LONDON | Thu May 10, 2012 10:33am EDT
(Reuters) – Thousands of off-duty police officers took to the streets in London on Thursday in a rare display of collective anger against government austerity measures, joining a mass protest by public sector workers including immigration officials, healthcare workers and prison officers.
Unions predicted some 400,000 public sector workers would walk out, a smaller protest than in November when Britain saw the biggest strike in years, but a significant show of public discontent just after Prime Minister David Cameron’s government took a drubbing at local elections.
The government said only about 100,000 had taken part and dismissed the action as “futile”.
However, the sight of some 20,000 police officers in black caps marching through London will be particularly embarrassing for Cameron, whose centre-right Conservatives pride themselves on being the party of law and order.
Deep cuts to police budgets and a government-commissioned report that recommended allowing officers to be sacked, pay reductions for some and raising the pension age, have all caused disquiet.
“I feel like the government has misled the public. It’s nothing to do with making a leaner, more efficient police service,” said Anthony Coultate, 32, a sergeant from Leeds in northern England.
The officers, whose caps bore the slogan “Cutting the police force by 20 pct is criminal”, marched slowly past the interior ministry and other government buildings, blowing whistles.
Gareth Rees, 35, who suffered serious injuries while on duty requiring nine operations and three years of treatment, said he would have lost his job under the proposed changes.
“British policing could change forever if these changes are allowed to be pushed through and ultimately it’s going to be the public that will lose out,” he told Reuters.
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