- not influenced or controlled by others in matters of opinion, conduct, etc; thinking or acting for oneself: an independent thinker.
- not subject to another’s authority or jurisdiction; autonomous; free: an independent businessman.
- not influenced by the thought or action of others: independent research.
- not dependent; not depending or contingent upon something else for existence, operation, etc.
- not relying on another or others for aid or support.
Yesterday the Government announced that Mr Tom Winsor was the preferred candidate for the next Chief Inspector of Constabulary for the HMIC. He is not unknown to the Home Office having been appointed to head the Independent Review of Police Officers and Staff Remuneration and Conditions. The current policing minister Nick Herbert MP states in a Daily Telegraph video that Tom Winsor is the best man for the top job at the HMIC. He states that he produced a “very important and independent report on policing” and that “for some time the Inspectorate has become more independent of the police and government and it’s right that it should”. He also states that the HMIC has always been a mix of independent advisors and former chief constables and that will remain. I have listened to the video several times and the insinuation seems to be that the chief constables are not independent.
However, when the current post holder, Sir Denis O’Connor announced he would retire on 31 July as HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, the Home Secretary Theresa May said; “His expertise and knowledge have been invaluable in enabling the Inspectorate to continue to deliver an efficient and independent inspection programme during many challenges and changes in the policing landscape.”
There seems to be some confusion. Nick Herbert tells us that without any direct police experience Tom Winsor is the best man for the job. Conversely, the Home Secretary who has no doubt rubber stamped this decision states that the “expertise and knowledge” of a former Chief Constable were invaluable in delivering and efficient and independent service. It could be conceded that what she doesn’t say is that this expertise and knowledge should be at the top of the organisation.
The term independent is clearly being bandied around considerably. During my police career I have interviewed many suspects. There are many factors that help to build a picture of the truth. One factor is how the interviewee comes across. I could go into an interview armed with evidence claiming guilt and come out believing the suspect. Why? Generally because in a calm and considered way they have put their point across in a way that engenders belief. They don’t shout about it, they don’t hide behind “no comment” they simply tell it how it is and let the truth do the rest. On the other hand there are those who shout their innocence to the highest heavens and continue with such pre, during and post interview. Whilst it doesn’t fit every case and without getting into a Shakespearean debate, there is the analogy that “The Lady doth protest too much methinks”. In plain english the suspect continually affirms their innocence and is so insistent that they begin to lose credibility. I’m beginning to wonder if the incessant affirmation of Mr Winsor’s independent status is in some way indicative of the opposite.
Of course we need evidence to prove this lack of autonomy. Tom Winsor is primarily a lawyer specialising in rail matters. This was his profession and it led to him being appointed the Rail Regulator. His White and Case bio says;
Tom’s legal experience covers the railway, electricity and oil and gas industries, industry restructuring, the regulation of markets and advising both public and private sector clients on complex and high-value projects in those fields. He is also the co-author of Taylor and Winsor on Joint Operating Agreements, considered the standard legal text on upstream oil and gas ventures.
This doesn’t really undermine him but as we begin to scratch the surface issues start to arise. Tom Winsor’s report into policing makes countless recommendations. The drive of the report is reform that will bring about greater police efficiency whilst saving money. This has led some Chief Constables to look toward outsourcing of some police roles. Several forces already have partnerships with outside companies but the current drivers through Winsor are leading to an increase in this “outsourcing” (Police officers refer to this as “Privatisation”). Lincolnshire Police have entered into a multi million pound contract with G4S but G4S are not on their own in this arena. There are several other companies interested in similar contracts and the most notable one at present is that promoted by West Midlands and Surrey Police. So to this you may think “So what?” Well, what if Tom Winsor was a senior partner in a legal company that was advising G4S on the Lincolnshire Police contract? As Mr Winsor’s proposals are likely to lead to increased private contractors becoming involved in police business is he and his firm likely to benefit from this? Is this a declarable interest? Does this undermine his independent status? The Home Secretary and Policing Minister think not. I’ll leave you to decide but to me it smells.
Yet there’s more. Nick Herbert used to be a director of the think tank Reform. They have a similar view that policing is not cost effective and reforms are necessary. This will no doubt if followed to a logical conclusion put us in the position we currently face with private contractors champing at the bit to cream profits out of policing. Interestingly which company is one of those that financially supports Reform? G4S! Along with CAPITA and Serco. I’m no professor but it seems obvious that those who wish to cream profits from policing by way of private contracts are pushing funds into organisations (to whom the Government listen) that will sing their tune? Are Reform on their own though? Not at all, the Policy Exchange also sing this tune though their supporters list is jealously guarded. They are regularly asked on Twitter to divulge who supports them but the question remains unanswered. Like most things that are asked of them.
If we are to put aside the independent argument for a short while we can look at suitability for the role. What direct experience of policing does Mr Winsor have? None. Despite being a lawyer what experience does he have in the Criminal Justice Sector as relevant to the police? None. Mr Winsor is, it would seem, quite a strong character and has been known to stand up to the Government. One instance was 12 December 2003, when he announced an additional £7.4 billion in funding, taking Network Rail’s income for the five years 2004-2009 to £22.2 billion. This was criticised by the House of Commons Transport Select Committee. His reply was that that was his statutory remit and
he would not be deterred by irrelevant political considerations in carrying it out.
It’s rather telling to me that when Labour were in power he chose to be aggressively determined and now the Conservatives are in power he is fiercely submissive to Govt suggestions. Don’t believe me? Have a look at David Camerons speech about policing in 2006. Look familiar? Further to this Mr Winsor was also quite outspoken and in 2004 whilst Rail Regulator accused the government of meddling in an industry it does not understand. What an interesting paradox for a man to make such a claim and then with no direct understanding or experience feels he can produce an independent report on policing and take up the Chief Inspector of Constabularly position at the HMIC. He seems to have conveniently forgotten this statement.
In the meantime our senior ACPO officers remain mysteriously silent. This story is all over the media and social network sites but they remain silent and the most recent press release on their website is 6 days ago. The head of the NPIA when pressed about the appointment of Tom Winsor as preferred candidate said;
it would be premature to comment on an appointment that hasn’t been made yet.
I pointed out to Mr Gargan that he must have an opinion and that if he waited to voice that opinion until the appointment was made it would be too late. He chose not to reply. Is there a pattern forming here?
Should Mr Winsor be appointed to the top HMIC job at £200k pa? I don’t think he should. His statement from 2004 indicates with clarity why he shouldn’t even be considered.
Is Mr Winsor independent? I don’t think he is and neither do the 135,000 rank and file police officers that serve you but you should make your own mind up.