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"This is about the future of the police service"
JENNIFER BELL reports from today's huge police demonstration in London.
ANGRY off-duty officers from North Yorkshire joined colleagues from all 43 forces across England and Wales on London’s streets in protest against the Government over pay.
Parts of central London fell silent as 16,000 of the estimated 30,000 officers in today's rally donned black caps, to represent each police officer expected to be lost over the next four years under budget cuts.
The remaining officers wore white caps as they strode through the capital to deliver a stark message to Home Secretary Theresa May, who in January approved Tom Winsor's recommendations about reforming police pay in full.
The march is believed to be the biggest ever police demonstration.
Two train-loads of North Yorkshire officers left York and Scarborough before 8am to head to the capital, and the mass march commenced at noon, with officers of all ranks taking part.
The off-duty officers, which included 117 from North Yorkshire - about ten per cent of the rank-and-file - marched about a mile, from Millbank to Waterloo Place, passing the Home Office, Parliament Square, Whitehall and Trafalgar Square.
Passers-by watched as officers waved placards, bearing the words "RIP greatest police service in the world", "enough is enough" and "cutting police by 20 per event is criminal". Many onlookers cheered and there were spontaneous rounds of applause.
The 90-minute march, organised by the Police Federation for England and Wales, was mostly quiet but officers got noisier as they passed the Home Office, and some placed banners beside the building for Home Secretary Theresa May.
As officers passed the finish point at Pall Mall, Mike Stubbs, deputy chair of the North Yorkshire Police Federation, said: "It is clear that neither Tom Winsor, the policing minister, the Home Secretary or the Government understand what a catastrophic effect this reform will have. I hope this has been a wake-up call for them."
Detective Sgt Stuart Barnett, of York, told The Press: "This is not just about pay. This is about conditions and the environment we are going to be working in. This is about the future of the police service."
PC Shaun Weldon, who works in rural North Yorkshire, said: "I am in my last year and my main concern is not for myself but the future of this service for my younger colleagues in the force, some of whom are marching today. My concern is what future they face."
Det Mohammad Manzoor, of York CID, told The Press he was "very angry" over cuts, saying: "This is about privatising through the back door the public sector for profiteering. There will be an exodus of skilled workers who will never be replaced."
PC Jim Martin, of Thirsk, added: "This is about the institution and the heart of Safer Neighbourhod Policing being threatened. This is not about money."
He said officers, especially in North Yorkshire, were angry over the way they had been treated over working hours and conditions.
Pc Michael Lynch, vice chair of the North Yorkshire Police Authority, said he thought reduced officer numbers would lead to a hike in crime, adding: "The only thing you get for less is less."
North Yorkshire Police had 1,656 serving officers in 2007 but 1,500 in 2010 and 1,443 in 2011, and the number is forecast to drop to 1,270 by 2015.
The Winsor Review said four in ten officers could lose up to £4,000 a year, but said the rest would gain by up to £2,000 annually.
Mark Botham, chairman of the North Yorkshire Police Federation, said: “This is probably the biggest challenge to our pay, conditions of service and future that police officers have faced in their history.
“It is less than a year since the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Sir Hugh Orde, spoke in Harrogate and warned that cuts and plans for reforming the police service risk ‘compromising the safety of citizens for reasons of expediency’."
Paul McKeever, the national federation's chairman, said: "The reality of the cuts to policing is really beginning to bite; numbers are beginning to fall rapidly.
"In the past year alone we have lost over 5,200 police officers from the frontline and we are witnessing the privatisation of core policing roles as chief officers struggle to cope with budget restraints.
"The Government need to be realistic about the outcome of severe cuts to policing; we cannot afford to compromise on public safety."
Theresa May, who asked former rail regulator Tom Winsor to carry out the most wide-ranging review of police pay and conditions in 30 years, will address the officers at their annual conference in Bournemouth next week.
Ms May said in January that she knew some police would be disappointed by the Winsor Review but stressed there would be no reduction in basic pay.
She hit back at the protest, saying: "As a service spending £14billion a year I think it is right for the police to make their contribution to reducing their record budget deal."