KINTBURY resident and best-selling novelist Robert Harris has sparked a debate over police cover in Hungerford and beyond.
The writer and broadcaster posted on Twitter on Friday, November 17: “Only four – four! – police officers on duty last night to cover 250 square miles of West Berkshire, including Newbury.
“May’s cuts to policing have really endangered public safety.”
He later tweeted “The Hungerford station has closed, so the area where I live is particularly exposed.”
Mr Harris’ original tweet received 352 ‘likes’ and prompted 181 ‘retweets’.
In the ensuing online Twitter debate, Nicola Chester wrote: “And weekend before last? Just one ambulance response car and its paramedic. No ambulances. At all.”
Some others expressed incredulity at Mr Harris’ Twitter post.
But the writer later said he stood by his comments and told the Newbury Weekly News: “I’m sure if there was a major incident, police would come in from elsewhere.
“What I was referring to was the basic patrol cover, which obviously has been cut back to an alarming extent, especially now that the Hungerford station has been closed. ”
In March, a police officer told a public meeting of Hungerford Town Council that “in times of austerity we need to be more cost-effective”, before adding that officers would no longer routinely be sent out in person to shoplifting crimes involving less than £100 worth of goods.
Instead, it was said, such crimes could be investigated retrospectively, and possibly be dealt with by means other than the courts.
Meanwhile, the old Hungerford Police Station has been sold off and in September it emerged that members of the public cannot interact with officers at the town’s new tri-service station.
Following the furore generated by Mr Harris’ tweet, the NWN asked Thames Valley Police whether it was accurate to suggest that, on the night in question, basic patrol cover for the area was just four officers.
A spokeswoman for the force, Hannah Jones, said she was unable to discuss specifics “for operational reasons”.
Instead, the following statement was issued: “Thames Valley Police keeps resourcing under review to ensure the force continues to meet the changing levels of demand faced and to keep our communities safe.
“Our officers and staff are equipped and supported with the skills, evidence base, technology, and environment to deliver the highest professional standards in their service to the public.
“They work tirelessly with our partners and members of the public to ensure we continue to deliver an effective and efficient service.”
It added: “Crime levels remain low, with public confidence and satisfaction remaining high.
“The force received formal recognition from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS).
“Thames Valley Police was only one of two forces that received an ‘outstanding’ grading it in the HMICFRS PEEL Efficiency review released earlier this month, which assessed Thames Valley Police’s ability to make the most of its available resources.”