Trident 'could be broken up' to balance books

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The Independent Online

One of Scotland Yard's most high-profile units could be broken up as senior officers struggle to balance the books in the wake of the Government spending review.

Trident, a 460-strong team of officers and staff dedicated to investigating gun murders among blacks and non-fatal shootings in the wider community, faces being merged with other squads.

Members of the Trident independent advisory group, around 16 volunteers who monitor its work, were told the news at a monthly meeting in New Scotland Yard almost three weeks ago.

A senior officer told them no Met units were safe from restructuring in a bid to save money as the full impact of public sector funding cuts is likely to remain unclear for at least a month.

Claudia Webbe, who leads the group, said she had been warned "nothing is off the table" but labelled any move to shut it down as a "travesty" that would make the force less effective.

She said: "Any impact on the work of Trident will seriously affect not only the ability to investigate and bring to justice these men of violence who are terrorising the community but it will seriously affect the relationship police have with black communities.

"I think Trident has single-handedly brought up and turned around the image of the Met, particularly when you consider the bad relations that exist over issues like stop and search and the progression of ethnic minorities with the service.

"Trident remains a unit that has enabled the Met to create a positive image of itself. This has impacted heavily on information and intelligence for police, overcoming the culture of fear and encouraging people to come forward."

Ms Webbe, who is an Islington Labour councillor, added that any changes would disproportionately affect the poor and vulnerable. She said: "To even think about breaking it up would be sacrilege."

Originally known as Operation Trident, the unit was set up in 1995 after a series of killings in Lambeth and Brent, including the rape and murder of 24-year-old beautician Marcia Lawes by Brixton Yardie Delroy Denton.

Senior officers were desperate to improve relations with black people who distrusted them and were reluctant to pass on information about even the most serious crimes.

It was eventually implemented across the capital and expanded further in 2004, taking on responsibility for all non-fatal shootings or gun shots as well as pro-actively targeting underworld armourers.

Trident has become one of the Met's most prominent brands, with annual advertising campaigns, most recently targeting girlfriends and wives persuaded to stash guns for criminals.

Senior officers may now be considering bringing Trident into the Homicide and Serious Crime Command (HSCC) wing of the Met, which is home to 24 murder investigation teams.

Tensions between the units were highlighted earlier this month by the double murder of Lee Wallace, 25, and Jayson Hassan, 28, outside a tower block in Britannia Row, Islington.

One of the first officers at the scene reported that the victims were white, leading to murder squad officers taking on the case although some Trident colleagues considered the case should be theirs.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said the force was facing "very challenging times" and was looking to reduce costs wherever possible while the full impact of cuts became clear.

He said: "We are going through the figures very carefully with the Police Authority to assess their full impact.

"As part of this process, all commands within the Met will be scrutinised to ensure that they deliver their services as effectively and as efficiently as possible.

"It has been made clear to all within the Met that no organisational structures are sacrosanct."

The spokesman said "no decisions have been made", adding: "We remain committed to continuing to deliver a better policing service for less by streamlining our business support and making best use of our operational assets."