Police chief shrinks from Howard row: Senior officer tones down speech attacking government policies after dining with Home Secretary. Jason Bennetto reports

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The Independent Online
A SPEECH by a leading police officer who had intended to attack the Home Secretary and the Government's law and order policies was drastically watered down yesterday, after a dinner with Michael Howard.

The speech, which accused Mr Howard of creating a climate of mistrust, forcing cuts in the number of officers on the beat, and creeping privatisation, was replaced with a new version just hours before it was delivered.

The outspoken criticism by the usually conservative Police Superintendents' Association would have been extremely damaging to the Home Secretary on the eve of the Tory party conference.

However, it emerged after the speech yesterday that a new version had been drafted following a conversation between the author, Chief Superintendent David Golding, president of the association, and Mr Howard.

The discussion, in which Mr Howard said he was able to 'clear up some misunderstandings', took place before and after a dinner on Tuesday evening. Mr Howard had an advance copy of the speech, which was made at the association's annual conference at Market Bosworth, near Leicester, yesterday morning.

When asked whether he had discussed the speech during the dinner Mr Howard said: 'We didn't just talk about the weather . . . I tried to clear up any misunderstandings that may exist.'

But he stressed that he had not asked for any changes.

Mr Golding, whose speech had been promoted earlier in the week as an unprecedented attack on the Home Office, said he had been 'reassured' that the association's grievances would be given proper attention and that all future announcements would be made only after consultation.

Officers fear their resources are to be cut and many of their existing functions will be farmed out to the private sector. The critical discussions and changes took place either side of the meal, and the speech was rewritten late on Tuesday night and in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Although most of the sting was taken from the original speech, the new version still reflected the growing frustration and anger felt by police officers with the Home Secretary. Many feel their positions and resources are being eroded and undermined.

Mr Howard used his speech to the conference yesterday to try and allay some of the officers' fears.

To a warm reception, Mr Howard told the 160 delegates that the period of rapid change in the police force was almost over. He said: 'We now owe it to you to provide for a period of consolidation. That is what we intend to do. The major organisational changes are almost in place . . . The task now is to get on with policing.'

Addressing the question of the burgeoning private security industry, the Home Secretary said:: 'Let me make one thing clear: I am not asking anyone to do the job of the police. You are the professionals in what is a complex, specialised and often dangerous profession.'

Mr Golding said later: 'We have been promised full consultation with the Home Secretary before any major decisions are announced in future.' He added that the decision to alter the speech had also been influenced by a week of meetings which included talks with David Maclean, the Home Office minister.

(Photographs omitted)

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