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Last Updated: Monday, 28 June, 2004, 19:13 GMT 20:13 UK
Legal challenge over police chief
David Westwood
David Westwood could be forced out of his job by the home secretary
David Blunkett has rejected a last-minute plea to think again over taking legal action to secure the suspension of Humberside's chief constable.

Humberside Police Authority wrote to the home secretary on Monday urging him not to go to the High Court.

Mr Blunkett has demanded David Westwood be suspended after criticism in the Bichard Inquiry over the Soham murders.

The home secretary has asked for a judicial review of police authority's decision not to suspend him.

A Home Office spokesman said: "This evening, papers have been lodged with the High Court asking them to enforce the law and grant a hearing".

Mr Blunkett lodged the papers with the High Court on Monday evening after saying he refused to be drawn into "ad hoc or informal talks".

The police authority wrote to the home secretary on Monday to explain its reasons for refusing to suspend its chief constable.

New powers

But Mr Blunkett said in a statement: "I have today replied to the authority to the effect that I have seen no new information relevant to my decision to require the authority to suspend the chief constable.

"Issues of the broader performance of the force which are raised in the letter are not relevant to this decision to suspend."

This is the first time the home secretary has used powers granted to him by the Police Reform Act 2002 to order the suspension of a chief constable.

This is not a rush of blood to the head
Home Office source

Mr Blunkett said: "In the light of the fact that the Humberside Police Authority are continuing not to accede to the requirements of the law, I am left with no choice but now to take the necessary legal steps to seek a hearing.

"I remain of the view that Chief Constable Westwood should not have operational control of the force while Humberside Police Authority and I consider the appropriate way to respond to Sir Michael Bichard's findings. "

A High Court judge will consider whether such a hearing should take place.

The Home Office has asked the High Court to consider the matter quickly. In the meantime, Mr Westwood remains in post.

Sex attacker

The Bichard Inquiry report, published last week, blamed Mr Westwood after his force's failings allowed serial sex attacker Ian Huntley get a job as a school caretaker in Soham, Cambridgeshire.

Huntley went on to murder 10-year-old pupils Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in August 2002 and is now serving life in prison.

Humberside Police failed to tell Cambridgeshire Police about earlier allegations Huntley was a serial sex attacker. The force also destroyed notes about his past misdemeanours.

A Home Office official said Mr Blunkett had followed a protocol agreed with police organisations on the use of his powers "to the letter".

"This is not a rush of blood to the head," said a Home Office source, explaining Mr Blunkett had spent a week reading the Bichard report before its publication.

He called the report the "most damning and scathing criticism of a police force in living memory".

Police failings

The latest move comes as Mr Blunkett's own handling of situation is further criticised.

Kevin Wells
Kevin Wells said Mr Westwood should not lose his job

Both Kevin Wells, father of Holly, and former top policeman Lord Mackenzie have opposed Mr Blunkett's proposed action to sack Mr Westwood.

Lord Mackenzie said Mr Blunkett should take some of the blame for the police failings.

Mr Wells told the Mail On Sunday it was shocking the inquiry into the murders had become a major political issue.

"If that brought an end to his career it would be a travesty."

Mr Blunkett knew about Mr Wells' views before he called for Mr Westwood's suspension.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"David Blunkett is not used to being defied in this way"



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