Leaders: Police must do more to secure trust

SIR Stephen House yesterday rejected suggestions that it has been a “difficult week” for our national police force.

Sir Stephen House at the Scottish Police Authority board meeting on stop and search yesterday. Picture: TSPL
Sir Stephen House at the Scottish Police Authority board meeting on stop and search yesterday. Picture: TSPL
Sir Stephen House at the Scottish Police Authority board meeting on stop and search yesterday. Picture: TSPL

The chief constable, who had been called before the Scottish Police Authority, insisted it was “quite a positive time” for Police Scotland because it was now having a national debate about the controversial issue of stop and search.

While one can admire Sir Stephen’s attempt to turn a negative into a positive, it would be a struggle to put a gloss on what has been by any stretch of the imagination a troubling time for the force.

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More than that, the past few days have revealed serious flaws in the culture at the top of the organisation, which came into being after the merger of Scotland’s eight regional police forces in April 2013.

Police Scotland’s new contribution to the debate on stop and search is to say new legislation may be required to allow them to search young children for alcohol, if there is to be a ban on “consensual” searches.

The force is clearly of the opinion that the availability of alcohol to young people is a key driver of criminality, disorder and anti- social behaviour. And the power to confiscate alcohol from under-18s is, it believes, essential if it is to do its job properly.

These are the people at the sharp end of keeping our streets safe, so their view is one that matters. They may be right on the need for new – or at least modified – powers.

The police are effectively saying: “Trust us. We need these powers. And you can trust us to use them wisely.”

But the way this issue has come into the public domain, and the way it has been handled by senior officers, is not conducive to a feeling of trust in Police Scotland.

What has also been exposed in police responses to the stop and search controversy is a certain irritation about the need to have their actions examined and their motives questioned.

A generous interpretation would be that Police Scotland has a communication problem. A less generous interpretation would be that it has an attitude problem.

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Accountability and engagement need to come to the top of the force’s priorities, rather than something improvised after the fact.

It does not help that this comes hard on the heels of the controversy over the use of armed officers on routine patrols, in which the chief constable seemed slow to acknowledge public disquiet.

It may be that Police Scotland is struggling to adapt to a new political climate. Former first minister Alex Salmond was not known for his interest in law and order matters, and former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill seemed happy to let Sir Stephen get on with things with minimum – if any – ministerial intervention.

Both men are now gone, and new First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, with an election looming, will take a much less relaxed attitude.

Monty puts charity to the fore

THEY sit there in the darkness, sometimes in a cupboard, sometimes under the stairs, occasionally in the corner of damp shed. Often they have been unused for years – decades, even.

But now Colin Montgomerie is hoping to give new life to old sets of golf clubs that are gathering dust in homes across Scotland.

The Scottish golfing legend wants to address the perception that golf is a middle-class game, and that the high cost of golf clubs, coupled with the high fees charged by most private golf clubs, are a barrier to entry for those of modest means. Of course it is true that there are many fine municipal courses across Scotland, but it cannot be denied that clubs are expensive and the price of an average round in Scotland would be hard to justify for someone, for example, on benefits.

Monty’s idea is to ask people to fish out old sets of clubs that never get used and donate them so that underprivileged Scots who want to play the game can do so with at least one obstacle removed.

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It is a fine idea, and it says much for the instincts of a sportsman who commands immense respect and popularity in the country he has represented with such distinction down the years.

We applaud him for his initiative, and congratulate the local authorities who have begun to sign up to the foresighted scheme.

We are sure there are many readers of The Scotsman with unused sets of golf clubs tucked away out of sight, and perhaps forgotten for many years.

We hope his admirable call for action will inspire many people to gift the game of golf to someone who might otherwise struggle to play.