Police bosses voice radio fears

POLICE officers in Suffolk could be left out of radio contact in remote rural areas if a communications giant goes ahead with plans to close down five transmitters, it was warned last night.

POLICE officers in Suffolk could be left out of radio contact in remote rural areas if a communications giant goes ahead with plans to close down five transmitters, it was warned last night.

The force federation chief said last night he had “grave concerns” about O2's plans - despite the company insisting the county would still have coverage.

The transmitters provide the new Airwave police radio network, but O2 wants to shut five of them in the county.

However, Suffolk Police Authority says it has been told it can keep them turned on for a cost of £120,000 a year.


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Jim Keeble, chairman of the Suffolk Police Federation, has described O2's plans as an example of “sharp business practise”.

And he warned they could result in legal action against the company if they are shown to have contributed to officers being injured.

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He said: “Should O2 turn off sites and it can be shown that an officer gets injured as a result of them reducing the coverage then we would be holding them responsible.

“An officer called to a violent incident in the middle of deepest rural Suffolk, for example, may not be able to get a signal to call for help.

“It's a very serious issue and it's of grave concern to me. I'm well aware that before they put up these masts there were areas of Suffolk where you couldn't get any coverage.

“I would like to see them provide 100% coverage across the UK.”

But a spokesman for O2 Airwave denied last night officers' safety would be at risk under any changes. He said when the system was originally set up it was done so in a “piece meal fashion”.

“One authority was set up after another according to contracted coverage. Once coverage was completed, it was discovered there was quite a lot of overlapping coverage.

“We are in negotiation with police authorities and forces at the moment to work out how we can cut out some of the overlapping coverage.

“If in existing coverage they have got overlapping with neighbouring forces, which was not contracted for originally but they still want that coverage, they may have to pay for it.

“We are negotiating to lessen the impact. They will have got used to some of the coverage but that may not have been contracted for in the first place. In some cases that may require extra costs.

“Our system is there to ensure all police officers can communicate according to contracts they worked out with us when setting up the service.

“We are negotiating to make sure they are content with the coverage.”

Chief Superintendent David McDonnell, of Suffolk police, said talks are still taking place, with one meeting held yesterday.

“Negotiations are still ongoing and there has already been considerable movement away from the initial position, which is outlined in the Police Authority report,” he said.

“It is not known what the final financial implications are likely to be or how many base stations will be affected.

“We can assure people that no base stations will be switched off until after full negotiations have taken place.

“O2 have assured us that contracted coverage will not be affected. Suffolk Constabulary and O2 are committed to ensuring that there will be no reduction in service and no officers will be placed at risk.”

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