Holyrood demands answers on armed police

Police Scotland chiefs have been recalled to Holyrood over the carrying of firearms at routine incidents. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Police Scotland chiefs have been recalled to Holyrood over the carrying of firearms at routine incidents. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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SENIOR police officers have been recalled to the Scottish Parliament amid growing controversy over the use of armed officers to carry out routine duties.

In a meeting on Thursday, MSPs heard that armed officers have attended incidents such as pub brawls and drink-driving cases since Chief Constable Sir Stephen House said they would no longer be deployed to non-life-threatening calls.

Yesterday, Holyrood’s justice sub-committee recalled Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins, Scottish Police Authority (SPA) member Iain Whyte, Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone and HM Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland Derek Penman for further questioning.

The group were asked to return to the sub-committee by its convener Christine Grahame after MSPs ran out of time during Thursday’s meeting.

It is understood that a further hour-long session will now be held next week.

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said yesterday: “I am pleased that we will have another chance to get answers on this hugely controversial issue.

“It is no surprise that we ran out of time yesterday given how long it look to tease answers out of the senior officers. I had pressed for an extra hearing to get to the bottom of this and am pleased that the convener agrees with me.

“There are serious questions to be asked over the manner in which the police have approached this issue and it would have been wrong to leave unfinished business.”

During Thursday’s meeting, Mr ­Higgins told the sub-committee that armed police were deployed to calls where there was no threat to life on five occasions since the announcement that this would cease on 1 October.

He added that armed officers had “pro-actively engaged” with members of the public using their own “professional judgment” on 1,644 occasions since then, but said that was a “huge reduction” on the 30,000 armed routine engagements in the first year of Police Scotland.

He also said armed officers were continuing to use their own discretion about responding to incidents, including dangerous driving and missing person searches. Police Scotland denied suggestions the practice went against an assurance given in October that officers in armed response vehicles would no longer be deployed to routine incidents.

Yesterday, Mr Livingstone said Police Scotland would welcome the opportunity to present more evidence to MSPs on a “very important policing issue”.

A Scottish Parliament spokesman said: “The committee has agreed to extend the evidence session that had to be curtailed yesterday and will reconvene for another hour-long session with the same witnesses on Thursday, 19 March at 1:15pm.”

In a separate development, it has been claimed a watchdog report on armed policing was delayed after senior officers went “ballistic” at the initial draft and demanded a rewrite.

The headline finding of a report by the SPA, which was published in January, was that a “narrow majority” of the public supported the controversial decision to deploy armed officers on routine patrol.

Independent MSP John Finnie, the former police officer who first raised concerns about armed policing in the Highlands, said the original publication date of December had been put back to 29 January because Police Scotland was unhappy with the initial draft.

“It was suggested to me that the original report was delayed because Police Scotland were unhappy with it and demanded a rewrite,” he said.

“It should be a partnership between the police and the authority [SPA], but it’s not a partnership of equals. The police are clearly uncomfortable when they’re not in charge, but the police authority has to assert itself.”

However, appearing before the Scottish Parliament’s policing committee earlier this week, the SPA’s Mr Whyte he was “absolutely certain” that the report’s conclusions and recommendations had not been changed.

A spokesman for the SPA said: “The reason the report’s publication was put back by a few weeks was to allow the SPA to weigh up the varied and contrasting responses made to the questions posed by the inquiry’s remit.”

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