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Senior police figure reported for 'telling officers how to vote' in commissioner elections

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 06, 2012

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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.

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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.

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  • paulmh66  |  November 07 2012, 6:35PM

    Brian Greenslade should be taken out of the running then, and Mike Bull suspended until after the vote has finished. Mike Bull should also be banned from being a deputy. I bet the jobs come with a nice salary and bonuses to.

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  • ysr80  |  November 07 2012, 6:19PM

    @by nick113 Can you not understand accessing a data base for a use other than its intended purpose is breaching data protection? I work for a company and have access to millions of e-mail address and phone numbers, however that doesnt give me any right to e-mail/call them with any venture other than for the company I work for. This is a breach of data protection and he should know better, throw the book at him I say.

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  • Sinjis_Things  |  November 07 2012, 5:20PM

    Mike Bull should be sacked immediately. It is not unreasonable for him to express his opinion but to encourage other to vote in a certain way is not on.

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  • StuReynolds  |  November 07 2012, 4:05PM

    Worrying that no one involved seems to understand the data protection rules. Unless the person you are emailing consents to that type of email in advance, you cannot send political campaign emails. The Guidance on Political campaigning from the Information Commissioner is clear: "Email, text message, video message and voicemail are all forms of electronic communication and the same rules apply. You must have the individual's prior consent to communicate with them in this way." It doesn't matter which computer was used or whether the email was personal or not. The point is that those on the list need to have consented to being sent what appear to have been unsolicited emails. Emailing your friends is one thing but clearly some of the officers were not.

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  • kimmyp  |  November 07 2012, 11:43AM

    It would seem that neither of these two understands the role of police commissioner which is really worrying as one is standing for election. Their role is representing the voice of the public not getting cozy and making job offers. Of course Mr Bull is entitled to his opinion and I could understand him sending and receiving emails with friends but it is not acceptable to try and persuade officers votes using their work email addresses. I also think it would be very difficult to find anyone without a political bias at least some of the other candidates have been honest about it.

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  • Jonny2010  |  November 06 2012, 9:36PM

    The so-called Devon & Cornwall Police should be abolished. I want to see a Cornwall Police Service re-introduced.

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  • GreenGOM  |  November 06 2012, 8:03PM

    We really should have some understanding and sympathy for this chap. He has spent a whole career in an inherently dishonest and corrupt organisation so this is therefore habitual.

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  • nick113  |  November 06 2012, 5:11PM

    @Foldart. No, it isn't corruption. The guy has openly sent an email to people who he knows supporting one of the candidates. Not the one I would choose, but that hardly matters. The recipients can follow his advice, or delete the email and vote for whoever they want. Mr Bull will never know if his advice was followed or ignored. If this is a news story I'm a banana.

    |   -9
  • barumbcfc  |  November 06 2012, 4:42PM

    Quiet how the hell Brian greenslade can be politically independent is beyond me. Ex lib dem chairman of Devon county council and present leader of ndd council. Independent my backside vote greenslade and get lib dem policies !!!!!!

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  • Doitdreckley  |  November 06 2012, 4:35PM

    Brian Greenslade is not an 'independent'. He is a Liberal Democrat and the Liberal Democrats in government have colluded with the Tories to cut the police budget.

    |   19