Police have been accused of “appallingly bad behaviour” after claims they ignored advice of homelessness charities and evicted rough sleepers from cemeteries with the approval of rogue council staff.
Housing and economy convener Cllr Kate Campbell will write to police chiefs on behalf of a cross-party council committee, condemning the practice – amid accusations that police ignored advice by homelessness charity Cyrenians.
Councillors unanimously agreed a motion that “notes where a criminal act has taken place Police Scotland are able to enforce the law, but that taking action against people on the basis that they are rough sleeping and don’t have a home is unacceptable”.
An investigation is underway after council officers requested that police evict rough sleepers from St Cuthbert’s Church yard and Greyfriars Kirkyard after letters were issued stating concerns over “an increase in anti-social behaviour and alcohol and drug-related issues”. It is not council policy to evict rough sleepers from parks and cemeteries. The police letters mention outreach services provided by Cyrenians.
Conservative Cllr John McLellan called for the committee to “actually agree to do something about” the situation and send a cross-party letter to police bosses.
He added: “I was at the homelessness taskforce the other day and heard all about the circumstances – particularly the very disturbing information from Cyrenians that the police had in fact completely ignored the advice they were given by the professionals in this area.
“Ewan Aitken made it very clear they had told the police not to do this. Yet the police went ahead and not only did it, but included the Cyrenians in their information that they put out.”
Mr Aitken, the CEO of Cyrenians, was not available for further comment.
A Cyrenians spokesperson said: “We welcome the fact that this is being investigated. Our approach is to ensure that anyone who finds themselves sleeping rough gains access to all the support they need, however long that takes, by building trusted relationships.
“Public servants, frontline professionals, and the local authorities need to continue to work together in order to provide support to those most vulnerable, and I hope that all parties involved will work on improving upon this relationship in light of that shared mission.”
Green Cllr Claire Miller said she was “shocked” there had been a “breakdown with communication” inside the council and with police.
Labour Cllr Gordon Munro blasted the police for reportedly ignoring the advice of Cyrenians and suggested the incident should be brought up when communities chiefs renegotiate a funding agreement with Police Scotland.
He said: “I’ve heard new information here and I’m just appalled at the behaviour and also the way the police have tagged Cyrenians with their action.
“To actually target a respected city institution in that way is appallingly bad behaviour.”
Police said the eviction letters were drawn up in consultation with partners – thought to include Cyrenians.
Chief Inspector David Robertson said: “The partnership letter, which was distributed advising rough sleepers of recent local concerns, and signposting these individuals to relevant support services was created following dialogue between Police Scotland and a range of agencies, including local authority and third sector.
“We recognise the issue of rough sleeping is a complex issue and we welcome further discussions with our partners in relation to this matter.
“Supporting vulnerable people in the city centre is a priority for our community policing team and we remain committed to finding holistic solutions to rough sleeping.”