29/06/2004

Blunkett invokes High Court in top cop suspension row

The row over the future of underfire Humberside police chief David Westwood has entered the High Court, after the Home Secretary lodged papers last night asking the court to "enforce the law and grant a hearing".

Last week, David 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.

The report also stated that the failings in the force were "ultimately the personal responsibility of Chief Constable Westwood".

Responding to the Bichard report in the House of Commons on June 22, 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.

Mr Blunkett defended his decision to call on Humberside Police Authority to suspend their top policeman, as it was "entirely in line" not only with my powers under the Act, but also the protocol agreed with the Association of Police Authorities, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Staff Association representing Chief Officer grades.

"All parties agreed that should these sort of very serious circumstances arise, it would be important to follow agreed steps, not engage in ad hoc talks or informal discussions. I am following these rules to the letter and had anticipated that all parties would also comply with them," he said.

"I remain of the view that Chief Constable Westwood should not have operational control of the force while Humberside Police Authority and I consider the appropriate way to respond to Sir Michael Bichard’s findings."

A letter from the Humberside Police Authority, called for Mr Blunkett to reconsider, was dismissed by the Home Secretary as it drew upon issues involving the broader performance of the force – "which are not relevant to this decision to suspend".

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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