Blunkett hints at deal as police stage pay protest

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Indy Politics

One of the biggest police protests in modern times was staged yesterday as thousands of angry officers lobbied the Government and MPs at Westminster over proposals to cut their overtime pay.

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, hinted that the Government was likely to make a concession to their demands after an estimated 8,000 officers from forces throughout Britain converged on Parliament as part of a £200,000 campaign to change Mr Blunkett's mind about the planned reforms.

Rank-and-file officers spoke of their anger at the Government yesterday, accusing ministers of "riding roughshod" over the police, and threatening to take industrial action in the future.

Up to 4,500 off-duty police queued around the Houses of Parliament to complain to their MPs as colleagues in two open-topped buses and three riverboats shouted their support. The scale of the demonstration is second only to the 21,000-strong protest at Wembley in 1993 against proposed reforms by the then Tory government.

Leaders of the Police Federation, the police trade union, held meetings yesterday with Mr Blunkett, and the opposition leaders, Ian Duncan Smith, and Charles Kennedy.

The officers, up to the rank of inspector, were mainly protesting at proposals to cut their overtime payments and plans to create a new tier of civilian officers with the power to use force to detain wrong-doers. It is understood that the Home Secretary intends to provide extra funding to forces that hire civilian patrollers, which is bound to result in a significant expansion of community officers.

The Home Office has said most officers will be better off under the pay package but this has been greeted with disbelief by police, who voted by 10 to 1 to reject the offer.

Fred Broughton, the chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said the police service was in "crisis" over the dispute, but expressed optimism about the on-going talks. Mr Blunkett has already indicated that he is prepared to compromise. He said yesterday: "I am deeply committed to making conciliation work, which means give and take on both sides."

Officers among the thousands of demonstrators yesterday were in no doubt that pay was the major sticking point. Under the proposals, normal overtime would be cut from a time and a third, to time and a fifth. Overtime for public holidays, except Easter and Christmas, would be chopped from double time to time and a half.

PC Joe Grant, 39, from Strathclyde, who has been in the service for 20 years, said: "I am willing to work overtime. I don't have a choice. My family arrangements are disrupted and he wants to pay me less for it, and that's a nonsense."

PC Errol Maile, 44, who serves in the Metropolitan Police, added: "In my borough of Lambeth, we are going to face more danger and be paid less and that doesn't enhance the status of the PC on the beat.

"He wants to pay people more for doing some things but there are many officers who are involved in dealing with victims rather than being terriers and making lots of arrests."

Detective Constable Matt Price, who is also in the Met, said: "We want the Government to know they can't ride roughshod over us. I work on robbery and burglary squads, which sometimes involves shifts of 16 hours. You can't just stop an operation half way through and go home. We are doing the work the Government wants us to do, so why are they trying to punish us."

The police were not the only group demonstrating yesterday. A small group of anarchists, who call themselves "The Society of Friends of the Police", stood with the officers. The society's chief demand was for "a zero-hour week for the police to spare time for reading, leisure activities with their friends or their partners".