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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 June, 2004, 18:05 GMT 19:05 UK
Police chief sacking call sets precedent
By Danny Shaw
BBC home affairs correspondent

Sir Michael Bichard
Sir Michael Bichard heavily criticised Humberside police
This is a report that has the word "failure" stamped all over it.

According to Sir Michael Bichard, there were "fundamental failures" in the way Humberside Police stored intelligence on suspects, including Ian Huntley.

Together with North East Lincolnshire social services, the force "failed" to identify Huntley's pattern of sexual offending "remotely soon enough".

He first came to their notice in 1995, six years before applying to work at a school in Soham.

At the root of it, said Sir Michael, was a "widespread failure" to appreciate the value of police intelligence.

'Personal responsibility'

Unlike other reports into tragedies, disasters and cock-ups, however, Sir Michael concluded the failures did not rest solely with systems, procedures and institutions.

He said there were "very serious failings" in Humberside's senior management and singled out Chief Constable David Westwood for criticism.

Sir Michael said Mr Westwood must take "personal as well as corporate responsibility" for the failings.

This is as far as Sir Michael would go - he would not be drawn on whether Mr Westwood should step down - but the damage had been done.

In the light of the criticism, Mr Westwood was advised to consider his position but refused to do so.

Balance shift

Instead, the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has taken the unprecedented step of ordering his suspension, though it has to be ratified by Humberside Police Authority.

Mr Blunkett will decide next month whether Mr Westwood should be dismissed.

This represents a significant shift in the relationship between government, police authority and chief constable.

It is exactly what police forces feared would happen when the home secretary was given powers to demand the removal of chief constables under the Police Reform Act 2002.

Among the others criticised in the report are the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers who Sir Michael concluded did not do enough to set up a national system of sharing intelligence.

Ministers have promised to put that right and are also likely to establish a register of people cleared to work with children and vulnerable adults.

But it will not be lost on Sir Michael, when he chairs another hearing in six months to review progress, that it took the murders of two young children and a 2m inquiry to bring such important but fundamental changes about.

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"The report pointed the finger directly at the chief constable of Humberside David Westwood"

Home Secretary David Blunkett
"We are, in principle, accepting Sir Michael's main recommendations and will act on them immediately"


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