Phil Gormley: Operation Lattise gave dark insights into human nature

Operation Lattise provided stark evidence of the real scale of child abuse and exploitation across Scotland, facilitated encouraged and enabled by the internet. The offences revealed include the most serious of child rape and bestiality. This is consistent with the pattern of offending revealed by Operation Notarise led by the National Crime Agency in 2014.

Operation Lattise provided stark evidence of the real scale of child abuse in Scotland. Picture: John Devlin

The challenges presented to law enforcement are significant. During Lattise we searched 83 houses arrested 77 people, libelled 392 charges, identified 523 potential child victims, seized 547 media devices and recovered 30 million images; as I said during Notarise, we cannot simply arrest our way out of this problem.

Lattise, like Notarise before, gives us some dark insights into human nature and how the online world creates communities of interest that normalise, and to some extent anonymise, the abhorrent. These are challenges that go way beyond law enforcement if we are to protect our children effectively.

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Operation Lattise would not have been possible before Police Scotland and is an illustration of how Scotland is now better protected from new and mutating crime threats in a world where geography is an irrelevance to both the victims and the perpetrators. It shines a light on the sort of Police Service Scotland needs to protect itself. The debate on policing called for in The Scotsman last week needs to move beyond thinking purely in terms of the number of officers to one where we focus on the capabilities and effect that we need. In simple terms, the challenge is to define what policing by consent means in the digital age.

Nearly 80 per cent of the calls Police Scotland receive are not crime related but have vulnerability of one form or another at their root, including mental health. It is this broader public protection agenda that we need to base the service around. It is how we respond to peoples’ call for helps at points of crisis that builds legitimacy and consent. It is of course a good thing that recorded crime is now at a 41-year low, but this is a small slice of what the public demands and expects from its police service.

There will always be a need for local policing. Local policing builds confidence and provides vital intelligence and information flows that keep us all safe. Whilst our recent increase in the number of armed officers was entirely the right thing to do, it is communities providing information and intelligence that have a track record of helping us prevent terrorist attacks and serious criminality.

My job is straightforward, it is to provide the best possible service and protection within the available finances. This will require choices to be made. These choices need to be made in the context of the world as it is, rather than the one we wish it was. I welcome the debate. It is one Police Scotland will professionally contribute to but it is for Scotland to decide the sort of police service it wants.

As we actively plan the future of the Service in light of these challenges, I know Scotland is fortunate with the quality of the men and women who dedicate their lives to keeping their fellow citizens safe.

lPhil Gormley is the chief constable of Police Scotland