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Justice Secretary has given Chief Constable free rein on Police firearms

May 20, 2014 5:25 PM
Originally published by Scottish Liberal Democrats

Scottish Liberal Democrats have accused the Justice Secretary ofAlison McInnesAlison McInnes giving the Chief Constable a free rein to secretly downgrade checks and balances on the use of police firearms, leading to firearms officers across Scotland having permission to carry guns at all times while on duty, even when carrying out routine policing duties.

In response to widespread media reports, Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins yesterday confirmed in a letter to MSPs that since 1st April 2013 a Standing Firearms Authority (SFA) has been in place to allow trained firearms officers to carry guns at all times, even when responding to traffic incidents or while overseeing closing time from bars and clubs.

The order also means that the specific approval of a senior officer is no longer required to deploy weapons.

Previously, trained officers only carried firearms while responding to an identified threat to public safety and with the approval of a senior officer. This was granted on a case-by-case basis following a risk assessment.

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Alison McInnes today questioned the Justice Secretary over why Parliament or the SPA was not informed of this change in approach, which he has known of for over a year.

Speaking after topical questions, Ms McInnes said:

"It is deeply concerning that neither the Justice Secretary or Police Scotland saw any need to tell anyone that firearms officers are carrying guns while undertaking everyday duties and no longer need the authorisation of senior officers to fire them.

"There is no hiding the fact that this is a significant change from a strict regime of only carrying firearms while responding to a clear threat to public safety, approved on a case-by-case basis and following a proper risk assessment.

"The removal of this important safeguard and adoption of a blanket policy of approval to carry and use guns has been implemented by stealth. It appears that both Parliament and the SPA were in the dark about it for over a year.

"With the Justice Secretary content to give the Chief Constable a free rein, despite the concerns of members of all parties, it is clear that the Parliament is going to have to do all it can to get a grip on this situation."