Select Committee on Armed Forces Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 494 - 499)




  494. Good morning. Can I welcome Mr Colin McKerracher. You are the Assistant Chief Constable, Strathclyde Police and member of ACPOs General Policing Standing Committee. Can I thank you very much for coming along this morning and agreeing to allow us to take some oral evidence from you on the issues that have been raised with us by your own organisation, and indeed by others in the evidence sessions we have already heard, on the proposals in the Armed Forces Bill to possibly extend powers of the Ministry of Defence Police. Before we go straight into questions, is there anything you would like to say as an opening statement? We have obviously had some of the written evidence from your organisation.

  (Mr McKerracher) Thank you very much. I have obviously had time to read a lot of the papers that are relevant to the items you are discussing. The Scottish Police Service has a very good relationship with the Ministry of Defence Police; certainly we do not have any major issues with a clarification of their position with regard to some of the instances you have already discussed. I think it would be helpful to us, to the Ministry of Defence Police and to the general public if some of these issues were clarified. We welcome the opportunity to take part in this particular debate.

  495. Thank you very much for that. I am very reassured because, confessing an interest of having a constituency that has Rosyth dockyard in it, from my own observations I have always gained the impression that there is a very good relationship between the local constabulary and the Ministry of Defence Police. It is reassuring that it does exist, but you clearly have genuine concerns. Can I ask you to enlarge a little on what currently works well at a practical level; and what problems have arisen, particularly thinking of some of the demonstrations that occur on a fairly regular basis somewhere like the Clyde Naval Base, Faslane, and the working arrangements there between the Strathclyde Police Force and the Ministry of Defence Police and others?
  (Mr McKerracher) The demonstrations are a particular event obviously, and they are an event where there is excellent communication between the Ministry of Defence Police and ourselves. We hold regular meetings to ensure before any demonstration that both the Ministry of Defence Police and our own officers know exactly their roles and responsibilities. Basically what happens is that outside the fence Strathclyde Police police the demonstration, and only if we were to request the Ministry of Defence Police to come out and help us would that happen. Offences that take place along the perimeter fence, or should anyone encroach into Ministry of Defence property, the Ministry of Defence Police would take primacy there. As far as problems are concerned, the problems are usually that there are too many protesters and not enough Strathclyde police officers. However, we do call on the mutual aid from within our own Force to deal with that. We do not necessarily call on mutual aid from Ministry of Defence Police; although the Commander of L Division, which covers Faslane, would indeed (should he need to) request that Ministry of Defence Police come over to the other side of the fence to help. They do with minor tasks sometimes—if there were a lot of arrests. Last February there were 185 arrests at a demonstration. With the process of booking in prisoners, to allow our officers to go back into mainline policing, Ministry of Defence police officers stood with one of our officers and the prisoners to ensure they were booked through; and that allowed us to get half of our strength back to the frontline, as it were. In that situation of a demonstration, we work very well and there are not too many difficulties which arise.

  496. Do difficulties, which arise, arise in the unpredictable situations? As you say, with a demonstration you know pretty well in advance it is going to take place so it is possible to plan very closely. The difficulties which ACPOS have experienced, have those been the one-off unpredictable incidents?
  (Mr McKerracher) I think it would be unfair of me to say there were difficulties, to be perfectly honest. I think what we have is that there are situations which need clarifying. They tend to be the very issue that has been discussed before in this Committee, that where Ministry of Defence Police are passing between properties, defence properties, they naturally come across incidents where the public see them as police officers and if they are in distress or not they expect that police officer would stop and deal with the situation. What you have is a situation where they certainly would stop in our experience, but what they are is really a reporter to us. They stop and will take whatever action they need to take within their own limited powers at that time. It is basically citizen's arrest powers and they call very quickly on the local police to come and bring that situation to a conclusion. Those instances are not great in number, I have to say. The local Commander in that area, Faslane, which is the main area for that sort of presence, would say he recognises the value of their passing between bases, because to all intents and purposes it is another police presence in the area. The public are aware of that presence; and I do not know they distinguish very quickly between Strathclyde Police and Ministry of Defence Police, but they know they are there. In that situation they do have a whole range of issues then, because the Ministry of Defence Police officers then become witnesses to a case, rather than reporting officers. There is an untidiness about it, which would be an appropriate way to describe it.

  Chairman: You have touched on one of the key issues, that the public see somebody in what looks like a police uniform and expect them to respond in the normal way.

Mr Key

  497. First, can I say how grateful I was to Sir Roy Cameron, for his very swift and detailed response to my letter of December. I am most grateful for the constructive response we had. Could I probe one or two aspects of the Protocol between the Ministry of Defence Police and the police forces in Scotland. That is Police Circular 14/1999 of the Scottish Executive Justice Department Criminal Justice Division. There are some very interesting and quite substantial differences between that Protocol and the Protocol applying to Home Office police forces in the rest of the UK. For example, in section 4 of the Protocol in the English version it says that ". . . the Chief Constable MoD Police will ensure prior consultation with the local Chief Constable . . .". The Scottish version is far more detailed. For example, it includes this section which is not in the English section, "Where circumstances of extreme urgency e.g. public safety consideration, loss of evidence or other similar circumstances preclude such consultation, the local Chief Constable will be notified of the event as soon as possible, e.g. as soon as it is reasonably practicable thereafter". Why do you think it was important in Scotland to have a rather more tightly drawn arrangement?
  (Mr McKerracher) I think because of the situation I have outlined, that there is a public expectation there that somebody in a police uniform is going to deal with a situation. We understand that, whilst it would be nice on every occasion for us to get an early call to say, "We're now going to deal with the situation", if you have a violent person or a particularly dangerous situation the first priority for any police officer has to be the safety of the public and ensuring that lives are not at risk. We would expect people to deal with the situation and very quickly thereafter contact us, and tell us that a situation is ongoing.

  498. I fully understand that. I would be grateful if you could just explain what you mean by "loss of evidence or other similar circumstances". What did you have in mind there?
  (Mr McKerracher) I think loss of evidence could quite simply be that a criminal is about to depart with stolen goods, or any circumstantial evidence where you will miss the opportunity to get hold of the criminal. There would be loss of evidence if those officers felt they could not lay hands on and arrest that person. Or a vehicle would leave the scene which would have evidential value. A very basic and pragmatic situation.

  499. That is perfectly reasonable but I would like to return to that later. Could I please turn to section 7 of the Protocol. Again, the English version is only three lines long and is very general, whereas the Scottish version is more prescriptive. For example, you state that, "The Ministry of Defence Police are legally entitled to possess firearms . . .", which is assumed in England; but then you go on at the end of section 7 to say that ". . . the Chief Constable of the Ministry of Defence Police will discuss in advance with the local Chief Constable the circumstances of those duties, and the arrangements for deployment, security, method of carriage and rules of engagement in respect of those firearms". That is hugely more prescriptive than in the English version of the Protocol. It could indicate (although you have said it does not) there is less trust between the Ministry of Defence Police in Scotland and ACPOS?
  (Mr McKerracher) I do not think for a minute there is less trust. I think what we jealously guard in Scotland, and I am sure our English and Welsh colleagues do, is the fact that we do not routinely arm our police officers. What we do not want is a situation whereby Ministry of Defence Police officers, who I have already said to all intents and purposes are police officers in the public eye, are seen to be routinely armed and coming out of bases with arms on show to the public. I think that the safeguard is, from our experience, that they do not patrol with firearms. If they are going between bases they will not have firearms showing. What we are saying in the Protocol is, let us make sure that situation does not arise; and let us have a protocol that is as tight as we would both want it. So the Protocol is written, as you say, in fairly prescriptive terms; but it does prevent that regular routine, and maybe less well thought-out, deployment of firearms.

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