July 29 2014 Latest news:
Peter Walsh, Crime correspondent
Friday, July 4, 2014
Norfolk’s police and crime commissioner has announced he will return to his duties from next week.
Stephen Bett announced last month he was taking a temporary leave of absence while an allegation concerning his expenses is investigated.
His deputy Jenny McKibben has stepped into the role in the meantime but the current situation was due to come under close scrutiny today when Norfolk’s Police and Crime Panel (PCP) met at police headquarters at Wymondham.
The panel was due to consider how to respond to independent Mr Bett’s decision to stand aside on full pay until the investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is concluded.
The panel could have invited him to resume duties or even to ask him to resign, with county council lawyers saying there was no legislation to enable him to step aside.
But Mr Bett pre-empted the discussion, announcing in a statement that he would be back at work on Monday - to prevent a costly ‘legal wrangle’.
He was not at today’s meeting, but the panel was read his statement, in which he said: “When I heard about the IPCC investigation, I took what I believe was the right decision and temporarily stepped aside with immediate effect.
“I took this decision knowing that I had the safest pair of hands possible in my deputy in Jenny McKibben.
“I have read the report and legal advice to the panel and considered it extremely carefully.
“It is obvious to me that there is a grey area within the legislation when it comes to a PCC stepping aside or taking a leave of absence and legal opinion seems to differ.
“It is abundantly clear to me that unless I return to full duties there is a significant likelihood of a protracted and expensive legal wrangle and I am not prepared to burden the Norfolk taxpayer with a substantial legal bill.
“Taking all the into consideration, I have decided that the best course of action is for me to return to full duties on Monday.
“This is not a decision I wanted to have to make, but I recognise I have to reach a legal position which satisfies the panel in order for us to move forward.”
The PCP comprises representatives of local authorities, co-opted and independent members. It scrutinises the work of the police and crime commissioner.
Brian Long, Conservative county councillor and a member of the panel, said: “I am pleased to hear he has done what I believe is the honourable thing and decided to come back to work.”
Keith Driver, Labour city councillor and panel member said a letter should be written to the government urging them to look again at the legislation regarding police and crime commissioners ‘stepping aside’.
Mr Bett, who was elected as an independent PCC in 2012, will be investigated for claiming more than £3,000 in milage from his home to official headquarters.
The IPCC will oversee a City of London police investigation.
Mr Bett agreed to pay back thousands of pounds last year, while maintaining that everything he had done had been “above board”.
He has an annual salary of £70,000.