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Mail's stance on police chief echoes public opinion

The editor of the Hull Daily Mail has applauded the reinstatement of suspended Humberside Chief Constable David Westwood.

The paper, and its sister title, the East Riding Mail, led the calls for his reinstatement, claiming he was being singled out as a scapegoat for the Soham scandal.

David Westwood returned to work on Monday after a dramatic battle of wills with Home Secretary David Blunkett.

He was criticised in the Bichard Report, which examined the failings that allowed Ian Huntley to get a caretaker’s job in Soham, where he killed schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

Mr Blunkett immediately demanded that the Humberside Police Authority suspend Mr Westwood but the Mail led local public opinion in resisting the pressure to force the Chief Constable out.

The paper argued that many agencies – including the Home Office itself – shared the blame and it was wrong to single out the Chief Constable.

The Mail said Mr Westwood should remain in post to fulfill his promise to Holly and Jessica’s parents to put right the intelligence failings exposed by the Soham murders.

In a front page editorial headlined “Your Chief Constable Needs You”, the Mail urged members of the Police Authority to stand by their chief at a crucial meeting days after the Bichard Report was published. The authority refused to suspend the Chief Constable, forcing Mr Blunkett to gain a High Court order requiring them to do so.

David Westwood was reinstated after it became clear that Mr Blunkett had no grounds for forcing him to resign or retire immediately. In a compromise deal, he will now retire a year before his contract was due to expire – but will remain in charge of the Humberside force long enough to address all of Bichard’s recommendations for action by the force.

The Mail was the only newspaper that supported the Chief Constable in his power struggle with the Home Secretary. Some national newspapers attacked him with headlines such as “Quit You Idiot” and “Don’t Let Him Resign – Sack Him”.

Editor John Meehan said that local public opinion strongly supported their chief constable’s stand.

He said: “We believe it was wrong to lay all the blame for Soham at Mr Westwood’s door and felt it was important to speak out against Mr Blunkett’s attempt to make him a scapegoat.

“Our stand gave the police authority the confidence to exert its independence and won considerable support from readers. The Chief Constable’s reinstatement vindicates our campaign.”

The issue became an important test case with concerns voiced about political interference in policing.

John said: “Mr Blunkett hoped that by ousting the chief constable he would enhance his tough guy reputation, satisfy the national media’s desire for a scapegoat, and distract attention from Bichard’s criticisms of the Home Office.

“The Home Secretary overstepped the mark and eventually had to back down. It’s a victory for local public opinion and maintains the important principle that the police should be independent of political interference.”

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