HUNTINGDONSHIRE magistrate Michael Williamson has stepped down after three years as chairman of Cambridgeshire Police Authority. He has been succeeded this week by Hunts political veteran Keith Walters, who resigned in April as leader of Cambridgeshire Co

Michael Williamson

HUNTINGDONSHIRE magistrate Michael Williamson has stepped down after three years as chairman of Cambridgeshire Police Authority.

He has been succeeded this week by Hunts political veteran Keith Walters, who resigned in April as leader of Cambridgeshire County Council after 10 years in charge.

Mr Williamson, who has been a member of the authority for 10 years, will remain an ordinary member until March next year. He succeeded Councillor John Reynolds - Cllr Walters's deputy leader at Shire Hall - as chairman.

"It has been a very satisfactory three years to look back on. Performance has increased, and we have established a stable top team," he told The Hunts Post.

When he took over the chair, Tom Lloyd was chief constable and had instituted a series of reforms aimed at driving up the reputation of a small, poorly performing force that had emerged bloodied from the Soham murders investigation.

When Mr Lloyd resigned following a row over alleged inappropriate behaviour at a senior police officers' conference in Birmingham, managing the fundamental process of change fell to his deputy Julie Spence. So successful was she that Mr Williamson appointed her chief constable in late 2005.

Michael Williamson was an outspoken opponent of former Home Secretary Charles Clarke's proposals to amalgamate the Cambridgeshire force with Norfolk and Suffolk. Mr Williamson argued that serious crime could be as effectively fought with a formal federal arrangement, leaving local forces flexibly free to deal with local policing on a neighbourhood basis.

He got his way last year when Charles Clarke was sacked and his successor John Reid threw in the towel over plans for bigger forces.

One of the biggest changes on Mr Williamson's watch has been the introduction of police community support officers "from nothing to 195 now - I hope the service to the public has increased overall as a result.

"But we are still struggling with overall resources. That has always been a challenge. Nonetheless, I hope the improvements will continue and things will get better and better.

"My biggest regret is that I had to spend so much time on the amalgamation debate. Even though it wasn't all wasted and the outcome was the right one, it put off neighbourhood policing. In one sense, though, we are where we wanted to be, with an informal confederation.

"Overall, morale has improved tremendously, and there's a lot more commitment to improving the service."

Mr Williamson said the stigma of the Soham murders investigation had damaged morale, "whereas now Cambridgeshire initiatives are held up nationally, and the general impression of the force is very good and people are wanting to come here. Those already here share a much greater confidence. I'm very proud of that."

Keith Walters has also been on the authority for a decade and chairs its finance and resources committee.

He said: "Having stepped down as leader of the county council I now have the time and commitment required for this role. The police service is a key priority for all our communities.