Watchdog criticises firearms officers over 'unwarranted' actions

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Image source, Police Scotland
Image caption,
A call from an unidentified man sparked a major armed response from Police Scotland

Police have apologised to eight people, including a man who was detained in his pyjamas by armed officers, following a reported firearms incident.

They were dispatched after an anonymous 999 call alleged five armed men were outside an Edinburgh flat.

As a result firearms officers were deployed seven times across the capital in 90 minutes.

A watchdog found two women were also strip-searched and one of them saw a red laser dot from a gun on her chest.

The call from an unidentified man sparked a major response from Police Scotland.

'No legitimate basis'

But the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc) ruled some aspects of the response were "entirely unwarranted".

The force has acknowledged the situation was "not handled well".

Pirc commissioner Kate Frame said: "While these were fast-moving events which related to a number of significant issues, it resulted in four armed response vehicles and nine firearms officers being deployed on seven occasions and police pointing their guns at eleven people on three separate occasions over a period of less than an hour and a half.

"A number of these people were detained and searched on the strength principally of allegations made by an unidentifiable male and this action in a number of instances appears to have been entirely unwarranted."

The alarm was raised shortly after midnight on 22 July last year.

Within minutes armed police detained a man in a block of flats in his pyjamas before searching his flat and his car.

The "balance of probabilities" indicated police pointed their weapons at him and other residents in the stairwell of the building, the Pirc report found.

It added there appeared to be "no legitimate basis for Police Scotland to suspect that the man had any involvement" and that officers who searched his home and car appeared to lack the lawful authority to do so.

'Strip searched'

Armed response vehicles later blocked two cars - an Audi and Peugeot - with five occupants who were also suspected of being involved.

Three men said police officers pointed assault rifles at them in the retail park at Seafield Road and ordered them to get out of their vehicles with their hands up.

The officers later denied pointing their firearms at the men.

One of the two women in the Peugeot "describes how she saw the gun's red dot on her chest".

The group were all taken from the cars at gunpoint and detained.

The Pirc report said: "Despite there being no evidence to connect the two women to any offence, they were kept in police custody for almost 24 hours, during which time they were strip-searched.

"They were later released without charge."

The three men were charged with threatening and abusive behaviour but the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) ordered their release from custody and no criminal proceedings have been brought against them.

Four armed response vehicles and nine firearms officers were deployed but the officers found no trace of any men or weapons.

The Pirc has now recommended Police Scotland apologise to the eight people involved and "provide them with a clear rationale for these apologies".

'Good faith'

Ch Supt Matt Richards, Police Scotland's head of specialist services, said: "The nature of spontaneous firearms incidents means they require time-critical decision-making, often based on information from the public that is incomplete or continually changing.

"The officers involved in responding to this incident were all acting in good faith in what was a difficult and fast-moving situation.

"However, it is clear that on this occasion it was not handled well."

He added: "A thorough review took place following the incident and a number of measures were put in place to address the issues that have now been identified by the Pirc.

"We are also writing to the individuals involved to apologise and I want to do that again publicly now."

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