Officers ‘failed’ by delay to replace Scotland’s worst police station

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An Argyll MSP has said Oban’s police officers deserve better than the government’s ‘failure’ to replace Oban police station, which was condemned as ‘unfit for human habitation’ by an inspection two years ago.

Oban Police Office was branded the worst in Scotland after an inspection of police buildings by the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) in 2019.

The SPF’s general secretary Calum Steele said at the time: ‘It’s almost difficult to put into words just how horrific some of the conditions were that our officials found. Oban police station has been described as the worst police station any of our officials have had the misfortune of ever stepping foot in.

‘It is a full-time functioning police station that has mould, flaking paint, and is unfit for human habitation.’

He said it was not fit for bringing in victims or witnesses to crimes, or people who were being detained in custody. Officer accommodation was ‘similar to that supplied by slum landlords’.

Mr Steele called for the immediate closure of the stations in Lochgilphead and Oban for the safety of both officers and members of the public.

In December last year, chief superintendent John Paterson, the divisional commander for Argyll and West Dunbartonshire, revealed to Argyll and Bute Council’s Community Services Committee that a feasibility study was being carried out into a new police station for Oban, with a report due to be published in spring 2021.

However, two years after the damning inspection and with no study in sight, a Highlands and Islands MSP has slammed the justice secretary’s ‘failure to take action’ in building a new fit-for-purpose station, and failure to explain why it’s taking so long.

Speaking after a ‘disappointing’ exchange with SNP minister Keith Brown in the Scottish Parliament last Wednesday, the Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron said: ‘It is very disappointing that, two years after I raised the SPF’s concerns about the condition of Oban Police Station, the minister was still unable to provide any meaningful update or indicate a date when we would have a fit-for-purpose station in Oban.

‘He didn’t even give me an explanation for why it was taking so long to make progress. Sadly, as is so often the case, all we got was an attempt to deflect responsibility for his failure to take action.

‘Police officers have a very demanding job to do and they deserve better than this tardy response from the minister who is charged with protecting their wellbeing.’

A fellow Conservative, councillor Jamie McGrigor who represents Oban South and the Isles, said he was ‘astonished’ by the exchange: ‘In 2019 the Police Federation described the police station in our town of Oban as being by far the worst they had come across. This is a damning indictment, and embarrassing for those who are proud of Oban, especially its helpful police personnel.

‘One would think that the Scottish Government would wish to help rectify such an important part of the infrastructure of Oban both for residents and those who come on holiday. Minister Brown’s response was negative. Perhaps he doesn’t realise the importance of Oban to the Highlands and Islands, but it is imperative he does so soon.’

A spokesperson for Mr Brown the justice secretary said: ‘The allocation of resources, including for the police estate, is for the Scottish Police Authority and the Chief Constable to determine. However, the Police capital budget has more than doubled since 2017-18, supporting continued investment in the police estate.

‘Police Scotland has prioritised the progress of a new and ambitious estates strategy. This will lead to improvements in the operating environment for all officers and staff in line with the objective to proactively look after their wellbeing.’

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: ‘The outcome of the feasibility study into future options for Oban Police Station is currently being considered and will be reported to the Scottish Government in due course.’