12:21pm Friday 19th April 2013
By Stephanie Manley
CUMBRIA's under-fire Police and Crime Commissioner Richard Rhodes will speak at a hastily arranged press conference this afternoon, as it emerged the county’s Police and Crime Panel had asked him to ‘clarify his position’ over ‘leaked’ expenses allegations.
Pressure has been mounting on Mr Rhodes, who lives at Staveley-in-Cartmel and elected as the commissioner in November, after three people were arrested for allegedly disclosing details about his expenses.
This followed information disclosed to the media about his chauffeur-driven limo trips, at a cost of £700 to the public purse.
The Police and Crime Panel’s chair Celia Tibble this morning wrote Mr Rhodes a letter, questioning his actions.
The letter read: “Dear Mr Rhodes, as you aware the Police and Crime Panel received a complaint dated 8 April relating to your use of a chauffer driven car on a number of occasions.
The Panel was due to consider that complaint at its meeting on July 19.
However, in light of subsequent developments widely reported in the press, including the arrests of three individuals on serious charges and your own statements on the matter, the Panel would like to offer you an opportunity to clarify your position in writing on a number of important points so that the Panel can be fully appraised of the issues prior to its next scheduled meeting.
In particular we would like your explanation and any relevant background information, to the following questions:
1. When exactly were you made aware of the amounts being spent on chauffer driven vehicles for your use?
2. When exactly did you make the decision to stop using such vehicles?
3. Your spokesperson stated that you took the decision to re-pay the costs of these trips, but only after the issue was raised in the press. When exactly did you take that decision and why did you wait until the issue became public knowledge?
4. Your office has purchased a vehicle for your use, when was this vehicle purchased, what is its value and when was it delivered?
5. You have stated that you have no influence over operational policing; however your statement said that you raised “concerns” about this issue with constabulary.
- What was the exact nature of these concerns?
- When were they raised and how? Can you supply us with any relevant written correspondence, including emails?
- Who in your office raised the concerns and did they do so with your authority?
6. You have also stated that you have 'asked the Chief Constable to review as a matter of urgency the scale and nature of the investigation.' Could you clarify how this relates to the earlier part of the same statement where you said you had no powers to influence operational policing? Again please supply us with any written correspondence, including emails, relevant to this request to the Chief Constable.
7. In your view has the police response to this matter been proportionate and appropriate?
8. If relevant, can you confirm any actions you intend to take with Cumbria Constabulary in terms of reviewing and resolving this matter?
I would appreciate if you could provide written answers to these questions at the earliest opportunity as the Panel would like to consider your responses before making any decision on whether an extraordinary meeting of the Panel is required to look into this matter further.
Chair of the Cumbria Police and Crime Panel.”
A man, 47, and a 50-year-old woman were arrested on April 10 on suspicion of data protection offences and misconduct in a public office. They were suspended from work.
Yesterday, a 54-year-old man from Penrith, who is not a Cumbria Police employee, was also arrested in connection with the investigation.
He was arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice following a warrant that was carried out by police at a property in the town.
Another member of the constabulary, a 59-year-old male, has also been interviewed by police on a voluntary basis and has been suspended from work while enquiries are ongoing.
And these arrests have sparked condemnation among the county’s MPs.
MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale Tim Farron said:
“Politicians of all colours regularly praise whistleblowers – and it is wrong to seek to silence whistleblowers in this case.
“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.
“This information was in the public interest, and I’m sure could have been accessed by a simple FOI (Freedom of Information) request.
“Most councils publish this information on a regular basis so why not the police commissioner?
“To arrest these staff members is high handed, a threat to free speech and a very dangerous precedent.”
John Woodcock, Barrow and Furness MP, added: “The public rightly demand full transparency on the expenses of elected officials and will be alarmed to hear about these arrests.
“To maintain public trust, Richard Rhodes needs to make clear he had no conversations whatsoever with officers about the handling of this issue and explain why these claims apparently had to be brought to light by a whistleblower.”
And MP for Copeland, Jamie Reed, this week wrote a letter to Home Secretary Theresa May, asking her to ‘investigate the alleged conduct of the office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cumbria’.
The letter reads as follows:
“Dear Home Secretary,
I write to ask you to investigate the alleged conduct of the office of the Poilce & Crime Commissioner for Cumbria.
Two members of staff at the Cumbria Constabulary have been arrested, and a third staff member suspended, following alleged ‘whistleblowing’ which – it is claimed – resulted in the expenses of the Cumbrian Police & Crime Commissioner, Richard Rhodes, being leaked to the public.
Today, it is widely reported that these arrests followed a complaint from the Police & Crime Commissioner’s own office to the Chief Constable.
If true, this is clearly indefensible. Such an act would not only damage the office of the Cumbria Police & Crime Commissioner beyond repair, but more importantly, damage the reputation of the Cumbria Constabulary.
As someone who has worked closely with the Cumbria Constabulary over many years, I know from personal experience that their reputation as one of the best Police Services in the country is both hard-won and well deserved.
The men and women responsible for the reputation of the Constabulary deserve better than to have their impartiality questioned.
As a matter of urgency, I ask that you determine the facts of this case as quickly as possible so that these matters can be resolved beyond doubt.
I remain grateful for the interest you have shown in my community in recent years.
With sincere best wishes,
Yesterday Mr Rhodes released a statement, after questions were raised about how the investigation arose.
He said: “Operational policing matters are the responsibility of the Chief Constable.
“I do not have the powers to instigate or influence an operational policing investigation and the decision to commence an investigation has been made by solely the Chief Constable.
“I have not received an update on the investigation other than what has been released in the public domain to allow the Chief Constable his full operational independence.
“I do not know the identity of the individuals that have been arrested.
“Nothing more than concerns were raised by my Office to the Constabulary and a criminal investigation was not requested.
“All subsequent actions and decisions have been made solely by the Constabulary which has the responsibility of the day-to-day management of staff which provide administration support to the Office.
“I have not had any involvement or input into how the Constabulary has dealt with this matter.
“However, 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.”
Details of what emerges in this afternoon's press conference will appear here from 2pm.
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