Police Scotland axe airborne volunteers


POLICE Scotland have been condemned for the “catastrophic” decision to  axe their use of airborne volunteers who assist in life-saving operations.

Pilots from the UK Civil Air Patrol regularly help the police in missing person searches, under the banner of Skywatch.

But senior officials at Police Scotland have admitted they don’t intend to use the service any longer, sparking outrage among volunteers.

Airborne volunteers
Airborne volunteers

Members of the charity have warned “the consequences could be catastrophic”.

Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins said that since the air support unit previously belonged to Strathclyde was available nationwide, they don’t need skywatch.

Archie Liggat, chief pilot of the lowland unit said: “The resources are just sitting here but if the police don’t contact us we don’t know.

“We are still being used by the fire service but the police don’t seem interested in talking to us anymore.

“We are not here just to help the police but to help the community.

“We only do humanitarian work and we don’t do any crime fighting.

“Obviously, the police don’t have to use us but we feel we are of value to the community.”

Before the single service was introduced, volunteer pilots regularly helped out on searches for missing people. However in recent months they have not been called out.

The good samaritans were disappointed not to have been called out during last week’s fruitless search for a man who plummeted from the Tay Bridge, insisting pilots could have checked local beaches and riverbanks from an aerial vantage point.

Loch Tay

The group has previously been involved in searches for many missing people prior to and including the recent hunt for an Angus marine, and has been credited with saving two lives in Loch Tay.

Mr Liggat said: “What happens in water searches is that bodies can reappear several days later. From 800ft we can easily spot things on the ground.”

“All of our pilots are highly experienced guys…but since Police Scotland came together they won’t operate with us anymore and it is the community that are suffering.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “The spirit of volunteerism is key in any community and it seems an odd decision to cut off links with these good samaritans.”

With bases across Scotland, including Perth and Fife, the airborne volunteers can reach most places within the hour.

The charity is funded by donations and the service is run around the volunteers normal flying jobs.

Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins said: “The UK Civil Air Patrol Skywatch is a volunteer programme and not a 24 hours a day, seven days a week national resource.

“Since the start of Police Scotland, the air support unit has become a Scotland-wide resource with specially trained officers using state of the art equipment which is available to assist in a variety of operations.

Including searching for missing people in remote areas across Scotland in a coordinated and operationally managed way.

Police Scotland has considered all options available to them, and it has come to the unavoidable conclusion that is should cease using the volunteer UK Civil Air Patrol.”

The UK civil Air Patrol was formed in Yorkshire in 2000 and is one of the largest voluntary air observation organisations in Europe.

It has more than 200 members and more than 70 aircraft.