POLICE Scotland have acted like they are operating a “racket” when it comes to The Arches, a leading academic has claimed.

Dr Iain McPhee of the University of West of Scotland, who specialises in policing and drugs laws, condemned the force for some of the conditions put on the club.

His comments came as the club’s board of directors met to discuss the possibility of taking legal action against Glasgow City Council.

Last Friday the council’s licensing board imposed a midnight curfew on The Arches, effectively ending the venue’s club nights. Since The Arches was established it has used the club nights as a means of funding its arts programming.

Artists are worried that the move by the council and police could ultimately force the venue to shut down.

Staff at the club will find out at 1pm today the decisions made by management at last night’s meeting. Last night a petition calling for the council to reinstate the licence was approaching 30,000 signatures.

Speaking off the record, a source at the club told The National the police had been unfairly targeting The Arches, and criticised the recommendations put on the venue. “The police had to be called every single time a person got found with even half a pill on them,” the source said. “As you can imagine, this resulted in the police being called many times each night.

“Another recommendation was that The Arches could pay to have a certain amount of officers permanently stationed there, as this would guarantee ‘safety’. At a cost. Understandably, the Arches knocked this back. That’s a protection racket.

“So what did the police do? They used all the police call-outs to suggest that the place was wasting police time and resources when it was only acting on their recommendations. The staff keep every incident in a report – what was found, what time police were called and arrived. These reports were used at the licensing hearing, and ultimately the club’s diligence was used against them.” The source also said that the repercussions of the restriction of The Arches’ licence would be less co-operation with police from the licensed trade in Scotland.

“The message it sends out is that, if you are a licensee and want to avoid hassle, flush any drugs you find on people down the toilet,” the source said. “This is why other clubs don’t get targeted, they’ve never had to act under that sort of pressure and scrutiny. If they find folk with pills they can do what they like.”

“It’s been a sustained campaign against The Arches – and, I suppose, what it symbolises, you know? A pretty renegade, two-fingers-in-the-air sort of venue.”

The accusation of acting like a racket was backed up by McPhee. “In a free and fair society, Police Scotland should not be operating like an illegal protection racket,” he said.

“In what type of society should we tolerate such police practices in the name of community safety or crime prevention, or prevention of drug-related deaths? There are other models of harm reduction that would be easier to implement. Should we just test every clubber before allowing them entry? Are the police in many ways operating a protection racket in this instance, by not only demanding that they be called, but that their time be paid for by the club? In any other society we would say what this really is: ‘a racket’.”

A spokesman for Police Scotland rejected the claims. “We strive to ensure licensed premises maintain a safe environment, free from violence, disorder, drug-taking and excessive levels of drunkenness, all of which can endanger people,” he said.

“Our aim is always to work closely with licence holders to uphold the law and provide a safe environment for their patrons to enjoy alcohol responsibly. Where breaches of licensing legislation occur we will take appropriate action and record and report this.”