By Kenneth Roy
I waited almost three weeks before writing this piece. I delayed out of fairness. But Strathclyde Police have had long enough to act responsibly. Almost three weeks ago a young woman was viciously assaulted. Strathclyde Police have not acted responsibly. So I'm writing the piece.
The young woman happened to be our deputy editor, Islay McLeod, but I suspect and fear that it could have been any young woman anywhere in Scotland. That is the reason for writing the piece – in the hope that it will shame the police into behaving more responsibly towards victims of crime.
Islay had just returned from a working holiday on Skye and Raasay. Every summer she goes to the Hebrides to take photographs, which she then shares with readers of this magazine. She came back relaxed and in good spirits, with a portfolio of pictures both witty and evocative.
She went home. Home for Islay is an ordinary little Ayrshire village; nothing flash about it, but nothing horrible either. You would be entitled to feel comfortable about living there; even safe. Islay was thinking about going back to work, about the return of the Scottish Review after the summer break, when she became aware of a disturbance in the village. She was curious to find out more.
She popped her head out the door and was immediately aware of a large group of people – they looked and sounded like a gang – who seemed to have taken over the centre of the village. The first person in her sight was a man she describes as being in his forties, accompanied by two women in their early twenties. Could they have been his daughters? Islay has no idea. But he and they were walking towards her, and she asked this man politely if he knew what was going on. She remembers prefacing the question with the words, 'Excuse me'.
The man said nothing in reply. He simply raised his fist and punched Islay hard in the face. The blow landed on her nose. She fell against a sandstone wall, badly bruising an arm and leg. She blacked out – for how long she isn't sure. No more than a few seconds, perhaps. She was helped to her feet by a passer-by and taken into a pub. When she recovered full consciousness she was having her bleeding nose attended to by the staff.
By this time the police had arrived to deal with the disturbance. Someone in the pub reported that a young woman – 'a lassie' as they called her – had been attacked. The police came. Islay was seen by a woman police officer who asked for her name and address. Islay thinks she gave the police officer her mobile phone number. She also volunteered a brief description of her assailant.
Although she was visibly injured, there was no offer on the part of the police to summon medical assistance. There was no offer even to accompany her to the security of her own home. Islay formed the impression that the police were not interested in her or what had happened to her; she was made to feel 'unimportant'. She was left in the pub to recover.
As soon as she was able, Islay crawled home to her bed. She lay there, in a state of shock, fully clothed for the rest of the night. In the morning she felt unwell; her nose was hurting badly. She decided that she should go to the accident and emergency unit of Crosshouse Hospital to which, if the police had been doing their job properly, she would have been referred the previous evening. She was seen promptly at Crosshouse. A & E staff gave her the good news: her nose was not broken. But they warned her that she might suffer headaches and other side effects. She did suffer headaches and nausea for some days.
That night – the night after the assault – Islay fully expected a visit or a telephone call from the police. Had her attacker been caught? Would she be asked to pick him out in an ID parade? She thought that, now that she was more composed, she would be able to give the police a fuller description of the man.
But there was no visit from the police; no telephone call; no contact whatsoever. Not that night; not the following night; not any time since. Almost three weeks have elapsed, and Strathclyde Police have evinced no interest in this victim of a violent crime or in her testimony.
Perhaps they feel they have no duty of care to Islay, no concern for her safety. If that is so, then the chief constable, Stephen House, the man widely tipped to be head of the new all-Scotland police authority, has serious questions to answer. The alternative explanation is incompetence, a state of affairs for which Mr House is also ultimately responsible.
We are able to bring Islay's experience to the attention of the readers of this magazine. But that is mere chance. What if the young woman attacked in the streets of this ordinary little Ayrshire village had been powerless? How many young women – how many citizens of all ages – are suffering this degree of official insensitivity and neglect?
There is a positive coda to the story. Since the incident, Islay has been overwhelmed by the kindness of the people of her village. To that extent Mr Boyle's vision of this 'caring and compassionate' country is not entirely fanciful. But if the facts related in this piece represent the face of modern policing, we have every right as a community to be extremely concerned.
Courtesy of Kenneth Roy - read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review