After the Conservative administration took over at County Hall in May 2017, a review of all arrangements at the council’s former development company Arch, which has now been replaced by Advance Northumberland, took place, with a number of issues identified.
It was believed that there was ‘potential for criminality’ in relation to some of these matters, according to an internal audit report, which was completed in October 2017 but embargoed from publication by police until now. It is due to be discussed by the council’s audit committee on Friday (March 22).
But last night (Friday, March 15), a Northumbria Police spokesman said: “We can confirm that Northumberland County Council contacted police with concerns relating to finance and governance at Arch.
“Police have been working with the council and reviewed documentation they provided. We can confirm no criminal offences have been identified.”
The force’s line over the past 18 months has consistently been that while it was working with the council on matters ‘relating to finance and governance issues at Arch’, there was ‘currently no ongoing criminal police investigation’.
But its latest statement appears to suggest that it has concluded its involvement with these matters.
Suggestions that there may have been political interference over the inquiries into Arch were roundly rejected at last September’s full meeting of the county council by the Chief Constable of Northumbria Police, Winton Keenan.
Coun Georgina Hill, chairman of the audit committee, said: “Members of the audit committee, including the independent members, and members of the public are saying, what is going on, are they taking these allegations seriously, are they deploying resources to investigate properly?
“More worryingly – and this is a perception and I’m quoting from members of the public and others – the Police and Crime Commissioner (Dame Vera Baird) is a prominent member of the same party and some people are saying things like, would they really take this seriously given they’re members of the same party?
“Can you give me assurances that this investigation will be robust and thorough and free from any political interference?”
Chief Constable Keenan replied: “First of all, I’m flabbergasted in truth by the latter suggestion. I’m not sure you should need me for Northumbria Police to say we will investigate it without fear or favour absolutely independently, but if you do need that assurance, I’m giving it to you personally now.
“The officers that will be investigating this matter are the types of officers you see every day in every walk of life who go about doing their very best for you and I assure you that anybody charged with a duty of inquiring into any matter will do so without fear or favour no matter what political persuasion anybody involved in the oversight of policing may have.”
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service