I'm grateful for the opportunity to give Parliament a further update following the awful events in Manchester on Monday night. In particular, I thought it would be appropriate to set out the implications of the decision taken last night by JTAC, the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, to raise the security threat level from severe to critical.
I received a briefing last night from the UK Government's National Security Adviser on the reasons behind that decision. Indeed, I've spoken to him again in the last hour.
Clearly, it would not be appropriate to go into detail of what is an ongoing investigation.
However, in summary, the increase in the threat level is due to a concern that the attacker who carried out the atrocity at the Manchester Arena may not have been acting alone, and that therefore it is possible that a further terrorist attack could be imminent.
However, it is important to be very clear that it remains the case that no specific threat to Scotland has been identified.
In light of the increase in the threat level, I took the decision last night to convene a further meeting of the Scottish Government's Resilience Committee.
That meeting took place in the early hours of this morning, involving the Deputy First Minister, the Justice Secretary, the Lord Advocate, Police Scotland, the Scottish Ambulance Service, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the Regional Resilience Partnerships. The Chief Executive of the Scottish Parliament also took part in that meeting.
That was an opportunity for us to discuss the immediate implications for Scotland of the heightened security status. Clearly, this is something that will be kept under ongoing review, taking account of any intelligence available to the police.
And as the Chief Constable indicated this morning, Police Scotland have now established a multi-agency co-ordination centre at Govan Police Station to lead the response across the country and with key partners.
I will visit the centre later this afternoon to see its operations for myself and to receive further briefing about the nature of the response.
However, I wanted to outline today, as clearly as is possible at this stage, what some of the practical consequences for Scotland are likely to be over the next few days – and what the public can expect to see.
I know that there has been media discussion in particular about the use of military personnel to support the police in their duties, under what is known as Operation Temperer.
Operation Temperer is an established plan for mobilising military support to the police service following a major terrorist attack. The decision about whether to authorise it is a matter for the UK Government.
Operation Temperer has two distinct phases. The first phase involves the deployment of the military to sites currently provided with armed policing by Ministry of Defence Police and Civil Nuclear Constabulary. This frees up those armed police officers to support police forces across the UK.
The second phase involves the deployment of military personnel to support the police to guard specific sites under the control and direction of the police.
It is important to stress Presiding Officer, at present, only the first phase of Operation Temperer has been authorised.
What this means in Scotland is that military personnel will be used at civil nuclear and Ministry of Defence sites here in Scotland. There are a total of 12 such sites in Scotland – nine Ministry of Defence sites and three civil nuclear sites. These sites, which are not accessible to the general public, will be secured by the military as of today.
The presence of military personnel at sites of this nature, both in Scotland and across the UK, will free up the armed police who are normally on duty there. These armed police will create a contingency resource which can be deployed across the UK.
Any decision to make use of that contingency resource in Scotland would be for the Chief Constable. However, Police Scotland have no plans at this initial stage to do so. They have confirmed they have reviewed security across Scotland to ensure the right level of policing is in place and that they can provide that level of policing from within their own resources. This is of course something that will be kept under review by Police Scotland.
It is important to point out that Police Scotland has made significant progress in the last year to ensure an increase in armed policing to around 600 trained firearms officers in Scotland. They have also increased the number of firearms officers on duty at any one time.
As a result of the move to critical, Police Scotland has effectively doubled the number of armed response vehicles on patrol since Monday night. It is likely that the public will see more armed policing on the streets than usual, particularly at transport hubs and around city centres.
However – and it is maybe worth stressing this point, given the understandable attention that Operation Temperer is receiving – we do not currently envisage that military personnel will be deployed on the streets in Scotland, or in other public locations. However, as with all operational matters, this will be kept under review by the Chief Constable.
As I said a moment ago, it is likely that, for the duration of the increased threat level, the public will see more armed police on the streets than usual, particularly around transport hubs and city centres.
I want to be clear that this represents a specific response to the increased threat level following the Manchester attack. The threat level is kept under review and is only kept at this level as long as an attack is judged to be imminent. Therefore, it should not indicate a more general or long-term shift in Scotland to having armed police on regular patrol.
As I said yesterday, the police are also completing a review of every public event due to take place over the next few weeks. This includes a full review, together with the Scottish Football Association, of this weekend's Scottish Cup Final to ensure there is an appropriate deployment of police and stewards.
This work is ongoing and the other major events being assessed include the visit on Friday of President Obama, the Edinburgh Marathon due to take place this weekend and the Lisbon Lions memorial event in Glasgow.
In addition, guidance is being issued to organisers of all large events.
I want to stress the aim here of the police is to allow public events to continue as far as possible as normal.
However, the public should anticipate additional safety measures at these events. These measures may well include full body and bag searches and the presence of armed police.
For that reason, as well as urging the public to cooperate with these measures, I would urge people to make sure that they leave extra time if going to an event, or travelling through an airport or train station.
In all of this, our very clear aim is to strike a balance between protecting public safety and ensuring that day-to-day life goes on as normal. These enhanced security measures are part of how we aim to do that.
As always, the public have a role to play as well.
My message to the public is this: this is clearly a very anxious time, but there is no need to be alarmed. Many of the steps that are being taken now are precautionary – and I repeat, there is no intelligence of a specific threat to Scotland.
However, I do ask the public to be vigilant and to report any concerns or suspicions that they may have to the police.
I also want to provide a further update to the Chamber on the specific impact of Monday night's awful events. My thoughts, and I'm sure those of everyone in this Chamber, remain with the families of those who have lost their lives, those victims who were injured and with the people of Manchester more generally.
I can advise the Chamber that Police Scotland Family Liaison Officers are currently in Manchester providing support to the families of Laura MacIntyre and Eilidh MacLeod, from Barra. I am aware that there is significant information in the media about these two young girls, particularly about the condition of Laura.
However, their families have requested privacy at this extremely difficult time and for that reason I do not intend to go into further detail today.
I simply want to assure Parliament that as much support as possible is being – and will continue to be – provided to them at this unimaginably difficult time.
I know, also, that we will all want them to know that they are very much in our thoughts.
More widely, we know that in total, seven people have now presented at hospitals in Scotland. However, I am pleased to report that all have since been discharged from hospital.
It is of course possible that other people who witnessed the terror attack or its immediate aftermath have returned to Scotland and are feeling distressed or upset.
Anyone with concerns about themselves or their children should contact their GP for support. Health Boards have been re-issued with information providing guidance to adults and children who have witnessed traumatic events.
As I mentioned in my statement yesterday, the events of Monday night were upsetting for all of us – but they may have been especially upsetting for young people.
So this is a time to ensure that parents and teachers talk to children about any concerns that they have. We remain in contact with Young Scot, and with Education Scotland and local authorities, to provide guidance and support to help with those conversations.
Presiding Officer, I know that this is an anxious time for everybody across the UK.
Again, my message is that people should be vigilant, but not alarmed. The steps I have been describing today are precautionary.
Most importantly of all, people should continue to go about their day-to-day business as normal.
The Scottish Government resilience operation will remain active for the foreseeable future to ensure strategic co-ordination of our overall response, and I will continue to update Parliament as required.
The Justice Secretary will also be happy to speak directly to any Member who has concerns or queries.
Finally, let me end – I am sure on behalf of all of us – by putting on record, again, my heartfelt thanks to our emergency services.
Their bravery and dedication is not news to us – but at times like these, it never fails to inspire. We are grateful to each and every one of them.
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