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by Margaret Taylor
27 October 2023
Barlinnie boss calls for new law to punish corrupt prison officers

Barlinnie boss calls for new law to punish corrupt prison officers

The governor of Scotland’s largest jail is calling for tougher laws to be introduced to help hold corrupt prison officers to account.

Michael Stoney, governor of HMP Barlinnie, told Holyrood that a misconduct in public office offence should be created to better deal with prison officers who commit offences such as bringing drugs into jails or engaging in sexual relationships with inmates.

“Staff corruption has always been a problem and we’re trying to get a misconduct in public office charge brought in,” he said.   

“We’re looking to see how we could do that in Scotland and have started to raise that.”

Misconduct in public office is currently a crime in Scotland, but as it falls under the common law system, which has built up through case law and legal precedent rather than written legislation, there is no description of the offence or how it should be dealt with on the statute book.

In 2020 the Law Commission of England and Wales published a report into how the offence is dealt with south of the border, concluding that it is “widely considered to be ill-defined and has been subject to recent criticism by the Government, the Court of Appeal, the press and legal academics”.

As in Scotland, misconduct in public office is a common law offence in England. The Law Commission recommended that it should be repealed and replaced with two statutory laws instead: an offence of corruption in public office and an offence of breach of duty in public office. The UK Government has yet to respond to the report.

Earlier this year the Scottish Government introduced its long-awaited Police (Ethics, Conduct and Scrutiny) (Scotland) Bill, which includes recommendations made by former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini in 2020.

The aim of the bill is to “simplify the way complaints, allegations of misconduct and other concerns about the conduct of police officers are investigated” and to “help assure the public that if police officer conduct or behaviour falls short of expectations, this will be properly dealt with”.

Stoney said something similar should be considered for the Scottish Prison Service.

It comes after the case against a prison officer accused of smuggling drugs into Barlinnie in 2021 fell apart earlier this year. Martin McGee admitted taking almost 1,500 street Valium tablets into the jail and was charged with being concerned in the supply of the drug.

He lodged a special defence of coercion, saying he was forced to bring the drugs in by inmates with gangland connections and when he appeared at Glasgow Sheriff Court in September the case against him was found to be not proven.

Drugs have become a major issue in Scotland’s prisons, which are also currently dealing with severe overcrowding, with Stoney saying that super-strength etizolam is regularly making its way into prisons via drone and through corrupt officers.

He said a specific misconduct in public office offence would make it clear how officers smuggling drugs in would be dealt with, which in turn would have a deterrent effect.

Calls for the legislative change are currently at an early stage, with a spokesperson for the prison service saying it is “merely being looked at” at the moment.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said wrongdoing by prison officers is currently covered by a range of different laws.

“There are a range of offences that can be already used to address illegal conduct by public officials including prison officers, including the offences of bribery and wilful neglect of duty,” the spokesperson said.

“Depending on the specifics of a case, other offences may also be used, for example the supply of drugs.

“The management of prison staff is the responsibility of the Scottish Prison Service who take action against anyone who behaves inappropriately, including escalating incidences to the police where necessary.”

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