Police Scotland faces clampdown on stop and search

时间:2019-11-16 责任编辑:竺郾 来源:合乐888手机网页版 点击:200 次

Scottish ministers are to ban police from using stop and search without legal cause after an independent inquiry found it was of “questionable lawfulness and legitimacy”.

An investigation headed by John Scott QC, a human rights lawyer, told ministers that Police had made excessive use of its informal powers to search people, including tens of thousands of children, without any evidence they had committed a crime.

Ministers agreed on Thursday to set up a new statutory code on police search powers and to discuss the need for specific powers to search children for alcohol after being warned by Scott that “non-statutory stop and search lacks any legal framework and is of questionable lawfulness and legitimacy, with poor accountability”.

And in a further reverse on policing policy, Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, said her government now accepted “unreservedly” a call by the police inspectorate to postpone plans to close three Scotland call centres after the deaths of Lamara Bell and John Yuill, whose crashed car was ignored by police for three days.

Michael Matheson, the Scottish justice secretary, insisted soon after their deaths on the M9 in July that there was no evidence the police’s failure to investigate the first public call was down to human error – or because call centres were overburdened or a “systemic failure”.

After acknowledging that stop and search powers needed root and branch reform, Matheson told Holyrood on Thursday that he would give Police Scotland an extra £1.4m to recruit up to 75 extra call centre staff after weeks of denial that funding was an issue.

An interim report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) after police failed to investigate a public call about the M9 crash found on Thursday there were “significant staff shortages” at the Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness call centres, which led to real risks of further serious errors.

Matheson said: “I fully accept there are challenges and some of the events over the summer have prompted legitimate public concern, but the fundamentals of our policing remain sound.”

Val Thomson, an assistant chief constable for Police Scotland, admitted that its call centres had been under strain. “Our call answering times on non-emergency lines needed to improve. They have now not only improved but also stabilised in the east and west [areas] above the expected levels of performance,” she said.

The heavy use of non-statutory stop and search – including against children – was a key crime-fighting pledge in the Scottish National party’s 2011 election manifesto and was defended by ministers. Willie Rennie, the Scottish Lib Dem leader, and Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, claimed they repeatedly brushed off complaints about “industrial levels” of stop and search and warnings about cost-cutting at police call centres.

The wider crisis of confidence in Police Scotland, which included a row over routine patrols by armed officers and the death in custody of Sheku Bayoh in Kirkcaldy, came to a head last week after its first chief constable, Sir Stephen House, bowed to intense pressure and announced he would resign early.

Kezia Dugdale, the Scottish Labour leader, said ministers had “closed ranks with the top brass” on controversies over stop and search, the closure of police station public counters, alleged spying on a journalist, armed police on routine patrol and the M9 deaths.

Since 2010 and with the subsequent merger of Scotland’s eight regional forces into one force two years ago, civilian staffing at Police Scotland had been cut by 2,350 posts, a fall of 30%, with House forced to protect uniformed officer numbers to meet a government target to fix police numbers.

“We know that civilian staff numbers have paid the price for that policy,” Dugdale told Holyrood. “The police force in Scotland is weaker under this government.”

Sturgeon said ministers had a “sacred duty” to learn lessons from mistakes: everyone, she said, had been “shocked and saddened” by the deaths of Bell and Yuill. But she said opposition parties had themselves backed plans to create Police Scotland, which had helped oversee the lowest crime levels for 40 years.

HMICS said command rooms at Govan, Motherwell and Bilston Glen, where calls are due to be centralised, still did not have sufficient trained staff. Their closure should be delayed until all other control rooms were fully staffed and expanded.

HMICS added that it wanted further assurances from Police Scotland about how it assessed risk and vulnerability when handling emergency calls; its workforce planning and staffing; the consistency of its training; clarity of “governance and oversight” and accountability in control rooms.

The Scott report on stop and search said there needed to be early and separate consultation on whether the police should have a new legal power to search under-18s for alcohol as police commanders wanted the authority to continue doing so.

It said Scott and his colleagues on the review could not agree on whether this gap could be dealt with by using existing powers or whether a legal power to search children without evidence of a crime was desirable. But it insisted that ending non-statutory stops would not weaken Police Scotland’s ability to carry out its duties. “Abolition will not result in any significant gaps,” the report said.

“Specifically, officers will still be able to respond to any welfare or protection issues they encounter. Action will still be possible even when required on an emergency basis, whether carried out by police officers, social workers, medical staff or others.”