Scotland ‘under prepared’ for Paris-style attack

Picture: John Devlin
Picture: John Devlin
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MORE armed police officers should be deployed on Scotland’s streets to deal with a terrorist threat the country is currently “woefully under-equipped, under-resourced and under prepared” for.

The Scottish Police Federation said the time had come to have more officers routinely carrying their weapons in public, arguing that unarmed officers would have “absolutely zero containment ability” during a Paris-style attack.

But the SPF, which represents 98 per cent of rank and file officers, was criticised for re-igniting the debate over armed policing in the wake of the French attacks.

In a statement, the organisation’s general secretary, Calum Steele, called for cuts to Police Scotland’s budget to be stopped and “expectations reassessed”.

Mr Steele said the force lacked resources and investment for fighting extremism, gathering intelligence and defending the public in the face of a terrorist attack.

Referring to the recent debate over armed policing in Scotland, he accused critics of being “shamefully opportunistic” and called for arrangements to be re-assessed.

He said: “Without question, the commentary on the apparent controversy over the deployment of armed police officers in Scotland has been shamefully opportunistic.

“This has led to a sapping of morale amongst these highly skilled officers who face snide criticism if they are seen to undertake any police duties that don’t require a firearm. It is time for this to stop.

“We need only look at the recent horrific events in Paris and particularly the tactical capabilities and the speed at which they were deployed to come to the conclusion that Scotland is woefully under-equipped, under-resourced and under prepared.

“We want to be clear that this is not the fault of the exceptional officers prepared to undertake these onerous roles not least as you can’t train for scenarios that you neither have the equipment for or the people to deploy to.”

He added: “Let me be clear, this SPF is not calling for a fully armed police service (at this time) but we do believe we need more trained officers routinely carrying their weapons in public.”

Mr Steele said that while critics would point to the inability of armed officers to stop the attack in Paris, unarmed Scottish officers had “absolutely zero containment ability”, unlike their French counterparts.

He said: “There can be no doubt that the time has come for a significant investment into training and equipment for the police service in this increasingly uncertain world.

“We hope all this training is never used and that our weapons are never called upon to be fired, but we at least need to have them in the event that they do.”

Last year, Chief Constable Sir Stephen House announced police officers would only be deployed to incidents involving firearms or where there is a “threat to life”.

It followed a high-profile row over a “standing authority” which allowed a small number of officers to carry guns while on routine patrol.

Opponents objected to armed officers being sent to deal with low-level disturbances.

Previously, police had to collect ­weapons from a locked safe in an Armed Response Vehicle (ARV) under the ­authorisation of a senior officer.

Responding to the SPF’s comments, Labour justice spokesman Graeme Pearson said: “The early lessons from recent events point in the direction of the need for better law enforcement systems to manage intelligence and intervene early in the planning of these tragedies.

“It’s unfortunate that the SPF should chose now to link domestic issues in relation to the routine arming of police officers with such a devastating event.

“On one hand we have the Scottish Police Authority and chief constable asking us to be vigilant but not fearful, on the other the federation suggesting a resource deficit a gap in our defences.”

He added: “These are times for a unity of purpose and a commitment to maintain our way of life in the face of the threat. These are not times to lobby for resources.”

Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said the issue of armed policing was not something where there could be a “rushed response”.

“I must offer a more reasoned view on the arming of police officers,” she said.

“Communities in Scotland were incredibly alarmed by the change in policing in 2013 when officers in some parts were suddenly armed, with no consultation or democratic agreement.

“The arming of police officers will not stop the hatred behind terror attacks such as those we saw recently in Paris and is a matter that requires serious scrutiny rather than a rushed response.”

Despite last year’s controversy over officers carrying guns, a poll by the Scottish Police Authority found the majority of the public backed armed policing.

The survey of 1,000 people by the SPA suggested 53 per cent were supportive of the policy.

Almost one in three said it increased their confidence in the police.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman: “As would be expected, Police Scotland are actively reviewing their capability to deal with incidents since the Paris attacks and ministers are in dialogue with them on this.

“This Government has protected officer numbers with 1,000 extra delivered since 2007. This is in stark contrast to the situation in England and Wales, where police numbers are expected to fall by around 15,000 over the UK Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review period.

“One of the key benefits of police reform is the creation of the Scottish Crime Campus at Gartcosh, funded by £73m of Scottish Government money, has brought together a range of capabilities to respond to threats and serious incidents.”

She added: “Our police service is highly trained and highly professional. We do not support the routine arming of police on our streets. However, where there are life and death situations it is absolutely right that our police have the operational ability to respond appropriately.”