Decision to arm British Transport Police in Scotland with ‘less lethal’ alternative to guns is a troubling one
The death of former footballer Dalian Atkinson last month once again raised concerns about the police’s use of Tasers.
Mr Atkinson, a former Aston Villa striker, died 90 minutes after officers used the weapon on him following a disturbance at his father’s house.
While the full circumstances of the case are now being investigated, the incident led to calls for an urgent review of Taser use.
No one should be under any illusions about the threat Tasers carry.
They are often described as a “less lethal option” to firearms by UK police forces.
That is why the British Transport Police’s apparently unilateral decision to issue the weapons to a number of its officers in Scotland is a concern.
Yesterday the force said a number of specially trained officers would be given the weapon in light of the raised terror threat.
It also cited an incident at Leytonstone station in east London in December where police used a Taser on a man who slashed a stranger, stopping him from harming other passengers.
The BTP, which has around 200 officers in Scotland, would not confirm the number of those being given a Taser, saying only that the figure was “proportionate”.
But it is a decision that puts the force at odds with Police Scotland, which currently only issues Tasers to firearms specialists, despite pressure from its own officers.
In contrast to England and Wales, where Tasers were fired 1,730 times by police officers in 2015, the figure for Scotland was just two.
While they are sometimes portrayed as a safe option, studies have pointed to risks associated with the weapons, particularly for those with underlying health conditions.
The Scottish Police Federation has called for Tasers to be put in every patrol car, but the current Police Scotland position seems entirely sensible.
Issuing Tasers only to firearms officers – who are already all too aware of the responsibility they carry – is the correct policy.
The BTP’s decision will now put pressure on Police Scotland to issue Tasers to its unarmed officers. If Tasers are necessary on the railway, then why not on the streets of our largest cities?
The situation is further complicated by the Scottish Government’s controversial proposal to integrate the BTP into Police Scotland following the decision of the Smith Commission to devolve railway policing.
It’s fair to say that had Police Scotland announced a decision to arm a number of its officers with Tasers by issuing a press release, there would have been considerable disquiet.
Yet that is exactly what the BTP did.
There is no doubt we live in an uncertain world where the spectre of terrorism looms large. Recent attacks on public transport in mainland Europe by so-called “lone wolves” have highlighted the need for an on-going debate about how we arm our police.
But the debate should be the starting point, not a reaction to a decision already made.
Isis remark misses target
If Alexander Stoddart was looking for maximum publicity for his comments about Edinburgh’s architecture then he could not have chosen his words any better.
By comparing modernism to the work of the group known as Islamic State (IS) or Isis, Mr Stoddart, one of the Queen’s official artists, undermined his own arguments and made himself look rather silly into the bargain.
A sculptor whose works include a statue of Adam Smith on the Royal Mile and one of William Henry Playfair outside the National Museum of Scotland, Mr Stoddart said the capital’s classical architecture was under threat from modernism’s “Isis” tendency.
And he claimed modernist architects were devoted to “consistent and wilful desecration” of places of peace and harmony.
The sculptor believes modern buildings are destroying Edinburgh’s heritage in the same way Isis destroyed the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra.
Aesthetes have no doubt raged against modern building works since the beginning of time.
And undoubtedly modern buildings have been allowed to leave a scar on Edinburgh, notably the redevelopment of George Square by Edinburgh University in the 1960s and the brutalism of the St James Centre, now thankfully being demolished.
But Mr Stoddart’s comparison of city planners and architects to the death cult of Isis is ridiculous.
While his comments do him no favours
personally, they are also likely to fail to engender any serious debate about the sort of architecture Edinburgh needs to represent a city both proud of its past and looking to the future.