Chief Constable Sir Stephen House yesterday told the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) that his force had been made to issue the details under freedom of information legislation.
Figures published last week by the BBC showed 356 children under 12 had been stop-searched since an assurance to the Scottish Parliament that the controversial practice would end. Yesterday the force said that figure had been incorrect due to issues caused by a “clunky” database.
The number of under-12s subjected to a consensual search was actually 130, although Police Scotland said a series of recording errors meant only 18 of those cases had contravened force policy on not searching young children. Analysis showed that a number of searches had been carried out under legislative powers, others had taken place when a parent or guardian was present, and IT problems and input errors meant many searches had been incorrectly recorded.
The force said that following the freedom of information request by the BBC on 1 July, there were concerns raised about the quality of the data.
It said its “clunky” stop and search database allowed for input error and made it difficult to audit the figures. Assistant Chief Constable Nelson Telfer said that of the 18 searches which had contravened the force’s policies, 12 were carried out on 11-year-olds, and two each on eight-, nine- and ten-year-olds. The number of searches represented 0.03 per cent of all stop-searches carried out by Police Scotland, he said.
He said police had carried out “consensual” searches on a ten-year-old who had spray-painted a bus shelter and an eight-year-old among a group of children throwing stones at traffic.
Sir Stephen said: “I want to make it absolutely clear: this information was released under the freedom of information act on the explicit instruction of the freedom of information commissioner in Scotland.
“We challenged whether it should be released because we were not 100 per cent certain of the accuracy; we wanted more time to work on it. We were told ‘no, release it now’.
“It wasn’t a consensual release, it was a legislation release.”
But Margaret Keyse, head of enforcement at the Scottish information commissioner’s office, said it had not forced the police to release the data.
She said the commissioner had not made a formal decision, so it was “inaccurate” to say Police Scotland had been compelled to release the data, and it had done so “voluntarily”.
Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said it was time for an independent audit of stop and search. He said: “First police chiefs told parliament consensual stop and search of young people would end, and it didn’t. Now they have told the SPA the information commissioner compelled them to hand over inaccurate information, when they didn’t. It’s time police chiefs were straight with the public.”
Non-statutory or consensual searches do not require reasonable suspicion. Officers are not required to inform people they may refuse the search.
A pilot scheme launched in Fife last summer required officers to tell people subject to non-statutory searches they had the right to refuse.
Rose Fitzpatrick, PAGE 29