Chris Marshall: M9 crash inquiry presses case for rethink

THE deaths of Lamara Bell and John Yuill following a crash on the M9 earlier this month are the latest sad chapter in Scotland’s national police force, which has lurched from crisis to crisis since its formation.

An investigation is under way into why police took three days to find the couples car. Picture Michael Gillen

An investigation is now under way into why police took three days to find the couple’s car, despite a call from a member of the public.

That investigation will be complemented by a separate probe looking into call handling by Police Scotland’s control centres.

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Concerns over stretched control rooms are nothing new. For months both MSPs and the media have highlighted problems at Bilston Glen in Midlothian, which has been over-burdened since Police Scotland closed its Glenrothes call centre in March under a cost-cutting programme which will eventually see the number of control rooms nationally cut from 11 to four.

At the end of last month, this newspaper highlighted figures from the Scottish Police Authority showing police controllers were taking up to three minutes to answer 999 emergencies and up to 11 minutes for more routine calls amid continuing concerns over sickness levels and recruitment.

Sadly, it looks as if it has taken the deaths of two people for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS), the police watchdog now investigating, to take those concerns seriously.

But while this latest episode is perhaps the most shocking, Police Scotland has never been far away from controversy since its formation in April 2013.

The fallout over issues such as armed policing, stop and search, and most recently the death in custody of Kirkcaldy man Sheku Bayoh has left the force’s chief constable, Sir Stephen House, fire-fighting to protect his force’s reputation on an almost weekly basis.

Yesterday, Scottish Labour tabled a parliamentary motion calling on Sir Stephen to resign.

There will be many who agree that the chief constable should be made accountable for his force’s failings.

However, the focus should be on Police Scotland as a whole, not on one man.

While Police Scotland has helped bring uniformity in the service provided across the country, we should not forget that its raison d’être is cost-cutting – a total of £1.1 billion by 2026 to be exact.

It’s time to admit that some of that cost cutting has been done too hard and too fast.

Rowing back on the closure of control rooms and devolving more power to local commanders would be a good place to start setting things right.