Essex MPs criticise police merger plan

FURIOUS Essex MPs yesterday denounced the Home Secretary's decision to abolish the county's police force as “undemocratic” and against the public interest.

By Roddy Ashworth

FURIOUS Essex MPs yesterday denounced the Home Secretary's decision to abolish the county's police force as “undemocratic” and against the public interest.

Charles Clarke's announcement that he would recommend Essex Police merge with the forces of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire was also criticised by Robert Chambers, chairman of Essex Police Authority, and Sue Kelly, chairman of the Essex branch of the Police Federation.

Vowing to continue to fight for Essex Police as a stand-alone constabulary, Mr Chambers warned that the merger could scupper the county's plans for effective neighbourhood policing and would push up council tax rates in the county.

And following a meeting with Mr Clarke last night, he said he believed there was still a “small opportunity” Essex could be saved as a stand-alone force.

Meanwhile, North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin claimed the proposed merger had been forced through against advice given to Mr Clarke by the Government's own Cabinet Office.

Most Read

“I think this is a travesty of democracy,” he said. “It is a denial of the almost unanimous feeling in the county of Essex, and the Government hasn't heard the last of it.

“This merger flies in the face of Cabinet Office advice that was given before the Home Secretary started down this track. The Police should not be distracted from their main task with mergers.”

Douglas Carswell, MP for Harwich, said: “I think this is appalling, and it has been done without any democratic legitimacy or consent.

“Most people in Essex overwhelmingly want a county-based force. It is being abolished after years and years of having an Essex constabulary.

“The problem with the police is they are not local enough.

“There are few things that have made me more angry as an MP than seeing our county force abolished without me being able to vote on it as an MP.”

West Chelmsford MP Simon Burns said: “This is a black day for Essex Police. The effects of the decision by the Home Secretary to recommend a merger of Essex Police with Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire will be truly calamitous.

“Merging Essex Police will do nothing to improve policing but will subsume it into a large, unwieldy force where law enforcement will ultimately be the loser.”

Under Mr Clarke's proposals, the number of police forces in England and Wales would be slashed from 43 to 24.

In the East of England Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk will merge as will Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Essex.

In a statement to MPs, Mr Clarke said: “My vision for the police service in the 21st century is that it should be close, responsive and accountable to the communities it serves, supported by larger forces with the capacity and specialist expertise to protect the public from wider threats such as serious and organised crime.

“I am ... today meeting the representatives from the police forces and authorities in these areas.

“I will be inviting them to engage closely with me to consider taking forward the option for policing which I believe will be of greatest benefit to their communities.”

However Ms Kelly said the Police Federation in Essex did not support the plans. “My feeling about the whole amalgamation issues is that the service we give the public has fallen off the agenda.”

Mr Chambers said that Mr Clarke had confirmed to him that his preferred choice was to see Essex, Beds and Herts merging into one force.

But he also said that if a more persuasive option than had been presented so far could be put before him by April 7 he would be prepared to consider it.

“There is a small opportunity that, providing we can overcome some of the concerns of the Home secretary and convince Her Majesty's Inspectors, we could see Beds and Herts going together and Essex Police standing alone,” said Mr Chambers last night after meeting Mr Clarke.

“There is a will between the three forces to see if we can overcome that gap. The three authorities want to bring about that situation, which they believe is best for all concerned.

“The Home Secretary said it had been a very difficult choice and that he thought very carefully before he put forward what he did.

“That means that we have got a lot of work to do in the next two or three weeks. We will do everything possible to put forward a justifiable case.”

A spokesman for Essex Police said last night: “If the Home Secretary cannot be convinced that Beds, and Herts should amalgamate and Essex should stand alone, there may be need for a lengthy public consultation and political debate.

“In any event, all three forces are committed to public service and safety.”

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter