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Retiring Thames Valley Police chief looks back on service

Retiring Thames Valley Police chief looks back on service

Thames Valley Police’s outgoing Chief Constable Francis Habgood is ready for a well-earned break after 32 years as an officer before deciding on his next career move.

In his 15 years at the force, including four in the top job, he has overseen the policing of Royal weddings, launched a campaign into ‘hidden harm’ and seen the impact of huge cuts to budgets.

But speaking on Thursday last week, the 54-year-old told the Advertiser that while the big show-stoppers TVP successfully policed were satisfying, he was proud of the force’s basic duties.

“It is easy to think about some of the big, high-profile events,” he said.

“We have had some amazing, big events that we have policed successfully.

“But I think the thing that is more important is the thing we deliver on a day-to-day basis,” he said, mentioning solving crimes and problems.

“What the public most want.”

Conservative attempts to rein in public spending saw years of police budget cuts from 2010 in the wake of the global recession.

The cuts have continually been criticised and have become a talking point again in recent weeks, with calls from politicians to increase spending on policing with the recent nationwide knife attacks.

“In the last eight years, we cut over 100 million of a budget of 400 million,” Ch Con Habgood said.

“That is a real term reduction over those eight years.

“We have been having to make some difficult decisions.”

He added that the force is ‘grateful’ to receive more money from council tax precepts – one of the ways police forces in England are funded.

In January, TVP’s police and crime commissioner (PCC) Anthony Stansfeld said he had proposed raising the force’ precept by £24 – double the previous year’s increase – meaning Band D households in the Royal Borough will pay £206.28 in the 2019/20 period, up from £182.28.

“I know for some households that means more tax,” Ch Con Habgood said.

“It has certainly relieved some of the more immediate pressure.

“We have still got financial challenges.”

The introduction in 2012 of police and crime commissioners has also been scrutinised over the years.

PCCs are elected to oversee the effectiveness and efficiency of police forces in England and Wales, which the then-Tory and Liberal Democrat coalition government said would ‘make the police more accountable through oversight’.

The position has been criticised for its high salaries – TVP’s PCC Stansfeld is paid £85,000 a year and his deputy Matthew Barber gets £65,000.

But Ch Con Habgood said: “It is really important that policing has something that holds me as Chief Constable to account.

“I have been fortunate with PCC Anthony Stansfeld. He holds me to account in a very fair way.

“He has also challenged me where the public would expect him to challenge me.

“I am very pleased with that.”

Deputy Chief Constable John Campbell is set to take the reins from April 1 – and his in-tray will have a number of challenges for his force to contend with.

Brexit and finances were top among Ch Con Habgood’s predictions for what the new boss will have to get to grips with.

Terrorism also continues to worry forces. In his times as an officer, Ch Con Habgood has seen the focus shift from Irish republican activity to Islamic-based plots.

Police have been successful at thwarting ‘a number’ of plots, he said. But speaking in the wake of the terrorist attacks in New Zealand, in which 50 people were killed at Christchurch mosques, he also has ‘great concern about the far right’.

“What happened in New Zealand was truly awful,” he said.

But Dep Ch Con Campbell takes over off the back of a series of high-profile wins for TVP.

The force has run the ‘hidden harm’ series with the media, which shines a light on crimes that can go under the radar, including modern slavery, online child abuse and ‘honour-based’ abuse.

It also successfully policed the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s wedding and the Windsor visit of US president Donald Trump last year.

Ch Con Habgood is retiring from policing but hopes he can get involved with something that will let him ‘carry on making a positive difference’.

“The only thing I have got planned is I am going to take a holiday,” he said.

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