Andy Burnham has confirmed he ordered the former chief constable of Greater Manchester Police to resign in the wake of a damning inspection report.
Ian Hopkins quit his post last December, claiming he ‘felt the time was right’ to bring forward his retirement to enable the ‘timely recruitment of his successor’.
By this time he had taken sick leave due to a debilitating ear condition, and also cited his ‘ill health’ as a reason for stepping down.
The police inspectorate (HMIC) had published an excoriating report which found GMP had failed to record 80,000 crimes over a 12 month period and that people were being ‘denied justice’.
Stockport councillors found the contents of the report so disturbing they called an extraordinary scrutiny committee to discuss the political leadership of the force.
Held last night (Tuesday), the remote meeting was attended by both Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and his deputy, Baroness Bev Hughes.
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Chair Councillor Mark Roberts asked Mr Burnham to clear up whether Mr Hopkins had jumped or been pushed.
“I asked him to step aside,” said Mr Burnham.
“New leadership was needed in my view. It wasn’t just the HMIC report, there were ongoing concerns about iOPS.”
iOPs is the GMP computer system whose launch in summer 2019 was beset with serious problems.
Flagged as ‘not fit for purpose’ by a succession of whistleblowers, Mr Hopkins fiercely and repeatedly denied the claims.
The mayor told councillors he would not go into detail on the night but added:
“There was a moment where we thought a change was absolutely needed’.
In truth though, both he and Baroness Hughes had already gone a long way in explaining the circumstances of Mr Hopkins apparent axeing.
Responding to an earlier question from Coun Roberts, Mr Burnham said he only realised the full extent of the force’s failings when he read the HMIC report.
“The initial response we got from GMP was that HMIC had got it wrong, they had over-estimated the problem, they hadn’t taken the full picture into account,” he said.
“It was only when I read the whole report myself that I concluded it was much more serious than the force itself had realised.”
He added that the same was true of the iOPs launch, where questions raised by himself and Baroness Hughes were ‘not fully answered in the way that they should have been’.
“That is the fact of the matter, unfortunately,” said the mayor.
“It’s why as police and crime commissioner I do have to hold the chief constable to account – and is why I took the decision that new leadership was needed if we were to truly unpack the issues that HMIC had brought before us.”
HMIC’s Zoe Billingham – who led the inspection – had given Baroness Hughes a private briefing ahead of the report’s publication.
But Mr Burnham said it was only when the pair had seen the ‘full text’ that they were able to make their own judgements ‘about where the truth lay’.
This may well have been the ‘moment’ of clarity alluded to by Mr Burnham later in the meeting.
“We concluded that HMIC was right in what it was saying and the GMP leadership had underplayed what HMIC were saying,” he said.
“I should say the former chief constable in our view underplayed the significance of what the HMIC were saying. That’s the facts of how things developed.”
Baroness Hughes also gave a revealing insight into Mr Hopkins’ response to the findings of the report.
She said in the days leading up to its publication, the view of the then chief constable was that HMIC had ‘got it wrong’.
“The inspector [Ms Billingham) was herself very upset at the reaction” she said.
“She did not perceive that the senior leadership of the GMP were accepting her findings and the findings of her team.”
Baroness Hughes said this was as much the reason behind placing the force in special measures as the findings themselves.
“It would go up a notch in terms of the oversight that HMIC would routinely give from then on in, because she was not convinced that the current leadership took sufficiently seriously the findings of her report” she told the meeting.
“And that, of course, was largely the reason the leadership had to change.”
Coun Roberts also questioned why there had seemingly been a delay between Baroness Hughes ‘verbal briefing’ and her relaying the information to Mr Burnham.
The deputy mayor said that ‘of course’ she had informed Mr Burnham, albeit ‘informally’ as it was only when she saw the full draft that the details became obvious to her.
Mr Burnham confirmed details of the briefing had been relayed to him and a meeting to discuss the report was then convened between himself and the former chief constable and deputy chief constable.
This was held ‘about five days’ before the HMIC report was officially published.
The extraordinary meeting of Stockport council’s communities and housing scrutiny committee was held on Tuesday night (March 16).