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Cameron goes back on pledge to pay costs of extra police

The PM's reluctance to pay has police fearing the costs will be taken from their already stretched finances
  • @oliver_wright

Police forces across the country face having to pick-up part of the multi-million pound bill for dealing with last week's riots despite a pledge by David Cameron that the Treasury would "stand behind" them.

The Home Office is refusing to guarantee that it will cover all police force spending on overtime, equipment and cancelled leave which was used in bringing the rioting in London, Manchester, Birmingham and other British cities under control.

Its reluctance is causing concern among senior officers and police authorities that the Government will try and take the extra costs out of their already stretched police budgets rather than using the Treasury reserve.

In a sign of of the deteriorating relationship with ministers, police authorities are also furious with Theresa May, the Home Secretary, describing her latest remarks on the riots as "ill-informed or wilfully inaccurate" after she used them to justify plans to push through directly elected police commissioners.

Today the Association of Police Authorities is expected to release initial estimates of the bill to authorities across the country of the riots.

The bill to the Metropolitan Police is certain to be the largest and could exceed £10 million. Nottinghamshire Police has said it faces a bill of £1.2m for the extra policing and the repair costs to five police stations that came under attack in the riots. Leicestershire Police said last week that it was likely to have spent at least £250,000 on their operation mainly in overtime.

Shortly after the riots David Cameron told the House of Commons that: "The Treasury is standing ready to assist police forces. Clearly, the bill for the Metropolitan police force for the past few days will be large and, if they continue to deploy in those numbers, it will get larger and the Treasury will stand behind that."

But yesterday the Home Office appeared to be backtracking. In a statement it would say only: "There is an established system of special grants in place to support forces where they face unexpected or exceptional costs. It is up to individual forces if they wish to apply for a special grant and all applications will be considered."

Senior officers point out that this fund is discretionary and is normally used to cover public events like party political conferences, demonstrations and other unbudgeted policing costs.

They say that their past experiences of the fund is that they never recoup the full amount they claim for and are concerned that the Home Office will try to make them pay for significant parts of the bill.

Police forces also hit out at Ms May trying to use the riots to justify the Government forcing through their idea of directly elected police commissioners overseeing constabularies.

In a speech four days ago Ms May asserted: "In London, the Mayor was on the streets of his city, representing Londoners to central government. The contrast with unaccountable, unelected and invisible police authority chairmen in other parts of the country could not have been clearer." But yesterday the Association of Police Authorities shot back: "This un-evidenced, London-centric assertion was either regretfully ill-informed or wilfully inaccurate."

Labour has now written to Theresa May about funding the extra riot officers, asking her to clarify the situation immediately.

"Given the exceptional circumstances facing police authorities as a result of the riots and also the scale of cuts they are already managing, we believe it is vital the Prime Minister stands by his commitment to provide immediate and full funding to support forces following this outlay, particularly as planned savings will have included decreases in these areas," said Vernon Coaker, the Shadow Policing Minister. The letter went on to ask the Home Office to publish the costs involved in policing the riots for each force, including costs of increased overtime, and confirm that these costs will be reimbursed in full by the Home Office or the Treasury.

Police sources said under the Police Act, a force could only claim back money for "safeguarding national security" if the costs incurred were more than one per cent of their total budget. They added that even above this level reimbursement was far from guaranteed.

"What we fear is that those forces who have large reserves will be expected to carry more of the cost than those who don't."

Riots in brief

Ealing murder charge youth denied bail

A teenager charged with murdering pensioner Richard Mannington Bowes during the riots in Ealing was refused bail yesterday. Mr Bowes, 68, was trying to put out a fire in a dustbin when he was punched to the ground. He died in hospital three days later. The 16-year-old boy from west London, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is also accused of violent disorder and four counts of burglary relating to looting at a William Hill bookmakers, a Tesco Express supermarket, a Blockbuster video shop and a Fat Boys restaurant. He appeared via videolink at the Old Bailey for a brief hearing held behind closed doors, where Judge Anthony Morris remanded him in custody until a hearing on 9 September. He had already appeared at Croydon magistrates' court earlier this week with his mother, who was also remanded in custody accused of perverting justice by disposing of the boy's clothing.

Mother refuses son's bail over eviction fear

A mother allowed her teenage son to be jailed over rioting allegations rather than risking losing her council home. Della Collins, 49, refused to let her house be used as a bailing address for Jermaine Collins, 19, forcing magistrates to jail him ahead of an appearance today. The teenager's lawyer said her choice was prompted by Wandsworth Council's decision to serve an eviction order on the mother of an 18-year-old charged with violent disorder.

Alcoholic doughnut thief gets 16 months

Thomas Downey, a 48-year-old alcoholic who was caught with a box of doughnuts he stole from a Krispy Kreme shop in Manchester just hours after being released from prison, was jailed for 16 months yesterday.

Downey already had more than 100 convictions for 233 previous offences. His defence barrister, Zoe Nield, told the court he could not "recall the events because he was drunk, but he has expressed remorse". The judge told him: "The shopkeeper described your condition in blunt terms: 'He was pissed.'"

Brother of 'looter' held for court photography

A man was arrested for contempt of court during a trial yesterday after officers became suspicious that he was taking a photograph of his brother who was in the dock accused of looting. Alex Lindsey, 26, from Enfield, allegedly helped to steal £174,000 of electrical items from a Comet store in the town. He was appearing at Highbury Corner magistrates' court but a disturbance in the public gallery led to officers bringing his brother down into the main body of the court, where District Judge Robin McPhee directed they arrest him under the Contempt of Court Act. As he was taken from the court, he shouted: "This is why people riot, man."

University student jailed for stealing drink

An English undergraduate at Aberystwyth University, who was caught looting alcohol from a Tesco Express in Manchester, has been jailed for 16 months. Conrad McGrath, 21, admitted taking "three or four" bottles of alcohol, which he dropped when police arrived. The judge told him: "You are at university and you have thrown away a lot." There was another 16-month sentence for fellow Tesco looter Lloyd Coudjoe, 20. The apprentice bricklayer took one bottle of alcohol which he dropped when he tried to flee, but was caught when by a police dog.

Parents 'frogmarched' looting son to police

A teenager who said he joined the riots to "give a voice to the underclass" was sentenced to two years and four months in a young offenders' institution. Michael Fitzpatrick, 18, a company director's son, claimed he took part in looting and theft because he "doesn't think it's fair that he works but can't afford the things he wants", Manchester Crown Court was told. The teenager was "frog-marched" to a police station after his parents saw photographs of him looting.

The court was told he entered a Foot Asylum store in the Arndale Centre and picked up three shoes, but dropped them as police arrived. He then headed to a Spar supermarket where he picked up a bottle of vodka. Fitzpatrick also entered a Bang & Olufsen store with intent to steal but nothing was left after looters had ransacked it. Fitzpatrick drank from a £40 bottle of champagne, stolen from Kro Bar, which was damaged to the tune of £9,500 by rioters.