Suffolk could lose its own police force

ExclusiveSUFFOLK could lose its independent police force in a major shake-up that would see it merged with two neighbouring forces by the end of the decade.

By Graham Dines


SUFFOLK could lose its independent police force in a major shake-up that would see it merged with two neighbouring forces by the end of the decade.

Under plans being discussed in the Home Office, it would join with Norfolk and Cambridgeshire to form an East Anglia constabulary with one chief constable, serving a population of nearly 2.2million.

The strength of the combined force would be 4,500.

The proposed merger is included in an upcoming report by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabularies, Sir Ronnie Flannagan, on the future structure of policing in England.

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The Home Office is known to support the creation of larger forces with resources to make policing more efficient.

This follows Sir Michael Bichard's inquiry into the manner in which police had handled intelligence about Soham murderer Ian Huntley's past and about the vetting processes which ultimately led to his employment in a local school.

Sir Ronnie's report is due out next month and is currently being considered at the highest levels in the Home Office, which is headed by Home Secretary Charles Clarke, MP for Norwich South.

Earlier this year, Mr Clarke told the EADT there was "some merit" in bringing together the three separate forces in one operation.

Talks of a merger have moved up the agenda because Norfolk and Cambridgeshire do not have permanent chief officers and need to advertise the vacant posts.

Cambridgeshire appointed Julie Spence as acting chief constable in June, while Norfolk's acting chief constable Carole Howlett is due to end her secondment from New Scotland Yard at the end of the year

All three authorities would have to approve any merger, although the Home Secretary has the power to implement it if Sir Ronnie believes there are strong operational and efficiency reasons.

Gulshan Kayembe, Chairman of Suffolk Police Authority, said: "Nothing has been said to us about forcing through a merger.

"Talk of combining Suffolk with other forces has been bouncing around for some time but it does not have to be a full merger.

"Rather than a single force, we could have joint procurement arrangements and closer collaboration with Norfolk and Cambridgeshire on dealing with large scale crimes rather than a full blown single force.

"If amalgamation is proposed, Suffolk Police Authority will want to look in detail at the impact it would have on Suffolk.

"We have a responsibility to ensure this county is properly policed and resourced and we would not approve anything which adversely affected Suffolk."

Talks between the Home Office and the three police authorities have been taking place for some months and if it comes about, the new force could be operational in 2008.

Although the merger will be seen as further proof that the Government is keen to continue its regional agenda in England, there are no plans to establish a super East of England constabulary including Essex, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.

The police would follow the creation of the East Anglian ambulance service covering the three counties, and the announcement last week of an East of England control room to handle responses to fire service emergencies across six counties.

In an interview with the EADT earlier in the year, Mr Clarke said: "Some years ago, there was a serious effort to bring Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire together as one force and I always thought there was some merit in that.

"I can say there will be no merger involving Essex, but Norfolk, Suffolk and and Cambridgeshire is a more interesting prospect."

Smaller police forces in other areas of England also face being merged. In particular, Warwickshire is likely to be absorbed into neighbouring West Midlands.

The East Anglia police force would be among several others serving more than one county.

West Mercia covers Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire; Thames Valley's area is Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire; Northumbria covers Northumberland and Tyne & Wear.

Other combined forces are Somerset and Avon, Devon and Cornwall, while the Sussex force is responsible for the separate counties of West and East Sussex, and the Hampshire constabulary serves Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

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