Labour closes ranks around the South Yorkshire Police Commissioner

Earlier this year, the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings off Thought for the Day, lost a legal action in the high court over his decision to dismiss Chief Constable David Crompton following a press release in which Billings alleged that Crompton sought to defend the actions of police counsel at the Hillsborough Inquest.

The high court described Billings decision as “irrational, perverse, unreasonable, misconceived and wholly disproportionate”. The case in my view hinged on whether the conduct of police counsel at the inquest was defensible or not. If it was indefensible – as the Hillsborough families claim (and they were there and I was not) – then Crompton was wrong to defend it. On the other hand if it was defensible, then it is hard to see what sacking offence Crompton committed.

It was therefore a mystery to me why the case that Billings made against Crompton did not address counsel conduct at the inquest. I read the file: 405 pages of mostly press commentary on the fallout of the inquest. Having cost the South Yorkshire Police budget over £500,000 in legal and other costs I felt this was an appropriate matter for the commissioner to be held accountable for.

The chair of the Police and Crime Panel did not agree. (webcast)

This generated the most extraordinary minute (from here)

The Chair replied that he did not see any merit in going over the details of the judgement or reviewing the decision of the court. The Panel were welcome to pass comments on the report or ask for any clarifications but going back over the Judicial Review and requesting the Commissioner to explain his actions was inappropriate in this forum and would not help the Panel going forward.

This is precisely the statutory function of a Police and Crime Panel. Local councillors may no longer have any decision making role over local policing, that belongs to the commissioner, but we still have a right, indeed a statutory duty to ask questions. Particularly, I would say, difficult ones. (For those who enjoy webcasts, there’s a slightly perplexed discussion of the minute here.)

For the following meeting (last Friday) I submitted a written question asking for the Commissioner’s views on the “resignation” of Sarah Champion MP from Labour’s front bench over remarks made in a national newspaper relating to an organised sex crime problem in the region, as I wrote about at the time.

Again, the question was not allowed. (webcast) This was an awful decision. To send the message loudly and clearly that victims will be listened to, and that it is worth their while coming forward and seeking justice, we must not shut people down who try to talk about the problem. It is highly relevant question, albeit a difficult one, whether Alan Billings agrees with Sarah Champion or not.

In both of these cases, it is hard to see what answer Dr Billings could have given, that would have sent a worse message than not allowing the question. He’s perfectly capable of giving intelligent and thoughtful answers, good enough even for Radio 4. But Labour’s instinct to close ranks and shut down scrutiny and debate trumps all.

* Joe Otten was the candidate for Sheffield Heeley in June 2017, is a councillor in Sheffield and is Tuesday editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.

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6 Comments

  • David Evans 3rd Oct '17 - 3:12pm

    Excellent work Joe. It is precisely this sort of thing that, even though I disagree with you on some matters, tells me quite simply you are a good Lib Dem and deserve our wholehearted support in the battle you, and the rest of the team, take to Labour in Sheffield.

    Keep the pressure up!

  • What’s your stance on Orgreave, Joe ? Have you asked any questions about that ?

    I’m disappointed you need to make personal remarks about the Rev Canon Dr Billings. I knew him to be a good and very decent man in his Kendal days irrespective of party politics..

  • Joe, I note you dodged David Raw’s question on Orgreave…On a different tack I note your silence on the matter of Nick Clegg’s latest gaffe over voters joining Labour/Conservative…
    Do you have an opinion on that?

  • @ Joe ” he can’t be offended that I say he is capable of giving thoughtful and intelligent answers.”

    On reflection, don’t you think that’s a tad patronising, Joe, and perhaps you could explain the relevance of your mention of Dr Billing’s involvement in Thought for the Day ?

    And, how about giving me a thoughtful and intelligent answer about your stance on Orgreave ?

  • Silence.

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