Exclusive:Police Scotland refuses to release hate crime training material under FOI

The force said it would not be appropriate to make it publicly available prior to a rollout being completed

Police Scotland has refused to release its hate crime training material for officers and staff following the implementation of controversial new legislation.

The force said a training programme “is in the process of being rolled out internally” and it would not be appropriate to make the documents publicly available while this is taking place.

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It came as Angela Constance, the SNP justice secretary, admitted the Scottish Government could have done more to inform people about the new law.

However, she said “bad faith actors who are intent on spreading disinformation” would have done so regardless.

She said there had been “deliberate misinformation and misrepresentation” about the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act, which came into force on April 1.

"Debate around the Act has provided little light and too much heat,” she told MSPs in Holyrood.

Tory MSP Russell Findlay said Police Scotland had been “bombarded with almost 9,000 reports” under the new legislation, which he said “threatens free speech”.

He said: “Despite the SNP’s best efforts, Scotland is not suffering from a hate epidemic. It’s suffering from bad SNP legislation. The cabinet secretary talks about misinformation – what an absolute brass neck. The misinformation has come from her Government.”

Murdo Fraser, who is also a Tory MSP, said he had been trying "for weeks now” to get answers from the police about its policy in relation to non-crime hate incidents, which are recorded when an incident fails to meet a criminal threshold.

MSPs are set to vote on a Tory motion to repeal the legislation on Wednesday.

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A freedom of information request submitted by The Scotsman asked Police Scotland for all training and guidance material which is being provided to officers and staff in relation to the Hate Crime Act.

The force said it was “refusing to provide it”, adding: “I can confirm that the training in relation to the new Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021 is in the process of being rolled out internally across the service.

“Accordingly, it is not appropriate for training materials intended to be delivered to staff and officers to be made publicly available prior to that structured learning program being completed.

“Whilst I accept that there is a genuine public interest in openness and transparency around the steps being taken by Police Scotland in this area, that interest is wholly outweighed by the need to ensure that internal training is made available first and foremost to our officers and staff as intended, in accordance with the training timetable.”

Mr Findlay said: “The parliament’s criminal justice committee also asked Police Scotland for this material, but it was not provided. This secrecy culture is unacceptable.”

Figures released by Police Scotland show it received 1,832 online hate reports between April 8 and 14, down from 7,152 the previous week – a drop of almost 75 per cent. The vast majority were anonymous and no action was taken. However, 213 hate crimes were recorded, down from 232 the previous week.

This brings the total number of hate crimes recorded to 445 since the new law came into force – substantially more than over the same period in previous years. Elsewhere, police recorded 25 non-crime hate incidents, five fewer than during the week before.

The Scottish Police Federation has repeatedly criticised the level of training given to officers ahead of the new law coming into force, arguing it is inadequate.

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Police Scotland previously denied reports that its training instructed officers to target performers. In a statement published on its website last month, it said: “Police Scotland is not instructing officers to target actors, comedians, or any other people or groups.

“Our training package has been developed in close consultation with stakeholders to ensure all characteristics protected by legislation under the new Act are clearly represented and articulated, and that officers are best prepared when they respond to hate crimes and incidents.”

It said the training material “included examples of a range of scenarios where offences might take place, but this does not mean officers have been told to target these situations or locations”.

It added: “Police Scotland is a rights-based organisation and officers balance the protections people have under human rights legislation against other laws every day. Our training for the new Act therefore reminds officers of their human rights obligations and it reflects all aspects of the new legislation, including the protection it includes around freedom of expression.”