Highland exemption on firearms policy ruled out by Scotland’s top cop

BY MICHAEL RUSSELL
michael.russell@whfp.co.uk

Police Scotland’s Chief Constable Sir Stephen House has ruled out any local variation in the policy of deploying armed officers to non-firearms-related incidents.

Under mounting pressure from Highland politicians and members of the public to scrap the policy in the north, Mr House, in a letter to Skye councillor Drew Millar, was unmoved.

He wrote: “Your assertion that this consistent standing authority should be rescinded in the Highland Council area is at odds with both the Force Strategic and Firearms Strategic Threat and Risk Assessments and my operational judgement that all officers and members of the public, regardless of where they are in Scotland, are entitled to the same consistent and proportionate level of protection.”

Mr Millar also criticised the “bland” response from the Scottish Police Authority to his request that the routine arming of police officers must be debated in the Scottish Parliament.

As chairman of Highland Council’s community safety, public engagement and equalities committee, he described the policy, in force in the Highlands since March 2013, as “ radical change in policing”.
Speaking to the Free Press, Mr Millar added: “This has to be debated in the Scottish Parliament. It is important that the general public are able to see who exactly is taking decisions that affect the whole country.”

In response, SPA chairman Vic Emery said: “Standing Firearms Authority existed in three of the legacy authorities — Strathclyde, Tayside and Northern Constabulary — prior to the introduction of Police Scotland. In addition, the Chief Constable has highlighted that Standing Firearms Authority for firearms officers is current practice in all but one of 43 police forces in England and Wales. I do not accept therefore that a material shift in policy has taken place within policing.

“I do agree that consideration of the issue in a public forum, and openness around decision-making and rationale, is entirely appropriate. I understand that the local commander had discussed the matter directly with members of your committee.”

In criticising this “bland” response, Mr Millar said that, given the fall in violent crime across Scotland, and the very low levels of crime in the Highlands, he was at a loss to understand why the new policy had been introduced.

“I understand that armed officers are now attending non-firearms-related incidents. Given that the old policy had firearms locked inside dedicated vehicles, can these officers not take off their guns when attending non-violent incidents and lock them in the vehicles?”