Answer demanded over region’s ‘undisclosed’ police cover

Selkirk Common Riding 2014. Policing the Common Riding.
Selkirk Common Riding 2014. Policing the Common Riding.

The issue of police coverage in the Borders since the inception nearly two years ago of a single Scottish force is to be aired by councillors next month.

“It is clearly a matter of concern both within and outwith the force and we, as elected representatives, need answers on behalf of the people we serve,” said Councillor Sandy Aitchison, a member of the local Police, Fire Service and Safer Communities Board.

He was responding to a claim by retired police officer Harry Scott that one area of the region once policed by 14 officers is now mostly covered by just four and sometimes only two.

The allegation comes in a letter from Mr Scott to Marion Keyse, head of enforcement with the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC).

Believing that local manning levels had been cut since the advent of Police Scotland, Mr Scott last year used Freedom of Information legislation to ask the new body for the number, rank and designation of officers deployed at stations in the Borders –the former G division of what was Lothian and Borders Police – on 14 shifts over a specified seven weeks.

He was told by Police Scotland there were “approximately 150 officers” based in the region, but the detailed information he demanded, although historical, was withheld.

The force said divulging such details could prejudice the prevention and detection of crime – a position upheld by the watchdog SIC in November following an investigation.

In his letter to Ms Keyse, Mr Scott says he does not expect the decision to be reversed, but claims the reasons cited for non-disclosure by Police Scotland were “based on supposition with no credible evidence base”.

“I am surprised and disappointed the Commissioner should be taken in by the spurious arguments of Police Scotland, whose non-disclosure is more to do with their embarrassment at the mismanagement of resources and the lack of police cover provided to the people of the Borders,” writes Mr Scott.

“I know from colleagues still serving that an area once policed by 14 officers is now mostly covered by four and sometimes as little as two.”

He contrasted the Police Scotland stance to the “openness and transparency” of the former G Division, officer numbers for which were published in the annual chief constable’s reports. From 2001 to 2007, these reports recorded that there were 225 serving officers in the Borders.

Subsequent annual reports – from 2008 until the last one in 2012 – gave only Lothian and Borders-wide statistics, but these revealed the total number of serving officers increased – from 2,840 to 3,066 – over that five-year period.

Councillor Aitchison said he and “at least one other councillor” would be raising the matter and seeking assurances over the adequacy of police cover at the next board meeting in Newtown on February 13.