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by Margaret Taylor
03 October 2023
Call for new laws to improve vetting of Police Scotland officers

HM Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland Craig Naylor

Call for new laws to improve vetting of Police Scotland officers

Vetting of police officers is a problem that needs to be urgently addressed, with no uniformity in approach from the legacy forces that made up Police Scotland and no requirement to re-vet staff since the single entity was created causing a "significant risk" to public safety.

HM Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland Craig Naylor undertook a review of vetting practices and the organisational culture of Police Scotland after a report from Baroness Casey, commissioned following the murder of Sarah Everard by serving officer Wayne Couzens, found the Metropolitan Police to be institutionally racist, misogynistic and homophobic.

Speaking to Holyrood earlier this year, Naylor said he was undertaking a similar process in Scotland to find out “what the key issues [are] that staff and people within the organisation feel need to be addressed”.

In his report, which was published today, Naylor said there was “no doubt the public’s confidence in and the reputation of policing has been damaged by officers who have behaved inappropriately and broken the law”.

He has urged the Scottish Government to legislate to ensure there is a minimum level of vetting for all officers and staff within Police Scotland and to enable the chief constable to dismiss anyone who cannot maintain suitable vetting.

His report highlights the disparity in vetting practices across the individual forces that were brought together to create Police Scotland a decade ago and notes that no further checks were carried out on those employed by the legacy forces when the single entity came into being.

Naylor said that while vetting is required on joining Police Scotland it is not mandatory for that to be repeated, noting that that presents “a significant risk”.

“All personnel should be re-vetted at least every 10 years and the introduction of an annual integrity review, at which any change of personal circumstances could also be noted, would go some way to identify risks which require to be addressed,” he said.

While there is a requirement to re-vet people in management roles that allow greater access to information as well as to vulnerable people, Naylor found that the list of designated posts had not been revisited since 2013 and that the criteria for a post being classed as management level is not always met.

“Vetting is an integral part of the process to identify individuals who are unsuitable to work within policing,” he said.

“A thorough and effective vetting regime is vitally important to assess a person’s integrity and it reassures the public appropriate checks have been carried out on those who are placed in a position of trust.

“There is no doubt the public’s confidence in and the reputation of policing has been damaged by officers who have behaved inappropriately and broken the law. Significant steps have been undertaken following recent high-profile cases in England to ensure that officers and staff have been checked and any risks identified, highlighted and managed appropriately.

“Losing intelligence to terrorists or serious organised criminals is a threat which Police Scotland rightly takes seriously but exposing a vulnerable person to an individual who wishes to harm them is, to me, abhorrent and steps need to be taken to provide assurance that the protection of the vulnerable is prioritised.”

His comments echo those of former Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini, who was also commissioned to carry out a review of policing in England and Wales following the murder of Sarah Everard.

In an interview with Holyrood published earlier this year, Angiolini said that “the protection of women in the public sphere is an issue that’s still very much evident”, making it vital to ensure the police service is appropriately staffed.

“There’s a big, big issue here about women and safety and what can be done to ensure that we can take back the night,” she said.

“Here we are in the 21st century and still we have a community where so many women are frightened to be out in the dark. When these horrible events happen it feels like that’s for good reason.

“The police are a hugely important part of the community but they also wield significant power, therefore making sure we have the best officers in the country is important to everyone – as is ensuring those who shouldn’t be there aren’t there.”

It comes after the Scottish Police Federation today warned that any further cuts to police funding would lead to members of the public dying because the force would have insufficent resources to respond to calls.

The organisation's general secretary David Kennedy told 1919 Magazine that reducing the number of officers able to respond to emergency calls could result in another incident like the M9 tragedy involving Lamara Bell and John Yuill in 2015. 

Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Russell Findlay called on the government to ensure Police Scotland has enough resources to properly vet officers.

“Rogue police officers not only pose a risk to the public but also to the reputation of Police Scotland and the vast majority of good officers," he said.

“In the wake of numerous cases of serious wrongdoing, and to maintain public confidence, SNP ministers must ensure that the force has sufficient resources to conduct these vitally important background checks.”

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