1. ITV Report

Police horses under threat

Two of the Essex Police horses and riders Photo: ITV Anglia

A decision on the future of Essex Police's mounted unit, based in Writtle near Chelmsford, is expected to be announced in the next few days. Proposals to disband the unit, which is made up of eight horses, nine riders and two grooms, were announced by Essex Chief Constable Jim Barker-McCardle in July, as part of wider cost-cutting measures.

The mounted section is estimated to cost around £600,000 a year to run. The force has to make savings of £42 million by 2014/2015.

The Essex mounted unit dates back to 1903 when horses were just ridden by senior officers, all other patrols were carried out on foot. The unit was first cut in 1999 to save money, but was reformed eight years later in December 2007 at the cost of around £250,000.

The horses are deployed for crowd control, public order, open country searches and neighbourhood policing. Only last week they were used to search the Clacton area for the missing hospital patient David Royle, whose body was later found in the sea.

It can take up to two years to train a horse for patrol. The majority of the work is centred around "desensitising", training the horse not to react to inflammatory situations.

All eight horses in the unit are assigned both stable names, many of which have been chosen by children from local schools, and also operational names: Major (op name Tilbury), Toffee (op name Maldon), Trojan (op name Harwich), Bella (op name Shoeburyness), Rosie (op name Chigwell), Biscuit (op name Coggeshall), Carlsberg (op name Blackheath) and Patrick (op name Stebbing).

In a statement, Essex Police confirmed the decision on the unit's future will be made shortly.

A campaign "Save Essex Police's Mounted Unit" and a petition at the Ingatestone Saddlery Centre near Chelmsford has so far generated nearly 4,000 signatures.

Despite widespread public support to keep the unit, ITV Anglia has learnt that the Essex Police Authority is supporting the Chief Constable's proposals to disband the unit.

If the plans go ahead the horses will be transferred to another force or re-homed. The nine officers and two grooms are expected to be redeployed to other duties.