Clarke investigates 'struggling' police in Nottinghamshire

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The Home Secretary has announced an inquiry into the ability of Nottinghamshire Police to deal with serious crime after Steve Green, the Chief Constable, provoked a political row by saying his force was "struggling to cope" with a rise in murders and violent crime.

The Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, pledged to investigate the force's ability to function: "I can confirm that Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary [HMIC] will be working urgently with Nottinghamshire Police to examine the force's capacity and capability to tackle murder and other serious crimes."

He said the HMIC would produce a report by 4 April and advise if action was necessary before then. He added: "The Association of Chief Police Officers is also liaising closely with Nottinghamshire and a number of other police forces to provide immediate additional experienced homicide investigators."

The announcement came as the family of the latest shooting victim in Nottingham expressed their heartbreak at his murder. Paul Thomas, aged 34, was shot dead in what police believe was a targeted attack after an altercation outside a pub last Thursday.

His mother, Kathleen Thomas, said the family was devastated. She described her son, who worked as a plasterer, as a generous and loving family man.

The death of Mr Thomas is the latest in a series of more than 30 murders and suspicious deaths being investigated by the force.

Mr Green provoked a political row when he said a lack of resources was forcing him to discuss "farming out" murder investigations to other forces. He said Nottingham had seen a sharp rise in "category A" murders - those seen as high profile and in which there is no immediate suspect- from one every 12 to 18 months before 2001 to 21 in the past four years.

Michael Howard, the Conservative leader, claimed police officers were being "handcuffed by political correctness and paperwork".

Mr Howard said a Conservative government would scrap targets and cut back paperwork to leave officers free to tackle crime.

Hazel Blears, the Home Office minister defended the Government's record on police funding, saying it had been increased by £750m since 1997 and there were now a record number of officers.

John Hammond, chairman of Nottinghamshire Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said the Chief Constable and his command team still had the confidence of the federation. Unison, the public services union, echoed the support for Mr Green.