A FUNDING shake-up which could lead to the loss of as many as 30 police officers HAS been agreed, it can be revealed.

A confidential Cleveland Police document, leaked to the Hartlepool Mail , proves the force intends to take up a new financial model in the next year.

But today Hartlepool MP Peter Mandelson said he had received a "categorical assurance" that no reduction in officers was planned for the town.

Last month the Mail disclosed how well placed sources claimed the plan had not only been decided but would lead to the loss of between 15 and 30 officers in Hartlepool unless alternative funding was found.

The chairman of Cleveland Police Authority, Coun Ken Walker, hit back, claiming there was "no hidden agenda for any police officer reduction in this town".

However, the leaked memo confirms that a complicated financial formula of weights and measures designed to compensate smaller force districts - otherwise known as damping - will be scrapped next year.

Only four weeks ago, Coun Walker pleaded to Hartlepool Borough Council for more council tax cash to help fund town police - a request that was turned down.

In a separate twist, he wrote to Hartlepool MP Peter Mandelson to claim the leaking of the original story was an act of malice.

Mr Mandelson today told the Mail he had received a guarantee from Coun Walker that no reduction in police numbers was planned.

The town MP said: "Following reports in the Hartlepool Mail , I asked Cleveland Police for a firm promise that officer numbers would not be reduced and made clear that any plans to shift resources away from our town would meet with my total opposition.

"Ken Walker has assured me in the clearest terms that no such plans are afoot."

He added: "In his letter to me Coun Walker goes so far as to condemn the leaking of the story as a malicious act, intended to further personal agendas unrelated to the police.

"Whether or not this is the case I have no idea. All I will say is that I welcome the guarantee Coun Walker has given me but I will nonetheless keep a very close eye indeed on this issue."

The leaked memo, written by police director of finance and planning Steve Preval, states future resources to the four districts, of which Hartlepool in one, may be affected by any changes to the force structure introduced by the Chief Constable Barry Shaw.

It says: "The Chief Constable announced at the October 2001 meeting of the policy group that any remaining damping of resources for the four districts will be removed with effect from April 1, 2002."

Councillor Walker would not discuss the leaked memo.

He said in a blanket statement that the level of funding received from the Government for next year had only just been revealed and was still being assessed.

In a joint comment issued by him and Cleveland Police, he added: "However, I repeat, there is no intention on the part of the chief constable or the police authority to approve any proposal which would lead to a reduction of the resources currently allocated to the districts within the force - including Hartlepool.

"The minimum position from which we will start in shaping the budget for the Hartlepool district is that resources will be maintained at present levels plus an appropriate adjustment to reflect inflation costs.

"That is the true position and anyone suggesting otherwise is simply wrong."