Police will refuse to cross firefighters' picket lines

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The Independent Online

Police across the UK today said they would refuse a Government request to cross picket lines during the firefighters' dispute.

Police across the UK today said they would refuse a Government request to cross picket lines during the firefighters' dispute.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said officers had "no part to play" in going across lines to commandeer engines from fire stations.

Association Vice–President Chris Fox, the Chief Constable of Northamptonshire Police, said: "In any industrial dispute the police have a duty to ensure that lawful activity can continue, that those who wish to work can do so, that those directly involved in a dispute can picket peacefully and members of the public can go freely about their normal business.

"If a decision is taken to make appliances now inside fire stations available for use during any further strikes, we will act so that all lawful activity can go on unimpeded.

"We will also take action to deal with any breaches of the peace which might occur in these circumstances."

But he added: "Under the legislative framework currently in effect, police have no part to play in themselves removing 'red engines' from fire stations.

"Should the legal context change we will review matters accordingly."

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon had suggested police could cross picket lines outside fire stations and retrieve the engines and other equipment if tomorrow's eight–day strike goes ahead.

Yesterday, the Chief of the Defence Staff Sir Michael Boyce said that the Army should not be asked to cross picket lines, at which point the police were suggested.

Today, City of London Police Assistant Commissioner Mike Bowron made clear that it was not the police service's role to take sides in the dispute.

He said there were not enough police officers who could drive the heavy duty red fire engines anyway.

Mr Bowron said his own force had not been approached with Mr Hoon's request and if it was it would probably turn him down.

"It's certainly not on our agenda," he told the BBC Radio 4 programme The World at One.

"Our role is to uphold the law and maintain the peace in industrial disputes, notwithstanding the fact I don't think we've got that many HGV drivers.

"I think we'd decline (any government request) because we simply don't have the resources and notwithstanding the fact that that's not our role."

The Police Federation, which represents rank–and–file officers, made no comment.

Downing Street tonight insisted that the Government was prepared, if necessary, to issue instructions to commandeer the civilian red fire engines if the strike goes ahead.

However, Mr Blair's official spokesman refused to be drawn on who would carry out the orders if neither the police nor the Army were prepared to cross the firefighters' picket lines.

"Should we get to the point where a judgment has to be taken that public safety demands a particular course of action, then the Government will do what it has to do," he said.

"The police have a public responsibility to enforce order. Precisely who goes through a picket line, should it be necessary, is less important than the fact that it happens.

"Clearly there are a number of civilians who could, if necessary, get the red fire engines if it comes to that," he said.

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