Today during a meeting of the Parliament’s Sub-Committee on Policing John attempted to tackle the continued confusion over when the standing authority to carry firearms was given to police officers in the Highlands.
The confusion arose in the weeks and months following on from John’s revelation that a small number of armed response officers were being sent out on routine patrol duties whilst carrying their side arms. Such routine duties included attending the Highland Cross Duathlon and supervising nightclub dispersal and members of the public even reported police officers on their lunchbreak carrying sidearms in supermarkets.
Initial reports after the practice emerged suggested that the change had been made in March 2013, one month before the advent of Police Scotland, by the out-going Chief Constable George Graham of Northern Constabulary. However such a change would have had to been notified to the former Northern Joint Police Board. It was made clear from many former members of the board that such a change was not discussed by the Board, contrary to the claims made at the time. From the Caithness Courier 18th June 2014:
“Chief Supt J Innes admitted Northern Constabulary did not previously make Councillors aware of a dramatic change in police to arm officers. In an earlier statement he said the former Northern Joint Police Board had been informed. But he now says members were aware police were “working towards creating a dedicated Armed Response Vehicle” but they were not aware of the police tactics involved.”
This statement makes clear that the decision was taken by Northern Constabulary without proper notification of the local police board. However on the 27th of June 2014 the Press & Journal published an article which referenced a letter from Police Scotland Chief Constable Sir Stephen House to Highland Council that said Mr House had taken the decision. This clearly cannot have been the case had such authority previously been given by Chief Constable Graham of Northern Constabulary.
It is vital that there is full and proper clarity about when the decision was taken to deploy armed officers on routine duties in the Highlands. That there is any amount of ambiguity is unacceptable and raises further questions about the practices of the senior management in both Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority.