Almost 900 crimes were not prosecuted in Scotland last year because “overworked” police officers failed to submit key reports in time, Nicola Sturgeon has been told.
The First Minister said it was “regrettable” that there were cases where there had been delays in getting the necessary paperwork to the Crown Office - but stressed this had happened in just 0.3% of all cases.
However, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said as a result of this crimes including alleged firearms offences, drug dealing and child sex crimes had not been prosecuted.
She said: “When action is dropped against hundreds of suspects in cases as serious as these, and it is all down to officers being overworked, under pressure and flooded with paperwork, then it is clear something is very wrong.”
Ms Davidson challenged the SNP leader on policing at First Minister’s Questions two days after official figures revealed the number of police officers in Scotland had hit a nine-year low.
In the first three months of this year, Police Scotland had the equivalent of 17,170 full-time officers - the fewest there has been since the same period in 2009.
“We already know the extreme pressure that is on Police Scotland and the effects are becoming clear,” Ms Davidson said.
“This week we learned 872 charges including firearms offences, including drug dealing, including child sex crimes, had to be dropped last year because police reports were filled in too late.”
On the delays in police reporting to the Crown Office, Ms Sturgeon responded: “That, of course, is regrettable and we want to ensure that doesn’t happen.”
She cautioned the Tory MSP against giving a “misleading impression”, saying: “The numbers that Ruth Davidson has cited today account for 0.3% of the overall number of cases.”
The Scottish Conservative leader responded: “I’m sure that 872 victims of crime who didn’t see those crimes prosecuted are delighted to hear the answer the First Minister has just given, about how little the crimes against them matter to her.”
After reports had suggested police numbers could be cut by another 1,200, Ms Davidson pressed her rival on the state of Police Scotland.
She said: “The country was told the creation of a single force would free up resources and provide huge savings to spend on frontline policing and the reality is five years on we have a £30 million blackhole in their accounts, we have officer numbers going down and we don’t know how many more are for the axe.
“We’ve got frontline officers saying they are not getting the equipment or the time that they need to do the job, we have hundreds of crimes that are going unprosecuted because police are overworked.”
Ms Sturgeon denied reports that 1,200 officers could go, saying the Policing 2026 strategy launched last year had set out proposals for a reduction of 100 officers in 2018-19 and a further 300 in 2019-20.
The First Minister said: “When Ruth Davidson says we’ve got to be clear about this, I would simply say to her we were clear about this last year, and it is not really my fault or the Justice Secretary’s fault that Ruth Davidson wasn’t paying attention.”
She continued: “The numbers published this week show that the number of police officers in Scotland remains 963 more than the figure we inherited in 2007.
“In the rest of the UK, in England where Ruth Davidson’s party is in government, I think we have seen a decline in police officer numbers of around 20,000 over recent years.
“So, we will continue to make sure that we keep police officer numbers above the level we inherited and we will continue to support the police with real-terms increases in their resource budget to make sure they can continue to do the excellent job they are doing in keeping crime at historically low levels.
“Of course, our police service, like our other public services - partly because of the austerity being imposed by the Conservative Party - face real challenges.
“But under this government they are getting real-terms increases in their resource budget, we’re going to continue to protect police officer numbers significantly above the level we inherited and we’re going to continue to support our police officers to do the excellent job that they do every single day of the week.”