WILTSHIRE’S top police officer has responded to claims from an undercover drugs officer that Swindon had the most open drugs market he had ever seen – and there was a “distinct lack of police”.

Kier Pritchard, chief constable of Wiltshire Police since 2018, acknowledged officer numbers had fallen but said local policing had been overhauled with beat bobbies and police community support officers ringfenced to work in the communities they served.

He said he was confident the force was making great steps. He would continue to put more staff and officers into community policing.

The response follows criticism from an officer, known only as Steve, involved in an undercover operation that saw police buy crack cocaine and heroin in order to build up a picture of the Swindon drugs market.

More than 60 people were snared in the operation. In a statement prepared for the crown court, “Steve” said he had been shocked to see how openly drugs were being dealt in the town.

He wrote: “I’m an experienced undercover officer and I can say hand on heart Swindon has the most open drugs market I have ever come across and also the most blatant.

“There are drug deals made on every corner in full view of the public.”

He had bought drugs in the town centre, been with users in a “drug induced smog” in a multi-storey car park stairwell, and had been dealt to in Faringdon Park and Queens Park.

On one occasion he had even played with youngsters in a basketball court on the edge of a Swindon housing estate while he waited for a dealer to arrive.

The officer added: “I have found there is a distinct lack of police presence in and around Swindon and especially in the town centre.”

That omission could give the public the impression the police were not interested in tackling drug dealing, he said.

Responding to the criticism, Chief Constable Kier Pritchard said: “It’s really good that that’s been surfaced. That was the reason we set up this operation 12 months ago. It was to develop greater insight into what was really happening in our communities.”

“They are red-circled and ringfenced.”

Mr Pritchard said he couldn’t hide away from the fact that a significant number – 22,000 officers nationally – had been cut since 2010 as police forces battled budget cuts. That had had consequences for police chiefs’ ability to get “on the front foot”.

He said: “We know there are plans to address this with the commitments [of police officer recruitment] from the now established government, but that’s going to take time.”