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Police tsar confronts minister

A police and crime commissioner (PCC) has confronted a senior minister over "utterly indefensible" comments made by the Home Secretary about his role in the plebgate row.

Threatening to overshadow an event marking the first anniversary of the inaugural PCC elections, Warwickshire PCC Ron Ball hit out at claims made by Theresa May that he had "rushed to the defence" of police officers accused of attempting to discredit Andrew Mitchell MP.

In an impassioned statement, Mr Ball said he was "hugely disappointed" not to have the support of senior politicians and demanded an explanation from policing minister Damian Green.

Three Police Federation representatives - including Detective Sergeant Stuart Hinton, of Warwickshire Police - were accused of misrepresenting a meeting held with former Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell.

The MP met the three police officers at his Sutton Coldfield constituency office a month after he was accused of launching a foul-mouthed rant at officers outside Downing Street.

Standing up in a room full of his fellow PCCs, Mr Ball said: "I'm hugely disappointed today for this to become an issue on what should be a celebration of the really good work all of my colleagues and me are doing round the country.

"Since plebgate has reared its head, I'd like to make a clear statement of what my stance has been and I'd like anybody to point out where this is wrong."

He went on: "From the outset I've said that what the officers did as far as our element of plebgate was concerned was wrong.

"You will not find a word of support anywhere, so the Home Secretary saying 'I rushed to the defence of the force' is utterly indefensible."

He went on: "As far as the chief constable is concerned I've said I would like to hold an open meeting with all the evidence on my website so the public and the press can have a look at it and ask me and the chief constable whatever questions they like.

"I think that's holding the chief constable to account.

"The other thing I've said, and I don't understand why people aren't standing along side this, is that I want fair treatment for everyone and that includes Andrew Mitchell and it appears to be contentious to say that that includes the officers concerned.

"So I'm hugely disappointed that I don't have senior figures standing alongside that stance and I'd like to know where it is wrong?"

Mr Green replied: " On the issue of what happened in Andrew Mitchell's office, it is clear that what was said by the officers when they came out of that meeting did not accurately reflect what happened in that meeting.

"The most sensible thing for them to have done at the time would be to apologise for that and still the most sensible thing for them to do is just give a straight forward apology for the way they behaved when they came out of that meeting."

But Mr Ball was not satisfied and once more asked: "Where was my stance wrong?"

In a speech in the opulent setting of the St Ermin's Hotel in central London, Mr Green suggested that low level misconduct probes could be carried out by PCCs in the future.

Mr Green said public confidence in the police required investigations against officers to be "pursued without fear or favour".

The "vast majority" of day-to-day policing was conducted with the "utmost efficacy and professionalism", he said.

"But when it is not, complaints of something as simple as basic rudeness can damage an individual's confidence in policing."

He went on: "I know PCCs are also concerned about complaints and some of you would like a bigger role in dealing with them.

"The idea of involving PCCs more in this process has some obvious attractions.

"It would serve to increase accountability and transparency in the complaints system and, therefore, increase public confidence.

"That is why the Home Secretary has asked you to work together with Home Office officials to look at this issue.

"There is obviously work to do to establish the right model, but giving PCCs a stronger say in the complaints procedure could reinforce the role they must play in sticking up for the people they and their police forces serve."

Despite a raft of claims made against different PCCs across England and Wales, Mr Green insisted that the elected representatives ''are here to stay'' and pledged to beef up their role.

He said: ''For all its imperfections - concerns over expenses, clashes between PCCs and chiefs, the occasional questionable appointment - the democratic system we have installed is infinitely better than that which preceded it.''

He added: ''I am sure some people thought PCCs were a passing fad.

"But, on the eve of the anniversary of the first elections, they should now be able to see that they are here to stay.

"And far from shying away from our landmark reform, it is our intention to reinforce, strengthen and expand this new democratic institution."

Mr Green announced £20 million of fresh funding for PCCs for new technology and other methods to deliver savings.

Some 15.1% of registered voters took part in the November 2012 PCC election - the lowest recorded level of participation at a peacetime non-local government election in Britain.

In areas such as Greater Manchester, commissioners represent the interests of millions of people.

Among the controversial decisions made by PCCs was the appointment of youth PCC Paris Brown in Kent, who later resigned after she was accused of posting homophobic and racist comments on Twitter.

Kent PCC Ann Barnes, who appointed the 15-year-old, has since vowed to find a successor before the end of the year.

Elsewhere, Gwent PCC Ian Johnston was accused of bullying after it emerged that he had ordered former chief constable of Gwent Police Carmel Napier to retire.

No further action was taken against North Wales PCC Winston Roddick and Hampshire PCC Simon Hayes after an Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation into claims they were living outside their respective force areas on the day they were elected.

Meanwhile, Durham PCC Ron Hogg is still under investigation by the IPCC for benefits claimed when he was deputy chief constable of Cleveland, while Lancashire PCC Clive Grunshaw is being investigated by the Crown Prosecution Service over expenses taken while he was a Labour county councillor and police authority member.


From Belfast Telegraph