Glasgow & West Scotland

Strathclyde Police car's stop on motorway was 'not legal'

Scotland's largest police force has been heavily criticised over a motorway stop which had no legal basis.

Two Strathclyde Police officers chased a driver while in an unmarked car with no audible or visual warning equipment.

The driver was so alarmed he dialled 999 before being advised to stop as he was being pursued by a police car.

The Police Complaints Commissioner said the stop was not legal. The Strathclyde force denied this and said officers' reputations had been wrongly tarnished.

The incident, which happened in January last year, saw the driver pursued for seven miles along a motorway by plain-clothes detectives in an unmarked police car.

In his report, the Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland, Professor John McNeill, describes the way Strathclyde Police handled three out of four complaints from the man as "poor".

'Wholly unsatisfactory'

One of the complaints centred on the decision by the officers involved to pursue his vehicle in their unmarked car.

The commissioner cited guidance from the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) in 2009 which prohibits the use of unmarked vehicles that do not have audible or visual warning equipment.

He went on to remind the force that under the Road Traffic Act, only uniformed officers can require a vehicle to stop.

The commissioner's view was that it was "wholly unsatisfactory" that the force issued corrective advice to the officers involved, effectively substantiating the complaint, while failing to formally record it or issue any kind of response to the man who made the complaint.

The report, called a complaint handling review, goes on to recommend that Strathclyde Police apologise to the man on two counts.

First for their pursuit in an unsuitable vehicle and for having stopped the man's car when the plain clothes officers lacked the power to do so.

The commissioner has also asked the force to respond to concerns raised by the man in his complaints about his personal safety during questioning in a vehicle on the hard shoulder.

Professor McNeill said: "I am currently undertaking an audit of all forces in Scotland to establish how effective they are at identifying and recording complaints from the public.

"I am happy to say that this man's experience is not typical of what I have seen elsewhere in Scotland.

'Wrong assertion'

"Nonetheless, this case serves as a timely reminder that poor complaint handling damages public confidence in the police."

Strathclyde Police Dep Chief Constable Campbell Corrigan said the force was examining the points made in the commissioner's report and would act on them "where appropriate".

"However, we cannot and will not accept that the officers acted illegally or without any legal basis," he said.

"We believe this assertion to be wrong and we will be writing to the commissioner to make this point clear.

"The officers did act outwith Acpo guidelines, but I would ask the public to stop for a moment and consider why they did so.

"They saw someone driving erratically on a busy road and they believed that this represented a risk to other drivers."

Mr Corrigan said the "first concern" of the officers had been the safety of the public.

"I'm sure that the public would be more alarmed if they sat back and had not taken any action," he said.

"We consistently tell our officers that we believe that it is their duty, first and foremost, to keep people safe.

"That is what those officers were doing and that is what I would expect every officer to do. It is a source of great regret that they have had their reputations wrongly tarnished in this way."

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