POLICE scandals such as the Hillsborough cover-up could happen in Scotland without proper oversight of officers’ behaviour, according to the head of the authority charged with holding the new single service to account.
In a speech this week, Scottish Police Authority chairman Vic Emery will warn that there is no reason why similar incidents could not arise north of the Border without proper scrutiny of policing operations.
Emery’s comments will be delivered in the run-up to the creation of the new national police service, Police Scotland, on 1 April, which will install the former head of the Strathclyde force, Stephen House, as the new Chief Constable.
Emery will say that the current system of scrutiny over the police has historically been “patchy”, claiming that when the old regional authorities tried to question senior officers about their decisions they would get only so far “before the shutters went down and forces got defensive.”
“Despite reports demanding improvement in scrutiny, some voices have said to me in these last few months ‘but policing ain’t broke, why fix it?’. Why change the established way of doing things,” Emery will say. “I would accept that we haven’t seen the same kind of scandals that the police service down south have brought upon themselves in recent years. But try telling the family of a Hillsborough or phone hacking victim that scrutiny of the police is unimportant. We mustn’t be complacent and assume ‘it couldn’t happen here.’ ”
The reputation of the police took a massive dent earlier this year after the independent report into the Hillsborough disaster found that police had made “strenuous attempts” to deflect blame for the 1989 disaster, in which 96 people died, on to fans.
The London-based Metropolitan Police force has also been criticised over its behaviour in inadequate early investigations into the newspaper phone hacking scandal and its close links with News International executives.
Emery says that under the new system the SPA will dig much deeper into decisions being made by the new force.
Examples, he says, include “how prostitution is handled in our major cities, how stop and search powers are used, and how we develop a talent management plan to ensure women and minority ethnic individuals are appropriately represented in the senior ranks of the service.”
He adds: “This is not about second guessing the police. It is about ensuring we get the most effective policing outcomes for the public.”
Emery’s plan follows a public disagreement last year with House about the division of their roles, with the new Chief Constable saying there was a “gobsmacking” problem over plans to give the SPA control over finance and personnel issues.
Emery says that House will now get “flexibility” on financial issues. However, he says that rather than just providing a “rubber stamp” to the new police force, the SPA will ensure that there is “scrutiny, testing and approval” of all plans.
“We have ensured that the SPA is responsible for the Scottish policing bank account and cheque book, not just reviewing the cheque stubs after money has been spent,” he will say.
Emery also suggests that the model could now be used as a template, saying they “will set the bar for the public service reform agenda for a decade to come”.
Police Scotland last night declined to respond to Emery’s speech. Earlier this month, a spokesman said the new service “absolutely recognised” the need to face scrutiny from the SPA.
Labour MSP and former head of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, Graeme Pearson said: “I think Vic Emery is quite right. One of the purposes behind a single police force was to create an authority which would have the ability to call the Chief Constable to account and ensure appropriate levels of scrutiny.
“It might be a culture shock for some officers and, if it is, it is long overdue. But professional officers will welcome it because they will want to demonstrate their ability to deliver,” he added.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The act establishing Scotland’s new single police service contains a wide range of mechanisms to ensure proper accountability for and scrutiny of policing in Scotland – and makes it clear that the SPA is responsible for holding the Chief Constable to account for the policing of Scotland. It is for the SPA to decide how it will undertake this scrutiny and accountability role.”
Hillsborough: Landmark campaign
THE SHOCKING revelation made by the Hillsborough panel last year that 41 of the 96 people who died in the 1989 football stadium disaster could potentially have been saved has led to the biggest ever investigation into police conduct.
Around 2,400 officers who were on duty are to be investigated to see whether there was a criminal cover up of police failings.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission recruited 100 staff to work on the inquiry, which is expected to take several months.
The panel’s findings were the latest breakthrough in a long campaign to get justice for the football fans who were killed or injured that April day in the disaster.
The Hillsborough panel
reported that 164 police statements had been altered
to either remove or change negative comments about the policing of the FA cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at the
In December, 2011, the High Court in Liverpool overthrew
the original findings of the inquests that were carried out
at the time into one of the world’s worst football disasters.