Disorder (Dundee)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 1st November 2022.

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Photo of Maurice Golden Maurice Golden Conservative

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to last night’s disorder in Dundee, including what action it is taking to prevent it continuing and support the community to aid clean-up efforts.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

The disorder in Dundee last night was appalling and wholly unacceptable, and the impact on the community and, indeed, on emergency services will, of course, have been extremely distressing. I know that Police Scotland, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and local authorities have been making great efforts to prevent and respond effectively to any disorder in the run-up to bonfire night, including through the police’s operation moonbeam. We will engage further with those bodies and others to learn lessons and provide what further support we can.

Photo of Maurice Golden Maurice Golden Conservative

I agree that the violent scenes in Dundee last night were appalling. Fireworks exploded near police officers and bricks were hurled at cars—even a school was attacked. I thank our emergency services for their bravery in responding and Police Scotland for today’s update, which confirms action to prevent further violence and an on-going investigation to catch those responsible. There must be consequences for those responsible.

Can the cabinet secretary provide detail on what resources are being provided to assist local police? What assurance do residents have that the perpetrators will be identified and punished?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I agree with much of what Maurice Golden has said. He will know that the operational matters, the investigations and what further action is taken are matters for the police, but I can provide the assurance that the investigations by the police are on-going. The police said to me in a meeting that I had with them earlier today that they find the Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Act 2022, which was recently passed by the Parliament, to be hugely helpful. They are bolstered by that legislative backstop.

The police have also given me assurances around proposed plans for the coming weekend. I should say that those with first-hand experience of what happened last night were very grateful for the rapid deployment of additional police officers from elsewhere to bolster the efforts of local police officers. That will, of course, be factored into the police’s response over next weekend—in particular, 4 and 5 November. As Maurice Golden will be aware, that can traditionally be a time when there is additional activity, especially around fireworks.

Photo of Maurice Golden Maurice Golden Conservative

The cabinet secretary mentioned the new fireworks licensing scheme. Although that is not in place yet, one flaw in it is that those who have been convicted of antisocial behaviour do not need to disclose that when they apply for a fireworks licence. Will the cabinet secretary admit the Scottish National Party’s mistake on that and review the decision in the light of last night’s events?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

The Parliament passed the Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Act 2022, and I support its provisions.

I am not saying that he did this deliberately, but the member might have jumped over the fact that two vital provisions of that act are in force now: the ban on proxy buying for young children and, crucially, the aggravating factor, which means that, as of the passing of the act, if somebody is found guilty of a relevant offence, the court is required to take the aggravation into account in any disposal.

The member is right to say that other parts of the act have yet to come into force. As was said when the act was passed, they will be brought into force according to the timescales that we have. The important point is that, as the member did, we should support the police in their activities, support them in what they intend to do over the weekend and encourage others—I mentioned the SFRS, but I refer also to the local council—to do what they can to help the police so that Dundee does not have to experience again what we saw last night.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Three members seek to ask a supplementary question, and I intend to take each of them.

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

As the constituency member and a resident of the area concerned, I share my shock at the scenes last night, which were terrifying for people in the immediate area. We need to do everything that we can to ensure that the situation is not repeated.

I welcome the assurances from the cabinet secretary and Police Scotland about increased police presence in the area, and I put on record my thanks to police officers who attended the incident and were put in harm’s way due to the reckless actions of a small minority.

This morning, I reached out to Asda, which has agreed to withdraw fireworks from sale in all three of its Dundee stores, including in Kirkton. Will the cabinet secretary join me in calling on other retailers to follow suit and take voluntary action while we await the full commencement of the 2022 act?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

On the member’s reference to how frightening the incident was, I would mention that there was one injury last night. It was an injury to a police officer from shards of glass as a result of a brick being put through a police vehicle. That shows how serious the situation was, and the member is right to say how terrifying that can be for local residents.

I very much welcome the news that Asda has agreed to withdraw fireworks from sale in local stores and I commend Joe FitzPatrick for the activity that he has undertaken. Of course, the decision whether to withdraw legally available products is one for the supermarkets that are involved, but I say to the member that the police are pleased to see the action that Asda has taken.

A programme of work is under way to ensure that the rest of the 2022 act is implemented. We have engaged with the Scottish Retail Consortium—which is important, given the request that the member just made—as well as the Scottish Grocers Federation. The other aspects of the act—the licensing system, the restricted days of supply and use provisions and the firework control zones—are all being implemented by the Parliament.

The people who are most responsible—it is the ones who carried out the acts who are responsible—will now have to face the consequences before the courts. In doing so, they will face the fact that the courts will be obliged to take the aggravating factor into account. I hope that the courts will make the full force of the law come down on those who subjected local people to the experience that they had to go through last night.

Photo of Michael Marra Michael Marra Labour

I share the sentiments expressed around the chamber. The events of yesterday evening were absolutely disgraceful. I welcome Police Scotland’s urgent pursuit of the perpetrators.

I say to the cabinet secretary that I spoke to Tesco this afternoon and it has now confirmed that it will cease sales of fireworks. Will the cabinet secretary join the calls from local politicians for all retailers to cease sales voluntarily to increase the confidence of local people that there will be no repetition of the situation this weekend? Dundee City Council has recently cut public displays, so will he give us any information on additional resources that can be brought from the fire service and police around Scotland to ensure that the public have confidence for this weekend?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I thank Michael Marra for the action that he has taken. It might develop into a pattern, as we have Asda and now Tesco ceasing sales. Perhaps we can go further. It is different for different retailers. Mr Marra will be aware that firework sales can be a large part of the income of some small retailers.

I welcome the action that Mr Marra and Joe FitzPatrick, as the local constituency member, have taken. I also point out the extent to which the police are pleased to see that action has been taken.

Michael Marra asks me for further information about the police plans for the weekend. I understand why he is interested and I am happy to speak to him with more information offline, but I do not want to arm others by putting that information into the public domain. That might not be useful. However, the resources that are available in Dundee this weekend are being augmented in the light of what happened last night. Beyond that, I am happy to have a further conversation with the member.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

The reality is that prosecution rates for fireworks offences is relatively low. Can the cabinet secretary offer some reassurance that the legislation that we passed recently will be enforced?

In addition, does he have any information about whether the fireworks that were used a weapons were sourced legally in the retail environment, which has just been discussed, illegally through the use of proxy purchasing for minors, or illicitly on the black market?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

On the member’s latter question, that is currently subject to police investigation.

I am happy to pass on any information that I am able to as it becomes available, in order to respond to the member’s specific points. The police have taken the correct action.

In relation to prosecutions and court disposals, as the member knows, I am not able to direct the police in their investigations and I cannot direct the courts as to how they deal with those investigations. The member’s comment will be in the

Official Report, and I am sure that the agencies will look at that.