What will the Welsh press write about when Richard Brunstrom resigns?
After a headline packed eight years in charge of the force, the Chief Constable of North Wales Police has announced his intention to quietly leave his £112,000 a year job.
The man Richard Littlejohn dubbed the ‘Mad Mullah of the Traffic Taliban’ has never been one to shy away from publicity but appears now to have had enough, saying this week,
‘I’m off for an easier life but I’ve had a whale of a time here. I am as proud as I possibly could be of what we have achieved. I’ve moved right to the top of the police service, it’s time someone else had a chance.”
Whoever they replace Mr Brunstrom with, they are unlikely to have as an eventful career as his. He was appointed to the top job in January 2001 and has rarely been out of the headlines since
The two primary issues that have dogged him throughout his time in charge of North Wales Police are drugs and speed cameras.
His zero tolerance attitude to road safety was demonstrated when he called a press conference to condemn a retired 71 year old bank manager caught doing 39mph in a 30mph zone. More recently, at a 2007 presentation on road safety, Brunstrom showed photographs of a headless motorcyclist at a traffic accident. He did so without the permission of the family of the dead man. Both the family and Clwyd South MP Martyn Jones called for Brunstrom to resign.
The Chief Constable’s attitude to drugs has also been controversial. As early as 2001 Brunstrom called for the legalisation of Heroin, and proposed placing vending machines outside Colwyn Bay police station to be kept stocked with disposable syringes.
He maintained this position throughout his career recently describing ecstasy as safer than aspirin, and in 2007 calling for the legalisation of all drugs and an end to the ‘immoral’ drug laws.
Alongside his strong positions on road safety and drugs, Brunstrom was also the subject of some stories that were just plain weird. His appointment as an Honoury Druid in 2006 was covered extensively and ridiculed as widely. In December 2007, during refurbishment work at the North Wales police headquarters, Brunstrom staged a break-in, scaling scaffolding and climbing through a window. Initially it was suggested he had done it to test security but it was later revealed his entry fob was no longer working.
All this adds up to a weird collection of press cuttings. However, as much as I have at times despaired over the actions of the Chief Constable I do also admire him, and often have little sympathy with those who have hauled him over the coals for doing his job.
The nickname he picked up over the speed camera issue was attributed to him by Richard Littlejohn for goodness sake – as deplorable an individual as you are likely to read. The anti-speed camera lobby, led by the leader of the idiots, Jeremy Clarkson, is a group I find it difficult to agree with. People die on the roads everyday and speed limits and cameras are a good thing.
Admittedly, Brunstrom did make a critical error in choosing the photographs of the biker to show to the press without the family’s permission. It was a mistake. But the fact that the bow-tie wearing opportunist Martyn Jones exploited the situation to increase his tiny political capital is also pretty repulsive.
Brunstrom’s passion for road safety has at times seemed to border on obsession. But he is a police officer right? What they are supposed to do is enforce the law. Whether you agree with the law or not it is Brunstrom’s job to enforce it. So in that regard wasn’t he just doing his job?
When it comes to drugs, I think that Brunstrom’s principled stand is worth reviewing and applauding. There are very few, if any top coppers that would put their head above the parapet in this manner.
And despite what you may have read – a tiny bit of investigation shows that Brunstrom’s opinions on the subject are informed by experience and statistics. We are losing the war on drugs, and current policing strategies that criminalise the behaviour cause social problems that maybe unnecessary.
Looking at some of this stuff in the cold light of day and away from the rabid right wing press and you realise that what is being proposed, although radical, might just be a solution. A British drugs policy based on prohibition has dramatically failed. Illegal drugs are more plentiful and cheaper than ever. There are more drug users than ever. The war on drugs is fundamentally un-winnable. He says,
‘If policy on drugs is in the future to be pragmatic not moralistic, driven by ethics not dogma, then the current prohibition stance will have to be swept away as both unworkable and immoral. Such a strategy leads inevitably to the legalisation and regulation of all drugs.’
I couldn’t agree more with Brunstrom on the issue of drug enforcement, and his strong and consistent position deserves our respect. Likewise with the issue of road safety Brunstrom has maintained and defended his position.
When Brunstrom spent £6000 investigating anti-Welsh remarks by Tony Blair and Anne Robinson, he made himself a laughing stock. When he was tasered he undermined his credibility. When he broke into his own police headquarters people questioned his sanity. And when he made the awful mistake of showing the road accident pictures he was condemned. All too often during his time in the top job Brunstrom undermined the good things he was doing and saying, with a daft and flippant attitude to the press. He suffered from an amateurish approach to public relations.
Welsh and UK national newspapers alike loved it every time he made a comment off the cuff or to grab attention, but often, there was something important being said – and we missed it.
There was more to Brunstrom than the headlines – trouble is it’s the headlines we will all remember.
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