Police chiefs defend massive response to motorbike theft

Police closed the Royal Mile and Cockburn Street for a major incident. Pic: Duncan McGlynn

Police closed the Royal Mile and Cockburn Street for a major incident. Pic: Duncan McGlynn

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Police have defended the decision to close off part of the city centre and call in a helicopter and riot police over an incident sparked by the theft of a motorbike.

Night-time revellers were among dozens of onlookers who gathered to watch the drama unfold on Saturday evening as police cordoned off Cockburn Street in the Old Town after one man managed to get on to a rooftop.

Rumours swept through crowds that the man had a gun, and social media was alive with claims about a possible shooting. But police later insisted there had been no firearms involved and said there was never any danger to the public.

The drama was sparked by reports of a motorbike being driven erratically around the city, before two men ran away from officers in Tron Square at around 8pm.

The stolen bike was found nearby, but one of the suspects made it on to the roof of the old Scotsman building in Cockburn Street. A cordon was put in place to “contain the suspects” as well as provide a clear space for police and fire services to work in. Sniffer dogs, fire engines and police vehicles were also on the scene as officers searched the building floor by floor.

One man was detained at around 11.50pm. Police said they were still searching for the other man. Superintendent Angus MacInnes said: “At no time during the incident on Cockburn Street was the public in any danger. We are aware of speculation on social media sites that this incident involved firearms. However, I can categorically state that was not the case. At no time was this a ‘firearms incident’ and no firearms officers were deployed to the scene.

“The use of the police helicopter and a small number of officers with shields was simply about ensuring a safe and co-ordinated apprehension of the suspects. There were clear risks and challenges due to the height and size of the building and our response aimed to manage the risks and to ensure the safety of everyone involved.

“Earlier in the evening, the males riding the motorcycle potentially placed themselves and the public in danger and we are pleased that the motorcycle was recovered and one man detained. A positive line of inquiry is being followed as we continue to trace the other suspect.”

John Murphy, owner of the Scotsman Lounge, said the beam from the helicopter was concentrated on the roof of the Mama Said and the old Scotsman building. He said: “The street was blocked off for a couple of hours and there was a helicopter above us and police with riot gear.”

Carey Corlett-Donald, a bar supervisor working nearby, said: “The helicopter was here for three hours. I think it re-fuelled and came back.

“There were lot of police with riot gear went into one of the buildings across the street.”

One witness said police were questioning people before allowing them on to the street, though revellers were still pouring into the area because the adjoining closes had not been sealed off.