A SURPRISE new candidate has entered the race to become County Durham and Darlington’s first Police and Crime Commissioner.

With a week to go before the final list of candidates is announced Kingsley Smith, former Chief Executive of Durham County Council, has declared he is standing as an Independent.

It had previously been a two horse race between candidates Ron Hogg (Labour) and Nick Varley (Conservative). The election takes place on November 15.

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Mr Smith said: "I have been looking into standing for some time and have also received huge encouragement from people across Darlington and County Durham.

"I believe very strongly that this post should be held by someone who is truly independent. It should be someone who can do the job for the 600,000 people of this area without fear or favour, and without obligations to a political machine, trade union or any other group – a people’s police force led by an independent Commissioner."

Mr Smith said he was being supported by people of all ages and from all walks of life across the county. A hundred signatures from supporters among the electorate are needed before a candidate can stand.

"What has impressed me is the strength of feeling from people who say the post holder should be independent.

"The job should be about making the streets of County Durham safer, about reducing crime and increasing detection rates, about tacking antisocial behaviour at its roots, about supporting grass roots neighbourhood policing and about zero tolerance for criminals. It should not be about following a party line. As an independent my obligation would be to the people of County Durham and Darlington."

Mr Smith said he also wanted to support the victims of crime.

"I remember the great distress and pain my own elderly parents suffered when their home was burgled and violated. They never got over it and it has shaped my zero tolerance attitude to crime and to criminals."

Mr Smith, who is currently chairman of Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the highly respected Freeman and RVI hospitals, has lived and worked in the police force area for more than 40 years. During his 17 years as Chief Executive of Durham County Council he worked with a wide range of stakeholders in social and economic development and took it to 'excellent' status.

He also supported the Prince’s Trust for many years and has been an advisor to the police service and magistrates and probation services.

He said: "I want to be the voice of the people and make their priorities my priorities. We need to keep politics out of local policing and truly reflect what the law abiding majority want from their police service."