A former Chief Constable who was forced out of her job has said it is too easy for elected crime commissioners to oust top officers because there is a lack of proper “checks and balances” on their powers.
Justine Curran announced in February that she would be taking early retirement after being told by recently-elected Humberside Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Keith Hunter that proceedings to remove her would start if she did not.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, the Sheffield-born officer said Humberside Police was starting to show signs of improvement when she left despite a series of critical inspection reports, but that the necessary changes “can take a while to sort out”.
She said the absence of a Police and Crime Plan setting out the PCC’s priorities or a formal review of her performance meant there was a “lack of clarity” about how she was assessed.
Ms Curran said: “You are working hard and everyone is trying their best to deliver a service but it is all very vague. Which is ironic because as a service we have a very structured approach to this, but not for chiefs.”
There was no escalation. He never spoke to me, he sent his chief executive to say ‘it is all not very good, you need to go’.Justine Curran
However, Mr Hunter said the suggestion it was easy to remove Chief Constables was to “ignore reality” and claimed the ex-officer was refusing to accept responsibility for her force’s shortcomings while she was in charge.
Ms Curran, who says she was never given a “real chance” to succeed, added: “It should not be easier to get rid of a chief than anyone else in an organisation.
“It should be mandated that there should be criteria by which you should be judged and it should be shared with the police and crime panel [the body that scrutinises the PCC].
“At the moment, it is all around ‘I don’t have confidence in you’. For people who are dealing with a huge amount of risk on a daily basis and dealing with challenging situations, there should be agreement about ‘this is what you are going to be assessed on’.”
The Chief Constable, who was told her job was at risk shortly after former police officer Mr Hunter was elected last May, was asked to leave after the force learned a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary had rated it as requiring improvement on its effectiveness, but before this result was made public.
Mr Hunter said last week that the early version of the report was withheld from him, but Ms Curran denies this, saying she had a meeting with the PCC to discuss it but that this was cancelled.
She said: “There was no escalation. He never spoke to me, he sent his chief executive to say ‘it is all not very good, you need to go’.
“It would be an interesting question to ask what are the checks on PCCs. They are elected, they are not vetted and there are so few checks and balances.”
Mr Hunter rejected suggestions that removing a Chief Constable was easy, citing the example of David Crompton’s departure from South Yorkshire Police. Mr Crompton was sacked over comments he made after the Hillsborough inquests, but a court later ruled the move by PCC Dr Alan Billings was unlawful.
Mr Hunter said: “I did not go into huge detail when Justine Curran left as I wanted to allow her to retire with some dignity after her career in policing.
“It would seem she has decided to forego that opportunity with her continuing refusal to accept any responsibility for the shortcomings of the force she led for nearly four years.
“With regard to checks and balances on PCCs, they are elected and operate under a statutory framework.
“PCCs cannot just remove Chief Constables at a whim.
“The reasons for wishing to remove a chief must be sent in detail to the Chief Inspector of Constabulary whose view must be taken into account by the PCC.
“Both the PCC and HMCIC’s views are then reviewed by the Police and Crime Panel before a PCC can make the final decision.”