Sheffield is still safest city, says departing police chief

BALLPR pictured at the Police fundriseing ball at Bladwins , are  Ploice chief Med Hughes,  fromer policeman David Rathband,
BALLPR pictured at the Police fundriseing ball at Bladwins , are Ploice chief Med Hughes, fromer policeman David Rathband,

SOUTH Yorkshire’s most senior police officer steps down this week believing that Sheffield is upholding its reputation as the safest large city in the country.

“The evidence is there in terms of the crime figures,” says Med Hughes, who is leaving after seven years as Chief Constable.

“By and large, people can walk the streets safely at any time of the day and night.”

A mission to deliver “what the public wants” has resulted in a reduction in cases such as violent crime, burglary and car theft – so much so that figures are approaching a 30-year low, he points out.

And the force can reflect that Sheffield and other parts of South Yorkshire avoided the riots that devastated other parts of the country.

“Yes, we were lucky,” says Mr Hughes. “But as a famous golfer once said, ‘the harder I work, the luckier I get’.

“I believe we work very hard with local authorities, community leaders and young people to ensure that the relationships between us are good. It’s not just down to the police. It’s down to the local culture.”

At the same time it is a regret, he says, that, amid the falling crime rates and strengthening of links with neighbourhoods, many people still believe that not enough progress is being made. Perhaps traditional local scepticism is at work, it is suggested.

“I just wish the public had more confidence in the police than the figures suggest. Public confidence is not as good as in some areas with higher crime rates.”

Mr Hughes is leaving early at the age of 53 to allow time for his successor to be found and to adapt to a tough and changing climate.

The first South Yorkshire Police Commissioner will be elected in November next year as an alternative to the police authority, which comprises councillors from across the region.

It’s a structural change that Mr Hughes has described as “radical and potentially difficult” and it is approaching at a time when he has already spoken out over the impact of Government spending cuts.

The chief constable has predicted an increase in crime, and not just as a consequence of the £43m of savings that South Yorkshire must find over the next four years, with the prospect of more than 1,000 policing and staff posts being lost.

He remains concerned about the cumulative effect of rising unemployment soars, cuts in council services and courts allowing repeat offenders to remain on the streets.

Until an appointment is made towards the end of the year, senior responsibility passes to Deputy Chief Constable Bob Dyson.

However, Mr Dyson is ruled out of the top job permanently because he has only served in the one force.

Mr Hughes believes he is leaving the force “in excellent condition. We have invested heavily in developing people with the right skills and promoting them into the right roles.”

Investment in technology and forensic support have also paid off, he says, as have initiatives such as a business crime reduction scheme and the Lifewise project with South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue to promote community safety and citizenship.

Mr Hughes leaves with endorsement for his efforts from local MP and former Home Secretary David Blunkett and the local Police Federation.

But it is not retirement. He will now step up his work with companies he has set up to help improve road safety, notably in East Europe, for example.

And he has no plans to leave the area he came to as Deputy Chief Constable, from Greater Manchester, in 2002. Clearly he has grown fond of the place.

“It reminds me of where I grew up in Cardiff. Both Cardiff and Sheffield are like big villages. Even when I am off duty and wearing jeans and a t-shirt I can’t walk through Sheffield without meeting people I know.

“It’s a very friendly place and both my son and I now love being around here. I love the countryside and rock climbing and I’m hoping to do a bit more of it.”

Testing times are head for his successor.

Mr Hughes hopes the changeover will be low-key. “If I have been successful as Chief Constable, you shouldn’t notice my departure.”