France’s National Police force was in severe crisis on the eve of Bastille Day celebrations, according to the president of the Regional Council of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azu.
Christian Estrosi made the claim in a letter sent to the Elysee Palace 24 hours before the Nice truck attack in which 84 people were killed and hundreds wounded.
Sky News has learned that there were “a maximum of 62” National Police and 50 Municipal Police on patrol in Nice on Bastille Day – 14 July – a national holiday that the city marked with fireworks in the evening.
As the fireworks display began to come to an end, Mohammed Bouhlel, a delivery driver with a criminal record for violence and petty theft, drove a 19-ton truck 1.2m (2km) along the Promenade des Anglais.
He smashed through revelers killing at least 10 children and wounding 50 more alongside their parents and other loved ones.
Experts have been baffled as to how it was possible to carry out the attack at all as most thoroughfares would have been blocked with barriers against traffic.
The reason may simply be a question of numbers.
Mr Estrosi told Sky News: ‘We had demanded several days before the attack that the state would guarantee the same security conditions like the ones organized at the time for carnival and the Euros.
“Everyone who felt menaced that night there and who maybe feel menaced every day have all the reasons to be angry.
“Above all we (must) stop all the consequences once and for all. I see the same story at the photocopier: Charlie Hebdo, Bataclan, and now Nice.”
But there were far fewer officers than at Euro 2012, begging the question as to why a local national holiday was under-policed by comparison.
One senior security source told Sky News “one might have expected about 700 or more police” for the city.
Mr Estrosi told President Francois Hollande in his letter that he represented the views of police and other security services who believed that the time had come for a “grand plan” for policing as a matter of urgency.
“Our country is always in an unprecedented situation of peril which requires the mobilization of our interior security forces every day,” he wrote.
He added that the permanent threat of terrorism to France would require “a lot more than a mobilization for each [individual] instant”.
France has extended its state of emergency for another three months following the attack.
It is clear that Mr Estrosi as a Republican Party member opposed to socialist President Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls would be keen to make his rivals look weak on security amid growing national anxiety.
Nonetheless the facts dug out by Sky News support his claim that the national and local police were overstretched.
What no politician, so far, has asked is why the roads to the Promenade des Anglais were not closed.
If this was because of a shortage of police, mortal blows are likely to be struck for the careers of those found responsible.