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Thursday, 27 November 2014

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Arrests in crime commissioner leaked expenses probe are huge error - MP Rory Stewart

The decision to arrest three people over the leaked travel expenses of Cumbria’s police and crime commissioner Richard Rhodes was a “huge error”, says Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart.

Rory Stewart photo
Rory Stewart

Related: We told you before that we didn’t want a commissioner

Mr Stewart spoke publicly about the issue as Mr Rhodes, who was the Conservative-backed candidate for the job, faced continuing calls for his resignation.

Amid widespread disquiet about the Cumbria police investigation, the commissioner was today due to have a “routine” meeting with Home Secretary Theresa May.

Mr Stewart has called for an independent inquiry into why the two civilian police workers, and a man from Penrith whose home was raided by police officers, were arrested over their alleged involvement in leaking Mr Rhodes’s travel invoices.

The row blew up after reports that the commissioner used a chauffeur-driven Mercedes to attend two public functions at a cost to the public purse of £700.

He has since apologised for what he says were two mistakes: not checking how much the trips would cost beforehand and not ensuring the spending was made public on his website until last week.

The focus of the row has now shifted to the question of why those accused of involvement in leaking the information were arrested.

Two civilian police workers – a 47-year-old man and a 50-year-old woman – have been arrested on suspicion of data protection offences and misconduct in a public office; and a 59-year-old Penrith man arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice.

Mr Stewart said: “I personally think it was a huge error to arrest these people.

“I don’t think it was appropriate. I have spoken to the police and crime commissioner and he has assured me that he had nothing to do with this decision.

“However I think we should have an independent investigation to look at precisely that question. We need to look very closely at why the chief constable thought that was an appropriate decision.”

In an earlier statement, acting chief constable Bernard Lawson said it was his duty to investigate “any alleged unlawful disclosure of information”.

Cumbria police yesterday declined for a second time to reveal how many police officers have worked on the investigation, described last week by the Police Federation – which represents rank and file officers – as “heavy-handed and disproportionate”.

Mr Stewart added: “A lot of people are extremely concerned about this issue, and rightly so. There seems to be a loss of confidence, which is why we need a completely independent investigation to find out what happened.”

South Lakes Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron has vowed to raise the issue of the arrests at Prime Ministers’ Questions tomorrow.

He said: “It has been enormously heavy handed.

“What’s happened is very dangerous and a threat to the freedom of speech.”

The plight of the now suspended civilian police workers allegedly involved in leaking the commissioner’s invoices has sparked a huge debate about the issue of whistleblowers in public life.

Public relations consultant Henry Gewalter, who played a pivotal role in passing on details of MPs’ expenses to a national newspaper, said of the Cumbrian arrests: “It is absolutely outrageous. It’s a disgrace.

“They’re supposed to be out there catching criminals; that’s what we pay for them to do, so why are they focusing on covering themselves?

This website has also been inundated with comments.

Have your say

OMG Are you telling me he's still got a job after all these comments?

Well, it's obvious - he's his own boss and can hire and fire who he likes - and he's hardly going to fire himself is he? He's not gonna kiss 5.5k per month away just 'cos his electorate say so.

Posted by Thatcherite on 30 April 2013 at 13:23

Having voted for him can I withdraw my vote. It is typical that once elected the do their own thing and are not interested in the general public. He should go now or be sacked

Posted by Robert Watt on 28 April 2013 at 07:55

View all 139 comments on this article

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