MPs question police spending

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CLAIMS that police chiefs are failing to tell the public about a huge number of crimes have been raised in Parliament.

Ronnie Campbell, MP, has stepped in after it was revealed Northumbria Police released less than one per cent of crimes to the media over three-day period back in March.

The force, which is facing cuts of £34m and several hundred job losses, will this year spend more than £1.7m a year on corporate communications.

Now Mr Campbell and Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery have both signed an early day motion in the House of Commons questioning the spending increase.

Tyneside-based freelance journalist Nigel Green monitored press releases between 9am on Friday, March 11, and 9am, on Monday, March 14.

During this period, the media services’ department released: a minor road accident; a robbery at a shop; a stolen car; a stolen dog and an appeal regarding an assault from a week earlier.

However, a request under the Freedom of Information Act revealed there were 4,665 incidents, including 674 crimes.

These included 55 cases of grievous bodily harm, 20 other assaults, one armed robbery, three other robberies, five rapes, 12 other sexual assaults and 69 burglaries.

Spending on Northumbria’s corporate communications has risen from £1.5m last year to £1,776,000 this year, although the force says the rise is partly due to restructuring of the department.

Mr Campbell, the Labour MP for Blyth Valley, wrote to the Chief Constable Sue Sim to voice concern that the force appeared to be releasing positive stories, while 99 per cent of crimes were being held back.

But Ms Sim replied saying: “We release information to the media if there is a policing purpose or a clear public interest for doing so.

“This can include warning and informing the public, appeals for assistance in detecting a crime or promoting crime prevention information to the public.”

Ms Sim claimed the force issued 362 “pieces of proactive information” to the media in March but declined to comment on the figure of one per cent of crimes being released.

Ms Sim added: “I am confident that our level of service is the best in the country and the amount of information released by Northumbria Police is consistent with other forces in the country.”

But Mr Campbell said: “This doesn’t answer the questions I asked.

“More than £1.7m is a lot of money to spend on PR at a time when they are facing cuts to frontline officers. If this money is simply being spent on spin, rather than what the public needs to know, then it isn’t well-spent.”

To read the early day motion, visit www.parliament.uk/edm/2010-11/1824