SCOTLAND’S new national police force was today branded “worse than the Keystone Cops” after it was revealed that one division of the service had launched an appeal for stolen war memorial plaques - six days after they had been handed in at a station in a neighbouring division.
The Tayside Division of Police Scotland launched a nationwide appeal three days ago for the recovery of the commemorative plaques, stolen from the Orwell War Memorial in Milnathort in Kinross-shire - completely unaware that the plaques had already been handed in by a public spirited scrap dealer to his local police station on Wednesday of last week .
Scrap dealer Mark Stewart chased off the metal thieves when they tried to sell the plaques at his scrap yard in East Wemyss and handed them over to officers from the police station at Methil. And he revealed today that he had been telephoned on Tuesday of this week by officers from the station at Kinross in neighbouring Tayside, asking him to keep a look out for the stolen plaques.
“They are worse than the Keystone Cops,” he declared today. “It’s like they’re just not communicating with each other. I took the plagues off the thieves at 8.30am last Wednesday and the police had them by 9.30am
“It’s beyond belief. I tried phoning the police stations at Methil and Kinross, the CID and tried to get in touch with the officer that was dealing with the theft - trying to get to somebody to realise that the plaques were safe and they were in Methil police station. But they just don’t seem to communicate with each other at all.”
Mr Stewart explained that he had been approached last Wednesday at his yard by two men trying to sell the plaques for scrap.
He said: “I realised right away that the plaques had been stolen. As soon as I picked them up and I read the names on the plaques, I chased them from the yard, telling them they were filthy thieving b*******. I knew the plaques were off a war memorial but at that time I didn’t know where they were from.
“I took the plagues off the thieves at 8.30am last Wednesday and the police in Methil had them by 9.30am.”
Mr Stewart said he had been unaware that the Tayside Division were investigating the theft from the Milnathort memorial until this Tuesday. He explained: “On Tuesday Kinross police station phoned me up to say that plaques had been stolen and to report to them if anyone offered them as scrap metal. I said ‘Do you not communicate? - they have been sitting in Methil police station since last week.’ I said give them a phone and you will get them back.
“Then, a day later, I read that a local butcher was offering a reward for the return of the same plaques. I couldn’t believe it. I phoned Methil police station on Wednesday and it was like speaking to a brick wall. Nobody knew nothing. I was told to phone back when the the officer responsible for the case was back on duty. I asked them to phone Kinross police station and let them know they had the plaques.
“By that staged I was totally demented with the police. They were worse than useless.”
He added: “There is just no commutation. It’s beyond belief.”
The Tayside Division of Police Scotland only announced yesterday that the three stolen plaques had been “recovered” in Fife and that enquires were continuing into the theft of commemorative plaques.
A force spokesman said today: “’It transpires that, at the time the theft was reported to police officers in Tayside, colleagues in Fife had already recovered the stolen property. This information did not come to light immediately but it, along with further significant information, has now resulted in officers following positive lines of enquiry.’’
Willie Rennie, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, has called for Stephen House, the Chief Constable of the national force, to launch an “immediate investigation” into the embarrassing memorial mix up
He said: “ The Chief Constable Stephen House must investigate immediately, to find out what went wrong and to make sure we at least get some benefits from the centralisation of police in Scotland.”
Mr Rennie continued: “The claims from (Justice Secretary) Kenny MacAskill that bringing police forces together would somehow streamline the crime fighting service in Scotland have been shown up by this dramatic revelation.
“I have always had significant doubts about centralisation and what it means for local crime fighting.This shows that even when police divisions are supposed to be joined up, they are nothing of the sort”
He added: “Police have been left red-faced by this discovery, which makes them look inefficient. I have always had significant doubts about centralisation and what it means for local crime fighting.”
Tayside Police today announced than a man had been detained in connection with the theft of the three plaques from the Milnathort War Memorial.
He said: “Police Scotland can confirm that officers carrying out enquiries into the theft of plaques from a War Memorial in Milnathort, Perth and Kinross, last week, have today detained a 43 year-old man. Enquiries in to the full set of circumstances surrounding the incident are ongoing at this time and as such it is not appropriate to comment further.’’