In the Media

Sir Hugh Orde: I wouldn't turn to new police watchdog in a crisis

PUBLISHED June 12, 2012

Sir Hugh Orde said he needed to know urgently what would happen to the traditional role of Chief Inspector of Constabulary in advising the Home Secretary and chief constables, if as expected the post goes to Tom Winsor, a commercial lawyer.

The President of the Association of Chief Police Officers went on to criticise the Home Office for describing Mr Winsor as "head and shoulders" above experienced police officers who also applied for the £200,000 a year post.

His comments at a conference are a further illustration of the struggle ministers face in getting forces to accept Mr Winsor in the role that has since Victorian times been held by former policemen or military figures.

Rank-and-file officers are already fighting the former rail regulator's proposals to shake up their culture and practices, which he believes are outdated, while MPs on the powerful Home Affairs Select Committee are expected to try to veto his appointment on the grounds that he has no experience of operational policing.

Asked at the Policing 2012 event in Westminster on Tuesday what he made of Mr Winsor being announced as preferred candidate to be the next Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Hugh replied: "It is a historic moment in that it is the first time that a non-sworn officer has been appointed to that role in the history of policing in this country."

He went on: "It is without question a step-change in terms of the direction of travel of that part of the Government structure."

He said that when he served in Northern Ireland, he would regularly turn to HM Inspectorate of Constabulary for advice on problems such as terrorism.

But Sir Hugh admitted: "In the new model, those are not the sort of issues I'd expect to ring Tom and his people about, because simply he's the wrong person."

He said that he thought the watchdog is moving to a "more regulatory" approach, but added: "We are going to seek clarity on how the new landscape looks as a consequence of that decision. We need to have clarity on how the service operates in the new world."

Sir Hugh said comments made by Home Office advisors in "dark corners", about Mr Winsor's suitability for the role, were "deeply unhelpful" and caused "real angst" among police.

Mr Winsor himself spoke at the conference but would not comment on the watchdog role as it has not yet been confirmed, adding that his Government-commissioned report on pay and conditions was "controversial enough".

He repeated his assertion that policing needs to be seen as a profession on a par with law and medicine in order to attract the "brightest and best" candidates, rather than as a "blue-collar" job like that held by factory workers.

Simon Reed, vice-chairman of the Police Federation, said the Government's comments about the service were destroying morale.

"Why would anybody feel good about being described as thick and lazy?" he asked.

Derek Barnett, president of the Superintendents' Association, agreed that the police were being undermined.

"How many times can you tell people you're not very good, you're not very efficient, you're fat and lazy."

A Home Office spokesman said: "HMIC's current inspectors are already a mix of former chief constables and civilians with other experience. The Inspectorate is evolving to become a more independent body, now answering to Parliament rather than the Home Secretary, and guarding the public interest.

"The Home Secretary will continue to receive policing advice from a range of experts and, by the end of this year, from the new Police Professional Body."