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Police headquarters in Inverness.
Police headquarters in Inverness.

Former police call handler warns closing Inverness facility could endanger the public

Scotland’s chief constable Phil Gormley has been urged to visit the Highlands to reassure the region that the looming control room closure will not harm the service or cost jobs.

The plea was made last night by Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson amid intense anger about the proposed transfer of the police control room from Inverness to Dundee and uncertainty about future job security of civilian staff.

Her call coincided with a warning from a former member of the control room team in Inverness that its closure could endanger the public.

Police to seek permission to close Inverness control room

Councillor Davidson said: “The people of the Highlands need the chief constable to be here, to hear his assurances that they’ve met all the recommendations of the chief inspector of constabulary in the wake of the Lamara Bell and John Yuill tragedy on the M9.

“I’ve never heard a response from him about the preferred option up here for a joint police, fire and ambulance call centre – although the fire control room has, of course, already moved.

“If the call centre moves, we were told there would be no job losses. I’ve not had that assurance.”

Last night, Assistant Chief Constable John Hawkins said: “We are aware of the Council Leader’s concerns and I am meeting her next week along with Andy Cowie, our Assistant Chief Constable for Local Policing in the North, to outline our proposals for call handling and the creation of a National Database Enquiry Unit in Inverness, and to listen to any concerns. I’m also aware that the council has invited Derek Penman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland, and he is attending as well.”

He also pointed out that Mr Gormley has visited the Highlands in the past.

The force insists call handling changes already made have resulted in “a significantly improved service.”

But a former Inverness control room worker has said she is “utterly dismayed” by the prospect of depending on a Dundee police call-centre.

The woman, who did not wish to be named, cited an example in 2015 when she spoke with a call handler in the central belt who had “great difficulty getting to grips with the (Highland) location I was explaining to her in the clearest of terms”.

It is understood the call was handled by staff in Govan who handle “overflow” calls.

“I estimate the call lasted four or five times longer than necessary,” the former call handler said.

Ch Supt Roddy Newbigging, commander of C3 Division, confirmed that “a very small percentage of calls from N Division” were dealt with at the Glasgow service centre to assist with spikes in demand.

He said: “The changes to call handling which have taken place mean that the public now receive a significantly improved level of service when they contact us.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said a closure decision “must be subject to appropriate assurance, including external scrutiny, to ensure the impact is fully understood”.