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MSPs told: House didn't consult watchdog before putting armed police on Scotland's streets

The Chief Constable did not consult his top civilian watchdog before taking the decision to put permanently armed officers on patrol throughout Scotland, MSPs have heard.

Some MSPs and community leaders have been dismayed by the nationwide rollout of officers with a standing authority to carry guns since the formation of Police Scotland.

The Scottish Police Authority (SPA), the civilian board established to hold the Chief Constable to account, was only informed of the decision in a single line in a comprehensive statement of readiness two weeks before the forces were merged on April 1 2013.

SPA chairman Vic Emery was not personally consulted in advance and was only briefed on the matter at a public meeting two months after the armed police were deployed, he told Holyrood's Justice Sub-Committee on Policing.

Chief Constable Sir Stephen House did discuss the matter with Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill in advance but Mr Emery was not briefed by either individual, MSPs heard.

Mr Emery, who has deep security clearance, said it is not satisfactory to be consulted on such matters after the fact.

The SPA will now try to persuade Police Scotland to be more forthcoming in the future, he said.

"The scrutiny role that we have is pretty much after the fact, and that is not really my view of governance and I think I have expressed that to this committee various times when we have met previously," he said.

"We need to move on to a situation where we are consulted in advance of policy decisions being made, rather than simply scrutinising those decisions after the fact, and I acknowledge that."

He added: "We have had a growing improvement in our relationship with the police and this is a matter of persuading the police that they need to come forward and consult with the board, particularly on how decisions are communicated amongst the community before those decisions are made.

"We are maturing that relationship. We need to mature that because the act can be literally interpreted as being a scrutiny after the fact, and that is not a satisfactory situation."

Labour MSP Graeme Pearson said: "Could you indicate when the Chief Constable first consulted with you as the convener on the issue of extending the use of armed police officers on routine duties?"

Mr Emery said: "The Chief Constable communicated with me at the Selkirk board meeting (on June 25 2013).

He added: "There is a one-line reference in a document of a number of things that were being rolled out in readiness for day one."

A Police Scotland statement of operational readiness, produced on March 15 2013, states: "Work is well under way and on track in terms of armed policing provision for day one when a standing authority for armed response vehicles, tactical firearms unit, airport coverage and other policing operations will be implemented."

Mr Pearson said: "That one-line reference wouldn't have amounted to seeking any consent or approval of the current situation?"

Mr Emery said: "If you read the prospectus of the review that Derek Penman and HMIC are going to carry out, plus the added review of the SPA, that is one of the questions that we want exposed."

Mr Pearson said: "Given that the Cabinet Secretary seems to have been told about this a year ago, were you told in the interim period that such a conversation had occurred?

"Apparently, the Chief Constable briefed the Cabinet Secretary last year. In a reply in the chamber, about five weeks ago during justice questions, the Cabinet Secretary indicated that the Chief Constable had briefed him on this matter in his office.

"Can you tell me when, if ever, did the Cabinet Secretary discuss the issue of armed officers on routine patrol in Scotland?"

Mr Emery said: "I have not discussed with the Cabinet Secretary that issue."

Conservative MSP Margaret Mitchell said: "This decision has been taken by one individual under what he has referred to as operational.

"His competence and his complete control over that, and the lack of checks and balances over that, is the thing that we are now hearing from Mr Emery is highly unsatisfactory to be informed of something as high profile and dynamic as this after the event."

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