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PCC election mired in controversy as tributes pile up for hardworking Jones

PCC election mired in controversy as tributes pile up for hardworking Jones

🕔07.Jul 2014

West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Bob Jones was regularly working 12-14 hour days in the weeks before his sudden death at the age of 59, it has emerged.

It is known that his highly dedicated approach to the post that often saw him put in a seven-day working week. He was understood to be completely immersed in the £100,000-a-year job, even though he was known as the ‘reluctant commissioner’.

Mr Jones died in his sleep a week ago, 19 months after becoming the West Midlands’ first PCC.

The former Wolverhampton Labour city councillor had a reputation for rarely, if ever, turning down requests to attend a public meeting, meet with colleagues to discuss police business or conduct media interviews. His death has led to fulsome tributes from across the political divide and among the police community. 

A by-election for a new PCC will be held on August 21, but the contest is already mired in bitter controversy.

Much of the West Midlands’ political establishment wanted to delay the election until the end of September, partly out of respect for Mr Jones and his mourning family, but also to avoid an extremely low turnout if polling was to take place in the middle of the summer holidays.

Birmingham City Council spoke to the Home Office about delaying the contest.

But the by-election was triggered less than 48 hours after Mr Jones’ death when two West Midlands voters sent letters to city council chief executive Mark Rogers, who is the Area Returning Officer, alerting him to the PCC vacancy. Mr Rogers had no option but to initiate the by-election process.

One of the letter writers was Mike Rumble, who contested the 2012 PCC election as an Independent but has since joined UKIP. Mr Rumble is likely to be the UKIP candidate for the by-election.

It is understood calls to the PCC’s office were made within hours of Mr Jones’s death asking about arrangements for a by-election.

The closing date for nominations is four weeks before the election, leaving the political parties very little time to run formal selection procedures since there are only three weeks for candidates to find 100 electors to sign their nomination forms and come up with a £5,000 deposit.

The first death of a police commissioner in post has raised questions about the framing of legislation setting up the PCC system. The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act states that a by-election must be held within 35 working days of a vacancy occurring, and that a date for the contest must be set if two voters give notice to the appropriate officer.

However, the Act does not allow for deputy police commissioners to temporarily take over immediately following the death of a PCC. Birmingham city councillor Yvonne Mosquito, Mr Jones’s deputy, must wait until July 14 when the West Midlands Police and Crime Panel will appoint an acting commissioner from among the PCC’s staff. The PCC blogsite Top of the Cops suggests that Councillor Mosquito might not even be eligible to stand. 

Cllr Darren Cooper, the leader of Sandwell Council and chairman of the West Midlands Police and Crime Panel, has criticised Mr Rumble for triggering the vote, describing the move as “grossly insensitive” to Mr Jones’s family. However, it is known that Councillor Mosquito has been pressed on her intentions by figures in the regional labour party.

Mr Rumble said he had no regrets: “The legislation is quite clear that an election must be called within 35 working days and I have contacted the returning officer to alert him of his legal responsibilities.”

Mr Jones’s widow, Sarah Edmondson, described Mr Rumble’s decision to trigger an early election as “disrespectful to Bob and all his good work”. Meanwhile, a tribute from his family was published today. 

When he stood as an Independent candidate in 2012 Mr Rumble trailed home in last place with 5.4 per cent of the votes cast. The 2012 UKIP candidate Bill Etheridge (now a UKIP MEP) managed 7.37 per cent against 42 per cent for Mr Jones, 18.51 per cent for Conservative Matt Bennett (who has already stated he will not be standing this time) and 12.91 per cent for former police officer Cath Hannon (now a member of the PCC’s Strategic Policing and Crime Board).

UKIP’s higher national profile since then, with success in the 2014 local and European elections, plus a reputation for attracting protest votes, makes it possible that an upset could be on the cards when the by-election is held on August 21. With a potentially smaller field of candidates than November 2012, in the midst of summer, no national attention on PCC elections and the vagaries of the supplementary voting system, the next PCC for the West Midlands could be even less predictable than the 2015 general election. Chief Constable Chris Sims will be looking on with considerable interest.

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