Former Southport top cop blows whistle on Senior Police
Revelations made by a former Southport Police Inspector and a national newspaper have caused the national police establishment to publicly agree that the terms and conditions of senior officers need reviewing to ensure they are appropriate and with more accountability and transparency.
Sue Sim who served a number of years in the Southport force before rising to be the top female cop in Britain has spoken out to ‘blow the whistle’ about senior police officer in the UK, retired as Northumbria Police’s Chief Constable last year. She raised many eyebrows when she said that her biggest battle was not with criminals but with her own officers who ran a “a culture that was sexist, money-grabbing and run by a “boys’ club” of senior officers who thought they could do what they damn well wanted.”
But when Mrs Sim tried to take this on, she was disgusted’ as to how her efforts to eradicate a “macho, outdated and unacceptable culture” were turned against her.
“There was a core of senior officers, who had been there for ever and who clearly felt they had a right to be there for ever, who felt they had a God-given right to act exactly how they liked,” she says.
“This meant putting their feet on the desk and reading the papers in the morning — and, believe me, they weren’t studying the crime figures. It meant playing golf in the afternoons, on work time.”
“It meant first-class travel, private drivers, five-star hotels and huge bonuses — even when we all knew that the country was in financial crisis and thousands of their junior colleagues were being let go.”
The picture which Mrs Sim paints of her working life at the top of Northumbria police is so bad that it could be lifted straight from the Eighties-based TV cop show ‘Ashes To Ashes’.
“I don’t think the public have any idea of the sort of attitudes that prevail in that force. It was a place of rampant sexism, cover-ups and the sort of behaviour that would not be tolerated in any other workplace.”
When she tried to take on directly the haemorrhaging of public money through outrageous perks and freebies, this proved to be harder than she could ever have imagined.
“I tried to take this on,” she says. “I was appalled. I remember trying to pin senior colleagues down for meetings and constantly being told they weren’t available. “Why not?” I’d ask. “They are playing golf,” I’d be told.
“They’d go to the gym, too — in company time, quite blatantly. They felt it was their right. I said no, this macho culture was not going to continue under my watch. It is a dangerous culture.”
“Work decisions — about promotions — were being made on that golf course. It is not a situation that’s compatible with 21st century policing. But they turned on me. The more I tried to impose change, the more nasty things got. Ultimately, they wanted me out. I was upsetting the apple cart, threatening their cosy existence.”
“It was infuriating, but it’s part of public life,’ she admits. ‘If I’d been a short fat man, would it have been worthy of comment? Of course it wouldn’t. But there are things you can’t change, and my way of dealing with these things has always been to get on with the job.”
Ms Sim claims she was personally subject to appalling sexism.
“My own senior officers had impersonated me running, and how my breasts moved up and down. This was in a work meeting, a senior level.”
As Northumbria boss, Sue Sim took some unpopular decisions. One of her first moves was to axe six highly paid senior officers. Next, she scrapped first-class travel across the force, leaving some senior officers incredulous.
The more she looked into exactly where public money in the police was going, nationwide,the more disgusted she was.
“I was appalled to discover that at National Police Chief Council annual meetings, some chief constables had their own chauffeurs who would stay overnight at the same hotels as us — all at the public expense.”
The system was being abused ‘left, right and centre’, she says. “‘Some officers would claim lieu days simply for taking a phone call on their day off, or doing a few hours’ extra work. I knew it was happening, but it was within the “rules” so there was no way of clamping down.”
When she did attempt to enforce her authority, the troubles started.
It was a row with one of her chief superintendents that made the situation explode.
“He was one of the ones who had objected to me stopping the golf and cutting down on expenses. His performance figures were persistently low so I moved him to a different role — on the same pay.
‘He walked into my office and just let rip. It was the most aggressive tirade I’ve ever experienced. He shouted and gesticulated. There were tears, too. He is a physically intimidating man — 6ft 3in. I’m not short, but it was most unpleasant.
‘He said: “How dare you do this to me. I will never forgive you.” He said he would “get me”. I believe it was at that moment that the campaign to get me out started.’
Within a few weeks, a dozen complaints had been filed against Mrs Sim, accusing her of bullying, which she found ‘extraordinary’.
An investigation was duly launched, costing many thousands of pounds. Mrs Sim was exonerated of any wrongdoing, after an independent report into the 12 complaints made against her found she had no case to answer. The Inquiry found that she had been the victim of an orchestrated campaign to oust her, by a coterie of officers who wanted her out. Yet all of the officers involved have kept their jobs, and Northumbria Police continue to refuse to publish the damning report into their behaviour or to reveal exactly how much the investigation cost even under the Freedom of Information Act.
It has also refused to release the inquiry report.
Following a two-month investigation, top QC Joel Bennathan noted that the ‘bulk of complaints’ had been made by senior officers who were simply dissatisfied with their work placements or a ‘lack of promotion’. He suggested there had been a campaign to oust Mrs Sim from the job, with some senior officers discussing the idea of a mass complaint among themselves, then encouraging other officers to ‘join in’.
What infuriates Mrs Sim is that, as far as she is aware, no officer has faced any disciplinary action over what went on. The ‘coterie’ is still, as far as she knows, in place.
‘I have repeatedly asked for an investigation but I have been fobbed off. No one wants to know. The current chief constable — a man I appointed as my deputy, and whom I recommended for the top job when I decided to retire — will not take my calls but refers me to the legal department.”
“The latest correspondence I had with them was that an assistant chief constable had been appointed to investigate my concerns. They are seriously telling me that this is going to be fair. He will be investigating his own boss!”
Mrs Sim has asked the Independent Police Complaints Commission to get involved, but “they want to run a mile from it”. Despite being told she has a good case for constructive dismissal, she is ruling out legal action at this stage: ‘That’s not the way I want to go. Who would pay for that? The public. It’s not how you change things,’ she says. So, instead, she has decided to speak out in public.
“I am not doing this for me. It is too late for me. But I feel that I owe it to every junior officer in that force — male and female – to speak out. ‘Because if they can do this to me, they can do it to anyone.”
Mrs Sim has also hit out at the endemic manner in which senior police officer pocket huge sums of public money with no apparent accountability. Senior officers, she says, believed they had a ‘right’ to milk the taxpayer for a huge array of perks and “‘upon reaching a certain rank, they are entitled to put their feet on their desks”.
Mrs Sim’s revelations come hot on the heels of information that Chief Constables up and down the land have been milking masses of public money on top of salaries far larger than the prime minister’s. It appears that this culture carries down most of the top branches in the police tree. Despite large cuts in police funding causing front-line staff to lose their jobs, senior police officers refused to give up their ‘right’ to privileges such as first-class travel, private drivers, five-star hotels and bonuses. When Mrs Sim tried to curb their perks and poor performance, she became the victim of “a sexist campaign” to end her career.
Leaders of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) have now issued a statement admitting that transparency over chief officers’ expenses and perks was ‘essential’ after a number of police forces had refused to respond to the Daily Mail’s questions on taxpayer-funded medical cover relocation payments, bonuses and even how many days’ holiday their chief constables had taken.
Some forces were apparently even refusing to hand over information about pay and perks to independent reviewers for a Government-commissioned report.
NPCC vice chairman Peter Vaughan said:
“We support the Home Secretary’s call for all forces to make their chief officer pay packages available publicly on their force websites.”
He also said he had contacted the Home Office and advisory boards about a need for ‘clearer regulations’.
“It is in the interests of the taxpaying public and chief officers … that the rules are clear, consistent and fair, with checks and balances by locally-accountable Police and Crime Commissioners. Regulation concerning annual leave gives rise to differing interpretations and recording practices and we continue to advocate clarity on this issue.”
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