NEW Home Secretary Priti Patel came to Witham on Friday for her first police walkabout since announcing that 20,000 new officers will be introduced across the UK by 2022.

Arriving in front of the town hall, she took a brief stroll on the high street and stopped at the Grove Centre, accompanied by two local officers.

The Witham MP then gave an exclusive interview to the Braintree and Witham Times in which she explained her policy goals as Home Secretary and expanded on her claim last week that criminals should “literally feel terror” at the thought of committing crime.

VIDEO: See our full interview with Priti Patel by clicking here

She said: “Through the increase in police numbers that I campaigned for last year we’ve now got town teams in Witham, Braintree and Halstead.

“On top of that, of course, in my capacity as Home Secretary we are now committed to recruiting 20,000 more police officers, spending over £900 million and investing in policing and delivering in local policing across our communities.”

Braintree and Witham Times: Priti Patel with chief constable BJ Harrington.Priti Patel with chief constable BJ Harrington.

Ms Patel also responded to concerns raised by a resident from Witham’s Hatfield Estate last week regarding alleged drug dealing, violence and burglaries in the area which drove the resident to ask: “Where is our MP?”

She said: “To be fair, only a month ago I was raising not just a spate of crime but lead thefts, burglaries and shop thefts that have taken place.”

She added: “We had a meeting in the public hall last summer that all members were invited to come along to and it is because of that meeting we got more police officers in Witham town and the new town team policing team that are walking our streets in Witham today.”

Essex Police Chief Constable BJ Harrington was present at the walkabout event on Friday.

He said: “The commitment from Government to enable forces to recruit more officers nationally is positive and I’m keen to know what the allocation will be for Essex.”

When that question was put to Ms Patel by the Times, she said: “We’ll be making national policing numbers decisions later on this year. But I can be very very clear as someone that campaigned for more police in Essex and obviously more police in the Witham constituency which I’m seeing here today, that is something that obviously I will be continuing to work to achieve.”

DATA: See our investigation into stop and search in Essex

Amid government cuts to policing, several local authorities in Essex have taken matters into their own hands of late.

Essex’s police, fire and crime commissioner Roger Hirst raised council tax by 14 per cent in January to pay for 150 extra police officers across the county.

A further 215 are in the pipeline for March 2020.

On top of this, Kelvedon and Gosfield parish councils have introduced their own volunteer special constables at a cost of £1,000 a year, while the Essex-wide Only Cowards Carry campaign has collected 47,000 potential weapons in its knife amnesty bins since 2015.

Responding to comments from Essex Police Federation chairman Steve Taylor that education and welfare spending are better remedies to knife crime than piecemeal police funding, Ms Patel said: “There are a range of factors that are behind serious violent crime.

“There’s no doubt that we have to look at having a much more integrated approach across society.

“It’s not just for central government and the criminal justice system to address this.

“We have a public health duty looking at mental health issues.

“We have a duty with our young people and our education system as well. There’s been far too much off-rolling.

“I’ve been very vocal about this as well in schools in Witham that have stopped that practice because it’s led to young people just falling out of the education system and absolutely not being served well by the state and by society. They have been let down, basically.”

Under successive Conservative governments, of which Ms Patel has been a part, 91 per cent of schools have experienced real-term per-pupil funding cuts, while reforms to the benefits system in recent years have, according to a recent survey of NHS bosses, caused a nationwide spike in anxiety and depression.