Chief constable backs national police force

A NATIONAL police force for Scotland would be better equipped to deal with major incidents such as the Derrick Bird shootings in Cumbria, the chief constable of Strathclyde claimed yesterday.

Stephen House, who heads the country's biggest police force, said smaller individual forces cannot respond alone to large-scale emergencies such as the shootings carried out by the 52-year-old taxi driver last June.

House was speaking ahead of a conference on the future of the police service, and just days after the Scottish Government opened a consultation on how to reform police and fire brigades - both with the option for single national forces.

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He is expected to outline his support and reject as "scaremongering" suggestions that a single national force would draw resources towards the central belt.

"The tragic experiences of the Derrick Bird shootings in Cumbria last year were a huge drain on resources," House said. "That small force - and I say small, but they are certainly larger than some of the current forces in Scotland - needed assistance from many other forces. Now there is nothing wrong with that as a model per se, but how much more robust would a single police force for Scotland be in its response to a major incident and to the need for specialist policing?

"We would not need a series of ad hoc mutual aid agreements. If a major incident happened, we would not need a series of hurried phone calls between forces regarding resources. We would be able to act as one organisation to make sure that what was needed was done."

House will speak at the Policing Scotland Summit in Edinburgh on Tuesday. Other speakers are expected to include justice secretary Kenny MacAskill and Northern Constabulary Chief Constable Ian Latimer, who has warned that any changes must be "evidence-based".

House said the current eight forces follow the template of 1970s regional governments.

He argued: "I doubt that anyone can argue against the often-quoted notion that if we were sitting with a blank sheet of paper deciding how to police Scotland, we wouldn't come up with a model that has eight forces supported by national agencies. It doesn't make financial sense, nor does it make operational sense.

"A single force would mean policing would be directed nationally, but delivered locally."