Ex police commissioner accuses Emily Spurrell of ‘low-blow’

Former Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Jane Kennedy launched an extraordinary attack on her successor Emily Spurrell for branding Merseyside Police “institutionally racist”. Ms Spurrell, who was elected to the position in May 2021 after Ms Kennedy stepped down, made the comments about the force to specialist crime and justice channel Policing TV, which published the interview yesterday. Today Ms Kennedy told the ECHO she felt compelled to speak out on Ms Spurrell’s comments, which she suggested were “looking for a quick headline” and a “low-blow”.

: ‘Paedophile’ allowed to teach for 12 years after sex offences charges Ms Spurrell had previously served as deputy PCC under Ms Kennedy but resigned after her boss, a former minister under Gordon Brown, quit the Labour Party in March 2019. Ms Kennedy said she left the Party due to the treatment of then Wavertree MP Luciana Berger, and it’s decision to re-admit Derek Hatton.

However Ms Spurrell said at the time she did not feel comfortable working for a non-Labour PCC and believed Ms Kennedy should have stepped down after leaving the Party. Today Ms Kennedy said in a statement: “Merseyside Police are not institutionally racist. This accusation is truly a low blow by someone looking for a quick headline.

“I worked with a police force that strives to be the best at tackling crime and delivering safer communities. Always acutely aware of the need to be representative, to work with the utmost professionalism and respect amongst minority communities they are also quick to acknowledge that there is always more to do. That is not the attitude of an organisation that is institutionally racist.

Chief Constable of Merseyside Serena Kennedy and Crime Commissioner Emily Spurrell

“When the PCC makes such a claim in the way that she has, she does damage to the reputation and morale of the police and to their relationship with the communities they serve.

Having made the claim, what is the PCC now going to do to restore public confidence in the police? “What will the PCC do to rebuild the reputation of this excellent police force? Merseyside’s police officers and staff do difficult work, every day, with courage, resilience and professionalism.

The PCC should strive to match them.” Ms Spurrell had said that while the “vast majority” of officers were “incredibly dedicated” and “not racist” – the institution had been “designed by a certain group of people” and “did not take into account” the experiences of black and ethnic minority people. She was asked by Policing TV reporter Danny Shaw: “Do you accept that Merseyside Police are institutionally racist?”.

Ms Spurrell replied: “I do. I do. And I’ve had this conversation with my Chief Constable [Serena Kennedy].

Because I think when you look at the definition of institutional racism, it is not about individual officers. I know that Mersesyide Police, absolutely, the vast majority are incredibly dedicated, not racist, you know, to me, they are absolutely committed to serving the public, whoever they are. “And quite often will go out of their way to engage with communities, from minority backgrounds.

So the definition of institutional racism is not about calling individual officers racist, it’s about saying, as an institution, like with lots of institutions across the country, it has been designed by a certain group of people, and it does not take into account how, you know, black and ethnic minority people might experience things and how they might get treated.”

Merseyside Police’s Chief Constable, Serena Kennedy, flatly denied the force was institutionally racist, while Merseyside Police Federation, representing rank and file officers, said Ms Spurrell’s comments were “deeply disappointing”. However anti-racism activist Chantelle Lunt, herself a former Merseyside Police officer and now founder of Merseyside Black Lives Matter (BLM) Alliance and Operation Withdraw Consent, said the comments did not go far enough and absolved individual officers of responsibility for a ” racist culture ” in the force Chief Constable Kennedy said: “I categorically do not believe that Merseyside Police is institutionally racist.

The history and impact of racism across policing and the harm this has caused to communities and colleagues is clear. “There has been a lot of work done nationally and locally to understand and address this. We know that policing, like society, is not free of racial discrimination, bias and disproportionality.

It still exists in some policies and processes, and we are taking action to change this. We collectively want to improve, we want to progress, we want to be better. We are not institutionally racist.”

The comments came as part of a discussion involving Ms Spurrell, Dorset PCC David Sedwick and Hertfordshire PCC David Lloyd about various subjects around policing, including efforts to tackle institutional racism. Both Mr Lloyd and Mr Sedwick said they did not think their respective police forces were institutionally racist. It is believed that Ms Spurrell is the first PCC in the country to suggest their own force is institutionally racist.

When asked about the comments yesterday, she acknowledged a “huge amount of progress” had been made in tackling racism by Merseyside Police and praised the efforts of Chief Constable Kennedy.

However she added: “We must continue to be actively anti-racist if we are to win trust back, particularly among black communities. “That means being open and honest, owning the problem, and taking proactive steps to redress the balance.”