POLICE are to end routine stop and searches of young children following widespread criticism of the controversial policy.

Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson yesterday confirmed an immediate change to policy, which has been under review, describing the practice of voluntary stop and searches of children as "fairly indefensible". He told MSPs: "It has to stop. That's the message going forth that I will be putting out."

Figures from the first nine months of the single force reveal that 223 searches were undertaken on children aged nine and under.

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A total of 18 under-fives were searched for weapons, alcohol and drugs, with around half of the searches supposedly based on consent.

LibDem MSP Alison McInnes said the end to stop and searches was a "victory for children and their rights".

The decision came as figures released by Police Scotland show that overall crime fell in the force's first year.