Scotland’s new police watchdog has called for talks with the Scottish Government over shock figures showing the number of people who have died or been seriously injured following contact with officers.
Figures show three deaths in custody, 18 deaths following police contact, and eight serious injuries following police contact from April to the end of September, far higher than it anticipated.
The Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc) has also seen a 50 per cent increase in complaints in the last six months.
Prof John McNeill, commissioner, has been so taken aback by levels of demand he has had talks with the Scottish Government about increasing resources.
Pirc succeeded the former Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland in April at the same time as the new national force came into effect.
At the same time, its remit was widened to cover investigations following deaths and use of weapons in addition to complaints.
Although still in its infancy, Pirc had, where possible, researched previous figures to gauge how many cases would be referred to it.
Prof McNeill told a Scottish Parliament sub-committee on policing: “In the run-up to 1 April it became apparent that there was an increase in the workload.
“Indeed, for the first six months of this year (April to September), there has been something like a 50 per cent increase in the number of complaints that I have been dealing with.
“There has been a considerable increase in a number of areas that I had not expected: examples are death following contact with the police and serious injury following contact with the police.
“Having established ourselves to go live on 1 April, we have very quickly found that demand has continued to increase from that date.”
Many of the investigations are ongoing, but at least seven have resulted in reports being submitted to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.
Police integrity in England and Wales has been called into question in England and Wales.
However, no such questions have been posed of officers north of the Border, and at present there is no evidence to suggest police conduct is driving the rise in complaints and referrals.
Robin Johnston, director of reviews at Pirc, said: “One possible reason is that Pirc is a higher-profile organisation than the Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland was.
“In addition, the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 introduced a three-month time limit… complainers may be acting with a greater degree of urgency now that they have been given a time limit.”
Ten deaths following police contact did not require investigation as there was no evidence the contact was directly, or indirectly, related to the death.
And of 106 uses of CS spray by police referred to Pirc, none required investigation as the use was viewed as proportionate. About half resulted in “cross contamination”, but in all incidents this was fellow officers who had been caught in the crossfire.
Prof McNeill added:“I have advised the Scottish Government of trends in areas that were not anticipated by the project board – death or serious injury following contact with the police, and the use of sprays and firearms – and the need for additional resources in that regard.”