ACCORDING to Police Scotland, July 13 was a really quiet Saturday with little crime to speak of.
The force told the public about a couple of road crashes and a handful of music festival arrests but there was really nothing much else to report.
In fact, a Sunday Mail investigation has found that 1921 crimes were reported in that single 24-hour period.
And 243 of them were serious – two attempted murders, four rapes, 12 sex attacks, 16 serious assaults, 13 arson attacks, three robberies, 20 weapon offences and 173 drug crimes.
During that day, our journalists made 16 separate calls to ask police if anything of note had taken place. Every time, they were told it was all quiet.
Politicians yesterday urged chief constable Stephen House to encourage his staff to open up.
They said the public have a right to know about serious crime happening in their communities and voiced fears of an escalating culture of official secrecy.
Criminologist Professor David Wilson of Birmingham City University called for a far more open attitude.
He said: “There needs to be more transparency from the police.
“The public are paying for the police service so they are entitled to know what is going on. It is their democratic right.”
Human rights expert and lawyer John Scott QC said: “If there has been a change in the way police give out information, it has to be discused publicly and not smoked out.
“I would like to know Police Scotland’s explanation for this. The public have a right to be kept informed and one way is through the media.”
Scottish Labour’s justice spokesman Graeme Pearson MSP, a former police chief, said: “People in my constituency have reported difficulties to me in getting information from their local police.
“It has concerned me for some time how the police put information out to the public.”
On July 13, the police issued media releases about road crashes in Dumfries and Elgin and five arrests at T in the Park music festival over smoke bombs.
That day, we contacted eight regional control rooms – in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Inverness, Edinburgh, Dumfries, Stirling and Glenrothes – at noon and at midnight.
We were told by press officers and control room staff that it was all quiet.
One said: “Nothing exciting. We’ve been very busy, but it’s just routine nonsense.”
But the public were kept in the dark about the real number and gravity of crimes that had been reported.
We obtained the true picture of crime through a freedom of information request.
Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont MSP added: “Reporting of crimes and other incidents of public interest is essential in a democratic society. For officers to be withholding this information is unacceptable.”
Marek Marczynski, director of campaigns and policy for the Index On Censorship, said: “Any censorship of crime statistics undermines freedom of information but it also undermines the watchdog role of the media.”
However David O’Connor, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, defended the force’s actions, claiming that revealing details could harm their operations.
He said: “The police recognise their duty to keep the public informed.
“But they must also be careful not to give out information which could hamper ongoing or future investigations. It is all about striking a balance.”
Chief Superintendent Val Thomson, who is in charge of police control rooms, said: “Our purpose is to keep people safe, and providing information where it is of operational benefit or where there is a requirement for an appeal for information supports that.
“Often it is not appropriate to give information about incidents when they are ongoing as this could jeopardise the operation or cause unnecessary distress to victims of crime and the public.
“We adhere to guidelines agreed with the Crown Office which clearly sets out what is and is not appropriate information to provide to the media.”
Our findings came months after the former Strathclyde force tied themselves in knots to try and keep the number of unsolved murders secret. They cited a string of reasons for refusing to release the number but later dropped them.
In 2010, they said they had 53 unsolved murders on their books. But we found the true number was more than 500, dating back to 1942.
At first they said they didn’t hold details about the cases, then argued that witnesses and victims’ families could be put at risk if the cases were made public.
Next they said releasing details could damage public confidence in speaking to the police before finally saying families of victims might be upset.