Page last updated at 19:17 GMT, Friday, 25 June 2004 20:17 UK

Legal threat to Soham row police

David Westwood
Westwood said he wanted to stay to carry out reforms in the force

Home Secretary David Blunkett says he will take legal action if Humberside Police Authority does not carry out his request to suspend the chief constable.

The police authority had asked Mr Blunkett to reconsider his decision to order the suspension of David Westwood.

The authority was ordered to suspend Mr Westwood on Tuesday, in the wake of criticism in the Bichard report.

He has said he wants to be able to put right errors which allowed Soham killer Ian Huntley to get a job at a school.

The Home Office issued a statement saying the home secretary had considered the police authority's request but was determined to act "at the earliest opportunity".

Mr Blunkett called on the police authority to suspend Mr Westwood as ordered and warned he would take the necessary legal steps next week if it did not.

He said: "I decided the enormity of the evidence provided in Sir Michael's report, and in particular the issue of systematic and corporate responsibility, warranted the initiation of these powers.

I should emphasise that I have not required the police authority to sack Mr Westwood
Home Secretary David Blunkett

"I should emphasise that I have not required the police authority to sack Mr Westwood.

"Mr Westwood will have every opportunity to make representations in the course of this process."

At a two-hour meeting on Friday, the police authority passed a resolution saying it would suspend Mr Westwood if it was ordered to do so by a court injunction.

But members decided to appeal to Mr Blunkett first, in the hope that he would reconsider his order.

After the meeting, Humberside Police Authority chairman Cllr Colin Inglis said the authority had decided by 12 votes to five.

"The police authority is not a rubber stamp, and if the home secretary expected a rubber stamp then that I'm afraid is not what he's got," he said.

The worst possible outcome would be Gunfight in OK Corral in Humberside between the police authority, the chief constable and the home secretary
Austin Mitchell
Labour MP for Great Grimsby

The Association of Police Authorities (APA) said it had agreed a protocol with the Home Office to be followed should the home secretary decide to invoke his power to order a chief constable's suspension.

Under this, the Humberside authority was not obliged to suspend Mr Westwood immediately and so had not broken the rules, APA chairwoman Ruth Henig said.

Austin Mitchell, Labour MP for Great Grimsby, said Mr Blunkett was "pretty determined" and it would not be "cautious" to upset or frustrate him.

'No precedent'

He said: "What we don't want, and the worst possible outcome, would be Gunfight in OK Corral in Humberside between the police authority, the chief constable and the home secretary."

Joshua Rozenberg, legal editor for the Daily Telegraph, said there was no real precedent for the situation.

Ian Huntley
Mistakes allowed Ian Huntley to work as a school caretaker

He said the home secretary had the power to call for a chief constable's suspension under the Police Reform Act - but could not sack him directly.

The Bichard report criticised the force heavily for its failure to keep proper records.

Mistakes allowed Huntley to get a school caretaker's job in Soham - where he murdered 10-year-olds Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman - despite a string of sex allegations against him.

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The BBC's Daniel Boettcher
"There is little sign that any of the sides involved in this stand-off intend to budge"

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