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‘I am going on with my business as usual’

Police commissioner Ann Barnes during her grilling by the panel
Police commissioner Ann Barnes during her grilling by the panel

Kent’s under-fire police commissioner has vowed to stand for the next election despite a mauling over her appearance in a widely ridiculed TV documentary. A defiant Ann Barnes said she was not worried by what her political opponents would say about her track record in the £85,000 a year role when the next election is held. Many believe it will be virtually impossible for her to recover any credibility after a series of gaffes and PR disasters that saw her compared to the hapless David Brent character in The Office. Her commitment to stand again came after she endured an uncomfortable grilling by an independent panel about the TV documentary Meet The Commissioner. The cross-party panel ordered her to change her style. Despite the criticism, she vowed to throw her hat in the ring again.

“It is my intention to stand. I still have two years to go and I have a lot to do.”

Asked whether recent crises, culminating in revelations about her new youth commissioner Kerry Boyd, had handed ammunition to potential rivals, she said:

“Well, people judge you on the years you work and what you achieve in those years. I have delivered on all my policing promises. My opponents can talk about what they like. I do think I am the right person for the job. I do deliver.”

Mrs Barnes saw off calls to resign when she appeared before councillors on an independent cross-party panel to explain why she had agreed to take part in Meet The Commissioner. Despite offering several apologies for what she accepted had been a mistake, she faced some harsh criticism, with accusations that she had presided over a fiasco, made a series of misjudgements and had treated people with contempt. The panel, which has the job of holding the commissioner to account, stopped short of calling a vote of no confidence. She accepted the programme was a mistake and revealed that she had tried to persuade Channel 4 to take out some of the more embarrassing clips.

“It was too focused on me, it was not the educational programme I expected it to be. With the benefit of hindsight, would I do it again? No, I would not.”

She was apologetic over the damage to the reputation of the force, telling the panel:

“I would like to apologise especially to those hard-working members of the force who I know are very upset about the documentary.”

Of the scenes in which she was seen struggling to defme her job and sought to explain a system of prioritorising crimes known as “the onion” she said:

“It may have damaged my reputation but I will take that on the chin.”

Her performance did not satisfy many members of the panel. One of her harshest critics, Cllr Andrew Bowles (Con) leader of Swale Borough Council, said:

“We have had misjudgement after misjudgement after misjudgement and there is nothing I have heard that gives me optimism we won’t have further misjudgements.”

He told Mrs Barnes:

“I’m not sure you’re hearing what we’re saying. I’m sure you’re listening, but I’m not sure you’re hearing.”

Cllr Annabelle Blackmore, the new leader of Maidstone council, said the commissioner had treated the crime panel with contempt. Cllr Rupert Turpin of Medway said:

“I am not sure she did enough to convince people. A lot of people want her to go and she has zero credibility with a lot of people.”

But in the face of the criticism, Mrs Barnes shrugged aside suggestions that she resign.

“I have looked long and hard at the work I do in the county. I work incredibly hard, you know I do… I do deliver and I do know my job. I am going on with business as usual.”

Panel chairman Cllr Mike Hill OBE during the meeting with Ann Barnes
Panel chairman Cllr Mike Hill OBE during the meeting with Ann Barnes

The panel chairman Cllr Mike Hill ordered the commissioner to change her style and the way she engaged with the public.

“There is no doubt the reputation of the force has been damaged by association.”

he said.

ANALYSIS

It was a bruising encounter, appearing before the Kent and Medway Crime Panel, but It could have been worse. Ann Barnes did not, as had been expected, face a vote of no confidence. And you have to ask yourself why. Were the wily party politicians on the panel playing the long game? Are they hoping Mrs Barnes, an independent, continues to hoist herself with her own petard thus boosting their chances of getting their own candidate elected?

There is a general election next year so you have to wonder whether the established parties have the willpower to slug it out for votes in an election where, judging by the last time around. people tend to stay at home. Perhaps they could not justify the cost of holding an election and perhaps the Tories, in a coalition with the Lib Dems, don’t want to remind the voters they created the post in the first place. It was their idea. The meeting marked a new low point for a commissioner. One thing is clear though, after more embarrassing revelations the commissioner will have to change her style. She can come across as hectoring and will have to keep such an attitude in check. Any more setbacks – and some think she may yet lose her new youth commissioner – could prove fatal.

Herne Bay Gazette, June 12th 2014

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