Warning over helicopter response times

The Sussex Police helicopter
The Sussex Police helicopter

PEOPLE living in East Sussex will have to wait more than 20 minutes for a police helicopter if the air service is nationalised, according to the chairman of the Sussex Police Federation.

The National Police Air Service is due to be rolled out next year and the number of helicopters will be reduced.

The service is meant to provide 24-hour cover with a 20-minute response time but Federation chairman Bob Brown fears it may take up to 30 minutes for people to be reached in parts of East Sussex.

Mr Brown, whose organisation represents rank and file police officers, said people in Sussex who are currently serviced by a helicopter based in Shoreham will instead be reached by one based in Dunsfold, in Surrey.

“At the moment the whole of Sussex gets a response within 20 minutes and a lot of areas are less than that,” he said.

“But in East Sussex 300,000 residents are going to be outside of that area and it will be more like 30 minutes to get there.

“This includes Beachy Head, which is an area that attracts a lot of attention, unfortunately, during the year.”

He said the helicopter was extremely important to trace missing people in rural areas as well as catching criminals.

The leader of East Sussex County Council and member of the Sussex Police Authority, Peter Jones has also spoken out against national proposals which he says would reduce police air cover. He said, “This is wholly unacceptable and could put lives at risk, be it trying to find a missing child or stopping someone from jumping off Beachy Head.”

Councillor Jones has welcomed the policy authority’s discussion regarding retaining the air base at Shoreham or, possibly, Lydd, rather than the proposed alternative at Dunsfold in Surrey

Cllr Jones said, “In addition to East Sussex people being adversely affected, some 200,000 along the south Kent coast could also be at risk.”

A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said, “The National Police Air Service is not merely a cost-saving exercise.

“While the current service is capable of doing its day job, artificial boundaries have meant that helicopters are restricted to operating within their own force area or consortia. A truly national, borderless service will ensure effective coverage of urban and rural areas.”