AN inspector has reassured residents in rural areas that policing will continue following the loss of their dedicated beat officer.

PC Paul Foley, who looks after a number of villages, including Neasham, Hurworth and Middleton St George, has been seconded to work on an operation in Darlington town centre where he will remain for the next three to six months.

At a recent meeting of Neasham Parish Council, concerns were raised that policing in the villages may suffer as a result, after it was also revealed their long-serving support officer, John Angus, may also be retiring.

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Chairman John Weighell said it would be a huge loss if both PC Foley and PCSO Angus left the village as they had built up a good reputation with residents and know the area well.

“PC Foley is in the TA and has just returned from Afghanistan. We have just got him back, but now they are taking him away again,” he said.

“They are on first-name terms with people in the area.

“John Angus is well-liked by everyone in the villages. He will be sadly missed as he has such good local knowledge.”

He said councillors understood that the police were suffering cutbacks in both the town centre and rural areas, but feared replacement officers would not have the same local knowledge.

Speaking at the meeting, borough councillor Martin Swaintson, who represents the Hurworth ward, said: “The rural wards have had cutbacks on top of cutbacks. It is just not good enough.”

However, Inspector Mick Button, neighbourhood inspector for Darlington, reassured residents that the quality of policing in the villages would not suffer as a result of the changes.

He said: “Paul Foley will be away for three to six months, but that doesn’t mean policing will stop. Other people will cover.

“There are other people who also know that area as well as he does.

“They won’t get a diminished service - it will be just as good, if not better.”

He added: “In this day and age I can’t just have one officer exclusively for one area.

“It is that familiar face, and I understand that, but at the end of the day, if he decides to retire he will be replaced with somebody else.”