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Westcountry crime commissioner defends "ruthless" exit of top cop

By GDemianyk  |  Posted: January 21, 2014

Crime commissioner Sue Mountstevens

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A defiant Westcountry crime commissioner has shrugged off claims a “ruthless” streak lead to the departure of a top police officer, and argued she is doing a better job than the body she replaced.

Sue Mountstevens was elected Avon and Somerset’s first ever Police and Crime Commissioner two years ago – one of 42 figureheads installed in force areas across the country to replace little-known police authorities.

But the independent candidate stoked controversy when Avon and Somerset’s long-serving chief constable, Colin Port, quit almost immediately when she told him he must re-apply for his job.

Mrs Mountstevens, who stood on a platform of cutting anti-social behaviour, burglary and violence, today defended the move when grilled by MPs on the Home Office select committee.

Labour MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee, pointed out she was elected with the “largest mandate of any commissioner in the country”, but that she “behaved in a pretty ruthless way” when she got in.

“You asked your chief constable to go within two days,” the Midlands MP said.

Mrs Mountstevens, a former magistrate, stood her ground, arguing: “That’s not quite correct in as much as I had a meeting with the chief constable – and the chief constable was in a position where he had already done an eight-year contract. All he could do was extend it for one more year.”

She went on: “I wanted to work with someone for a much longer period of time than that. That would give consistency.”

Chief Constable Nick Gargan has since been appointed to the top policing job at Avon and Somerset Constabulary. He too appeared at the House of Commons probe.

Police and crime commissioner are responsible for setting police priorities and budgets, while chief constables remain in charge of operational policing. Critics claimed the new US-style commissioners would lead to power struggles at the top of the force.

Mrs Mountstevens said they had a “mutual understanding of each other’s roles”, adding: “We work very closely together.

“We are obviously going to agree on many things because we have the same vision. We are trying to create very safe and strong communities.”

But she said she was “asking him questions local people are feeding into me”, and was “making sure that it does not become too cosy a relationship”.

Mrs Mountstevens, on an £85,000 annual salary, was anxious to emphasise that police and crime commissioners were more effective than police authorities, the police overseer that tended to include councillors and independent local figures.

She told MPs: “There is much more recognition of police and crime commissioners being more identifiable – in the last year of the police authority they had over about 250 contacts. I’ve already had over 4,000.”

She added: “I did more in my first week than they did in the previous year.”

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