POLICE chiefs have admitted armed cops may patrol a massive Highland music event dubbed the “family-friendly festival”.
The Tartan Heart Festival hosted at Belladrum Estate, near Kiltarlity, is expected to attract around 17,000, and is hugely popular with parents taking young children given its friendly atmosphere.
While Police Scotland insist no armed officers are specifically being deployed to next weekend’s event, which stars headline acts Tom Jones and Razorlight, they acknowledged armed patrols would be in the area and could become involved.
Elaine Ferguson, the force’s divisional commander of specialist services, said: “When not undertaking their armed response vehicle roles, all officers are available to provide support to local policing areas through regular and tasked patrols.
“All officers within specialist services, which includes armed policing, are deployed in support of their colleagues in local divisions.”
Jimmy Gray, the convener of Highland Council, which has been one of the most vocal in its opposition to Police Scotland’s policy on officers being routinely armed, was alarmed at the prospect of gun-bearing police being visible at the music festival.
He said: “People would be really uncomfortable with seeing officers with guns at Belladrum.
“It would be unnecessary and with it being such a contentious issue just now it would be wise for them to make sure it doesn’t happen.
“There is a growing concern, people need to understand what is happening here and how we got in this position.”
There has been calls for the issue to be raised in the Scottish Parliament, but Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill claims the deployment of armed officers is an operational matter for Chief Constable Stephen House.
Police Scotland insists the policy, which was introduced last year without any consultation, better protects officers and the public.
The issue continues to cause disquiet, particularly in the Highlands, which has one of the lowest crime rates in the country, with pictures of police officers patrolling the streets adding fuel to the debate.
Officers are also being seen in shops and restaurants with their guns, causing furore.
A total of 275 dedicated firearms officers are deployed on a shift pattern basis to carry handguns in a holster while on routine patrol across Scotland, but only a small number are actually deployed at one time. There are 30 in the Highlands and Islands, of which 17 are based in the Inverness area.
Prior to the new policy, which was implemented last year, guns were locked in secure cabinets in the boot of patrol cars. The change only came to light a few weeks ago.
Chief Superintendent Julian Innes said it was curious that the armed police team attended 2500 incidents in the 12 months between April 2013 and April 2014 wearing their guns but not a single member of the public raised a concern.
“They either didn’t care or they didn’t notice,” he said.