A whistleblower who claims she was unfairly dismissed after raising concerns about the Police Federation is expected to be questioned by the House of Commons home affairs committee. The committee, which meets today, will also take evidence on the reform of the Police Federation. Witnesses include Fiona McElroy, the Police Federation’s former head of communications, John Tully, of the Metropolitan Police Federation and Ian Edwards, of the West Midlands Police Federation.
Miss McElroy has spoken of a ‘vocal minority’ who resisted her efforts which were, she claims, ‘undertaken in good faith and with encouragement, mostly in the absence of any strategy, guidelines, policy or support’. Miss McElroy’s claims comes as the Daily Mail reported that the police union allegedly paid a PR firm for advice on using ‘guerrilla tactics’ against ministers just weeks before the Plebgate scandal.
The alleged media strategy also called for a military-style ‘blitzkrieg’ to halt government plans to reform pay and conditions for officers. The secret plot was allegedly laid down in a £10,000-a-month contract handed to the public relations company by the Police Federation, the Mail reported.
The claims could further damage relations between the union’s officials and the Conservative Party, which believes Andrew Mitchell was ‘stitched up’ in the September 2012 Plebgate affair. The former chief whip has always denied calling Downing Street police officers ‘****ing plebs’, insisting the row was hijacked by Federation officials for political ends.
Representing 125,000 rank and file officers, the union was furious at Home Secretary Theresa May’s hardline approach to the reforms. Just months before Plebgate, Federation bosses signed up for the services of Jon Gaunt, who is a former newspaper columnist and radio DJ, and his brother Jason.
The alleged contract stated Mr Gaunt’s firm would be paid £10,000 a month to undertake a campaign using ‘guerrilla tactics’ and ‘blitzkrieg’ against government police pay reform. The deal lasted only two months but Mr Gaunt continued to provide PR advice to three branches of the federation in the Midlands, all central to the ‘Plebgate’ row. The Police Federation refused to answer questions about its alleged media contract with Gaunt Brothers, the Mail reported.
In a statement to the Mail, the Federation said: “In 2012, the Police Federation of England and Wales contracted Gaunt Brothers to assist with a communications campaign around the likely effect on public safety of government budget cuts to policing. “The contract was terminated after two months and the company has not been used by the national Police Federation since.
“The Home Affairs Committee are aware that the Police Federation used Gaunt Brothers. Owing to commercial sensitivity, it would be inappropriate to discuss the details of the contract.’ Former Sun columnist Mr Gaunt, 53, the son of a police officer who has been hailed as ‘the monster who roars for coppers’ on the website of the Metropolitan Police Federation, also refused to discuss the contract.
He told the Mail: “I had a contract with them but obviously it’s confidential. There was a confidentiality clause.” Newspaper reports first surfaced in 2012 that the West Midlands, Warwickshire and West Mercia Federations had employed the services of Coventry-based PR company Gaunt Brothers.
Members of the three federations demonstrated outside Mr Mitchell's constituency office wearing “PC Pleb” T-shirts. However, the national federation distanced itself from what it saw as the more outspoken comments of federations in the West Midlands, Warwickshire and West Mercia over the Andrew Mitchell affair.