Police warn of showdown as home secretary Theresa May visits Norfolk

Rank and file police officers warned of mounting front-line anger at planned government reforms yesterday as home secretary Theresa May visited Norfolk.

Her visit came a week after the publication of the Winsor review which recommends an overhaul of police pay and conditions and amid increasing concern over reform of public sector pensions.

Officers told the EDP they feel victimised adding that the government risked losing their goodwill at a time when policing is under pressure from front-line cuts. In Norfolk alone police chiefs have warned up to 350 officer posts could go.

Paul Ridgeway, chairman of Norfolk Police Federation, said the relationship between the government and the front-line was being eroded. He added that the government's promise that cuts would not harm front-line policing was fundamentally flawed.

He added: 'At the moment there is panic about the impact of these changes. That panic will soon turn to anger.'

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Sgt Nigel Tompsett, based in Southwold, is leading a campaign opposing reform of police pensions. This campaign has already seen thousands of officers write to their MPs asking them to stand up for the police.

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He said officers felt betrayed and victimised by the government, adding that industrial action or a rank and file protest looked increasingly likely.

Mrs May met Norfolk chief constable Phil Gormley and toured a Norwich community project before speaking at a private function for senior female police officers at Dunston Hall.

She said she was impressed at the work of Norfolk police to maintain services at a time of funding cuts - but dodged questions about mounting tension among ordinary bobbies.

Asked if she acknowledged this tension, Mrs May said: 'What I do acknowledge is that policing is going through a lot of change and officers may find this unsettling.

'I am absolutely clear that the police wake up in the morning and don't know what challenges they are going to face that day. They do a fantastic job and I am sure that dedication will continue.'

Mr Ridgeway accepted that the police could not be exempt from public sector spending cuts but said: 'We feel we are being doubly punished by the government - they are cutting our numbers and expecting us to maintain our performance while also hitting us in the pocket and telling us we'll have to work longer for the pensions we were promised when we signed up.

'Officers join up because they want to give something back to society. The rhetoric about overtime and bonuses is misleading - you won't find many who don't work beyond their normal hours for no additional reward.

'But there comes a time when these decisions start to affect our livelihood and officers will begin asking 'what is the point in carrying on?'.

The federation, which represents the rank and file, has not openly discussed the option of a protest march or industrial action.

But privately many officers are discussing their options - with some even contemplating a strike in defiance of police regulations which forbid such action.

Referring to the 2008 pay demonstration during which 20,000 officers marched in London, one said: 'Some of us are already dusting of our 'Fair pay for police' caps from last time.'

Mr Tompsett said: 'We feel we are being unfairly targeted by the government and we are extremely disappointed by this treatment.

'Officer numbers are being cut but the government expects crime to carry on falling - in order to do that they will need to rely on the goodwill of officers. That goodwill is disappearing and massive resentment is building up.

'We are banned from striking but a lot of officers are asking what the government could actually do if thousands of us decided to ignore that - they couldn't dismiss us all.

'There are other options such as a work to rule or a blue flu day on which we all call in sick. These are not illegal but could bring the country to its knees.'

The warnings came as the prime minister defended a proposed pay freeze for police amid accusations

rank and file officers were feeling 'bewildered and betrayed'.

Speaking in the house of commons, David Cameron said: 'I strongly support the British police. They are the finest force in the world.

'If we want to keep police officers on the streets then it is necessary to have the pay freeze that we are talking about and it is necessary to look at the allowances they receive and to work out how we can make sure we have well-paid, well-motivated police officers doing a great job in our country.'

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