A RESIDENTS' champion has leapt to the defence of neighbourhood bobbies, after a former colleague accused them of "incompetence and dishonesty".

Former Thamesmead Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) Alan Hillsden has revealed how he saw bent cops skive off work and steal money and drugs.

But Abbey Wood Residents' Forum chairman Joy Cunningham MBE hit back at the claims, saying PCSOs in the area do a "cracking job".

Mr Hillsden, who patrolled Thamesmead for eight months, told the Daily Mirror on Monday he had never seen "such a culture of laziness, disinterest, incompetence and dishonesty".

He says he saw police officers stealing money and cannabis during drug raids.

He even accused his ex-colleagues of walking the streets for less than a quarter of their shift and spending the rest of the time in cafes and police canteens.

However the residents' forum says its experiences with the PCSOs, community based officers without the full power of arrest introduced in September 2002, has been positive.

Mrs Cunningham, of Sewell Road, claims they play a vital role and are popular with most members of the community.

She said: "I think the officers have done bloody well for us. I was surprised when I read this in the paper.

"They get on well with people and we have an excellent relationship with them.

"They come to our meetings every other week and if we have any problems in the community they listen and take them back to their bosses."

Daily Mirror pictures showed two officers coming out of the C2K Youth and Community Centre, in Penmon Road, having apparently spent an hour and a half inside.

But Mrs Cunningham, 69, who works at the centre two days a week, says she has never seen officers spend that amount of time there.

She added: "The officers are visible in the community but they have to cover a large area. They do a cracking job and we are glad to have them."

Senior Met Police officers are now set to launch an investigation into Mr Hillsden's allegations.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Brian Paddick said: "The Metropolitan Police Service takes any allegation of corrupt practice by either police officers or PCSO's extremely seriously.

"We will be thoroughly investigating all the allegations made in the article, led by our Directorate of Professional Standards."