THE DIVORCE of the Warwickshire and West Mercia police forces has been postponed for six months after the Home Office intervened ‘to prevent a risk to the public’.
Home secretary Priti Patel ordered the two forces to stay in their strategic alliance and settle a long-running dispute over terms of separation which has escalated into a public war of words.
A Home Office spokesperson said they intervened as a last resort to maintain ‘vital local policing services’.
They added: “The decision to use these powers was not taken lightly. However, the protection of the public is our ultimate priority.
“We will continue to work with senior police leaders to help both forces reach an agreement.”
Warwickshire Police had urged the Home Office to force the extension arguing some shared operational areas could not be separated by Wednesday’s deadline – imposed by West Mercia when it decided to end the collaboration last year.
Around 80 percent of shared services – such as criminal justice, specialist policing services and financial services – are currently based in West Mercia.
Joint services ready to operate on a standalone-basis by this week’s original termination date will revert to single-force operation in Warwickshire as planned. The remaining joint services will continue under the alliance until the end of April at the latest.
Warwickshire, which had accused the West Mercia force of being ‘unreasonable and unrealistic’ in negotiations, welcomed the home secretary’s intervention.
Chief constable Martin Jelley said: “It means our joint services with West Mercia will continue to keep communities safe while we have further discussions with our colleagues on a timetable for transition.
“It ensures the public will see no disruption to the policing they receive in either force area and also provides additional clarity for our workforce, who have continued to operate at a very high level, despite the uncertainty of recent weeks.
“Our work will now focus on agreeing transition timescales for our other remaining joint services with West Mercia and I welcome the additional support we will have from the Home Office to achieve this.”
Police and crime commissioner Philip Seccombe added with the home secretary’s support the Warwickshire force now needed “to reset our negotiations” with West Mercia.
Before the home secretary stepped in the two forces had exchanged strong words.
Mr Jelley and Mr Seccombe said it was ‘difficult to understand’ West Mercia’s insistence there was strong evidence in favour of ending the alliance. They were particularly angered by West Mercia’s claim it was subsidising Warwickshire Police.
But West Mercia Police said it would not be ‘held to ransom’.
The force’s chief constable Anthony Bangham and crime commissioner John Campion said there was evidence from financial scrutiny and police performance inspections the alliance was no longer in their interest.
The forces merged services, including firearms, police dog officers, IT, HR and communications in 2013, saying they would save £30million by 2015.
Local policing services – including safer neighbourhood, patrol, and response teams – remain based in Warwickshire.