POLICE Scotland is under fire after it emerged the force plans to buy an aircraft costing up to £3m and capable of surveillance.
The force has confirmed it is “progressing the contract” for a fixed-wing aircraft to provide services that will include “intelligence-gathering” and “aerial imagery”.
Documents produced by the force show they want the aircraft to be fitted with a daylight and thermal imaging video system, digital video recording system and a vehicle location system.
Similar fixed-wing aircraft have been used by police and security services south of the border and in Northern Ireland for everything from spotting drivers using mobile phones to hunting terror suspects.
It is thought to be the first time police in Scotland have moved to equip themselves with a fixed-wing aircraft, which provides greater speed, distance and all-weather performance than a helicopter.
Civil liberties groups have attacked the plan, which they described as a “new super spy plane”. Taxpayers’ groups and the Scottish Tories questioned whether the aircraft would deliver value for money.
An intention to tender notice posted by the Scottish Police Authority states: “The service provider would be required to supply a suitable fixed wing aircraft for the exclusive use of Police Scotland together with pilotage, full maintenance and repair services, full landing and ground facilities.
“The fixed wing aircraft would be available to be deployed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.”
In the contract police bosses also outline a new plan to operate the new plane in the north of Scotland, whilst limiting their helicopter to the central belt.
The contract says the plane will be used for “intelligence gathering” and “public safety” and that it should be quieter than the current police helicopter whilst also being able to cover more ground.
And the new plane will also be fitted with a daylight and thermal image video system; vehicle tracking system and high-spec cameras.
The contract does not give a specification for the model of plane to be bought, but it does cite the “Britten Norman Islander” as a potentially suitable model.
And London’s Metropolitan Police Service also have a fleet of spy planes fitted with similar surveillance gear, also costing £3m each.
Pol Clementsmith, Scotland Officer with the Open Rights Group – a surveillance and privacy rights campaign group – said: “Aerial surveillance can be extremely intrusive and should only be used to tackle serious crime.
“Police Scotland need to be upfront about any plans they might have to buy a new snooper spy plane, how they plan to use it and whether the cost is justified – especially given the cuts we have seen to public services across Scotland.”
“There would have to be very good reasons why at a time of scarce resources, it was necessary to purchase an airplane.
“At the very least a full cost and benefit analysis must be made, together with reasons to justify this expenditure.”
Eben Wilson, head of Taxpayer’s Scotland, warned: “It is absolutely essential that the accounting for the full costs and benefits of this plane are made completely transparent.
“Taxpayers need to be assured that we obtain value for money for the high costs involved.”