The Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC) has recommended that Police Scotland apologises to several people after Firearms Officers pointed their weapons at them and forced one man out of his home and others out of cars at gunpoint.
Other witnesses who had reported suspicious activity in a car park to Police Scotland had police firearms pointed at them, whilst being ordered to face a wall with their arms out. The Commissioner considered that many of these actions were unwarranted.
The key recommendation is made in a report published today (Tuesday 7 August 2018) detailing how on seven occasions, during a period of less than an hour and a half, Authorised Firearms Officers (AFOs) were deployed in the Edinburgh area just after midnight on 22 July last year.
Police Scotland notified the PIRC about the last of these incidents. The Commissioner decided to investigate all the linked incidents.
You can read the full report here.
Events began at 0006 hours when an unidentified man reported to police that five black men were outside his flat in Edinburgh armed with guns, tasers and knives.
Four Armed Response Vehicles (ARVs) and nine firearms officers were deployed to that incident but found no trace of any men or weapons.
A few minutes later, in a separate call with Police Scotland, the unidentified man then reported to police that he was following the men, in a car, in the Seafield Road area of Edinburgh.
About ten minutes later, police stopped two cars that were pursuing another car at speed. Occupants of the two cars confirmed that they had been pursuing the other car, which they alleged contained those responsible for the initial incident at the flat in Edinburgh. Firearms officers were deployed to search for and stop the other car. The Initial Tactical Firearms Commander (ITFC) at that point authorised the firearms officers to arm themselves.
At around 0030 hours, Police Scotland received a fictitious report of an attempted robbery and the ITFC, believing it to be linked to the other matters, deployed the firearms officers to Guthrie Street, Edinburgh. They found no evidence of any crime there.
About ten minutes later, three young men reported suspicious activity involving two vehicles in the retail park at Seafield Road, where they had found a car, apparently abandoned, with its doors open, the keys in the ignition and its lights on. The firearms officers were deployed to this location where they found the three young men, who had waited in the car park. They describe how the officers pointed assault rifles at them, shouted at them not to move and told them to face a wall with their arms out. The officers later denied pointing their firearms at the men.
Around 15 minutes later, firearms officers were sent to a flat where a car of the same make, but different colour, to the vehicle which had been seen close to the abandoned vehicle in the retail park, was parked.
The firearms officers were instructed to carry out an armed detention of the owner of this car and search his flat and car.
Neighbours of the man were confronted by the firearms officers in the stairwell at the block of flats. They describe that the officers pointed their weapons in their direction and told them to get into their flats.
The owner of the car was woken by loud knocking on his door. He describes that on opening it, several firearms officers pointed guns at him, told him to face the wall and come out of his flat with his hands in full view. He was then handcuffed and detained in his pyjamas, before being searched. When it became evident that the man was not connected to the earlier incidents, he was released from custody.
The man further describes that his flat and car were then searched without his permission. The firearms officers claim that the man gave them permission to search his flat and car. The officers also denied pointing guns at the man and his neighbours.
Despite the officers’ denials, given the events that unfolded, it is considered likely that the officers pointed their guns both at this man and his neighbours and also previously at the three young men in the car park and that such actions were unwarranted.
About 0124 hours, the ITFC instructed firearms officers and Dog Handlers to attend a call regarding a vehicle on fire near to Poplar Lane, Edinburgh, as he considered that this matter could be linked to the initial incident at the flat earlier. Unarmed officers arrived before the firearms officers and found a bin on fire there, which they extinguished.
About two minutes later, the unidentified male, who had reported the initial incident, called Police Scotland again and reported that three of those responsible - now described as two black and one white man - were in a black Audi at a petrol station in the Restalrig area of the city. Armed officers were deployed to that location.
About ten minutes later, police spotted a black Audi containing two black and a white man, stationary at traffic lights, in Duke Street, around a mile away. Another car, containing two women, was stationary behind the Audi.
At that time, a police officer was approached by the unidentified male and told that the women in the car behind the Audi were involved with the occupants of the Audi. The officer passed this information to the firearms officers by radio.
They then blocked both cars in with the Armed Response Vehicles and pointed guns at the occupants of both cars.
The occupants describe the officers pointing machine guns at them whilst shouting to them to get out their vehicles with their hands up. One woman describes how she saw the gun’s red dot on her chest. All five occupants were then detained, handcuffed and taken into custody but later released. During their detention and despite there being no evidence to connect them to any of the incidents, the two women were strip searched and kept in police custody for nearly 24 hours.
The PIRC report found that the only evidence at that time to connect any of the five people detained, to any of the previous incidents, was that of the unidentified man. The report detailed that officers missed numerous opportunities to identify this person despite officers having face to face contact with this man on two occasions.
The report also found that there appeared to be no legitimate basis for Police Scotland to detain the man taken from his flat or to suspect that he had any involvement in any of the previous incidents reported that night.
The report detailed that the ITFC did not seek additional supervisory support from a senior officer - Strategic Firearms Commander (SFC) - for his authorisation for use of the firearms until after all the incidents were finished.
He also appeared to have committed himself to a course of action without seeking further information or intelligence to revise, review or amend his decisions in line with the Police National Decision Model, which provides guidance for police on how to deal with fast moving, high profile incidents.
Nor did the ITFC seek the advice of a Tactical Firearms Advisor (TFA). Had he contacted a SFC or TFA , it is considered likely that he would have been advised that his authorisation to armed officers was not appropriate in the circumstances.
The Commissioner 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 recommendations have already been discussed with Police Scotland and I know that senior officers have already taken steps to implement some of my recommendations."
Recommendations to Police Scotland:
The Commissioner recommends that Police Scotland:
NOTES TO EDITORS:
Police Scotland referred the last of the incidents on 22 July 2017 to the PIRC under the provisions of the Police Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2006, as amended and Regulation 3 of the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Investigations Procedure, Serious Incidents and Specified Weapons) Regulations 2013. From witness accounts, the referral should also have included a notification of the AFOs’ presentation of firearms at the other related incidents.
The PIRC decided to investigate all the linked incidents.
As part of their enquiries, PIRC investigators visited the scenes and obtained witness statements from police officers, police staff and civilian witnesses. They also examined: Command and Control (STORM) logs, telephone and Airwave recordings, Police Scotland Standard Operating Procedures, AFO Training Records, Firearms Action Plans, Duty Officer’s Logs and the Standard Prosecution Report.
Media contacts for further information:
Michael Tait, Head of Communications – 01698 542920 or 07760 990897
Nick McGann, Communications Officer - 01698 542902 or 07393 001852