Armed Ministry of Defence police are planning to increase patrols in civilian areas outwith the Faslane and Coulport nuclear bases on the Clyde, prompting fears about the “increasing militarisation” of the area.
The force is not accountable to the Scottish Government but instead answers to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in London. Police Scotland said there had been no discussions about the expanded civilian role of MoD officers.
MoD officers have told the local community to expect “greater interaction” as they increase efforts to combat crime and terrorism across the Rosneath peninsula. Their move comes amidst concerns about cutbacks in Police Scotland services in the area.
Campaigners are worried that the MoD police, who routinely carry guns, are replacing civilian policing. They question whether the MoD police have the skills and training to carry out community-based police work.
MoD police officer Willie Lavers told a meeting of Cove and Kilcreggan Community Council in October that officers would be more active on public land, as well as at MoD sites. “Over the next year or two years what we plan to do is introduce greater interaction with the local community,” he said.
“We’re encouraging a culture of safety and security across the whole area and that does not just mean the MoD assets, it means the whole area.” His comments were reported by a local website, The Lochside Press.
“If we come and speak to you it is not necessarily that we feel you are a terrorist, it is whether you are a friend or foe of Argyll,” Lavers added.
“We are not here to replace Police Scotland, we are just here to augment what they do. We are not looking to encroach on their role but we can act on their behalf.”
Another MoD police officer, Lachie Bain, urged the public to get in touch if they saw people taking photographs of nuclear submarines. “We are not on a fishing trip, we are not out to annoy people,” he said.
According to The Lochside Press, Bain told another community council meeting in December that spot checks were being carried out on cars on the MoD-owned road to Coulport. “They are stopping two or three cars at a time,” he said. “It will be random, there is no set pattern.”
Alannah Maurer, a resident of the Rosneath peninsula and a spokesperson for the local campaign group, Navy not Nuclear, was concerned about the increasing role of the MoD police. “There seems to have been no public consultation nor any statement from Police Scotland to inform the local population of these plans,” she said.
She pointed out that the responsibilities of the MoD police to protect Faslane and Coulport and the movement of nuclear weapons were very different from the law and order responsibilities of Police Scotland. She questioned whether MoD police were trained to the same standards, and whether they had the experience to deal with the general public.
“Are budget constraints the driver for this change in policing or are we witnessing the increasing militarisation of the Rosneath Peninsula?” she asked. A mobile Police Scotland office introduced after the closure of Garelochhead police station four years ago has been cut.
Arthur West, chair of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, was similarly worried. “This would be a step towards increasing militarisation of the locality,” he said.
“MoD police carry arms on a routine basis, and they frankly should not have a role in civilian policing work. It would be very depressing indeed if budget pressures on Police Scotland were used as a reason for giving the MoD police more responsibility for community-based policing.”
Brendan O’Hara, the SNP’s defence spokesperson and MP for Argyll and Bute, is concerned about the extra workload the MoD police are taking on. He pointed out that the force had suffered a £20 million cut and there were 100 MoD police vacancies.
He expected the MoD police and Police Scotland to be working together to ensure the local area is well policed. But he added: “The primary role of the MoD police is to protect defence establishments.”
The MoD police insist that they are trained to the same standard as Police Scotland “with the extra element of all being trained to carry firearms as a matter of routine”.
An MoD police spokesman said: “This is not about replacing Police Scotland, but about working together to ensure the safety and security of the Rosneath peninsula area as a whole.”
A spokeswoman for Police Scotland said that there had been “no discussions” about the MoD police expanding its role at Rosneath so it would be inappropriate to comment further.
The Defence Police Federation, which represents MoD police officers, declined to comment.
A version of this story was published in the Sunday Herald on 8 January 2017.