Axe to fall on Scots police stop and search tactic

The stop-and-search method has attracted criticism. Picture (posed by models): John Devlin

The stop-and-search method has attracted criticism. Picture (posed by models): John Devlin

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POLICE chiefs are poised to scrap the so-called “consensual” stop and search of members of the public amid growing concern over its widespread use and the targeting of children.

Police Scotland tonight that it is consulting with a view to ending the practice, which was carried out almost half a million times by officers last year.

The move follows another recent climbdown by the force over the deployment of armed officers on the beat and a broken promise to end the stopping and searching of children.

There are now demands for a major review of the oversight of the new national police force and Chief Constable Sir Stephen House faces being called before MSPs to explain the situation.

ANALYSIS: Another twist in Stephen House’s tenure

ANALYSIS: These searches have no legal basis

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs there were “legitimate” public concerns over consensual stop and search, which has been banned south of the ­Border. Police will still be able to carry out searches where they can provide legal grounds for suspicion when confronting suspects.

Sir Stephen revealed plans for the change during a telephone conversation with Ms Sturgeon this week. It followed revelations on Wednesday that 356 under-12s had been searched by officers in the past six months – following a police pledge that the practice would end.

“I have spoken to the chief constable about stop and search,” Ms Sturgeon said.

“Following a six-month pilot in Fife, he is considering whether the practice of non-statutory or ‘consensual’ stop and search should be ended, and I welcome this.

“We need to ensure that the public can continue to be properly protected in the event that the practice comes to an end.”

A consultation will now be carried out with the Scottish Police Authority and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), with ministers to be updated by the end of March. But Ms Sturgeon warned that the government will consider passing legislation to end the practice if police chiefs do not do it themselves.

She added: “Stop and search can be a vital tool in combating crime and in protecting the public, but there has been legitimate public concern about the practice of non-statutory searches which involve people being stopped in the street and searched after giving their verbal consent.”

There were 449,095 non-statutory stop and searches carried out last year, about 70 per cent of the total in Scotland, and about 15.6 per cent were positive. These have proved controversial, amid claims that many people, particularly children, do not know they are entitled to refuse.

Police will still be able to use statutory stop and search where they do have reasonable suspicion and suspects are told the legal reason behind it.

For example, the Misuse of Drugs Act would be cited if they are suspected of carrying drugs or the Criminal Law Act if they are thought to be carrying a knife.

The most effective use of stop and search is in confiscating ­alcohol. There were 191,604 statutory searches last year and 29.9 per cent were positive.

Police Scotland said tonight’s announcement came against the backdrop of a record drop in crime and the conclusion of a six-month stop and search pilot in Fife.

Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick said: “Stop and search has been an important tool in keeping people safe, which ­remains a priority for both ­Police Scotland and Scottish Government.

“We will consult with our partners, the Scottish Police Authority and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland, to ensure that the health and wellbeing particularly of young people is protected through appropriate legislative powers.

“The public consistently tell us that tackling violent crime and antisocial behaviour are a key concern to them. Where it is targeted, intelligence-led and used in the right place at the right time, stop and search is an effective and legal tactic that helps us tackle the priorities communities set for us.”

The Fife pilot scheme launched last summer required officers to state clearly to people who are the subject of non-statutory searches that they have the right to refuse.

Under the pilot, officers also wrote to parents of children who had been stopped and searched, explaining the reasons why their child was targeted.

The revelation that hundreds of children have been stopped came after Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson told MSPs on the justice committee last June that this practice was “indefensible and would be scrapped”.

It emerged last night he is to be called back before the committee at an extraordinary meeting on 19 February.

In addition to recalling Mr Mawson, the committee will seek to hear from Sir Stephen and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA).

Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison Mcinnes, who sits on the committee, said: “Parliament is owed an explanation as to why something that was acknowledged as indefensible nevertheless was permitted.”

Conservatives believe that a wholesale review of the oversight of Police Scotland is now needed if confidence is to be restored to the system.

The latest revelations come after Police Scotland rolled out a plan last year, without informing the public, to allow firearms officers to carry handguns with them at all times.

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Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: “A pattern is emerging of national police force chiefs seemingly acting as they please.

“First people see armed police officers carrying weapons around the streets and in shopping malls. Then, despite the police having described it as ‘indefensible’, we discover that they are still ordering ordinary officers to search primary school children as before.

“It’s not good enough for the Scottish Police Authority to act after the event. We were told when Police Scotland was set up that the SPA would hold it to account. Well, the evidence suggests that’s not happening.

“If the new Police Scotland service is going to earn people’s trust we need a fundamental review of the way the oversight systems are working.”

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the prospect of an end to stop and search is “long overdue”.

But he added: “The real test of whether the First Minister is getting the justice portfolio under control is if she legislates to ban permanently the use of consensual stop and search.

“It is clear we are a long way from guaranteeing children ­adequate protection of their civil liberties.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats have always said that there is a role for evidence-led, statutory stop and search in the police officers tool kit. But consensual stop and search, based on no evidence or cause for suspicion, only serves to undermine the relationship between young people and police.

“The police have told us ­before that consensual stop and search on children was to be scrapped.

“The Scottish Government and Police Scotland will have to work hard to assure young people that the fullest consideration is being given to ending this ­indefensible tactic.”

The controversy over stop and search has intensified since January last year when official figures revealed that the new national force had carried out almost 2,000 stop and searches across Scotland every day – more than twice the rate of London.

About one third of searches concerning stolen property produced results, with more than 11,000 stolen goods being recovered. The searches which provided the highest positive results were those carried out in relation to alcohol. Almost 37 per cent of alcohol-related searches were positive and 61,541 recoveries were made.

Timeline: A year of shock revelations before U-turn

16 JANUARY, 2014: Official figures reveal the new Police Scotland national force has overseen almost 2,000 stop and searches a day in its first nine months. This is more than twice the rate in London, which has a far larger population than Scotland.

31 January: The Together Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights – comprised of Barnardo’s, Children 1st, Children in Scotland, Circle Scotland, Includem and Mentor UK – urges Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority to review the use of stop and search tactics on young children.

25 March: The then justice secretary Kenny MacAskill faces a grilling from MSPs in parliament after human rights chief Prof Alan Miller claims stop and search is “largely unregulated and unaccountable”.

29 March: Liberal Democrats unveil plans to bring forward amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill to tighten the rules on stop and search.

2 April: The Scottish Government votes down a motion in parliament, lodged by the Lib Dems, to bring stop and search on to a statutory footing.

30 May: The Scottish Police Authority publishes a review into the practice which says there is no robust evidence of a link between stop and search and deterring violent crime or anti-social behaviour.

19 June: Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson tells Holyrood’s justice committee that the stop and search of young children will be stopped.

3 July: Fresh figures reveal that Glasgow has the highest stop and search rate in Scotland. When broken down into age and gender, the figures showed that in Ayrshire, the stop and search rate for 16-19-year-old men was as high as 23,963 per 100,000 of the population.

2 February, 2015: It emerges that 356 children have been searched by police in the six months since Assistant Chief Constable Mawson pledged it would be brought to an end. Two thirds of these searches were consensual, and 91 per cent recovered no items.

5 February: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announces in parliament that moves to end consensual stop and search are underway. Police Scotland is consulting with partners with a view to ending the practice.

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