A well-connected Tory police and crime commissioner triggered two different police investigations into political opponents in recent weeks, Sky News can reveal.
Aren’t crime commissioners supposed to be “neutral” and seen to be so? – Owl
Sam Coates news.sky.com
Steve Turner, PCC for Cleveland, was attempting to become a Tory councillor in Redcar in the Tees Valley, in addition to his existing £73,300 role overseeing the area’s police service.
During the campaign, Mr Turner twice alleged crimes were committed and triggered investigations by his local force.
One complaint was about a Labour election leaflet in Tory blue colours – which he thought might break electoral rules – which he referred to Redcar council who forwarded it automatically to the police. The other complaint was about alleged harassment, which he alerted police to via the 101 hotline.
Mr Turner’s complaint about the Labour election leaflet led to an inquiry which lasted almost a week. It involved fraud officers making three home visits to see three different activists, where they were “interrogated” over the contents of their election literature.
Sky News has been told by one of those interviewed that the plain clothes policeman said they were investigating because an election leaflet had “upset Steve”. They added the police officers they were talking to “seemed a bit embarrassed to be dealing with it and said they’re normally fraud officers but were working the election”.
At the end of both investigations, police concluded there was no offence committed.
Mr Turner told Sky News he acted to address the “bile and abuse aimed at me and my wife simply for standing as candidates” in the recent local elections, and that “at no point did I ask or attempt to direct Cleveland Police to take action against the candidate, either as a member of the public or as PCC.”
His wife, Andrea Turner, insisted his actions were appropriate, saying: “My husband was a candidate in this race and he had every right the same as any other member of the public to report offences to the public.”
‘Abuse of power’
Nazir Afzal, former prosecutor and former chief executive of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, said Mr Turner appeared to have received special treatment by police.
“The perception is that he abused his power in this case,” he said.
“Nobody else would have got the level of attention that the police gave him and this allegation… and that clearly demonstrates that he had the power to make it happen. Whereas you and I would not have been able to do that.”
Cleveland Police will also face questions about the scale of the effort put into the investigations, at a time when resources are stretched and they are one of the worst performing forces in the country.
After the third and final home visit to Labour activists over the leaflet complaint, Cleveland Police telephoned Mr Turner to update him about their probe into his complaint – a level of engagement which Labour officials say is rare when they raise similar issues elsewhere.
In a statement, Cleveland Police said the force “received a complaint from local election candidates in Redcar and Cleveland regarding information relating to them, in a leaflet distributed to homes in Redcar”.
It added: “Routine enquiries were made to establish who had created and distributed the leaflet, and following a review of the circumstances it was concluded that no offence had been committed.”
Mr Turner said he was updated personally about both cases by the police but said he did not know the police had made home visits to his Labour opponents until he was contacted by Sky News.
After receiving the call about the election leaflet investigation, Mr Turner wrote on social media that the police had “confirmed” Labour leaflets contained “lies”.
On his “Steve4PCC” Facebook page, he wrote “it’s been confirmed by the police today last week’s Labour attack leaflet, that was made to look like Conservative campaign material and was intended to deceive voters, contained lies”.
The code of conduct for police and crime commissioners says they must “not use the resources of the elected local policing body improperly for political purposes (including party political purposes)”.
Mr Turner is a significant figure in North East politics. He works alongside Ben Houchen, the most prominent Tory mayor in Britain. He has been defended by Boris Johnson in broadcast interviews, worked in the office of ex-cabinet minister Simon Clarke and sits on the board of the Middlesbrough Development Corporation.
The officer ultimately accountable for the Labour activist probe, chief constable of Cleveland Police Mark Webster, also sits alongside Mr Turner on the Middlesbrough Development Corporation – which “funds, manages, and accelerates regeneration” in that part of the North East. He is listed as an “Associate Member”.
Referring to the complaint connected to the election leaflet, Mr Turner said in a statement: “Until your note today I had no idea any of those individuals had been visited by the police and my complaint about the leaflet was before I knew it was a Labour Party product.
“This initial complaint went into the monitoring officer as I believed it was election material without an imprint. The monitoring officer referred it to the Police election SPOC (‘special point of contact’ for elections) as per protocol.”
“My contact with Cleveland Police’s SPOC came when he contacted me to confirm there was an imprint but it was only 1mm high and that it was promoted by the Labour Party. As 1mm high is a 3pt font it is considered illegible on a printed product and therefore was clearly not meant to be identified which is misleading to the public.
“At no point did I ask or attempt to direct Cleveland Police to take action against the candidate, either as a member of the public or as PCC.”
In connection to the alleged harassment complaint, Mr Turner told Sky News: “My call to the police via 101 was regarding a completely separate individual and a threat he’d made against me via what’s app messages. The police dealt with this 101 call as they would any other and I received updates about the threats and that individual.”
Mr Turner is a controversial figure as police and crime commissioner after confirming in a BBC interview that he received a police caution for handling stolen goods. He says it was 22 years ago and the value was just £15.