NEARLY one person every month receives a warning from Lothian and Borders Police alerting them that they are the target of a murder plot.
The official “Osman letter” warnings are issued to members of the public when officers discover that someone wants to kill them, but do not have enough evidence to make an arrest.
The force issued 11 of these Threat to Life Warning Notices during last year as the number soared from the 2010 total of just three.
Police chiefs said they were unable to disclose who was given the warnings, but they are typically handed out to underworld figures, drug dealers, relatives of convicted killers, witnesses in criminal cases and businessmen.
A total of 55 Threat to Life Warning Notices – usually known as Osman letters – were delivered in Lothian and Borders between 2007 and 2011.
The alerts are only issued when detectives have credible evidence of a threat to someone’s life. In response, police put together action plans to prevent the killers from carrying out their plot.
The target of the death threat may be placed under police protection and, in some cases, moved to a safe house.
Councillor Iain Whyte, the police board convener, said: “It’s a very sensitive area and the police have to tread carefully and assess each case on an individual basis before deciding to issue one of these warning letters.
“It’s very important that people are informed of any threat to their lives.”
A police spokesman said: “Threat to Life Warning Notices are issued whenever there is a credible threat to the safety and wellbeing of an individual.”
In April 2010, a trial heard police had received information on a possible £50,000 gangland contract taken out on Inch murder victim Martyn Barclay.
But Detective Chief Inspector Steven Reed told the High Court in Edinburgh that he did not believe the killing fitted the pattern for a gangland hit.
DCI Reed, who was one of the senior officers assigned to investigate the shooting, said that the tip-off was not treated seriously enough to warrant issuing Mr Barclay, 26, with a Threat to Life Warning Notice.
Mr Barclay’s girlfriend, Caroline Igoe, 34, was later jailed for 20 years for shooting him in Hazelwood Grove in 2009.
Ruling ended force immunity
THE issuing of Osman warnings followed a court case where the family of a murder victim argued that his human rights had been breached as police did not alert him to the danger of his future killer.
Until October 1998, police forces could not be held legally responsible for failings during an investigation.
But the case of Osman v United Kingdom heard in the European Court of Human Rights overturned that immunity.
It was brought by Mulkiye Osman and her son, Ahmet, whose father, Ali, was killed in 1988 by obsessive Paul Paget-Lewis.
The family had repeatedly told the police about attacks on their home believed to be by Paget-Lewis. The murderer, too, had warned the police he was a danger.
Witness faced up to threat
THE trial of wife-killer Malcolm Webster heard evidence from his previous partner that she had been handed a Threat to Life Warning Notice by police while in a relationship with him.
Simone Banarjee, 42, above, an agency nurse, said the letter given to her in January 2008 had named Malcolm Webster. Ms Banarjee told the High Court in Glasgow last February that she later confronted Webster, 52, about it.
Ms Banarjee told Derek Ogg, QC: “He went very, very quiet and, at that point, I wished I was not in the room.”
Webster, a former nurse from Guildford, in Surrey, was sentenced at the High Court in Edinburgh last July for murdering his first wife, Claire Morris, 32, in Aberdeenshire in 1994 to inherit a £200,000 insurance payout after staging a crash and setting the car on fire.