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Monday, 21 April 2014

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Cumbrian MPs’ concerns over police commissioner's expenses leak saga

Cumbria's MPs have called for lessons to be learned after the woman who leaked information on Cumbria’s crime commissioner’s expenses spoke out about her treatment at the hands of officers.

Irene Brown, a 51-year-old Unison union official with Cumbria Constabulary, revealed her identity this weekend in an interview with the Daily Mail.

She could still face disciplinary action after details emerged of Richard Rhodes spending nearly £700 of public money on two chauffeur-driven trips in a Mercedes.

She said five police officers searched her home at Penruddock, near Penrith, and seized thousands of pounds of electrical goods.

Mrs Brown also said she was threatened with prison and that her husband Steve, 54, who had nothing to do with the leak, was also arrested.

Five of the county’s six MPs told the News & Star their views on the issue.

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat member Westmorland and Lonsdale, said: “It is difficult just to think that this could happen in a free society, and what worries me most of all is whether this would have happened to a whistleblower in the health service or another body, or just the police commissioner’s office.”

He added that there needed to be a much greater level of protection for whistleblowers.

Rory Stewart, who represents Mrs Brown in his Penrith and the Border constituency, said: “The story seems shocking and I will be writing to the police immediately to find out what has gone on.”

John Stevenson, MP for Carlisle, commented that people with concerns should go though official channels first.

He added that he would support people who carried on after these failed – “as long as they are doing it for the right reasons”.

Jamie Reed, MP for Copeland, said: “A balance must always be struck between defending the rights of people subject to whistleblowing allegations and whistleblowers as individuals.

"There can be no doubt that this issue was completely within the public interest and, as we approach the end of the year, this whole episode continues to cast an undeserved shadow over the men and women of Cumbria Constabulary who overwhelmingly provide a superb service.”

Mr Reed also branded the commissioner’s role as “pointless” and called for it to be abolished.

Tony Cunningham, who represents Workington, added: “I think whistleblowers in general need to be taken seriously and there needs to be someone they can speak to.”

Mr Rhodes has since repaid the cost of the trips.

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