Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner Festus Akinbusoye has apologised for failing to turn up for a meeting to discuss his police and crime plan.
The county’s police and crime panel had to rearrange its question and answer session with the PCC after his no show last week.
An extraordinary panel meeting was held yesterday (Thursday) at which he “shared his deep regrets about the misunderstanding last week, which I take full responsibility for as PCC”.
He told the panel: “I won’t point any fingers at anyone or any group of people. The buck stops with me.
“I should have understood better and I’m glad to be here anyway.”
Liberal Democrat Goldington councillor Tim Caswell thanked the PCC for his “gracious apology” to the panel, saying: “That’s restored a lot of goodwill.”
There are seven priority areas in the PCC’s police and crime plan for the next three years. These are:
- investment in community-based and community-led policing for urban and rural areas
- recruitment and retention of police officers
- tackling the causes of crime and breaking the cycle of reoffending
- placing residents and victims at the centre of policing priorities
- multi-agency and transparent approach to community safety and crime reduction
- transparency and open communication
- and national contributions and engaging with the strategic performance review.
Referring to rape convictions being “notoriously low”, councillor Caswell asked the PCC for his views about “current conviction rates” and what can be done to improve them.
Mr Akinbusoye replied: “My clear view about where they are is nowhere near good enough. It’s shocking.
“Having met and having known women who’ve been raped, and seen some since I’ve been in this role, to hear what they’ve been through is heartbreaking.
“I’m absolutely committed to ensuring we have the resources so that the victims of this horrific crime get every support they need immediately.
“From the instance they report the incident to the way they’re treated by our officers is the way it should be. Also that the way we convict these people (rapists) and lock them away is done properly.
“The biggest concern I have about this now is over the serious issue of the backlogs in our courts.
“Covid hasn’t helped that at all,” he explained. “We have those victims who you need to be part of an investigation.
“The longer an investigation goes and the longer the delays, the drop out rate is just astonishing. So we’re now working on the case of having Nightingale courts being opened up.
“I’m due to have a discussion with the court’s service to see what we can do to expedite this. But the backlog is something which gives me a huge cause for concern at the moment.”
Councillor Caswell added: “Bedford has no court and people accused of crimes and very vulnerable witnesses often can’t get to Luton.”
The PCC said: “We’re doing some work at the moment through one of the victim support services to see what more can be done to educate witnesses or victims about the several options available to them when they go to court.
“There are procedures in place now where they can give a statement, so they can give evidence remotely and where they can give their witness statement pre-recorded.
“I’m not sure those options are being made clear to victims early enough to the point where they say: ‘I don’t want to face that guy in court’.
“In fact, there are ways around that without jeopardising the prosecution.”
by Euan Duncan
Local Democracy Reporter