THE only candidate from North Devon in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections has become embroiled in a row amid claims of electioneering.
Brian Greenslade, the Liberal Democrat leader of North Devon Council who is standing as an independent in the election, is at the centre of the row after Police Authority chairman Mike Bull twice sent an email to serving Devon and Cornwall Police officers encouraging them to vote for Mr Greenslade.
The story came to light after Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, was shown a copy of the email by one of his constituents, who is a police officer.
As a result Mr Bradshaw has reported Mr Bull to the Information Commissioner's Office over an alleged Data Protection Act breach.
It is claimed Mr Bull obtained the e-mail addresses of the force's officers using the Devon and Cornwall Police database. However, 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.
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".
Mr Bull's e-mail starts by stating 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.
It says 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 on November 15.
He describes Mr Greenslade as the only independent with "a realistic chance" of beating the candidates from the major political parties.
Mr Bull agreed he was "electioneering" but defended his right to back 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 said. "It is very clearly marked in bold type that it's sent in my personal capacity; it is clear as a bell.
"I took advice before I started e-mailing 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 inquiries from staff about action they are allowed to take.
In a statement, the force said the first e-mail was referred to the chief executive of the police authority with a recommendation that it be referred to the Police Area Returning Officer.
The force said as the e-mail was sent in a personal capacity, no further action was necessary. It is considering whether to refer the second e-mail.