Meet Kevin Hurley: ‘Britain’s most outspoken crime commissioner’

Surrey Police and Crime Commissioner, Kevin Hurley, by Andy Newbold

Surrey Police and Crime Commissioner, Kevin Hurley, by Andy Newbold - Credit: Various

He has been dubbed ‘Britain’s most outspoken crime commissioner’, but as he reflects on his first year in the job with Surrey Police, Kevin Hurley, who lives in Esher, is showing no signs of mellowing as yet…

Just over a year into his job as Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey Police and Kevin Hurley is a far from happy man. Morale among his staff and officers has never been lower, he says, and they have been badly affected by constant press criticism.

“We’ve had a bashing over the way the Milly Dowler murder investigation and subsequent phone hacking cases were pursued, the way Deepcut and Jimmy Savile were investigated, the way Frances Andrade was or wasn’t supported as a victim... Surrey Police has had a lot of national-level stick,” he says.

He clearly thinks the criticism excessive, not least because his officers are getting tarred with police failings elsewhere – over Hillsborough or “whatever the Met has or hasn’t done”. Besides, he doesn’t accept Surrey Police has been guilty of any major failings.

“The failure to investigate the phone hacking of Milly Dowler when, at the time, we were a bit busy trying to find this missing girl? No, I don’t see that as monumental,” he says. “The failure to prosecute on a couple of issues relating to Jimmy Savile from 20 or 30 years ago? Again, not monumental. They are, of course, a matter for concern.”


Fighting talk

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As you will have gathered, Hurley, 60, who lives in Esher and spent 30 years in the police force where he rose from beat patrol to borough commander, is coming out fighting. He doesn’t do meek and mild. Contrition isn’t in his vocabulary. And he shoots from the hip. When, at one point, there’s a misunderstanding over the phrasing of a question, and I reassure him that I’m not trying to catch him out, he replies: “Oh, you won’t catch me out.”

Not surprisingly, perhaps, his first year in office hasn’t been without controversy. When some questioned his decision to appoint his friend, Jeff Harris, a former police chief superintendent, as his deputy on £50k a year, his response was typically uncompromising. “There was no fairness in it,” he said. “The role was too important for me to go through a process of interview boards with people I don’t know. To put it bluntly, I understand the business.”

With good reason has he been dubbed “Britain’s most outspoken crime commissioner”. Just three months into the job, there were calls for his resignation when he said an ethnically diverse police force was not necessary, provided there were officers in place who knew how to interact with the public.

He has even criticised his own. The Metropolitan Police officers handling the murder of Stephen Lawrence should have applied “more emotional intelligence”. And Sir William Macpherson, author of the landmark report into the death of Stephen Lawrence? A victim of “post-colonial” guilt. Anyone seemed fair game.

But there’s also a counter view. “The new man speaks as he finds and the future seems exciting,” wrote one newspaper pundit when Hurley took on the role. His willingness to speak out certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed. The Daily Mail has drafted him in to condemn everything from gags on whistleblowers to political correctness in Britain’s police.

“Your colleagues in the press are finding it increasingly difficult to find anyone who works in the police willing to talk to them about anything and I think it’s absolutely appalling,” he says. “People welcome my forthright views.”

He may have a point because his no-nonsense approach coloured his entire election manifesto – and he won. After failing to win nomination as a Conservative candidate in the 2012 Police and Crime Commissioner elections, he stood as an independent on a zero-tolerance ticket, pledging to clamp down on crime and anti-social behaviour.

He claimed to have some form in this area. While borough commander at Hammersmith and Fulham, he boasted the best performance against crime in the Met. “Criminals more than respected the police, they were scared of us,” he said. “Our ethos was that they didn’t rule the street, we did.”


Zero tolerance

But his zero-tolerance message has had its detractors, whom he, in turn, has criticised for their “bigoted” reaction. “They assume I must be extremely right wing, but at no stage have I said we need to put anyone in prison or that rehabilitation doesn’t work,” he said in an interview last year.

For zero tolerance to work, he adds, it needs to be adopted by everyone in authority, from teachers to library staff, not just the police. “It’s saying we have certain expectations of how people should behave and we’re putting a marker down.”

Asked to single out his achievements, he pinpoints his attempts to forge closer ties with Surrey County Council and the county’s 11 district borough councils in a bid to deliver his zero-tolerance strategy. “Many of the councils are taking a larger role in tackling anti-social behaviour, whether it be noisy neighbours or fly-tipping. We should be breaking down boundaries between borough and district councils in responding to matters of public concern and aiming for more council enforcement officers on the street.”

He also highlights the fact that he was the first PCC to scrap numerical targets in his Police and Crime Plan, which, he argues, brought about perverse incentives, and to open his management meetings with the Chief Constable to public scrutiny via a live webcast, though he concedes there has been “very little” public reaction.

In addition, he has also called for improved pay and conditions for new police constables, arguing “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”, and singles out his work for victim groups.

But all this has been pursued in the face of growing budget cuts. Seven Surrey police stations are earmarked for sale, though he put a freeze on the process during his first week to ensure “we were getting the best bang for our buck”. He now claims to have secured better prices for at least some of the family silver.

Three key hubs

As a result, Surrey policing is now based in three key hubs in Guildford, Staines and Reigate. Don’t these closures run kilter to his pledge to deliver more visible street policing? Apparently not. Closures would have been necessary regardless of financial pressures, he says.

“Now we work in close partnership with councils, we’ve decided to base our neighbourhood offices in town halls where we can liaise more closely with other local authority departments. This has meant some of our local police stations are no longer required.”

That’s not to say that he doesn’t have deep misgivings about the current police funding arrangements, which he believes wrongly penalise Surrey residents. Surrey Police is currently facing a £2.2m shortfall, which will have to be raised through council tax.

So what’s he doing about it? “I’ve written to the Home Secretary, the Chancellor and 11 MPs, including Dominic Raab, MP for Esher and Walton, who is lobbying on our behalf. I have also commissioned an independent review, which has highlighted just how unfairly Surrey taxpayers are treated by central government. Surrey provides more to the GDP of the country than any other county with the exception of the City Of London. What’s more, they get the second to last worst grant for policing in the country, which means they also have the highest police council precept in the country.”


Changing times

Mind you, he doesn’t think the current organisational status quo helps and has called for an end to separate county police forces. “Delivering policing in England and Wales across 43 police forces is barking mad. Surrey Police spends something in the order of £10m on a chief constable, lots of superintendents, inspectors and support staff, as well as a quarter of a million on my office. Why don’t we have one police force for the whole of the south-east?”

It sounds like he’s talking himself out of a job. “Yes. If the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner wanted to amalgamate with me mid-term, I’d resign and give her the role. It’s the right thing to do for the public.”

It seems Kevin Hurley will never be out of the news for long, underlined by his evidence to the Iraq Inquiry, where he alleged that he had witnessed human rights abuses committed by the British Army in Iraq during his time as a military reservist officer. He is also on record as being a police whistleblower. Has there been any retribution?

“Yes. I probably didn’t get as senior in the police as I might have done. But I believe in integrity in all these issues and will say what I believe to be right on behalf of the public, regardless of the personal cost.

“I’m named after my grandfather, who was a member of the original Irish Republican Army. That might explain why I’m a bit of a rebel, who has ended up being something of an establishment figure. It’s in my blood to challenge the status quo.”


My Favourite Surrey…

Restaurant: The Colony Restaurant in Weybridge. The Chinese food and the service are excellent.

Shop: Hoi Polloi in Claygate. It sells quirky things from birthday cards to women’s shoes.

View: The journey on the A25 over the Surrey Hills between Dorking and Guildford. It’s an awesome view.

Place to relax: Esher Common, where I like to go running.

Place to visit: The Oaklands Chaser, a friendly pub and restaurant in Weybridge, where I often go with friends.