RESIDENTS are feeling isolated from their local police because of a breakdown in communications, says a town council.

Shildon Town Council is writing to the chief of police to demand that Durham Police Constabulary meet shortfalls in its new telephone communications system amid claims that residents are finding it difficult to contact their local police.

The action follows a complaint by a man who says he called police 11 times when he was confronted by youths with baseball bats on his doorstep.

The man told councillors at a meeting that he eventually called 999 after the incident in New Shildon and was still unhappy with the response.

Town Mayor Garry Huntingon said: "This is a serious matter that the police are fully aware of. They have admitted that there is a problem with the software and system but something needs to be sorted out sooner rather than later. It is a very serious state of affairs when people cannot get through to the police. This is putting people's safety at risk.''

Coun Huntington said that he and his fellow councillors could not praise Shildon's local police officers highly enough.

He said: "Our police officers are doing a good job in my opinion. We cannot praise them highly enough but they are getting all the flak for this and it is not fair.''

Sgt Steve Ball, of Shildon Police, attended a recent town council meeting where the problem was discussed.

He told councillors that he was looking into the incident in Thomas Street, New Shildon, where the man had complained about the youths with baseball bats.

He said: "I have spoken to the gentleman concerned and there is no excuse for the fact that he could not get through. I have asked for the logs to be checked and I am looking into why this was not the case.

"All I can do is to ask people to let me know when they are having difficulties getting through to us and I will do my utmost to find out why. I know there are problems with the communication system and I have been told that this is getting sorted out.''

* An independent survey has confirmed the overwhelming majority of people are happy with the police response to 999 calls.

Researchers found that 88 per cent of callers from Durham Constabulary force area were satisfied with the time taken to respond to emergency calls - an increase of six per cent on the previous year.

Swift Research Ltd, of Wetherby, surveyed 2,000 people from the area during the last 12 months.