Elite police under threat

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BRITAIN'S most senior and experienced detectives have been warned that their numbers could be slashed dramatically, writes Peter Victor.

Superintendents in Scotland Yard's elite squads, including Special Branch, the Flying Squad and the Anti-terrorist Branch were told last week that their numbers are to be reduced by up to a quarter.

The move follows a series of policy meetings of Scotland Yard's most senior officers, including the Metropolitan Police commisssioner Sir Paul Condon. The aim is to trim management in Scotland Yard CID squads, cutting 10 per cent from the department's budget so more can be spent on officers on the beat.

The Specialist Operations (SO) department employs more than 2,500 people dealing with major crime ranging from cheque fraud to war crimes. As well as the elite units it provides armed protection for the Royal Family and foreign ambassadors in Britain.

Many of the squads have helped build Scotland Yard's international reputation and senior officers are worried that cuts could damage that.

But Sir Paul Condon has pledged to trim the structure of police management in London, scrapping the rank of chief superintendent altogether and reducing senior officers at Scotland Yard. Special Branch alone has 503 police officers - 14 at superintendent level - at an estimated cost last year of pounds 23m.

Consultation papers on staffing options for the squads were circulated earlier this year. Last week commanders were told the policy committee had come up with plans to reduce staff numbers and budgets.

There are 66 superintendents and chief superintendents across SO departments at Scotland Yard - these could be cut by up to 25 per cent.

Senior Scotland Yard officers said last week that the changes would cause 'pain' in the elite squads.

One, who did not wish to be named, said: 'We have been given some baseline decisions. There is a chance they will move a bit but with the numbers involved they aren't going to move very far. It will bring pain that is for certain.'

A Scotland Yard spokesman said the changes were part of a London-wide reorganisation: 'They (the policy committee) have to look at the nitty gritty of who does what. The exact numbers are still a matter for discussion. We are still waiting to hear from the Home Office about what our budgets are going to be.'

Derek Sawyer, chairman of the Association of London Authorities police committee, said the ALA was monitoring changes in Scotland Yard's structure as it paid 48 per cent of Metropolitan Police costs.

'Some changes we support but some give us concern because they are forced on the service by a Treasury-led ambush. You can't run a police service the same as you run Sainsburys.'