Northern Constabulary has come under fire after it emerged Thurso police station has been shut for periods of the day.
Highland councillor Donnie Mackay has received complaints from people in the town that they have not been able to access the station during its stated opening hours.
In a broadside fired off at the town’s community council meeting on Tuesday evening, he said that given Thurso is the second biggest settlement in the Highlands, the public should have access to the station at all times.
Mr Mackay said that it is unacceptable people should find the doors locked when they required assistance and called for the matter to be resolved.
“During the past fortnight, I have been inundated with complaints from the public that they have found the doors shut with a sign that says back in an hour,” he said.
“It has been said that the police station has been closed during the morning and that this has been happening on a regular basis.
“Thurso is the biggest town north of Inverness and it is wrong that the station should be closed during its opening hours.
He fumed: “It is an issue that I feel very strongly about and it is a matter that needs to be urgently addressed.”
Responding to the criticism, Sergeant Grant McDowall said the station had to be closed for short periods during the day due to staff holidays and to allow clerical staff to take breaks.
He said that the station has still been available to the public during its opening hours if the doors were shut.
“Clerical staff obviously need to take a break and when there is nobody there to cover at the desk, we will close the doors,” he said.
“Our biggest priority is getting police officers out into the area and serving the public and I would rather have them doing that than having them stuck behind a desk.
“There is a telephone outside the building where if the public required access to the building they can make a call and someone will come to their assistance.”
The sergeant added: “We will try and keep the building open as long as possible and, if we have custodies, the building will remain open.”
Mr Mackay asked why staff from the control room at Wick police station, which operates 24 hours, could not be drafted in to cover staff on holiday.
Sgt McDowall responded by saying that the control room takes calls from Caithness, Sutherland, Orkney and Shetland and that the service relies on round-the-clock cover.
Last year, the opening hours at the Thurso station were reduced from 8am to 8pm as part of a drive to reduce the force’s budget by nine per cent.
This resulted in the closure of 16 police stations across the Highlands, including Lybster and Bettyhill, together with the loss of 75 jobs.