COP26: Armed police prepare for biggest deployment

By David Cowan
Home affairs correspondent, BBC Scotland

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Armed police have been training for the deployment

Armed police will be visible like never before in Scotland when world leaders arrive in Glasgow for COP26 at the end of October.

The UN climate change conference is expected to see the biggest ever deployment of armed officers in Scotland.

Police Scotland has 500 officers trained to use guns and they will be joined by many others from around the UK. The force will not give an exact number for how many will be on duty during Cop26 but one former chief constable has suggested it could be about 1,000.

Operation Urram (Gaelic for respect) will see a total of 10,000 officers deployed on each day of the two-week conference, which takes place at the Scottish Exhibition Campus between 31 October and 12 November.

It is one of the largest mobilisations of police ever to take place in the UK.

Image caption,
Police Scotland has 500 officers trained in the use of firearms

About 45% of the officers will be drawn from the ranks of Police Scotland, with the rest coming from other UK police forces, British Transport Police, the Ministry of Defence and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary.

The conference venue itself will become United Nations territory, guarded by armed UN personnel.

More than 120 politicians and heads of state are expected for the three-day world leaders' summit at the start of the conference.

The Queen, the Pope and President Joe Biden intend to be there. Thousands of delegates will remain for the negotiations that will follow.

Compared to previous high-profile events in Scotland, COP26 will be far bigger and last for far longer than the G8 summit at Gleneagles in 2005.

The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 was the largest multi-sport and cultural event ever held in Scotland, but again, COP26 will be a different and far more contentious beast.

It will also take place weeks after a warning from the head of MI5 that the fall of Afghanistan could embolden lone-wolf terrorists in the UK.

The head of specialist services at Police Scotland, Chief Superintendent Louise Skelton said: "The public will see a deployment of armed officers round about the venue of COP26. They're very much there to protect the event.

"It will be the most complex event that's ever been run in Scotland and the biggest deployment of officers in the UK.

"I can't provide details of numbers but we are getting mutual aid support from the firearms policing community around the UK during the event."

Armed police officers trained in counter-terrorism will be on hand.

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Ch Supt Louise Skelton said it was the most complex event ever run in Scotland

"A massive amount of security is required because of the heads of state, world leaders and all the delegates at the event itself," said Ch Supt Skelton.

"There is no specific threat to the event at the moment but we continue to monitor any intelligence that comes in, and link in with the security services."

Police Scotland invited the media to watch training at the Scottish Police College at Jackton near East Kilbride.

The "students" were wearing black overalls, helmets and balaclavas and carrying carbines, Glock handguns and tasers.

Image caption,
Ch Insp Colin McLellan said the officers would be on duty to ensure public safety

In a country largely unaccustomed to seeing armed police, some people will be alarmed by their presence.

The college's chief firearms instructor Chief Inspector Colin McLellan said: "I would encourage members of the public to approach the officers and speak to them as normal police officers, first and foremost.

"They are there to ensure public safety."