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'You feel gaslit': Nearly 180 sexual and domestic abuse claims against Police Scotland officers yet to be addressed

5 May 2023, 06:00

Sexual assault survivor and former police officer Gemma MacRae accused Police Scotland of failing to tackle a systemic culture of sexism
Sexual assault survivor and former police officer Gemma MacRae accused Police Scotland of failing to tackle a systemic culture of sexism. Picture: Handout

By Bekki Clark

Police Scotland's internal complaints process has been branded "psychological abuse" - as figures show nearly 180 sexual and domestic abuse allegations against serving officers are yet to be dealt with.

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Some date back over a year - with officers potentially continuing to serve while under investigation. 

Gemma MacRae accused Police Scotland of failing to tackle a systemic culture of sexism after a former colleague was convicted of sexually assaulting her almost five years after she reported him to bosses. 

She is disappointed but unsurprised about the number of complaints yet to be handled. “I don't think that they have implemented any change, there's been a lot of lip service paid to the public in the media," Ms MacRae said.

"But there's statistics that you've just got [that] have showed otherwise. It's really sad, because from my experience, and what it's done to me, and all the consequences from it, to think that there's other people out there that are going through the same thing. And that's nearly 200 basically ruined by the system.

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"I would explain it as kind of psychological abuse by Police Scotland, because one minute, they're telling you they're going to take action and then nothing happens.

"So you feel gaslit, which is not helping someone who's been through a traumatic experience as it's because you've got mental health issues as a result of the actual crime itself, and frustration."

Gemma MacRae
Gemma MacRae. Picture: Handout

"I think the whole process is terrifying. It’s not only terrifying in the sense that, you're reporting your perpetrator, but you're reporting it to your employer. And that comes with an element of risk.

"So it takes a lot of guts for someone to do it. And unless they're given full support, then they're going to be terrified through the whole process, and always feel that they've done something wrong."

The 33-year-old later quit the force – and now lives abroad. She says her trauma has been compounded by the way her complaint was handled. Her abuser, former police officer Scott Gallop, was convicted of sexual assault in 2022 and placed on the sex offenders' register.

Ms MacRae added: "There’s like this denial process, I think you go through as a whistleblower, where you're thinking, you're just hoping that at the end, Police Scotland or whatever force is going to swoop in and be like, ‘what we did wrong, we're going to make up for it, we're going to support you through this. It's terrible, what's happened to you.’

"And then you just start to see that it's just not going to happen that way. I just couldn't face returning to work underneath officers that had been involved in this investigation into Scott Gallop that had made failings or knowing that they had done so much wrong. But there was no sort of acknowledgement for what they had done.

Gemma MacRae
Gemma MacRae. Picture: Handout

"I didn't feel safe, basically, going back to work. And then ultimately, when I made the final decision, it was devastating at the time, and it took a long time for me to get my head around the fact that I have actually done that.

“Even today it still trips me up. I get very emotional when I think that that's gone now. So it's incredibly sad, because it was a job I absolutely loved wholeheartedly.”

In 2020, Dame Elish Angiolini made more than 80 recommendations for Police Scotland to improve how it handles complaints against officers – including for gross misconduct investigations to continue after someone leaves the force.

Sandy Brindley, Chief Executive at Rape Crisis Scotland, said: "This is a substantial number of potentially really quite serious allegations against serving police officers. I think it is crucial that these allegations are treated with utmost seriousness, and that people who do want to complain feel that they're taken seriously and the investigations that are carried out are robust and thorough."

Alan Speirs
Alan Speirs. Picture: Police Scotland

"It's concerning if there are significant delays in allegations being investigated, given the nature of these allegations."

"Any allegation of a sexual violation against a serving police officer, I think - at the very least - they need to be placed on restricted duties, and depending on the seriousness of it I think suspension - in many cases - should and must be the only option, if it's a serving police officer being accused, for example, of rape."

Police Scotland said their internal investigation into his conduct was unable to begin without court proceedings having concluded.

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Speirs, the force's executive lead for professionalism and assurance, said: "Scott Gallop’s conduct fell far below the high standards of professional behaviour the public rightly expects of a police officer.

"It takes a great deal of courage to report sexual assault and I understand how much more challenging that must be when the offender is a police officer.

"The Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC) conducted an independent Crown-directed investigation and Police Scotland fully assisted with those enquiries. Since this investigation, Police Scotland assessed a number of matters and - although conduct proceedings are private - appropriate action was taken to address behaviour that was not in line with our values of integrity, fairness, respect and upholding human rights.

"Recruitment and postings have been reviewed to bring additional perspective and experience into the Moray area and the staffing profile both in leadership roles and with probationary constables has transformed, enabling renewed focus on our values.

"Misogyny, sexism and discrimination of any kind is utterly unacceptable - it has no place in society and no place in policing.

"Police Scotland is meeting these challenges head-on through sustained, tangible and measurable activity, driving a relentless focus on our values and standards under our Policing Together programme."

Meanwhile Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf has also been accused of failing to address misogyny within Police Scotland, with the Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar grilling him on a promise made while justice secretary, to resolve concerns over how complaints are handed by the force.

Mr Sarwar accused Mr Yousaf of "consistently failing to deliver" on the issue after he pledged to move "at pace" following a report into complaints and the governance of Police Scotland during his time in the justice brief.

Mr Yousaf said "decisive action" was being taken on addressing misogyny within society generally.

He added: "In terms of some of the concerns that have been raised in relation to misogyny within the police force, I know from my engagement with the Chief Constable [Sir] Iain Livingstone how seriously he takes the issue of misogyny.

"We take as a government, and I know the police do, extremely seriously any concern raised against police officers."

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