Police Scotland attempted to suppress a report containing allegations of serious corruption and criticism of its senior leadership, according to a new documentary.
The BBC Scotland investigation, to be screened tonight, will claim former chief constable Sir Stephen House commissioned the report in 2014 amid concerns that bad practice and unlawful behaviour within some former regional forces had carried on into the national force.
Earlier drafts of the confidential report are said to show the chief constable’s office wanted negative comments deleted, tenses changed to suggest problems had been fixed, and an entire section, where frontline officers describe working in a culture of fear, removed.
Police Scotland said “significant changes have been implemented” since the report was written.
An email obtained by the BBC showed that Sir Stephen indicated he was prepared to “suppress” the report altogether, unless the word “remains” was changed to “existed” in a section about anxiety and uncertainty among staff.
Five previous drafts of the report in total were leaked to the BBC. Internal memos within the first version are said to show details of misconduct and corrupt behaviour by officers.
In total, 334 officers and staff at Police Scotland were asked to give their views on the force and its management anonymously for the report which was entitled Police Scotland Quality Assurance Review.
Their responses raised a number of serious issues, from apparently routine misconduct and rule-breaking, to strong criticism of the force’s leadership and direction under Sir Stephen.
Another issue which is raised repeatedly in a series of quotes from officers is that of performance targets and the lengths that are gone to in order to meet them. One says that “officers on the beat are almost bullied into producing returns to satisfy management”, and another that “officers may feel under pressure to fake stop-search returns to boost the figures”.
Other testimony is said to suggest the reporting and recording of crime statistics were manipulated in the early days of the single force as a result of the pressure officers felt they were under.
Sir Stephen said he did not wish to comment on the BBC’s investigation.
Police Scotland said “significant changes have been implemented” since the report was written in 2014 and that “last year Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone, the interim chief constable, led the development of and launched a wellbeing strategy for all officers and staff”.
It added: “DCC Livingstone has already acknowledged that in the early days of Police Scotland, process was put ahead of people at a time of challenge and difficulty for everyone involved.”
Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Liam Kerr said the report showed how a “culture of secrecy” quickly developed in the new single force.
He said: “It highlights the fact the SNP’s decision to merge local forces in 2013 was flawed. The chief constable and the SPA must conduct Police Scotland with greater transparency.
“This is just another embarrassment to the SNP … Accountability for mistakes made under the single force begins and ends with them.”
Labour justice spokesman Daniel Johnson said: “These are very significant allegations that need to be taken seriously by the SNP Justice Minister Michael Matheson.
“The level of dysfunction in Police Scotland under Stephen House is well known, but allegations that rank and file officers had their concerns eradicated from reports to protect the top brass raise fundamental questions of integrity.”
Scottish Liberal Democrats justice spokesman Liam McArthur MSP said: “This report is a brutal verdict on the combination of centralised command, a toothless police authority and Scottish ministers steadfastly refusing to listen.
“The police reforms were badly designed by ministers leading to mistakes at every level … And government ministers had invested so much energy in the reform that they couldn’t believe it wasn’t working.”
l A Force in Crisis airs tonight at 8:30pm on BBC One Scotland