Home Secretary Heckled By Police Over Cuts

Theresa May has been jeered and heckled by rank-and-file officers as she defended herself against accusations that spending cuts are "destroying" Britain's police service.

The backlash came as the Home Secretary addressed the annual conference of the Police Federation in Bournemouth - just days after they took to London's streets to protest against pay cuts and job losses.

Officers jeered as Mrs May said changes to their pay and conditions were reforms which hard-working police officers should welcome.

Applause and cheers erupted as one federation member, Dave Bennett, challenged Mrs May over the planned cuts, saying: "Home Secretary, I believe you are a disgrace."

And shouts of "resign" were heard when Mrs May was told she had lost the trust of officers.

Despite the hostility Mrs May did not flinch from her central defence that the police were not being singled out for deeper cuts than the rest of the public sector.

She insisted the Government was having to "make difficult decisions on pay" because of "tough times", adding that while the 20% budget cuts were challenging they must be seen through "for the good of our country".

Mrs May added officers' demands for the right to strike - a form of action they have been banned from taking for nearly 100 years - were "off the table" because protecting communities was "simply too important".

A Government-commissioned report by former rail regulator Tom Winsor in March recommended cutting starting salaries, curbing generous pension provisions, clearing the way for compulsory redundancies and penalising unfit officers with pay cuts.

During the conference officers gave a resounding roar and stamped their feet when federation chairman Paul McKeever asked anyone who thought Mr Winsor's review was independent to raise their hands.

As no one moved, he addressed Mrs May, saying: "I notice not even you put your hand up."

Speaking before Mrs May stepped onto the podium, Mr McKeever gave the Home Secretary this warning: "We warned you about the riots and you said we were scaremongering.

"We warned you that a 20% budget cut would damage the front line and were told we were wrong.

"We are warning you that you are racing towards a train crash that could destroy the effectiveness of policing in this country and harm the safety of the public.

"Home Secretary - take breath. Stop now, and review what you're doing or you will be found guilty of destroying the finest police service in the world."

Sky News correspondent Tom Parmenter, at the conference, said: "At times the atmosphere in the hall was extremely awkward. The silences were long and the heckles kept coming.

"She was booed, jeered and even insulted but the Home Secretary ploughed on regardless.

"The Home Secretary knew this would be a difficult crowd to address, she's been here before, but this time it seemed more personal.

"One officer laid it out to the Home Secretary in the starkest terms: 'We no longer trust you in the police service. Full stop. End of story'."

According to the latest police figures, the police service is facing budget cuts of 20% amid the financial squeeze and police numbers are down to their lowest in a decade at around 136,000.

The federation, which represents officers up to the rank of inspector, has protested about what it calls the "privatisation" of police, with the security firms signing multi-million-pound deals to run custody suites and so-called "back office functions".

The depth of feeling was made clear last week when more than 30,000 officers marched through central London wearing T-shirts with a picture of Mrs May saying: "Get shafted and carry on."

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