City centres 'becoming no-go areas' as police numbers fall

Anarchy and disorder is breaking out in many cities at night because of dwindling police numbers, a police leader said yesterday.

Fred Broughton, chairman of the Police Federation, which represents officers in England and Wales up to the rank of superintendent, said the public had all but lost confidence in the police as they struggled to cope with rising crime.

Mr Broughton claimed the centres of London, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds were in effect no-go areas at night because of violence and a lack of police patrols. His comments come at a time when the Government is struggling to maintain its law and ordercredentials.

Speaking at a briefing on the eve of the Federation's annual conference in Brighton, Mr Broughton argued: "There is a sense of disorder, and anarchy in many of these areas. Most people would avoid these hot spots altogether, as there are no police officers to turn to."

He referred specifically to areas outside pubs and nightclubs between 10pm and 2am. Members of the public were much more likely to see a traffic warden than a police officer patrolling the street, Mr Broughton said. He added: "The police service has now lost confidence in the system and the public has lost confidence in the police service."

He argued that schemes such as Neighbourhood Watch and the recruitment of special constables could not replace effective policing. "The truth is that all these alternatives have failed. We are seeing communities with no policing at all."

Cases such as the murder trial of the farmer Tony Martin, who was jailed for life for shooting dead a burglar, highlighted the "scandal" of rural policing, Mr Broughton added. "Irrespective of whether Tony Martin was guilty or not, the problem is that communities such as his are unable to rely on the police. The closure of local police stations which have been financially driven has been disastrous." Police forces do not have adequate funding to recruit the number of officers required to deal with a drastic increase in violent crime and crime in general, he said.

Mr Broughton's claim will be seen as useful ammunition for the Conservatives. But Labour is likely to dismissed it as anattempt to bounce the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, into providing extra police funding.

Mr Straw will defend the Government's law and order record at the federation's conference tomorrow and will announce further details this week of the funding already promised to recruit more officers. But the federation's leader will ask Mr Straw to set up a Royal Commission to reshape the police service.

The conference also heard a plea from women officers for greater action to tackle "institutionalised sexism" within the police service. Jan Berry, a chief inspector in Kent, said women still suffered discrimination, in spite of high-profile cases brought in recent years.

Ms Berry, who is the general secretary of the Police Federation inspectors' central committee, said sexism in the force ranged from "inappropriate behaviour" to unhelpful policies on part-time work and shift patterns.

Ten per cent of police officers - both male and female - reported they had been bullied in the previous six months, in research conducted last year.