Friday, August 23, 2013

Former Fife Constabulary criticised over delay in referral to Commissioner

The Police Investigations & Review Commissioner has criticised the former Fife Constabulary for the time it took to request an independent review of the way its officers handled complaints from a member of the public in relation to an allegation of theft.

The man had been subject to a police investigation over property he had that belonged to his former partner and whether it being held by him amounted to theft or if it was a civil matter. Between July and September last year this relatively straightforward ‘theft’ enquiry brought the man into contact with five different Inspectors, one sergeant, five police officers and the force’s own Professional Standards Department, something that the force itself acknowledged in its response was “completely disproportionate”.

It then took Fife Constabulary from November 2012 until February this year to ask the then Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland, (now the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner) to review the way they handled the man’s complaints. During that two and half month period there was no evidence of any work having been done to address the concerns expressed by the complainer in respect of Fife Constabulary’s response to the complaint. In his report published this week, the Commissioner observed that this ‘did not represent efficient complaints handing”.

The Commissioner’s full review report, found that three out of five of the man’s complaints had in fact been handled reasonably by the police. However, in a further  two, involving alleged incivility and disrespectful manner, the Commissioner found that the officers involved were not given sufficient information to allow them to understand precisely what was being alleged and as such it was not surprising that in both cases the information they provided was limited. The Commissioner has asked Police Scotland to carry out further enquiries and write to the man concerned with their findings.

Professor John McNeill said: “There are two learning points for the police arising from this case. First, when obtaining operational statements from officers who are the subject of complaints they must be fully informed of the nature of the allegations against them. Otherwise the officers cannot be expected to address the specific concerns expressed by the complainer.

“Secondly, any decision to refer complaints to me must be made timeously. In this case it took from November 2012 until February 2013 for Fife Constabulary to ask me to conduct a review, that does not represent efficient complaints handling.”

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