Police chief sparks forces row

SUFFOLK'S chief constable was today at the centre of an interforce spat after describing his Cambridgeshire neighbours as the "Billy-No-Mates" of policing in East Anglia.

SUFFOLK'S chief constable was today at the centre of an interforce spat after describing his Cambridgeshire neighbours as the "Billy-No-Mates" of policing in East Anglia.

Alastair McWhirter, who has been in the top job for three years, labelled the force an undesirable partner as the debate about the amalgamation of up to six of the region's police forces hots up.

He told Ipswich council that forces in Suffolk and Norfolk were concerned that a merger with Cambridgeshire could see resources going west.

He told the meeting: “Suffolk and Norfolk are very high-performance police areas. There are problems in Cambridgeshire. It is the Billy No Mates when it comes to performance.”

Cambridgeshire police was criticised in the Bichard Report into the Soham murders, its report from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) highlighted problems in many areas, and earlier this year chief constable Tom Lloyd resigned after allegations of sexual harassment.

However responding to Mr McWhirter's comments, Cambridgeshire's acting chief constable Julie Spence made a robust defence of her force and took a sideswipe at her Suffolk counterpart.

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She said: "Mr McWhirter is entitled to his views, but I would have expected a neighbouring chief constable to have noticed that Cambridgeshire's performance has dramatically improved this year as part of a robust and ongoing programme to become first class.

“It is very much a match for any force in the country. Our aim in the reorganisation process is to continue to seek the best option for Cambridgeshire and the communities served by its police force."

The Home Office has suggested that there are three possible options for police forces in East Anglia.

There could be the creation of two three-county forces on a north/south split: with Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire forming one and Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire the other.

Or there could be an east/west split with Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex in one and Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire in the other.

Or there could be a single force covering the entire six counties in the east of England.

Ipswich council added its voice to those opposed to a single police force running the whole of East Anglia.

The borough debated the proposed police changes at its meeting this week, with councillors worried that the creation of a larger force could lead to policing becoming more remote.

The government has told police authorities to look at merger proposals in the wake of a report from former Surrey chief constable Dennis O'Connor which said small forces were inefficient and did not have the resources to deal with major crimes such as murder, terrorism and drug smuggling.

Suffolk police has regularly received glowing reports from HMIC - and the county is officially the safest in England.

The county's police authority has asked the Home Secretary to consider enhancing the existing force - but he has already said that the status quo is not an option for discussion.

Mr McWhirter said there were fears that after a merger, resources from Suffolk could be sucked out to other parts of the region if necessary.

“It could be that there would be a need to move resources into areas which needed more attention - like Peterborough which has particular problems.

“A chief constable operating in a large region would be failing in his or her duty if there were no extra resources put into areas with particular problems,” he warned.

The borough voted to tell the Home Secretary it was disappointed the county could not retain its own police force - but give that it would prefer to see a merger with Norfolk and Essex. The worst option would be the creation of a six-county force.

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