Select Committee on Armed Forces Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 700 - 719)



Mr Randall

  700. You mentioned specific situations. In the Bill the provisions actually allow MDP officers to intervene in order to save life or in order to prevent or minimise personal injury. We have heard from the Deputy Chief Constable of the MDP that this would present his officers with a very, very difficult decision to make and, also, the Defence Police Federation told the Committee last week that they did not think the Bill went far enough and they would like to see the definition of when they might intervene widened. What would be your view?
  (Mr Scott-Lee) I think there needs to be clarity as to what are the rules of engagement, and where that clarity occurs, whether it is in the legislation or the concordat, is of a secondary importance. However, I do think that all concerned need to feel comfortable that they not only know what is expected of them but, in terms of the MoD Chief Constable, that it is capable of being interpreted to his staff on the ground so that they feel comfortable in making those decisions.

  701. So do you feel, then, that that particular phrase `in order to save life or in order to prevent or minimise personal injury' is clear enough, if you were a serving MDP officer? Would you feel comfortable with that?
  (Mr Scott-Lee) As I am not I cannot say, but as the Chief Constable of Suffolk I could manage with that, but—I do stress—because I come from a different background and have evolved with different policing experience.

  702. Why do you think that would be different for an MDP officer?
  (Mr Scott-Lee) I do not know because I am not an MDP officer. All I can say is as a Chief Constable—

  703. Do you think they would have had sufficient training to put that into action?
  (Mr Scott-Lee) I do not know because I have not heard the detail underpinning their argument or discussion over the point. I suppose one could always enter into a debate that says is `life-threatening' in the eyes of the beholder? You could get into a debate that says "I see somebody looking as if they are about to punch you. Is that life-threatening?" No, it is not. "Oh, by the way, I did not know you had got a fragile skull. That punch is now going to result in your demise, therefore it is". If their argument is along that line—the definition of when does it become `life threatening'—I would have thought that there is enough legal experience and background to be able to say that that sort of reasonableness, which is a test that has often been used, or, as is becoming more the norm now with European legislation, `proportionality', should be capable of being resolved.

  704. I wonder whether they feel that it is not clear enough, because, as you said yourself earlier, it is increasingly a litigious society and somebody will say "Why did that MDP officer intervene" when, obviously, clearly, after the event, life was not being threatened. Or the prevention of personal injury might have been that a law was being very clearly broken and, as has been said to this Committee, members of the public expect, if they see an officer in uniform and see a law being broken, that officer to intervene. However, under the current wording an MDP officer might still be wary of going in for fear of overstepping the mark. That is why, I would imagine, that could be the case.
  (Mr Scott-Lee) If that is the case then, clearly, the Chief Constable of the MoD police will be able to articulate that from his perspective. The point I would come back to is that policing is about making rational decisions. It is about using, particularly, the European legislation which very heavily leans on proportionality of action. I think that that is an important issue for any officer, be it MoD or from a Home Office force, to consider: "Is my action proportionate to what I am being faced with?" If one takes that approach, it may be easier to come to a conclusion that that is a definition that is workable. Again, however, I would say that that is probably a question that is better addressed to the MoD, knowing their staff better than I.


  705. I think one of the other phrases that was of particular concern to the Committee in earlier evidence sessions was this acting `in the vicinity of', and it really linked in with the Committee's concerns that the provisions of this Bill would not promote and encourage the Ministry of Defence Police to move into what was clearly a civilian policy authority area. Again, are you satisfied that that phrase will not be abused and will not lead the MDP to, in any way, encroach on what is rightly your force's and an equivalent force's clear vicinity of responsibility throughout the country?
  (Mr Scott-Lee) I cannot believe that the MoD, from a strategic point of view, would want to increase their role of involvement, bearing in mind they have a core task to deliver and a finite resource to do it. The reason I start with that is that I am not aware and cannot believe that there would be a push from the top to try and force this issue wider. On a practical basis, because MoD establishments, particularly domestic quarters, are now spread more across the community, there are going to be inevitable occasions where not only are MoD staff travelling between locations but, also, where housing is not solely an MoD housing estate but a mixed housing estate. In those two circumstances, the travelling and the mixed estate, I am sure that there is the potential for a blurring, but I do not think that that blurring is something that would be exploited, I think it is just a fact that we have to recognise and come to terms with. Again, I come back to the point that if the concordat is worked as successfully as the previous one, experience seems to indicate that we can overcome those difficulties.

  Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr Scott-Lee. Can I suggest, perhaps, that we move on to some further questions. The issue of firearms. Has anyone any particular points they wish to make on that?

Mr Randall

  706. I note in the submission of Mr Giffard of 26 January it suggests there will be a revision of the position regarding armed officers because the Police Use of Firearms Manual of Guidance has been rewritten to take account of the Human Rights Act. What differences do you think would need to be done in respect of the MoD police?
  (Mr Scott-Lee) One of the issues in relation to the use of force has been the requirement of the police service to recognise that the rules of description have changed under the European legislation compared with how things were before. Before, a great deal of our use of force—firearms being the ultimate use of force—was about reasonableness. There is a whole history of discussions of reasonableness that have been tested in the courts. Under the European Convention reasonableness is no longer one of the driving factors. We come back to things like proportionality. It is about ensuring that not only are officers trained to actually deliver the firearms service in a very professional way but, also, that they understand the law that they are operating under. In real terms, will that affect our tactics? I do not think it will, and our revision of the firearms manual has not led to wholesale changes. What it does require is that officers are very clear under what law they are operating. This change of the manual has made sure that those officers who are asked to make that very difficult—some would say ultimate—policing decision on whether or not to fire a weapon have the confidence to know they are doing it in accordance with the current legislation. That is the significance.

  707. Would there be any difference in, if you like, operating under which law, as you say, with regard to our armed MDP officers escorting, say, a nuclear convoy? Would they be subject to a different set of rules of engagement, perhaps?
  (Mr Scott-Lee) The primary concern about having an armed nuclear convoy coming through any area is that the host force through which the convoy is going must be aware of it. The ultimate fear for any law enforcement agency is what is called a `blue-on-blue' situation, where armed officers on both law enforcement sides respond against each other. Not something that one would wish to happen at all. So the first point is that whatever else happens we must be aware of what is going on. In terms of their rules of engagement, the rules of engagement on a convoy which is conducted by the Ministry of Defence is a matter for the Ministry of Defence. I would envisage—though perhaps you would need to test that with the Chief Constable—that in a similar way to how we have had to review our procedures taking account of European legislation, they will have done the same.

  708. You have no concerns about MDP officers carrying firearms?
  (Mr Scott-Lee) In the specific circumstances that you talk about, not only do I have no concerns but I recognise that they have an expertise, having been doing it for some time, and there are some real advantages in having a continuity of cover as opposed to stopping at force boundaries.

  709. But in a wider context, apart from the specific example I mentioned of a convoy, would you have concerns?
  (Mr Scott-Lee) I am sorry, sir, I have a difficulty in seeing where the question is going. I have firearms officers within my organisation. Their rules of engagement are very carefully worded, they are well-rehearsed and practised within the law. I can foresee of no reason why I would want to use a Ministry of Defence firearms tactical team in a mainstream policing business in my area. Therefore, the question about what are my views of their capacity, really, is an academic one.

Mr Key

  710. I recognise that you are a chief constable, not a lawyer, but it has crossed my mind, listening to your answer there, that I certainly do not know under what statutory provision your policemen carry firearms. Is it specified in the 1996 Act?
  (Mr Scott-Lee) No, it comes under the continuum of the use of force. If we go back to pre- the European legislation, it is sufficient force as was reasonable to secure whatever lawful purpose we wanted. That sufficient force may be saying to somebody "Stand still", it may be taking them by the arm and saying "Stand still", or it may progress to the use of firearms and actually shooting somebody.

  711. So there is no statutory change about the use of firearms?
  (Mr Scott-Lee) No, it is the definition that explains the rationale for the use of the force.

  Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr Scott-Lee. Can we move on to training and experience, which is an area that we have already touched on. Are there any further points on that that any Members of the Committee wish to make or questions to raise? We have covered quite a lot of those issues. The final section, then, is investigating crime. Again, we have touched on it but can I open it up to Members of the Committee for further questions?

Mr Randall

  712. Again, if I refer to the letter from Mr Giffard, he makes reference in there to one of his colleagues having concern over the right for MDP to investigate a crime where a member of the Armed Forces is a victim. He also says that it "only is intended to relate to a crime associated with that person's role as a member of the Armed Services." Let us say a member of the Armed Forces outside one of the bases was beaten up by local yobs, really because he was a member of the Armed Forces rather then they had just had a row, because that does happen. Would you think that was a suitable example for the MDP or for the Home Office to lead the investigation?
  (Mr Scott-Lee) If it was an isolated incident which, by its very nature, was curtailed to one assault, the facts of which were straightforward, it may be quite pertinent and reasonable for the MoD police to take it up. Again, proximity would come into it. If a member of the Armed Forces happened to be in the middle of a big town somewhere and happened to get involved in an altercation—albeit because it became known in wherever they were that they were an Armed Service person—then I would see that logic would probably dictate that it would make more sense for the Home Office force to deal with that.

  713. When you say `proximity', I am thinking of an example in my own constituency in Uxbridge where the RAF station is actually virtually in the town centre and RAF personnel will visit the pubs in the town centre, so proximity is very close to the RAF station. This sort of incident does happen. Do you think there it should be the Metropolitan Police or the MoD?
  (Mr Scott-Lee) I come back to what I said before. In the first example you gave you talked about an isolated incident happening almost in a vacuum. If we are talking about maintaining law and order in an area where regularly members of the Armed Forces are socialising in pubs and clubs, there will be a history and a background to that and it may be that, for whatever reason, in order to ensure that the rule of law is enforced effectively it makes more sense for the Home Office force to see this as part of the crime and disorder response to the area, because the assault on the person from the Armed Services—albeit triggered because of the Armed Services link—may be no more than a manifestation of violence that is taking place to non-Armed Service people. In that case, for example, using our Crown Prosecution Service, you are able to bring into the case the history, the background and the context that would make it perhaps more useful in stopping things happening in future.

  714. If we go back to assuming it is an isolated event and the MDP turn up and they find the assailant there, presumably, in that case, they would cart him off to an MoD property rather than down to the local police station?
  (Mr Scott-Lee) In the main when activity of that nature is taking place it is wherever is the nearest police station, because the circumstances dictate that things diffuse quicker when you get people into the calmer atmosphere of a police station than on the streets. So I would have said it would probably depend on proximity of police station.

  715. Would you think a civilian would be more or less pleased to be going to an MoD police station than a local Home Office one?
  (Mr Scott-Lee) I would think it would depend almost entirely on the individual, their state of mind, and what precipitated what took place.

  716. I am thinking that invariably that would be behind the wire and they would feel more isolated, presumably.
  (Mr Scott-Lee) They may well do, but there again it is not unusual, if we are talking about the assault-type situation, for people to want to put their point of view—the righteous indignation "I may have hit somebody but there is a very good reason and I want somebody to understand and to listen to me while I tell them". If they know that it is an Armed Forces issue they may be reassured by the fact that they are going to be able to deal with somebody closer to the Armed Forces. Equally, I take your point, that there may be other situations where they find themselves more concerned—

  717. At the moment this would not happen. Is that correct? MoD police do not investigate crimes.
  (Mr Scott-Lee) They would come to the Home Office force.

  718. At the moment?
  (Mr Scott-Lee) Yes.

  719. What do you think is the most serious crime the MoD police should investigate at the moment?
  (Mr Scott-Lee) With the discussion of the relevant chief constable, that could be open-ended, in the sense that terms like `seriousness' if we are talking about (as I said earlier, with the expertise that the MoD have in financial matters) multi-million pound fraud, that would be a serious matter which the Ministry of Defence police would deal with, I am sure, on a regular and routine basis.

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