FEARS over funding cuts to Portsmouth’s marine police unit have been raised to Britain’s anti-terror police chief.
Councillor David Stewart, chairman of the Hampshire Police and Crime Panel, voiced his concern in a letter to the UK’s top anti-terror officer, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley.
It comes in the wake of government-led cutbacks in which Hampshire police’s £1m-a-year marine unit is set to lose its £450,000-a-year Home Office funding from April 2017.
In Cllr Stewart’s letter, he said the plans had caused ‘substantial concern’ among members of the county’s crime panel.
‘This decision has been taken at a time when there is an acute level of concern for our border security as a consequence of the conflict in the Middle East – the Marine Unit resource becomes ever more important by the day, and to take steps that may reduce such capability at this time is in my opinion a very high risk strategy,’ he wrote.
Cllr Stewart stressed the cuts could also have a serious impact on the security of major events in the Solent, like the America’s Cup.
‘The Solent is arguably the busiest seaway in the world,’ he added.
‘It is the access route to our Royal Navy’s home port of Portsmouth as well as other military establishments, the oil refinery at Fawley, one of the busiest cruise centres in Europe, and is a leisure facility used by tens of thousands of sailors and powerboat users nationwide.
‘It is therefore essential that our local waters are protected by the Marine Policing Unit, not least because of the potential threat to transport services between Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and other international destinations, but also for high-profile events like the America’s Cup preparations.’
Officers in the unit cover a range of roles, from counter-terrorism to tackling drug smugglers and human trafficking as well as providing a platform for firearms officers to protect VIPs at major events in the Solent.
Hampshire spends £550,000 a year on the team 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.