Irene Brown

Irene Brown

A civilian police worker was thrown into the cells and threatened with life in prison for speaking out against a catalogue of corruption from police officers in the UK.

Irene Brown was apprehended by five officers and had her house ransacked with over £2,000 removed after speaking out against the wrongdoing of her employer, Cumbria Police.

She first began her career with the police in 2000, initially in administration and later in project management. In January this year, she was voted branch secretary for the Unison union — a full-time position paid for by the police.

Just a couple of months later she received an email from a colleague who had seen an expenses claim made by Richard Rhodes, Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC).
The person who sent her the email, an administrative worker, said Mr Rhodes had billed the public £700 for two chauffeur-driven Mercedes trips to dinner engagements.

This was at a time when spending cuts were taking place in the force and local policing was supposed to make the constabulary more accountable to the public.

At the time it was against the police force’s rules to publicise such documents, but Ms Brown decided to speak out anyway, in part due to the fact that Mr Rhodes was supposed to publish the expenses on his website – which he never did.

After receiving hard copies of the invoices from her colleague, she then sent them anonymously, by post to her local newspaper.

Locals were outraged by the waste of public money and demanded accountability.

It was then that Mrs Brown would find herself at the end of a police campaign of bullying and intimidation. They had managed to trace her as the source after searching the email system.

She was then summoned to the police station and then promptly arrested and taken to the northern HQ at Carlisle.
There she was searched before officers took her fingerprints, photograph and a DNA swab. They also took away her handbag, phone, wallet and jewellery, before locking her in a cell for an hour.

A week after she had been bailed, officers turned up at her home. Her husband Steve made the mistake of mentioning that he and Irene had recently replaced their old laptop and taken it to the refuse tip.

They then arrested him for “destroying evidence”.

Describing her experiences of police interrogation in the Daily Mail, Mrs Brown explained: “One of the police officers, who I didn’t know as well, looked as though he was enjoying interrogating me.

“He was very persistent, asking the same question over and over. If I didn’t give him the answer he wanted, he kept on and on. The only thing I regret is not telling the truth in my first police interview. I knew I had nothing to be ashamed of because I’d done the right thing. But I was really panicking so I just denied everything.”

Irene was accused of breaching the Data Protection Act and misconduct in public office — the second offence carries a sentence ranging from a year to life in prison. Steve faced a charge of perverting the course of justice, which can also result in a life sentence.

After a public outcry, charges against Steve were dropped because of a lack of evidence but, despite mounting public pressure, Cumbria Police persisted with their investigation against Irene.
However, recently, after the police passed the file to the Crown Prosecution Service, the threat of jail was lifted.

Mrs Brown added that she would like to see more protection given to whistleblowers.

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