Testy response for Amber Rudd at Police Federation conference

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The Home Secretary has clashed with rank-and-file police officers over crime rates and funding as she insisted the Tories remain the "party of law and order".

Amber Rudd was grilled by delegates as she made her first appearance at the annual conference of the Police Federation of England and Wales since she was appointed to the post.

Like policing minister Brandon Lewis the day before, Ms Rudd received a testy response over the Tories' claim that crime has been falling despite the loss of thousands of officers from the service.

One audience member told her: "You can keep saying crime is down. I might as well say I'm the chief ballerina for the Bolshoi Ballet - both are untrue."

The debate over crime figures centres on differences between the two official counts - offences recorded by forces and the crime survey for England and Wales.

While the recorded total has shown increases, including sharp rises in gun and knife crime in some areas including London, estimates based on the survey have generally been on a downward trend.

Ministers argue that increased reporting of crime is a positive step because it shows a greater willingness of victims to come forward.

Ms Rudd said: "People have different experiences of crime.

"We may all have different views but there is the survey, it is independent and it has stated very clearly that until the rise in violent crime over the past year - which is a different issue that we do need to address - crime has been falling and has fallen by a third."

Other questions pressed the Home Secretary on the issue of pay, with some officers said to be so desperate they are resorting to food banks and food vouchers.

Ms Rudd prompted a murmur of disbelief in the hall when she suggested average police earnings are about £40,000 a year - but the figure is broadly in line with official data.

She also insisted that the Government has protected police budgets amid pleas for more funding and boosts to staffing levels.

Ms Rudd delivered a heavily political speech to the conference in Birmingham in which she pitched the Tories as the party which has "always stood for law and order".

She said the Conservatives have always "passionately backed" the police and security services, adding that "the same cannot be said" of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott.

Ms Rudd said Mr Corbyn, Ms Abbott and shadow chancellor John McDonnell "sound like a group of Marxists in a sixth form debating society".

But she drew laughter when she insisted she was "not saying this for petty, party political reasons".

Ms Rudd told the conference the country owes police an "incredible debt" for their bravery and paid tribute to Pc Keith Palmer and other officers who responded to the Westminster terror attack.

She also warned that cyber attacks will grow in frequency, sophistication and volume after the NHS was hit in a major incident last week.

In his keynote address, federation chairman Steve White claimed policing is "on its knees, in intensive care and fighting for its life".

He said: "In the past I have been accused of scaremongering.

"When I said fewer officers would mean more crime, I was accused of crying wolf. And yet in the past year we have seen total recorded crime increase by 9% - a total of 4.8 million offences."