HMICS criticises ‘premature publicity’ in handling of senior Police Scotland officer complaints

Written by Jenni Davidson on 21 December 2017 in News

Derek Penman said there were “lessons to be learned” over publicity around allegations of misconduct by senior officers

HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Derek Penman - Image credit: Scottish Parliament TV

Investigations into misconduct by senior police officers should be protected from “unwarranted media speculation”, according to HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland.

In his annual report on policing in Scotland, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland Derek Penman said there were “lessons to be learned” over the publicity around recent misconduct investigations against senior officers in Police Scotland.

Scotland’s chief inspector of policing criticised the recent handling of complaints, leading to “premature publicity” and “ill-informed commentary” in the media.

Penman, whose role involves scrutiny of Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), said that while it is important that all complaints against senior officers are “robustly and independently investigated”, legal processes must be able to progress in a way that is “proportionate and protects all parties from unwarranted media speculation”.

Penman said: “Whilst I fully accept the legitimate media interest in reporting on alleged misconduct of chief officers, it cannot be in the public interest for the detail of these complaints to be played out so publicly, whilst they are still being actively investigated.

“Media coverage fuelled by speculation and ill-informed commentary not only has the potential to affect adversely the confidence of the public in policing, but has a significant impact on the lives and families of those who have come forward to make complaints, those who are subject to complaints and others who may be potential witnesses.

“I am concerned that the premature publicity around investigations may discourage those who wish to raise genuine complaints.

“The sustained media attention on senior police officers in Scotland may equally discourage quality individuals from coming forward in the future to take on these crucial leadership roles.”

Despite this criticism of the handling of cases, Penman agreed with the Scottish Police Federation view that “there is currently no crisis in policing”.

He said Police Scotland was “well served” by senior officers and managers who are providing “essential day-to-day leadership”.

The report, which covers the last 12 months of policing in Scotland, welcomes the publication of the 10-year strategy Policing 2026, but says this must be underpinned by a “professionally managed implementation plan” and a financial strategy.

He states that the plan is currently a “work in progress” and “weak on financial information”, but that Police Scotland recognises that and will provide an updated plan with more financial detail by March 2018.

With the SPA facing criticism over governance in recent months, Penman notes that while Police Scotland has established new governance procedures for implementing Policing 2026, there has been “little or no progress” within the SPA.

However, the recently appointed new chair of the SPA board, former health minister Susan Deacon, has committed to changing this.

Penman also calls for greater transparency over the “benefits, dis-benefits, risk and costs” of transferring railway policing to Police Scotland.

In addition, he calls for a workforce decisions not to be “constrained by a political focus on office numbers”, but for future deployment decisions to be based on understanding of the future policing needs across Scotland.

This is the final annual report from Derek Penman, who will retire as HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary at the end of March after four years in the post.

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