Row sparked over private police panel meeting

MEMBERS of the public were wrongly barred from a panel set up to decide how Cambridgeshire’s first Police and Crime Commissioner would be scrutinised, a councillor has claimed.

Councillor Kevin Wilkins, who represents West Chesterton at Shire Hall, asked for the meetings of the shadow police and crime panel, held at Huntingdonshire District Council’s offices in St Mary’s Street, Huntingdon, to be held in public so people could hear the decisions being taken about crime issues in their area.

But, after a majority vote, the members of the panel, which includes councillors from each of Cambridgeshire’s six cities and other districts, decided that the meetings would be held in private.

Norman Cross County Councillor Mac McGuire, chairman of the shadow panel, said: “Given the circumstances where we were receiving advice from [police authority] officials, we felt on balance it was best to give them the freedom not to be quoted by bloggers or other members of the public.

“It was better we did it that way.”

There was, however, nothing being discussed at the meetings that should not be in the public arena, Cllr Wilkins argued.

“There is no reason on earth why the panel couldn’t have met in public,” he added. “There was one discussion I thought the public would have benefited from having heard, which was how complaints about the commissioner will be handled.”

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Other items on the meeting agendas, which were made publicly available beforehand, included discussions about the police budget, the commissioner’s first police and crime plan and the process of the confirmation hearing for Sir Graham Bright’s deputy, Brian Ashton.

Cllr McGuire said the issue had been dealt with openly but that the matter was in any case now “historic”, since the first proper meeting of Police and Crime Panel tomorrow (Thursday) – in public.