Crime victims across Britain find local police stations shut at night

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The Independent Online

A quarter of all police authorities in England no longer have a police station open for 24 hours for the public to report crime or seek help. A survey of 37 forces, carried out by the Independent on Sunday, revealed that nine do not have a single station open to the public 24 hours a day and a further seven have only one station open round the clock.

A quarter of all police authorities in England no longer have a police station open for 24 hours for the public to report crime or seek help. A survey of 37 forces, carried out by the Independent on Sunday, revealed that nine do not have a single station open to the public 24 hours a day and a further seven have only one station open round the clock.

The survey also found that out of a total of more than 1,458 police stations in the 37 force areas only 307 - little more than a fifth - have a civilian or police officer at the front desk all hours of the day and night. Last month, this newspaper revealed that police forces in England and Wales have seen a net loss of 162 stations since Tony Blair came to power and that nearly 1,000 have shut their doors in the past 10 years. The survey showed more than 30 stations to have closed over the past four years in the Metropolitan Police area alone, at least seven of them in the past year. This latest example of policing cutbacks comes on the eve of government figures, due to be published this week, that show violent crime to be on the increase.

Stations which no longer have a police officer at the front desk around the clock are in areas including Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Surrey and Gloucestershire. One of the worst affected areas is Cumbria, where police decided to cut opening hours in October last year so that no station is open for 24 hours. The Metropolitan police force has halved the number of its stations open round the clock from 150 to 75. The opening hours of stations nationally can vary from between 7am and 1am in major towns to only two hours a day in rural areas of Wiltshire and Hampshire. Most police forces say they are using their limited resources in the most efficient way and redeploying officers so they are available to fight crime on the streets.

Cumbria police says it carried out a survey that showed an average of only four people a day called into its main stations and then often for non-urgent reasons. "More and more people are using phones," said a spokesman. "We felt it was more cost-effective to have intercom systems instead." This is also the view of Derbyshire police which provides phones outside stations so the public can call a central number. The opening times of its stations vary; some open a few hours in the morning and evening, others close in the afternoon or at lunchtime. "We did a customer survey and found out when people used each station," said a spokesman. "Some don't need to be open for long hours and we would rather have police officers out than stuck behind a counter."

Small stations in some rural areas only open for between one and four hours a day depending on demand with telephones provided outside. Just over a year ago, Gloucestershire police decided to close all its stations at night and even put a notice on the door of one telling the public to use a phone box to report crime. Its central stations in Gloucester and Cheltenham are now closed from midnight until 8am Sunday to Thursday and from 1am to 8am on Fridays and Saturdays. In Sussex, which has 31 stations, only Brighton is open 24 hours a day, and Suffolk has only one of its 26 stations open around the clock.

North Yorkshire police said York station was open 24 hours but members of the public had to knock on the door hard to be let in. "We don't have officers in stations twiddling their thumbs," said a spokesman. "We're trying to cover a vast geographical area which has small isolated populations." This is echoed by Northamptonshire police where only five of 15 stations are open 16 hours a day with the rest open for between eight and 10 hours. "The decision to close many rural stations was taken a year ago after a public survey," a spokesman said. "This was carried out to find which stations did not need to be open as they were not being used." Staffordshire's remote stations are manned by civilians. Cheshire police said its principal stations were open 24 hours a day but that front and reception doors could be locked for security reasons - police officers are contacted by phone from outside and front desks are manned by civilians. A spokesman said the force operated mobile police stations and ran "bobby in lobby" schemes with officers in supermarkets: "There's a move towards more flexible or part-time opening," he said.

"Force research has demonstrated that the public are most likely to contact the police by telephone so investment has been targeted into call-handling facilities to better suit their needs."

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