Suffolk day-to-day policing 'as usual'

Police chiefs yesterday told residents it was “business as usual” for day-to-day policing in Suffolk despite one of the UK's most distinguished officers saying he feared the force could not cope.

Police chiefs yesterday told residents it was "business as usual" for day-to-day policing in Suffolk despite one of the UK's most distinguished officers saying he feared the force could not cope.

Lord John Stevens, the former commissioner of Scotland Yard who last week concluded his two-year inquiry into the death of Princess Diana, said Suffolk police should have amalgamated with forces in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire.

He said that the 1,300-officer-strong force would have been able to investigate the quintuple murder better - with less need to bring police in from outside counties - if there had been one East Anglian force.

"I suspect that, good as Suffolk police are, the pressure they're under will support my belief it's time to merge Britain's smaller forces into bigger, more effective units," he said.

"We saw with the Soham murders in Cambridgeshire that massive demands on small forces can cause delays and problems.

"I know Suffolk are doing a great job, and learned from Soham, but surely the task would have been made easier by them being part of a larger merged East Anglia force of about 5,000 officers?"

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The proposal to merge smaller forces into pan-county super squads had come from Norwich South MP Charles Clarke last year when he was home secretary. Mr Clarke's plans came to nothing, however, with most police forces implacably against the changes - in this region only Norfolk was in favour with Suffolk and Cambridge-shire opposed.

After Mr Clarke was fired in May this year, the plans were dropped.

At the time, Stephen Bett, chairman of Norfolk Police Association, said the merger would make it far easier to undertake major investigations.

Yesterday he said: "I still think amalgamation is the way forward for the future and it's a lost opportunity now that it's not progressing.

"But as far as the Suffolk murders are concerned, whether it's six or nine forces merged, they would still be under tremendous strain because we need such specialist teams investigating."

Suffolk police assistant chief constable Jacqui Cheer said yesterday that Lord Stevens had been unequivocally wrong in his statement.

"We have brought in about 360 officers from other forces to help us with this investigation," she said. "Because of that it's business as usual for day-to-day policing in Suffolk. In this last week crime has been down in the county, and we're answering 96pc of 999 calls within 10 seconds. We are maintaining and improving on the policing in Suffolk."

She added: "I don't think what Lord Stevens is proposing would have helped. If amalgamation had still been going ahead, we would have had officers away managing the changes when the bodies were being discovered.

"Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridge-shire would still not have been a huge force; we would still have had to gone out for help even if we were merged together."