A former senior police officer who was cleared of assaulting a prisoner has labelled Police Scotland’s complaint system “broken.”
Former custody sergeant Ian Clarke, 54, faced going to jail before he was cleared by Sheriff David Pender, who branded the evidence against him not “credible”.
Ian, who now works as a carer, is one of eight ex-police officers and campaigners calling for “a police complaints system that is transparent, robust, efficient and fair to all.”
Tomorrow, Dame Elish Angiolini QC will appear in front of the Scottish Parliament’s justice sub-committee on policing to discuss her hard-hitting review of the national force.
Published last month, it found major issues over how the police handle complaints.
Ian is among signatories to a submission to the committee who claim their lives were turned upside down by Police Scotland’s “flawed and unjust” complaints process.
The group has backed Scottish Tory calls to introduce an action tracker to see how police implement Angiolini’s recommendations.
In 2014, Ian was accused of assaulting a prisoner who was self-harming at Paisley police office.
The officer, who joined the force in 1989, used his foot to stop Michael Higgins, 48, strangling himself with his T-shirt. Even though Higgins didn’t complain, a female colleague claimed Ian used excessive force.
The dad said: “I still get very upset about what happened to me. They tried to put me in jail.
“For what? Doing my duty and making sure someone didn’t die. The prisoner never complained about it – it was a colleague.
“My opinion is she was encouraged to pursue it by senior officers who had grudges against me. I’d been in the force for 27 years but retired early through it.”
Paisley Sheriff Court heard Police Scotland officers had no training to deal with self-harming prisoners at the time.
Following the incident, the force brought in new rules and Ian lodged an official complaint about the way he had been treated. But he said his case was never properly investigated. He said: “My complaint was made to go away. I’ve seen the complaint process from both sides and it fails all.”
Angiolini’s 490-page review said the police watchdog, the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner, should be given greater powers to deal with complaints about officers.
Ian added: “I spent nearly three years being investigated over someone’s opinion of what I did as opposed to the evidence of what I did. I don’t doubt an independent body would have reached a different judgment.”
The group making the submission includes former Scottish Police Authority board member Moi Ali, ex-assistant chief constable Angela Wilson, former constable Karen Harper and ex-Army officer Bill Johnstone.
The submission reads: “We welcome Dame Elish’s report, having personal experience or knowledge of many of the serious issues identified by her.
“Her findings are a vindication of what we and others have been saying for many years.
“Put bluntly – Scotland’s police complaints and governance system is broken. It does not serve the interests of the public nor of police officers. We call upon the justice committee to ask the Scottish Government to post such an action tracker on its website with immediate effect.
“We believe a lack of transparency permeates Scotland’s policing culture and this secrecy helps to fuel much that is wrong with the current broken system, as identified by Dame Elish.”
Her report also included concerns that officers were able to simply stop internal investigations by walking away.
In May 2016, former constable Karen, 52, submitted allegations of criminality and misconduct against 10 officers involved in an alleged conspiracy to wreck her reputation.
Earlier this year, she partly won her sex discrimination claim against Police Scotland. In 2016, she complained about officers, including ex-assistant chief constable Neil Richardson, who retired soon after.
She said: “There should be a separate system to look at internal complaints. No one should be allowed to mark their own homework. And the complaints process should follow through regardless of what happens with a senior officer resigning or retiring.
“At the moment, we have a system that is shrouded in secrecy and allows senior officers to believe they are untouchable.”
Not all the campaigners putting their names on the Scottish Parliament submission are former police officers. Ex-Army officer Bill, 63, was wrongly given a criminal record by police.
For more than a decade he has tried to figure out why. He said: “The way Police Scotland investigates complaints is astonishing. It’s not fit for purpose.
“I had several meetings with Dame Elish Angiolini’s team for her review and I feel it’s vindicated me.
“Police Scotland’s complaints process would leave you speechless. My case could happen to anyone.”
The submission said: “We believe the starting point should be an acknowledgment that serious complaints against Police Scotland cannot be investigated by Police Scotland.”
Signatories also include former firearms officer Rhona Malone, Hugh and June Macleod the parents of Kevin Macleod, who was found dead in Wick harbour in 1997 and wrongly jailed campaigner Gary Webb.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “Dame Elish’s review is damning and lays bare a police complaints process that is not fit for purpose and which, if left unchanged, risks damaging public confidence in policing.
“The SNP Government seemed intent on sticking Dame Elish’s report in a drawer and forgetting about it which is why the Scottish Conservatives called the parliamentary debate.
“We were motivated to do so after hearing appalling accounts of injustice from across Scotland. Some of the experiences that were shared with us are shocking.
“A common theme is how an initial mistake or wrongdoing which could easily have been fixed was instead compounded by the broken system.
“Dame Elish is clear that significant reform is vital and we’re determined to build a robust, transparent, efficient and fair complaints process fit for a modern Scottish justice system.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Ministers are very grateful to Dame Elish for her thorough review and to all the individuals and organisations who gave evidence, particularly those with direct experience of the police complaints or misconduct process.
“We’re engaging with Police Scotland and the SPA as they plan next steps. We are taking time to carefully consider this final report and engage with those affected, and the Justice Secretary and the Lord Advocate expect to publish a formal response in the near future.”