The Safer Neighbourhood Team Inspector for Berkhamsted and Tring denies that his officers took too long to get to an armed raid on a jewellers yesterday.
Witness Diana Wetherell told this website that many people who saw the robbery at Bailey & Sons in Lower Kings Road, Berkhamsted, think the police could have been quicker.
She said: “The people who did the crime had obviously sussed it all out, knew exactly where they were going and probably knew that there were no police around.”
But Insp George Holland said officers got there within six minutes of the 999 call-out – well within the nationally set maximum emergency response time of 15 minutes.
He said the first officer arrived at 12.32pm, and a second arrived a minute later.
At about 1pm police found a white Citroen Xantia dumped in Shootersway Lane, Berkhamsted, not far from the A41.
They think it was the getaway car used by the robbers and it is now in their compound being examined by forensics officers. The crooks may have gotten into a different vehicle before escaping onto the A41.
Police say it is believed that one of the men had an axe, which was used to force entry into display cabinets before the robbers fled with their haul.
Facebook users have reported that the men were dressed head to toe in black and wearing balaclavas.
Early reports of a smoke bomb being thrown into the jewellers turned out to be incorrect. Firefighters said the smoke was caused by a security device that allowed staff to escape to a safe part of the building while the robbers’ vision was obscured.
Diana said: “They should have some police in Berkhamsted – someone who could have got round there quicker.”
The town’s police station was closed in 2012 and has recently been sold to property developer Beechcroft – which plans to turn it into homes and retail outlets.
The area’s officers are now based in Berkhamsted Civic Centre.
But Insp Holland said: “Having a police station in the town makes no difference to police response times to incidents as officers based there are invariably out and about on patrol.
“Police never sit in police stations waiting for emergency calls – they carry out routine patrols, enquiries and other duties but are always ready to respond to any emergency in any area.
“The nearest unit is called upon, regardless of their usual police base.
“The officers attending have a role to manage the scene, identify potential evidence and witnesses, while other officers are also involved.
“They would not have been seen at the jewellers as they were searching for the vehicle believed to have been used by the offenders and for the offenders themselves, as well as identifying any other potential witnesses who may have seen the getaway.”
Diana was just coming out of charity shop Number Twenty on the other side of the street at the time of the robbery. She noticed that the left-hand side of the window of Bailey & Sons had been smashed.
She said: “A girl was trying to call the police. She said: ‘My God, the car’s gone off,’ and I saw it go up the road, but I did not know what had happened at that point.”
Three police cars and two fire engines were sent to Bailey & Sons.
Diana, 70, said: “I just felt for the people in that shop, because my daughter some years ago was held up with a toy gun in a video shop. It has had a profound effect on her. It is a terrifying experience.”
When the first officer arrived, someone said to Diana: “God, they have sent one policeman to an armed robbery.”
She said: “On the side of his car, it said ‘working for a safer Hertfordshire’ and I took a photo of it, because I thought: ‘That’s a joke.’ It’s ridiculous.”
She said Berkhamsted is a ‘thriving community,’ not a small village, and it needs more officers.
She said: “There is a good case to be put for having some police in Berkhamsted, because it was a dreadful situation.
“I love Berko. It’s my favourite place to live, but it is ludicrous that we have lost our police station.”