MORE than 750 police officers were deployed to stop horse and trap racing along a three-mile stretch of the A33 near Micheldever across two weekends this summer, new data has revealed.

Of those 760 police officers, 175 were drafted in from four neighbouring forces to support the operation to crack down on illegal racing in the traveller community, a Freedom of Information Request submitted by The Gazette has revealed.

Hampshire Constabulary mounted a massive operation over two weekends in June after the unauthorised racing, attended by more than 450 individuals, shut the back road near Micheldever over the May bank holiday weekend.

Intelligence had suggested that the community were planning a repeat of the event on June 19-20 and 26-27.

It saw a massive presence on the road.

Now, a senior councillor has questioned whether Hampshire Constabulary should have prioritised other operations, including cracking down on child exploitation and county lines drug dealing.

Cllr Andy McCormick, Labour leader on Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, said that "there must have been something that went wrong" with the force's intelligence.

Over the first weekend of the operation, two sulky traps were seized and three individuals were subject to section 35 dispersal orders, with no racing or associated criminality taking place.

Additionally, police cracked down on unrelated driving offences, including one drug driver, three drink drivers, one "motorist dealt with for drugs offences" and five uninsured driver.

But on the second weekend, no arrests, dispersals or seizures took place.

Speaking to The Gazette, Cllr McCormick said: "That is a hell of a lot of resources with not a lot to show for it.

"They must have made a judgement call and thought it was a bigger thing than it was. I don't know if their intelligence was off or if they cancelled at the last minute.

"Taking over a public road at the last minute is quite a big deal so I can understand why they wanted to dedicate the resource they did.

"I am tempted to say that there must have been something that went wrong with the intelligence at the last minute. There is more to it."

Hampshire Constabulary defended the dedication of the resource, saying that the operation was "community policing, pure and simple".

The FoI request submitted by The Gazette revealed 585 Hampshire Constabulary officers were deployed across the two weekends.

They were supplemented by 175 officers, drafted in from Surrey, Sussex, Kent and Thames Valley police forces.

The Gazette asked Hampshire Constabulary to detail the cost of the operation, but it responded saying that the information was not held.

The force revealed it had zero complaints from members of the public from the initial decision to close the A33 on May 1 and 2, a move which sparked criticism from several readers of The Gazette and its sister publications.

It refused to answer a question on how many days horse and trap racing was planned until the end of the year, saying it was in the public interest to not disclose the information.

After the initial disruption at the start of May, Conservative candidate at the Police and Crime Commissioner elections, Donna Jones, who was later elected to the role, pledged in her campaign that the same disruption experienced over the early spring bank holiday weekend would not happen again.

Cllr McCormick said that it was "quite possible" the decision to allocate so many resources could have been political, but added: "As PCC she has got to make difficult calls on police priorities.

"What is the top priority of Hampshire Police, is it preventing trap racing? I don't think so.

"They should be looking at stopping child exploitation, county lines, things that are difficult to solve that could do with resource.

"The real answer is that we need more police and more funding from government."

Chief Superintendent Paul Bartolomeo told The Gazette: “Hampshire Constabulary received information that illegal racing could occur on either weekend. Based on this intelligence, and lessons learned from the previous races on the A33 in May, a policing operation was organised to tackle any activity that may occur.

“The impact from the racing in May, where over 450 people gathered forcing roads to be closed for public safety, was not something we were prepared to tolerate again as a force.

“To ensure we were still able to deliver excellent service in Hampshire resources were sought from neighbouring forces, which is common practice, allowing us to address the illegal sporting event whilst simultaneously allowing all forces involved to retain enough resources to police every day matters.

“Officers were drawn in from across Hampshire Constabulary providing us with a diverse and invaluable skill set. Many of these officers are already involved in community policing as their daily role. Once the operation was completed, these officers returned to their posts across various departments in force. They are not available resources to be moved permanently or without serious cause to do so.

“Once it was clear that no there was no racing we were able to redirect those resources to assist with other demands across the force, helping to resource serious crime scenes and locate wanted offenders.

“Throughout the operation officers were able to engage with the public and provide valuable reassurance and presence to the local communities who are most affected by this type of incident.

“Events like this are community policing, pure and simple. They are local issues that have been identified and a robust operation put into place to deter illegal activity there and then, but also going forward.

“Although no races happened in Hampshire, we know horse and trap races did go ahead in other counties on both weekends.”

Donna Jones, Police and Crime Commissioner for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight said, “As Police and Crime Commissioner, it is my responsibility to represent the views of the public on policing and I heard significant concern from the public when the A33 was closed previously, as well as concerns for their own safety.

“The Chief Constable is responsible for making operational decisions and force’s planning was based on information that the illegal racing could occur on either weekend. The robust policing operation had my full support and that of local communities. This racing is dangerous, illegal and causes considerable concern for local residents, so it is wholly appropriate that police resources are deployed to make communities safer and to stop illegal activity from happening.

“The impact that illegal encampments have on communities across Hampshire each year is significant. The A33 ‘sulky racing’ was more than just preventing illegal gambling, animals dying and a main ‘A’ road in the centre of Hampshire being taken over, it was about sending a clear message to that community that illegal racing and criminal activities such as this will not be tolerated in Hampshire. A firm approach is now being taken.

“In terms of the officer numbers ‘ear marked’ for the two weekends, once we knew that the racing wasn’t taking place, officers were deployed back to their normal duties across the county.”