Saturday, 24 May 2008

"What is it that Mr Balls has that you do not....?"

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith stood stony-faced today as she was berated by the leader of rank-and-file police officers over her handling of police pay.

Police Federation chairman Jan Berry accused the Home Secretary of "betraying" the police service.

She also ridiculed Ms Smith - as the two women shared a stage at the federation's annual conference - for her admission that she took cannabis in her youth.

Mrs Berry said: "Your recent crimes have been more for the serious fraud office than the drug squad."

The Home Secretary looked uncomfortable as she faced 1,000 delegates. Mrs Berry praised the politician for facing the conference, but added: "I am sure ... you felt like reaching for a stab proof vest and perhaps slipping into old habits and lighting up to calm your nerves."

Ms Smith at first smiled at the comments but later turned stony-faced at the criticism levelled by the police leader.

"Your decision not to honour the pay award was a breach of faith," said Mrs Berry.

"It was a monumental mistake, and I don't say this lightly when I say you betrayed the police service."

Mrs Berry received a standing ovation from delegates, with the Home Secretary joining the gesture.

The federation chairman had pledged that delegates would be "professional and courteous" to the politician, who was given a brief round of applause as she stood to deliver her speech.

The long-running row over pay peaked in January as an estimated 22,000 officers marched on Westminster, after the decision to introduce a 2.5% pay rise in stages, effectively reducing the overall award to 1.9%.

Yesterday's vote was a step towards the first police strike for nearly 90 years.

Ms Smith responded with a series of improvements to police remuneration and announcements on funding and policy.

Speaking about the row over pay, she said she stood by her decision despite the anger it caused.
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