A firearms officer sustained four stab wounds in a frenzied attack rather than shoot his assailant in a busy city centre street, MSPs have heard.
The man ran at two police firearms officers with a knife on The Mound in Edinburgh, Holyrood’s Justice Sub-Committee on Police has heard.
Despite being stabbed four times, despite suffering a frenzied attack, both officers still used their professional assessment and their judgement.”Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins
They would have been justified in shooting him but they feared a bullet would go through him and hit a member of the public, Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins told the committee.
Police Scotland has been under sustained political pressure over its decision to arm a select number of officers on routine patrols, after it emerged armed police have attended over 16,000 routine incidents since October.
Mr Higgins said these officers are amongst the best trained in the force, and said it would be unreasonable for them to ignore potential crimes unfolding before them.
He said armed officers had comforted an injured pensioner in the street, and intervened to prevent street brawls developing into potential murder cases.
But he also confirmed that they have issued fixed penalties for public urination, drinking in the street and breach of the peace.
And he accepted criticism of police intelligence which led to a 91-year-old driver being ordered from his car at gunpoint by four armed officers.
Concerns have also been raised by some MSPs about armed police seen shopping in supermarkets.
Mr Higgins said there is no constraint on armed officers shopping for food or refreshments, but they are urged to use their professional judgement over when and where this is appropriate.
He said: “Some months ago, two of my officers were attacked on The Mound in Edinburgh by a man with a knife.
“They were firearms officers who were stopped by a member of the public who said there was a gentleman there who appeared to be distressed.
“As they got out the vehicle the man ran at them and started to try and stab them.
“One of my officers was stabbed four times. Despite being stabbed four times, despite suffering a frenzied attack, both officers still used their professional assessment and their judgement.
“In my view, they would have been justified in using their conventional weapon against that individual but they didn’t.
“They brought him under control and they subdued him by other means.
“When I then spoke to them and asked them why, both of them independently of each other said the reason was: ‘It was not so much what was in front of us, we could see what the guy was doing and we wouldn’t have missed him because it was too close, but behind him was lots of members of the public and had we shot that individual potentially one of the members of the public would have been struck by the bullet that was going through him.’
“So even under the most intense, frenzied attack, the training that these officers received allowed them to make an assessment and they realised that they could not go to their conventional weapon.
“That was a terrible incident, but if nothing else it assured me of first of all the courage of the officers, but actually their utmost professionalism even in the most intensive circumstances.”
Liberal Democrat MSP Alison McInnes raised a “quite disturbing” case reported to the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner.
“A 91-year-old man was driving his car on the A9 near Inverness,” she said. “He was stopped by armed officers from Police Scotland, four police officers pointed their guns at the man and detained him.”
Mr Higgins said: “Based on the information the firearms officers had that time, their actions were entirely appropriate.
“There was criticism of Police Scotland in terms of the intelligence that was held, the information that was held, and how quickly or otherwise that was passed to firearms officers.”
The officers lowered their weapons when they saw he was a 91-year-old man, he said.