crime and justice

Independent Audit into Thames Valley PCC’s Expenses


anthony stansfeld jon harvey chauffeurI’m not sure if blogging does make any difference to the real world, but on the strength of recent evidence I might have to start trying fancy dress. It certainly seems to have d for my good friend (and fellow PCC-scrutiniser) Jon Harvey.

After turning up to the local Police and Crime Panel meeting dressed as a chauffeur we actually seem to be getting somewhere on Anthony Stansfeld’s cavalier use of expenses.

Read on…

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Police Commissioner elections 2012 – what went wrong?


What went wrong? Well, everything.

When they right the historical accounts of David Cameron’s premiership, there will be many contenders for the chapter title of “Farce”, but I would like to humbly submit the police commissioner elections of 2012 for that honour.

I meant to write an overall analysis of the nationwide results yesterday (and I did manage a local analysis for the Thames Valley), but every time I came to write it all I could see was the turnout figures. The people of England and Wales managed a shocking 15% average turnout (in some places much worse).

Theresa May may well be:

…confident that the turnout at the next election will be greater because people will have seen Police and Crime Commissioners in their posts…

but the verdict from the electorate was that they didn’t want to see them in those posts in the first place. I can’t say anything for certain, but I’d certainly hope that the next Labour government would make sure that these are the last as well as the first elected police commissioners.

Looking at the map of the results, there’s a mixture of red and blue, but also a surprising amount of grey. Yes, a lot of independents won out over party candidates, which I take as part of the public’s distaste for May’s blatant politicising of the police.

I’m not sure that this is necessarily a good thing, to be honest. I know that at least one (Winston Roddick — North Wales) is a Lib Dem in disguise, and given the quality of the independent candidates in the Thames Valley, I worry who may have just taken the reigns of twelve police forces across the country.

Campaigning has been disastrous. Part of it is the huge areas, often very many parliamentary constituencies in size. It was always going to be difficult for candidates to cover so much ground, a problem which wasn’t helped by not giving candidates a free mailshot (if anyone can tell me why, I’d be eternally grateful).

Beyond that, holding an election in the middle of November was a stroke of idiocy. It’s been cold, dark, gloomy and miserable. Poor weather hampered both campaigning and turnout, with activists struggling to get around voters and those same voters were in no way encouraged to venture out of their warm homes to the polling station.

I’ve heard the argument that the US manages to have a country-wide election, so why should it make a difference in the UK? Well, for many reasons. Chiefly that these ill-conceived roles were unwanted, poorly-understood and anonymousWhereas the US presidential election is…not.

The Electoral Reform Society have described these elections as “a comedy of errors“. The Electoral Commission has launched an inquiry into what went wrong. The public is utterly disinterested, and 41 individuals now have the unenviable task of enacting budget cuts without a clear mandate, and after almost certainly having made promises to keep up police numbers.

Surely, amid this democratic humiliation and chaos, someone should be questioning the person behind this policy? Someone needs to be asking the difficult questions of the Home Secretary, Theresa May, as to how this could have happened.

The Thames Valley Police Commissioner results (and what they mean)


So, it’s all over. The votes have been counted, collated, and are in the process of being picked over by those sad individuals with nothing better to do with their time (such as myself). But Anthony Stansfeld has been elected as the first Police and Crime Commissioner, so congratulations are due to him.

Below I have assembled a breakdown of the results by candidate and first/second preference. I feel mine are more accurate than the BBC’s, as for reasons best known to themselves they have decided not to include the spoilt ballot figures. Personally, I think spoilt ballots making up over 3% of the total vote is worthy of mention, but anyway:

Name 1st pref 2nd pref Mandate
STANSFELD, Anthony (CON) 76,011 — 33.60% 94,238 — 54.76% 7.28%
STARKEY, Tim (LAB) 56,631 — 25.00% 70,403 — 40.91%
HOWARD, Geoff (IND) 31,716 — 14.00%
HOWSON, John (LD) 20,511 — 9.05%
COOPER, Barry (UKIP) 19,324 — 8.53%
AWE, Patience Tayo (IND) 14,878 — 6.57%
SPOILT 7,445 — 3.29% 7,445 — 4.33%
Total 226,516 172,086

So there you have it. The turnout was a mere (and embarrassing) 13.3%, which is the lowest turnout I’ve ever seen in an election. When I say that Commissioner Stansfeld has the support of only 7.28% of people in the Thames Valley, it’s not sour grapes, but an underscoring of the real winner of these elections: voter apathy.

Thames Valley voters simply did not turn out on Thursday, and from everything I’ve heard it’s simply because they do not believe that we should have an elected Police Commissioner.

I am, of course, disappointed that Tim Starkey did not win. I wasn’t in favour of the role, but I thought he was definitely the best candidate and would have made the best job of it (well, I would say that, wouldn’t I?). It was always going to be a long shot, but still. Disappointed.

And more disappointment over the Liberal Democrat candidate only polling in fourth. Don’t get me wrong, normally hardship for Clegg’s party would be a cause for giggles (and many hearty giggles were had over their losing their deposit in Corby), but John Howson lost out to “Independent” Geoff Howard, a man who has formerly been a member of Labour, the Conservatives and UKIP, and who offered absolutely nothing to voters. I am forced to conclude that he garnered many votes simply because he ran as an independent.

I’m a touched surprised that UKIP’s Barry Cooper didn’t do better than he did. Possibly it was his views on police armament which hurt him, or maybe all of the fringe-right eurosceptics stayed at hime. It’s hard to tell really.

But none of it changes the outcome. After what has frankly been a disaster of an election (and of policy execution) Anthony Stansfeld will head the Thames Valley Police until May 2016. I still have a great many concerns about him, and I worry that he will be a model of unaccountability in the role — which is ironic, really.

Hopefully he won’t now be refusing interviews with the media and refusing to answer questions put to him, but I have my doubts. At any rate, with the support of only 7.28 of his constituents, and offering no concrete policies in his campaign to boot, I am adamant that he has no mandate at all for radical changes to policing. And you can be sure I will call him out if he attempts any.

I suspect that, regardless, he has just been made a patsy for police cuts to come and rising crime as a result. But his success would benefit all of us, and is in all our interests. So I wish him the very best of luck. I reckon he’ll need it.

Go and vote for your Police Commissioner!


The day is here. November 15th, the polling day for the Police and Crime Commissioner elections. And it is essential, absolutely imperative, that you go out and use your vote today.

A lot of people aren’t keen on this role at all. I, actually, am one of them. I’d rather that we weren’t politicising the police forces of England and Wales, and spending a fortune in order to do it. However, not voting won’t stop that from happening, and it won’t lead to a positive situation.

Tomorrow we will have a Police Commissioner, even if only 1% of the registered electorate vote. In many cases, a low turnout will allow someone not at all right for the job to win. The opportunity that you have today is to vote for whoever you feel would be best for the role of the candidates before you.

I’ve already declared how I will be voting. My first preference will be Tim Starkey (Lab) and my second preference John Howson (Lib Dem). I’d urge, naturally, everyone to vote for Tim because he’d make a great Police Commissioner, and would focus on keeping policing numbers and standards up in the Thames Valley, rather than just enacting Tory cuts.

If you haven’t managed to see his leaflet yet (and I know that’s a lot of people — Thames Valley is big, and although I and others have been working hard, we’re a long way off covering the whole area), then here you are you lucky people!

But whatever you do, whoever you vote for, do go out and vote!

The Man Who Would Be Police Commissioner


Today is the last day before the polling stations open for the election of Police and Crime Commissioners across England and Wales, and in the Thames Valley there are still serious issues surrounding the Conservative Party candidate Anthony Stansfeld.

I’ve written much already about the West Berkshire councillor, who seems to think that the post is his by right, and voiced my concern about him on a number of fronts. Those concerns have only multiplied during the election campaign. Having declared who I intend to vote for, I said of Cllr Stansfeld earlier this week that he has a cavalier attitude to transparency”.

Other bloggers have done the hard work on this matter, so I really can’t take the credit. In fact, most of it is due to Jon Harvey — a man who Cllr Stansfeld accused me of being briefed by, but who I have unfortunately not spoken to since the Labour hustings. Jon presents two questions in particular about disparities in Cllr Stansfeld’s interest declarations (the background to which can be read here):

Why did Cllr Stansfeld declare ‘ELS’ on his Thames Valley Police Authority register of interests but an entirely different company (FIDAS) on his West Berkshire Council declaration?

Why has mention of him being “Chairman of a small company that has interests in water systems for agriculture and energy recovery systems for industry” now slipped off later CVs and his campaign newspaper?

These questions remain unanswered, and were brusquely and rather rudely shrugged off when I confronted him with them at the hustings in Finchampstead last month.

Additionally, this is a man who claims the primary reason for introducing PCCs is because the Police Authorities were not fit for purpose. Cllr Stansfeld is a member of…erm…Thames Valley Police Authority. Indeed, a prominent claim made in his campaign literature has been that he “introduced neighbourhood policing”. As an interesting point, this is what former Thames Valley Chief Constable Peter Neyroud had to say about it:

I introduced Neighbourhood Policing into Thames Valley, with the full support of the Police Authority. Mr Stansfield was never a member of the Police Authority when I was Chief… the Tories ran a consistent knocking campaign against Neighbourhood Policing until it became clear that NP and the PCSO’s, who were introduced to support them, was a winning idea with voters

Very interesting.

Finally, for anyone still wondering about my claims of Cllr Stansfeld’s attitude to transparency, it’s worth noting these tweets from Channel 4 News’ political correspondent Michael Crick yesterday:

The end result of Mr Crick’s investigation is rather alarming, considering that this man wants to control the police after Thursday. I’d suggest watching the whole thing:

That’s the fifteenth attempt we’ve made in the last two days to contact Mr Stansfeld or one of his campaign team. I did briefly manage to speak to him at home this morning, and he said he’d ring back and tell me what he was doing today. He didn’t.

What is it that Anthony Stansfeld has to hide? Why doesn’t he want to speak to a reporter from a major news organisation, mere days before the election? Is it his financial interests? His dubious claims? Or maybe his utter lack of policies (apart, of course, from a car and chauffeur for the new Commissioner)?

There is something deeply suspicious going on here. In a matter of days, the winner of this election will be in control of the Thames Valley Police, and its budget of some £380 million. As John F. Kennedy asked voters in 1960 about Richard Nixon, “Would you buy a used car from this man?

Who I’m voting for as Thames Valley PCC


The Police and Crime Commissioner elections are upon us at last, and now in the absence of Jim Gordon on the slate (more’s the pity) we must decide who we’re going to vote for.

I’ve already made up my mind. In fact, I decided in the aftermath of the public debate in Finchampstead. So to help anyone who us still undecided, I’m going to share my choices and the reasoning behind them.

Just as a note: PCCs will be elected by a supplementary vote system, meaning you can vote for a first and second preference (if no candidate achieves 50% of first preferences, all the top two go through to the next stage, and the second preferences of the rest of the candidate’s supporters are distributed). Like many other supporters of AV in 2011, I will be using both votes.

So, in reverse order, my thoughts on each candidate, culminating in the two I’m voting for:

Patience Awe, one of the two independent candidates, was supremely unimpressive, and has been so throughout the campaign. She has systematically failed to give any reason to vote for her, barring her IT experience. That is, to me, not sufficient reason to warrant giving her my vote, and I do not feel policing would be safe in her hands. I will not be voting for Patience.

Geoffrey Howard is the other independent, and although he has a very long CV, he has also been less than impressive. His primary selling point seems to be that he is a magistrate (both laudable and relevant) and that he is an independent candidate. But Mr Howard has left off that he has previously been a member of three political parties, and aside from rhetoric seems to have few ideas for the role. At the Finchampstead debate, he did not contribute beyond an opening statement – I’m not sure how that fits with his pledge to “make the role accountable to the public”. I will not be voting for Geoffrey.

(This is a shame. I do not believe that the PCC role should be party political, and thus to have no independent candidates of merit is another nail in the coffin of the policy)

Anthony Stansfeld, as regular readers of my blog will know, is the Conservative Party candidate. He has a very impressive business and army CV, and has served on the Police Authority — even if his claims about his achievements in that position feel a bit far-fetched. I don’t agree with his politics, though I know there are many who will, but for me it’s his cavalier attitude to transparency that is most troubling. Questions still remain over his declared interests, which he has repeatedly failed to clear up despite opportunities to do so. I will not be voting for Anthony.

Barry Cooper, the UKIP candidate, is the surprising and alarming entry at third place on my rundown. First off, I disagree with UKIP’s reactionary and diversive politics more even than the Conservatives. But Barry did present himself as at least having some clue what the role would entail and what he’d do with it. He was articulate and confident, and in the end it is only his politics and his views on police armament which put me off. I will not be voting for Barry.

John Howson is the Liberal Democrat candidate. Many other Labour supporters (as well as independent voters) have been aghast at the idea of voting for a Lib Dem after all the damage that they’re doing in government. I find it a touch distasteful too, but I have two votes and that’s two opportunities to deny the role to a right-wing candidate who would pursue policies I disagree with intensely. At Finchampstead, John was imaginative, confident and exuded the kind of competence I believe essential to this role. I will be giving my second preference to John.

Which leaves only the Labour candidate, Tim Starkey. I know that most readers will be entirely unsurprised at my support for him, but truthfully he has it because he has convinced me that he is the best man for the job. I don’t like the idea of PCCs, and had one of them been best for the job I would have had no qualms about voting for an independent. But Tim has the experience of the justice system and victims of crime necessary to make the best of this role, and has shown that he has the policy ideas to improve policing in the Thames Valley. In particular, he has been the only one to focus on lesser noticed crimes like domestic violence. I will be giving my first preference to Tim.

So there you have it. Whether you’re surprised or not, those are my choices and the reasons behind them. I urge voters in the Thames Valley to use the final few days before the vote to read up on the candidates, and put questions to them if possible. Above all, I urge all of you to go out and vote on Thursday. Like it or not, Police and Crime Commissioners are happening. Abstention is only abdication of your choice and responsibility.

“Rural crime”: will Cllr Stansfeld crack down on fox hunts?


As the Police Commissioner elections grow closer, interest still doesn’t seem to be exactly buzzing sadly. The Finchampstead hustings were well attended, but I’m still not anticipating a gloriously high turnout at the polling stations.

With that said, I was very interested to have my attention drawn by Damien Clarkson to this campaign site: No Cop Out For Wildlife. It’s a campaign website run by Lush (yes, the cosmetics company) and the Hunt Saboteurs Association, aimed at pressuring Police & Crime Commissioner candidates to deal with “wildlife crime”.

From what I can tell, this means fox hunting.

I know that for some people the Hunting Act 2004 isn’t an altogether popular piece of legislation, but I will always regard it as one of the last Labour government’s finest moves. Illegal hunting does still go on, however, and the Hunt Saboteurs Association and others do a great job of combating that.

So why am I bringing it up now? Well, for one think there are numerous (probably legal, potentially not) hunts which take place within the area covered by Thames Valley Police. So there’s a natural interest there.

But look for a moment at the Conservative candidate Cllr Anthony Stansfeld. I have previously criticised his lightness on policy, but one thing which has consistently appeared in his literature is this:

“[Cllr Stansfeld] said he would focus on reducing rural crime

Rural crime. What is that, exactly? Apple scrumping? Tractor thefts? I’m being serious, it’s vague to the  point of uselessness. But what it could mean, if you look at it in the light of everything I said above, it’s feasible that it could mean a fresh and reinvigorated focus on illegal fox hunts.

The Conservatives steadfastly opposed the ban, when it was going through the commons. David Cameron has specifically said he’d like the ban to be rescinded. But that’s not to say that all Tories agree with him, as an estimated 75% of British people want the ban to stay.

So what do you say then, Cllr Stansfeld? If elected Police & Crime Commissioner, will you translate your rural crime pledge into a concerted crackdown on illegal fox hunting?

Why you need to vote for your Police Commissioner


The below is the text of a letter I wrote, published in the present Wokingham Times, in response to an earlier letter written by Green Party activist Marjory Bisset. In it, Marjory calls on Wokingham residents to boycott the Police Commissioner elections in protest against their imposition.

As you will see below, this is not a position with which I agree.

I was, I must admit, somewhat surprised to read Marjory Bisset’s letter in last week’s Wokingham Times advocating, on behalf of the Green Party, a boycott of the Police and Crime Commissioner elections. Whilst I share her scepticism about the new position, hers is, unfortunately, a position lacking pragmatism.

That these elections are going to happen is an unavoidable truth. Elected police commissioners are a Conservative policy and the Conservative Party has its eye on taking control of as many police forces as possible – including in the Thames Valley.

Over the last two and a half years I think we’ve seen all we need to of Tory policing policy. Budget cutbacks, accompanied by nonsense about not cutting the “front lines”, even as we see those front lines suffering. The former Chief Whip’s comments have shown just what the Tories think of police officers – and, indeed, the rest of us “plebs”.

As for the Conservative candidate in the Thames Valley, Anthony Stansfeld, his website demonstrates he is a man bankrupt of ideas to improve policing, and with neither the experience nor the imagination to have any. Indeed, his one policy that I have been able to find so far is that the new Police Commissioner should have a dedicated car and chauffeur. Whose priorities are these?

Residents of Wokingham should think carefully about whether this is a man, and a party, they want in control of their police force. If not, then the answer is not to boycott the vote – an action which can only hand victory to the Conservatives – but to read the policy pledges of the other candidates, and turn out to vote on November 15th.

Matthew S. Dent

Twyford & District Labour Party

You’ll only get one chance to make this choice. After November 15th, you’ll be stuck with the winner for three and a half years. Take this opportunity. Use your vote to choose the best candidate.

Finchampstead Police Commissioner debate – a review


So, last night saw a very well-attended public debate between the six Police & Crime candidates at Finchampstead Memorial Hall, at which I was present. I was, actually, very impressed with the whole arrangement. I had feared initially that only the three main party candidates would be there, but fortunately all six were present. And the audience as well as being numerous (I’d estimate something like fifty in attendance) were also involved and engaged.

Each candidate was given ten minutes to give an initial pitch of who they are and what the want to do in the job, before the floor was opened to some very well-thought out and interesting questions.

A number of issues came up. One was cross-border co-operation between police forces, to which Cllr Stansfeld responded that he thought having a single figure at the top of the police force would help increase such co-operation. He seemed less than happy with my question, though, on the confusing differences between his various declarations of financial interests (which you can read more about here).

The issue which really got the debate going, however, was arming the police. Most of the candidates were very much against routine armament, with Tim Starkey saying that he would be willing to look into more widespread use of tasers. UKIP’s Barry Cooper, however, went against the grain and said that it was an operational matter (as opposed to political), that if Thames Valley Police wanted it he would say yes, and that he personally favoured routine armament.

Beyond that, there was a lot of concern from the audience along the lines of “Why do we need a Police & Crime Commissioner?” and “Who will hold them to account?“. To which the answers seemed to be that, to the first, the previous Police Authorities were indirectly elected and unaccountable, and that the Police Commissioner would answer only to the electorate and the indirectly elected Police and Crime Panels.

Tim Starkey was the only one who would admit that there were still pretty huge accountability problems with this system, and stressed (as I have) that although we may disagree with this policy, after 15th November we will have a PCC, and so need to make the best of it that we can.

So now I’ll summarise the performances of each of the candidates, and my thoughts on them.

  • Patience Awe (Independent) – Very disappointing, if I’m honest. Her main selling point seemed to be her IT experience, though its relevance to the role seems fairly limited. She repeated herself a lot, didn’t manage to say anything that someone else didn’t say better, and overall was a chore to listen to. I couldn’t discern any policy from her speech or from her leaflet.
  • Barry Cooper (UKIP) – One of the stronger candidates, actually. Mr Cooper actually seemed to have some idea what he’d do with the role, though in something of an embryonic stage. I disagree pretty strongly with his policies (particularly his attacks on “political correctness“, a line which always seems to mask something altogether darker and more sinister), but he came across at least as competent. Though his misstepped hard and lost the room with his comments over arming the police.
  • Geoffrey Howard (Independent) – The second independent came across reasonably well in his opening speech, though his only real qualification for the job seems to be serving as a magistrate. Like Patience, he was big on rhetoric and low on policy. I wish I could say more, but he uttered not a word beyond the initial speech. He seemed to forget he was there — and honestly, so did I.
  • John Howson (Liberal Democrat) – John came across as being fairly sensible. I don’t really believe he stands a chance, but for what it’s worth he didn’t seem to have any objectionable ideas. He didn’t have any leaflets at the debate though, so I can’t refer back to any particular policies, and none really were mentioned.
  • Anthony Stansfeld (Conservative) – Ah, the great Cllr Stansfeld. He played big on his experience in the army and as a business leader, and not being the Home Secretary’s candidate of choice. Which is a point in his favour, I suppose. But he was convinced that this role is definitely a positive thing, which put him at odds with many at the debate (and many of the electorate, I suspect). For such a major candidate, though, I am very much alarmed to have no idea what he would do if he wins.
  • Tim Starkey (Labour) – Personally, I think Tim came across best. You might say that I would say that, but he was frank about the position, and that although Labour voted against the policy it is going to happen, and actually mentioned specific areas of crime beyond what the candidates had all read off the internet about Finchampstead (burglaries and anti-social behaviour). He said he would focus on domestic violence, which is an important area which has been neglected by candidates and central government alike. And he was calm, personable and confident. Which always helps.

So there we go. I’m not going to pretend that I’m unbiased, but several other (neutral) people I spoke to thought Tim came across best. But what struck me most of all was just how poor a slate this is. The independents were useless, Cllr Stansfeld still seemed to me like he was already ordained as PCC, and it was a fight between Tim, Barry and John as to who was the most sensible person in the room (something which preferences for giving police guns didn’t help).

Those three were the only ones who had anything resembling policy, and were willing to contemplate a rise to the police precept (an element of council tax) in order to maintain essential services in the face of cuts. Overall, however, the candidates were big on vague statements and lacking on real ideas.

The elections are two weeks away now. As I’ve already said, they will be happening even if you think that the position is idiocy. So please, read my views, read the candidates’ websites (bare though some of them may be), and ask questions of the candidates on social media. Make your decision, and go down and have your say at the ballot box on November 15th.

Thames Valley Police Commissioner Hustings in Wokingham


The most common thing I hear from people when I talk to them about the Police & Crime Commissioner elections —  now less than three weeks away — is that they have no idea who the candidates are, or what policies they are standing on.

It’s an understandable problem, really. The Thames Valley is a big area, and the elections have been both terribly timed and remarkably unpromoted, given that they’re for a major new public office. Unless voters have specifically gone looking for candidates’ positions (or maybe not even then) or they have been canvassed by activists then there is little chance they will have much idea what each candidate is proposing.

So local hustings have been of primary importance in this campaign. There have been several already, but Wednesday will see the candidates coming to Wokingham for a public debate. The Finchampstead Society will be hosting a debate at 7:30pm at the Memorial Hall (Wokingham, RG40 4JU) where the candidates will be speaking and available to answer questions.

As far as I’m aware, only the three main party candidates have confirmed attendance: John Howson (Lib Dem), Anthony Stansfeld (Conservative), and Tim Starkey (Labour). Which leaves the two remaining independents and the UKIP candidate may well not be there. But it’s better than nothing.

I shall be there, and I urge any residents of the Thames Valley area who can make it to join me. This is a serious and major public office, and we are running a real risk of allowing a candidate to sleepwalk into it with no real scrutiny or democratic process. Come along on Wednesday evening, and put your questions to the people vying to be your first Police & Crime Commissioner.