Priti Patel accused of ‘running scared’ after pulling out of police leaders conference

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Priti Patel’s office said she would not be able to attend the Police Superintendents’ Association’s event due to ‘urgent parliamentary business’ - Peter Summers/Getty Images
Priti Patel’s office said she would not be able to attend the Police Superintendents’ Association’s event due to ‘urgent parliamentary business’ - Peter Summers/Getty Images

Priti Patel has been accused of “running scared” after cancelling an appearance at a major police conference amid the ongoing row over a pay freeze for officers.

The Home Secretary had been booked to deliver the keynote address at the annual Police Superintendents’ Association event in Stratford-upon-Avon, just weeks after rank and file officers passed a motion of no confidence in her.

However, less than an hour after receiving a copy of the president’s speech last Friday, which was highly critical of the Government, Ms Patel’s office said she would not be able to attend due to “urgent parliamentary business”.

Organisers offered to change the schedule in order to allow the Home Secretary to attend at any stage during the three-day conference, but were told it would not be possible.

Ms Patel’s office also declined the offer to take part in a live question and answer session with attendees via Zoom.

Instead, she delivered a pre-recorded speech in which she told senior police leaders that the financial impact of the pandemic meant the Chancellor could not justify an across-the-board pay increase for public sector workers.

The speech was greeted with silence from the more than 100 delegates at the conference, who warmly applauded an appearance by Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary.

He described the decision to impose a pay freeze as “shameful” and poured scorn on the idea that Ms Patel was needed in Westminster to take part in a crucial Commons vote.

He said: “I can see no reason why we could not see the Home Secretary in person. Given that I am here, our votes would have cancelled each other out.”

John Apter, the chairman of the Police Federation, said Ms Patel’s decision to send a video address was an insult that had done “more damage”.

Mr Apter said the Home Secretary had also cancelled a meeting with him scheduled for Thursday.

No-show ‘has caused a lot of anger’

One senior figure at the conference said: “This was the first opportunity since the announcement of the pay freeze that we would have had to put the Home Secretary on the spot. It feels like she is running scared and it has caused a lot of anger.”

Chief Superintendent Paul Griffiths, the president of the Police Superintendents’ Association, said he was “deeply disappointed” that the Home Secretary had decided not to attend in person.

He said that the pay freeze had damaged trust in the Government and announced that his members would be following the Police Federation in withdrawing from the independent remuneration body that is supposed to set salaries.

He told delegates: “We have repeatedly heard from the Government that they want a better deal for police and a worse deal for criminals. How is a ‘better deal’ a pay freeze for the people sent out on the frontline during a deadly pandemic?

“No one enters policing to get rich. It is a vocation and a career that provides challenge and demands sacrifice like no other – something clearly demonstrated amidst the pandemic.

“However, with very few employment rights, it is essential that police officers have fair and transparent processes in place to determine their pay, and that they have a clear voice within this.

“It is for this reason that I can announce today that the Police Superintendents’ Association is withdrawing from the Police Remuneration Review Body process.”

Dame Cressida Dick, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, who also delivered a speech at the conference, lent her voice to those calling for a pay rise.

“For all the police officers who continue to put themselves in harm’s way, who have served the public loyally and steadfastly throughout the pandemic, who have been injured, assaulted or abused,” she said.

“All the police officers who wake up each day or get ready each night to protect people, to save lives, to prevent crime, to tackle perpetrators, not knowing what the day will hold, and for their families, for all of you, I do believe police deserve a pay rise.”