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Saturday, 25 October 2014

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Crime commissioner expenses whistleblower accepts redundancy

The woman who triggered a political storm for Cumbria’s crime commissioner by leaking his travel expenses has left her job.

Irene Brown photo
Irene Brown with husband Steve

Civilian worker Irene Brown, 52, who was arrested but never charged with any offence, has accepted redundancy before her bosses could finish taking disciplinary action against her.

Though she is gagged by the terms of her redundancy, the force has issued an agreed statement about her departure in which she says she “regrets the impact” of her actions on some colleagues.

She also says that were she in the same situation again she would not have taken the same approach to the disclosures she made.

Significantly, the statement does not say Mrs Brown, from Pendruddock, near Penrith, regrets leaking the travel expense details of Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner Richard Rhodes in April last year.

Those documents revealed how Mr Rhodes spent £700 of public money on two chauffeur driven trips to evening engagements.

Mrs Brown and her husband Steve were among four people questioned by police as part of their investigation in the leaking of the invoices.

The then chief constable Bernard Lawson said at the time the force had a duty to investigate any alleged illegal disclosure of information.

The decision caused widespread public disquiet.

Lawyers decided Mrs Brown, who was a union official at the time she leaked the documents, should not face a criminal prosecution but Cumbria Police carried out their own internal investigation and planned to take disciplinary proceedings against her.

Her decision to accept redundancy from the force means those proceedings will never be concluded.

Although Mrs Brown is unable to comment, her 55-year-old husband spoke of the “devastating impact” the experience has had on the couple, who are starting a new life in the Norfolk area.

He said: “To find yourself being arrested for something that had nothing to do with you at all was terrible. I felt that they arrested me to put pressure of Irene. Now I totally distrust the police.”

Mr Brown defended his wife’s integrity, saying: “She’s a very public spirited lady.

“She doesn’t like to see people get mistreated and she doesn’t like to see money wasted. That information should have been in the public domain from day one.”

Mrs Brown was suspended from her job for more than a year as police carried out their internal investigation.

The pressure of the investigations badly affected the couple’s health, he said. The stress also led to a worsening of his wife’s angina, triggering four or five attacks per day and the need for a spell in the cardiac care unit of Carlisle’s Cumberland Infirmary.

Both were arrested and quizzed by officers for several hours over the issue.

Mr Brown said: “Irene absolutely loved her job working in the Unison office. She was working long hours and was under a lot of pressure because dealing with redundancies. But she loved her work.

“As far as people working within Cumbria Constabulary is concerned, I think that people will now be very reluctant after what’s happened to Irene to come forward as a whistleblower.”

After the story broke, Mr Rhodes apologised for not checking the cost of the car organised by staff before the two trips and not ensuring the spending was put on his website sooner. He cancelled the transport as soon as he knew what it cost and repaid the £700 it had cost. He repeatedly pointed out that he did not ask for the police investigation.

Mr Rhodes yesterday declined to comment, saying the issue surrounding Mrs Brown was handled internally by Cumbria Constabulary and he was not involved.
 

Cumbria Constabulary's statement:

“Mrs Irene Brown has left the employment of Cumbria Constabulary by reason of redundancy.

“Following the events of April 2013, a misconduct investigation was commenced in December 2013.

“That investigation concluded at the end of January 2014. Following receipt of the investigation report, a decision was taken that the matter should proceed to a formal disciplinary hearing.

“Whilst this disciplinary process was ongoing, Mrs Irene Brown failed to be re-elected as the UNISON Branch Secretary at the UNISON Branch AGM in March 2014. As a consequence of this, and her substantive role having previously been removed, she was placed at risk of redundancy.

“Rather than go through the disciplinary proceedings and/or redundancy processes, Mrs Irene Brown agreed to leave the Constabulary.

“Had she remained with the Constabulary the disciplinary proceedings would have been progressed.

“These proceedings will now no longer take place.

“Whilst the outcome of the disciplinary proceedings will not now be known, on reflection, Mrs Brown would not, if she had her time again, take the same approach to the disclosures she made and, in particular, she regrets the impact on other members of the police staff.”

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