Police Scotland say sorry to string of innocent people held at gunpoint

7 August 2018, 15:47

Police Scotland

Police Scotland has apologised to eight people, including a man who was detained in his pyjamas by armed officers and two women who were strip-searched following a reported firearms incident.

Armed police were dispatched after a man made an emergency call alleging five black men were outside his Edinburgh flat with guns, tasers and knives.

The call sparked what Police Scotland described as a "difficult and fast-moving situation", with authorised firearms officers deployed seven times in the capital in 90 minutes.

Chief Superintendent Matt Richards, head of specialist services at Police Scotland, said while the officers involved had been "acting in good faith", the situation was "not handled well".

Kate Frame, Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc), said: "While these were fast-moving events which related to a number of significant issues, it resulted in four armed response vehicles and nine firearms officers being deployed on seven occasions and police pointing their guns at eleven people on three separate occasions over a period of less than an hour and a half.

"A number of these people were detained and searched on the strength principally of allegations made by an unidentifiable male and this action in a number of instances appears to have been entirely unwarranted."

As part of events, which started shortly after midnight on July 22, armed police detained a man in a block of flats in his pyjamas before searching his flat and his car.

The "balance of probabilities" indicated police pointed their weapons at him and other residents in the stairwell of the building, the Pirc report found.

It added there appeared to be "no legitimate basis for Police Scotland to suspect that the man had any involvement" and that officers who searched his home and car appeared to lack the lawful authority to do so.

Armed response vehicles later blocked two cars - an Audi and Peugeot - which were also suspected of being involved.

Those in the cars "describe the officers pointing machine guns at them whilst shouting to them to get out their vehicles with their hands up", the Pirc report said, while one of the two women in the Peugeot "describes how she saw the gun's red dot on her chest".

The five occupants were all taken from the cars at gunpoint and detained.

The Pirc report said: "Despite there being no evidence to connect the two women to any offence, they were kept in police custody for almost 24 hours, during which time they were strip-searched.

"They were later released without charge."

The three men were charged with threatening and abusive behaviour but the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) ordered their release from custody and no criminal proceedings have been brought against them.

The Pirc report said the area control room (ACR) inspector involved in the incidents appeared to have "committed to a course of action without seeking additional information or intelligence to revise, review or amend his decisions" in line with the police decision-making model.

It added that "at no time did the ACR inspector seek the advice of a tactical firearms adviser (TFA) to explore what other options were available to him", adding that if he had done this "it is likely that he would have been advised that his authorisation of armed officers was not appropriate in the circumstances".

The Pirc has now recommended Police Scotland apologise to the eight people involved and "provide them with a clear rationale for these apologies".

Ms Frame said: "The recommendations have already been discussed with Police Scotland and I know that senior officers have already taken steps to implement some of my recommendations."

Mr Richards said: "The nature of spontaneous firearms incidents means they require time-critical decision-making, often based on information from the public that is incomplete or continually changing.

"Our firearms officers are trained to the very highest standards so they are fully prepared to handle professionally and appropriately the many challenging situations they face on a daily basis.

"The officers involved in responding to this incident were all acting in good faith in what was a difficult and fast-moving situation. However, it is clear that on this occasion it was not handled well."

He added: "A thorough review took place following the incident and a number of measures were put in place to address the issues that have now been identified by the Pirc.

"We are also writing to the individuals involved to apologise and I want to do that again publicly now."