THE Chief Constable of Police Scotland has been asked to explain to the public the rationale behind officers carrying side arms while on routine patrol in the Highlands.

Dave Thompson, MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, says he has written to Sir Stephen House in light of violent crime in Scotland being at an all-time low.

He said: "As there is clearly very real public concern on this issue, it would be useful as a means of allaying the public's fears and for transparency on the matter, if Sir Stephen would elaborate further on the specifics behind this policy.

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"I have written to Sir Stephen House explaining that I think it would be meaningful if the public were made privy to the reasons behind the firearms policy being applied in the Highlands. I appreciate it is a sensitive matter, however, having met Sir Stephen earlier in the year. I know him to be a reasonable man and, as such, I look forward to his response."

At present, 275 officers across Scotland have standing authority to carry firearms on routine patrol although only a small number are on duty at any one time.

Sir Stephen has already written to David Alston, deputy leader of the Highland Council explaining: "In reaching this decision, my executive colleagues and I considered a range of factors including prevailing intelligence, threat and risk assessments; the proportionality of any authority and the need to deliver equity of specialist resource across the country."

He said that, above all, the decision sought to ensure consistent protection of communities and police officers in the Highlands and across Scotland.