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Billings promises to clean up police force

07 November 2014


"Big issues": Canon Alan Billings speaks after the election result, at the Barnsley Metrodome Sports complex, last Friday 

"Big issues": Canon Alan Billings speaks after the election result, at the Barnsley Metrodome Sports complex, last Friday 

THE newly elected Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire, Canon Alan Billings, said this week that it was "absolutely essential" to ensure that the police approach to child sexual abuse that led to the Rotherham child-grooming scandal was "a thing of the past".

Canon Billings, a retired priest, a former vice-principal of Ripon College, Cuddesdon, and a contributor to Thought for the Day onBBC Radio 4, as well as to this newspaper, was elected last week in a by-election caused by the resignation of Shaun Wright. Mr Wright was forced to step down after overwhelming criticism about his failure to tackle child-abuse allegations when he was cabinet member for Children's Services on Rotherham Borough Council.

Canon Billings said this week: "South Yorkshire Police are facing three quite big issues where their conduct, or past conduct - hopefully it's all in the past - is at issue.

"One of the things I have got to do in the case of child sexual exploitation is be satisfied that it is in the past, and that they have learned their lessons, and that they know how to recognise victims now and can deal with them appropriately."

In addition to the scandal about child sexual abuse, South Yorkshire Police are currently facing two further investigations and inquiries: one into the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, and another into "the battle of Orgreave" during the miner's strike in 1984.

"Part of my job is to help the police face some very hard truths about that conduct and to admit to it and regret it, if that is what they have to do; and then to be very clear that they do understand why things went wrong - and putting everything right so that it doesn't happen again in the future.

"It is a very difficult period that they are just about to face."

He said that he was "satisfied in my own mind that the present Chief Constable . . . is determined to get to the bottom of it, and ensure that the whole truth is now laid bare. That is the only way.

"The police can't pretend things didn't happen, or be in a state of denial about it. They have got to acknowledge faults if they are going to change their behaviour in appropriate ways. I am satisfied that that's what he wants to do, and I will help him to do it."

Two weeks ago, the Home Affairs Select Committee published a report criticising the South Yorkshire Police's "inept handling" of their investigation into Sir Cliff Richard, after the force gave BBC News details of a search on the singer's home.

"It is clear that Sir Cliff Richard has personally suffered enormous, irreparable damage to his reputation, though he has been neither arrested nor charged with any offence," the report said.

Canon Billings said that he could not comment on the case because it remained a "live investigation".

A committed Labour Party member, Canon Billings served as a Sheffield City councillor for 13 years, until 1986, including five years as deputy leader. He won the by-election with more than 50 per cent of the vote, on a turnout of under 15 per cent.

He has criticised the "absurdly high" salary of £85,000 that comes with the post, and says that he will donate half of it to charities working to support victims of crime. He also criticised the £1-million cost of the by-election as "money that could have been spent on front-line policing".

A UKIP MEP, Jane Collins, has apologised to the chief executive of the Church Army, Mark Russell, after posting a tweet accusing him of having links to paedophilia, writes Gavin Drake.

Mr Russell, a Labour Party supporter, had tweeted a message of support for Canon Alan Billings before the by-election for the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner. Ms Collins, who represents Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire in the European Parliament, responded by saying that UKIP would "soon stop your criminal activity. Paedos leave our kids alone."

Mr Russell demanded an apology, asking Ms Collins whether she had heard of libel laws. She deleted the tweet, saying that "it read wrong", but added: "If you want to protect vulnerable people your [sic] with the wrong party Mark!!"

After facing criticism from other Twitter users, Ms Collins said: "I unreservedly apologise for implication", and said that she was "a little hot headed". She has also said that she will be making a donation to the Church Army.

Last month, Ms Collins had to apologise after tweeting a link to an anti-Semitic Holocaust-denying blog.

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