Romsey'S police chief leaves the town today for a new and more senior post within Hampshire's police force.

Inspector Peter Funnell, who has been Romsey's top officer for three and a half years' will be in charge of the police's Western Operational Command area's public reassurance unit - covering Test Valley, New Forest and Eastleigh local government regions.

He will be based at Hythe and his main responsibility will be to ensure nearly half-a-million residents' living in the three council areas continue to enjoy low crime rates.

Mr Funnell, whose new patch covers 600 square miles, said he was "delighted" to be given the chance to take charge of the newly-formed Public Reassurance Unit from Monday.

"Basically, I will be covering the whole of western Hampshire. Policing is changing and I have an opportunity to influence that change" said 50-year-old Inspector Funnell. His brief will include dealing with anti-social behaviour, licensing, crime prevention and liaising with schools. Inspector Funnell said that although he was sad to leave Romsey he was looking forward to the challenges ahead.

He said: "I am looking forward to the job. It will be a significant challenge. I will miss Romsey. Various members of my family have served either with the police or fire service in Romsey since the Second World War. It has been a privilege to have continued that tradition and been hugely rewarding to have worked in my home town of Romsey." I nspector Funnell's new role also includes working with the police community support officers that are being introduced onto the streets later in the year.

During his time in charge of the Romsey division, Inspector Funnell became Hampshire's first top officer to use emergency powers to temporarily close a pub - the Luzborough House - after trouble broke out.

He also gained a "no nonsense" reputation for the way he dealt with problems at licensed premises in the town. Inspector Funnell has also been heavily involved with Romsey's award-winning

Pubwatch, which has seen a drastic reduction in booze-related crime and the town's Shopwatch. Inspector Funnell's robust approach to yobbish behaviour also saw a number of long-term troublemakers given antisocial behaviour orders often known as ASBOs.

He was behind the issuing of Romsey's first ASBO and last week three persistent teenage troublemakers were issued with orders banning them from the town centre for two years by magistrates at Southampton Youth Court.

This followed detective work by Romsey police officers headed by Inspector Funnell.

The use of automatic number plate recognition equipment - aimed at disrupting and reducing criminal activity has also been introduced while Inspector Funnell was in charge. He also played a major role in the production of a publication issued to help people deal with unauthorised traveller encampments.

Temporary inspector at Romsey will be Sergeant Barbara Hardcastle, who introduced the Pubwatch scheme.

"She's very well-liked and respected in the town," said Inspector Funnell, adding that his post would be filled at a later stage.