Police commissioner Ann Barnes responds to 'car crash' TV documentary

Kent Police and Crime Commissioner Ann Barnes has been forced to defend herself and Kent Police against a wave of criticism in the wake of a fly-on-the-wall Channel 4 documentary about her office.

Ann Barnes: Attacked over Channel 4 documentary
Ann Barnes: Attacked over Channel 4 documentary

Viewers of last night's hour-long documentary took to social media to question whether the show was not in fact a spoof and to dub Barnes an "embarrassment" to Kent Police, which has distanced itself from the programme on Twitter.


In the opening scene Barnes, whose annual salary in the role is reported to be £85,000, struggled to explain a diagram made up of a series of concentric circles purportedly showing the "different kinds of policing in Kent".

"These are the different kinds of policing priorities, in terms of priority," she said.

Asked what might constitute a crime in the outer circle, she admitted: "Oh God, no idea, I can't tell you actually, I wasn't thinking I was going to talk about the onion, as we call it". 

Criticism of Kent's PCC has not been restricted to social media. Today a light aircraft trailing a banner calling for Barnes' resignation was photographed over Maidstone police station.

Nick Williams, head of public affairs and corporate communications at Fleishman-Hillard, said the documentary had damaged the credibility of both the indiividual police commissioner and the wider PCC scheme.

"The whole piece came across as laughable and lightweight," he said. "It has caused a bit credibility issue to be raised around police commissioners and I expect those areas with an elected PCC will be paying greater scrutiny to what they are doing."

Meanwhile Kevin McKeever, head of Portland Local, pointed a finger of blame at the team around Barnes.

"It was clear that Ann Barnes had no idea what she wanted to communicate to the public," he said. "Without an effective strategy and handling operation, she should have been strongly advised not to take part in the show."

Ian Pointon, chairman of the Kent Police Federation, described it as a "horrendous hour of television".

In an interview with BBC Radio Kent, he said: "I think it was probably a disaster from start to finish.

"It was an ill-advised concept and from within Kent Police I know that Mrs Barnes was advised not to do it. It was never going to end well. I think, sadly, it has turned Kent Police by association into something of a laughing stock. Social media was alight with comments."

However, Linstock Communications associate director Tim Morris argued that the Cutting Edge programme had done an equal amount of reputational damage to the documentary filmmaking industry.

"This was a real opportunity to get some critical insight into what is an important role that people don't know enough about," he said.

"It's a serious subject but they took the easy route of mocking the post and the individual and that is a disservice to other filmmakers because this is the sort of programme that will make police forces and other PCCs say 'no' to those requests."

Williams added that there was "a huge amount of ignorance about what police commissioners do and so the principle of doing a programme on that was probably a good idea" but added that "the particular case they chose didn't come across in the best possible light".

Since the programme aired Barnes has issued a statement attempting to deflect some of the reputational damage away from Kent Police. It said: "Over the past few days I have heard many accusations including that I have damaged the reputation of Kent Police.

"Personal insults I will have to endure but the reputation accusation concerns me very much. I want to be absolutely clear that in agreeing to the film being made, it was never my intention to draw adverse publicity to the excellent work being carried out by officers and staff in often very difficult circumstances.

"If they continue to give a quality service to all of our communities in Kent then their deserved reputation as a high-performing force will continue. Kent should be proud of its police force, of the people in it and of the work that they do. I know that I am."

The full statement can be viewed here: Kent PCC Statement.

The documentary will no doubt attract further criticism to the role of PCCs, publicly elected officials who replaced police authorities and whose job is to ensure that police forces in England and Wales are run effectively.

The Home Affairs Committee described the PCC concept as being "on probation" in a report at the start of this year, in part due to the low turnout in the first PCC elections in November 2012, when only 15 per cent of eligible voters took part.

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