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Thursday, 24 July 2014

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Cumbria police worker calls for better protection for whistleblowers

A police worker arrested after details of Cumbria crime commissioner’s expenses were leaked wants greater protection for whistleblowers.

Richard Rhodes photo
Richard Rhodes

The identity of the woman told she will face no criminal action has been revealed as Irene Brown, 51, a Unison union official with the county’s constabulary. She still faces disciplinary proceedings by Cumbria police after details emerged of Richard Rhodes spending nearly £700 of public cash on two trips in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes car.

But despite the trauma she has been through, Mrs Brown has reportedly said she would do the same thing again – if she could have avoided her husband being dragged into the affair.

Speaking to the Daily Mail, she said: “The public had a right to know about those expenses. How are the public supposed to hold the Police and Crime Commissioner accountable if they don’t know what he’s doing?’

“I have months of uncertainty facing me where my job is concerned. Surely integrity should be a celebrated quality in anyone working for the police? I hope something happens to give whistleblowers more protection. I don’t want anybody else to end up where I’ve ended up.”

Mrs Brown told how five police officers searched her home at Penruddock, near Penrith, seizing thousands of pounds-worth of electrical goods.

She also told of her arrest – how she was locked in a cell and had DNA swabs taken from her before being questioned for five hours.

Her husband Steve, 54, was also arrested as part of the probe – also being locked in a cell before being interviewed, the newspaper reported. He had nothing to do with the leak.

In the report she admitted anonymously leaking the expenses details passed to her. Mrs Brown said she was relieved the threat of her going to prison had been lifted after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) last week announced no criminal action would be taken against her.

Lawyers said she would have been in a position to establish “on the balance of probabilities” that any leak was in the public interest.

The CPS decision brought to an end a probe which stretched back to April and saw four people questioned – three of them force employees.

All the others had previously been told they face no further action.

Announcing that no criminal action would be taken against the final suspect, Cumbria police said the force’s staff and officers “have a duty to protect and manage the information they have privileged access to”.

“Any allegations relating to a breach of this position need to be investigated to ensure our communities can have trust and confidence in the way we deliver policing,” a statement added.

Mr Rhodes has since repaid the cost of the trips, saying he would never have agreed to them had he known what the bill would be.

The News & Star has been unable to contact Mrs Brown.

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