QUESTIONS have been raised over the legality of a council decision to arm Parks Police officers in Redbridge with batons.

The team's chief officer, John Boylin, claims his 12 constables,' who have had responsibility for patrolling the borough's 49 parks and open spaces since May 2006, need the weapons to protect themselves while carrying out their duties.

But fears have been raised that the move is unlawful because the parks police do not come under the Police Act.Speaking to the Guardian, a former Redbridge Metropolitan Police borough commander, says the American ASP extendable batons would also give them the authority they need to deter the aggressive and anti-social behaviour they encounter on a daily basis.

He said: "These batons are vital if the unit is to be treated seriously by people who use the park and they have undergone thorough training in how to use them safely.

"My officers have had several situations where they have been faced with aggressive behaviour and it is only right that they should have the means to defend themselves when threatened."

Opponent, Mike Law, claims there is no legal justification for arming the council-funded unit, because its officers, a mixture of former Met police officers and raw recruits, are not fully police trained and have no greater powers of arrest than ordinary citizens.

Mr Law, who has also protested against plans to arm Parks Police in Newham, says arming the Redbridge unit, which is due to receive the batons within weeks, would set a worrying precedent.

He said: "These constables' are just council workers with local authority issued warrant cards and are simply there to enforce park byelaws.

"Why do you need to be armed with an offensive weapon if all you are doing is telling people to stay off the grass and to pick up litter?

"This unit does not come under the Police Act so they have no lawful authority to carry arms, and if this is the case then what is to stop security guards, bus drivers and other people who face threatening behaviour arming themselves to?"