Police call handling review published after M9 crash deaths


A review of police call handling prompted by the M9 crash which killed two people is being published.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) was tasked with carrying out the urgent review following the deaths of John Yuill and Lamara Bell in July.

The couple lay undiscovered for days after a crash on the M9 near Stirling, despite a sighting of their wrecked car being reported to a police control room.

Police Scotland Chief Constable Sir Stephen House admitted the information received about the crash had not been entered into police systems.

The HMICS review was ordered by the Scottish Government.

It focused broadly on all call handling procedures and was ordered in addition to the continuing independent inquiry specifically into the M9 incident by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner.

Scottish Justice Secretary Michael Matheson will make a statement to the Scottish Parliament, detailing the Government's response to the review's findings.

In an interim report published in September, HMICS urged Police Scotland to suspend the planned closure of call centres in the north and keep them fully staffed until a new area control room is fully operational.

Remaining personnel in the understaffed Aberdeen, Inverness and Dundee call centres are facing ''unacceptably high'' pressures and the practice of diverting overflow calls to the central belt control rooms at Bilston Glen and Govan is creating additional risk to the public, the watchdog concluded.

Its interim recommendation stated that ''the service centres in Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness should be maintained and staffed appropriately'' until a planned new area control room in Dundee is fully operational.

Mr Matheson accepted the recommendation, and announced £1.4 million of funding to recruit and retain call-handling staff.

Commenting ahead of the publication of the review, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "The SNP's centralisation of Police Scotland has been casual and cavalier, undermining the excellent work of police officers and civilian staff.

"The HMICS report into call handling will be a defining moment for the Scottish Government's centralisation agenda."

Meanwhile, the force is expected to provide an update on how it hopes to close its spiralling budget shortfall.

Police Scotland director of finance Janet Murray will appear before the Scottish Police Authority's (SPA) finance and investment committee with an update on the force's financial position.

Last month, she told the SPA that the budget gap has more than doubled to over £25 million and quick savings cannot be achieved without "further rationalisation".

The vast majority of the police budget is made up of personnel costs leaving very little room for manoeuvre, she said.

Police Scotland has already laid off thousands of backroom staff and closed police stations and control rooms, but has sustained police officer numbers in line with the SNP's manifesto pledge to maintain 1,000 more officers than it inherited in 2007.

Outgoing chief Sir Stephen warned the SPA in August that he may have to present some "politically unacceptable" options to the Scottish Government to balance its books this year.

Since then, the funding shortfall has widened and new SPA chairman Andrew Flanagan warned that unless Police Scotland can get a grip on the savings it "will have no chance of closing the gap" by next year.

He urged Police Scotland to prepare a coherent plan for closing the gap ahead of today's meeting.