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Critics take aim after armed Highland cops spotted having breakfast in Tesco

By Laurence Ford

This photo of armed police on routine patrol in Inverness High Street sparked nationwide debate when it was published. It sparked a climbdown by police.
This photo of armed police on routine patrol in Inverness High Street sparked nationwide debate when it was published. It sparked a climbdown by police.

POLICE top brass are refusing to elaborate on why armed officers marched into a Tesco restaurant for breakfast in full view of shoppers and customers enjoying a Sunday morning snack.

The “bizarre” event has been condemned by a senior local politician and an MSP who said they would be officially raising the issue.

The incident occurred at the Tesco in Dingwall when four policemen, openly wearing sidearms, walked into the busy store.

It flies in the face of Scottish Government policy that armed officers will only be used in situations where an armed response is deemed necessary or where there is an immediate threat to life

It confirms, however, the views of the new area commander for the Highlands and Islands who only a matter of weeks ago warned that officers carrying guns on routine patrols could return to our streets.

Chief Superintendent Philip MacRae, speaking shortly after his appointment as the North’s most senior policeman said: “While I understand the public’s concerns about guns on the street, I think they are an essential part of modern-day policing.”

A request by the Inverness Courier to speak to Chief Supt MacRae about the situation was declined yesterday.

Almost exactly two years ago the Courier published a photograph of three policemen carrying Glock 17 semi-automatic pistols in Inverness High Street as they made their way to a disturbance at nearby McDonald’s.

This prompted a national debate and led to Police Scotland announcing in October that armed officers would only be deployed to firearms incidents or where there was a danger to life.

Following publication of the photo, Highland Council passed a motion by 59 votes to nine calling for the armed policy to be scrapped.

Former Inverness Provost, Millburn councillor Jimmy Gray, who has in the past been an outspoken critic of armed police routinely patrolling the streets, spoke out yesterday about the latest incident.

He said: “It’s totally bizarre. You would struggle to think why armed police should go into a Tesco cafe to have a cup of tea or coffee. It beggars belief.

“We are having a meeting in the council today (Tuesday) and I will certainly be raising the issue of armed police acting in this way.”

Councillor Gray added: “The last time I was in the United States armed police came into the restaurant I was in and I found it pretty unsettling. How would a young mother with her children feel if they were in that Tesco restaurant and police, obviously carrying guns, marched in?

“How armed police can go into a cafe for a coffee or whatever beats me. It is just incredible.”

He said he accepted there were situations when armed police were required to deal with a specific situation but stressed there was “a complete difference” between armed response police and routinely armed police.

“What could be more routine than going somewhere for a cup of tea?” he asked. “I think this is a totally bizarre step. I cannot accept this in any situation. I will certainly be raising this issue.”

Councillor Gray said police should be transparent about why armed officers were inTesco and the public had a right to know.

“I think people should know why the police were going about with their arms on,” he said.

“My understanding is that armed officers are only there in a response situation, not routinely armed. Unless they have got some bona fide reason for officers to go about armed then they should not. I think if there is an explanation for this then the police have an obligation to the public to give it.”

And MSP David Stewart told the Courier he had already been contacted about the incident.

He said: “I will be raising this at the first possible time with the area commander and I will ask for reassurances that this will not be happening again.”

He added: “Using guns in an operational way is one thing, but I certainly do not think it is appropriate in a routine situation.”

A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: “These officers were doing absolutely nothing wrong.

“Police Scotland’s standing firearms authority means that members of the public will see a small number of our officers in public places wearing sidearms. Armed officers must wear their sidearms while on duty at all times, but are only sent to incidents where an armed response is deemed necessary or there is an immediate threat to life.”

However Richard Haley, chairman of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, described the police action as “outrageous”.

He said: “I thought the public carrying of firearms by police was going to be rolled back, but that does not seem to have happened. For this sort of behaviour we need some action by parliament or the Scottish Government to put a stop to it.

“I think if that happened to me in a restaurant I would go and have my snack somewhere else. We need to see some action from the Scottish Government to deal with this.”

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