Police Scotland refusing to disclose how many children it detained in 2015

No way of knowing if situation has improved since 2013 when police accused of breaching human rights

SCOTLAND’S single police force has refused to tell journalists how many children it detained in 2015, sparking fresh criticism around human rights. 

Responding to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request sent by Scottish investigative journalists at The Ferret, Police Scotland refused to supply any information at all on how many children were detained in 2015, citing excessive cost. 

In 2013 it was reported that children as young as 12 years old were routinely detained by Scottish officers, with some children held overnight in cells. The now-defunct regional forces provided the figures at the time, with Lothian and Borders admitting to detaining 187 children aged 15 or under in 2011/12.

However now that The Ferret has sought updated figures from the single force, which replaced regional forces in 2013, Police Scotland have refused to supply any data under FoI rules about the cost and time required to collate the information. 

“Putting vulnerable kids into the cells overnight is not in the interests of justice” Liam McArthur MSP

Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People Tam Baillie, who in 2013 strongly condemned the detention of children by police, has said he now intends to write to Police Scotland. 

Baillie told The Ferret: “Three years ago I expressed concerns about the apparent, significant variation in practice across the country which might mean the police are unnecessarily or inappropriately continuing to detain children in custody, in breach of the law.”

“My hope was that a single police force would bring consistency. Without new figures, we cannot assess progress. I will write to Police Scotland myself to ask for reassurance.”

The FoI request and Police Scotland’s response have been published on The Ferret’s website. It says it will now contest the decision via an appeal with the Scottish Information Commissioner. 

Police Scotland said that collating the detention figures would “prove too costly to do so within the context of the fee regulations”. The cost threshold for FoI requests is £600. 

Politicians have questioned why the data cannot be made available when it was released previously. 

Justice spokesperson for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Liam McArthur, told The Ferret: “Reports in 2013 that Scottish police forces were breaking the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by locking up children as young as 12 for hours at a time were hugely troubling.”

“We need to treat children like children, not criminals. Putting vulnerable kids into the cells overnight is not in the interests of justice or in line with our commitment to protecting human rights.

“It needs to stop. The fact that Police Scotland are unwilling or unable to provide information on child detention is deeply troubling. Data on child detentions were released three years ago and caused a media storm but this is not a reason for Police Scotland not to publish the latest figures.

“The priority here must be protecting the rights of children, not managing the press.”

Police Scotland did not respond when given the right of reply. A Scottish Government spokesperson told The Ferret that detention of children is always a “last resort”, with children kept in cells post-charge only in “extreme circumstances”. 

Scottish Green MSP and former policeman John Finnie also called on Police Scotland to clarify the situation, commenting: “If we take human rights seriously in Scotland we should not be holding children in police cells overnight  unless there are truly exceptional circumstances.”

Picture courtesy of Aapo Haapanen

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