‘Lives put at risk’ as cuts see police unit facing axe

The Hampshire police marine unit's future is under threat
The Hampshire police marine unit's future is under threat
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LIVES are being put at risk after a government decision to cut all funding for police on the water patrolling the city’s coast.

That’s the warning as Hampshire police’s £1m-a-year marine unit is set to lose its £450,000-a-year Home Office funding from April 2017.

Officers work on counter-terrorism, tackle drug smugglers and human trafficking in home waters, and provide a platform for firearms officers to protect VIPs at major events based on the water.

Now the force and police and crime commissioner Simon Hayes must decide if they can afford to maintain the unit from its own dwindling budget.

The force is facing a £40m to £65m cut with the loss of up to 1,200 personnel on top of £80m savings since 2010.

Mr Hayes said: ‘It’s a huge mistake. Not only does it risk the marine community, our government has shown no understanding of the risk that the marine community will be exposed to if Hampshire’s marine unit is reduced.

‘It’s at a time when commercially both Southampton and Portsmouth are attracting more leisure and naval presence to our area.

‘It’s critically important that we have a robust marine unit and it’s a shameful decision to cut this money. It will put pressure on the other policing budget – there’s no doubt about that.’

Legendary sailor Sir Robin Knox-Johnston houses his Clipper Race fleet in Gosport and was at the police launch in September 2012.

He said the unit is the marine community’s ‘bobbies on the beat’. He said: ‘If a police boat is seen cruising round it tends to discourage people from stealing. It will certainly put property at risk and that can put people at risk.

‘People who steal a boat and don’t know how to use it can kill themselves.’

He added: ‘With so many boats in the water in the area, having a police presence on the water is valuable.’

Hampshire spends £550,000 a year on the unit on top of the Home Office cash.

The £1.5m fleet was launched in 2012 and hailed by the force as securing its marine presence for 15 to 20 years.

Recently the unit has been called to police the America’s Cup World Series event in July, stop tombstoning off the Camber Dock, help in murder investigations and secure evidence for the Marine Accident Investigation Branch from the stricken Hoegh Osaka car transporter.

Hampshire Police Federation chairman John Apter said the unit is a ‘great service’ and said: ‘This is a devastating and short-sighted decision by the government.’

Portsmouth South MP Flick Drummond said: ‘The police marine unit does invaluable work in the Solent and is an essential part of policing in our area alongside the Royal Navy’s own service.’

But she added that she believed the government would continue to fund it.

The News understands the decision to axe the funding was made by the National Counter Terrorism Demand Risk and Resource Program Board, which reported to the Home Office and Treasury.

The cash comes from Critical National Infrastructure Counter-Terrorism grant and is separate to a general grant Hampshire police gets each year from the Home Office.

Sergeant Damon Kennard from the unit said it needs enough officers to operate in the 260-mile coastline it covers.

He said: ‘If you cut it there’s a fear it ends up below a critical mass and can’t effectively operate.’

The Home Office says no final decision has been made on the Critical National Infrastructure funding and it would not be until later this month.

It also says Hampshire Constabulary has been rated as very well prepared for future financial challenges.

‘Funding is a matter for chief constables’ – minister

CRIME and police minister Mike Penning has said decisions on operational deployments are made by chief officers.

In a statement released to The News, Mr Penning said: ‘Decisions on the operational deployment of resources are matters for chief constables, in association with police and crime commissioners, but there is no question that the police still have the resources to do their important work.’

He added police-recorded crime has dropped 11 per cent in Hampshire since 2010. He said the government has cut red tape making it easier for police to do their jobs.