House denies Police Scotland crisis of confidence

Kenny MacAskill and Stephen House at a briefing in Falkirk yesterday. Picture: Michael Gillen

Kenny MacAskill and Stephen House at a briefing in Falkirk yesterday. Picture: Michael Gillen

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SCOTLAND’S most senior police officer has denied his staff are suffering from a loss of public confidence affecting forces elsewhere in the UK.

Speaking on the one-year anniversary of Police Scotland being formed, Chief Constable Sir Stephen House said trust was growing as he mounted a defence of the controversial tactic of stop and search.

On Monday, Tom Winsor, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary for England and Wales, said the police’s handling of high-profile cases such as the Hillsborough disaster and Stephen Lawrence’s murder had undermined its relationship with the public.

But Sir Stephen said Mr Winsor’s view should not be applied north of the Border, as he claimed trust in the police was growing here.

He also hit back at criticism of stop and search, saying there had been a 6 per cent reduction in the number of times it had been used since the country’s eight regional forces merged to create Police Scotland last year.

“Our most recent statistics show increasing public confidence in the police across the board,” he said. “The key issue for our officers is treating people with integrity, fairness and respect. We are public servants and the cops I speak to know that. We are emphasising community policing. We are trying to get more cops on to the beat.

“Tom Winsor, I know him. I’m sure he’s a very good HMI in England and Wales, but he’s for England and Wales.”

The reorganisation of Scotland’s eight regional forces under a single banner is designed to save £1.1 billion by 2026. But officers have warned relations with the public are being undermined by a “tick box” approach which requires quotas to be met for less serious offences such as not wearing a car seatbelt.

Last week, it was claimed some stop and search figures were made up by officers putting “ghost” entries in the system.

But speaking at a media briefing in Falkirk yesterday, Sir Stephen said: “[Stop and search] is actually down on last year – we’ve seen a 6 per cent reduction under Police Scotland. The eight [previous] forces actually did more. We’ve had 34 complaints from the public about stop and search. That’s a tiny, tiny amount.

“I regret them. I would prefer we didn’t get any complaints, but we know the majority of stop and searches are relatively positive. They don’t cause the public too much concern.

“I’m more worried about demonstrating that officers show integrity, fairness and respect to the public when they stop them and I think the evidence is that, in the vast majority of cases, they do.”

Sir Stephen said stop and search, of which there were around 600,000 in the past year, remained a “really useful tactic” which had helped take thousands of weapons off the streets and reduce violent crime.

Justice secretary Kenny Mac­Askill said: “It’s not simply about stop and search, though that’s a key factor.

“It’s tough laws, and they’re getting tougher. It’s visible enforcement through the bobby on the beat, using stop and search. And it is through educational programmes. All three complement each other. All three are necessary.

“In its first year, Police Scotland has exceeded targets for making savings, has maintained an extra 1,000 police officers in our communities and helped deliver a near 40-year low in crime.”

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