South Yorkshire Police’s new chief constable Stephen Watson has backed calls for a new review into Orgreave - but warned the beleaguered force must not become a ‘prisoner of the past’.
Mr Watson said restoring public trust in the force will be his ‘highest priority’ and he wants officers to behave according to ‘old-fashioned qualities’ such as respect, courtesy, tolerance and responsibility.
He joins the force after a difficult few years that have included the suspension of his predecessor David Crompton over the handling of the Hillsborough inquests and verdicts, the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal and repeated calls for an inquiry into police actions at Orgreave during the miners’ strike.
Mr Watson, who is acting on an interim basis as chief constable until November when he will take the job on a permanent basis after the contract of his suspended predecessor David Crompton ends, said: “Public confidence and the trust of our public are the highest priority for the force. It is and will remain the highest priority.
“We need to behave in a way that demonstrates transparency. We need to always be and be seen to be fair and acting in the public interest.”
Mr Watson added: “The most important judge of our success is the public.
“I would like to see the force in the news for the good things our many thousands of workers do every day rather than reacting to things that have gone on in the recent past.
“It is very important to learn the lessons but we don’t want to become a prisoner of the past. We want to get better and better for the people we serve today.”
Mr Watson said he agreed with the position of previous interim chief constable Dave Jones on the issue of an Orgreave inquiry.
He said: “We would welcome an independent objective assessment of that which underpins the important issues surrounding Orgreave.
“The form and character of that assessment is a matter for the Home Secretary.
“That is something being actively considered.”
New Home Secretary Amber Rudd has said she will make a decision on a potential Orgreave inquiry as soon as possible after meeting with campaigners.
Thousands of miners and police officers clashed at the Orgreave coking plant near Rotherham in June 1984.
Ninety-five people were arrested in the clash between picketing miners and police in June 1984.
All cases were abandoned due to unreliable evidence and South Yorkshire Police paid £425,000 in out-of-court settlements to 39 pickets.
The IPCC said last year it could not investigate complaints against officers due to the passage of time since the events.
Mr Watson said he had been ‘very impressed’ with the attitude of the staff he has met so far considering the difficulties the force has faced in recent years.
He said: “It is hardly surprising some will feel somewhat beleaguered by the misdeeds of some of those that have gone before.
“But I wouldn’t want to overstate a lack of morale.”
He added: “I’m genuinely optimistic the force will soon be on the up and we can get to a better place quite quickly.”
Neil Bowles, chairman of the South Yorkshire Police Federation, said officers were fed up with leave getting cancelled and restrictions being placed on when they can take time off.
“As far as our members are concerned the most important item for the new Chief Constable to tackle is officer morale,” he said.
“Whilst there is little he can do with regards pay and conditions, Mr Watson can certainly get to grips with amount of leave cancellations and embargoes that we have had to endure.
“Connected to proper rest and relaxation obviously is health and wellbeing of all officers and staff. We must get the staff in the right places properly supported and not overworked.”
Police commissioner Alan Billings said it is possible Mr Watson will be confirmed as the permanent chief constable earlier than November if the current legal process in respect of his suspended predecessor David Crompton results in Mr Crompton’s resignation or retirement before then.