OPPOSITION politicians and rank and file officers have rounded on Police Scotland Chief Constable Sir Stephen House in the wake of a highly critical report into the force’s use of stop and search powers.
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie told the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) his party no longer had confidence in Sir Stephen and called on him to “change his ways” or go.
Speaking at the SPF’s annual conference yesterday on the second anniversary of Police Scotland, Mr Rennie said politicians had “too often” been told one thing by the force’s leadership on a list of controversial issues – including stop and search, armed police and targets – only to discover they were “untrue”.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon gave Sir Stephen her backing but said no chief constable could be allowed to become a “law unto himself”.
Meanwhile, Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy said the chief constable had been “headstrong” and had helped create a Metropolitan Police-style “targets culture”.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson insisted she was “not calling for Sir Stephen’s head” but added: “If a leader cannot take the people that he serves along with him when changes are made, if a leader makes policies that people find it difficult to support… then I think that there are questions about the leadership of that individual.”
I have confidence in the chief constable and I think the police should have confidence in the chief constable. No chief constable can ever be or allowed to be a law unto themselves. That is absolutely the position.Nicola Sturgeon
The SPF conference, at the Trump Turnberry Resort, came after a report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) uncovered a lack of consistency on stop and search and concluded that it had no confidence in the force’s data on the practice.
During a question and answer session, the First Minister was asked by Sergeant Scott Meechan whether her support of the chief constable amounted to the “dreaded vote of confidence” received by at-risk football managers shortly before they are sacked. Sergeant Meechan asked: “Should Team Police Scotland expect a new manager?”
The question received the largest round of applause of the day from the audience of around 200 officers.
Ms Sturgeon answered: “I have confidence in the chief constable and I think the police should have confidence. No chief constable can ever be or allowed to be a law unto themselves. That is absolutely the position.
“The chief constable, like anyone who holds his position, should and no doubt will reflect on some of the discussions, debates and disagreements that we’ve seen in recent months, and reflect very carefully and very openly.”
Mr Rennie said: “The system is clearly broken. We don’t have confidence in the chief constable. It’s difficult, in the list of things that I read out earlier on, to have confidence in him. If he doesn’t restore that confidence, if he doesn’t change his ways, then he’s going to have to change his job because he can’t carry on like this.”
The Labour leader also called for improvements, but criticised the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) for failing to hold the chief constable to account.
Mr Murphy said: “I worry that the SPA isn’t strong enough. I’m not going to call for [Sir Stephen’s] head, but I will judge him by his results.
“I think things need to change and things need to improve.”
Earlier, the conference heard from SPF chairman Brian Docherty that cuts to the police budget were undermining the ability to fight crime. He said crime prevention could become a “thing of the past” if cuts to the police budget were not stopped.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS