Bacton gas site policing cuts

A gas terminal regarded as a key terrorist target will be left exposed after police chiefs said they cannot continue round-the-clock protection without government support.

A gas terminal regarded as a key terrorist target will be left exposed after police chiefs said they cannot continue round-the-clock protection without government support.

Norfolk police currently provides a dedicated 24/7 force to protect the Bacton terminal from attack - but this will be scrapped in April due to a shortfall in Whitehall funding.

The terminal on the North Norfolk coast is the largest in Britain providing one-third of the nation's gas supply and has frequently been named as a target in terror trials.

Only this week it emerged a bomb suspect possessed memory sticks containing details of the installation.

But the Home Office withdrew almost �1m in funding for anti-terror policing in Norfolk last year and has now made it clear this will not be reinstated.

Yesterday police said they can no longer afford to protect a site of national importance from Norfolk tax-payers' pockets and will withdraw the unit at the end of this year unless ministers back down.

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This would leave only a small number of armed Ministry of Defence (MoD) police officers guarding the 165-acre site along with local police responding only after an emergency has been reported - a situation which has been described as 'woefully inadequate'. The MoD itself has admitted its presence alone would be insufficient.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said he fully supported the police's stance but added that the government must not allow the level of security at the terminal to drop.

He said: 'Bacton simply cannot be left insufficiently policed. It would be alarming and intolerable from the point of view of the local community but also ludicrous in terms of its strategic importance to the nation.

'At a time of economic crisis it is not difficult to imagine the consequences of the country's largest gas terminal being rendered unusable for any period of time.'

Speaking at a meeting of Norfolk Police Authority yesterday, vice-chairman Robin Chapman said that since funding was withdrawn the force had continued to provide protection from its day-to-day budget.

Mr Chapman described the situation as a 'disgrace' which made a 'mockery' of government financing. He confirmed that without renewed financial backing the force 'will not support that subsidy beyond the end of the financial year'.

Deputy chief constable Ian Learmonth said that the constabulary would continue to provide support in the same manner it did to all sites in Norfolk. However, there would be no specialist anti-terror police nor would the police be able to provide the extra security befitting Bacton's status as a site of national strategic importance.

Last night a Home Office spokesman insisted there was 'no question of any reduction in the level of protection of the site'.

He added: 'Since January 2007, armed police officers from the MOD Police have been deployed permanently at key locations in the UK, including Bacton. Working together with local police forces they have significantly strengthened the security of the UK's critical infrastructure.'

The gas companies currently pay the government an annual fee to cover the entire cost of the MoD presence nationwide. None of this is given to Norfolk police meaning that, following the withdrawal of the anti-terror grant last year, the Treasury pays nothing from taxation towards protecting Bacton.

The force is in negotiations with the Home Office and the gas companies to broker a solution. The police authority has written to MPs asking for their support.

MoD police patrols were introduced at Bacton in 2007 in response to a 'specific security threat'. Numerous terrorist suspects are known to have kept detailed plans of the terminal and have been spotted carrying out reconnaissance missions in the area.