Clarke hits back over police merger collapse

SHAUN LOWTHORPE Former home secretary Charles Clarke yesterday hit out at the government over the collapse of the police force merger programme.

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

Former home secretary Charles Clarke yesterday hit out at the government over the collapse of the police force merger programme.

As revealed in the EDP, plans for regional super forces were in tatters after police chiefs in Lancashire and Cumbria pulled out following a failure to secure government cash.

The government is expected to confirm the move today, but it was broadly welcomed by rank and file officers in this region, though there were mixed views about the impact it would have.

But Mr Clarke, who initiated the scrapping of 43 constabularies into 17 regional forces, condemned the decision to "halt" the voluntary merger between the two forces as "weak and damaging", and said it would damage counter-terrorism.

Mr Clarke, who was sacked in May after a row over the release of foreign prisoners, has been stung by criticism of the Home Office by his successor John Reid who said the department was "not fit for purpose".

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He warned the decision was "likely to jeopardise the whole police reform programme and so will delay the intro-duction of neighbourhood policing throughout the country, to which we committed ourselves in our 2005 manifesto.

"Moreover, it will seriously hamper the ability of the police to contest terrorism and serious and organised crimes like trafficking in drugs and people, as the 2005 Report of Her Majesty's Inspectorate made clear."

Michael Williamson, chairman of Cambridgeshire Police Authority, said the merger plans had been an unwelcome distraction in the fight against major crime.

He urged the home secretary to give his weight to a "federated" arrange-ment of co-operation between forces.

"I'm concerned that all this talk about restructuring has taken the main focus away from protective services," he said.

"It's a year since the major atrocities in London. We could have got further forward if there had been more focus on that."

He insisted that scrapping mergers would boost plans for neighbourhood policing.

"I think it will help," he said.

"It looked as if we were going to have to use funds from that for the set-up costs which would have been monstrous."

But Jim Keeble, from Suffolk Police Federation, warned that there would be a drain on resources for neighbour-hood policing if the government failed to find more funds to tackle major crime.

"If we are going to have regional crime squads, where are these people going to come from if there is no new money?" he said.

Malcolm Reeve, chairman of Norfolk Police Federation, welcomed a delay, adding it would allow the plans to be properly considered.