Police have been accused of trampling over civil liberties after surprising clubbers with snap drug tests.
Customers queuing outside clubs have been approached by officers who swab their hands for traces of illegal substances. Those who don’t co-operate are refused entry while those who test positive are questioned and face being searched and arrested.
Last weekend, officers turned up at Club Tropicana in Aberdeen with a drug-detection machine called an itemiser and a sniffer dog. They tested 100 people on the Friday and Saturday and a CCTV van monitored the club’s entrance.
Club boss Tony Cochrane said he was given an hour’s notice before police arrived and swabbed people in the queue. Officers failed to register any positive results for illegal drugs including cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy and heroin.
Cochrane said: “I support an anti-drug policy but I feel this latest action by Police Scotland is a step too far in regards to civil liberties. Officers stood at the club entrance and took sample swabs on customers entering with an expectation we should refuse admission to ‘non-compliants’.
When they returned the second night we managed to speak to a duty sergeant who was sympathetic to some of our points. We appreciate the work the police do but they’re achieving nothing with this policy.
People going for a night out are being made to feel like potential criminals. Anyone who saw a huge team of police with a sniffer dog and a CCTV van would think the club is a trouble spot, which is far from reality.
Police found nothing in two nights and said they won’t be back for few months. I’d like to know why they feel the need to come back at all. They’re wasting manpower and resources on making law-abiding citizens feel like suspects.”
Last week Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said the Scottish Government would ban police from stop-and-search unless they had ”reasonable grounds” to believe a crime was being committed.
Officers have been able to perform consensual searches if a person agrees to co-operate. But a report by human rights lawyer John Scott QC said the policy was “of questonable lawfulness and legitmacy with poor accountability”.
Stop-and-search figures in Scotland are the highest in the UK at 600,000 in a year, with many of them young people. Police Scotland were told to rein in searches over fears that officers were driven by meeting targets rather than fighting crime.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie criticised the stop and swab tactic. He said: “Carrying out such tests without a suspicion of a crime is a heavy handed and indiscriminate tactic by the police. It’s why we stood firmly against industrial scale stop and search. Police Scotland need to review this tactic and explain how this helps address drug taking.”
Graeme Pearson, Scottish Labour justice spokesman and ex-head of the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency, added: “Where police spring tests upon people and there’s a pressure to co-operate, it adds concern about the giving of consent and whether operations like this are appropriate. Whether or not there’s reasonable suspicion, it doesn’t create the kind of co-operative effort that one expects in community policing.”