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Vera Baird in race for elected police commissioner post

THE former solicitor general has set out why she wants to be the first elected Northumbria police commissioner.

Former solicitor general Vera Baird

THE former solicitor general has set out why she wants to be the first elected Northumbria police commissioner.

Vera Baird says she feels she has the experience and regional links needed to succeed as the new head of the police force should she be voted in at this November’s elections.

The Home Office has pushed through the creation of police commissioners which will be tasked with setting force budgets and priorities.

Northumbria’s post comes with an £85,000-a-year salary.

In an interview with The Journal Ms Baird, who lost her Redcar seat at the last election, said her previous experience dealing with complex criminal legal cases made her the ideal candidate.

Ms Baird is one of several Labour politicians looking to secure the party’s nominations.

She said: “The more I get into campaigning for this, the more I feel like it was made for me. I have had 25 years at the bar and working in the legal profession, both defending and overseeing prosecutions in criminal cases and as an adviser to the police.

“As solicitor general from 2007 to 2010 I had responsibility for the CPS, which sees you take a role in many high level prosecutions, such as the work done by the Serious Fraud Office, and working with the police at all levels.

“As a police commissioner, you are effectively tasked with buying a service for the public and I think you need that top level experience to get the best out of the job.”

Ms Baird is currently touring the Northumbria force patch by public transport, a move which sees her return to her North East roots.

“It is an excellent opportunity to see the force from the public’s point of view,” she said.

The barrister studied at Newcastle Polytechnic, now Northumbria University and lived in the region, studying law and working, for nearly 20 years.

This saw her working as a trainee solicitor in Sunderland, a part of the region she returned to last week to meet council leader Paul Watson, one of many meetings with senior party members.

Before she won her Teesside seat, she stood as Labour’s candidate for the Berwick seat in the 1983 General Election.

Ms Baird defended miners from the region during the strike in the 1980s in a series of cases which saw her made an honorary member of the Durham Miners Association.

Her work there saw her defend miners caught up in the so-called battle of Orgreave. In those cases and others, Ms Baird said, she successfully defended miners against a state which was increasingly prepared to charge strikers with serious riot offences rather than lesser crimes.

Despite an early career which saw her up against North East officers on a regular basis – and defeating them in court – Ms Baird speaks in terms which reveal she has a lot in common with Northumbria Police chief constable Sue Sim.

Ms Baird said: “I think the police commissioner post, we were against them to begin with but now they are a job that is coming and they will form a key part of growing relations between the force and local communities.”

That community focus, which came up several times during her interview with The Journal, matches views expressed by Ms Sim, who has promised to ensure community policing is a frontline service which will not be hit by Government funding cuts.

The two appear to have met briefly several years back at a seminar on violence against women that Ms Baird was addressing.

Ms Baird said: “There was a conference about the impact of sexual violence and witnesses which Sue Sim was also at, I think we may have spoke then, but I did see her speak when she opened the conference and pledged her commitment to the issue.

“She struck me as being very good at her job then and no one would argue otherwise now. She has done a great job so far and is leading an excellent force.”

 

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