CLEVELAND Police should be scrapped because it has lost credibility, a candidate to be the first mayor of the Tees Valley said last night.

The Conservative runner Ben Houchen pledged that if he were elected in May, he would set up a commission to bring about the end of the force, which has been mired in controversy for much of the last two decades.

Mr Houchen, a Yarm businessman and councillor, said: “The last few years have been so turbulent for Cleveland Police that I have no philosophical objection to bringing the organisation to an end.

“Our area needs a police structure that does justice to the hugely important work of our front line police officers, who keep our local communities safe.

"They need to be supported by an organisation with credibility, which enjoys the full confidence of the local community. This is not about the people that work for Cleveland Police, but the structure that employs them.”

Mr Houchen’s startling announcement comes after the force was found to have acted unlawfully in using anti-terror legislation to access phone records of whistleblowers accused of leaking sensitive information to The Northern Echo.

However, Cleveland’s history in the headlines for the wrong reasons dates back to the launch of the anti-corruption investigation codenamed Operation Lancet in late 1997.

Cleveland is one of the smallest force areas in the country, and it could be split along the boundary of the River Tees between Durham and North Yorkshire.

At its core, though, is the borough of Middlesbrough – the second most deprived in the country – which has inner-city policing issues that are very different to those faced by the neighbouring, more rural, forces.

Mr Houchen said that his commission would investigate how the force could be re-shaped and then “make recommendations to ministers on finding or establishing a successor body that could adequately replace it”.

The new mayor will lead an authority which will draw resources and responsibilities from the five Tees Valley councils.

The body will also get an additional £15m of Government money, to spend largely on economic regeneration. It will not have any power over the police – the Police and Crime Commissioner will remain – although in other parts of the country like Manchester, the directly-elected mayor is combining the two roles.

Darlington is the only one of the five council areas not policed by Cleveland – it is part of Durham Constabulary.

Mr Houchen’s announcement will ignite the mayoral race. With Labour dominating the councils of the Tees Valley, its candidate Sue Jeffrey, the leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council, is still favourite to win. Ukip is putting forward Hartlepool councillor John Tennant and former Stockton councillor John Tait is the only other confirmed candidate.

Explaining his decision to scrap the force, Mr Houchen said: “The organisation was established to be co-terminous with boundaries of Cleveland County Council during a local government review in the early 1970s.

"The structure is more than 40 years old and local boundaries have changed since then. We need to find a structure than has the scale and resources needed to tackle the considerable policing challenges of an urban area covering numerous different towns.

“I don’t expect the Government to take a view at the moment, but I would urge ministers not to make any long-term policy pledges that would bind them to the organisation’s future.”