Select Committee on Armed Forces Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 500 - 519)



  500. Finally, in his letter to me of 15 January Sir Roy Cameron, Chief Constable, said to me, "The issue surrounding firearms is one which requires to be addressed". Is there any other matter surrounding the firearms issues that you would like to share with the Committee?
  (Mr McKerracher) We are aware that at times the Ministry of Defence officers do possess firearms, but they are usually in controlled circumstances: for example, the transport of particular convoys. We are always informed of that and we are happy. As the Protocol says, once these things have been discussed—where they are going to be and when they are going to be—that goes ahead. We have not had any great problems.

Mr Randall

  501. First of all, what do you think would be the most serious offence at the moment the MDP would investigate?
  (Mr McKerracher) I do not think they would investigate many offences in Scotland, other than something within their own bounds.

  502. If something happened on site, would you regard them as investigating serious offences or just minor offences? When would you become involved?
  (Mr McKerracher) There comes a point where we have primacy. In terms of murder or certain crimes like that, the local Police Chief Constable has primacy. Within a range of crimes they may well deal with minor theft within their own establishment.

  503. With something like rape or murder you would expect the local police to be called?
  (Mr McKerracher) Or suspicious or sudden death.

  504. Citizen's arrest, currently is there a difference between citizen's arrest powers in Scotland and the rest of the UK?
  (Mr McKerracher) I am sorry, I do not know the answer.

  505. We will stick to Scotland then! What powers does a citizen have on arrest?
  (Mr McKerracher) Basically to detain anyone committing an offence and use minimum power to do that.

  506. I think there is something that has to be a certain type of offence? I am told there is not. I could make a citizen's arrest in Scotland if I think there is some law being broken?
  (Mr McKerracher) That would be the person's own individual perception of what was going on. If there was a breach of the peace going on—someone had assaulted someone, or someone had run out of a bank at the shout of, "Stop, thief"—then someone could detain that person until the police came and then sought to unravel that situation and make sure of the circumstances; and then the police officer could make an arrest, or not.

  507. Really a citizen if they felt like it, if they saw a law being broken, they could make a citizen's arrest?
  (Mr McKerracher) They could also stand back and let the person carry on and run past them. I do not think there is any obligation on them to actually stop somebody whom they thought had committed an offence.

  508. At the moment, you regard the MDP as only effectively having those powers of arrest away from their prescribed areas?
  (Mr McKerracher) That is how we would see the situation.

  509. If I could pick up something else you said. You would not expect Ministry of Defence Police to be taking firearms between sites, or was it that they would not be on view?
  (Mr McKerracher) They would not be on view.

  510. There is a good chance they would be put in, what, a secure box in the boot?
  (Mr McKerracher) Yes.

  511. I think we had evidence which reflected that in England they would not be expected to transfer them between sites. I think that is correct.
  (Mr McKerracher) There are times when firearms are transferred between sites. The protocol there is that firearms go separately from the ammunition—and that would be the transfer of arms.

  512. Do you expect, under provisions of this Bill, that the Ministry of Defence Police will widen their scope and be more involved in general civil policing?
  (Mr McKerracher) I think that has to be an issue between the local Chief Constable and the Chief Constable of the Ministry of Defence Police. I think what the Bill offers is an opportunity for them to be more involved, and to take action at a time when they cannot do so at the present time. I think there are inherent difficulties in a broader and more involved approach to policing, because there are various issues where, because of local policy and local intelligence held by the Scottish Police Forces, the Ministry of Defence Police find themselves acting inappropriately or not being able to fulfil an inquiry: for example, domestic violence. Domestic violence is very much an issue which the Scottish Police Service (and I am sure all police forces) are aware of and are trying to deal with effectively. Because of that now there are various databases in place which ensure that the victim of domestic violence is tracked from the very first call, which may be a simple breach of the peace, to ensure there is a monitoring that goes on. If officers attend five times to the same house for a similar event different flags are put up to say that this could be a more serious domestic violence situation. If a Ministry of Defence Police officer attends for the first time in a series of eight calls he or she may not have access to the background to that, and may deal with it in a different way, and it may be an inappropriate way; in that the circumstances could have moved on to such a point where they should be taking an action that they do not take. I think there are issues there. I do not honestly believe that we expect the Ministry of Defence Police to be attending calls in our area, which our own officers would not.

  513. Bearing in mind the shortages of the police, you would not be ringing up and saying: "Can you come and give us a hand"?
  (Mr McKerracher) I certainly do not expect that to happen. That is not a protocol I would enter into. For your interest, we have a pilot scheme just about to run up at Faslane in Helensburgh on the basis of the Protocol that was earlier mentioned—where Ministry of Defence police officers will patrol routinely their own married quarters with our local Commander's blessing and agreement. Again, there needs to be put in place for that to happen a whole range of interactions, training and understanding; because we do not want the local policies that local Strathclyde police officers have put in place to be countermanded by Ministry of Defence Police within that estate doing something totally contrary to what we want. A quality service to the public is ultimately what we are all after and want to ensure.

  514. Who would have a responsibility for searching civilian vehicles coming in and out of Faslane, for example?
  (Mr McKerracher) That would be the guard officers, which is the Ministry of Defence Police or Navy personnel.

  515. They have the legitimacy to stop and search?
  (Mr McKerracher) As far as I am aware they do.

Mr Crausby

  516. I want to talk about expectations as far as the Ministry of Defence Police are concerned in an emergency situation. To what extent do you think Ministry of Defence Police should get involved? Would a citizen's arrest not be sufficient to detain an individual and keep evidence as well? You have talked about the opportunities available in this Bill—how far would you like those opportunities to go?
  (Mr McKerracher) I think what the Bill does is put a safeguard in place for the Ministry of Defence police. Currently, whatever actions they take are scrutinised and, as far as I am aware, there is no legal support for them to do any more than stop at an incident as you or I would and deal with it, and wait for the local police to come in and take the thing on with the proper police powers and evidential value coming in to that situation. What we would like from the Bill, as drafted, is that those officers would be able to legally take steps of arresting people and detaining people, and maybe taking statements from other witnesses until a point when the police can arrive. It may be, given they have the appropriate powers, that in certain circumstances where there would be delay in the local police arriving that they would be dealing with the situation from start to finish. Then again, the Protocol would have to come in place. You then have to start asking questions like: who would report the crime? Would the Ministry of Defence Police then attend a Strathclyde Police office and then be given access to all of our crime recording systems and to our crime intelligence system? Would they then end up in court as the reporting officers? Because there is an interface with the Procurator Fiscal in Scotland that would have to be established for those officers to report cases. There are other items of protocol and process that would have to be thought out. The fact they can deal with the incident in the first place gives comfort to Ministry of Defence Police, and a certain comfort to Strathclyde Police and other Forces in Scotland, in that they know if we get a call to say, "We're dealing with this", that they have the powers, training, awareness and the know-how to deal with it properly.

  517. Along with those powers come some responsibilities as well. The way things currently stand, the Ministry of Defence Police can choose to either intervene or not intervene; whereas once that power is there has he not got a responsibility to intervene? Does that not need thinking about—to what extent that intervention should take place, and when?
  (Mr McKerracher) It would most certainly say he or she had a responsibility to intervene. However, I do not think that is a bad thing for anyone. I think it is good for them to know they have the power (not only the responsibility but the power) to deal with a situation. It is good for the public to know the person will deal with it. Again, I would go back to the point that I do not think this Bill can stand on its own; it has to lie alongside a protocol between the local force and the Ministry of Defence Police to say: "Here's what you expect of each other, and here's how far we're going to take this". Unless something extraordinary happens, when things would be taken further, but they do now anyway. In extraordinary circumstances the Ministry of Defence Police now would take things as far as they needed to before we arrive and I think they would be supported, although not in law. Maybe in the future they would be supported by the law.

Mr Davies

  518. Mr McKerracher, I suppose it is right and normal, is it not, that any senior police officer feels quite sensitive about another police force wearing police uniform, operating on his territory but not under his control and not necessarily knowing what is going on. Is that right?
  (Mr McKerracher) Yes, accountability is very important to us and we need to know that all of the officers on our divisions are working within the law and within the standards we expect. To have officers who are not directly under your control working within your area is obviously something that you would want to be assured of, in terms of their own quality of service, their own understanding of the law, training and all the different aspects of police training.

  519. So this is quite a sensitive and important issue to you?
  (Mr McKerracher) Absolutely.

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