Vegan and LGBT police groups among 200 ‘distracting officers from fighting crime’, says Priti Patel

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.

Vegan and pagan police groups are among more than 200 “staff networks” criticised for “distracting” officers from fighting crime in a report backed by Priti Patel.

The former home secretary said some of the so-called staff networks had blurred the lines between politics and policing as they campaigned on issues from veganism and climate change to Islamophobia and trans rights.

The report by the think tank Policy Exchange, which is close to the Government, found the staff networks had “strayed well beyond the acceptable bounds of political impartiality required of those in policing.”

They included examples of groups which had criticised the police’s use of the term “Islamist” for Muslim extremists, linked up with an organisation that has called for the abolition of the Government’s counter-terrorism Prevent programme and attacked trans critics like JK Rowling.

In a foreword to the report, Ms Patel said it was “deeply concerning” that at a time when police chiefs complained of “strained resources,” many of the staff networks were engaging in “an unhealthy internal competition for attention and resources rather than pursuing a relentless focus on serving the public.”

“Some of policing’s staff networks have blurred the lines between politics and policing. It is critical to our democratic settlement that police officers and staff stick to operational policing while politics is left to democratically elected politicians,” she said.

“This report clearly demonstrates that too often policing’s staff networks are crossing that line and failing to maintain the appropriate boundaries of impartiality that are so critically important. This cannot be good for policing, it cannot be good for the public and it cannot be good for our democratic settlement.”

The report found staff networks had grown by more than 83 per cent since 2010 including the Vegan Network at Cleveland Police, slated in 2022 as the country’s worst performing force, West Yorkshire Police’s Green Network set up “primarily to lobby” on policy and the National Police Pagan Association.

Policy Exchange said the groups might have a “positive contribution” to make with some centred around nationality, religion including humanists and background such as Gypsy Roma but warned they risked being “a significant distraction from policing’s core mission” of keeping the public safe.

The think tank said this was particularly the case where the groups attempted to influence policy or the Government, citing the National Association of Muslim Police (NAMP) and the National LGBT+ Police Network.

The NAMP had urged the Home Office to ditch terms such as Islamist or Jihadist, as it claimed these increased levels of Islamophobia, risked greater radicalisation and lowered trust and confidence. It suggested alternatives such as “anti-Western extremism.”

“It is difficult to conceive of a more political approach for a police staff network to take than to wade into the traditional left-right divide of British politics,” said the report by former Met police officers David Spencer and Chris Donaldson and Dr Paul Stott.

They said NAMP had also chosen to work with another group, Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND), which had campaigned against the Government’s Prevent programme. “These partnerships are surely, at best, a deeply unwise approach for an organisation from policing to be undertaking,” they added. 

The report cited the National LGBT+ Network for urging police officers to be permitted to march at Pride, despite the event’s political nature, and providing a platform for political campaigning by groups like Stonewall and an article criticising JK Rowling for fuelling “vitriol” against trans people.

“The Network’s practice of straying into political activity or inappropriate commentary cannot be permitted given the vital importance of the police service remaining impartial,” said the think tank. 

Policy Exchange set out seven recommendations to standardise the governance of the groups, place an onus on them to focus on “improving the effectiveness of policing on behalf of the wider public”, and limit the amount of police duty time devoted to them.

A spokesman for the National LGBT+ police network said: “We have conducted no political campaigns. Members up and down the country provide core policing services first and foremost. Secondary and in the main voluntary to this is the support to staff around welfare, wellbeing issues.”

The NAMP has been contacted for comment.