The man responsible for holding Police Scotland to account has congratulated the force on how it dealt with Rangers fans this month, citing the events seen at the Sarah Everard vigil in London as an example of what may have occurred had different tactics been implemented.
Fans of Rangers Football Club gathered in Glasgow city centre last week to celebrate the club winning the Scottish Premier League, in contravention of coronavirus legislation, something that was criticised by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and others.
The chairman of the Scottish Police Authority, Martyn Evans, disclosed he had written to the commanders responsible for policing the impromptu event, offering his full support.
He said a “more robust approach” could have escalated matters, pointing to events “down south” as an example.
Mr Evans, who was recently appointed as chairman following years as an ordinary board member of the SPA, answered questions from the Scottish Parliament’s justice sub-committee on Monday morning.
He said thorough scrutiny of Scotland’s single police force was important in improving public confidence in Police Scotland.
During the meeting, Mr Evans said those in areas of high deprivation in Scotland had less confidence in policing, by as much as 15 percentage points lower than the national average.
Police, Rangers fans and ‘more robust circumstances’
Asked by committee chairman John Finnie whether the SPA had any concerns over the policing of those fans “flouting” the restrictions, Mr Evans said he did not, adding events in London at a vigil for murdered woman Sarah Everard showed how a more “robust” method could have impacted matters.
He said: “This is at the heart of the modern discussion around policing, with Covid and the balance of harms.
“I have had a great deal of conversation with John Scott, head of the AIG, and Chief Constable Iain Livingstone at length on the celebrations of winning the league by Rangers fans.
“We never can tell if, whether a different policing decision was made, what the outcome (would be).
“I considered it with the Chief Constable and John Scott, I wrote to all of the board a letter about this, offering my congratulations to the chief constable for the decisions made locally by Gold and Silver commanders in that case.
“In my view, which is in the public interest, we do not have an understanding of what the consequences would be of that unlawful and unfortunate gathering.
“I look at what happened down south and saw maybe what a consequence might have been with more robust circumstances.
“It is an operational decision. The Chief Constable has offered to come to the board at the end of March and the board will quiz him.
“I was very taken by the issues of risk analysis… police officers are trained at every level to take decisions on risk and we should take great comfort in that.
“The risk analysis in this was ‘don’t make a situation worse, if you can avoid it’.
“You have to take it on the chin when your reputation is being questioned, as there are people who would want more robust interventions.”
COP26 and coronavirus legislation
Mr Evans added the intention for police ahead of the UN climate summit scheduled for later this year would be to allow the “human right” to protest to go ahead.
“Their intention is to allow the human right to protest, while protecting all of our interests in safety and public health.”
He added: “The single police service has been critical in supporting us all during the public health crisis.
“Police Scotland has been able to deliver a service yet maintain their own staff public health and the public health, which I don’t think can be confidently delivered by the eight services down south.”