THE former chief executive of Mid Devon District Council allegedly broke data protection rules by emailing police officers and encouraging them to vote for his preferred candidate in the police and crime commissioner election.
Mike Bull, who worked for the council for 27 years, is now chairman of the Devon and Cornwall police authority. He encouraged police to vote for Brian Greenslade, who is standing as an independent in Thursday's elections and has reportedly promised to appoint Mr Bull his deputy if elected.
Exeter Labour MP and former Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw has referred the matter to the Information Commissioner, saying he had received "a formal complaint" from police officers "furious" at the approach.
Mr Bull said he took advice before sending the message to officers from his own email account on a home computer and denied any wrongdoing.
In a letter to the Information Commissioner, Mr Bradshaw said the email raised "serious questions about a possible misuse of police data for the purpose of electioneering and about the security of that data in the first place".
He also said there was a "wider moral issue" over how appropriate such contact was, coming from the outgoing chairman.
Mr Greenslade, the former Liberal Democrat leader of Devon County Council, stood down as a member of the police authority to fight the election as an independent.
Mr Bull's email, the second such message in support of Mr Greenslade, is prefaced by a title in bold print, indicating it was written in a personal capacity. It was sent from a personal email address, which he also uses for his police authority work as he says he has never been issued nor wanted a police computer or an official email account.
It states his view that party politics should be kept out of policing and offers advice to voters who agree with him but are struggling to decide between the six independent candidates standing.
He describes Mr Greenslade as the only independent with "a realistic chance" of beating the candidates from the major political parties.
"Only one is strong on knowledge of and fully up to date with strategic policing matters," the email goes on. "Only one has had full leadership responsibility for managing huge budgets and taking strategic decisions…"
Mr Bull agreed he was "electioneering" but defended his right to support Mr Greenslade, who he said had promised to appoint him as deputy commissioner for Devon.
"I have sent it from a personal computer using a home personal email system using absolutely no police resources whatsoever," he added. "It is very clearly marked in bold type and that it is sent in my personal capacity – it is clear as a bell.
"Furthermore I took advice before I started emailing police officers, which were only those for whom I have an email address."
Mr Bull refused to say how many people received his messages, but the mailshot appeared to provoke a response from the deputy chief constable on the force's intranet site about the need for political neutrality among staff.
David Zinzan revealed he had received "a number of enquiries from staff about action they are allowed to take".
In a statement, the force said the first email was referred to the chief executive of the police authority with a recommendation that it was referred to the Police Area Returning Officer.