POLICE could be forced to ignore some 999 calls as proposed budget cuts of 25 per cent give a “green light to murderers and rapists”, police representatives from the region warned last night.

According to North Yorkshire Police Federation, serious criminals would “rub their hands in gratitude” if the Government slashed police funding in next month’s comprehensive spending review.

Mark Botham, chairman of the North Yorkshire branch, warned that the cuts could lead to the destruction of policing as the public knew it, with forces unable to respond to crimes such as burglary and theft.

Mr Botham spoke out as national police federation bosses warned that up to 40,000 police officers could go across the country if funding cuts of 25 per cent went ahead. Paul McKeever, the federation’s chairman, warned that the cuts, coupled with Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke’s desire to see more offenders dealt with in the community rather than with short-term prison sentences, would be a “volatile mix”.

He said specialist departments – including those involved with child protection and domestic violence – would disappear as resources were diverted to calls needing emergency responses. “Our officers are telling us the most vulnerable in society will be hit the hardest,” he added.

Mr Botham pointed to police in the US city of Oakland as an example. The force has recently stopped responding to reports of burglary, theft and vandalism because of a shortage of money.

“This may become a grim reality and the consequences of cuts,” he said, adding: “Crime is likely to increase at all levels as the service struggles to deal with increasing demand – a green light to murderers, rapists and other serious offenders who will rub their hands in gratitude to the Government.

“We may need to renegotiate a new social contract with the communities we serve as we will not be able to do everything that we currently do.”

According to the federation, Durham and Cleveland forces would be among the worst affected by the cuts. Cleveland was predicted to lose 160 officers, while Durham is facing cuts of £23.5m.

Andrew Metcalfe, chairman of the Durham Police Federation, said it was unavoidable that performances would slip if cuts were as deep as predicted.

“In Durham, we have already lost a number of officers over the past three years – from about 1,700 to 1,460 – and there’s little else we can trim,” he said.

A spokesman for Durham Police said: “We’ve already indicated that some police staff jobs will go, but we cannot confirm numbers at this time.

“Whatever the outcome of the Government’s spending review, we will continue to provide an effective policing service to the people of County Durham and Darlington and will retain those police staff jobs which support that commitment.”

Cleveland Police said it was determined to maintain frontline services by maintaining officer numbers and developing a partnership arrangement with support services group Steria, which will run its back office operations.

However, North Yorkshire Chief Constable Grahame Maxwell, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead for finance and resources, last night admitted that frontline services across the country would be affected by the cuts.

He said: “The reality is that the scale of cuts currently being discussed is so significant that ‘protecting the frontline’ cannot mean ‘maintaining the frontline at current levels’.

“We will need honest conversations with politicians and the public about what services policing continues to deliver and what stops.”

His warning came as Hampshire Constabulary announced it would axe 1,400 posts, including hundreds of police officers, as it cuts about a fifth of its workforce in a bid to make £70m-worth of savings over the next four years.

One national estimate found 60,000 frontline and civilian jobs in the police service would be at risk if the cuts went ahead at 25 per cent.

Mr McKeever said he was “surprised”

that the police were not in the lower bracket of cuts.

He blamed “bad advice” from the Home Office and think-tanks which suggested that big enough savings could be made through efficiencies to justify a 25 per cer cut.

The Home Office said future funding for the police would be decided by the spending review, which is due to report in October.

A spokesman said the Government’s priority was to cut the deficit and get the economy moving again.