I am going to start this blog with a warning.
It will contain MY view of what just happened at the Police Federation Conference and will, at times, be a stream of conscience.
This is not intended to try and change anyone’s mind or opinion and I suspect that many people will disagree with me.
During the course of the past few days there have been a number of interesting moments and for me, personally, there have been several significant ones – which I will come to individually.
This years conference really only had one agenda. The Normington Review.
In the weeks and days leading up to the event itself it was clear that the Federation, both as a whole and at individual Branch Board level, genuinely believed that there was quite a bit of manoeuvre within the recommendations.
A number of JBB’s had put forward Motions and potential Amendments which were scheduled for discussion.
The conference agenda had been written with this in mind and we were all briefed to expect a long night on Wednesday as the AGM section had been brought forward to allow for this debate.
As it turned out this was not necessary.
Day 1 saw the individual rank boards break into their respective groups so that issues more specific to the particular rank could be discussed.
As an Inspector, I spent the morning watching a panel discussion which included Tom Winsor, Mike Cunningham (Chief Constable), Ian Johnson (PCC) and Michael Brown (aka Mental Health Cop.)
I have to say that it was an interesting session which talked about the things which are of most concern to the Inspecting ranks. These include the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (specifically with reference to custody), dealing with vulnerable people and command resilience.
To be fair, ALL the panel made interesting contributions but the overriding theme seemed to be “we came here to raise these issues last year and nothing has changed.”
We heard a lot about all the things which are being done (by the various agencies represented by the panel) but it seemed that for all this promising talk – nothing seemed to be translating into practice and it was invisible at ground level.
Mr Winsor failed again to convince anybody of the benefits of Direct Entry and, at one point, made a very questionable comparison (which I won’t repeat here) but which actually disgusted the room. It was a very ill-judged comment but who am I to say that.
The session was interesting but I genuinely don’t know what it achieved. It seemed to provide an opportunity for the panel members to tell us things rather than the other way around. In fairness to Mike Cunningham – he did seem to be genuinely concerned and interested in the issues raised about staff welfare and morale. He assured the room that a great deal of work was about start and promised to come back next year, if invited, and update us on progress.
With the abolition of the various rank boards imminent – I don’t know if the opportunity will arise. This is actually a shame. I think there is room for rank specific discussion even if the formalities of the boards are done away with.
I can’t imagine many Constables being particularly interested in our concerns about PACE reviews (because it is not part of their role) for example.
I also want to congratulate my mate Michael for the award he was presented with by the ICC chair. It is richly deserved and I know it was a surprise but Michael has gone over and above the call of duty for years. His work has saved lives and continues to positively affect lives. It is right that he is recognised by his peers. Well done, mate.
This session was an introduction to the days ahead. I am now going to jump out of order.
The Wednesday was “keynote” speech day and we all awaited the words of the Home Secretary. First, however, we heard from Shami Chakrabarti from the human rights group Liberty.
This was one of my significant moments. For years I think I have laboured under the impression that Liberty were anti-police. I don’t have that impression now – I see it far more subtly.
Ms Chakrabarti was an impressive speaker who knew she was addressing a potentially hostile audience. I know I am not the only person who left thinking differently.
Liberty is primarily concerned about The Rule of Law. As sworn constables – so are the police. In fact, as sworn constables we are the agents by which The Rule of Law is implemented.
This is where policing by consent and the independent office of constable are so important.
We are given that authority by consent and constables are beholden solely to the law.
I have always known this and appreciated it but Ms Chakrabarti spoke about it so clearly and passionately that it resonated for me in a new way.
She outlined her concerns about Direct Entry and how it threatens the independent office of Constable. How it militarises the police and introduces an officer class.
My favourite passage was when she said that “Chief Constables should perhaps do less TV.” She continued “We don’t really want to see our politicians in uniform in a democracy.”
She had other concerns as well but I was left with the sense that, when it comes to Liberty and the Police, there is actually more that unites us than divides us.
Crucially, however, she struck me as someone who absolutely sticks to her principles but with whom it would be possible to have a professional disagreement without it becoming personal. A critical friend with whom we should probably be talking more frequently.
This is controversial point 1:
Until we realise that Liberty and other public interest groups are ‘not the enemy’ then we have a problem.
Their existence and their contribution to the debate – any debate – on policing is actually the realisation of policing by consent. We don’t have to agree – but we must listen and consider their contribution into the policing response.
To be fair to the Met, they have already taken an important step in this direction by having Liberty observers in the command and control centres during significant events which could lead to public disorder.
I will turn now to the speech given by the Home Secretary.
As I said earlier, until about 12:20pm on Wednesday those attending the conference genuinely believed that they could rewrite elements of the Normington recommendations.
In some cases the proposed changes were subtle and in others they were actually quite significant.
Having said that, there were very few people in the room who were actively resisting Normington. There was acceptance of the findings of the review and recognition of the need to adopt it in theme and spirit.
It turned out that this wasn’t going to be enough and any belief that the content could be significantly altered was misguided.
Nobody was expecting the speech the Home Secretary gave.
I am glad I was in the room when it was delivered partly because of the sense of history but also because I didn’t just see or hear it – I felt it.
The content and delivery of the speech turned about half way through. The change was sudden enough but the tone just became increasingly angry and hostile.
I am not going to enter into ANY discussion about Theresa May herself. I am going to stick to what was said and how it was said.
The Home Secretary was angry. Furious. She was actually shaking with rage at one point – it was visible.
To a room of 2000 delegates who had actually turned up with the best of intentions to reform as she wished it felt unnecessary and uncalled for.
At one point I had a TV cameraman kneeling on a step two down from me pointing the camera in my face. I had no idea whether this was being beamed to the world or not or whether it was a camera for Fed use but I was conscious of one thing.
If my reaction was being sent out across the 24 hour news channels in the middle of this speech I had to do something very deliberately – show no reaction.
No looks of disbelief; no shaking my head; no mouthed comment.
Because I realised what was happening.
The last image the police service needed now was that of a shocked, disbelieving and uncomfortable officer recoiling in his seat and shaking his head in disagreement.
This was not a warning shot to the Police Federation.
It was a laser guided nuclear bomb targeted at police culture.
It scored a direct hit and Ground Zero was that Conference room.
Of course the speech was clearly telling the delegates that nothing short of total acceptance of the Normington recommendations was good enough.
Of course it contained punitive measures such as the immediate withdrawal of public funding to the Federation.
Of course there was criticism of the Federation’s stance on wider police reform.
But it went deeper than that. Much, much deeper than that.
The list of police controversies (which just kept going) are not the fault of the Police Federation. The response to some of them has brought the Fed into disrepute but many of the incidents themselves had nothing to do with the Federation or its representatives.
The list went back into history and my immediate, defensive internal response was “but I was in school when that happened!” or “I wasn’t there!”
But it dawned on me. That IS an absolutely defensive action.
Think about it – Hillsborough happened in 1989.
I was 15 years old and in the Fourth Form at my secondary school many miles away from Sheffield or Liverpool
25 years later and I am a serving police inspector who had absolutely nothing to do with the events of that terrible and tragic day.
But….. but ….
An inquest jury attended Hillsborough Stadium yesterday. Yesterday.
25 years later and for the families of those who died or who were injured this is still not over.
And it’s not just the families. It is their friends. It is the football clubs and their supporters. It is two cities. It is the country.
We are in this position because there is an investigation into police corruption in the handling of the event and it’s aftermath. Serious allegations are being made against officers who were present at the time and many of whom still serve – some now at high ranks. Very high ranks.
This isn’t history. It is unfinished business.
And even if you think it is history – it keeps repeating itself. Over and over again.
And it isn’t just the incidents themselves. Its the police reaction to them. Sometimes the reaction is actually worse than the incident itself.
Nothing undermines trust more than a cover-up or the suspicion of a cover-up.
Every day brave and committed officers face the dangers of the worst of society on others’ behalves. That is what they joined for and that is what they do.
Meanwhile this is being consistently and persistently undermined by a never-ending narrative of allegations of corruption and malpractice.
This has not yet fully been examined. It has not yet been atoned for and it needs to be purged. Now.
THAT – was what the Home Secretary was saying. Angrily – and on behalf on an equally angry electorate – of all persuasions.
The next question would be whether it was targeted to the right audience.
Absolutely it was.
Of course I want the same message with the same tone delivered to an ACPO audience and to the Superintendents’ Association (though I know there were ACPO officers at the back of the room along with Irene Curtis, the president of the Supers’ Association.)
They need to have that “hairdryer” moment as well. We can’t give it to them – there is only one person who can.
As Federation representatives we are elected to represent our members. Not just to speak on their behalf (though that has to be our primary function) but in the context of this speech we were a representative audience.
We went there as representatives of the 120,000 officers in the federated ranks.
Mrs May was wrong when she said that we represent every police officer in the country. We do not – officers above a certain rank are represented by their own associations but there WERE representatives of all ranks in that room.
We represent them in good times and bad. On this occasion we sat there on their behalf and took a bollocking.
Think about it – with the exception of those teleported in at Superintendent level through Direct Entry – many people in that audience also represent the future leaders of the police service. If that speech doesn’t ring in their ears for the rest of their service then there is something wrong.
Yes – we were offended by the speech. Both the content and the tone. It hurt. It offended my very core on the basis that I objected so much to the insinuation that I was part of the problem.
But I AM part of the problem. I am a police officer – part of the police service and the service as a whole is the problem. Whether we like it or not.
At a micro level we positively influence those we directly deal with through professionalism, dedication, bravery and the selfless service. When we get it wrong at the micro level there are many ways it can be properly remedied but the negativity is confined to a small audience.
When we get it wrong at the macro level then the negative influence is huge. Huge and long lasting.
I believe that it was this that the Home Secretary was challenging in her speech.
As Fed reps we were the micro representing the macro. Where else is a Home Secretary going to face a captive audience of 2000 cops and deliver a message like that?
The challenge now is to decide how to become part of the solution.
If there was any belief that the recommendations could be changed to suit then this was gone by 12:30pm and the hastily convened JCC, Chairs and Secs meeting came as no surprise.
The resulting Motion which came from that meeting was the only way forward.
Some in the room felt it broke the rules – from a rule book which we were just about to tear up anyway.
We had to send a positive signal there and then that we had heard what was said. I believe we did that and in doing so might have just bought ourself enough time to retain SOME control over our own destiny.
However, I think it is clear that tolerance is in short supply and that the wriggle room within the recommendations is quite small.
The following day, one of the authors of the RSA report, Anthony Pointer, blogged that he was pleased that the Fed passed the emergency motion as “any deviance from the technical detail in the report” would have been a grave error.
This bothered me greatly. It read that we had accepted the reforms lock, stock and barrell – indeed I thought we had and was a little perplexed as Conference continued with various speakers talking about how me might alter or amend the recommendations.
I think this was the Met’s worry as well.
But, in response to some tweets I put out, the RSA did respond to me directly saying that there was room for manoeuvre with the recommendations. Which was reassuring.
Sir David Normington said he believed that it would take two years to fully explore and implement those recommendations. The Home Secretary deliberately avoided answering the question of how long we had before she would intervene. Despite her repeatedly saying “I have made it clear…” She did not make it clear. If it was clear I would have understood it but it is now down to our new Chair Steve White to seek an exact answer. We don’t want any more surprises.
I would also rather not spend another conference talking about the Police Federation. I would like next years to be about the members and the conversation with the Home Secretary (whoever it may be) to be more positive and constructive.
My final observation about the conference is more positive.
There was one session which inspired above all others. In fact – inspired is an understatement.
It was the session with Chief Superintendent Nick Adderly of Greater Manchester Police as he took us through the events leading up to, surrounding and following the murders of PC Nicola Hughes and PC Fiona Bone.
It’s often said about these things that it makes grown men cry. This did. I did. So did others.
As Chief Superintendent Adderly took us through events he exposed his inner self to 2000 hardened front line cops. He admitted and reflected on the mistakes he had made. He talked about how he had stood up for his people in the face of political interference. How he had supported his staff and continues to do so now. How he had taken it personally and offered his resignation.
“We had lost two officers. It happened on my watch. And that hurt.”
He spoke of the things he and his team had done to get everyone through and what struck me most was the sheer humility of the man.
He spent much of his talk praising others but it was a fascinating insight into the old adage about “the loneliness of command.”
The standing ovation at the end was spontaneous and instantaneous. It was as heartfelt as it was deserved. It clearly affected him and I hoped it showed the effect his talk had on us all.
Fortunately for me I had the privilege and honour of spending a couple of hours with Nick in a less formal setting later that night.
I had spoken to so many officers after the talk that I knew that every single one of us felt the same. I was able to tell him personally about how impactive his speech was. How it ignited in me something which I was currently losing due to the day to day grind of police work – passion.
I thanked him on behalf of us all.
The rest of the conversation should remain between he and I but I can tell you this:
Two decades in this job have taught me to question leadership (even if that is done silently or delayed.)
There are very few people I would follow without question or hesitation. Probably less than five.
Nick Adderly is one of them.
An astonishing man who I am proud to have met and who represents the absolute best of today’s senior leaders.
Others need to see his talk. Including some of his peers and I would urge Irene Curtis to consider inviting Nick to deliver the same presentation to the Supers as soon as possible. (Unless he already has of course – I don’t know.)
Overall, the Conference was an incredible experience. It was necessarily inward looking this year but I hope that this will not be the case in the future.
The Home Secretary’s speech was unpleasant and perhaps unbalanced but she was right.
The message is clear – the Federation and indeed “The Police” as a whole need to get a grip and sort themselves out. Failure to do so will lead to drastic consequences. Nobody can say we have not been warned.
No more chances.