Fears over loss of police air cover

HASTINGS would be left out of emergency range of police helicopters under proposals to create a single country-wide police air force.

This would also delay searching for missing people or wanted criminals on the run where a police search helicopter is necessary, it is feared.

The plan of a National Police Air Service would see the Sussex Police helicopter base at Shoreham Airport close and a single helicopter serve the county, together with Surrey and Hampshire.

It would be based at Dunsfold in Surrey under the proposals. The furthest points in Sussex that could be reached in 20 minutes would be in Netherfield, near Battle, as well as Seaford and Hailsham.

There is no air support in Kent to plug this gap. At the moment, from Shoreham, Sussex Police can reach the A259 between Hastings and Rye in 20 minutes.

Bob Brown, chairman of Sussex Police Federation, said a decision was made last year that two aircraft was enough to police Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire.

He said: “In my view it is not a luxury item. It is an essential item.

“I would like to see the whole of the Sussex Police area being within the 20-minute range. In rural areas, of which Sussex has a lot, police helicopters are used a lot to search for missing vulnerable persons.

“If coverage was lost it would delay such operations getting off the ground.”

Sussex Police Authority has not yet voted on the proposals, designed to save 22 per cent of the country-wide bill for police air support.

Councillor Godfrey Daniel, who represents East Sussex County Council on the authority, said: “I am relatively relaxed about the concept of a national police air force and it does make sense when you need to pool resources together, as was the case in the recent riots.

“But I would be very concerned if we were to get a poorer service. Nothing has come forward as yet before the authority’s committee so it is a bit premature to jump to conclusions.”

Police authorities are expected to make a decision on the proposals by September 30.