Scots police counter corruption unit a '˜law unto itself'

THE HEAD of the police watchdog has called for the force's whistleblowing procedures to be improved to allow officers to bring complaints against those in internal affairs.

Chief Constable Philip Gormley. Picture: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

Andrew Flanagan, chairman of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), said officers often felt unable to raise concerns about the Professional Standards Department and the Counter Corruption Unit, the bodies which are charged with investigating complaints.

An independent review is currently being undertaken into the CCU after data breaches occurred when the force attempted to find the source of press reports into the 2005 unsolved murder of prostitute Emma Caldwell.

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Giving evidence before the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee yesterday, Mr Flanagan said officers with complaints of wrongdoing or criminality often had no choice but to speak to their staff association or Crimestoppers.

The SPA has said officers often felt unable to raise concerns. Picture: John Devlin

Chief Constable Phil Gormley said there had been 133 referrals to Police Scotland’s Integrity Matters initiative since it was launched in March last year.

Twenty-nine of those referrals were about potential criminality, while the rest were of a more general nature, the chief constable said.

He said the force was undertaking its own review of whistleblowing, but said there was no evidence of malpractice within CCU.

Mr Flanagan said Integrity Matters was a whistleblowing service in all but name, but said there were a number of weaknesses in the system.

The SPA has said officers often felt unable to raise concerns. Picture: John Devlin

He said: “It doesn’t actually deal with complaints or whistleblowing that might arise as a result of the work of Professional Standards or the Counter Corruption Unit.

“It’s not specified that if you have a complaint against the people who themselves would conduct the investigations, how would you report that.

“The only alternative is to go to your staff association or to Crimestoppers. I think, potentially, the SPA should have an identifiable role within that as to complaints of that nature.”

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) is currently carrying out a review of Police Scotland’s counter-corruption practices.

It follows a ruling by the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office (Iocco) that the force acted in a “reckless” manner when it attempted to unmask a journalist’s source without first gaining judicial approval.

Mr Gormley said: “I have been briefed on the circumstances around that breach. We accept absolutely that mistakes and oversights were made. I am confident around that set of issues that we are now in a place where that will not be repeated.”

Responding to comments from the committee’s convener, Christine Grahame, that some officers believed the CCU to be a “law unto itself”, Mr Gormley said: “I don’t agree with that characterisation.”