25/06/2004

Blunkett threatens legal action over Westwood row

Home Secretary David Blunkett has stood by his decision to demand that Humberside Police Authority suspend Chief Constable David Westwood, and said that he may seek legal action to enforce it.

Mr Blunkett called for the suspension of the Humberside Chief Constable following a damning report by Sir Michael Bichard which found "shocking" and "very and serious" errors surrounding his force's handling of intelligence and records checking in relation to Ian Huntley.

Responding to the Bichard report in the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Blunkett said his suspension demand was taken in the light of the powers in the 1996 Police Act, as amended in the 2002 Police Reform Act.

However, the Humberside Police Authority has backed their chief constable and asked Mr Blunkett to reconsider his decision.

It was also suggested that the Home Secretary does not possess the necessary powers to force the authority's hand.

Commenting on Humberside Police Authority’s decision today, the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, said that his decision had been taken after "considerable thought, advice, and discussion".

He said today: "Having gone through the detailed process and having weighed the facts very carefully I decided that the enormity of the evidence provided in Sir Michael’s report and in particular the issue of systemic and corporate responsibility, warranted the initiation of these powers.

"I have looked again at my decision in the light of the Police Authority’s request this morning that I reconsider. But in the absence of any new arguments, I have decided to maintain my decision and I now call upon the authority to comply with the law and suspend Mr Westwood. If they do not, I will be taking the necessary legal steps at the earliest opportunity at the beginning of next week to require them to do so."

The Home Secretary added: "I should emphasise that I have not required the police authority to sack Mr Westwood. I have initiated a process under a protocol which is fully agreed with the Association of Police Authorities. Mr Westwood will have every opportunity to make representations in the course of this process."

David Westwood has steadfastly resisted any suggestion that he should resign, and instead pledged to oversee the implementation of the Bichard recommendations.

(gmcg)

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