Would-be police tsar on attack as he quits race

A PROMINENT councillor has pulled out of the race to be the new police commissioner for North Yorkshire and launched a scathing attack on its current police authority, condemning what he called a culture of “secrecy and suspicion” which needs to be overhauled.

Coun Jim Clark, a member of Harrogate Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council and chair of the North Yorkshire Health Scrutiny Committee, told the Yorkshire Post he felt there needs to be a clean sweep of the North Yorkshire Police Authority (NYPA) following the scandal-hit reign of former Chief Constable Grahame Maxwell, who stepped down this week after admitting gross misconduct, but is to receive almost a quarter of a million pounds in compensation.

Coun Clark was set to seek formal nomination for the Conservative party candidate in North Yorkshire for the commissioner elections in November, a position also likely to be challenged by police authority chairman Jane Kenyon, who is yet to rule herself out, and fellow member Carl Les who has confirmed he is considering a bid.

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But last night the former senior chartered accountant told the Yorkshire Post he has now ruled himself out of the role of commissioner, to focus on other priorities.

“There are also a number of other issues but I just feel there has not been an open and transparent culture at the authority,” he said.

“I just think there needs to be a clean sweep.

“I still have a number of concerns about shortcomings in the way finance has been dealt with in our area and as a senior chartered accountant with business experience at the highest level I felt I could make considerable improvement.

“My main concern, however, was policing in my local area and following a recent meeting with senior police officers I believe my ideas for improvement and public engagement can be taken forward in my current role as a local county councillor.

“I do think commissioners are a good thing because the police authority has lost its credibility to some extent.

“This way there will be more accountability and I hope things will be more open and transparent.”

Coun Clark has also raised concerns over the election process for the new commissioners.

He added: “There is going to be such a low turn out because we have never had elections at that time before and we could finish up with somebody who is completely unprepared.”

Mr Maxwell narrowly avoided being sacked last May when he admitted gross misconduct after an inquiry found he tried to unfairly help a relative during a recruitment exercise. His request to extend his five-year fixed-term contract beyond this May was turned down last autumn by his employer, North Yorkshire Police Authority.

This week the authority confirmed Mr Maxwell will receive £247,636 – a figure described as “ridiculous” by one MP – as he was required to leave his £133,000 a year post before being able to secure the full pension entitlement available to officers after 30 years of service.

The payment is governed by nationally-agreed chief officer regulations and the authority has no option but to pay up.

Jeremy Holderness, chief executive of North Yorkshire Police Authority, reacted angrily to Coun Clark’s comments last night.

“I am quite frankly baffled by Mr Clark’s assertions that the authority has been secretive about these events,” he said.

“At every turn we have kept the media and the public informed about developments and, I think it is fair to say, have a good reputation amongst the media, and especially this newspaper, for responding to their enquiries, not only on this issue but on all others.

“Where many public authorities might seek to conceal information or use the exemption provisions of the Freedom of Information Act to do so, we have consistently not done so and applied the public interest test appropriately to disclose as much information as possible.

“I really feel that Mr Clark’s criticism is unwarranted and regret that he feels this way.”

Contenders are starting to emerge for Yorkshire’s four police commissioner posts, which are expected to carry salaries of between £70,000 and £100,000.

Lord Prescott, the former Deputy Prime Minister, is among five people seeking the Labour nomination for the Humberside force area and has already said he wants commissioners to be able to interfere in police operations.

Meredydd Hughes is seeking Labour’s nomination for the role in South Yorkshire, where he served as Chief Constable until last October.