Chief’s role ‘hits trust in police’

Mark Burns-Williamson.
Mark Burns-Williamson.
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THE LARGEST police force in Yorkshire faces a struggle to win the trust of the public because of regulations that place its chief constable as “prosecutor, jury, judge and sentencer” in most misconduct cases, a new report has claimed.

Former top policing advisor Catherine Crawford, called in to carry out a “root and branch” review of the way West Yorkshire Police deals with complaints about officers, has claimed there is “no fundamental problem” with the way the force manages and handles allegations.

But she said it was being held back by “adversarial, legalistic and complex” national rules for dealing with complaints which she said diminish the “already tenuous confidence of the public in the transparency and fairness of the system”.

The review was commissioned by West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson to tackle falling levels of public confidence, in a period where question marks have been raised against the integrity of the force.

Its inquiry into officers’ dealings with serial sex abuser Jimmy Savile was widely criticised, while last year details emerged of shocking misconduct surrounding the force’s handling of supergrass Karl Chapman which led to murder and robbery convictions being quashed but not a single officer disciplined.

Ms Crawford, who served as the chief executive of the now-defunct Metropolitan Police Authority for 12 years, said in her review that West Yorkshire Police had a reputation “for having in the past not responded adequately to complaints”.

She said she was not allowed to examine old cases under the terms of reference of the review but that the force’s performance in the last two years had been similar to that of comparable forces.

In a letter to Mr Burns-Williamson, she said: “My overall conclusion is that there is no fundamental problem, unique to West Yorkshire, in the management and handling of complaints within the force. There is a historic cultural context which inevitably affects perception and probably public confidence in the handling of complaints and this is a continuing reputational challenge which cannot be overturned overnight.”

In his response, Mr Burns-Williamson said the report came “at a time of public concern about integrity and openness in the police service”, adding: “I will make sure that my response is no mere tick box exercise”.

He said: “Of course this will be made more challenging given the further resources being taken from the West Yorkshire policing budget following the Home Office decisions to top slice the Police Standards Department.”

He agreed with criticism of the current system for handling complaints, and said: “I call upon the Government to fundamentally look again at the over-arching framework.”