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May stuns police body with reforms

Police officers have been left stunned after the Home Secretary laid down the law and hit them with a raft of surprise reforms designed to shake up the body that represents them.

In an uncompromising speech met by stony silence at the Police Federation annual conference, Theresa May warned nearly 2,000 members that if they did not overhaul the organisation the Government would force change upon it.

After reeling off a list of scandals that have blighted the reputation of the police in recent years, Mrs May dropped a number of bombshell announcements, including the removal of state funding this August.

She also called time on automatic membership for the Federation.

One representative told the Home Secretary after the speech he had never received "such an attack and a personal kicking" in 21 years of service.

Dressed in a tartan jacket and patent-leather Russell & Bromley shoes with bejewelled heels, Mrs May said: "The Federation was created by an Act of Parliament and it can be reformed by an Act of Parliament. If you do not change of your own accord, we will impose change on you."

The Federation came under fire earlier this year for having around £70 million stashed in unregulated accounts.

There were murmurs through the audience after Mrs May told members: "It is not acceptable that when the Federation is sitting on vast reserves worth tens of millions of pounds, it is in receipt of public funds to pay for salaries and expenses of the chairman, general secretary and treasurer."

The Government has already reduced funding from £320,000 to £190,000 a year, Mrs May said, adding: "But I can announce today that this funding will be stopped altogether from August."

Funds will be directed to a new scheme called Police First, which is designed to attract the brightest young university graduates into the police.

The Home Secretary also announced that officers will no longer automatically become members of the federation, and instead will have to opt in.

And she will change the law so all the Federation's accounts, including the so-called "number two" accounts, will be published and the organisation will be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Mrs May listed a string of damning controversies surrounding the police, such as the findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, the review into the investigation into Stephen Lawrence and the so-called plebgate row.

As she delivered the speech, the Metropolitan Police announced that a fourth officer had been sacked for her involvement in the affair, which led to the resignation of Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell.

Members were told "it is not enough to mouth platitudes about a few bad apples" in the face of a slew of high profile scandals.

Mrs May said a third of the public do not trust officers to tell the truth.

She said: "If there's anybody in this hall who doubts that our model of policing is at risk, if there is anybody who underestimates the damage recent events and revelations have done to the relationship between the public and the police, if anybody here questions the need for the police to change, I am here to tell you that it's time to face up to reality."

Mrs May told members they must accept reforms recommended by the independent review by Sir David Normington.

"I do not want to have to impose change on you, because I want you to show the public that you want to change," Mrs May said.

During questions and answers, Pc Ken Davies, from Cheshire Police Federation, who said he had served as an officer for 21 years, told the Home Secretary: "I've never had such an attack and a personal kicking from what you said there."

He went on: "We all accept we need to change. We want to do that. We do not need to be politicised."

He added: "You're threatening to bully us."

Ian Hanson, chairman of Greater Manchester Police Federation, said: "Theresa May demeaned the office of Home Secretary this morning in a vitriolic attack not only on the Police Federation but on every police officer in the country.

"Her attack upon the integrity of the service was an absolute disgrace and I watched in horror and amazement as her face contorted with anger as she attacked British policing citing yet again matters that go back decades as justification for her behaviour.

"Much has been said about professionalism and standards of behaviour in recent times - today Mrs May went too far and should apologise."

Earlier, delegates heard from outgoing chairman of the Police Federation Steve Williams, who said the organisation was "more than stories about plebgate".

The chairman, whose successor is expected to be chosen on Friday, told the Home Secretary said that members are "deeply concerned" that officer numbers are falling across the country in the face of 20% budget cuts, and claimed that staff levels were falling close to those in the 1980s.

Despite previous claims that he had been bullied out of his role, he received a long round of applause at the end of his final annual address.

In a statement issued after the speech, Mr Williams said: "In all honesty, the comments made by the Home Secretary came as a total surprise and I was given no indication of what was going to be said."

At the end of a dramatic day, Police Federation representatives voted in favour of a single motion accepting in principle the 36 recommendations put forward by Sir David in his review.


From Belfast Telegraph