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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 June, 2004, 14:29 GMT 15:29 UK
Minister queries Westwood stance
David Westwood
David Westwood has refused to step down
Humberside chief constable David Westwood should consider his position in the wake of the Soham inquiry, police minister Hazel Blears has said.

Mr Westwood has refused to quit over his force's failings in vetting checks on killer Ian Huntley.

Home Secretary David Blunkett ordered his suspension after the Bichard report said the force had made "deeply shocking" errors.

Ms Blears said Mr Westwood was clearly criticised in the Soham inquiry.

She added: "I'm not surprised by his comments but I just think he's got to consider his position.

"The home secretary has decided to invoke his powers and he has asked the police authority to suspend David Westwood.

"They will meet on Friday and take it from there. Clearly the Bichard Report used quite strong language and the issue is about public confidence."

'Scapegoat'

But some feel that Mr Westwood is being made a scapegoat.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten said he accepted Mr Westwood should resign over the force's failings but he also thought the Home Office should take responsibility for its mistakes.

He told Radio 4's Today programme: "Bichard was very clear in his report that the Home Office should accept responsibility for abandoning the project for a national database and it should also accept responsibility for not having clear codes issued on how to interpret data.

"There is an extent to which the heat is being put on a chief constable, I suspect for political reasons, because the Home Office itself is under some criticism in this report.

"However, that doesn't ignore the issue that Bichard is very clear in his criticism of Humberside, so I do fear that the chief constable needs to go.
David Westwood is being made a scapegoat. He should stay and put things right
Jack Vallard, Bath

"I think both sides are at fault. Bichard makes that clear and it would be nice and refreshing if both sides would take responsibility."

Sir Michael Bichard's report said Mr Westwood should take "personal, as well as corporate responsibility" for not addressing the force's failings when he became chief constable in 1999.

The force's failure to keep proper records allowed Huntley to get a school caretaker's job in Soham, where he murdered 10-year-old pupils Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

He was able to take the job despite a string of sex allegations against him.

Difficult to disagree

On Tuesday Mr Blunkett invoked Section 31 of the Police Reform Act 2002 to order Mr Westwood's suspension from active duty, saying it was "difficult to disagree" with Sir Michael Bichard's conclusions.

But Mr Westwood refused to step down, insisting he would stay in his post until his police authority met on Friday to discuss any further action.

He told the BBC he was not defying the home secretary but he would not resign.

He said: "Under no circumstances would I defy the home secretary. He has a process to go through."

Humberside Police Authority chairman Colin Inglis told the Hull Daily Mail he thought Mr Westwood should be allowed to stay.

He said: "David Westwood (is) a driven man. If anyone is going to see these failures corrected it will be the current chief constable. He deserves to do that."

A Home Office spokeswoman said the powers invoked by Mr Blunkett under the Police Reform Act meant the police authority had no choice but to suspend its chief constable.


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