Scottish police consider ending consensual stop-and-search

image captionBBC Scotland revealed figures for stop-and-searches earlier this week

Police Scotland is considering ending non-statutory stop-and-search, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has revealed.

She told MSPs that she had spoken to Chief Constable Sir Stephen House following a BBC Scotland investigation.

Last June, Police Scotland told MSPs it would abolish consensual stop-searches for children under 12.

However, figures obtained by BBC Scotland revealed that 356 children in that age group had been stopped and searched since then.

Ms Sturgeon was asked about the issue by Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson during First Minister's Questions.

The first minister said: "I have spoken to the chief constable about stop-and-search and I can assure parliament that following a six-month pilot in Fife, he is now considering whether the practice of non-statutory or consensual stop-and-search should be completely ended.

"I welcome this. We need to be ensured the public will continue to be protected if this practice comes to an end."

How many like me?

  • So, how many people, who are the same age as you, are from the same area as you and have the same ethnic background as you, been searched by the police?
  • Find out by going to our stop-and-search calculator developed by BBC Scotland data journalist Marc Ellison.

Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson told Holyrood's Justice sub-committee in June that the "indefensible" practice of consensual searches on children under the age of 12 would be scrapped.

Since then, 356 children have been searched by police. Two thirds of these searches were consensual, and 91% recovered no items.

Following first minister's questions, the sub-committee confirmed it would be recalling Mr Mawson and it also planned to request Sir Stephen to go before its members.

Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Police Authority had asked Police Scotland about the development.

Ms Sturgeon added: "Clearly this will be an issue that many people will have concerns around.

"When the police search children, it is generally to ensure they are safe and we understand a proportion of these searches are because drugs or weapons may have been concealed by others on very young children.

image copyrightPolice Scotland
image captionPolice Scotland have been asked to explain the latest figures

"The number of children being stopped and searched has reduced dramatically and the Scottish Police Authority has asked Police Scotland to provide a full explanation of the figures we have seen this week."

Following Ms Sturgeon's statement at First Minister's Questions, Deputy Chief Constable of local policing, Rose Fitzpatrick, said: "The public consistently tell us that tackling violent crime and anti-social behaviour are a key concern to them.

"Where it is targeted, intelligence led and used in the right place at the right time, stop and search is an effective and legal tactic that helps us tackle the priorities communities set for us.

"Alcohol searches have the highest positive rate for all stop searches carried out.

"The impact of alcohol on communities remains and in considering alternative measures to replace consensual stop searches, we will consult with our partners the Scottish Police Authority and HMICS to ensure that the health and well being of all our communities is protected through appropriate legislative powers."

However, Ruth Davidson said it was "outrageous" that a senior police officer should tell MSPs that an indefensible practice would stop, "and then carry on as before".

She said: "A pattern is emerging of national police force chiefs seemingly acting as they please. First people see armed police officers carrying weapons around the streets and in shopping malls. Then, despite the police having described it as indefensible, we discover that they are still ordering ordinary officers to search primary school children as before."


BBC Scotland political editor Brian Taylor

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon noted further that the Chief Constable Sir Stephen House (these days, post reform, there is but one) would be consulting on the appropriate way of ending consensual, non-statutory searches altogether - and not just for those aged under 12. He, apparently, had contacted her to set out his thoughts.

Which brings us to the caveats....

  1. Firstly, Ms Sturgeon said that the process of stopping and searching an individual remained a "vital tool" in the daily endeavour to keep the public safe.
  2. Secondly, she delivered a sustained and vigorous paean of praise for the police. They did a sterling job. A tough job. Every day they put their lives on the line. They deserved our thanks.

So where are we? By senior officer direction, consensual - or what we might call random - searches are due to end, following consultation as to the most effective manner of achieving this. Ms Sturgeon said that would be a speedier method of action than the alternative - which was Holyrood legislation.

But the power to stop and search will remain, where just cause exists.....

Ms Davidson added: "It's not good enough for the Scottish Police Authority to act after the event. We were told when Police Scotland was set up that the SPA would hold it to account. Well, the evidence suggests that's not happening.

"If the new Police Scotland service is going to earn people's trust we need a fundamental review of the way the oversight systems are working."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie also asked the first minister about the stop-and-search issue.

He said Sir Stephen House "better have a good explanation" as to why for six months "there has been continued stopping-and-searching of under-12s".

He also called for the Scottish government to make it law for the ending of non-statutory stop-and-search, rather than allowing Police Scotland to make the decision.

Explanation requested

Mr Rennie said: "It was quite clear from the senior police officer who came to this Parliament back in June and said under-12s stop-and-searching would be stopped. Since then, over 350 children have been stopped and searched.

"Can she give absolute clarity that from today there will be no more stopping-and-searching of children under the age of 12?"

Ms Sturgeon responded: "It is the position of Police Scotland that they do not carry out consensual stops and searches on children under 12? That is the position.

"There will be circumstances that, as we have seen from the figures, those are carried out. That is what the Scottish Police Authority has asked Police Scotland to give an explanation for.

"I don't want to prejudge what that explanation is, but that is something that will be discussed in public at the next board meeting of the Scottish Police Authority."

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