Friday 25 March 2016

Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Commissioner Elections

It's been nearly a year since this blog went into hibernation in cyberspace after family and growing work commitments made it increasingly difficult to keep writing. Some of those pressures remain, and so this blog will not be updated as frequently as it used to be.

But there's a lot of news about. Time then to dust off Y Cneifiwr, and where better to start than with the police commissioner elections to be held on 5 May.

A mandate?

Outside the upper echelons of the Tory party, almost nobody wanted elected police commissioners. The Liberal Democrats proposed directly elected police authorities, but as in so much else ended up meekly trooping through the lobbies to implement Tory policy.

The first elections for police and crime commissioners were held in November 2012 and set a new record for Britain's electoral system. Almost nobody turned out to vote, and in Dyfed Powys Christopher Salmon (Con) was duly returned with 32,887 votes on a turnover of just 16.38%, just squeaking past Labour's serial election loser, Christine Gwyther.

330,000 voters decided not to bother voting at all, and Salmon rounded off his victory with the even more amazing achievement of winning a two horse race with less than 50% of the votes cast, thanks to an unusually large number of spoiled ballot papers.

Plaid, which opposed the farce, did not field a candidate, and Ukip was nowhere to be seen. Harder to explain was the LibDems' no-show considering that they had supported the introduction of elected commissioners, and Dyfed Powys contains what is left of their former Welsh heartlands.

Four years on, and we now have a Tory government with a majority in Westminster. For the time being at least, directly elected police and crime commissioners are here to stay. On the 5th of May we will be presented with a choice of five candidates with a single transferable vote, and turnout will be significantly better for no other reason than that the election is being held on the same day as the general election for the Welsh Assembly.

Debate about what should eventually replace directly elected commissioners is for the foreseeable future an academic exercise, but a quick glance back at the record of the defunct Dyfed Powys police authority should be enough to convince anyone that a return to the old system would be a very bad idea.

Cwmbetws and Co

The police authorities which preceded elected commissioners were made up for the most part of county councillors, supplemented by a sprinkling of magistrates and nominated "community representatives". A long list of nominees would be submitted to the Home Office in London, which would then weed out any names it did not like before returning a short list to be approved by the other members of the authority.

The county councillors on the authority were as often as not the usual mix of super-annuated timeservers being rewarded for not rocking the boat, along with a sprinkling of those ubiquitous local government bigwigs who like to have a finger in every pie.

The system ensured that any individual members likely to ask difficult questions or take their duties seriously could be quietly suffocated by the grey majority made up of such luminaries as John Cwmbetws Davies.

Davies combined membership of the police authority with being leader of Pembrokeshire County Council which lurched under his stewardship from one crisis and scandal to the next, beating off very stiff competition to become the worst run local authority in Wales. "Independent" John Cwmbetws stepped down as council leader in May 2012 and tried to persuade the Tories to adopt him as their candidate for police and crime commissioner for Dyfed Powys. When that bid failed, he had a Damascene conversion and announced that he was opposed to elected commissioners after all.

But someone still liked John Cwmbetws because he was sworn in as High Sherriff of Dyfed in 2013.

Loadsamoney and an early retirement

The achievements of the old Dyfed Powys police authority included approving the disastrous Ammanford police station PFI contract, built at a cost of £2.5 million and leased back to the police on a 30 year deal costing around £700,000 a year. Do the sums.

The place had barely opened when it was mothballed, but the bills continued to roll in. The arrangement was finally terminated last year, with Commissioner Salmon negotiating a buy-out believed to have cost around £3 million.

In 2007 the authority approved the early retirement of Chief Constable Terry Grange who was facing a string of very serious allegations, including misuse of a police credit card, anomalies in his expenses, using a police computer for personal reasons while conducting an extra marital affair, and most seriously, helping out a judge accused of child abuse. By coincidence, Grange was the Association of Chief Police Officers' spokesman on child abuse.

By allowing Grange, who died in 2012, to retire the authority ensured that the former chief constable would never have to answer questions about his conduct.

The authority was still busy in the dying months of its existence when it oversaw the appointment of Carl Langley as deputy chief constable in early 2012.

Langley pocketed £55,000 in expenses occurred while moving house from Lincolnshire (Mark James's old stomping ground) to take up his new post with Dyfed Powys. By way of explanation, the press was told that the expenses had been incurred painting and redecorating the new Langley residence, installing a television aerial, new carpets and buying a fridge freezer. All very reasonable.

At the same time, it emerged that the force was operating an innovative incentive scheme to pay large bonuses to senior officers. Beneficiaries included Grange's successor, Ian Arundale, who this blog remembers popping up at a meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council to say that the force's cupboard was bare and that more police stations would have to close.

The bonus scheme was, apparently, the brainchild of the force's finance director Andrew Bevan, who "earned" £202,000 in return for just three and a half months work in the financial year 2013-14.

[Update: Mr Bevan has been in touch to say that the bonus scheme had nothing to do with him. See comments below.]

All that was overseen and, no doubt, approved by John Cwmbetws and his colleagues on the police authority.

More on Mr Langley and his charmed existence in due course.

A new dawn - the Salmon years 

Christopher Salmon is a scion of the landed gentry of Radnorshire and went up to Oxford before going on to Sandhurst. From there he went on to dabble in politics, standing unsuccessfully in Llanelli in 2010. He is on record as being "ashamed" of supporting devolution, he was in favour of sending "our boys" into Iran to stop them developing nuclear weapons, and of keeping "our boys" in Afghanistan as long as they are needed. Anyone interested in finding out more about Chris's nineteenth century world view can do so here and here.

Needless to say, Christopher Salmon is opposed to any devolution of responsibility for Welsh policing to Wales, preferring to leave that with Theresa May in London.

Fresh from his electoral triumph in November 2012, Salmon settled down to his new job as police and crime commissioner for Dyfed Powys. To be fair, he inherited quite a mess, made worse by the spending cuts being handed down by his political chums in Westminster.

On the plus side, he put an end to bonus schemes and private health care for the force's top brass, although there was a possibility that these arrangements could have faced legal challenge anyway.

He can also take credit for ending the absurd Ammanford PFI scheme, and there have been other less well publicised actions including an unreserved apology to Mrs Trisha Breckman and her partner for the injustices they suffered at the hands of Dyfed Powys Police which included several false allegations against them.

The Breckman case has been chronicled extensively by this blog, and suspicions remain that this now elderly couple were victims of what amounted to corruption and a conspiracy to undermine their credibility.

Fortunately for Dyfed Powys Police, the apology came too late to qualify the couple for any financial compensation for the appalling treatment they had been subjected to.

For that apology, Salmon deserves genuine praise, but the rest of his legacy is another story.

Pie in the sky

One of the most controversial decisions made by our commissioner was the scrapping of the police helicopter.

Dyfed Powys is responsible for the largest geographical area of any police force on the British mainland outside Scotland, and much of it is remote, difficult to get to and sparsely populated. In many places you can live from one year to the next without seeing a uniformed officer. If there is one force which needs a police helicopter, it is Dyfed Powys.

A new scheme, which Salmon claimed would provide Dyfed Powys with 24 hour helicopter cover, came into force on 1 January this year. Plaid Cymru has now established via a freedom of information request that of 14 requests made for helicopter support in January, only two were met by NPAS (the National Police Air Service).

According to this report in the Carmarthen Journal, Salmon's spin on the same issue was that NPAS had not fulfilled three requests because it had no helicopters available.

Shut down

Another feature of Salmon's tenure has been the closure of police stations in many rural towns. The latest to face the chop is St Clears, and back in 2014 the commissioner announced plans which would see the closure of around a dozen other stations, saying he wanted "to invest in bobbies, not bricks".

The problem with closing stations in small rural towns across a huge swathe of the force's territory is that not only will it lead to much worse response times in emergencies, but it will also destroy relationships developed over many years between local people and the police, and that in turn undermines police intelligence needed to tackle crime.

An Inspector Calls

After nearly four years of Christopher Salmon, Dyfed Powys found itself under fire from HM Inspectorate of Constabulary earlier this year. While the force was rated good on issues of stop and search and the use of stun guns, neither of which would be expected to feature highly in an overwhelmingly rural area anyway, the Inspector was more concerned about unethical practices:

"Following our inspection, HMIC considers that Dyfed-Powys Police had not done enough to develop an ethical culture, to incorporate the code of ethics into policy or practice, or to ensure complaints and misconduct cases were free of bias," said HM Inspector Wendy Williams. 

The Breckman case certainly fits into that picture, and Wendy Williams' words suggest strongly that Mrs Breckman is by no means unique.

Please Sir, can I have less?

Perhaps the crowning moment of Salmon's term was his recent decision not to seek an increase in this year's police precept, but to run down the force's reserves to meet day-to-day spending.

This exercise in Osborne-omics will not only leave the cupboard well and truly bare and remove any capacity the force has to deal with contingencies, but will inevitably mean the creation of a financial black hole a few years down the line, by which time Christopher is probably hoping to have been adopted for a nice safe Tory constituency somewhere in the English shires.

Murky business

Having met quite a few serving officers in both a professional and personal capacity over the last few years, I for one am confident that the vast majority of Dyfed Powys are decent, honest people, but corruption remains an ever-present threat in public life (see Jac o' the North and Old Grumpy for some current examples).

The Grange case was before Salmon's time, but other strange goings-on have taken place on Salmon's watch.

Our old friend Carl Langley (he of the £55,000 house move) is still with us as Deputy Chief Constable. In November 2015 it was announced that Langley, who is on a six figure salary, was under investigation by West Mercia Police (who also investigated the Breckman case) following allegations that he was having an extra marital affair with Dyfed Powys's director of legal services, Samantha Gainard.

Rather than being suspended, Langley, who holds a masters degree in the Ethics of Policing, was moved into an "all-Wales role". At the heart of the allegations were concerns that the relationship may have had "consequences".

The dust had hardly settled on that when it was announced last week that Ms Gainard was being suspended, not for any extra marital activity this time, but for payments made to a firm of barristers made over a period of years. It would appear that Ms Gainard's husband works for the firm.

If that weren't enough, the commissioner himself is now being investigated in circumstances which suggest that someone is out to get him.

As drivers in Dyfed Powys have come to realise, you can happily drive round while talking on your mobile phone, overtake on blind corners, get up to speeds of at least 80 mph on some stretches of country road as you pass erratic and nervous elderly motorists, perform wheely turns and all manner of other things which the Highway Code might frown upon, and the chances that you will be stopped by the cops are remote indeed.

Police cars are, you would imagine, the best maintained vehicles on the road, but someone recently gave the police commissioner the keys to a car with defective tyres. Unlucky Christopher.

Unluckier still that someone then spotted the dodgy tyres, and the "incident" is now under investigation. The odds on this sort of thing happening can't be a million miles off the chances of being trampled by an escaped giraffe in Llandysul during a hurricane.

Even stranger is that we know all of this thanks to an exclusive which someone handed to the redoubtable Cambrian News, the newspaper which last year brought us "Mike Parker ate my Nazi hamster".

No sooner had the news broken, than up popped the Liberal Democrats who, purely by coincidence, happened to be the main beneficiaries of the Cambrian's hatchet job on Mike Parker.

It's a funny old world.

Revolving door

With all that going on, whoever wins the election in May will also need to find a new chief constable following Simon Prince's recent announcement that he has decided to retire this summer after just three years in the job.  

Prince's predecessor, Ian Arundale, did only a little better before he retired, having clocked up less than four years in the top slot.

Apart from finding a replacement for Simon Prince, any new commissioner may also want to ponder why chief constables in Dyfed Powys seem to have such a short shelf-life.

The runners and riders

Whoever wins on 5th May will find a bulging pending file - the raid on the reserves, cuts, station closures, a highly critical report from HM Inspectorate, any number of murky scandals and investigations, the helicopter fiasco and a leaderless force.

Christopher Salmon's record speaks for itself, but what about the rest? Here they are in alphabetical order.

Richard Church (LibDem)

Church, the Brecon and Radnor Express excitedly tells us, is a former member of a police authority and a former long-serving county councillor. What it neglects to tell us was that all of that experience was clocked up in Northamptonshire and that he only recently popped up in Welshpool, where he presumably hopes to rekindle the Liberal flame.

Richard would like to abolish himself and replace commissioners with good old-fashioned police authorities (see above).

If he is taking Welsh lessons, let's hope nobody is unkind enough to teach him "gobaith caneri" (look it up). In the meantime, if he comes canvassing, you might want to test him on his knowledge of the area. Where, for example, is Ceredigion?

Dafydd Llywelyn (Plaid Cymru)

Dafydd began his working life as a procurement officer for SONY Manufacturing UK before joining Dyfed Powys Police, where he rose to become chief analyst, specialising in intelligence. He has assisted with a number of investigations including murders and conspiracy to supply drugs. As chief analyst and team manager he was responsible for the intelligence department’s policies and procedures. In 2012 his team was shortlisted for a Virgin Media/Guardian innovation award, and he aims to bring his experience to bear on the commissioner's role to develop new and innovative ways of delivering policing and tackling crime.

More recently he has joined Aberystwyth University as Teaching Fellow in Criminology. You can find out more about him here.

Kevin Madge (Labour)

You can't accuse Labour of inconsistency. Last time we were asked to close our eyes, hope for the best and put an 'X' in the box marked Christine Gwyther. This time they are wheeling out none other than Kevin Madge, another serial election loser, who is so highly thought of by Carmarthenshire Labour that they unceremoniously dumped him as leader at the earliest opportunity after last year's general election.

Kev, who is generally acknowledged to be a nice man and a decent ward councillor, is very proud that he has notched up 37 years as a councillor. Unusually for a county councillor, at least outside the big city local authorities, Kev has never had a proper job, unless you count a stint working in the constituency party offices. For most of the last ten years he sat on Carmarthenshire County Council's Executive Board with generous (considering his talents) special responsibility allowances.

The council's executive board made a great many decisions during Kev's time as a member, including the chief executive's notorious unlawful pension tax avoidance arrangements and the unlawful libel indemnity. He also happily agreed to spend yet more taxpayer money on legal advice from Tim Kerr-Ching QC, who was brought in to save the saintly figures of Mark James CBE and Bryn Parry Jones, late of the parish of Haverfordwest from having to pay back the lolly unlawfully paid to them.

Decisions he robustly defended, and decisions which we will all be paying for for years to come.

If you think that, contrary to his track record and the opinion of his Labour colleagues, Kev has the skillsets required to run a large organisation, you know where to put your 'X'.

Incidentally, Labour also has problems of its own when it comes to deciding policy. Carwyn Jones has come out in favour of devolving responsibility for policing, but it seems that many of his Westminster colleagues would prefer those powers to stay with that nice Mrs Theresa May.

If Kev comes knocking and you feel like a little cruel fun, you may wish to ask him where he stands on this issue.

Des Parkinson (Ukip)

Ukip's candidate for Dyfed Powys is a very angry-looking ex-policeman whose views and social attitudes probably haven't changed much since about 1955, and he now finds himself sharing a platform with the likes of Neil Cash-for-Questions Hamilton and other assorted fruitcakes, conmen, racists and bigots.

If you think that Ukip is an ideal outfit to run a police force, you may wish to seek medical help.

Whoever you support, don't forget to vote.