Apr 252014

Serious questions need to be answered about how Grampian Police – now Police Scotland handled an incident last June. It’s time for a reminder of what happened during the Siege of Heathryfold, and to let people know that the search for answers is far from over. By Suzanne Kelly.

The man who wasn’t there.


George Copland’s home which was at the centre of an armed seige on June 7 2013

In June of last year, witnesses claimed a man with a gun was inside a flat in Heathryfold, Aberdeen.
This was however an empty flat – a flat far from the main road and at the end of a row of two houses accessible by a gate – you would have had to be very close to the windows to have seen anything inside, and no explanation has yet been offered as to what the witnesses were doing and how they conceivably came to the conclusion a man with a gun was inside.

Even though there are  many legal reasons for people to have guns (hunting is legal, so are pellet guns), the police decided the answer was to surround the building, cordon off streets, bring in specialist teams, and lay siege to an empty property. [Those of you with hunting rifles, shooting range pistols, starter’s guns had best take note].

They entered, and finding no one home, clearly giving the gunman story the lie, the police decided to ransack the flat from top to bottom. Perhaps the gunman was  hiding in the medicine chest or in the CD rack. This search seems to have happened before they finally spoke to George Copland, the property owner, on the telephone.

Seeing his flat on television surrounded by armed men, and getting a call telling him to meet the police (and not saying he could bring a friend, adviser or lawyer) George, who has a history known to the police of physical and mental health issues, was quite understandably frightened, and he declined to meet them.

He says the police were already inside his building; they say they only entered after he refused to meet them. This is one of at least half a dozen questions that need to be answered. But clearly as Copland wasn’t in his home, he couldn’t have been the hunted gunman.

The man with the feather duster gun.

Still, the police were not content with the search results (could it be they didn’t want to look silly for deploying a fair bit of back up at what must have been considerable expense for a hoax?). Days later they burst Copland’s girlfriend’s door down in a dawn raid, and took Copland into custody (whether or not this was a formal arrest is unknown to this day).

Searched, put into a boiler suit, possibly with medication withheld from him (another issue requiring clarification), he was allegedly asked to say that a feather duster he owned could have looked like a gun (the Sun newspaper ran a story on this).

the police have so far refused to release any information on the case

George’s account of seeing a doctor at the time differs with what the police said happened. It is certain they knew he had mental health issues before the siege; it is certain they didn’t let  him have an adviser, friend or lawyer during the long hours of his detention.

Copland also says that before his release from custody, one of the police named one of the witnesses – an interesting move on their part, and one which like so many issues needs to be examined. Aberdeen Voice knows the identity of the person allegedly named to Copland, and it is debatable whether they would have made a credible witness.

The Right to Remain Silent – well, for Police Scotland anyway

Left with several eggs on their face, the police have so far refused to release any information on the case. A Freedom of Information request was lodged but information, as well as a reasonable request for compensation, was denied.

Copland was not up to the stress or the challenge of dealing with the FOI process; he asked for assistance. He authorised an Aberdeen Voice reporter to make enquiries of the police on his behalf.  Two different signed, detailed permission letters from George bearing his address and signature were submitted to the police by email, and one original letter was delivered as well.

The police still refused to release information or contemplate compensation, and several different correspondents from the police side got involved. Some correspondence was done by email; some via the police’s online comments form. A paralegal refused to use email; and correspondence flew back and forth for months.

Finally, when Police Scotland refused the FOI request, a request for a review of how they handled the FOI request was made. This was submitted on their online form as no email address was given to make an appeal to.

The first time the request for a review was sent, it somehow was never received by the police.

It’s almost as if they had something to hide

The online form was used a second time to request the review. The request for the review advised the police to ask if they needed further information.

This second request via the online form was received, and in due course a letter came, saying a review found they had handled the FOI request perfectly.

The police said among other things that they did not have sufficient permission from George Copland for Aberdeen Voice to be given information. Did they email him, write to him or phone him to corroborate that all the submitted permission forms were genuine? No.

Does it then seem as if Police Scotland are implying that Aberdeen Voice were seeking personal data without authorisation? Yes.

After months of trying to get information and jumping through various hoops, the police refused to explain what they did and why. (It’s almost as if they had something to hide).

At that stage of the labyrinthine process, it was time to bring the entire matter to the Information Commissioner for them to consider. If the previous correspondence with the police had been confusing, the eventual Information Commissioner’s outcome was something else altogether.

It could be called Kafkaesque, but the bizarre decision, possibly unprecedented, also has a Catch 22 element.

Kafka steps in

All the correspondence was summarised, and the important items were sent to the Information Commissioner’s office – this included the request for the review and the letter giving the review outcome. So far, so good.

On 18 April Aberdeen Voice’s reporter received a letter in the post saying the Information Commissioner would not look into this case. The reason? The request sent to the police was not specific enough.

The police had the request to review how they handled this Freedom of Information request. They were told to revert if they needed more specifics. They didn’t. They went ahead and held a review upholding their actions in withholding the facts from George Copland and Aberdeen Voice.

that dialogue aspect of FOI requests doesn’t seem to exist now

Now, months later, someone has decided that the request for the review which was held wasn’t quite good enough. Kafka might have come up with this.

Information Commissioner – has the rulebook changed?

When Aberdeen Voice was involved in a FOI commission investigation into property dealings between Stewart Milne and Aberdeen City Council, we were informed every step of the way as to what the council was claiming and what they were telling the information commissioner’s office.

AV was able to counter points successfully and in the end the City had to release information.

Somehow that dialogue aspect of FOI requests doesn’t seem to exist now. Any first year law student would be making good points as to how holding a review pretty much gives validation to the request for a review.

AV had no such opportunity to put up the case for law, logic and common sense. We will be asking how often this defence is used when refusing to investigate FOI matters. It certainly seems the rules  have changed.

Carte Blanche

The police are no strangers to requests for information which wind up going to the Information Commissioner. However, the police do not have to release any info which may make the public lose confidence in them.

This is basically giving the police carte blanche to do as they please with complete immunity and no fear of accountability getting in their way. With public confidence in the police already low, surely this aspect of how the Information Commissioner operates must be reviewed and changed.

It would be interesting to know how many times this public confidence exemption has been used by the  police in past FOI appeals to the Commissioner.

More questions likely to remain unanswered.

Whose idea was it to claim the request for a review was invalid – the Police, the Information Commissioner’s office – or both?

Why did they hold a review if they didn’t need to?

Why did it take until 15 April for anyone to claim that the review which was held didn’t need to be held?

If the request was not valid, why did Police Scotland hold the review in the first place?

Since the request for review, as submitted online (no documents could be attached,) offered to supply further details for the review request if needed, why didn’t anyone point out that there wasn’t sufficient grounds given for a review?

How could the police possibly claim they didn’t have enough valid permission to release the requested information at the review stage when they could have had clarification at any time?

Does holding a review validate the request for a review?

Was the way the Siege of Heathryfold handled reasonable?  Was the way George Copland was treated legal, fair and suitable for someone with known health issues?

To come back months after the review was held, and claim that the request for the review was invalid makes police Scotland appear either to be disingenuous, or disorganised. Why did they hold a review if they didn’t need to? It’s almost as if someone higher up got wind of this, and decided to try and derail it.

Surely not.

It ain’t over til it’s over.

Perhaps the police involved in this incident may not want to breathe that sigh of relief just yet. Information will indeed still be sought by various other avenues.

Oh, and if the police are interested, the  Police Complaints Commission has been formally asked to look into this entire incident as well. Time will tell what comes of that.

More info – previous Voice articles.


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Nov 012013

On Friday 7 June 2013, Grampian Police surrounded an empty flat on a curious tip-off that someone with a gun was inside. The owner George Copland was arrested elsewhere on Sunday 9 June. The police spent days tearing his place and his possessions to pieces, leaving an impassable mess behind them. Released without charge, he has had absolutely no help with clean-up and no apology.

Having visited the property at the end of October, contacted the police and Aberdeen City Council, Suzanne Kelly reports.

George Copland's property thoroughly searched and left in a heap.

George Coplands property thoroughly searched and left in a heap. This scene is repeated throughout the house.

George Copland is not well; this is no surprise. He was unjustly, as it transpires, arrested after Grampian Police dramatically lay siege to his empty flat, cordoned it off for days while conducting a destructive search that yielded no evidence of gun crime or any other crime.

He was arrested on the following Sunday even though there was no evidence of any crime, held for some 12 hours, and released without charge.

He is also without explanation, apology, any form of clean-up and any compensation.

Freedom of Information requests have been lodged for details of the arrest, siege and search. The police have not given any comment on the situation.

Normally if someone is the subject of a destructive, intensive, intrusive search and no wrongdoing is discovered, they are entitled to compensation and to having the property restored to its former condition.

And what a condition the flat is in.  George gave me a tour – as far as was possible.  I was not able to fit into parts of the premises for all of the possessions, many broken, strewn throughout.

It seems items were removed from the loft, examined, and left.  Items such as CDs lie around an emptied CD rack, many broken. George enjoys playing with remote control toys; some of which are – or rather were – worth a fair amount of money.

“See this car; it was in perfectly good shape,” he tells me, holding a large, clearly intricate radio-controlled car; its front wheels are missing and it seems to have been crushed.

“They must have stood on it to break it.”

“I’ve had to see my doctor; this is really too much.”

George continues;

“I tried to send photographs of the damage to WPC Niki Trower (an officer who seems to be involved with the case), but she says she can’t access the photos I’ve emailed for security reasons.”

Another broken RC toyI trust WPC Trower will look at these photos. This is how a man with mental health issues has had his flat left for four months after a raid which arguably should never have happened.

When I visit the house, it is clear that anyone claiming a gunman was inside must have gone up close to the windows: what made the witness or witnesses make such a claim? What led them to look into the windows?

The house is attached to another house, but its windows are not exactly on the beaten path.

The part of the house which is visible from a distance over a grassy area near Provost Rust Drive does not even have any windows.  The window near one of the two doors to the flat only has small windows, and unless someone specifically went to the back of the house and peered in, there is no way they would see anything there.

Then we come to the other door. The main entrance to the flat is down a short path, and past the other attached house. Unless someone were coming to visit the other house and continued on to George Copland’s front door and peered in the windows, they would not readily see anyone.

No one would have any business going down this path unless they were visiting the neighbour or George; if visiting the neighbour, what would have made them continue past the door of their destination and look into George’s windows?

George tells me:

 “I had aeroplanes hanging up in the bathroom; they were taken down and thrown in the bath”

Everywhere is the sight of broken toys and goods, some smashed, some clearly deliberately dissembled – while police apparently looked for an invisible gunman with non-existent guns.

Famously (as reported in The Sun), the police apparently  tried to suggest to Copland and get him to agree that a remote control and a feather duster could have been taken for weapons. Who was meant to be brandishing the imaginary weapon or even the feather duster is still a mystery, as we know as the police knew when they arrested Copland the flat they surrounded for 8 hours was empty.

George Copland door.George does not have a copy of the police report yet, but the police are, perhaps unsurprisingly, adamant that the siege was justified and the witnesses were trustworthy.

Aberdeen Voice will report further on the details when they are released.

Turning again to the main entrance door – it had been broken in, and is now bolted into place, unusable. If there were a problem such as a fire (not inconceivable, given the state of the place) there is only one exit now where there would have been two.

The windows are too high to be utilised for the purpose of fire escape.

The Council have been approached about their failure to mend this door; apparently it takes weeks and hundreds of pounds to get a specialist door like this replaced.

This raises some interesting questions about procurement, keeping spares around, and how we wound up with such an expensive item with such a long lead time on the City’s budget. Let’s hope no other vulnerable people need a replacement door in a hurry.

In terms of expense, the siege and search will have cost the taxpayer a considerable sum.

Surely the responsibility for having misjudged the situation so badly sits squarely with the police, and restitution, if not apology, are long overdue.

There seems to be nothing the Council can do about the mess and destruction; this indeed should be resolved by Police Scotland immediately.

George Copland in flat 2 picToo much time has gone by; too much stress has been caused.

The Police will be put on notice that a formal complaint and legal action will be started if there is no positive development forthcoming.

One anonymous donor has come forward; others who wish to support any legal action are welcome to contact Aberdeen Voice for details.

Some politicians have been trying to help, and it is appreciated, but so far, nothing has changed for George, except that the strain is causing his health to deteriorate.

If we don’t live in a police state, let’s prove that now, and get Copland the help, flat clean-up and restitution he is clearly due:  NOW.

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Oct 292013

The city was shocked in the summer when it emerged that a police incident, reported as a stand-off between police and an alleged armed individual in an Aberdeen house, turned out to be a hoax. The reverberations are still being felt but questions remain unanswered.

The history

7 June 2013 – armed police surround an empty property, on reports that a gunman is inside.  The flat was empty.

9 June 2013 – George Copland, occupier of the council flat at the centre of the siege is arrested in the early hours at his girlfriend’s flat.  After 12-13 hours in custody, he is released.

27 October 2013 – Suzanne Kelly updates Aberdeen Voice readers on what appears to unfinished business and an injustice which continues to affect an innocent citizen.

homeMr Copland’s flat was all but destroyed as the police tore the property apart in the search for the weapon allegedly brandished in the empty flat. They came up with a feather duster, a broken remote control toy and a legal air gun, but nothing illegal.
Mr Copland alleges he was prevented from taking necessary medicine while in custody, and further alleges that the police told him the name of one of the so-called witnesses.

You may think that in the ensuing months he would have been compensated, as is expected when police searches are found to be wrong and cause an innocent party to suffer loss. You may also have thought that a police apology would be in order, since no-one can quite explain why he was arrested days after the siege took place.

You may also think that Aberdeen City Council, aware of a national news story centred on a flat they owned and managed, would have ensured that the occupant was looked after.

Apology and repairs?

Aberdeen Voice can confirm that there has been no compensation, no apology and not even a proper front door replacement to date.

There have been renewed calls by Aberdeen Voice for the police and the Council’s Housing and Environment section to explain the delays in righting the wrongs. The police have now been asked to release the arrest record and provide explanations as to how they managed the situation.

Questions for the police include:-

* Did they disclose the name of a witness to Copland?

* Why did they arrest him in the first place?

* If they suspected there was a weapon, why did they wait days before making an arrest?

* What is the background of the witnesses? Do they have any prior police records?  What do their statements say? How could they have seen anyone in an empty flat?

* Knowing of Copland’s health issues, are they adding unnecessarily to the stress they have caused by holding back on compensation and an apology?

The Council has been asked to explain why it takes four months to replace what they must have known to be a battered–in door in a vulnerable person’s home. In response to requests made by politicians, they claim they only knew on 21 September that a door would need to be ordered.

Whilst it may be a security door that is required, it beggars belief that a council can have such an appalling procurement system. What if someone even more vulnerable than George Copland didn’t have a secure front door all this time?

Aberdeen Voice will bring you answers as soon as it gets further information, but getting anything released has proven difficult. Whilst we cannot dispute that the siege was carried out to protect the public, no-one is protecting Copland, who was entirely innocent. Could any of our institutions be trying to cover their tracks?


There has been one bright spot. Glasgow musician Deek Allan of Oi Polloi heard about the situation, and held a benefit gig for Copland. The band, its friends and relatives sent approximately £370, which was greatly appreciated.

Copland’s situation

In the meantime George Copland, who already faces ongoing challenges with his health, is feeling helpless and defeated. He can’t face starting the massive clean-up that should be done on his flat, which arguably should be paid for by the police.

He is reluctant to go out; he feels his neighbours are assuming he must have done something wrong to have been treated this way without compensation or apology.

He told Voice:

This is a nightmare.  The whole thing has put me back [he has had some very troubling thoughts since the siege and the arrest]. I can’t face going out much. It’s too much”

Aberdeen Voice will redouble its efforts to get to the truth, and to get compensation. A follow-up will appear within a week. Thanks are due to the politicians who are trying to help behind the scenes, but this is a situation that needs immediate resolution.

It happened to be Copland who was unjustly accused, arrested and whose home and contents were violated. Who will it be next time if we don’t find out the whole truth and learn lessons now?

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Jun 212013

Suzanne Kelly met with George Copland, the resident of an Aberdeen house which was the scene of an armed police siege – when no one was in it – who was arrested and held for approximately 13 hours.

The 7th June siege, called a ‘blunder’ in mainstream media, was a massive police operation launched on the say-so of an anonymous tipster.
A 29 year-old-man, was subsequently detained for questioning on suspicion of wasting police time the same day of the siege.
Why then, was George Copland arrested and his property searched, on account of a hoax, days later?

Copland’s arrest and subsequent treatment unfolded like this:

Copland was arrested at his girlfriend’s home in the early hours of Sunday 9th June.   Police apparently shouted ‘Jo – we need to see you and make sure you are all right’ before breaking in.

It must be borne in mind that at this point in time, it was known to the police and the public that the siege was a hoax.  His own home was trashed by police looking for weaponry; his possessions broken and scattered.

Upon his arrest, Copland informed police he needed medication, and despite being told a doctor was coming, no one ever saw him.

He was told ‘specialists’ wanted to question him about a suspicious item found at his home (which Copland demonstrated to be no more than a broken remote controlled toy ) and was questioned repeatedly about a fluffy dusting brush – the police insinuated during questioning that these could be seen as ‘weapons;’

Copland feels police were trying to get him to say these items may have resembled guns/weapons.

There is apparently an acknowledgement that he was not in his home at the time of the siege.

No lawyer was present at this questioning. Police, with no warrant, wished to search his girlfriend’s flat.  He was held for approximately 13 hours.

There is no talk of compensation for the destruction; there is no apology.   There is no proper explanation as to how someone could be arrested for a hoax perpetrated on their home when they were not in it.

In an extraordinary move, police tell Copland the name of the person arrested for placing the hoax call.  This information still has not been released to the media.

Copland tells Aberdeen Voice:

 “I will be talking to a lawyer about this incident.  I want an acknowledgement this arrest and my treatment were totally wrong and unacceptable.  I want my flat put right, and I want compensation for the destruction of my property – but also for the damage to my reputation.  People are giving me a wide berth after the siege and my arrest.”

Copland openly tells Aberdeen Voice he has had problems in the past and is known to the police.  He has been treated for mental health issues in the past, which may be related to his Crohn’s disease, a debilitating digestive condition.
His mental state improved after surgery for his medical condition.

That the police knew of his issues but did not either allow him his medication or send for a doctor as promised is another unacceptable dimension of this case.

If Copland had a past record with the police, it is nothing compared to the record of the person police named to Copland as the alleged hoax caller, who has serious charges and convictions against his name.

Aberdeen Voice have sent police a contact form from the Police Scotland website, and have sent them questions concerning this story for comment.  Their response will be published once received.

This may be a UK first – arresting the owner of a property where a hoax was perpetrated which caused the police to launch a massive armed response.  An innocent man was subjected to a police ordeal, loss of reputation, property damage, medical neglect, potential violation of rights – all for an incident that never was.

No one is suggesting that the police should not respond to genuine threats – but did the police behave correctly at the 7th June siege or when arresting George Copland?  It hardly seems so.

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