THE Government's police watchdog has given the North-East's most controversial police force six months to sort itself out.

Unless Cleveland Police improves its performance by the spring, Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary Ken Williams will personally intervene to make the changes he believes are necessary.

Last night, new Chief Constable Sean Price pledged that the changes were already under way and the necessary improvements would be made.

The stark warning was issued in a report that accused the force of offering the people of Cleveland a service that was "not acceptable".

The damning report - compiled in June - led to renewed calls last night for Cleveland Police to be disbanded and its responsibilities shared between Durham and North Yorkshire. It found:

* An inability to handle calls from the public led to officers attending crime scenes too late - "Put simply, a situation that is not acceptable";

* Some callers weren't even asked for their name or contact details;

* The force had been "swamped" as the pressures on it continued to rise;

* A wide-ranging organisational shake-up had been rushed through resulting in widespread confusion;

* Changes to policing roles had led to a "them and us" culture between officers;

* Staff lacked firm leadership and were "calling out" for guidance from the top;

* Illegal drugs had become "cheap and plentiful" on the streets of Cleveland;

* The Police Authority had failed to hold the force accountable and "had some of its attention focused elsewhere" - a reference to the controversial Operation: Lancet corruption inquiry that cost £5m and resulted in no criminal charges.

Although it found some good points, particularly the dedication of staff, the report said Cleveland had been weak in some "critically important" areas. It criticised the devolvement of powers to four areas that effectively became "mini forces".

The division into command units based at Middlesbrough, Stockton, Hartlepool and Redcar and Cleveland, had also created a lack of control from the centre.

The report urges Chief Constable Sean Price, who was appointed in March, to carry through a programme of reforms - known as "the Change Programme"- started by his predecessor Barry Shaw.

And Mr Williams warned: "Her Majesty's Inspector will closely monitor progress of the Change Programme as it unfolds and, much more importantly, force performance.

"He expects to see sustained improvement over the coming months and will intervene if this is not delivered."

Inspections are usually carried out every three years. In Cleveland's case, however, the force will be scrutinised again next spring.

In the wake of the findings, Lord Brian Mackenzie of Framwellgate, former chairman of the national Superintendents' Association and a Home Officer law and order advisor, called for Cleveland Police to be abolished.

He said: "I think this is a good case for looking at the way the area is organised in terms of policing needs."

Mayor of Middlesbrough Ray Mallon - the former head of Middlesbrough CID - said the report highlighted poor leadership in recent years and was critical of what he called "the discredited regime".

The mayor said he was confident that under the leadership of Chief Constable Sean Price the "future is bright".

Mr Williams acknowledged the new chief had shown "the very type of strong leadership" that was required.

Mr Price said the organisational changes demanded by the report were already under way.

He added: "We are determined to provide the best possible service for our communities. Our performance has and will continue to improve."

Councillor Ken Walker, chairman of Cleveland Police Authority, said he welcomed the call for change and matters were being addressed.