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The Bristol Cable

What to expect from the appointment of Avon and Somerset’s next police chief

The newly elected Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner will select who heads Avon and Somerset Police.


The newly elected Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Mark Shelford, may have only secured 17% of the vote in Bristol, but after winning regional votes to defeat Labour’s Kerry Barker in the second round, he will shape the city’s policing with the appointment of Avon and Somerset Police’s next chief constable. 

Shelford is the force’s second PCC, and the first to be affiliated with a political party. His appointment of the next chief constable will certainly be political. Shelford replaces Independent Sue Mountstevens, who stepped down after nine years in the role.  

The PCC sets the strategic direction for the police force, has a say over its budget, and can hire and fire the chief constable. The new Conservative PCC will appoint the next police chief from a pool of applicants, which is expected to include senior officers from other forces. 

PCC Mark Shelford (Photo: Mark Shelford’s website)

If Shelford’s public statements are anything to go by, Bristol can expect the next police chief to pursue a heavy-handed style of public order policing. A former soldier and Bath Tory councillor, Shelford has lambasted the force’s leadership for its handling of last year’s demonstration which toppled Bristol’s statue of slave trader Edward Colston.

While he recently praised the outgoing chief constable, Andy Marsh, as an “exceptional leader who has changed Avon and Somerset for the better,” Shelford previously slammed the police leadership for “surrendering control” to a “rampaging mob” who pulled down the Colston statue.

Speaking last summer, Shelford said: “Leadership from the middle to the top of the police was weak. There needs to be a complete overhaul of how these types of events are policed, or many people in Avon and Somerset will start to lose faith in the ability of the police leadership to deliver what is needed – safe, secure, law-abiding communities.”

Shelford wholly supports the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill which triggered clashes in the city in March and prompted calls by some for a public inquiry into controversial policing tactics.

Andy Marsh, who was first appointed in 2016, received a dressing down from Home Secretary Priti Patel after the Colston statue was pulled down. While government ministers criticised Marsh’s policing, Mayor Marvin Rees was among those who praised the handling of the protests which did not trigger violent confrontations. Marsh has been under significant political pressure ever since. A source close to Marsh told the Cable that the political pressure had weighed heavily on the outgoing police chief, and influenced his decision to not seek contract renewal when it expires in early July.

Outgoing Avon and Somerset Chief Constable Andy Marsh. (Photo: Avon and Somerset Constabulary)

Mark Shelford has proposed the appointment of Sarah Crew as an interim Chief Constable from 2 July 2021. Crew is the current Deputy Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset Police.

A police spokesperson told the Cable: “This proposal has gone to the Police and Crime Panel to seek their views and will be subject to a confirmation hearing on Thursday 24 June 2021.”

The process to recruit the chief constable will most likely take months, with the appointment due to be made by the Autumn. Shelford will notify the Police and Crime Panel of his preferred candidate, at which point the panel will decide whether to approve or veto. A veto is unlikely in what is primarily a rubber stamping exercise, but the panel has the power to block the PCC’s appointment with a two-thirds majority. 

Shelford says that he intends to return to the “Peelian principles of preventing crime as a priority, rather than just trying to catch criminals”. He also said he would cut red tape, and focus on victim support, business security, rural crime, sexual violence, fraud and cyber crime.  

This Autumn, a hawk not a dove will likely take the helm of Avon and Somerset police, just as the Police and Crime bill becomes enshrined in law, giving constabularies discretionary powers to limit the right to protest. Despite the recent police crackdown on protestors, and the Tasering of Judah Adunbi, chief constable Andy Marsh will likely be remembered as a progressive compared to the next chief in post.

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