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Police watchdog responds to press release complaints

PUBLISHED: 10:00 06 November 2011

Ann Barnes

Ann Barnes

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KENT Police Authority chairwoman Ann Barnes has received a slap on the wrist for using public money to criticise Government policy.

Over the past year the KPA has issued a number of press releases attacking plans for elected police commissioners, with one of the most recent describing them as “naive and disastrous”.

Complaints about the releases and a blog post written by Mrs Barnes were received by the authority in September, accusing it of breaching publicity guidelines by using public money for political campaigning.

Mrs Barnes has now been “reminded of her responsibilities” as a result, as has fellow KPA member Stephen Hiscock who also criticised the commissioner plans in a press release.

Chief executive Graham Hooper said: “The assessment sub-committee considered complaints against two members of Kent Police Authority.

“After deliberating, they referred the matter to me in my capacity as monitoring officer for the authority with a number of actions. These included reminding the members concerned of their responsibilities under the code of conduct and local authority guidance on publicity.

“Advice was also given to one member of police authority staff.”

The code of practice on local authority publicity – which forms part of the Local Government Act 1986 – also applies to police authorities.

It states that publicity which comments on central Government policies should be “objective, balanced, informative and accurate” and that publicity touching on controversial issues should be “approached with particular care and should not over-simplify facts, issues and arguments”.

Mrs Barnes and Mr Hiscock are two of seven independents serving the police authority, which will be scrapped next year and replaced with one directly-elected Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC).

There are also seven Conservative councillors, one Labour and one Lib Dem.

KPA member Cllr Craig Mackinlay (Con) told KoS it was frustrating to read press releases that were highly critical of the PCC plans when he was supportive of them.

He said: “You wouldn’t expect turkeys to vote for Christmas but this turkey did because I think it’s a superb idea to have an elected police commissioner.

“I did have concerns about the tone of the press releases, and especially the use of the blog site. That just crossed the boundaries of how public money should be spent and I didn’t think it was appropriate.

“Policy authority press releases should be non-political and should not get involved in political arguments. But the matter has now been settled as far as I’m concerned, and I’m confident those concerned know where the boundaries are now.”

Last month Army veteran Colonel Tim Collins announced his intention to become Kent’s first Police and Crime Commissioner as a potential Conservative candidate.

Col Collins was awarded an OBE after delivering a morale-boosting speech to troops – a copy of which was hung in the Oval Office by then-President George W Bush – on the eve of the Iraq War in March, 2003.

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