Humza Yousaf: Council workers 'eyes and ears' of police in battle against gangs

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf
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Council workers are set to be the "eyes and ears" of police in the fight against organised crime, Scotland's Justice Secretary has said.

Humza Yousaf launched a new training initiative to be rolled out to local authorities across Scotland.

The Justice Secretary was speaking at the Scottish Crime Campus, Gartcosh.

The Justice Secretary was speaking at the Scottish Crime Campus, Gartcosh.

The project, which comprises four different training videos detailing different examples of organised criminal activity, was created in partnership with Police Scotland, North Lanarkshire Council and the Serious Organised Crime Task Force.

Targeted at enforcement officers and other council staff who deal directly with the public, the initiative points out signs of organised crime.

Speaking at the Scottish Crime Campus in Gartcosh, North Lanarkshire, Mr Yousaf said: "People in their everyday lives will be able to spot and detect the signs of serious and organised crime.

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"They could be our eyes and ears. The police, of course, have a role to play at the forefront in the fight against serious organised crime, but clearly the public can assist the police in this fight."

Collective efforts

He hopes partnerships between different parts of the public sector will help to battle criminals.

Mr Yousaf said: "It's absolutely vital. We can't fight organised crime if we don't have that joined-up approach.

"I chair the task force and it brings together Police Scotland, the Crown Office and a whole number of other groups, all working collaboratively.

"It's not simply one of us that has the responsibility to fight organised crime, but it's through our collective efforts that we'll have a greater impact."

He hopes the different scenarios, which cover drug dealing, human trafficking, illegal tobacco and money laundering, will also help people to spot those affected by crime, such as human trafficking victims.

Mr Yousaf said: "I do a lot of work on human trafficking, as does the government.

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"For a lot of people, they may not notice anything unusual if they don't know to look out for it.

"That's what these videos are there for, to help people spot the signs."

The Justice Secretary used the example of workers who are dropped off in the morning, work long hours and are picked up again at night, saying that may be a sign people should look out for.

Potentially 500,000 employees

He said: "On any given day, if you didn't know that could potentially be a sign of somebody being forced into labour, you wouldn't give it a second thought.

"However, having watched the videos, people may know the signs."

As part of the training, the staff are encouraged to report anything they believe to be a sign of crime to the police.

Mr Yousaf said: "The only thing we're asking people to do is to alert the appropriate authorities who will do the appropriate investigation and in some cases there could be serious organised crime implications."

Detective Inspector Ricky Hutton, of the Specialist Crime Division, helped develop the project.

He said: "Our thoughts are that we have a limited number of officers in Police Scotland, but if you look at the public sector, there's potentially 500,000 employees.

"Not all of them will cross the threshold into people's houses, but a great number will, and the hope is that if we increase the awareness of employees, then the reporting will filter back down the line and we'll have a better idea of how serious and organised crime effects our communities, we'll be able to pinpoint the vulnerable people and potentially it will lend itself to better informing.

"My thoughts are, if you're a public sector employee and you have this information, then you have the opportunity to contribute something back into society."