Corroboration: ‘Police not saints’ remark slammed

Sir Stephen House said most police deserve public support. Picture: Robert Perry
Sir Stephen House said most police deserve public support. Picture: Robert Perry
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SCOTLAND’s most senior policeman has defended his force after a retired judge questioned whether officers would investigate cases in a fair and balanced way if the Scottish Government succeeds in abolishing corroboration.

Sir Stephen House, the Chief Constable of Police Scotland, has taken issue with a view expressed by the retired High Court judge and former Solicitor General Lord McCluskey, who has emerged as a prominent critic of the government’s plans.

Sir Stephen was reacting to an article by Lord McCluskey published in The Scotsman this week, in which he said that policemen were “not saints”.

In his article, Lord McCluskey cited the Hillsborough disaster inquiry, the Birmingham Six case, the Jimmy Savile “saga” and reports of Scottish officers being accused of crimes as examples of police malpractice.

The former Solicitor General argued that corroboration – whereby two corroborating pieces of evidence are required to prove guilt – compelled the police to fully investigate the background of crimes before presenting evidence to the fiscal.

Lord McCluskey claimed that “anyone with daily experience of our courts will have encountered cases in which the police have fabricated incriminating evidence”.

Sir Stephen said he was “very disappointed” by the peer’s comments on the ethics and behaviour of police officers. In a letter published in today’s Scotsman, the chief constable writes: “I view his comments as ill-judged, unjust, outdated and not entirely relevant to his supposed topic, which was proposed changes to corroboration.

“As leader of Police Scotiand, I believe I speak for more than 17,000 police officers, as well as generations of retired officers, when l refute Lord McCluskey’s outdated views on policing …the interests of policing and public confidence are ill-served by his comments.” He added: “Of course a small number of officers let us all down, but the huge majority deserve support for the job they do. I hope his lordship reflects on this.”

Sir Stephen was supported by Chief Superintendent David O’Connor of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, (ASPS) who also wrote to The Scotsman. He wrote: “I am extremely disappointed that an individual of Lord McCluskey’s calibre found it necessary to attack the integrity of Scottish Police Service in such a manner merely to advance his personal views on the corroboration debate.”

The ASPS president also criticised Lord McCluskey for using examples from outside Scotland to back up his argument, saying it undermined his argument.

Lord McCluskey declined to comment last night.

Corroboration surfaced at First Minister’s Questions yesterday as Alex Salmond came under fire from the Liberal Democrats leader Willie Rennie, who claimed that the government’s position on the issue was “crackers”. Mr Rennie warned against abolishing “a great Scottish legal safeguard”.

But Mr Salmond defended the move, arguing that the need for corroboration meant some cases did not get to court, particularly those involving women who had been victims of sex crimes.

“That difficulty potentially denies justice to many people in Scotland, particularly women who have been the victims of sex crimes. They cannot get access to justice because of the general rule,” he said.

“We are talking about a real difficulty that affects real cases and real people.”