Payment plan for bus patrol police rejected

POLICE chiefs have sparked anger by refusing an offer from Lothian Buses to pay for extra officers to patrol their vehicles.

The bus company made the offer following a sharp rise in violent attacks on drivers and passengers.

But Lothian and Borders Police have rejected the idea as impractical, saying it would tie officers down too much to deploy them on individual buses.

The police decision was today attacked by politicians, who have been calling for a crackdown on violence against bus drivers and their passengers.

The move by Lothian Police chiefs was revealed by Pilmar Smith, chairman of Lothian Buses, in a letter to the Evening News, in which he criticises the decision.

In his letter, which has been published today, Mr Smith said: "We are disappointed that our offers to the police to fund the provision of additional police officers to provide added security for our passengers and drivers at times of day and in areas where problems regularly occur have been turned down, but we are continuing our efforts to try and secure additional police presence at appropriate times and in appropriate areas, to ensure our passengers can travel in safety and our drivers can work without fear of assault."

A bus driver is attacked every two days in the Capital, according to figures released in May.

Mr Smith today won the support of one member of the force’s Police Board - the body of local councillors which oversees force policy - who described Lothian Buses’ plan as an excellent idea.

Liberal Democrat councillor Mike Pringle, who sits on the board, called on the police to re-think the decision and vowed to raise the issue with force chiefs. "If Lothian Buses are going to pay for it, then this is a very strange decision. Why not just try it on a short-term basis?" he said.

"The attacks are a huge concern. I think the Lothian Buses plan is an excellent idea.

"I will make a point of raising this. I want to find out why this decision was made. Surely something needs to be done?"

The idea of organisations paying for extra policing is already well established in Lothian, with similar schemes operating at football grounds, where clubs pay police to provide crowd control.

Edinburgh Airport operator BAA also pays Lothian and Borders Police to patrol the complex.

Last month, it was revealed more police officers would patrol Edinburgh Airport after BAA agreed to pay the force an extra 250,000.

Lothians MSP Kenny MacAskill, who has raised the issue in the Scottish Parliament, also expressed concern about the decision.

He said: "I am disappointed. There is a significant problem to be addressed here.

"At the end of the day, this is an operational matter for the Chief Constable, but I would like to think that the bus routes are just as much a legitimate beat as the street."

Mr MacAskill has previously called for new guidelines to be issued to sheriffs in a bid to ensure the assaults on drivers are treated more seriously in the courts.

No-one at Lothian Buses was prepared to comment further on the details of Mr Smith’s letter.

But a Lothian and Borders Police spokesman said: "We are in regular contact with bus companies in the force area and we feel that we have had a lot of success in identifying problems with them and setting up specific initiatives to tackle specific problems, such as stone throwing or vandalism for example.

"But there a limited number of officers that we have at our disposal and they have a range of duties to perform.

"We will always be open to talking to bus firms about specific problems or concerns that they have but it is simply not a solution to second police officers full-time to sit on buses. The reality is that it would not be practical."

The attacks on city bus drivers have ranged from severe verbal abuse to drivers being spat on, punched and slapped, and, in the most extreme cases, receiving injuries so severe that they are unable to continue to work.

The city’s other major bus operator, First, said it had also seen an increased problem this year.

In July, city MP Gavin Strang called on UK ministers to do more to tackle the growing problem.

Dr Strang, MP for Edinburgh East and Musselburgh, is lobbying the Government to take steps to ensure drivers are better protected.

In June, a drunken thug who battered an Edinburgh bus driver unconscious with a rock when he went to the aid of a woman passenger was jailed for three years. Driver Charles Stephen, 48, will be scarred for life.

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