A CHIEF Constable has sent out a letter reassuring residents that his force will continue to focus on communities following the resignation of its Police and Crime Commissioner.

Barry Coppinger stepped down from his role yesterday after it emerged that the chief constable Richard Lewis was calling for an investigation into his use of WhatsApp

The Labour-backed PCC had overseen the force through a number of scandals including hacking the phones of journalists and police officers, and allegations of racism within the force.

The chief's letter raised concerns about alleged unlawful and/or improper behaviour contrary to the Data Protection Act 2018 and/or the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

His letter reads: "As your Chief Constable, I wanted to communicate directly with you to say that despite the events of the last few days, our focus here at Cleveland Police is the service to our communities.

"It is a service that has been improving for some time and we are now, in some areas of our work, amongst the best performing forces in the country. This ranges from the arrest rate for Domestic Abuse to the quality of files provided to the CPS and many more improvements besides such as our investment in NPT. These are sustained improvements of which we are proud.

"I acknowledge however that much remains to be done as we continue on our journey of improvement.

"I am beyond proud of our officers, staff and volunteers and they will be out in our communities today as they are every day and night, protecting the vulnerable and preventing crime.

"I ask that we all unite behind them and provide the support they so richly deserve. Like them, I am proud to work for this organisation and promise that with your support, we will continue on our journey to build an outstanding police service.

"In the meantime I will work closely with partners, including those placed in a temporary stewardship of the Office of Police and Crime Commissioner until an election can be held next year.

"I will continue to do all that I can to ensure that the new PCC, when elected by the people of Stockton, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland and Hartlepool in May 2021 is briefed on an organisation which has made rapid operational progress at the impressive rate we have seen over the last twelve months.

"The support of our partners and communities is much appreciated and has a material impact on our staff as they go about their work.

"I am deeply grateful for the messages of support for Cleveland Police and our hard working officers and staff over the last 24 hours as we continue on our journey towards delivering an outstanding public service.

"Any support you, as members of the public provide is heard by our staff and appreciated."

The Northern Echo: Former Cleveland Police PCC Barry CoppingerFormer Cleveland Police PCC Barry Coppinger

Mr Coppinger quit the PCC role with immediate effect yesterday morning.

In his letter of resignation he wrote: "My office, as with many other organisations, has approved the use of whats app groups on personal mobiles and these have been particularly beneficial during the ongoing Covid crisis, where we do not have day to day office contact.

"These groups are for short term transitory messaging like business continuity with a procedure for each group admin to prompt a weekly cleardown so that information isn't held for longer than necessary and on personal non-work devices.

"I do use whats app on my personal mobile phone and I have cleared messages on a regular basis, not with any intention to conceal anything, but simply due to storage capacity limits.

"Recent focus on this area has led me to consider whether that was the right approach and it is right and proper that the appropriate independent authorities now consider this.

"To be clear, the deleted messages were of a mundane, logistical nature and did not, to my recollection, include anything significant to the work of the Force or OPCC. Communication of that nature would only be made through secure emails on Force devices. That communication is retained and can be accessed for scrutiny if appropriate."