthenshire County Councillor W.G. Hopkins, who was a member of the Dyfed-Powys Police Authority, with the Home Office and Inspectorate of Constabulary. The correspondence relates to Cllr Hopkins’ concerns relating to the process of appointing the Chief Constable. The councillor addressed his initial correspondence to the then Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, and copied Adam Price MP.

Mr Hopkins wrote:

in my view certain aspects of the proceedings of the seven-member Police Authority Appointments Committee were dreadful. Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) Kate Flannery was present at every stage of the daylong proceedings except for the last half hour or so and my key objection and deep concern is that – in effect – it was Kate that actually made the appointment.

Kate who had already contributed several times earlier during the day was then asked for her opinion as to the appointment. To my amazement she proceeded with what I can only describe as a thinly veiled character assassination of Howard [Roberts]. In essence she declared that he seriously lacked the necessary attributes for the post of Chief Constable. She alleged that, in this respect, he has a number of almost alarming character, ability, leadership and operational deficiencies and claimed that if the committee was misguided enough to appoint him he would be “found out” within two weeks of being appointed.

One of the members, Mrs Delyth Humfryes, was so incensed and appalled by what had happened that she totally refused to participate any further in the proceedings. I was just as furious and appalled

In my opinion she showed considerable contempt for the committee (and by extension to Dyfed-Powys Police Authority) and her exhortations were almost tantamount to bullying and frightening the committee into voting in the way she favoured. Regrettably, she was all too successful

In future I shall certainly not knowingly allow myself to be a member of a committee whose freedom to act and authority is curtailed – effectively usurped – by an individual who is not a member of the committee

The released correspondence reveals that Alasdair Kenwright, the chairman of Dyfed-Powys Police Authority had also expressed concerns about the Inspectorate of Constabulary’s involvement in the appointments process.

Oddly Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, was able to tell Mr Kenwright that had the appointments committee made a decision to appoint Howard Roberts this would have had ministerial approval. He appears to be trying to give an assurance that his inspector was not trying to throw the process so that the Home Secretary’s, or the central government machine’s preferred candidate was the one chosen by the committee.

Councillor Hopkins’ letter expressing concern to the Home Secretary was apparently replied to by Home Office civil servant Andrew Wren, the then Head of Police Productivity Unit, Police Reform and Resources Directorate. He stated, presumably on behalf of the Home Office and Home Secretary:

I know that full acknowledgement has been made that this appointments process was not handled as well as HMIC, or indeed the Home Office, would have liked. My understanding is that Kate Flannery has fully recognised this. I therefore feel in a position to assure you that lessons have been learned for the future, and the mistakes will not be repeated.

Source

My View

My view is that there is a significant public interest in having the material above, and the source documents themselves, available to the public as they give an insight in to the way a local police authority was influenced by the Inspectorate of Constabulary while appointing a Chief Constable.

As we move towards elected Police Commissioners who will take over the role of Police Authorities in appointing Chief Constables I think it’s important commissioners are alerted to the potential that the Inspectorate of Constabulary may wish to seek to influence appointments, Commissioners will in my view need to be alert to the potential for central elements of the British state, such as the Home Office and Inspectorate of Constabulary seeking to influence what ought be a local decision.

If parts of central government have grounds to interfere with the appointment of a Chief Constable they ought do so publicly and openly.

Home Secretaries interfering with, or vetoing, Chief Constable appointments is quite rightly big news, and invariably controversial, on the rare occasions it happens or is threatened. (eg. Blunkett orders police chief’s suspension)

More subtle interference via a the Inspectorate of Constabulary behind closed doors is no less important, it’s just less visible until someone on the inside lets the public know what’s going on.

When the material was first released I sought to draw the national, and local press’ attention to the documents, though none appeared interested in the story, presumably as even then it was two years old (it’s now four) and four year old news generally isn’t news any more.

WhatDoTheyKnow’s Publication Of The Material

In September 2010 the Home Office asked WhatDoTheyKnow to cease publishing the material.

Recently the Information Commissioner has become involved, and they are supporting the Home Office. The fact the ICO are involved and I now perceive a risk that WhatDoTheyKnow may cease to publish the document is the only bit of “insider” WhatDoTheyKnow knowledge which I am applying here, and it is what has prompted me to get round to writing this article. I’m aware the Home Office has made vague comments about substantial distress being caused as a result of the publication of the material, if anyone raises any complaints along those lines with me about what I’ve written, I will of course as always consider them and seek to balance any impact on any individuals with the public interest.

My own view is that WhatDoTheyKnow is not a whistleblowing website and hosting of this material is not part of its core function; faced with a decision by the Information Commissioner, it may well be the time for them to say this isn’t a fight that WhatDoTheyKnow wants to, or needs to, have. There is a reputational risk though, while WhatDoTheyKnow expends a huge amount of time, effort and energy on proper consideration of takedown requests, and takes its responsibilities extremely seriously when material is taken down from the site it is quite rightly a cause for concern to be raised by observers who think a stronger pro-publication stance ought be taken.

If there’s a document the Home Office and Information Commissioner don’t want you to read, and which they are able to persuade a site like WhatDoTheyKnow to take down off the internet, then, well my reaction would be – that’s probably a document worth reading.

While the material should probably not have been released in full, even if a FOI request had been made for it. My view is that if it had come into the hands of a decent local paper, or local website, in a timely fashion, it would probably been quite justifiable to reproduce it all in full.

My view is that there is a very strong public interest in the concerns raised by Mr Hopkins, and accepted by the Inspectorate of Constabulary, The Home Office and reportedly the individual inspector concerned, being in the public domain.

In terms of personal information present, I note I’ve not reproduced Mr Hopkins’ home address here, but it is in the source documents, and openly published on the carmarthenshire.gov.uk website.

Mr Hopkins’ letter has been stamped “Received in DCU – 7 APR 2008″ and has had “PPP9 Operational Matters” scrawled on it. Perhaps commenters will be able to decipher the latter?

5 comments/updates on “Central Government Influencing Local Appointment of Chief Constables

  1. Richard Taylor Article author

    I’ve now discovered:

    http://www.thisisnottingham.co.uk/officer-taking-action-unsuccessful-job-application/story-12206417-detail/story.html

    which states the letter was published by Jane’s Police Review, a now defunct publication.

    The dates suggest the release via WhatDoTheyKnow could have been the source of the information which Jane’s and ThisIsNottingham published. If it was perhaps WhatDoTheyKnow ought not be removing information which has resulted in press coverage, however as is almost always the case those writing and publishing the article didn’t cite their sources, or publish the raw documents themselves.

    The ThisIsNottingham article includes the following

    Ms Flannery, who left HMIC last October, said she disagreed with Mr Hopkins’ version of events.

    “I am 100 per cent confident that the authority made the right decision to appoint Ian Arundale,” she said.

    “I understand Howard Roberts’s disappointment and I briefed Howard after the process to give some indication of why he had not been successful on that occasion and he accepted my debrief and I wished him well for the future.

    “I would simply say that the process was a fair process; I think the authority weighed up the evidence, both in all the written documentation, the evidence on the day and my professional advice.”

  2. Rupert Moss-Eccardt

    I must say I’m suprised that you are suprised!

    The ‘canteen’ culture extends right to the top of the police service into ACPO. If your face doesn’t fit, it doesn’t matter how competent you are, you won’t progress.

    Now that the Home Secretary has given up on any pretense of policing being a profession it will continue to be a ‘craft’ with personal recommendation being the most important factor.

    “Don’t let police work get in the way of your career” continues to apply.

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    There has been an Information Tribunal decision published related to this material:

    http://www.informationtribunal.gov.uk/DBFiles/Decision/i850/2012_09_04;%20Mr%20Roberts%20Decision.pdf

    In summary the tribunal concludes that material relating to the HMIC staff member’s input should not have been withheld as personal information.

    While I understand the judge drew a distinction between the professional from HMIC and the members of the Police Authority I think to describe the members as unpaid representatives of the public is wrong as members are paid expenses and allowances (some quite hefty) and not all members are “representatives” some are appointees.

    Interestingly the judgement notes the information was published on WhatDoTheyKnow:

    As a result of an error in the Home Office, some of the letters referred to in paragraph 7 appeared on the “What do they know?” website and were subsequently referred to and commented upon in press articles. Such publications do not, of course, affect the tribunal`s determination of the issues raised by this appeal.

    The judgement appears to go beyond consideration of the FOI related legal matters and reveals lots of material related to what went on.

    I understand substantial amount of material has now been released to the requestor as a result of the judgement and associated order to disclose information.

    Key paragraphs include:

    52. Ms.Flannery, the HMIC representative, should, we think, have expected that publicity would be given to any significant flaw in her performance of the demanding duties which she was deputed to perform, especially if they involved a blurring of the distinction between her role as adviser and that of the members as selectors. Such publicity would plainly include the impact of her conduct on the members as subsequently reported by them.

    53. We should add that, on the evidence, any fault in her performance lay in allowing HGR to be put forward as a suitable candidate, when, rightly or wrongly, that was not her true assessment of him. The desirability of a contest for the office, if that was her motive, could not possibly justify such a course, leading, as was inevitable, to a dramatic volte face at the stage of the committee`s discussion and the unnecessary exposure of HGR to a time-consuming and stressful process.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.
Please consider saying where you are from eg. "Cambridge".
Required fields are marked *

*

Powered by WP Hashcash