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Police overtime bill uncovered by FOI request

The Kent Messenger Group has revealed how the scramble for votes by politicians during the general election campaign left Kent Police with an overtime bill for more than £40,000.

Group political editor Paul Francis used the Freedom of Information Act to ask how much it had cost the force to cover election visits and activities during the four-week campaign.

The costs, which fall to the council taxpayer to pick up, covered the costs of deploying more than 300 uniformed and plain clothes officers to provide security and to escort visiting politicians during April and May.

Paul believes the overall costs can be assumed to be even higher because several VIPs were accompanied by their personal protection officers from the Metropolitan Police.

He made the request because the county’s 16 parliamentary constituencies were a key electoral battleground and had seen a steady stream of high-profile figures making visits to marginal seats right up to polling day. Conservative leader Michael Howard’s constituency is among the 16 seats.

The Prime Minister made three official visits to the county while the Conservative leader made several speeches across Kent. The Liberal Democrat leader visited just once but scores of other ministers and shadow ministers poured into the county to drum up support for their party’s prospective candidates.

They included Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who visited three times, and Chancellor Gordon Brown, who twice made the trip.

Kent Police has confirmed its overtime bill for covering 41 official visits amounted to £40,799. The costs were chiefly for officers on the ground. In the case of some VIP visits, the costs also involved security vetting of premises.

Kent Police say 315 officers were on election duties at various times in the county during the campaign.

In a statement, assistant chief constable Dave Ainsworth said: “Kent Police does not get additional funding for the elections.

“However contingency funds are established each year for forseeable events. This year, the funds set aside adequately covered our requirements.

“We have a duty to facilitate free and fair elections in a safe environment, working with election officials at polling stations and ensuring that all participants observe the law, for example by investigating allegations of postal voting fraud.”