THE man behind a private police force patrolling the streets of a town has hit back at criticism from Britain’s former leading police officer, saying he is “no Al Capone”.

Francis Jones launched Sparta Security’s latest venture last week in Darlington to nationwide publicity.

Residents and businesses pay £3.50 a week or £2 for pensioners, and in return can call on Sparta Security to respond to incidents of anti-social behaviour. But the former head of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair, said there was no place for the private sector in law enforcement.

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He said: “I do not see community safety as a commodity to be bought and sold and, therefore, we should not be having the private sector in policing.

“Unless we get this right, we will end up with private security coming in and they will work for the rich and the poor will go without.”

But Mr Jones, who appeared on BBC radio and television news talking about the issue, told The Northern Echo he was working with the police, not against them.

The former professional boxer said: “Sir Ian Blair? Let him live in Skerne Park. I bet his view would change when he gets burgled and his back door gets knocked in.

“It is easy for people to make these calls from a distance, but if you live there and it is all going on, you are going to want to put a stop to it.

“I can understand his opinion, but I’m no Al Capone, I’m a born-again Christian.”

Mr Jones said 30 people had already signed up to Sparta Security in its first week. He needs 70 subscribers to make the service pay and could withdraw it if his target is not achieved in a reasonable time.

He said: “I know it is working.

I’m patrolling the neighbourhood, driving around at 3mph looking out. Word is getting around.

“The kids are on our side, they show us respect.”

The Police Federation, which represents officers, urged authorities to be wary about giving power to private firms, such as Sparta Security.

Simon Reed, the organisation’s vice-chairman, said: “I understand the public’s fear of crime, but actually it is the police who patrol public space and we should be very wary about giving those powers to private security companies.”