Lincolnshire Police and Crime Panel chairman to stand down after ‘farcical’ chief constable saga

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The under-fire chairman of Lincolnshire’s Police and Crime Panel is to stand down from his role next month in the wake of the suspended chief constable saga.

Ray Wootten, who has only been in the role since it was created in November, has made the announcement today (Thursday), two days after being grilled by MPs in Westminster.

Councillor Wootten and Lincolnshire’s police and crime commissioner Alan Hardwick were summoned to the Home Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday as part of an enquiry into policing leadership and standards.

The pair were quizzed on the overturned suspension of Lincolnshire Police’s chief constable Neil Rhodes by the committee, chaired by Keith Vaz, MP for Leicester East.

Coun Wootten was questioned by the MPs over the lack of scrutiny from the Lincolnshire Police and Crime Panel over the commissioner’s decision to suspend Neil Rhodes in February over an allegation over an employment dispute, which was overturned in a High Court in March.

He was asked why it took 72 days to hold an extraordinary panel meeting, which was held in Manby last week, which he blamed on incorrect legal advise.

Mr Vaz labelled the whole situation ‘farcical’. “No wonder it has reached the national press,” he said on Tuesday.

In a statement today Coun Wootten said: “I would like to take this opportunity to clarify the position regarding my testimony to the House of Commons Home Office Select Committee on Leadership and Standards in the Police Service.

“I believe that I inadvertently gave the incorrect impression that I was not allowed to hold an extraordinary meeting of the Police and Crime Panel. I now accept that this was incorrect.

“The correct position is I was given advice that it was not desirable to hold a meeting of the Police and Crime Panel to discuss the suspension of the acting chief constable, whilst various legal and HR issues were still under investigation, for example the Judicial Review and the Sir Peter Fahy investigation, which is still ongoing.

“It was important that we did not compromise those reviews. Following careful consideration, as chairman, I decided not to hold a meeting, which I still stand by.

“However, I did decide to hold a meeting on May 9 to appoint the task and finish group which will start work once the Sir Peter Fahy report is completed.

“I have already apologised to the legal officer I referred to at the Select Committee and will be sending a correction to the Select Committee Chairman, Keith Vaz MP.

“I am very sorry that this misleading impression was given, my only explanation was I felt under excess pressure at the hearing and did not explain the situation clearly enough.

“I acted in good faith throughout. I gave evidence to the Select Committee in order to assist the matter.

“I held a meeting of the PCP on May 9 for the purpose of arranging a task group so that we are able to respond to the wider issue of performance as efficiently as possible at the correct time.

“I will be standing down as chairman of the Police and Crime Panel at the annual general meeting in June.”

The panel’s vice chairman Norman Norris, said: “I am very sorry to learn of councillor Wootten’s decision to stand down as chairman of the Lincolnshire Police and Crime Panel at the next annual general meeting.

“During his time in office he has demonstrated his superb leadership skills and has rendered valuable service to the Panel.

“Since February 25 he has invested considerable time and energy to ensure that the panel’s actions are lawful, equitable, timely and proportionate.”