Why I will continue to serve as your Police and Crime Commissioner
Alison Hernandez explains why the 2015 General Election expenses investigate does not impact on how she carries out PCC duties
I imagine that many of you saw that I was referred to the Crown Prosecution Service recently regarding the investigation into the 2015 General Election expenses in Torbay.
I have not spoken publicly about the detail of the case because I felt that it would be appropriate that I only did so to the investigating police officers from West Mercia Police. Obviously, I believe that I am innocent of any crime but the lengthy processes must be concluded before that becomes a matter of record.
Whilst that continues I thought it might be more useful to explain why I am continuing in the role as your Police and Crime Commissioner whilst this investigation takes place.
When PCCs were created, Parliament set out in detail how any PCC under police investigation should be treated. It is clear that no PCC can be investigated by their own force which is why West Mercia Police was chosen to investigate my case, being entirely independent of me and Devon and Cornwall Police.
The parliamentary statute is very clear on when a PCC may be suspended. Any suspension decision is taken by the Police and Crime Panel but they can only consider suspension if a criminal charge has been made and that the maximum offence for that charge carries a two year prison sentence. Neither of those requirements apply in my case.
I know that some readers may still feel that I should stand down because I am under investigation, but we live in a system where you are innocent until proven guilty. I was elected to serve as your Commissioner and that is what I have done, and will continue to do.
I maintain that I have done nothing wrong and I acted honestly and properly throughout the election campaign 2 years ago. I have co-operated fully with the police investigation and I look forward to getting a decision on whether this will go any further in the next few weeks.
I obviously wish that I was not under investigation but I can honestly say that it has not affected me in my role. Whilst the media have liked to report this on a regular basis I am rarely asked about it when I am out and about meeting members of the public. They, like me, are more interested in policing and safety matters that directly affect them.
The police officers that I work with on a daily basis understand the clear distinction between being investigated and being guilty. All of their training and experience ensures that they respect the process of the law. A good example of this is that when people are held in custody they are always referred to as “detainees” and not “prisoners”. This is because a prisoner is someone who has been convicted of a crime and is serving a sentence for that crime. Until that happens a neutral term like detainee is always used.
It hasn’t been a pleasant experience being the subject of an investigation. This is a complicated investigation with the same issues being looked at in a number of parliamentary constituencies. This means that for most of the year I have just been waiting for something for happen and a decision to be made by the appropriate authorities. To give you some idea about the timescales, the issues that are being investigated took place in April and May 2015. The first complaint about these matters was received in May 2016. I provided the police with all relevant documents in the weeks following and was first interviewed by the police in December 2016. We are now almost two years past the issues being investigated. I don’t expect your sympathy but it has been a strong personal lesson about how slowly the criminal justice system can work at times. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about what I am trying to do quicken this process for vulnerable victims of sexual assault because they, of all people, should not have to bear such long delays.
As I finish this article I am just about to attend the Devon and Cornwall Criminal Justice Board. This board brings together senior people from all the criminal justice agencies. A really important group that can bring change to justice processes in the south west. In a future article, I will spend some time explaining what we are trying to do together.