YORKSHIRE police officers have been put on short-notice standby to go to Northern Ireland as forces across the country struggle to juggle resources already stretched by the demands of covering the Olympics.
As the Government faced severe criticism over the emergency deployment of 3,500 troops to cover shortfalls in security staffing for the Games, it also emerged that police forces in the north of England – including three in Yorkshire – had received requests for help to cover potential violence as the annual Northern Ireland marching season reaches its peak.
Rank-and-file officers in West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and Humberside reacted angrily after learning only days ago that personnel could be sent to Northern Ireland to help quell any trouble surrounding the volatile July 12 Orange Order marches.
Senior Police Federation officials at all three forces warned that officers were not trained to deal with the particular challenge of policing in Northern Ireland. They also warned cuts in police numbers are stretching resources to breaking point. It is understood standby requests for 50 officers from West Yorkshire and 25 from Humberside were made. No figure is known for South Yorkshire.
Every UK force is providing officers to help police the Olympics.
Jon Christopher, vice-chairman of West Yorkshire Police Federation, said: “One of these days, the string is going to break. We are going to be left high and dry with officers everywhere and we’re going to have a major incident in West Yorkshire.”
South Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Neil Bowles said: “We are totally opposed to it. We are not trained to police in that environment where every officer is armed.”
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said the requests were part of normal contingency planning and, so far, no officers from the mainland had been deployed.
Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said: “Over the coming days, as with every major policing operation we will objectively consider all options as circumstances require. At this point, no public order officers from police services in England and Wales have been deployed to police in Northern Ireland over the 12th July.”
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), which helps co-ordinates aid between forces, said: “No unit on mutual aid would be deployed without PSNI support or to an area where the threat and risk was so great as to be disproportionate to their safety. It is important to remember that public order officers are volunteers. In a situation of mutual aid deployment to Northern Ireland, officers from England and Wales would be asked to volunteer for that duty.
“Within the demands of the service we will, of course, always seek to liaise closely with staff associations to ensure that deployments are properly mounted and appropriate.”
Fights broke out as a parade passed through North Belfast yesterday and a threat of further violence hung over the area last night as Republicans and Loyalists hurled missiles at each other.
In the Commons yesterday, Home Secretary Theresa May denied Olympics security was a shambles after the military was called in to plug the gap left by the failure of private provider G4S.
With just two weeks until the opening ceremony, 3,500 servicemen and women more are being drafted in after G4S said it might not be able to provide enough guards for all the venues.
With more than £100m wiped off the firm’s market value, Mrs May insisted Ministers were only told of the “absolute gap in the numbers” on Wednesday.
Asked if G4S would face financial penalties on the £284m contract, Mrs May said the firm’s deal was with organisers Locog, but she understood penalty clauses were included.
Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said: “G4S has let the country down and we have literally had to send in the troops.”
He asked G4S executives to appear before the committee next week to explain the problems.