DURING the dark days of Operation Lancet, this newspaper made repeated calls for the Home Office to intervene in the management of Cleveland Police - a force which had clearly lost its way.

Those calls were rejected on the grounds that the Home Office could only intervene in exceptional circumstances. The chaotic circumstances surrounding Lancet, which cost millions of pounds of public money, were not deemed to be exceptional.

Our view was that new leadership was needed to sweep away the bitterness, suspicion, and accident-prone reputation of what had gone before.

We therefore welcomed the retirement of Barry Shaw as Chief Constable and the appointment of Sean Price as his successor.

The irony now is that there is Home Office involvement, with assistance being provided by the Police Standards Unit, and the threat of further intervention by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, if the force's performance does not improve.

This follows a damning report from the Inspectorate, pointing to serious weaknesses, including the unacceptable handling of calls from the public.

It must, of course, be stressed that it is not fair to lay the blame at the door of Sean Price. Having only taken over in March this year, it is too early in his reign to be judgemental.

He has assured the people of the Cleveland force area that changes have and are being made which will bring about the necessary improvements.

Picking up the pieces in Cleveland was always going to be an enormous task and it will not be done overnight. He will know, however, that the honeymoon is over and Government watchdogs are watching very closely.

The key to successfully fighting crime is a partnership between the police and the communities they serve. Only by building that partnership and growing public confidence can Mr Price hope fundamentally to change the fortunes of his force.

And that can only be done if the public is inspired by clear evidence of more efficient, swifter responses to their calls.

Perhaps if the Home Office had intervened four years ago, Mr Price's task might not have been quite as daunting.