A FORMER Metropolitan Police commander has accused Redbridge council of breaking the law' by arming its parks police unit.

David Gilbertson, a serving policeman for more than 30 years, has added to the controversy surrounding a decision to equip the force with American-style extendable batons, by claiming its officers have no legal authority to carry the weapons.

Mr Gilbertson, who was a senior officer at the scene of the Southall rail disaster in 1997, accused the unit's commander, John Boylin, of being deluded' for claiming otherwise.

He said: "I am a former Scotland Yard commander and I can state, quite unequivocally, that all of these so-called local authority 'police' forces have absolutely no legal authority to carry offensive weapons.

"They are, quite simply, breaking the law, and John Boylin should know this only too well as a former Met chief superintendent.

"If he does not then he has either been badly advised or is deluding himself."

These views were backed by former Newham councillor, Mike Law, who claims Parks Police constables have no more right to carry batons than ordinary citizens.

He said: "The law on the use of batons is contained in section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 which makes it an offence to carry an offensive weapon in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse.

"This lawful authority only extends to people who carry weapons as a necessary means by which to carry out their legal duties, such as the police and the armed forces, and does not extend to the parks police."

Mr Boylin claims arming the unit was both legal, and vital in order to ensure his officers are able to carry out their duties safely and effectively.

He said: "My officers are permitted to carry these weapons under common law, the Criminal Law Act 1967 and Section 117 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

"They are law enforcement officers and are entitled to a level of protection commensurate with the job.

"I am somewhat surprised by the interest that this has generated."