THE Home Secretary has signalled that the merger of Merseyside and Cheshire police forces will be shelved or even scrapped.
John Reid, facing rising anger over the released prisoners fiasco, told a committee of MPs he was 'not convinced' force mergers would deliver the better policing promised.
The restructuring appeared 'abstract' rather than offering 'more police on the beat, more accountability and more community control', Dr Reid said.
The Home Secretary's comments, to the Home Affairs Select committee, were immediately seen as the first stage of a climb-down.
The tearing up of the timetable could be announced as early as tomorrow, when Dr Reid addresses the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).
Merseyside, which is fighting amalgamation with Cheshire, is among several police authorities that has threatened to challenge the merger in the High Court.
But Dr Reid is already faced with the huge task of overhauling the immigration service following a succession of scandals.
He is thought to be reluctant to fight on two fronts simultaneously, including a battle that could see the Home Office fighting its own chief constables.
Further evidence that the mergers will be shelved came when Tony McNulty, the new Police Minister, told a Commons debate he would 'take a look at things like timetables'.
The comments delighted Cllr Bill Weightman, chairman of Merseyside Police Authority, who said: 'We now need reassurance from the Home Secretary about exactly what he means.
'Delay will not help the 7,000 staff who work for Merseyside or the 5,000 in Cheshire, but merely create more un-certainty.'
Challenged by MPs, Dr Reid said: 'I believe the police restructuring programme should have, at its heart, not an abstract restructuring, but more police on the beat, more accountability and more community control.'