Assault police keep their jobs

FOUR police officers convicted of assault kept their jobs and are still serving on the Lothian and Borders force.

The four constables faced disciplinary hearings in front of their bosses following their appearances in court.

They are among 14 officers convicted of criminal offences during the past five years who are still in service.

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Five of their colleagues, two sergeants and three constables, have also been caught drink- driving during the same period.

Other officers have been convicted of offences including breach of the peace, careless driving and speeding.

The figures, released to the Evening News under freedom of information laws, today sparked criticism that members of the force were showing a poor example to the public.

Among the convicted officers was Constable Tracey Gunn, who was fined for attacking a colleague who intervened as she rowed with her boyfriend.

When police were called to her Midlothian home in July 2005 she began a violent struggle as officers tried to arrest her.

Police chiefs refused to release information on the punishment dealt out to each individual officer by the force, citing "data protection issues".

But they did reveal six of the officers received warnings from the deputy chief constable, one was warned by an assistant chief constable, one was fined and another had pay cut.

No action was taken against two officers while three cases are pending.

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The power to sack or demote offending officers is also available to the force.

A police spokeswoman said: "These cases were dealt with through the courts. The officers were then subject to internal disciplinary hearings."

Kenny MacAskill, the SNP's justice spokesman, said: "These matters have to be dealt with seriously.

"It's for the chief constable to decide whether internal disciplinary procedures are sufficient to deal with these cases, but punishment must take place otherwise our faith in the police will be jeopardised."

Councillor Marilyne MacLaren, a member of the police board, said: "It's disappointing when these incidents occur, but we have to be careful about putting people on pedestals. Officers are human beings and they can make mistakes like anyone else."

Constable Andrew Higgins, from Gayfield Square police station, was caught driving at 103mph on the M9 in Stirlingshire.

But he escaped disqualification after a court heard he thought he was chasing a drug dealer.

Sheriff Craig McSherry fined him 300 and ordered six points to be put on his licence.

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Constable Higgins is currently under investigation after being accused of illegally using a disabled badge to park for free outside his city centre station.

In November last year, it was revealed that a total of 12 officers in the Lothian and Borders Police force have drink-driving convictions, and all have kept their jobs.

Today's figures show four officers have been convicted of the same offence since 2002, including two in the past year.

A spokeswoman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said: "Police officers should be setting a good example. Obviously, it's harder to get the drink- drive message across to the public if officers are breaking the law."

Sergeant David Wiltshire was found drunk in the driver's seat of his wrecked Citroen Xsara at the side of the M90 Edinburgh to Perth motorway in May last year. He was more than four times over the legal alcohol limit.

Sheriff Robert McCreadie fined him 450 and banned him from the road for three years.

And Constable John Stirling, who was based at St Leonard's police station, was caught drink driving after crashing his Suzuki Vitara into a neighbour's garage in Gilmerton.

Stirling admitted he had been in the Hebrides Bar in the city centre in June last year, but he drove home after a fight with his wife.

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Sheriff Andrew Lothian fined him 750 and disqualified him from driving for one year.

Constable Nicola Paterson, who worked in the West End station, was fined 400 and banned from driving for 18 months at Dundee Sheriff Court.

She was found to be nearly three times over the limit after being stopped in Dundee in November 2004.