By Jonathan Isaby
Since I wrote about David Craggs' resignation this morning, a press release has been issued by the River Ward Conservatives in Medway, claiming that Kent Police Authority has now confirmed that a Special Constable can be a councillor (as is Phillip Hollobone MP, for example) and that there was therefore no reason why Cllr Craggs should have had to resign.
However, he is unable to rescind his resignation, so existing Conservative Councillor Craig Mackinlay is calling on other parties not to oppose David Craggs at the re-run election, so as to avoid the cost of an election, since the will of the people was clear a a fortnight ago.
Here is the text of the press release:
The actions of Kent Police after the election of David Craggs have led to the need for a possible further election to be held in River Ward. Having confirmed to David that a serving special constable could stand for election, and could become a local councillor, Kent Police force then put pressure on David to resign, telling him that a special constable could not serve as an elected councillor.
Before the election they had confirmed that there were no rules to preclude a volunteer special constable from being a local councillor, indeed there are two Conservative MPs and one Labour MP who serve as special constables, whilst being at the heart of the law making process at Westminster. Philip Hollobone, Conservative MP for Kettering is also a SITTING COUNCILLOR on Kettering Borough Council. Magistrates are similarly allowed to become local councillors and vice versa, there are no restrictions.
Such was the intense pressure put on David that he felt he had to resign from the post of a paid councillor in order to carry on as an unpaid and volunteer police officer, a position he has held for 17 years. That letter of resignation was delivered to the Acting Chief Executive of Medway Council yesterday at 11.00am. Acting upon the resignation letter, an appropriate 'Notice of vacancy‘ in River Ward was issued by Medway Council, in accordance with electoral law. Within hours, and subsequent to legal advice already obtained by Rochester and Strood Conservative Association, the Kent Police Authority confirmed that there is no restriction in a special constable being a councillor.
Kent Police were incorrect, and arguably unlawful. They had even threatened disciplinary action against David Craggs. Because the statutory 'Notice of vacancy‘ has now been issued, acting upon David Craggs' resignation letter, the electoral cycle is started and cannot be retracted, despite the resignation now clearly being unnecessary, based on wrong advice and arguably extracted under duress.
This means that another election may need to be held, because Kent Police got the law wrong. The situation is virtually unbelievable. Kent Police must bear full responsibility for this situation, and for the extra costs to be borne by the council, candidates and political parties. No explanation or apology has been forthcoming.
Cllr Craig Mackinay, the Conservative councillor for River Ward now asks "with the aim of redressing a clear wrong, for the other political parties to allow an uncontested election in River, which would cost nothing to administer and would reflect the clear will of the electorate given just a few days ago. Alternatively, there need not be another election at all; I have been the sole councillor in River, effectively so since Bill Esterson‘s adoption as a parliamentary candidate in March, and absolutely so since his election as an MP in May and subsequent resignation as the second ward councillor."
The release suggests that the basic rules for specials are still to be found in the Special Constable Regulations 1965, as amended by the Special Constable (Amendment) Regulations 2002, neither of which place restrictions on political activity by Specials. Furthermore, the Kent Police Handbook (as amended in August 2005) does not mention councillors in its list of jobs, posts or offices which would prevent someone becoming or operating as a Special (except where in that capacity wanting to serve as a member of the police authority itself).
The National Police Improvement Authority (NIAS), had apparently begun to rewrite rules relating to special constables which would have precluded them from becoming councillors – but these rules were never finalised let alone enacted into law.
A fortnight ago I reported on how popular local headteacher and Special Constable David Craggs gained the seat on Medway council which had been vacated by now Labour MP Bill Esterson.
So it is somewhat disheartening to discover that on Wednesday he resigned as a councillor.
He explains the situation thus:
"People will know that I have served as a volunteer special constable on behalf of the people of Kent for the past 17 years, a role that I have held with pride. In the hope that I could expand my community service I stood as a councillor for Medway. I did not believe there was any conflict between these roles and was unaware that police regulations prevent anyone from holding political office whilst also serving the police.
"After the election I was made aware, by Kent Police, that the law prevents me serving both as a special constable and as a local councillor. This is a unique situation, one that I believe has not happened before in Kent or Medway. Therefore, over the past two weeks I have been working alongside Kent Police and Medway Council to clarify the legal situation and see if an alternative remedy was available.
"Unfortunately, it is now apparent that the legal situation is such that I cannot continue to serve the community both as a local councillor and also as a Special Constable and therefore I have resigned as a councillor at Medway.
"A large number of people have spent considerable time in helping me during the election and I am grateful to them and the good people of River ward who voted for me. They will be undoubtedly disappointed at this outcome and I share their feeling of frustration. Once again I can only apologise to them for the time they have given on my behalf and for their trust and support.
"It is a pity that I have to stand down as a councillor. However, I have faithfully served the people of Kent as a special constable for the past 17 years and wish to continue to do so for many years to come. I now look forward to continuing my duties as a special constable in the service of the people of Kent and Medway."
Craig Mackinlay, the existing Conservative councillor for the ward, added:
"It's a great shame and an absolute tragedy for the community. David has a fantastic track record of community work and wants to serve as a councillor. In the run-up to the by-election we were told that there was nothing preventing David from acting as both a councillor and a special constable. It would seem that Kent Police has dug its heels in."
His resignation means a new by-election will be held to fill the vacancy within the next 35 days.