Gwent Police commissioner 'disdainful', say MPs

Ian Johnston Ian Johnston is planning to appoint a new Gwent chief constable in early September

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A police commissioner who ordered his chief constable to "retire or be removed" has been criticised by a committee of MPs for his "disdainful" attitude to a parliamentary inquiry.

Gwent's Carmel Napier says she was bullied into resigning by Ian Johnston.

After giving evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee, Mr Johnston said he thought Gwent MPs arranged Vale of Clwyd MP Chris Ruane's questions.

Mr Johnston said his priority was the interests of the communities of Gwent.

'Over-sensitivity'

The case highlighted the wide-ranging powers enjoyed by police and crime commissioners (PCCs) to dismiss chief constables, and prompted an inquiry by the Home Affairs Select Committee.

Start Quote

It is worrying that police and crime commissioners seem able to side-step the statutory process for dismissing a chief constable. ”

End Quote Keith Vaz MP Chairman, Home Affairs Select Committee

In her evidence to MPs Mrs Napier accused Mr Johnston of "menacing and bullying" her out of her job.

In their report, published on Saturday, the MPs criticised the Gwent PCC for what they called "this disdainful attitude towards scrutiny by Parliament, as well as an indication of a clear over-sensitivity to criticism".

They pointed out that Mr Johnston had been elected by less than eight per cent of voters in Gwent and "had managed to side-step the statutory arrangements for local scrutiny of his decision to sack the chief constable".

The MPs said it was "further evidence, if any were needed, that the checks and balances on police and crime commissioners are too weak".

The report calls for greater scrutiny of the decisions made by PCCs.

'Unlimited right'

Keith Vaz, the chairman of the committee, said: "It is worrying that police and crime commissioners seem able to side-step the statutory process for dismissing a chief constable.

"Police and Crime Panels should make more active use of their powers to scrutinise decisions such as this.

MP Chris Ruane denies asking 'planted' questions to Mr Johnston

"We will be returning to this area when we carry out our next major inquiry into police and crime commissioners, towards the end of this year."

Colin Mann, a member of Gwent Police and Crime panel, told BBC Radio Wales that the panels had limited powers over their PCCs.

He said: "The [commissioners] have an unlimited right to do what they want. We advise a PCC but a PCC can say 'thanks very much, I've decided otherwise'."

Mr Mann, a local councillor who sat on the former Gwent Police Authority, added: "Certainly the system as it stands needs some looking at."

He said the select committee should have a "good hard look" at the system to ensure its "public value and respect" and give police and crime panels "the powers that some of the MPs appear to think we have already".

'Stability and leadership'

Mr Johnston plans to appoint Mrs Napier's successor at the start of September.

Start Quote

The interests of the communities of Gwent have, and always will be, at the forefront of my decisions”

End Quote Ian Johnston Gwent PCC

In June Mrs Napier announced her retirement with immediate effect after a 30-year career in policing, only for it to emerge that she had been forced out after a series of rows with Mr Johnston.

It was revealed that Mr Johnston ordered Mrs Napier to "retire or be removed" as he believed her managerial style was "unacceptably dismissive, abrupt and unhelpful".

The pair were called before the Home Affairs Committee in Westminster in July to give an account of her departure.

In a statement on Saturday Mr Johnston said: "I would like to reiterate that the interests of the communities of Gwent have, and always will be, at the forefront of my decisions and that at all times I act within the relevant legislation.

"I also want to reassure members of the public that I will be moving to appoint a new chief constable at the beginning of September and in the meantime I will work with the temporary Chief Constable Jeff Farrar to ensure the force has the stability and leadership required, to continue to provide a police service for Gwent which meets the needs of the communities of Gwent."

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