Theresa May was warned that her cuts to front-line policing would put lives in danger, but she dismissed their concerns as “scaremongering“.

In the wake of three terror attacks on British soil in three months, the government has gone on the offensive and in attempting to blame on internet companies for providing a “safe haven”, instead of focusing on their own policies that have done real damage to the security of the UK.

When the Conservatives came to power in 2010, they cut away at public services in an apparent effort to bring the UK’s deficit under control, and the effect of those cuts are now becoming clear.

It is well documented that seven years of chronic under-funding has caused a massive strain on the NHS, but the recent attacks at Westminster, Manchester, and London Bridge show a previously unseen casualty of the cuts – national security.

According to research by the independent Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), the number of police officers in England and Wales fell by 14%, or almost 20,000 officers, during May’s time as Home Secretary. As a result, there are now fewer police officers in England and Wales now than there were in the 1990s.

The number of police officers in England and Wales fell from a peak of 144,353 in 2009 to 122,859 in 2016. The number of specialist armed police officers fell from a peak of 6,796 in 2010 to 5,639 in 2016. For all the tough talk about Islamic terrorism, the Conservative government has stripped the police back to before the rise of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, leaving Britain more vulnerable to attack.

In an interview with Sky News soon after the London Bridge attack Peter Kirkham, former senior investigating officer at the Metropolitan Police accused the government of lying about their commitment to the police force. He said:

“The police service is in crisis as a result of the cuts,” he told Sky News. “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. They are being drawn from other areas.”

When questioned about the government’s claim that there are currently more armed officers on the streets than ever before, he accused the government, and specifically the Home Office, of lying and warned that outside London cuts have left the police “thread-bare”.

Calls for May to own up to her part in the security failures that have led to the recent attacks have come from across party lines, with David Cameron’s former strategy chief Steve Hilton calling for her resignation. In a series of Tweets, Hilton said:

“I am so sick of Theresa May blaming others for terror when the system she presided over has obviously failed so lamentably. Theresa May [is]responsible for security failures of London Bridge, Manchester, Westminster Bridge. Should be resigning not seeking re-election…Blame-shifting again. Her spin doctors attack MI5, but she was in charge of them for years.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan warned that the Conservative’s plans to cut 12,800 more police officers in London would reduce its strength by 40% an make it harder to tackle future terror threats. He said:

“Our city has suffered two awful terrorist attacks since I was elected as mayor – and we must do everything possible to stop there being any more.

“Police officers in our communities act as the eyes and ears of the security services, providing the intelligence and information that allow us to disrupt attempted terrorist attacks.

“Cuts on this scale would make it harder to foil future terrorist attacks on our city – and as the mayor of London I’m simply not willing to stand by and let that happen.”

Terrorism is not dismantled on the internet, but in local communities where the police must work hand-in-hand with the public in preventing radicalisation. However, the chairwoman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), Sara Thornton, and Craig Mackey, the deputy commissioner of the Met Police, have both made clear that the era of “bobbies on the beat” is coming to an end as police numbers are cut across the country.

Instead of dodging questions about the effect these cuts have on our security, it is time for Theresa May to own up to her mistakes and make Britain safer.

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Tim Dickinson

Tim is the editor of the Descrier and a digital rights and privacy activist.

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