New fingerprint agency 'shambolic'

REFORM of police forensic services in the wake of the Shirley McKie fingerprint scandal has been branded a "shambolic" failure by staff.

A damning survey of employees at the Scottish Police Services Authority (SPSA), carried out eight months after it was set up, uncovered a wholesale lack of trust in the organisation, with staff declaring it was "directionless" and "lacking in any firm leadership".

The conclusions are a severe embarrassment for the previous Labour administration, which claimed the creation of the SPSA would deal with all the major failings revealed by the McKie case, in which a female detective was wrongly placed at a murder scene by fingerprint experts.

As well as taking on responsibility for all fingerprint and forensic work in Scotland, the SPSA also runs the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA), which tackles many of the country's biggest criminals.

The report on the SPSA includes the views of forensic staff in Edinburgh following a meeting with senior management before Christmas.

One forensic expert declared: "I've come to the conclusion that SPSA is as directionless as it was on day one and is lacking in any firm leadership at the top."

Another added: "Overall, I came out of the meeting with less faith in the SPSA executive than I had before I went in. I got the impression that the upper echelons of the SPSA are a shambolic mess."

A third said: "How can anyone trust anything that comes from anyone in the 'Executive'. No trust whatsoever."

"I no longer trust the SPSA at all," another member of staff said.

A staff survey, conducted last October, and also obtained by this newspaper, found a wholesale lack of trust in the new organisation. A total of 71% of staff said they did not feel informed about decisions, 70% said they were not positive about its future, while 72% said that they did not understand their role.

The report concluded: "There is a perceived lack of direction from management in terms of the future projects, structures and roles. Perceptions exist that management are too focused on saving money and not recognising the skills within their teams.

"Concerns have been highlighted in the general culture and management style within the Fingerprints discipline."

The fresh revelations come with attention soon to return to Scotland's forensic services. Ministers are expected to announce a judicial inquiry into the McKie affair within the next few weeks.

Shirley McKie, a former police detective, was wrongly accused of having left her fingerprints at a crime scene 10 years ago by experts at the Scottish Criminal Records Office (SCRO), now part of the SPSA.

McKie was then prosecuted over the offence and found not guilty. After the debacle, a police report into the affair concluded that the SCRO had attempted to cover up their mistakes. She was awarded 750,000 in compensation.

Pressure for a full judicial inquiry was led by senior legal figures such as former Lord Advocate Lord McCluskey and senior QCs who warned that the scandal had left the reputation of Scotland's judicial system in tatters.

Last night, McKie's father, Iain McKie, said: "We were told time and time again that the SPSA would be a model for the rest of the world and would lay all the problems of the past to rest. Now we see that the same problems remain and you have to ask how can you trust the evidence that they come up with when this is how they feel about their own organisation?

"The staff are clearly far from happy about the way their organisation is being run. I thought it would get better after the old days but now we find it is not the case."

A spokeswoman for the SPSA said: "Like any responsible employer, we are keen to consult with our staff to better understand their needs and concerns. This year has been a time of significant change for our organisation, bringing five separate policing businesses together and a sense of anxiety and frustration from some staff is to be expected. We are committed to ensuring our staff are given many opportunities to feed back and this is something that our executive team is engaged in across each of our business areas.

"We have already undertaken a series of actions to address the issues raised and this will remain one of our key priorities over the coming months".

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