As published in the Daily Mail:
The last time public trust in the police was as low as it is today was following the police strikes of 1918, during the First World War. After that dispute the police were granted a pay rise, but were also forbidden membership of a trade union.
In place of a union, the Police Federation was set up by the government to give voice to the concerns of police officers.
The Federation worked to ensure that officers were protected and that respect for policing was maintained. In other words, it started as a constructive force behind British policing. Today, I fear the opposite is true.
We saw the most recent example of the Federation’s failings in the fallout from Andrew Mitchell’s altercation with an officer in Downing Street.
Following that incident, three Federation representatives met with the former Chief Whip to discuss what had transpired.
The officers brazenly misrepresented to the gathered press what had been discussed. Even after being censured in Parliament by the Home Affairs Committee, they outrageously still refused to apologise to Mr Mitchell personally.
The public, quite naturally, came to the conclusion that if MPs could be treated in this way, so could anyone.
An independent panel set up to examine the failures within the organisation delivered a damning report condemning the Federation’s traditional tendency to attack’ and saying some members were bringing the Federation into disrepute’.
Even the Federation’s members are disillusioned. Many feel that those in the upper echelons of the organisation have lost touch with grassroots members, and grown too accustomed to the trappings of power.
Consider, for example, the Federation’s luxurious £26million headquarters in Leatherhead, Surrey. This HQ includes a 55-room hotel with a bar, indoor swimming pool and 11 two-bedroom grace-and-favour apartments.
Membership fees had to be raised by 23 per cent in 2010 to cover a hole in the Federation’s finances caused by the purchase of the Leatherhead headquarters.
The late Sir James Goldsmith once noted that the size of a company’s headquarters is directly proportional to its decadence. On this basis, any reasonable person wandering past this police palace would conclude that the Federation was beyond saving. How ironic that this organisation was specifically designed not to be a trade union – but has now acquired the worst characteristics of the sort of self-serving trades unions we thought we saw the end of in the Seventies.
Yet despite all this criticism, the Federation refuses to change its ways. Last week Fiona McElroy, a former principal private secretary brought in to help it reform itself, was sacked after being told she had alienated’ senior officials.
Ms McElroy had raised serious concerns’ about the management of the Federation’s accounts. There has been disquiet about some Federation officials’ extensive use of corporate credit cards to pay large bar bills. (The organisation is also currently facing an inquiry by HM Revenue & Customs into up to £2million claimed by some officials as business expenses.)
Ms McElroy confirmed that she had been opposed by a vocal minority’ who were resisting attempts to implement the changes recommended by the independent panel’s report. The problem is, this vocal minority’ appears to be running the show.
The Federation’s accounts reveal that an astonishing sum – almost £8million a year – is spent on litigation on behalf of members.
Just yesterday Liberty, the civil liberties group, announced that, if the police officer Toby Rowland – who disputes Andrew Mitchell’s claims that he lied about the MP calling him a pleb’ – launches a libel case against Mr Mitchell, it will seek to intervene in the legal battle in support of the former Chief Whip.
Liberty believes that by holding the threat of legal action over those who disagree with the police’s version of events, it will become impossible to complain about the police’s actions. It is difficult to disagree.
The rank and file of this country’s police force do a difficult job and, for the most part, they do it well. That’s why it’s a scandal that they are represented by this bullying, crony-filled organisation that raises members’ subscription fees to pay for swimming pools and grace-and-favour flats in Leatherhead, and lavish trips on which Federation officials run up huge bar bills.
One police widow has accused Federation officials of treating what should have been a dignified memorial day for fallen officers like a drunken jolly’.
The Government must act quickly to return the Federation to its noble roots, and return effective representation to the police force.