A POLICE chief has blamed 'crippling cuts' for the fact just ten police officers were covering the Hartlepool area on a Saturday night.

A BBC report showed the officers stretched to capacity as they tried to deal with the number of incidents, with locals starting to patrol the areas themselves – or in one case, using the local 'hard man' to recover stolen tools.

Cleveland Police's crime commissioner, Barry Coppinger, said the force was bearing the brunt of austerity which has seen officer numbers reduced by 500 since 2010.

He said Hartlepool's policing was supported from across the wider region if needed but its custody suite has been mothballed due to lack of officers, meaning police have to take prisoners 15 miles to custody in Middlesbrough.

He added: "Chief Constable Mike Veale is reviewing the structure of the force, assessing where demand is highest and where the force can make efficiencies."

He said Middlesbrough custody was specially designed for those with mental health or substance misuse issues, meaning many people from Hartlepool were already looked after there.

He added: “While the BBC report may be a shock for many residents, it highlights the pressures on policing in Cleveland following eight years of austerity." In real terms, the force has lost £39m government funding since 2010.