If this conduct lies within the code, then the code needs changing. – Owl
Donna Jones faced a complaints panel on Friday (May 19).
She stood accused of breaking the code of conduct and oath of impartiality by endorsing candidates in north Hampshire in this month’s elections.
Natalia Forero www.portsmouth.co.uk
The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Police and Crime Panel Complaints Sub-Committee received three complaints on April 11 from three individuals who wanted to remain anonymous, against the commissioner.
They took exception to videos she made during purdah, the pre-election period, when she was campaigning in the Hart district.
The videos played at the crime panel showed Ms Jones supporting Annette Whibley from Crookham East, Spencer Farmer from Hartley Wintney, Roy Fang from Fleet Central and Jennifer Copeland from Hook.
Some comments were: ‘Please, please do support Annette on May 4 in the local elections’, ‘Here in Hart, you will be getting a new police station or a building, which I will buy, which will make sure that we have front counter access for you, the people of this local area’ and ‘Please do support Roy in the local elections’.
Of the four videos, two were posted on Facebook at the ‘Hart Conservative’ profile and Crookham’s profile.
The PCC talked about problems in Hart, such as the specialist operation Op Chromium – set up to tackle unauthorised car meets – anti-social behaviour and the importance of quality CCTV cameras.
The complainants claimed that the PCC had broken the code of conduct and the oath of impartiality required to perform her duty as a public representative.
One complaint said: ‘I am truly outraged that this is allowed to happen and deepens the perception that the police are heavily influenced by politics for their own game. The PCC role should not be a political one.’
Another said: ‘I refer you to the APPC guidance – “Whether or not police and crime commissioners have a particular allegiance to a political party, it is recognised that this is a political role, but in seeking re-election themselves or supporting other individuals seeking election, police and crime commissioners are acting in a personal capacity and should not use their public office to influence the outcome of the PCC Elections”.’
The complainants’ aim was that the PCC remove the social media posts, apologise for the ‘political propaganda’, stop using her office to campaign, and distance themselves from ‘any candidate or party that attempts to use her office/name for their own promotion’.
Peter Baulf, city solicitor and monitoring officer from Portsmouth City Council, said that according to the Code of Conduct of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Hampshire, there were ‘two potentially legally applicable’ aspects .
‘Point 2.1.4 Act in a manner which could not reasonably be regarded as bringing the office into disrepute. And 2.1.7 Not use resources improperly for political purposes (including party political purposes).’
Mrs Jones sent a letter to the panel to defend herself. This read: ‘I am aware and always cognisant to the duty placed upon me by statute of law, to act impartially when representing the public. It is worth pointing out that I’m not responsible for the publications of others, and the posts included in the complaint are for third-party social media channels and not mine.
‘But in any case, if the post were on my social media channels, this is not a breach of the legislation or the guidance.
‘Finally I have provided for the panel, some examples of images of PCCs from the two political parties represented by PCCs from across the country, campaigning in the last few weeks, supporting their politically aligned colleagues. This information is meant to assure the committee that my activity is normal and in accordance with the law and with the guidance.’
Conservative Cllr Sean Woodward said: ‘We agreed that the code was engaged because she attended as a police and crime commissioner.
‘The police and crime commissioner is elected as a politician; it is a politician. Much like a government minister who will carry on his duty in an impartial fashion, engage with all parties, and then go out and campaign for their own party. It is the same for a council leader, executive member, police and crime commissioner or government minister; that is what they do.
“I don’t think there is evidence whatsoever of any use of the resources for political purposes.’
Labour councillor Tony Jones said: ‘From my perspective, we agree it hasn’t been a breach. I’m not happy with the way it is laid down – [just] as much as if it [were] a Labour crime commissioner or anybody else. But they are politicians trying to promote their people; it might be very biased, but that’s politics, I’m afraid.
‘Therefore, there is nowhere to go. It is not good for the public, in my view, as they might see it from a different perspective.’
The panel resolved that no action would be taken since there was no breach of the code.
Afterwards Mrs Jones said: ‘I am pleased to have been exonerated unanimously by the panel. Unfortunately, as an elected individual, when you’re doing a good job and being effective, you become the focus of attacks from those who don’t support the cause. This has been a clear case of people trying to discredit me as a Police and Crime Commissioner in spite of the overwhelming public support that I have.
‘I will continue to do a good job to make communities safer, working alongside our new chief constable, and place on record my thanks to the panel for coming to the right decision in a timely manner.’
Publicly-elected police and crime commissioners were introduced in 2012. Hampshire’s first was an independent, Simon Hayes, who held the post from 2012 to 2016. He was followed by Conservative Michael Lane up to 2021, and Mrs Jones, a former Tory leader of Portsmouth City Council, has had the role since.