Government targets are forcing police to prosecute low level crime in middle England - while gun crime continues to blight British streets, it was claimed yesterday.

Leading detectives called for more help to convict armed criminals, as fears were raised about the pressure of performance measures.

Chief Superintendent Ian Johnston, president of the Police Superintendents' Association, said targets imposed by the Government had led to "dysfunctional" policing.

He spoke out after a number of high-profile cases, which included:
- A child in Kent arrested for throwing cream buns at a bus.
- A West Midlands woman arrested on her wedding day for damaging a car park barrier when her foot slipped on her accelerator pedal.
- A Cheshire man who was cautioned by police for being "found in possession of an egg with intent to throw".
- A 70-year-old Cheshire pensioner - who had never been in trouble with the law - arrested for criminal damage after cutting back a neighbour's conifers too vigorously.

His words came as detectives attending the Association of Chief Police Officers conference in Birmingham yesterday called for more help to fight gun crime.

Following a minute's silence for gun victims 11-year-old Rhys Jones, from Liverpool, and Birmingham teenagers Letisha Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis, Warwickshire Chief Constable Keith Bristow called for more powers for police in the war against guns.

He said witnesses to gun crime should be afforded anonymity before offenders are charged.

Yesterday, Chief Supt Johnston urged for the Government to scrap the current targets regime as they had no credibility within the police and put them under undue pressure.

Speaking ahead of the association's annual conference next Tuesday in Warwickshire, where police minister Tony McNulty will be pressured to scrap the targets regime, he said they did nothing to improve the public's perception of crime.

"Centrally-imposed targets are preventing senior police officers from delivering the policing that the public wants and deserves," he explained.

"We need to restore discretion to senior police officers enabling them to make decisions that relate to local policing issues, ensuring that we deliver a high standard of quality policing."

A Midland MP has backed the call to scrap the Government's crime-fighting targets.

Caroline Spelman (Con Meriden) criticised the "target culture" present in Whitehall, which she said was more concerned with numbers rather than catching criminals.

"For some time, the Conservative Party has been critical of the target culture in Whitehall.

"It is all about getting the numbers but it is not the same about catching criminals and distinguishing between lesser and more serious crimes.

"A target driven approach to policing is not working - and here is a senior policeman proving they don't work.

"I think it is very significant that frontline police staff are warning the Government that its target driven culture isn't working and has consequences."

But Steve McCabe, the Labour MP for Hall Green, insisted the targets had made a difference and had reduced crime.

"Police targets were introduced for a specific reason to cut specific crimes that the public were concerned about," he said.

"All of these have been cut specifically because of police targets.

The Police Federation has previously said judging officers purely on how many arrests, cautions or on-the-spot fines they can deliver was making a mockery of the criminal justice system.

The drive to meet Whitehall performance targets was compelling officers to criminalise middle England, they added.