Police Scotland (Compensation Payments)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 17th May 2022.

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Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

2. To ask the Scottish Government what its reaction is to the reported awarding of almost £1 million compensation from Police Scotland to an ex-officer following an employment tribunal ruling of victimisation. (S6T-00722)

The Minister for Community Safety (Ash Regan):

The Scottish Government takes extremely seriously any concerns that are raised about Police Scotland, whether they are raised by the public or by officers. When things go wrong and mistakes are made, the police must be held to account, lessons must be learned and improvements must be made.

The findings of the employment tribunal clearly demonstrate that Ms Malone’s experiences were wholly unacceptable, which has been fully recognised by the chief constable. He has apologised to the claimant, making it clear that misogyny, sexism and discrimination of any kind are deplorable and have no place in society or policing, and emphasising his personal commitment to leading change in policing in Scotland.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

The minister is right: the police must be held to account. The situation that Rhona Malone faced—bullying, harassment and, ultimately, the suppression of her complaint—was underpinned by a culture that was described at the tribunal as an “old boys club”.

Nobody should be under any illusion that the situation was isolated or unavoidable. Dame Elish Angiolini’s report on complaints handling highlighted the treatment of minority groups and officers leaving on account of the culture that they faced.

It is avoidable. I personally took the account of a whistleblower to the most senior levels of the police, including to a meeting at which I described the situation to the chief constable, yet nothing took place.

Although I acknowledge the chief constable’s commitment to change and the forthcoming report by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, I have written to ask him to review the circumstances that led to Ms Malone’s departure from the police force and to hold to account those who failed to examine her complaint and those who suppressed it. Will the minister and the Scottish Government join me in making that call on the chief constable?

Ash Regan:

I thank Daniel Johnson for raising his personal experience with Police Scotland in reporting an incident such as this. I would expect the chief constable to reflect carefully on what Daniel Johnson has said in the chamber today.

On the substance of the question, in the days after the judgment was issued, the chief constable made the commitment to commission an external police service to carry out an independent review of this particular employment tribunal decision and to make recommendations on performance, culture or conduct that will require action by Police Scotland. The Police Service of Northern Ireland is finalising that work.

Police Scotland has recognised that improvements are needed, and it has established a strategic oversight board to push forward the progress that is needed on equality and diversity in policing.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

We must enhance complaints handling procedures for police officers who make complaints about the service in which they serve. The Angiolini review made some good points, but the latest thematic progress report was published at the end of 2021.

In this circumstance, at least one other police officer has left directly because of these complaints, and other officers have left armed policing. Will the minister commit to expediting implementation of the recommendations of the Angiolini review, with a renewed focus on complaints handling and whistleblowing, and the creation of a third-party organisation to handle that? Will she commit to enhancing the powers of the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner around practice and policy review and the power to call in complaints when the PIRC no longer has confidence in the police force’s handling of them?

Ash Regan:

Many of the things that Daniel Johnson has just mentioned are under consideration by the Government. I will ask the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans to respond in detail to the points that Daniel Johnson has raised.

The Angiolini review was an action that the Scottish Government took—in 2018, admittedly—to review police complaints handling, investigations and misconduct in Scotland, recognising that there was a potential issue in that regard. The Scottish Government accepted the majority of the recommendations, and we will shortly consult on legislative proposals with a view to delivering new laws to improve transparency and further strengthen public confidence in the police. We will consult on areas such as the duty of candour and co-operation, gross misconduct proceedings and adopting barred and advisory lists to strengthen Police Scotland’s vetting processes. Those measures would aim to ensure that anyone who did not meet the required high standards would not be able to continue working in policing.

I note Daniel Johnson’s comments about the implementation of the Angiolini review recommendations, although I gently note that it has been less than six months since the latest thematic report. A significant amount of work has been under way on implementation, with 34 of the recommendations having been implemented to date.

Photo of Russell Findlay Russell Findlay Conservative

I have been investigating Scotland’s police complaints system for years. It is broken and unjust, with taxpayers’ money being used to crush and silence officers and the public. Police Scotland tried to buy Rhona Malone’s silence with a non-disclosure agreement. Other officers signed gagging orders because they did not have the strength or the money to fight for justice.

Given that safeguards already exist to protect victims and sensitive information without the need for NDAs, will the minister commit to ending their use in policing?

Ash Regan:

It is my understanding that no NDA was used in the final settlement of the case that we are discussing. I would also say that the use of NDAs is part of United Kingdom employment law and that there are some legitimate uses for NDAs, but they should not be used to cover up discriminatory behaviour, misconduct or anything of that nature.

The chief constable has responded to this particular case by apologising to the claimant, making it clear that sexism and discrimination have no place in policing and making a personal commitment to lead change in policing in Scotland.

I think we would all agree that the majority of police officers work hard to protect our communities. However, the member is right that, when things go wrong, as they have done in this case, we must have robust and transparent mechanisms in place to investigate complaints. A great deal of work has already been done—I have responded to Daniel Johnson regarding the Angiolini review—but more must be done. The service has accepted that. We will keep Parliament informed of the work done and progress made.

Photo of Rona Mackay Rona Mackay Scottish National Party

As the minister said, the Scottish Government has already taken steps to improve transparency by introducing the organisational duty of candour in 2018. Will the minister outline the further steps that the Scottish Government is taking to improve transparency and to further strengthen public confidence in the police? As she has suggested, when the standard of delivery in public services falls short, individuals and their families should rightly be able to get answers and justice.

Ash Regan:

In 2018, we commissioned Dame Elish Angiolini to review police complaints handling investigations and misconduct in Scotland. Her recommendations provide a strong platform from which to drive forward meaningful improvement in collaboration with our partners across the policing sector in Scotland.

We will soon consult on further legislative proposals, with a view to delivering new laws that will improve transparency and further strengthen confidence in the police. Those measures will aim to ensure that anyone who does not meet the high standards that are required will not be able to continue working in policing.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.

This issue is only the latest such example in Police Scotland, and there are many cases of bullying and victimisation of whistleblowers in other public services, including, as has been widely reported, the national health service. Does the minister agree that those examples make the case for the establishment, by statute, of an independent office of the whistleblower for Scotland?

Ash Regan:

I would have to give that proposal some consideration. I will come back to the member on that point.

In general, we have a high-quality police service in Scotland, but it is right that Police Scotland must be held to account and lessons must be learned when things go wrong. I assure members that the chief constable has taken responsibility and has personally committed to driving and leading change in policing in Scotland to ensure that lessons are learned and improvements are made.