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Police chief warns of gun crime risk in rural areas

SPECIALIST armed response cover is to be stepped up in quieter and more rural areas of Scotland with the introduction of the country's new single police force.

Chief Constable Stephen House said certain forces north of the Border have not been able to provide an appropriate level of service for firearms incidents and he plans to address this when the Police Service of Scotland starts on April 1.

Mr House – who leads the new force – used the example of the Dunblane tragedy to highlight how areas not necessarily linked with gun crime are still very much at risk.

Addressing a meeting of the Strathclyde Police Authority, Mr House said: "We want to implement specialist support equally across the whole of Scotland. For example, we will be uprating some of the armed response cover in certain areas.

"Strathclyde has never had much of a problem with that over the last five years. The force has always provided the appropriate level of service, while some forces – the smaller forces – have not been able to do that for a number of reasons.

"We're making sure that they will be able to do that now."

The police chief added: "Some people take the view that the chances of firearms incidents taking place in rural areas are very low compared to the cities.

"But Scotland has had Dunblane – one of the worst incidents in the country's history – and it's not a town that appeared to be a high-risk area for firearms.

"We are effectively saying that we want cover everywhere in Scotland. This will also apply to homicide and road policing across the whole country, and the way we will do this is through more efficient working."

Mr House has appointed four deputy chief constables and will appoint six assistant chief constables next week.

He told the authority the cost for the command team for the national force, compared to the command teams for Scotland's existing eight forces, was 50% less. Mr House said: "That's just for police officers – if we could replicate that across other services we would be home free."

He also raised concerns about the funding gap for the single force, claiming it could become difficult in the coming years.

The force – which will use Strathclyde Police's motto "Keeping People Safe" – has a budget shortfall of £60 million for its first year, £130m for the second year and £190m for year three. Mr House said: "We can't reduce police numbers, so that takes away the majority of our budget. In support staff, we are committed to voluntary redundancies and no compulsory redundancies, which I believe is the right thing to do, but it does limit us slightly.

"The year-one gap is doable, but after that it becomes much more difficult – we're going to have to look to see how we can handle that budget gap."

He added that while there will be an emphasis on local policing with the new force, its national priorities will include road safety, drink-related violent crime, domestic abuse and the effective investigation of rape.

l Campbell Corrigan, who has been the acting chief constable of Strathclyde since Mr House left, has revealed he has not applied for a post within the new single police force due to family reasons. Mr Corrigan – a former CID chief who led the investigation into the Glasgow Airport terrorist attack in 2007 – told the Strathclyde Police Authority yesterday he plans to "pursue other career opportunities".

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