THE absence of Old Firm matches this year has led to a marked decline in the number of domestic violence incidents, Scotland’s most senior police officer has said.
Steve House, who takes over as Chief Constable of Police Scotland in two weeks time, said there was now effectively a “holiday” period for police with the regular Celtic vs Rangers games on hold.
In previous seasons, police found that domestic violence incidents rocketed in the wake of the four-times a year game between Scottish football’s most bitter rivals. But, with Rangers having been demoted to the Scottish Third Division this year, House said the effect on crime was already noticeable across the country.
Asked whether there had been an impact on levels of domestic violence since the Old Firm clashes ended, he said: “We aren’t seeing those spikes that we had after Old Firm games and there aren’t the same levels. This isn’t so much about the 50,000 people at the game who are well policed, it’s the whole country that reacts, or those outside the game.”
House said that the lack of the fixture had also removed a massive strain on police resources. “We had one year when there were seven games. We’ll take the holiday while we can.”
Figures collated by Strathclyde Police in 2011 showed that, on one Old Firm weekend, there had been 142 cases compared to an average of 67. It found the average for an Old Firm weekend was 107 incidents.
No figures for the last year have yet been published to show whether domestic violence has officially fallen.
The most recent figures show that police recorded a total of 59,847 cases in 2011-12, up from 55,698 the previous year. In eight out of ten cases, the violence is perpetrated by a man on a woman, with women between the ages of 22 and 25 most at risk.
House was speaking as Scotland’s eight forces are set to be merged into one national force on 1 April. He said that key priorities for the new force were a fresh police drive to reduce levels of violent crime, including domestic abuse and rape.
In an interview with Scotland on Sunday, he said he supported comments by the head of the Crown Prosecution Service, Keir Starmer, who said last week that rape investigations were being “undermined by a belief that false accusations are rife”.
House said: “I think Keir Starmer is right. You look at the numbers of false accusations and they are really very small.”
He claimed attitudes within the police towards reports of sexual assault had now changed. “There used to be a time when I would look at the police log in the morning and it would show violent crime, burglaries, alleged rape. We don’t say alleged any more. We just say rape.”
He also identified continuing high levels of alcohol abuse as being responsible for many violent crimes, insisting that almost all police officers in Scotland would now see it as a bigger threat to communities than drug abuse. “If you asked any police officer, what is the bigger problem that they are facing, alcohol or drugs, they will say alcohol every time,” he said.
On the low-cost sales of drink in supermarkets, he said: “I look at the adverts across all the papers from supermarkets on the mistakes over horsemeat. You think, well shouldn’t there be something there as well about cheap alcohol.”
House also insisted that the move to a single force was on track.
He also denied that, with powers to assert law and order across the whole of the country, his office could be abused.
“I’ve got a Scottish Police Authority, I’ve got 32 councils, I’ve got Audit Scotland, and the HM ICS , I’ve got a committee at Parliament and a sub-committee as well, I’ve got the media, staff associations, the unions and the public. It feels very accountable to me,” he said.