Police officers from Lancashire are being sent to a Caribbean island to help investigate a spate of gangland killings.
The operation was today criticised by community leaders as Lancashire Constabulary wrestles with huge budget and service cuts.
The cash-strapped force, which is set to lose 500 police officer posts and close police stations following Government funding cuts, will send four officers as part of a 20-strong detachment from five North West police forces to the Cayman Islands.
The Lancashire officers – a detective inspector and three detective constables – from the Force Major Investigation Team (FMIT), are to travel to the tropical paradise for a six-week deployment. It comes after senior officers from Merseyside Police were pictured snorkling and sunbathing on Grand Cayman island after travelling there to advise local police on dealing with the crime wave.
The request has been made by the Cayman Islands government which is worried about the spiralling number of violent gang murders.
But concerns have been raised, particularly in rural areas of Lancashire where there are acute fears about the closure of community police stations.
Coun Ken Hudson represents Preston rural north on the city council and last month hundreds of residents packed into a meeting over the proposed closure of Broughton police station. He said: “Put it this way, I would have thought that, with the current situation, policing at home was by far more important than policing in the Cayman Islands.
“People, especially in the rural areas, are very, very concerned about the cutbacks.
“We are down to one police officer and two PCSOs and if the police have time to go out to the Cayman Islands, whether it is funded or not, it seems a bit of a snub.”
The Cayman Islands government will pay the costs of the trip but it will mean cover is needed for absent colleagues.
Bob Lewis, of Lancashire-based taxpayers’ group Is It Fair, said: “I don’t see why we should have to send our officers out there.
“We are short of resources in this county. Well, we can’t be that short if we can afford to send officers over there, can we?”
The result of a consultation on police station closures across Lancashire is due next month. It is part of efforts by Lancashire Police to cut £42m off the budget in four years.
The Cayman police commissioner – David Baines, from Preston – has asked for help from UK officers following five gang-related murders in nine days.
They initially appealed to the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and senior Merseyside Police officers travelled to Grand Cayman, including Chief Constable Jon Murphy. They held initial briefings with Cayman Islands police.
They were also pictured snorkelling and sunbathing during the day as well as going out to sea on Cayman police commissioner Baines’ boat.
Now officers from Lancashire, Cheshire, Merseyside, Cumbria and Greater Manchester forces will travel to Grand Cayman for six weeks.
John O’Reilly, chairman of Lancashire Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said there would be adequate cover for Lancashire officers making the trip.
He added: “We have officers who are called upon to go all over the place because of their particular expertise.
“We had a couple of officers go to Thailand after the tsunami there. There will be no expenses cost to Lancashire and appropriate cover will be maintained.”
An ACPO spokesman said: “Chief Constable Jon Murphy, the ACPO lead on crime, is working with the Cayman Islands police and will be providing support to their ongoing investigations in the form of a team of detectives from the North West of England.”
A Lancashire Police spokesman: “Lancashire Constabulary was approached as part of a UK policing response and felt it appropriate to offer limited resources to assist in the investigation.”
Mr Baines said: “Chief Constable Murphy and his team worked hard during their time in the Cayman Islands, they completed a grueling schedule and delivered much more than we had originally asked of them.
“Mr Murphy’s vast experience in tackling gang related violence was invaluable.”