Ex-priest bidding to become crime tsar says role should be scrapped

Dr Billings (right) listens as he is endorsed by David Blunkett MP
Dr Billings (right) listens as he is endorsed by David Blunkett MP
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The former parish priest chosen as Labour’s candidate to replace South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner Shaun Wright says he believes the position should be scrapped.

Dr Alan Billings has been chosen to represent the Labour party in the by-election for the vacant post, which takes place next month, while Jack Clarkson, a retired police officer, will be the UK Independence Party’s candidate.

Shaun Wright, who resigned as PCC this month

Shaun Wright, who resigned as PCC this month

They are the first prospective police and crime commissioners (PCCs) to announce they are standing since Mr Wright resigned earlier this month in the aftermath of Alexis Jay’s bombshell report into child sex abuse in Rotherham.

Both have pledged to rebuild trust with people of the town following the reports’s revelations that 1,400 children were abused over 16 years as local authorities turned a blind eye.

Alan Billings has been a parish priest in Walkley and Beighton in Sheffield and taught at what was then Broadway School in Barnsley.

He was a board member of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales until 2013, and a member of the England Committee of the Big Lottery Fund until this year.

As well as contributing to Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he has contributed to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission which produced the Faith in the City report that criticised the Thatcher Government.

In the 1980s Dr Billings was Deputy Leader of Sheffield council and a councillor for Walkley.

Earlier this week, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said Labour would abolish the role of police and crime commissioners if it won next year’s General Election. The next PCC elections are due to take place in May 2016.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Dr Billings said he agreed that the role of PCC should be abolished but said that “something would have to take its place”.

“The Labour Party and other parties who are opposed to this will have to think about what takes its place. But I don’t see this as a long-term post.”

He added: “In the mean time the task PCCs have been given is a very important one and it has to be done properly and thoroughly.

“I will make sure a good job is done but the whole thing has been a huge expense. Even running a by-election is costing a small fortune which local authorities and police cannot afford.

“There are all sorts of reasons for the post to be abolished but while it is there it has to be done well.”

Speaking about his plans should he be elected, Dr Billings said: “Clearly Shaun Wright resigned not for the way he conducted himself as PCC but for previous history. A lot of what he has set in motion has been good.

“Somebody coming in, if it is me, their first priority is to follow through the child sexual exploitation issue, mainly in Rotherham but also elsewhere, and really get to the bottom of that and understand how many people have been involved in that and how many victims there are, making sure they get the support they need.

“One of the things from the Alexis Jay report which struck me forcefully was that sometimes things were known, and recommendations made, but were not followed through. Consistently following through is essential if we are going to establish trust.”

He added that from his time with the Youth Justice Board he was interested the role of preventative work and restorative justice in tackling and reducing crime.

Mr Clarkson is leader of the UKIP group on Sheffield City Council and a town councillor for Stocksbridge.

He joined South Yorkshire Police in 1976 and retired as an inspector at Deepcar in Sheffield in 2006. He held a temporary post in Wath-upon-Dearne, Rotherham, during the 1984-5 miners strike.

He said: “Due to a long line of horrendous leadership failures, South Yorkshire Police is currently a totally demoralised organisation, dealing with a long list of criticisms that has torn its’ reputation to shreds.

“However, the resignation of Shaun Wright, over his failure to protect the children of Rotherham, has now given the South Yorkshire people the opportunity to seize the initiative and put in place a team that will provide strong leadership and a new, common sense approach to policing in the region.”

“I don’t think the rebuilding process will be easy, and a great deal of change is needed within South Yorkshire Police to achieve it.

“The public need to feel they can trust the police to do the right thing and to help them when they need it most. This has not been the case for a number of years.

“It is my commitment to the people of South Yorkshire that I will give them back a police force they can trust, a force that has a more visible presence, with more boots on the ground and more community policing that will safeguard our communities.”