Call for stop and seach communications to be released

Stephen House. Picture: John Devlin

Stephen House. Picture: John Devlin

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SCOTTISH Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has called for the publication of correspondence between the head of Police Scotland and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on stop and search data.

It comes following a meeting in Glasgow yesterday where the force said that the absence of powers to search under-18s for alcohol must be addressed if consensual stop-and-searches are ended.

Willie Rennie. Picture: Jane Barlow

Willie Rennie. Picture: Jane Barlow

During the meeting Chief Constable Sir Stephen House said that stop and search data was released under the Freedom of Information Act on the “express instruction” of the Freedom of Information Commissioner in Scotland although police were not 100% certain of its accuracy.

The data proved to be wrong.

A member of the Scottish Information Commissioner’s office told the BBC that the commissioner had not compelled police to release the data to the broadcaster and that it was not the commissioner’s role to question the accuracy of information.

Mr Rennie called for an “open and honest account” of the situation.

He said: “The account that the chief constable offered to the SPA has been flatly contradicted by the Information Commissioner’s Office. You do not have to be Columbo to see that something is not quite right here.

“Police officers would not take a statement like this on face value if it came from a suspect. I don’t think the SPA should be asked to either.

“We need clarity on what information Police Scotland was asked to provide. That starts with the publication of correspondence between the chief constable and the Information Commissioner’s Office on stop and search.

“Ordinary police officers, the SPA and everyone else deserves an open and honest account of how we have ended up in this mess.”

Yesterday’s meeting in Glasgow came after data obtained under Freedom of Information showed that 356 under-12s were stopped and searched on a consensual basis, despite a clear commitment last year to end the practice for children.

However Police Scotland said that having reviewed the data, only 18 of the searches had been contrary to force policy.

Analysis showed that a number of searches had been carried out under legislative powers, others had taken place when a parent or guardian was present, and IT problems and input errors meant many searches had been incorrectly recorded.

Sir Stephen said: ‘’This information was released under the Freedom of Information Act on the express instruction of the Freedom of Information Commissioner in Scotland.

‘’We challenged whether it should be released because we were not 100% certain of the accuracy, we wanted more time to work on it. We were told ‘no, release it now’.’’

The Scottish Information Commissioner’s office said that the commissioner had not compelled police to release the data to the BBC.

Head of enforcement Margaret Keyse told BBC Scotland: “In your case, the commissioner did not make a formal decision, so it is inaccurate to say Police Scotland was compelled to disclose the information to you: it did so voluntarily.”

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