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Conservative Party Crime Commissioner Faces Probe After Appearing in Police Uniform in Party Election Leaflets

Festus Akinbusoye appears to breach his own office’s rules on using police imagery for party-political ends

The leaflet which went out to Bedfordshire voters. Photo: Prof Colin Talbot

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A Conservative police and crime commissioner running for re-election is under investigation for appearing in police uniform on his campaign material, in apparent breach of election rules. 

Festus Akinbusoye, the incumbent police commissioner for Bedfordshire, faces a probe by  his own Bedfordshire Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, which is working with the Police Area Returning Officer (PARO) and National Police Chief’s Council to see whether the Conservative broke local election rules. 

If he is found to have broken the protocol, “the candidate will be asked to remove the image from their campaign material,” an official said. It is not clear how soon the investigation will conclude, given that polling day is just weeks away. 

Akinbusoye is understood to have been an unpaid special constable for a short period of time before being elected PCC in 2021. 

Political candidates are typically barred from wearing police uniform while campaigning, since it could imply endorsement by the force, and could be seen as an attempt to use the authority of the police service to gain an unfair electoral advantage over opponents. 

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The College of Policing’s Code of Ethics and local police force policies – including that of his own Bedfordshire police and crime commissioner’s office – generally prohibit the use of police uniforms, equipment, or any other police service resources for any political purpose. 

This would extend to candidates for the office of Police and Crime Commissioner, who must maintain a clear separation between their candidacy and any official police roles or symbols.

Prof Colin Talbot, emeritus Professor of Government at the University of Manchester, told this newspaper that the rules against candidates and parties using pictures involving officers or staff in their campaign publicity are “clear” and well-founded. 

“The police have to give permission for any images of police to be used. The police don’t like getting dragged into politics, or implying police favour one over another. Any person who didn’t know that PCCs couldn’t be serving police officers would assume he was the chief of police or something,” the governance academic said.  

Before and throughout the pre-election period all officers and staff must maintain their impartiality and not be seen to be biased against and/or supporting one candidate or party over another.

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The National Police Chief Council’s guidance that has been adopted in Bedfordshire as official election protocol states: “Any campaign material which uses existing police images or livery would, to the electorate, appear to show police support for a candidate and therefore under the general principles test should not be allowed.

“Forces should make it clear to all parties and prospective candidates that they do not have permission to use pre-existing photographs, livery or publicity involving officers or staff in their campaign publicity…Forces should request candidates to remove or withdraw such material if attempts are made to use them.”

The official election protocol adds: “The OPCC and Bedfordshire Police will seek to ensure [police staff] imagery and livery is not used in any campaigning or publicity material….Where it is so used, the Chief Constable or Chief Executive will consider the need to request the candidate to remove or withdraw the material.”

The “likely reputational damage and [damage to] confidence in policing” will be considered, the protocol states. 

Prof Talbot, who is a Bedford resident, has lodged a formal complaint with the PCC office, as has at least one other resident. And he accused Akinbusoye of having “a history of abusing his role for publicity”. 

“His last annual report featured over 250 pictures of him in a 52 page annual report. It’s quite a feat to fit them all in. I’ve never seen an annual report like it – it’s extraordinary,” he added. Akinbusoye also runs a private security company based in Milton Keynes. 

Akinbusoye been front and centre as Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner

Akinbusoye is likely to be told to scrap the offending election material if he is found in breach of the rules. However, that is likely to be mostly a symbolic rebuke, given that the leaflets have already gone out. 

The leaflet appears to have been produced before the formal election period started, however Prof Talbot says residents have received the leaflets since the formal campaign began. 

“He could have said it was within the pre-election period rules and that it’s ‘just a mistake – the leaflets were old, someone posted them by mistake, we’ll stop’. But he’s now doubled down and republished the image of him in uniform on Twitter, during the election period. 

“The best thing to do would be to keep quiet and accept a rap- but he’s blown it up and made it worse. He’s made clear he doesn’t think it’s a problem.” 

Prof Talbot has helped the local Labour PCC candidate on policing policy but is not a Labour member. 

Katie Beaumont, Head of Governance and Transparency, Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner in Bedfordshire told Byline Times: “We have been made aware of concerns regarding the use of police-related imagery by a candidate in some of their election material. 

“We are working with the Police Area Returning Officer (PARO) and National Police Chief’s Council to review the material to ascertain whether it is in breach of our local protocol. If it is determined to be so, the candidate will be asked to remove the image from their campaign material.

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Akinbusoye’s team did not respond to our request to comment in time, but later hit out on X, claiming the issue was “’Much ado about a uniform”. 

The Conservative candidate said: “I am extremely proud of my time as a Special Constable on frontline duties here in Bedfordshire a few years ago and before being elected as Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC). This is not new, nor is it news, so attempts by my opponents to stop me sharing pictures and anecdotes of my time as a Special Constable will not work. Quite rightly, this experience has influenced my decisions and priorities as a PCC.” 

He accused critics of trying to “silence” him or “suggest I am breaking a rule by showing pictures of me in police uniform or ‘police logo’”, dubbing it “nonsense”. 

“It is the typical desperate political games played during election times. I earned the uniform which I wore with pride, put in 30 hr shifts per week (unpaid, claiming no expenses), and did my job well. I am not the first election candidate to use a picture of themselves in a police, army, or some kind of uniform here in Bedfordshire or Britain. I won’t be the last, and I won’t be deterred.” It is unclear who he was referring to. 

A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission referred us to Bedfordshire Police and the Office of the Bedfordshire PCC.

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