A former counter-terrorism chief has lambasted Theresa May’s “endless cuts” to police numbers and warned that the London Bridge attack should make all politicians “reflect” on the damage done by austerity.
Jim Gamble, the former head of Special Branch in Belfast, accused the Prime Minister of trying to “asset strip the critical services who in times of trouble make the real difference”.
Blogging for HuffPost UK, Gamble – who also headed the police’s national online child protection unit – was scathing about May’s record as Home Secretary, when she oversaw the loss of 20,000 police jobs.
His words came as a former Metropolitan Police officer accused the Government of “lying” about the number of armed officers on the streets since the Tories came to power.
Just four days before the general election, Jeremy Corbyn also stepped up his attack on the Conservatives, pointing out that May had told police in 2015 that they were “crying wolf” over police cuts.
Gamble – awarded the Queen’s Police Medal for his service - told HuffPost UK that politicians who were now praising the police’s response to the London Bridge attack should have invested in the force in recent years.
A former police head of counter-terrorism in Belfast, and deputy director general of the National Crime Squard, Gamble said that May had claimed for too long that the police could ‘do more with less’.
“No matter how you cut it, no matter what spin you put on diversification of resource or doing things differently, there are 20,000 fewer police now than there were in 2010,” he wrote in his blog.
“That’s fewer eyes and ears on the street, fewer ‘bobbies’ building relationships, community confidence and critically creating that visible reassurance and deterrence that is key at times like this.
“What we don’t need now are more excuses. For too long the blanket of austerity has excused all sorts of cuts.
“Education, social care, health and policing; the infrastructure upon which a fair and just society is built require investment and support.
“Frontline staff do not deserve to be demonized - lest we forget ‘Plebgate’ -demoralized, or suffer the endless cuts on the back of ‘you can do more with less’ rhetoric.”
Gamble, who was the founding chief executive of the first online child protection unit CEOP, warned politicians “it’s easy to say the right thing at the right time to the right audience” and offer “false promises”.
“Of course we have to face the reality of tighter financial times but we cannot continue to asset strip the critical services who in times of trouble make the real difference.
“Better we, who can, pay more tax for the things that matter than stand by applauding the actions of our public servants whilst some off duty visit food banks.”
Corbyn used a speech in Carlisle to attack the PM’s record, saying: “You cannot protect the public on the cheap. The police and security services must get the resources they need, not 20,000 police cuts.
“Theresa May was warned by the Police Federation but she accused them of ‘crying wolf’.
“We will recruit another 10,000 new police officers, including more armed police, as well as 1,000 more security services staff to support our communities and help keep us safe.”
Gamble’s warning came after another former police officer accused the government of ‘lying’ about the number of armed officers on the streets.
Peter Kirkham, a former investigating officer in the Metropolitan Police, directly contradicted claims from Home Secretary Amber Rudd last week that “by the end of this year there will be as many armed police as there have ever been.”
Kirkham told Sky News: “The police service is in crisis as a result of the cuts. They’re being dragged from pillar to post. We hear talk of extra police officers on the street. They’re not extra, they’re officers that have had their rare leave days cancelled, they’ve had their 12 hour shifts that are now done routinely extended into 16 hours.”
Asked about government claims armed police numbers were set to be the highest on record, Mr Kirkham said: “No. No. They’re not. Basically, people who are alleging that are lying.
“They’ve funded bringing us back to the number of armed officers we had in 2010 by 2020. And they’ve got to address a number of issues in order to get there.”
In 2010, there were 6,976 armed officers in England and Wales. That had fallen by 2014 to 5,875.
Before the attack happened, Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson had been due to make a speech on Monday warning that if the Tories stayed in power a further 16,000 officers were facing the axe - and numbers would drop to their lowest since the 1970s.
Police have repeatedly warned that the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition was wrong to dump Labour’s ‘control orders’ on terror suspects, and replace them with a system of terror prevention measures known as ‘TPIMs’.
Former Cabinet Minister Iain Duncan Smith admitted on Sunday the new system had been weaker but tried to blame the Lib Dems for the switch.
He told BBC Radio 4: “I think what is on the table is a much tighter view about the way we got about this TPIM stuff.
“One of the things that I was concerned about in coalition – I know Theresa May was when she was Home Secretary – was during the coalition the TPIM order that we brought in, which gives those powers, was watered down.
“And I think it was weakened too much.”
A Conservative Party spokesman told HuffPost UK: “We are supporting the excellent work of the police by providing record funding for counter terror policing.
“We are providing £144 million over the next five years to increase armed policing, and providing an additional 1,900 officers across the three security agencies so that we can better respond to the threat we face from international terrorism, cyber-attacks and other global risks.
“And our record speaks for itself: crime is down by a third since 2010.”
The number of armed police will increase by more than 1,000 over the next two years, additional round-the-clock specialist teams are being set up outside London, and 40 additional Police Armed Response Vehicles will be on the streets, the party says.