Nearly 50 police officers leave the force during complaints cases
Forty-seven police officers in Scotland have resigned or retired during misconduct proceedings against them since 2019, the BBC can reveal.
If an officer leaves Police Scotland, misconduct proceedings are automatically scrapped. The figure was revealed after a freedom of information (FOI) request by BBC Newsnight. Last year, the Scottish government said it would change the rules to allow hearings to continue.
Following a public consultation, it said this would “promote transparency and maintain public confidence”. There are currently 16,644 full-time police officers in Scotland.
According to the FOI figures, during misconduct proceedings:
12 officers left in 2019
15 officers left in 2020
16 officers left in 2021
4 officers left in 2022
However, the rules are different in England and Wales. The Policing and Crime Act 2017 extends the system to former officers, so the proceedings continue even if the officer leaves their post.
The FOI data also shows, during the same timeframe, Police Scotland received 332 allegations of gross misconduct and 1,182 allegations of misconduct against officers.
After the public consultation, the Scottish Justice Secretary Keith Brown said the government would “carefully consider” the responses.
The consultation followed Dame Elish Angiolini’s independent review in 2020 into how police complaints and allegations of misconduct in Scotland should be handled. The former Lord Advocate recommended that the police align with the rules in England and Wales.
“I believe there is a strong public interest in dealing fully and thoroughly with police officers’ gross misconduct after they have left the police service and no longer hold the important office of constable,” she said.
Dame Angiolini said that, if appropriate, “their names [should be] added to Police Barred and Advisory Lists which I also recommend should be maintained for Scotland. However, the Scottish Police Federation believe the rules should stay the same.
General secretary-elect David Kennedy said: “The Scottish Police Federation are opposed to any employee or police officer being unable to resign or retire whilst they wait on the service or employer to finish misconduct proceedings against them.
“Police officers in Scotland if accused of criminality are reported to the Crown in the first instance and after criminal procedures have finished then face misconduct (procedures).
“If an officer is convicted of a crime, it would be normal that they may choose to resign as a police officer rather than endure misconduct proceedings to force them from the service. Misconduct allegations can also be for less serious offences that would not be career ending but officers still choose to resign or retire.”
He added: “The main point in gross misconduct proceedings is to make sure that police officers who remain in service are fit to hold the office of constable.
“Someone resigning gets the same result as any misconduct process would and is at much less cost to the public purse. There is no financial gain to an officer resigning versus being dismissed.”
But Conservative MSP Russell Findlay, the party’s shadow community safety minister, said the FOI figures were “further evidence of Scotland’s dysfunctional system of police complaints and governance which fails the public and the majority of good officers”.
He said: “Angiolini made 111 recommendations and it’s not good enough that the majority of the most significant ones, including an end to officers being able to quit while under investigation, have been kicked into the long grass.”The Scottish Police Authority said it supported Dame Elish Angiolini’s recommendations.
“Both Police Scotland and the authority have made significant progress in addressing issues raised in her report since then,” a spokesperson said.
“Implementation of those remaining recommendations requiring legislative change will further strengthen the complaints handling across policing and build public trust and confidence in the system.” A Scottish government spokesperson said it had delivered 55 out of 72 of the non-legislative recommendations for improvement.
They added: “The report recommended that gross misconduct proceedings should continue even if an officer leaves office along with other recommendations to improve clarity and confidence in misconduct proceedings.
“The Police Complaints and Misconduct Handling Bill to be introduced later this year will deliver on the recommendations needing legislation to deliver them.”
Deputy Chief Constable Fiona Taylor said: “Police Scotland demands the highest levels of integrity from our officers and staff and when someone fails to meet this standard we take the appropriate action. We have no ability under current conduct regulations to prevent an officer from resigning.”