A senior police figure has been reported for allegedly breaching data protection rules after twice e-mailing officers urging them to vote for his preferred candidate in the upcoming police and crime commissioner election.
Mike Bull, chairman of the Devon and Cornwall police authority, encouraged police officers to vote for Brian Greenslade, who is standing as an independent and has reportedly promised to appoint Mr Bull his deputy if elected.
Exeter Labour MP and former Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw has referred the matter to the Information Commissioner after claiming he received a “formal complaint” from police officers who were “furious” at the campaigning approach.
Mr Bull said he took advice before sending the message to a number of officers from his own e-mail account on a home computer and denies any wrongdoing whatsoever.
In a letter to the Information Commissioner, Mr Bradshaw said the e-mail raises “serious questions about a possible misuse of police data for the purpose of electioneering and about the security of that data in the first place”.
He also told the Western Morning News there was a “wider moral issue” over how appropriate such contact was, coming from the outgoing chairman.
Mr Greenslade is the former Liberal Democrat leader of Devon County Council but stood down as a member of the police authority to fight the election as an independent.
Mr Bull’s e-mail, the second such message in support of Mr Greenslade, is prefaced by a title in bold print, stating that the message was being sent in a personal capacity and not in his professional role.
It was sent from a personal e-mail address, which he also uses for his police authority work as he says he has never been issued nor wanted a police computer or an official e-mail account.
It states his view that party politics should be kept out of policing and offers advice to voters who agree with him but are struggling to decide between the six independent candidates standing next Thursday.
He describes Mr Greenslade as the only independent with “a realistic chance” of beating the candidates from the major political parties.
“Only one is strong on knowledge of and fully up to date with strategic policing matters,” the e-mail goes on.
“Only one has had full leadership responsibility for managing huge budgets and taking strategic decisions…”
Yesterday, Mr Bull agreed he was “electioneering” but defended his right to support Mr Greenslade, who he said has promised to appoint him as deputy commissioner for Devon.
“I have sent it from a personal computer using a home personal e-mail system using absolutely no police resources whatsoever,” he added.
“It is very clearly marked in bold type and that it is sent in my personal capacity — it is clear as a bell.
“Furthermore I took advice before I started e-mailing police officers, which were only those for whom I have an e-mail address.”
Mr Bull refused to say how many people received his messages, but the mailshot appeared to provoke a response from the deputy chief constable on the force’s intranet site about the need for political neutrality among staff.
David Zinzan revealed he had received “a number of enquiries from staff about action they are allowed to take”.
He said e-mails such as those sent by Mr Bull should not be forwarded to a Devon and Cornwall e-mail account.
In a statement yesterday the force said the first e-mail, which the WMN has not seen, was referred to the chief executive of the police authority with a recommendation that it was referred to the Police Area Returning Officer (PARO).
The force said as the e-mail was sent in a personal capacity, no further action was necessary, adding that it was “considering” whether to refer the second e-mail.
Mr Greenslade said Mr Bull was “clearly an enthusiastic supporter” but not in any way a part of his campaign.