Friday brief exclusive: Fire chief candidate under investigation by police watchdog
Plus the planning fiasco at North Northamptonshire Council makes national news and plans to lease public land to the county’s top cricket club
Before you read our exclusive, please consider becoming a paying subscriber. Local news will only survive if readers pay for it, so if you are a regular reader and think our service is worth it, you can support NN Journal by clicking this link below
The candidate preferred to be the county’s new fire chief is under investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), NN Journal can exclusively reveal.
Nikki Watson is being investigated for behaviour relating to her time as deputy chief constable at Avon and Somerset Police.
We asked the IOPC this week specific questions about Nikki Watson and the watchdog said while it could not confirm the identity of any individual, it could provide the following statement:
“We can confirm we are investigating the conduct of a former senior Avon and Somerset Police officer regarding their attendance at a policing conference in 2023 and whether proper policies and procedures were followed.
“Our investigation, which is well advanced, followed a referral from the force in October 2023.
“At its conclusion we will decide whether the former officer has any misconduct case to answer.”
It is unclear what the investigation concerns. Nikki Watson was supposed to be confirmed by the police, fire and crime panel at a confirmation hearing in early December, but she failed to turn up, giving notice to the panel just minutes before.
The commissioner has now set her confirmation date for February 20.
When approached about the IOPC investigation by NN Journal, the commissioner said:
“Nikki Watson has made us aware of an issue relating to her previous role in Avon and Somerset Police, which arose after she had been named as preferred candidate for the role of Chief Fire Officer.
“We understand a process is now taking place and are confident that the IOPC will be carrying out a full, thorough and independent investigation of the matter, and that they will be doing that as quickly as possible.
“Nikki Watson went through an open and rigorous selection process for the role of Chief Fire Officer and was the outstanding candidate. The confirmation process will continue, pending the outcome of the IOPC investigation, and we look forward to briefing the Panel fully on February 20.”
The commissioner was in front of the panel this week setting an increase in the fire and police precept, but did not give any update on Nikki Watson’s appointment. Yesterday evening, ahead of the publication of this story, he sent a letter to panel members notifying them of the investigation.
The role of fire chief has been a farce for a number of months since the commissioner improperly appointed his friend and head of his officer Nicci Marzec to the role, despite her not having any fire management experience. She left ten days later.
Long-serving fire officer Deputy chief Simon Tuhill has been acting in an interim role as fire chief since July, but has been overlooked by the commissioner for the top job.
Watson, who retired from Avon and Somerset police force in July is married to the chief executive of the college of policing Andy Marsh, who was the former chief constable of Avon and Somerset.
Stephen Mold has a professional relationship with Andy Marsh through his role as a board member of the College of Policing, of which Mr Marsh is the chief executive officer.
NN Journal asked if commissioner Mold had a personal friendship with the couple and was not provided with an answer.
Fire Brigades Union representative for the East Midlands Adam Taylor said:
“After a year of turmoil, Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service is in desperate need of stable and honest qualified leadership. Media reports that the preferred candidate for Chief Fire Officer is facing allegations that are under investigation by the IOPC are alarming.
“Firefighting relies on trust in the chain of command, so it is crucial that firefighters have faith in the honesty of those in senior leadership. The fire and rescue service must be led with integrity and transparency to retain public trust.”
News in brief
The deputy leader of West Northamptonshire Council (WNC) has defended the authority’s decision not to give a plan to grant a long cheap lease to the county’s cricket club some scrutiny.
Cllr Adam Brown, said the council had been given assurance by Northamptonshire County Cricket Club that it will not sell off current ground Wantage Road, as part of plans to develop a new facility on council owned land near Moulton.
“If they ever did sell Wantage Road, there would clearly be a discussion. There is a clause in the lease about profitability - this is one of the safeguards which is built into the lease.”
The authority’s Conservative cabinet will decide on Tuesday whether to follow the recommendation of assistant director for assets Simon Bowers to give the lease of Manor Farm over to the sports club on a 125 year lease for a nominal rent.
The club wants to build a new cricket complex ( to include an indoor training centre, two standard pitches and a pavilion), but does not have any funding for its ambitions plans as yet.
Cllr Brown said any of the authority’s four scrutiny committees (three of which are chaired by Conservatives) could call in the decision for scrutiny.
The land which is 17 hectares, has been valued at £1.5m by Lambert Smith Hampton. In his report Simon Bowers, assistant director of assets and environment for WNC, said the scheme could be threatened if the council decided to charge the sports club an amount for the land:
“Assuming a site is provided, the council could provide it, as proposed, on a peppercorn basis (albeit with the provision for sharing any super-profit which might arise in the future) or it might seek to charge the commercial value of the site, or somewhere between those two. It appears likely that if the Council sought to charge the commercial value the scheme would be unable to proceed. This is not certain, and it is possible the scheme could support at least a modest land value payment.
“However, the council charging for the land would be likely to be seen by funders as indicating a lack of support and thus make it less likely they would be forthcoming. Additionally, the proposed arrangements, which NCCC [cricket club] has accepted, provide robust protections for WNC’s intentions in providing the site. If WNC was to charge the commercial value or even some fraction of this, it is likely to re-open the negotiations and NCCC may not be willing to accept the protections. At worst, this could mean either the scheme does not proceed (because the parties cannot agree terms) or WNC accepted such limited protections that it could not be confident the site would be used for the purposes intended.”
A University of Northampton student has been sentenced to 21 years in prison for the murder of another student.
Melvin Lebaga-Idubor, aged 19, previously of Northampton, was found guilty of murdering Kwabena Osei-Poku at a court trial last November and on Wednesday was handed his sentence.
Antonio Huian, aged 18, also previously of Northampton, was also sentenced to 14 months in prison, suspended for 21 months, after pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice.
Kwabena, who was known as Alfred, had been involved in a drugs dispute with Lebaga-Idubor and was found stabbed just outside the campus grounds on New South Bridge Road on the night of April 23. He died at the scene.
His mother Joyce paid tribute to her son yesterday saying in a statement issued through Northants police:
“I remember all the great things about Alfred all the time - his kindness, how I could always depend on him, the close relationship we shared, and how he always wanted to help people younger than him, which he did through his voluntary work with High Heritage.
“These thoughts make me smile but they also break my heart because they remind me of just how much potential he had and how we will never be able to create any new memories together.
“I want people to understand how much devastation a knife can cause a family. And I mean really truly understand.”
She also thanked the detectives for bringing her son’s killer to justice.
The number of planning officers working at North Northamptonshire Council has come under the spotlight following the spectacular blunder which has seen a Corby warehouse make national news.
Northants Telegraph reporter Callum Faulds broke the story earlier this week about the council’s planning officer consulting the wrong residents about a new warehouse on a former Weetabix site. The planning officer had mistakenly consulted residents on a street next to the town’s second Weetabix site.
NN Journal has asked the council for figures about how many permanent planning officers it employs, how many consultants and whether the department is being run by a consultant. We have not had a response as yet.
Liberal Democrat Carl Squires won the east Hunsbury and Shefleys byelection last night. The west unitary council seat became vacant after Conservative Suresh Patel stood down.
Local democracy reporter Nadia Lincoln was at the election count last night.
National journalists have been doing the St Pancras to Wellingborough journey to write their reports on the upcoming by-election.
Here’s a podcast worth a listen from the Guardian journalist John Harris who visited the town.
It’s now just six days until the byelection - NN Journal will be there during the counting of votes to bring you the result. Paying subscribers will receive a live blog, so sign up below to receive it.