Complaints watchdog kept in dark over police memo

The decision to stop taking statements from officers accused of criminal wrongdoing was known by Pirc until after it was announced. Picture: John Devlin

The decision to stop taking statements from officers accused of criminal wrongdoing was known by Pirc until after it was announced. Picture: John Devlin

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A DECISION to stop taking statements from officers accused of criminal wrongdoing was not communicated with the police complaints body until three months after it was made and a month after a high-profile death in custody, it has emerged.

Details obtained by The Scotsman show changes made to the gathering of operational statements were shared with serving officers on 26 March, but not passed on to the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc) until 10 June – the day after justice secretary Michael Matheson confirmed the development in the Scottish Parliament.

If the watchdog doesn’t know, it is a sorry state of affairs

Aamer Anwar

Following the death in custody of Sheku Bayoh in May, it emerged the Crown Office had earlier directed Police Scotland that the practice of obtaining operational statements from on-duty officers subject to a criminal complaint should cease.

The decision was made to allow officers to protect themselves from self-incrimination in cases where they could be treated as suspects instead of witnesses. But MSPs have raised concerns that the change hampers investigations into police complaints.

It has now emerged that the Pirc, which is investigating Mr Bayoh’s death, was not notified of the change until June following media reports.

The Scotsman asked Police Scotland for all correspondence between the force, the Crown and the Pirc on the issue of operational statements. In its response, Police Scotland said: “All discussions between Police Scotland and the Crown Office were verbal and communicated by senior managers to all operational staff within Police Scotland through the dissemination of two memoranda, both dated 26 March 2015. There has been no correspondence between Police Scotland and the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner specifically on the subject of operational statements.”

The force said the Pirc was sent copies of the two memoranda on 10 June – the day after Mr Matheson confirmed the change at Holyrood.

Lawyer Aamer Anwar, who is representing the family of Mr Bayoh, said: “Given this was such a fundamental shift in what police officers can or can’t do, you would have thought Pirc would have been advised of this.

“If the Pirc’s response is to simply say it doesn’t really concern them, then why not? If the watchdog which has the job of holding Police Scotland to account doesn’t even know of a memorandum like this, then that is a sorry state of affairs.”

Fife MSP Claire Baker added: “This is unacceptable. When a major incident occurs it is vital that, at the minimum, operational statements are given to Pirc to allow it to do its job.”

A Pirc spokesman said: “The Pirc became aware that a memo in relation to operational statements had been issued by Police Scotland to its officers after a quote to this effect from the service appeared in the media.”

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