The chair of the Police Federation, who is stepping down amid a feud triggered by his efforts to modernise the organisation, complained this year he was “gratuitously and cruelly bullied and humiliated” repeatedly by senior colleagues, according to an internal message passed to MPs.
Steve Williams wrote in February to members of the joint central committee (JCC), saying he had come under sustained attack for establishing an independent review into the future of the police representative group.
Williams, who announced on Monday he would stand down in May, said only that he was retiring to allow a new chair “to take this organisation into the next phase”. But the letter to the JCC, which sets out policy for the federation, appears to show he felt he had been forced out by bullying, something which will alarm critics of the organisation. The federation's general secretary, Ian Rennie, announced his departure at the same time, saying it seemed many JCC colleagues no longer supported him.
The review into the Police Federation, led by Sir David Normington and published in January, provided three dozen recommendations for changing the organisation, particularly over improved transparency and financial management.
Williams's message to JCC members, dated 1 February, was published by the Commons home affairs committee ahead of evidence by Normington, the home secretary, Theresa May, and the federation's treasurer, Martyn Mordecai.
It said: “Whilst accepting emotions are running high in the advent of inevitable change, at times I have genuinely felt that I have been gratuitously and cruelly bullied and humiliated.”
He continued: “It is a matter of fact that for well over a year now from many quarters within the organisation, I have continually been criticised, ridiculed and verbally attacked for my standing in relation to the independent review.”
The strong language will add to the impression that Williams departed because he felt he could no longer push ahead reforms within an organisation buffeted by the fallout over the Plebgate affair, revelations it has millions of pounds of surpluses in bank accounts and claims that its headquarters in Leatherhead, Surrey, are too lavish.
Williams said he needed the full support of the JCC to push through change: “I seriously need you all to know that the behaviour from some, recently directed publicly and critically towards me, in my opinion is totally unacceptable and for me personally a straw that edged on breaking the camel's back.”
Williams's letter was passed to MPs by Fiona McElroy, the federation's head of media, another supporter of reform, who was sacked in January. She also provided a copy of a letter she sent Rennie last month, saying she felt she had been bullied and was “not alone in that experience”.
She wrote: “Above everything, it was the open culture of bullying, hostile management and the organisation's failure to address these issues that I found the most shocking during my time at the Police Federation.”
Giving evidence to the MPs, Normington said he was dismayed at Williams's departure and feared it meant reform efforts were being blocked within the federation. He said: “I did say to him: how is this reform programme going to be carried on without you? The implication was it was going to be a problem.”
May told the committee she was sorry to see Williams go: “I think the important thing is that the federation sees the need to elect a chairman who will take that work forward.” Asked several times if she felt Williams's departure meant the federation was actively resisting reform she declined to agree, saying only it needed “root and branch” change.
Mordecai – now the most senior federation official remaining – told the committee he believed the JCC did support the changes outlined by Normington's review.
However, to some incredulity from the MPs, he said he had never previously seen Williams's letter outlining the bullying, despite having an office two doors down from that of the departing chairman. Mordecai said he had himself suffered personal abuse while seeking to discover how much money is being held by regional federations in so-called Number 2 accounts. So far, he said, he knew of almost £22m of federation money held in cash, calling the accounts system “archaic”.
Mordecai confirmed to MPs that his predecessor as treasurer and the then deputy travelled together to Italy to source “toilet pods” for the Leatherhead headquarters. The building was by no means lavish, he insisted, inviting MPs to see it for themselves.