Police reject hill rescue pay plan

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Indy Politics
Chief police officers yesterday warned an MPs' inquiry into mountain rescue services that introducing compulsory insurance could wreck a "perfectly good" system for dealing with accidents in the Scottish hills.

A proposal that climbers and hillwalkers should take out cover to pay for their rescue if they get lost, injured or worse, is one of the options being considered by the Scottish Affairs Committee.

But according to the Association of Chief Police Officers, which gave evidence to the MPs in Inverness, compulsory insurance could end the present system where the brunt of most mountain rescues is borne by volunteers, many of them climbers.

The police, who have the statutory responsibility for "missing" persons, and the mountaineers are at one in believing that arrangements which are working well in Scotland should not be tampered with.

Last year, there were 34 fatalities in the Scottish hills attributable to climbing or hillwalking accidents. This winter the toll has been comparatively light with only seven fatalities, but none the less the call for compulsory insurance has been renewed.

Bill Walker, a Tory member of the committee, says the user should pay for rescues and not the taxpayer. Insurance would enable the victim to meet a bill which could run into thousands of pounds if a helicopter was used. RAF or Royal Navy helicopters are used in 60 per cent of rescues. Keeping an RAF Sea King airborne for an hour costs an estimated pounds 5,000 but crews regard the operations as valuable live training.

The police chiefs told the committee that if insurance was introduced "then there is little doubt that the civilian rescue service would cease to exist as we know it". In Scotland, there are 900 volunteers grouped into 24 civilian teams plus two RAF teams. There are big question marks over the willingness of volunteers to co-operate in a "paid-for" system.

Finlay Maclennan, the deputy chief constable of Northern Region, warned the MPs that if the burden of carrying out rescues fell on the police, forces such as his own covering a mountainous region, could not cope without "vast" additional resources.