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Saturday, 23 August 2014

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Whistleblowing probe sparked by crime chief's own office

Staff working for Cumbria’s police commissioner were today forced to admit they sparked the criminal investigation into a leak concerning Richard Rhodes’ expenses.

Richard Rhodes photo
Richard Rhodes

Related: Police workers arrested after expenses leak

Related: £700 for two trips by Cumbria police commissioner in chaffeur-driven Mercedes

As revealed on Tuesday, two members of police staff were arrested – and a third suspended – after details of Mr Rhodes’ £700 bill for chauffeured Mercedes trips were revealed earlier this month.

This provoked widespread concern that alleged whistleblowers faced possible charges and court appearances – despite the fact the expenses of the crime commissioner are detailed on his own website.

A spokeswoman for Mr Rhodes’ office yesterday denied he had been involved in launching the investigation into who had leaked the details, saying it was a probe by Cumbria police.

“All operational policing issues are the responsibility of the Chief Constable and are independent of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office,” the statement said.

However, when later quizzed again by the News & Star and told that Cumbria Police said they had become involved after a complaint from the commissioner’s office, a spokeswoman confirmed they had raised “concerns”.

She was adamant, however, that the “next action” was the responsibility of the Chief Constable.

A 47-year-old man and 50-year-old woman were arrested on suspicion of data protection offences and misconduct in a public office. Both police civilian workers have been suspended from work and bailed until next month.

A third, a 59-year-old man, has been interviewed and suspended. He was not arrested.

A Cumbria police spokeswoman yesterday confirmed that the investigation was being carried out by officers from the force in response to the complaint from Mr Rhodes’ office.

She said: “Cumbria Constabulary has internal policies and processes that supports officers and staff who want to raise legitimate issues or concerns in a lawful and appropriate way.

“Our investigation is focusing on data protection issues and the unlawful disclosure of confidential information.

“The investigation was launched after police received concerns that confidential information was leaked to the media relating to the Police and Crime Commissioner’s expenses.

“Initial concerns were raised by a member of staff within the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) after a member of the local media approached the OPCC for a comment on a story they intended to publish.”

The Cumbria Police and Crime Panel (PCP), which is responsible for handling any non-criminal complaints made against the Police and Crime Commissioner, is now also investigating the matter

A panel spokesman said the organisation had received a letter, dated April 8, relating to the commissioner’s use of chauffeur-driven cars and added: “This letter has now been determined as a complaint.

“Following the panel’s complaints procedure, officers are now reviewing the complaint and looking to see whether any resolution can be reached. The outcome of this work will be reported to the next panel meeting on July 19.

“If the complaint cannot be resolved the panel will be asked to decide on what action should then be taken.”

News of the arrests sparked calls for Mr Rhodes to step down from his post and John Reardon, a Carlisle-based Green Party activist, accused Mr Rhodes of using intimidatory tactics to cover up legitimate whistleblowing.

He said: “This is what happens when you politicise the police. Serious questions need to be asked as to whether Mr Rhodes used his position to silence internal whistleblowers who are perfectly legitimately asking questions about public money.”

He said that a standard Freedom of Information request would have exposed the £700. Questioning the arrests, he said: “Mr Rhodes should go.”

Documents seen by the News & Star showed Mr Rhodes’ office was charged £313 to take him and his wife to and from their home in the south of the county to Rydal Hall at Ambleside, in January.

Another bill of £385 was for a trip from home and back to The Pheasant Inn at Bassenthwaite.

Stuart Edwards, chief executive of the crime commissioner’s office, said an important part of the commissioner’s role was meeting the public and hearing their views on policing priorities and this included a number of evening engagements across a large geographical area.

He added that it was decided for reasons of personal safety to provide a driver for some evening functions and on only two occasions was a private hire company used.

“When the commissioner was appraised of the cost he immediately stopped the practice of hiring drivers,” he said.

“The Commissioner has personally reimbursed the full cost of the journeys. A review took place with alternative arrangements now being progressed.”

The crime commissioner’s published expenses, not yet including the chauffeured cars, can be viewed at www.cumbria-pcc.gov.uk/governance-transparency/allowances.aspx

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

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The biggest scotch egg in the world - can Cumbria crack the record?

Yes. There's nothing we don't know about food - or portion control.

Hope so - another feather in our cap.

What a waste of time. Just silly.

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