Profiles of the candidates in the 2021 Avon and Somerset police and crime commissioner election

  Posted: 03.05.21 at 11:06 by Stephen Sumner - Local Democracy Reporter

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This Thursday (May 6) we will be going to the polls to vote for a new police and crime commissioner for the Avon and Somerset force area.

Here are profiles of the five candidates, in alphabetical order by surname.

Kerry Barker - Labour

Labour’s candidate for Avon and Somerset police and crime commissioner has promised to invest in local policing, restore specialist investigation teams and stop the closure of police stations.

Kerry Barker said Sue Mountstevens, the independent incumbent stepping down ahead of the elections in May, had failed to hold the force to account on worsening crime figures or lobby for extra funding.

He said the Police and Crime Bill’s attempts to clamp down on protest were “nonsensical” and warned that violence only strengthens the government’s case.

The two-time burglary victim said the police are overburdened with issues like mental health when they should focus on preventing and solving crimes.

The PCC sets the budget and strategic direction for Avon and Somerset Police.

Mr Barker, a lifelong Labour supporter with 50 years’ experience in the criminal justice system specialising in abuse cases, said: “If you asked the public what’s the purpose of the police, they’d say to tackle crime. We aren’t doing that.

“In virtually every street you come across there are stories of people being burgled and saying the police have done nothing about it. In Avon and Somerset we have an overall detection rate for burglaries of just eight per cent.”

Only one of the Redland resident’s burglaries was investigated but no one was prosecuted.

The figures have also declined in violence and sexual offences. In 2012 when the PCC was first elected there were just under 18,000 offences and just under half were detected. Mr Barker said specialist teams were disbanded under Ms Mountstevens and by 2019 there were 47,000 cases but only 5,000 were solved.

Mr Barker said expert officers became disenchanted and left the force, while the closure of police stations sends a message out to the public: “You close a police station, you’re abandoning local policing.

“We’ve got to recognise how important community policing is and reorganise our budgets.

“The police are overburdened with things they shouldn’t be dealing with. Mental health, drugs, police spend a lot of time dealing with those issues which they shouldn’t have to. You’ve got to lobby for political change and support for mental health services.

“You can’t keep politics out of policing.

“The independents have failed.”

Mr Barker said he had held outgoing chief constable Andy Marsh in high regard until he publicly endorsed John Smith – a longtime ally of Ms Mountstevens now standing as an independent candidate to replace her – for the new role of deputy PCC.

“She shoehorned John Smith into the deputy post for the purpose of getting him elected and she persuaded Andy Marsh to give him a public endorsement of him,” said the Labour candidate, a fan of Tony Blair and Keir Starmer.

“Police constables aren’t supposed to do that.”

The chief constable and PCC denied blurring the boundaries between their offices after critics said Mr Smith’s appointment was an “insult to the democratic process”.

Mr Smith denied that the role gave him an unfair advantage.

Mr Barker, who was involved in peaceful protests as a student, said the Police and Crime Bill had been designed to raise issues the Conservative government wanted to address ahead of the election.

“The idea you can’t protest if it causes a nuisance is nonsensical. People have the right to protest, we have to maintain that.”

He praised the force’s policing of the Black Lives Matter protests last year and the Sarah Everard vigil, adding: “The policing of the recent protests started out being excellent. The violence the police suffered was totally unwarranted. It’s important that those that perpetrated that violence are caught and brought to justice.

“We saw images of police officers using their shields as weapons or using their batons against people sat on the ground was equally unacceptable violence.

“Those officers who broke the law should be dealt with, just as anyone else who breaks the law should be dealt with.

“The violence we’ve seen strengthens the hand of those that want to clamp down on protest. We have people who see these protests as opportunities to get involved in violence against the police. The organisers should make it clear that they’re not welcome.”

Read more about Mr Barker here.

Cleo Lake - Green Party

Social justice and tackling inequality will be at the top of the agenda if the Green candidate is elected as Avon and Somerset’s new police and crime commissioner.

Bristol councillor and former lord mayor Cleo Lake said she was a “change maker” who viewed the world differently from her “typical older white men” opponents.

She has promised a review of the culture within the force, tackle systemic problems and build confidence in marginalised communities.

Ms Lake backs drugs testing so revellers know what they are using is safe and a rethink of stop and search powers for personal drug use.

The reparations campaigner has called for an independent inquiry into the recent Kill the Bill protests in Bristol that descended into violence on both sides, saying: “I support the right to protest. I can’t condone violence, I stand for peace.

“Being someone of African heritage, via Jamaica, without uprisings my ancestors would have been enslaved for a lot longer.

“We need systemic change. It’s about how we nurture and support young people to instigate change in a way that’s going to be acceptable and more peaceful for more people.

“That requires institutions to listen and change – before they’re forced to change.”

She said making the force more diverse was important but “representation on its own without systemic reform is pointless”.

“It’s all very well recruiting, but can you retain if the institution is still toxic and not safe for these people?”

Ms Lake chaired the Avon Fire Authority’s diversity, equality, cohesion and equality commission after a damning inspection report exposed institutional bullying.

“I’m happy with the changes I’ve seen. We’re in a significantly different place. I’d like to carry my experience there over to the PCC role.

“I was also the chair of St Pauls Carnival from 2012 to 2015, leading the organisation through a significant challenging period. Institutional attitudes were against the event.

“It was my role to liaise with the council, police and the community after an element of mistrust and the event being cancelled.

“My experience is different from the other candidates. There’s no diversity within the other candidates. Most are the typical older white men. How we view the world is likely to be different.

“I bring empathy. I have the ability to mix and mingle and listen to anyone and everyone.

An important part of the role is bridge building and cohesion. I’d like to feel I’m approachable to all communities.

“I’m a change maker. I’m not sure if the other candidates are.”

She added: “I’m all about systemic reform. Despite the Sewell report [which found no evidence of “institutional racism” in the UK, Avon and Somerset Police was deemed to be institutionally racist in 2017.

“It’s important to monitor the journey, what steps have been taken, where are we now.

“Elements of institutional racism don’t come on their own – there’s elements of sexism, bullying, and implications of hierarchy.”

She is calling for drug reform, saying she backs drug treatment rooms and drug testing in settings like nightclubs so users know what they are taking is safe, arguing there was no point denying that the issue exists.

She views young people exploited by county lines drug gangs as victims and said there needs to be more preventative work, and tougher action against gang leaders.

Asked why Avon and Somerset should back a party-political PCC, Ms Lake said Greens are closest to being independent as they have freedom of choice and no whipping system.

She said she wants the police to do more preventative work; reduce violent crimes; increase enforcement of speed limits, pavement parking and cyclist collisions;

She pledged to create a youth crime panel and enable a youth voice, and to revive the ethics committee to engage more citizens in the debate and policy-making process.

Read Ms Lake’s manifesto here.

Heather Shearer - Liberal Democrats

A woman who escaped a coercive relationship has promised to lead the way in reforming domestic abusers if she becomes Avon and Somerset’s police and crime commissioner.

Heather Shearer said she missed all the warning signs about her ex-partner and was “phenomenally lucky” to get out when so many victims do not.

She described domestic abuse as “murder in slow motion” and pledged to make women safer on the streets and at home if she is elected as the Liberal Democrats’ first PCC.

The Mendip councillor said: “There’s an inbuilt bias when it comes to violence against women, like why should a woman have to think twice about wearing shorts to go running? It’s not her body that makes somebody be violent. The emphasis is the wrong way around.

“I’d be supportive of anything that makes streets safer for women and improves education for girls and boys about what is acceptable and not acceptable.”

She added: “I was in a coercive relationship. I was phenomenally lucky I was able to get out. I missed all the warning signals. I have a comprehension of what it’s like. You fall for someone, they manage to exploit your insecurities – it’s a kind of grooming.

“I was really lucky and so many people aren’t. I was phenomenally lucky. I had lots of good friends around me helping me to see it wasn’t right. They made it easy for me to get out. It’s horrible. It’s not a place to be. It makes you second guess yourself.”

Ms Shearer, who runs a business supplying temporary warehouse buildings, said she takes a public health approach to policing and believes in “prevention, early intervention, doing what you can to make society better in the first place to stop people going into crime”.

“You can’t divorce police work from the wider social health agenda. It would be like investing in the A&E department and not the rest of the hospital.”

She sees the role of PCC as being the conscience of the chief constable, saying: “The PCC is there to represent the best interests of the 1.7million people in the whole force area and hold to account what the chief constable is doing.”

She said the PCC has to be transparent, so the court of public opinion turned against Ms Mountstevens when she appointed John Smith, the former chief executive of her office, as her deputy. When the police and crime panel objected Mr Smith was selected through a recruitment process.

“The appointment of John Smith was within Sue’s gift but to think it would be OK to give somebody the role who had just six months before stepped down from the chief exec role to campaign for the PCC role just looked wrong.

“We had to bring her kicking and screaming [to the recruitment process]. We put our foot down. Clearly John was the best person for the job but we shouldn’t have had to insist on that.”

Mr Smith is now standing as an independent candidate for PCC.

Ms Shearer said his appointment as deputy frayed the PCC’s relationship with the police and crime panel and it vetoed her original budget for 2021/22.

“For the last four years they wanted the maximum. If we’d said yes to that £15 increase it would have been something like £61 of uplift over four years – a lot of money.

“We didn’t see the evidence of the improvements so we couldn’t do it again. When things are so tough for people we couldn’t in all conscience put the precept up as requested.”

Ms Mountstevens later came back with a £13.39 increase for the average band D property that still resulted in a balanced budget.

Turning to her priorities, Ms Shearer said issues like rape and child exploitation need urgent attention but the police pay the price if they fail to tackle high-volume crimes like domestic burglaries, speeding, illegal parking, scams.

And focus cannot be solely on Bristol and Bath, she added: “If you do not do preventative work away from the major cities, that breeds a feeling the police aren’t respected, then lower level offenders become higher level offenders.”

Asked her view on the Police and Crime Bill that has sparked riots and ongoing protests in Bristol, the Lib Dem candidate said: “There’s a narrative coming out of the government that’s quite divisive. It’s over-simplifying the problems. I don’t want to not give the police more powers but you can’t trash a set of human rights and think that it’s OK.

“The more debate is channelled down these really divisive statements does the country a great disservice.”

Read more about Ms Shearer here.

Mark Shelford - Conservative Party

The Conservative candidate for police and crime commissioner says protesters have no right to disrupt other people going about their lives.

Mark Shelford, a former soldier, backs the bill that sparked opposition in Bristol and has called for a private “no-holds-barred” inquiry into the violence that followed.

He slammed the “mob” who “took the law into their own hands” to pull down the Colston statue in Bristol.

The ex-councillor criticised the “too close” relationship between independent PCC and chief constable Andy Marsh and said his approach would be polite and professional.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is currently facing accusations of lying about who paid for the renovations for Number 11 Downing Street, but fellow Conservative Mr Shelford said voters are “not in the slightest bit interested”.

“On the doorstep no one is concerned about it at all,” he said. “Not one person has mentioned it to me in the last week, and I’ve knocked on thousands of doors. All people are worried about is getting out of lockdown and getting their jabs. They want to get back on with their jobs.”

In contrast he has had a lot of people contacting him about the recent riots.

“I think on the whole the police did a particularly good job. Could they improve on what they did? Absolutely, everyone can always improve.

“I’m a great believer in grown ups getting together with the people in command and assessing what went well, right from the beginning.”

He said the Police and Crime Bill is “very good” and “does a hell of a lot” including “reinforcing the British people’s right to peacefully protest but not to disrupt, so those people going about their lawful business should not be affected by a protest”.

“The classic example is Greenpeace, Extinction Rebellion, where they stuck themselves to the top of an aeroplane or jumped on top of the Tube and stopped people going to work.

“By all means protest, but don’t get in the way of everyone else.

“Protests aren’t meant to be disruptive, they’re meant to bring everyone’s attention that people feel strongly about a subject. They’re supposed to give oxygen to an issue, but they don’t have any right to disrupt other people.”

The former soldier backed doubling the sentences for attacks on emergency services and increased sentences for defacing war memorials, but said the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol was a different issue.

“There’s a democratic way of removing things, as opposed to a mob pulling down a statue. The mob broke the law in doing that.

“If you don’t like a statue, you go through the democratic process to get it removed – you don’t take the law into your own hands.”

Mr Shelford moved to Bath after retiring from the Army following 30 years’ service.

After losing his seat on Bath and North East Somerset Council Mr Shelford teamed up with ousted leader Tim Warren to form Shelford Warren. The duo help businesses and individuals navigate local government. If elected Mr Shelford said he would wind down his active engagement with it so there can be no conflict of interest.

He was the first PCC candidate to announce he was standing ahead of the May 2020 elections that were postponed by the coronavirus pandemic, which forced Ms Mountstevens to stay on in the role. The independent has served for nine years and is not seeking re-election.

Asked why Avon and Somerset should back a party-political PCC, Mr Shelford said: “Don’t be fooled into thinking an independent isn’t political. Sue Mountstevens has proved to be incredibly political in her time. Someone representing a political party has immediate scrutiny on what they do and don’t do.

“I’ve made some significant commitments in my manifesto. The first people who will be beating down my door if I’m not upholding them will be members of the party. The independents don’t have that.

“The role by definition is political. It has a budget of just under £340million a year. It’s our money. It’s our taxes. It has to be controlled by someone that’s voted in.”

He criticised Ms Mountstevens’ appointment last year of John Smith – a longtime ally now standing as an independent candidate to replace her – to the new £39,000 part-time deputy PCC role, and chief constable Andy Marsh for saying he “fully supports” the decision.

The chief constable and PCC denied blurring the boundaries between their offices, while Mr Smith denied that the role would give him an unfair advantage in the race to become PCC.

Mr Shelford said: “The chief constable should never get involved in politics.

“If the chief constable had just said a deputy is important from a resilience perspective that would be entirely fair. But to say John Smith would make a good candidate crossed the line.

“They got far too close together, all three of them. My relationship would be polite and professional. I would be there to scrutinise the force and the chief constable, not to be the chief constable’s friend.”

He added: “Vote for me for effectiveness and efficiency, to reassure, refocus and rebuild. It’s about going back to the Peelian principles of preventing crime as a priority, rather than just trying to catch criminals.

“It’s about more visible policing, making communities more resilient and resistant to crime, refocusing the police on fighting crime, and rebuilding their morale by making them more efficient and effective.”

Mr Shelford said he would focus the budget on outcomes and prioritise significant issues he said the force should needs to improve on, including victim support, business security, rural crime, sexual violence, fraud and cyber crime.

After joining a successful drugs bust and seeing that half of the officers’ shift was taken up with paperwork, he wants to cut red tape and streamline processes, arguing it will be better for victims who can wait months to see their crime get to court.

Read more in Mr Shelford’s manifesto here.

John Smith - Independent

A key ally of Avon and Somerset’s independent police and crime commissioner says it is important to keep party politics out of the role as he stands to replace her.

John Smith headed the body overseeing Avon and Somerset Police for a decade before fellow independent Sue Mountstevens controversially named him deputy PCC last year.

Where she oversaw significant government funding cuts resulting in 800 fewer officers, the former lawyer said if elected he will have the opportunity to rebuild the force and really focus on what local people want.

He is funding his campaign from personal savings and said as an independent he will be answerable only to the electorate.

The PCC sets the budget and strategic direction for Avon and Somerset Police.

“I’ve been the chief executive and the deputy for a long time. I’ve had a key role advising on policy and leading on various policy roles myself in the last year,” Mr Smith told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

“Sue has been dealing with really significant financial cuts. She faced central government budget cuts of 30 per cent, 800 less officers, it’s been a real challenge to maintain a policing service.

“I’m going to have an opportunity to rebuild Avon and Somerset with these extra officers and really focus on what local people want.

“A lot of the areas Sue wanted to focus on – burglary, drugs, road safety – I would continue to focus on those.”

He added: “Generally Avon and Somerset does well compared to other forces. The area where I’m disappointed is rape and serious sexual offences. Avon and Somerset had a good specialist team, but losing 800 officers it just couldn’t be carried on. It has had an impact.

“It takes far too long for these cases to come through court, and that’s only got worse in the pandemic.”

Ms Mountstevens has served as the PCC since the role was created in 2012. Her plans to step down last year were delayed when the pandemic forced the postponement of the election, which was when she appointed Mr Smith as her deputy. Other PCC candidates have criticised the decision.

Labour’s Kerry Barker claimed Ms Mountstevens had “shoehorned” Mr Smith into the role to get him elected as PCC, and persuaded chief constable Andy Marsh to give him a public endorsement.

In a letter to the PCC last March erronesously headed “re appointment of John Smith as CEO” the chief constable said: “I wanted to write to let you know that I fully support your decision to appoint a deputy (CEO) at this unprecedented time.”

In a second letter four days later he said he supported running a short open process to appoint a deputy PCC.

Conservative candidate Mark Shelford said: “If the chief constable had just said a deputy is important from a resilience perspective that would be entirely fair. But to say John Smith would make a good candidate crossed the line.”

Liberal Democrat Heather Shearer said Ms Mountstevens’ decision to appoint Mr Smith after he stepped down as her chief exec to stand for election “just looked wrong”.

Speaking at the time, Mr Smith denied his appointment as deputy gave him an advantage in the race to become PCC.

He told the LDRS: “Andy Marsh has been very clear. At the time when Sue first talked about making the appointment the pandemic was just taking hold, his support was for the need to have a deputy, not my particular appointment. I think that was entirely appropriate.”

He pointed out PCCs were free to directly appoint deputies without an open selection process, and nationally many did.

“I don’t think anyone around Andy Marsh would say his relationship with Sue was too close.

“As the PCC you’re there to represent local people and hold the police to account for what they do, and make sure local people’s views are reflected.

“Sue’s done a good job of that. It’s important to bear in mind the context of the problems. Understanding the situation they’re facing and holding them to account is a key part of the role, and I have a lot of experience doing that.”

Asked why residents should back another independent, he said: “It’s really important that party politics is kept out of the role.

“I’m the only independent in the running. All of the other four candidates will have had their campaign funded by a national party and will be answerable to their party bosses in Westminster. I’m the only person in the campaign answerable only to local residents.”

The other candidates said they received little financial support from their parties and relied on donations and fundraisers. Mr Smith said he was able to draw on a “small amount of savings” for his campaign.

Asked his views on the Police and Crime Bill that sparked protests and riots in Bristol, Mr Smith said it contains some good elements but others sections go too far, like 10-year prison sentences for minor damages to war memorials that are completely “out of step” with the criminal justice penalty regime.

He criticised the “thoughtless” timing of the legislation when protest was banned due to the pandemic and people were frustrated with the lockdown, and praised the police’s handling of the Kill the Bill protests in Bristol that saw violence from both sides.

“Their stance of continuing to discourage people from attending but facilitating them on the day was the right one,” he said.

“Clearly on March 21 a lot more people turned up than they expected and it became violent. There were awful scenes, police stations being smashed, officers being seriously hurt.

“They had to respond in the way they did. It was a very difficult situation for them to manage.

“There were two further protests and what you saw was a more robust response.

“The police facilitated it for a period, gave them several warnings to disperse, and when they didn’t, dispersed them. With protest still banned I don’t think they had a lot of options.”

Read more about Mr Smith here.

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