GETTING more police back on the beat in Reading and getting tough on water companies were among the pledges of a leading politician on a trip to Tilehurst this week.

Labour candidate and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said Thames Water needed to ‘pay’ for the damage they have caused to local rivers and waterways.

The number of hours in which Thames Water has been dumping sewage has more than quadrupled in the last year prompting a Berkshire riverkeeper to warn rivers are ‘dying in front of our eyes’ as a result of their practice.

In an interview with the Chronicle during her visit to the area, Mrs Cooper called for stronger penalties for water bosses.

She said: “We totally need stronger penalties for the water bosses who have failed to clear up the terrible sewage in in rivers, in areas right across the country. It’s just not fair on local communities that we’ve seen the quality of our water get worse and worse at the same time as you’ve seen.

“The the bosses of the water companies not have to face any penalties or sanctions at all, so we do want stronger laws in this area. We have made clear that this is a a strong labour policy to make sure that they take.”

When pressed if Thames Water and other companies should be re-nationalised and brought back under control of the government, she said: “We think they [the water companies] should take responsibility for the mess they’ve created.”

Olivia Bailey, Labour’s candidate for the new constituency for Reading and Mid Berkshire, who was also present, she thought it was a huge issue that “so many shareholder dividends being paid whilst the pipes have been cracking and leaking”.

The Chronicle also asked about Cooper’s plans to restore public trust in the police. As this newspaper reported earlier this year, a survey suggested only 60 per cent of people feel they can trust the force.

Thames Valley Police’s (TVP) Trust & Confidence Snapshot Survey also showed just 53 per cent of respondents felt TVP treated everyone fairly, and only half thought police listened to the concerns of local people.

It came after news that some 40 current or former Thames Valley Police staff were disciplined for sexual misconduct in the space of four years.

And last week, this newspaper reported how an officer was struck off for making homophobic comments.

Cooper said it would be ‘Labour’s mission’ to restore faith. She told this paper: “It is a serious issue because everyone needs to be able to trust the police and we’ve seen both trust and confidence falling in recent years.

“There are police officers right across the country who are doing an amazing job, working really hard to keep people safe. But we also know there are people in policing should not be police officers and where you’ve seen abuses of power and after the truly awful cases of Wayne Cousins and David Carrick, what I find.

She said she felt there needed to be proper standards in place before people could join the force, saying: “It is shocking we still don’t have a proper national or mandatory vetting standards in place for police recruitment, so we think there should be. The proper national standards around vetting there should also be higher standards around misconduct. For example, if you have anybody who is being investigated for sexual offences or for domestic abuse, they should be automatically suspended.”

When asked more widely about her top priorities she would like to tackle from day one, if Labour win overall majority next week, Cooper said: “From day one there’s two things I want to focus on. First of all, getting more neighbourhood police back on the beat and having a crackdown on anti-social behaviour. We want to be able to move quickly to bring new measures in.

“And the second, is to start setting up the new Border Security Command to boost our border security criminal gangs, the criminal boat gangs, smaller gangs that are organising these dangerous boat crossings that are undermining border security and putting lives at risk.”

She admitted these are not quick fixes but added, “you have to start somewhere”.

When asked what one word she would use to describe her emotions right now - four weeks into the general election campaign - Cooper paused before answering, “hope”.

She said: “I think what we sense is we have the opportunity for change. So it’s a feeling of hope. There has been so much frustration and chaos of the last 14 years, particularly in recent years where it just felt like everything is broken. It’s like we’re seeing the country coming together with optimism.”

Bailey added: “I’d say hope and add determination. We’re doing everything we can to talk to every single voter here. It’s really a two-horse race in this constituency between Labour and the Conservatives.”

When asked if they both felt there was enthusiasm for Keir Starmer from the electorate or it was more of a sense of people being ‘fed up’ of the Conservatives, they said they “understood” why people felt let down.

Cooper said: “I understand why people are really fed up with politics that we’ve had over the last 14 years. People feel let down, they’ve had a lot of promises and it feels like everything has gone backwards. We don’t see police in the streets, people can’t get NHS appointments.

She continued: “What we are setting out is a mission for the future and the things that we could change and also those serious first, practical steps like getting more police back on the beat.”