Then one day she found out the Police as a body are there not to protect the public but to protect themselves and corrupt officials. She also discovered that whistle-blowers will be set-up, have their valuables removed, thrown in jail and prosecuted by a corrupt system that is designed to punish whistle-blowers and protect corrupt officials and police involved in organised crime.
Had Irene not been a union official and had her case not been taken up by an MP and raised in Parliament Irene and her husband would have gone to jail for a long time.
The police are totally out of control and the CPS and the Courts are used to protect corrupt criminals.
This is the story:-
Until recently, Irene Brown enjoyed the simple pleasures of comfortable middle-age: walking in the hills around her home in a pretty Cumbrian village, listening to Classic FM and making a valuable contribution to her community as a civilian police worker.
Irene, 51, and her husband Steve, 54, were regarded as respectable, law-abiding citizens who were always keen to help out friends and neighbours, and spent many hours tending their vegetable patch.
They were, in every sense, pillars of society. Why, then, did five police officers knock on the door of their three-bedroom semi at 9am one day in April this year, demanding to search the house?
Conscience: Irene Brown and her husband Steve were held in cells after exposing her boss Cumbria's Police and Crime Commissioner Richard Rhodes for swindling the taxpayer
So what terrible crime had the Browns committed to warrant such a heavy-handed invasion of their home?
The simple truth is: no crime at all. Irene had done what many of us ought to do but dare not — she spoke out against wrongdoing and turned whistleblower on her employer, Cumbria Police.
Speaking exclusively to the Mail this week, a clearly angry and distraught Irene throws a chilling light on how the public sector turned on a member of its staff who dared to expose wrongdoing.
‘It’s human decency to speak out if you see something wrong,’ says Irene. ‘It’s a moral duty. If you don’t do something about it, you’re almost as bad as the perpetrators.
‘What happened to me put me in a blind panic. When you work for the police, you never picture a situation where you’re going to be locked in a police cell. It was unbelievable.’
Irene began her career with the police in 2000, first 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.
Two 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 taxpayer £700 for two chauffeur-driven Mercedes trips to dinner engagements.
Expenses and kiddy fiddler: Cumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Richard Rhodes He has not been arrested for stealing from the tax payer. he has not been thrown in a cell, he has not lost his valuables in a police raid. This corrupt and evil man is still Cumbria Police and Crime Commissioner. Is it also claimed that he is a paedophile? Well nothing new there
Making such documents public would be against constabulary rules — but Irene felt she was duty-bound to act. After all, Mr Rhodes was officially supposed to publish these expenses on his website, but had failed to do so in the two months since he took the trips.
Irene asked her colleague to give her hard copies of the invoices, then sent them, anonymously, by post to her local newspaper, the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald.
‘I could have gone through the official whistleblowing procedure but I feared it would have just been buried,’ she says. When the story was published on April 5, local people reacted angrily and accused the commissioner of squandering taxpayers’ money. But Irene was about to pay a heavy price for exposing him.
She had just left work one evening, five days later, when her mobile rang. ‘It was the police’s Professional Standards Department,’ she recalls. ‘They said I had to go back into the station and, if I didn’t, they were coming to arrest me.
‘I immediately realised what it must be about and started shaking. I felt my life unravelling. I was overwhelmed by sheer panic.’
She believes the police traced her as the source after searching the email system. When Irene arrived at police headquarters in Penrith, she was 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.
‘It was humiliating and embarrassing — a nightmare. These were people who had seen me as a colleague, and here was I in a cell, bare save for a mattress and a steel toilet.
‘I remember just sitting there staring at my feet. I was in shock and felt as if my brain was shutting down.’
Later, Irene was questioned for five hours by three officers, one of whom she had enjoyed a good working relationship with. Terrified she would lose her job and go to prison, she felt she had no choice but to deny everything.
‘One of the police officers, who I didn’t know as well, looked as though he was enjoying interrogating me,’ she explains. ‘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.’
Irene was eventually allowed home at 11.30pm. ‘The only thing I regret is not telling the truth in my first police interview,’ she says. ‘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 bailed and suspended from work. That same day, the colleague who had passed her the documents was arrested, and a second person was suspended.
Ordeal: Irene was arrested and searched before officers took her fingerprints, photograph and a DNA swab
Irene says that if it weren’t for Steve, her husband of 27 years, she couldn’t have coped with the ordeal — which was only just beginning.
Steve, a former security device expert turned full-time carer for his elderly mother, was about to feel the hand of the law himself. A week after Irene had been bailed, the team of five officers turned up to search the home in Penruddock.
Steve mentioned that he and Irene had recently replaced their old laptop and taken it to the refuse tip.
He recalls: ‘When I told them about the old computer, they said they were arresting me because I may have destroyed key evidence.
‘I went to stand up but one of the officers put his hand on my shoulder and pushed me back down — I couldn’t believe what was happening. I’m a law-abiding person. The most horrible thing was being marched out to the car afterwards. I thought anyone seeing it must think I was a paedophile. It was a dreadful experience.’
Despite having nothing to do with the leak to the Press, Steve was held in a cell for 30 minutes before being questioned for an hour.
He says: ‘It was terrifying. The duty solicitor told me that what I was accused of was very serious, and I could get life in jail for it. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.’
Steve was bailed but the weeks that followed proved appallingly stressful for the Browns.
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.
The shadow hanging over them took its toll on their health, and both Irene and Steve started taking anti-depressants to help them cope. Irene also had to increase her medication for angina: since her arrest she’d been having two to three attacks every day.
‘What we were going through had a terrible impact on our health,’ says Irene. ‘We were paranoid, and started worrying that the police had bugged our house.’
Irene and Steve would make unlikely convicts. Irene is the daughter of respectable, working-class parents, and has worked her way up from a council house in Cheshire to owning her £200,000 three-bedroom home in Cumbria.
Commissioner Rhodes billed the taxpayer £700 for two chauffeur-driven Mercedes trips to dinner engagements (file picture)
While working long hours for the police, she obtained a first-class Open University degree, then a Masters in politics. Her successful career meant Steve was able to give up his job fitting burglar alarms four years ago to look after his 83-year-old mother Iris, who has arthritis and emphysema. He is studying for a degree in maths.
The possibility that all their hard work could end with them being imprisoned just as they were looking forward to retirement was a terrifying prospect.
The investigation was slow to progress, and the couple’s bail dates were delayed several times.
In May, Irene was questioned again for five hours after police officers reviewed her emails and internet history.
She said: ‘It was absolute nonsense, and I just answered “no comment” to every question.
‘We have a friend whose last name is Savile, and the police asked why I was searching that name on Skype, asking me if I knew how bad that looked. I realised afterwards it was a reference to Jimmy Savile — absolutely ridiculous.’
But there were glimmers of hope, too. Irene began receiving messages of support from her former colleagues, and supporters approached her in the street to console her.
Cumbria Police had recently shed 100 officers to meet new spending targets, and there had been redundancies and pay freezes. Many constabulary employees were enraged about the Commissioner’s expenses but had been too afraid to speak out.
Support for Irene’s cause seemed to gather pace and the story of her arrest made stories in all the national newspapers, although she was not named.
Some people reading her story might ask, was this not a case of union official using underhanded tactics to destabilise her boss?
Irene insists not. She said that, although she was in the union she would not consider herself an extremist or trouble-maker.
Meanwhile, Richard Rhodes, a veteran local magistrate, claimed he did not realise how much the chauffeur-driven trips had cost, but publicly apologised for his expenses bill and said he would be paying the money back.
He assured the public that in future he would be relying on his £23,000 Hyundai car — another taxpayer-funded perk of his job as PCC.
Soon afterwards, he raised eyebrows by recruiting a £30,000-a-year spin doctor whose brief was to ‘raise the perception of him’ among the public.
Then, Irene switched on the television one day to see her case being raised in Parliament during Prime Minister’s Questions. MPs across all parties were astonished that a whistleblower could be arrested and were demanding action.
Tory MP Tracey Crouch said Irene’s case was an inevitable consequence of the Leveson Report on the culture, ethics and practices of the Press. It is feared many are now using the Report as an excuse to suppress those who wish to leak sensitive information, despite it being in the public interest.
Irene says: ‘A fair society has a strong Press. One of the most important roles of newspapers is to be that watchdog exposing hypocrisy.
‘If people don’t have the courage to tell them about it, then it’s naturally silencing journalists too.’ On May 23, a second civilian police worker who was accused of helping Irene was told no charges would be brought. Another, who had been suspended, was also cleared.
Charges against Steve were dropped in August because of a lack of evidence but, despite mounting public pressure, Cumbria Police persisted with their investigation against Irene.
It was only this week, after the police passed the file to the Crown Prosecution Service, that the threat of jail was lifted.
Prosecutors agreed with MPs that any leak would have been in the public interest, and therefore not subject to criminal prosecution.
‘I’m relieved,’ Irene says. ‘But I’m only just coming to terms with the fact that I won’t be going to prison. I’m just a normal person, and I thought I’d just get my wrist slapped for what I did.
‘The response was absolutely disproportionate — I couldn’t believe they’d be so stupid.’
A Cumbria Police spokesman said: ‘Staff have a duty to protect and manage information they have privileged access to. Any allegations relating to a breach of this position need to be investigated.’
Whistleblowing put everything Irene holds dear at risk, but she says she would do it all again, if only she could have avoided bringing her husband into it.
‘The public had a right to know about those expenses,’ she says. ‘How are the public supposed to hold the Police and Crime Commissioner accountable if they don’t know what he’s doing?’
Irene still faces losing her job at disciplinary proceedings which are due to take place in the next six months.
‘I have months of uncertainty facing me where my job is concerned,’ she says. ‘Surely integrity should be a celebrated quality in anyone working for the police?
‘I hope something happens to give whistleblowers more protection. I don’t want anybody else to end up where I’ve ended up.’