‘It’s a declaration of war’: Theresa May faces police fury as civilian is set to be handed one of the most important jobs in policing for the first time
Lawyer Tom Winsor set to get top job, sparking anger among rank and file officers
‘Some police officers considering resigning over the decision’, Paul McKeever, chairman of the Police Federation claims
Mrs May was booed and jeered by officers at the federation’s annual conference last month
David Blunkett describes move as ‘like poking a stick through a lions den as police cuts are being made’
By Jack Doyle and Rob Cooper
PUBLISHED: 01:46, 8 June 2012 | UPDATED: 15:36, 8 June 2012
A civilian is set to be appointed to one of the most important jobs in British policing for the first time in its near 160-year history – in a move which has been branded a ‘declaration of war’.
Lawyer Tom Winsor, whose review of police pay and conditions sparked a mass protest, was named as Theresa May’s preferred candidate for the £200,000-a-year role as Chief Inspector of Constabulary.
Paul McKeever, chairman of the Police Federation, today claimed that officers were considering resigning over the decision to appoint an outsider into the post.
If Mr Winsor’s appointment is confirmed, it will give him a major role in overseeing the future of policing in England and Wales.
In effect, he will be judging forces on how well they are implementing his proposed reforms.
Criminologist Roger Graef branded the move as a ‘declaration of war’.
The selection of Mr Winsor signals ministers’ intention to push through major changes to policing.
Mrs May was heckled, booed and jeered at the Police Federation’s annual conference in Bournemouth last month, just a week after some 30,000 officers marched through central London in protest over Mr Winsor’s proposed reforms, most of which have been accepted.
Mr McKeever, speaking on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme this morning, that ‘one or two officers are considering their positions’ following the latest announcement.
He accused policing and criminal justice minister Nick Herbert of taking another step towards privatisation of policing.
Mr McKeever said: ‘We have him (Mr Winsor) in a position where he is going to be advising the Home Secretary on matters such as public order.
‘There are so many people across the police force with a profound understanding of policing and we do not know why they have chosen a commercial lawyer for the role.’
He added: ‘He is not just there as a regulator, he is there to give, hopefully, sagacious advice.
‘He is going to be in some very high-powered meetings on occasions where the Prime Minister and Home Secretary say, “Tom, what do you think?”.
‘And he is not going to know. He’s going to have to say, “look, I’m going to have to phone one of my advisers”. That is not a position we should have somebody in who is going to be giving advice to government.’
Policing minister Mr Herbert defended the decision and insisted Mr Winsor was the right candidate as he would be independent of the police and government.
‘The direction of travel over the last few years has been to ensure that the inspectorate is more independent, not just of the government – it is essential it is independent of the government – but also of the police service itself,’ he told Today.
‘Tom Winsor is somebody who not only has experience as a regulator, where he was rail regulator – and everyone will remember just how independent of the government he was when he did that job – but also having authored his report for the last 18 months.’
Mr Winsor is unpopular among officers after he proposed cutting bonuses and introducing compulsory fitness tests in his wide-ranging review of policing.
Among the more controversial proposals in his two reports, Mr Winsor recommended that police constables’ starting salaries should be cut by up to £4,500 and that the retirement age should be raised to 60.
His suggestion that chief constables should have the power to sack officers were described by Federation leaders as ‘meddling with the very bedrock of British policing’.
Mr Winsor, a lawyer and former rail regulator, was selected following an interview process conducted by the Home Secretary, Theresa May.
Thames Valley chief constable Sara Thornton, and the top officer in the West Midlands, Chris Sims, who is also a senior figure in the Association of Chief Police Officers, are understood to have applied but lost out.
Sir Denis O’Connor, the incumbent, is retiring this summer.
Before his appointment is confirmed, Mr Winsor faces a grilling by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, which has vocally criticised how his reports were compiled.
Bridget Phillipson, Labour MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, said she was ‘stunned’ by the decision, saying she could not even believe reports that Mr Winsor had applied.
Matt Cavanagh, of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) think-tank, saying he was a ‘risky if not reckless choice’ which could damage the reputation of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC).
‘As well as putting the relationship between Government and the police under further strain, this provocative choice could put at risk the growing reputation and contribution of HMIC at a crucial time.’
Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone said Mrs May was ‘probably’ right in recommending Mr Winsor for the role, but added he still had hurdles to overcome before his appointment.
‘If Theresa May has Tom Winsor as her preferred candidate then she probably has very good reason to have him in that way,’ she said.
‘The fact that he is not from a police background is innovative and it may be brilliant.’
She told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme there were ‘still hurdles for Tom Winsor to pass’ because he must prove to the Home Affairs Select Committee ‘he has the understanding to do the job’.
‘Theresa believes he can, I believe Theresa is probably, almost certainly, right.’
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘Tom Winsor has been named as the preferred candidate for the role of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary.
‘He will appear before the HASC before the appointment goes to the Prime Minister and the Queen for approval.’
Labour’s former home secretary David Blunkett said it was ‘a very odd moment’ for Mr Winsor to be named preferred candidate for the HMIC role when the police are dealing with cuts and many officers are up in arms about his reports.
Mr Blunkett told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: ‘It is almost like poking a stick through the bars of the lion’s den, at a moment when the police service are most on edge and most subject to disagreement and friction.
‘I think the Home Secretary has taken a deliberate decision to say to the service ‘Not only are we not backing off to your objections to Tom Winsor, we are not actually going to be listening to your cry of pain in terms of what’s happening to the service as a whole’.’
He added: ‘I have certainly no objection personally to Tom Winsor, nor in principle to bringing him in from outside.’
But he said it was ‘not the role’ of the Chief Inspector to force through Government reforms, but to offer ministers independent advice.
‘The Home Secretary needs advice,’ said Mr Blunkett. ‘She has abolished the Police Improvement Agency, the police authorities are being replaced by elected Police and Crime Commissioners, the Association of Chief Police Officers is effectively being dismantled. Where is that advice going to come from?
‘It can’t come from someone who is not rooted in the service and is seen by the police service as antagonistic.’