POLICE Scotland was not forced to release “inaccurate” data on the stop and search of under-12s, according to new correspondence released by the Information Commissioner.
The revelation contradicts claims made by Chief Constable Sir Stephen House to the police watchdog that he had been compelled to make the records public about the number of times under-12s had been subjected to the practice.
Hugh Henry, Scottish Labour’s shadow cabinet secretary for justice, last night branded the situation a “scandal”.
The Chief Constable is due to appear before the Scottish Parliament’s justice police sub-committee today to answer questions on the issue.
When questioned last week by the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) about the high number of stop and searches, Sir Stephen said: “[The data] was released under the explicit instructions of the Information Commissioner of Scotland. We challenged whether it should be released because we said ‘we’re not 100 per cent certain of the accuracy of the data’. We wanted more time to work on it, and we were told ‘no, release it now’.”
However, a Freedom of Information (FoI) request for all correspondence between the police and the commissioner, has revealed that Police Scotland volunteered data not in the original FoI request about stop-and-search numbers. It also made no reference to inaccuracies related to the consensual searches of children.
The e-mail correspondence does include a reference to some issues with the database but says “the timetable for the data correction is still on track” for an early January 2015 release.
The FoI evidence also shows that Police Scotland did not resist providing additional stop-and-search data.
Last night, Mr Henry said Sir Stephen now had to explain himself. “His alibi for his officers continuing with non-consensual stop and search of under-12s, six months after they said it would be stopped, has fallen apart under cross examination,” he said.
“He now has some serious questions to answer when he appears before the justice committee. If Scotland’s top police officer can’t get his evidence straight there is something far wrong.”
A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: “Our decision to release the data was supported by an independent assessment of FoI procedures undertaken by an external firm of solicitors and our assessment of the likelihood of a subsequent adverse decision notice being issued under FoI legislation if the appeal continued.
“Legal advice concurred that Police Scotland is obliged to provide data that falls within the scope of a request, despite our concerns over its accuracy.”