"You're going to have people out there saying `She either got the job because of the links the Commissioner had with your parents or vice versa'..." Councillor Andrew Dawson
Last month, the Cheshire Police and Crime Panel held an open confirmation meeting to grill Claremont Councillor, Sareda Dirir, on her 'personal independence and competence' to take on the role of Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, after having been chosen by the current Commissioner, David Keane, as the 'outstanding candidate' for the £50,000 a year job.
Both of Sareda's parents, Linda Dirir and Allin Dirir, are Labour councillors for the Penketh and Cuerdley ward in Warrington, which is also the ward of Crime Commissioner David Keane.
Councillors at the panel hearing said that when Keane wrote to them about the provisional appointment, he hadn't informed them that he'd known Sareda for twenty years. As soon as her parents were mentioned, the panel meeting got fiery to say the least...
"I hope the chairman would step in at this point" Sareda snapped "...This panel is about me and understanding if I am suitable for this role. So can I ask you respectfully, no questions about my family...it's not respectful or appropriate."
Conservative Councillor Andrew Dawson was having none of it, arguing that her independence needed to be considered...
"Your parents and the Police and Crime Commissioner are councillors for the same ward in Warrington Council" he said "The problem I worry about is how that places you...
"...You're going to have people out there saying `She either got the job because of the links the Commissioner had with your parents' or vice versa, and I think there's almost nothing you can say that can get away from that" he added "So how are you going to deal with people pointing the finger, rightly or wrongly, and saying there is that link behind the scenes?"
Councillor Darir responded: "I've known the present Commissioner for about twenty years and he has been open and honest about that....I don't think it's a negative thing...as long as you are open and transparent..."
She argued that there had been four people on the appointment panel, including the Crime Commissioner for North Wales... "It demonstrates, I hope, that out of the candidates, even though I know him, I was the best one.
"...I would say to anybody who's questioning that, that you're not just questioning my integrity you're questioning or the Commissioner's integrity, you're questioning three or four other people and I think that's a very difficult road to go down..."
Councillor Dawson continued... "I struggle to see how you're going to get away from people saying that you don't have independence given what you've said. When the Commissioner wrote to us he didn't tell us that you'd had this twenty year relationship..."
Panel Chairman, Councillor Howard Murray, added: "We want evidence as to how you would handle a very difficult situation that is inevitably going to be revealed, even though it wasn't revealed to us...It's not about your integrity it's about the perception. Do you understand how this is going to be perceived by members of the public?"
Earlier in the hearing, panel members questioned Sareda's competence for the role, asking for examples of how the former journalist, teacher and public relations worker had demonstrated capability in operational change, given the task of change within the Cheshire Police Force...
Sareda gave the example of a customer service organisation in which she had an effect by introducing morale boosting initiatives, including breakfast with the chief executive for staff...
Councillor Murray asked for more examples, as she had implied 'substantial experience of implementing strategic policy'...
"Now 'substantial experience' for me means that you've been doing that for twenty plus years or it was a huge thing that you did" he explained "...Can you give us the name of a private or public sector body where you have actually...implemented strategic policy change, not water cooler stuff?"
Sareda responded that she worked for an organisation that represented GPs in a project called Putting Patients First...and had delivered a petition from patients and doctors to Downing Street calling for more GPs... "I don't want to claim entire responsibility for that because I was part of a team..."
Councillor Howard emphasised that the Commissioner had used the word 'substantial' to describe her experience... "I'm just trying to work out what the word 'substantial' means in your world...It is important because substantial change in running a tuck shop is one thing, substantial change in [re-phrased] overseeing something as complex as the Constabulary of Cheshire is another...
"If, God forbid, the Commissioner goes under a bus you're it" he added "and we need to know that you have substantial experience of strategic policy decisions and how they work...because, if you don't have that experience, something as complex as Cheshire Constabulary could baffle you..."
The panel also asked for evidence of knowledge of the police and justice system, to which Sareda replied that she had worked in schools that "had a number of policing initiatives" and had been involved with "a lot of other initiatives in Salford restorative justice work".
Meanwhile, when asked whether she intended to stand down as a councillor in Salford if she got the full time job, Sareda refused to answer, saying only that she would "talk to the people who I need to talk to, my family, my branch, the residents of Salford; and make a considered decision. I don't think this is a forum to make a decision."
Subsequent to the panel hearing, the Chairman, Councillor Murray wrote to Commissioner David Keane about Sareda Dirir, in a letter obtained by the BBC. The panel, he explained, was "disappointed that on a number of occasions she appeared unable to draw down from what she had learnt from her very varied career, and demonstrate how she would apply her experience
"The panel were of the view that Councillor Dirir failed to demonstrate an adequate knowledge and understanding of the operation of the police service and the criminal justice system" he added. The letter concluded with a withering assessment that she only met the "minimum standard" for the job.
The Cheshire Police and Crime Panel does not have a veto over the appointment of Sareda Dirir for the post of Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire, but the Commissioner's press office told the Salford Star today that the appointment has still not been made official.
The Salford Star also understands that the appointment will be subject to further scrutiny at the next Cheshire Police and Crime Panel meeting on 24th March.
The Salford Star emailed Sareda Dirir and asked her to comment on the allegation that "People may think you only got the job because of the link the Police Commissioner has with your parents" and also on whether she intended staying on as a Claremont councillor if she got the job, despite the role being five days a week. Sareda Dirir hasn't responded.
To view the full hour long car crash panel hearing – click here