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Thursday, 18 September 2014

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

It was bound to happen. Everyone knew it would. The world and his wife predicted it.

Richard Rhodes photo
Richard Rhodes

Even the hopeful handful who bothered to vote in Police and Crime Commissioner elections – other than for the fun of spoiling papers – had their doubts.

But the surprise was that it happened so soon and with such spectacularly explosive ineptitude.

Both politics and policing in Cumbria are walking wounded after a head-on collision. It’s now questionable how, when, or even if either will fully recover from the crash.

A tangled web of deep suspicion has been woven from secrets, deceits, arrogance and the overreaction of wielding a sledgehammer to shell a peanut. No going back. Damage done.

Politics and policing should never mix. That’s the first rule of staying civilised. Why couldn’t they see that?

Now it emerges that, in spite of his protestations to the contrary, the damage of which the entire country is talking has been done in Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner’s name.

Three people have been arrested for telling taxpayers what PCC Richard Rhodes, elected (sort of) last November, should have told us himself.

Two police civilian staff passed details of his expenses to local media and are accused of misconduct in public office. They are bailed until the end of May. The third is suspected of perverting the course of justice.

Mr Rhodes said – eventually – he was aware someone in his office had “raised concerns” with police about disclosure of his £700 claims for chauffeur driven limo journeys. But what the police did with those concerns had nothing to do with him – he doesn’t interfere.

No? Well, to use politics-speak (because Mr Rhodes is a political man) let’s be absolutely clear about this.

If I were to “raise concerns” with cops about being beaten up; if I were to mention, in passing, my home had been burgled and possessions taken, I’d surely expect the culprits to be arrested and brought to justice as soon as possible.

There is, of course, every chance I’d simply be given a crime number for insurance purposes in the latter hypothesis – but that’s by the by.

I certainly wouldn’t expect police to respond with: “Nice of you to keep us in the loop but we don’t think we’ll bother.” Especially not if I were making the call from their boss’s office.

And if a crime commissioner isn’t aware of that, he shouldn’t be in his £65,000 post, with worryingly large and expensive staff, car, expense account and far too much power for one political man.

Acting on complaints about leaks of “confidential” information – which should already have been made public – police did their job. The process now underway, they have no option but to see it through to preparation of a file for the Crown Prosecution Service.

The costs and losses are eyewatering. Public money, police time, dignity, integrity, trust – to name but a few.

Furthermore, Cumbria is Britain’s laughing stock. Three people have had their lives put on hold for allegedly passing public information to the public and the Commissioner says he’s sorry for making just two mistakes.

He didn’t check what he was spending – and didn’t let us know about it. He refuses to resign.

And he can do no more now because he doesn’t interfere. However, he has – in non-interfering manner – asked the Chief Constable to review the nature and scale of the investigation, which was triggered in his name.

But as any politician will know (and Mr Rhodes is a political man) that’s not interfering. That’s attempting to save your skin under fire.

And relying on Carlisle’s Conservative MP John Stevenson to act as his supportive public relations man, that’s just neatly reliable party politics ... in which police should have no involvement.

It’s a mess, by anybody’s measure. An unholy, unsavoury, unacceptable mess. As most believed it would be.

To be fair to Mr Rhodes – and we must be – he’s probably no better nor worse than most other PCCs anywhere else in the country.

But he may yet be the first to be made to stand down by an electorate that wanted and deserved better than this failed office that was doomed from the beginning.

As for we poor Cumbrians, saddled embarrassingly with this shameful undemocratic black hole of half-truths, nervous squirms, partial apology and heavy-handed witch-hunting, I’d borrow from Richard Rhodes himself.

Nothing to do with us. How could any of this be our fault? We never wanted a PCC in the first place.

Have your say

His position is untenable. With every day that goes by the position becomes worse. The people of this County are rightly furious. He should stand down or be made to stand down. If an example is not set, and this type of behaviour and reckless spending of public funds is condoned. Why are the Police not investigating him?

Posted by Jay on 2 May 2013 at 20:44

Congratulations, mr Rhodes. Not only have you made it to regional fame but you have now hit the big time nationally. You have made it to the Editorial for today's Sun.

You have truly brought your office and Cumbria repute!

What does such fame feel like?

Posted by E on 26 April 2013 at 22:05

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