A PLANNED merger of Dorset Police with the force for Devon and Cornwall could be “dead in the water” after top bosses failed to agree a business case.

Dorset’s police and crime commissioner Martyn Underhill is understood to have threatened to separate the two forces entirely on Tuesday after his counterpart in Devon and Cornwall, Alison Hernandez, voiced her concerns.

Both forces are already in a strategic alliance, in which a quarter of all staff operate.

Mrs Hernandez has now said she cannot support the business case in its current form. Her primary concerns relate to a possible increase in council tax precepts for her residents, although the results of a public consultation were also “inconclusive”.

The council tax precepts could be lower in Dorset if the merger goes ahead.

Mr Underhill has refused to speak to the press. Mrs Hernandez yesterday gave a number of interviews about her decision. In one, she said the merger could well be “dead in the water”.

Although a statement released by the forces called Tuesday’s Alliance Convergence Board meeting “productive”, the Echo understands the two PCCs became embroiled in a row when Mrs Hernandez said she does not support the submission of the business case to the Home Office.

If the merger goes ahead, the new force - which would be the fifth largest in the UK - would be responsible for some two-and-a-half million residents living between Land’s End and Highcliffe.

Members of the press had been invited to Dorset Police’s HQ yesterday to speak to the PCCs and chief constables about the business case. That meeting was cancelled yesterday morning amid uncertainty about the future of the merger.

An abridged version of the business case is due to appear on the force’s websites to allow ‘greater scrutiny and transparency’.

A final decision will be made on Monday, October 8 after police and crime panel meetings for both forces.

Mrs Hernandez yesterday said while she agreed that the business case was viable, she was concerned that an engagement exercise held over the summer could not be used to show clear public support for a merger.

“Members of the police and crime panel and councils previously raised concerns about this proposal and were highly critical of the fact that a business case which they could scrutinise had not been made available to them,” she said.

“I have now taken steps to enable them, and the public at large, to scrutinise the facts and figures behind these plans.”

The council tax issue is “certainly difficult to overcome,” she said.

“I am not convinced that the huge disruption that a merger would cause is worth the relatively minor savings that it would deliver at a time when our communities want every officer to be completely focussed on frontline policing.”