It’s all steadily getting worse for Norfolk’s PCC, Stephen Bett. At first there was the problem of his expenses, embarrassing but investigated and then repaid. Then the IPCC finally decided to have someone investigate them from a criminal perspective. Then there was confusion as he “stepped aside” for the duration of the investigation, even though he couldn’t, and then decided not to do his job but still get paid for it. Now a report before tomorrow’s Norfolk Police and Crime Panel threatens to stoke the fire some more.
I’m not sure why they didn’t just give the Panel a printout of the TopOfTheCops articles on this, (here and here) – my fees are very reasonable – but it appears they have instructed a law firm and even a QC to come up with pretty-much-the-same observations, which are basically:-
- The PCC has “stepped aside”.
- D’oh! – He can’t do that – (see. 2.1 point 2. – The Act “provides for resignation of and suspension of the PCC but not for any action of the kind purported now to be taken by the PCC (“leave of absence” or “stepping aside”). In law therefore the position of the PCC has not changed.”)
- He’s getting his Deputy to do as much of his job as she can.
- No-one is doing the rest – the really important stuff.
- He’s still being paid as if he was doing it all – and he could have opted to go without pay, but hasn’t.
Options for dealing with this include inviting him to continue with his duties or resign, get him to the panel for a grilling, ask the Home Secretary for help, etc. It’s an extraordinary report of a sort you rarely see in local government. It even suggests taking the PCC to the High Court to make him do his job, though personally I consider that to be a fool’s errand, as they haven’t got anything that he hasn’t done that he legally had to do yet.
The report attaches a useful Annex, which is the Office of the PCC’s position on this, all neatly summarising the situation as you would expect such an office to do before a PCC takes a step of this nature. Except the PCC “stepped aside” on the 19th June, and his Office’s explanation of it all is dated 23rd June, a full 4 days later.
That’s known as an ex post facto justification. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that the PCC “stepping down” was at best a knee-jerk reaction to the IPCC announcement, and at some point, maybe tomorrow at the Panel, someone is going to have to admit that the PCC seems to have acted without the most basic knowledge of the legal basis for his post.
You heard it here first – you really did – and then the people of Norfolk paid for a lawyer to tell them what you already knew for free.