Leeds & West Yorkshire

Boris Johnson police speech: Chief criticises PM's use of officers

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Media captionBoris Johnson: "I'd rather be dead in a ditch" than ask for Brexit delay

A chief constable was "disappointed" his officers were used as a backdrop to a speech by Boris Johnson about Brexit.

Thirty-five officers stood behind the prime minister during the speech which was scheduled to mark a recruitment campaign for an extra 20,000 officers.

Mr Johnson was accused of politicising the police by having them present during Thursday's speech in Wakefield.

Chief Constable John Robins said he understood the speech would be solely about police officer recruitment.

"We had no prior knowledge that the speech would be broadened to other issues until it was delivered," the West Yorkshire Police chief said on Friday.

"I was therefore disappointed to see my police officers as a backdrop to the part of the speech that was not related to recruitment."

Speech 'hijacked'

Although the speech in Wakefield focused on police funding, it also referenced a possible general election with Mr Johnson stating he would "rather be dead in a ditch" than delay Brexit.

Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire's Labour police and crime commissioner, said the visit which should have been about plans for police recruitment was "hijacked" by Mr Johnson.

He added: "The news of the recruitment drive and the acknowledgment of how officers and staff have suffered with austerity was completely lost because he was only interested in getting his own agenda across.

"There is no way police officers and staff, who clearly thought it would be all about police recruitment announcements, should have formed a backdrop to a speech of that nature."

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Media captionBoris Johnson: "Please leave my town" voter tells prime minister

John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation for England and Wales, said: "I am surprised that police officers were used as a backdrop for a political speech in this way.

"I am sure that on reflection all concerned will agree that this was the wrong decision and it is disappointing that the focus has been taken away from the recruitment of 20,000 officers."

Paula Sherriff, MP for Dewsbury and Tracy Brabin, MP for Batley and Spen, have written to the chief constable about Mr Johnson's visit.

"We've asked him a number of questions including about whether the officers had the option about whether to be there during that visit, which was clearly hijacked, and also what was the cost of that visit to the public purse," Ms Sheriff said.

Shortly before Mr Robins' statement was released, Downing Street defended Thursday's visit to the force's operations and training complex.

A Number 10 spokeswoman said: "The PM's long-planned visit was highlighting a national recruitment campaign for 20,000 new officers which has been welcomed across the police service."

"It gave the PM an opportunity to see first-hand the outstanding training which new recruits receive and to meet those who have committed their lives to keeping us safe."

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Johnson took part in walkabouts in Leeds and Wakefield where he was approached by a member of the public who shook his hand before politely asking him to leave his town.

The encounter led to the hashtag PleaseLeaveMyTown trending on Twitter.

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