WILTSHIRE’S police chief has spoken about moves to ensure officers working on the Rural Crime Team (RCT) do not have ‘personal links to hunts or anti-hunt groups’ – following controversy over an appointment to the unit.
In February, PC Cheryl Knight, inset, was handed a role on the RCT.
It soon emerged she had previous links to hunts in the county – including the Avon Vale Hunt, which was later banned from the British Hound Sports Association.
The revelation prompted outrage from anti-hunt campaigners.
The following month, Wiltshire Police announced an internal review had seen the introduction of new rules precluding officers with links to hunts joining the RCT.
Now, Chief Constable Catherine Roper has spoken further about the new rules.
“The aim of this is to provide more scrutiny around the suitability of our officers, staff and volunteers to work within the unit,” she said.
“It sets out key principles, which include ensuring that staff do not have, or have had, personal links to hunts or anti-hunt groups. I believe this is crucial to ensuring trust and confidence in our impartial approach to tackling rural crime.
“Our framework also requires staff disclose links to any rural based hobby or initiative that could potentially call into question their policing impartiality.
“The disclosure of these activities would not necessarily preclude staff from joining the RCT, nor is it a blanket ban. This principle ensures the force is aware of any connection which might lead to the public questioning the impartiality of officers when investigating any crimes linked to our rural communities.
“This framework has been endorsed by our Chief Officer Group with consultation from our human resources department, the Police Federation and the force ethics panel.
“We absolutely acknowledge the importance of staff in this team having experience in and an understanding of our rural communities.
“However, the parameters we have put in place will ensure appropriate posting into this team, allow us to evidence the independence of our staff and provide total reassurance that we will police without fear or favour.”
She said the force’s approach is underpinned by the College of Policing Code of Ethics which states, ‘memberships of groups or societies, or associations with groups or individuals must not create an actual or apparent conflict of interest with police work and responsibilities’.
“The test is whether a reasonably informed member of the public might reasonably believe your association or membership could adversely affect your ability to discharge your policing duties effectively and impartially,” it adds.