Friday, 7 December 2007

There must be no 'arrogant use of power' by any police force

Published: 07 December, 2007
John O'Groat Journal and Caithness Courier

AT the weekend I was reading about the riots in Paris suburbs and a warning from the journalist Mary Riddell of The Observer contained in the heading, "A French lesson we ignore at our peril."

It was a stark message about the police as authority figures alienating the young. It also referred to the removal of neighbourhood policing by Monsieur Sarkozy when he was interior minister. Ms Riddell recalled how, following the Brixton riots in London in 1981, Lord Scarman talked of the "arrogant and abrasive use of power" by the Met. In Brixton the scenes of devastation left 50 residents and 400 police injured.

That made me recall views expressed by Northern Constabulary's Chief Constable Ian Latimer about SNP Government proposals to recruit 500 new police nationally and to redeploy more experienced personnel into frontline duties. He was reported as saying he wanted new recruits, not redeployed older officers. Given the tight budget settlement handed down from the London Labour Chancellor, the SNP manifesto pledge for a thousand new officers on the beat will have to be delivered in phases.

But Mr Latimer, knowing the political circumstances, still delivered his tuppenceworth: new men, not retreads. Now I realise there are operational issues that Joe Public and the Northern Joint Police Board know little of. In our family my father was a policeman and so was my brother, much more recently, so I understand a bit about shifts and deployment patterns being designed to suit circumstances. Therefore I would expect our chief constable to make a constructive contribution which I don't expect from our political opponents. Peter Peacock, for example, has been scaremongering on many issues, including raising doubts about the deployment of a score of new bobbies in the North. Perhaps Mr Latimer could adopt a different mode of expression.

It all came together last week when the report was issued by the Scottish Police Complaints Commissioner Jim Martin on the Kevin McLeod case. Mr Martin called on Mr Latimer to personally apologise for the shortcomings in the police inquiry into Kevin's death in Wick in February 1997 and the offhand way the family have been treated since.

Surprise, surprise, Mr Latimer responded that he had already apologised by letter to the family expressing "professional regret" for the conduct of the inquiry into the as-yet-unexplained death of Kevin. Also unsurprisingly, Mr Latimer refused to accept that Northern Constabulary had shown "institutional arrogance".

There remain many unanswered questions about this case. To name but two, key evidence was destroyed rather early and the force refused to meet the McLeod family after the 2003 independent report by Chief Constable Andrew Cameron of Central Scotland Police.

Some still believe there could have been a murder or culpable homicide. Kevin's family are unlikely to find out. But there could be a killer at large in Wick today.

From another point of view there's the accumulated police knowledge of the victim. Also there are questions about police expertise in dealing with such cases. With most other crime in the area there is a high clear-up rate, but there is also the unenviable record of Northern Constabulary in failing to solve violent deaths.

Therefore, drawing some conclusions, neighbourhood policing with a full-strength force is key with well-trained specialist back-up available when necessary. However, there is a need to beware "arrogant and abrasive use of power" by any police force. The SNP Government is committed to delivering the resources. Make no mistake, we back community policing and officers on the beat. So I hope the police board will act on Jim Martin's report because they are the local democratic representatives to whom the chief constable reports.

I also think not only that the McLeod family deserve an early meeting with Mr Latimer but that he should review his public pronouncements in the interests of good police and public relations in Wick and every other community in the North.


SEVERAL years ago, early in the Labour/Lib Dem coalition government, they spent £300,000 on consultants to decide how best to brand Scotland. The answer was to use the Saltire, Scotland's national flag. A no-brainer, you might say.

Last week a row broke out when Labour leaders threw up a smokescreen to hide their palpable troubles north and south of the border with ineligible donors by rubbishing the refreshed Scottish Government logos, photos and slogans to make visitors "Welcome to Scotland".

I appeared on Radio 4 and Radio 2 with the Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, who coined spurious slogans such as "the home of Chip and PIN" as examples of the kind of thing on offer. The myth about Europe ordering the production of straight bananas has as much credence. For £125,000 we developed, produced and erected a new suite of posters. You don't get many 30-second adverts on prime-time TV for that price. Frankly it's great to get rid of the cringeworthy Labour/Lib Dem line about the greatest wee country in the world.

Listeners to Radio 2 did lighten up the debate with some of their own suggestions, from the banal to the plain wicked. These included "Scotland – the most subsidised wee country in the world"; "Scotland – England's last colony"; "Scotland – find out why it's called bonny"; "Scotland – for ever"; and so on. My favourite dotty one was "Scotland – hilly and chilly!"

Maybe the Leith Agency, who also designed the award-winning advertisements for Irn Bru and the anti-smoking campaign ads, has a little more savvy.

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