Police authority considers legal challenge over force helicopter

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MEMBERS of a Yorkshire police authority are seeking legal advice over how to challenge Government plans which would force them to give up the right to run their own crime-fighting helicopter.

South Yorkshire Police Authority last year voted to reject Westminster plans for a National Police Air Service (NPAS), saying the arrangements would increase response times and lead to a worse service.

Under the scheme, the current dedicated South Yorkshire Police helicopter would be decommissioned, and aircraft serving Wakefield, North Lincolnshire and Derbyshire would cover the county.

Members of the authority said they would opt-out and keep their own service, but last month Policing Minister Nick Herbert said he intended to make an order forcing the idea through.

Now the authority, which meets next Friday, is set to reconsider its options, and will be told that lawyers have been consulted on the possibility of challenging Mr Herbert’s announcement.

In a report to the meeting, the authority’s chief executive Bill Wilkinson says: “The background to the proposed order is the proposal to create a national police air service which will offer potential savings to the police service rising to £15m per year, as well as a more consistent service across England and Wales.

“South Yorkshire Police Authority considered in detail the business case provided last year and whilst not against the principle of a national police air service, decided to retain the current air provision in South Yorkshire.

“At the same time a number of key concerns and questions were identified and clarification of these has been sought.

He added: “Legal advice has also been sought surrounding the authority’s options to challenge the Minister’s proposal to mandate South Yorkshire to participate in NPAS.”

After the September meeting – at which South Yorkshire Police Authority decided not to take part in the service – chairman Charles Perryman said members “had not been reassured” by NPAS representations and concerns over response times.

Mr Perryman added: “One of the things that influenced very strongly the authority was the response time that would result if the dedicated helicopter was not available.

“We would have to rely on helicopters based at Wakefield, Humberside Airport or Ripley, in Derbyshire and that would result in significant delay.

“Getting to a scene quickly is particularly important because when we are talking in terms of vehicle pursuits or criminals running away from crime scenes prompt attendance is significant.”

Mr Perryman said the authority had received a petition opposing the move to the NPAS arrangement which: “demonstrated the value members of the public place on the current service”.

NPAS said its scheme involved 22 air support bases at “strategic locations that provide the operational capability to deliver an enhanced service”.

In a document prepared for police authorities NPAS officers say: “NPAS will provide an air service to 97 per cent of the population of England and Wales in 20 minutes.

“It will deliver a more cost-effective service balancing the need to save money against the need to ensure the police service has a quickly deployable asset that can he used to tackle crime and protect the public.

“It is anticipated NPAS will save up to £15m a year from the current cost of air support when all forces join.”

West Yorkshire Police is thought to favour NPAS while Humberside and North Yorkshire Police are still considering their position.