Thousands of police march over pay 'betrayal'

LONDON - About 18,500 off-duty police officers marched through central London on Wednesday in an angry protest at the government's decision not to backdate a pay rise.

The row erupted in December when Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced that a 2.5 percent pay increase, agreed by an independent tribunal, would not be backdated to September as expected.

The government argued that this had been done to keep a lid on public spending. But outraged police officers said the decision effectively cut the rise to 1.9 percent, less than the rate of inflation and saving the government 30 million pounds.

The Police Federation, a body which represents 140,000 officers in England and Wales and which organised Wednesday's protest, said it had now applied to the High Court for a judicial review of the decision.

The protesting officers, nearly all wearing white baseball caps, began their march at Hyde Park and will stop off at the Home Office to deliver petitions from every force in England and Wales, before finishing at the Tate Gallery. Rallies will then be held in Westminster.

Since the dispute began, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has insisted that the government would not back down, saying the pay increase was in line with other public sector deals and had been made in the national interest.

"I would like to have given the police more," he told MPs saying police were doing a great job.

"But if pay rises are wiped out by ever-rising inflation, then no benefit goes to the police or to anybody who receives these benefits."

However, the police say Smith's decision was the first time a Home Secretary had failed to ratify their arbitration award.

The Federation has called for Smith to resign and will ballot its members next month on whether they should consider overturning a ban on strike action, introduced in the 1990s.

Police can count on the backing of not only the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, but also many members of the Labour party.

"It's hard to understand why the government did this," said Conservative home affairs spokesman David Davis.

"It's certainly not a serious part of the inflation policy, it saves a little bit of money, but frankly they could have saved that elsewhere.

"It's going to undermine the relationship between the Home Secretary, the government and the police for some time in the future," he told Sky News.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg will address the marchers to say they deserve the full pay rise. Brian Paddick, the party's candidate for London Mayor and former Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police said he would join them.

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