Police Scotland 'institutionally racist' says Chief Constable

25 May 2023, 13:03 | Updated: 25 May 2023, 13:30

Chief Constable of Police Scotland, Sir Iain Livingstone
Chief Constable of Police Scotland, Sir Iain Livingstone. Picture: Alamy

By Gina Davidson

The chief constable of Police Scotland has said the force "is institutionally racist" in a statement which has been described as "monumental" by Scotland's First Minister Humza Yousaf.

Sir Iain Livingstone told a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority that acknowledging racism, sexism and homophobia were problems for the force was "essential" if they were to be tackled.

The Chief Constable, who has led the force for six years and is due to retire shortly, said that while the term could be "misinterpreted or misrepresented as unfair and personal critical assessments of police officers and police staff as individuals", it was right for him to acknowledge the issues exist within the force.

Addressing the SPA board, he said: "Police Scotland is institutionally racist and discriminatory.

"Publicly acknowledging these institutional issues exist is essential to our absolute commitment to championing equality and becoming an anti-racist service. It is also critical to our determination to lead wider change in society."

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police Scotland
police Scotland. Picture: Alamy

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He also said people from different backgrounds were at times not receiving the service they should from Police Scotland.

"Our officers and staff, my colleagues, do incredible things to keep our communities safe, to keep their fellow citizens safe. I know they take their duties and responsibilities incredibly seriously.

"Their success is illustrated by the strong bond of trust we share with the public of Scotland and our role as the service of first and last resort in times of crisis.

"But we know, I know, people from different backgrounds or with different requirements don't always get the service that is their right. We know that, for the same reasons, our own officers and staff don't always have the experiences they deserve.

"When an organisation doesn't have all the necessary policies, processes, practices and systems in place to ensure that doesn't happen, it's an institutional matter."

Sir Iain's statement was welcomed by First Minister Humza Yousaf and the leaders of both the Scottish Conservative and Scottish Labour parties at First Minister's Questions in Holyrood.

Mr Yousaf commended Sir Iain and added: "That is the first step that is required in order to then dismantle those institutional structural barriers that exist."

He said, as a person of colour, the statement from the chief constable was "monumental" and "historic" but that it is "so important we now see action."

He added: "This is not an inference on ind police officers who put themselves in harm's way to protect us but there's no doubt that institutional racism exists in society.

"I remember raising issues around racism in Strathclyde police force as it was then when I was stopped and searched over a dozen times as a young boy when I was stopped and searched whether it was in my car or walking with friends in the street or at airports.

"So the acknowledgement is welcome... and I hope it reminds all of us, whatever organisation we are in or that we lead, that we examine and reflect that we are doing enough to dismantle barriers of structural discrimination."

However Sir Iain was criticised by the former General Secretary of the Scottish Police Federation Calum Steele.

Now the General Secretary of the International Council of Police Representative Associations, Mr Steele said morale among officers would be affected - and that Sir Iain had "kicked [Police Scotland] into the gutter.

He said: "This is not an act of courage by the Chief Constable but one that amounts to an act of extreme sabotage as well as being an admission of failure of his leadership.

"Internally I raised the toxic culture of some senior officers to the force executive on an ongoing basis and cannot think of a single year where such concerns were not raised. Not once did those in command roles take decisive action in response.

"In fact many of those who were the protagonists of the worst forms of behaviour and cultures were tolerated and in some cases promoted."

He said the statement would "devastate the gossamer thin remnants of any morale" in the force and the "nuance applied by the Chief Constable that officers are overwhelmingly not racist, misogynistic, homophobic etc will be quickly forgotten and the wider taint will stick."

In his statement Sir Iain said: "Prejudice and bad behaviour within policing, as highlighted by court and conduct cases, various independent reviews and by listening to our own officers and staff over recent years, is rightly of great concern and is utterly condemned.

"There is no place in Police Scotland for those who reject our values and standards.Our vigilance as an organisation has never been stronger, rigorous recruitment; enhanced vetting; more visible conduct outcomes; and a focus on prevention."

He also said publicly acknowledging that these institutional issues exist is "essential to our absolute commitment to championing equality and becoming an anti-racist service".

Sir Iain said: "It is right for me, the right thing for me to do as chief constable, to clearly state that institutional racism, sexism, misogyny and discrimination exist.

He also put the "onus" on the force to rid itself of institutional racism.

"A candid, clear assessment of institutional discrimination means recognising our absolute duty to provide just and effective policing for all according to their specific needs and circumstances.

"It also requires identifying and removing the deep-rooted barriers to achieving this. These are necessary steps to progress the commitment that Police Scotland will be anti-racist; a personal commitment I made to my fellow citizens at the commencement of the public inquiry into the death of Sheku Bayoh.

"And, as a commitment to the people of Scotland, it is also a commitment to Sheku Bayoh's family and loved ones.

"The onus is on us, the police service, to address gaps and challenge bias, known or unwitting, at every level, wherever bias occurs, to maintain and build confidence with all communities."

Dad-of-two Sheku Bayoh died in May 2015 after being restrained by police near his Kirkcaldy home. After campaigning by his family, the then justice secretary Humza Yousaf established an independent public inquiry into his death, and whether the actions of the police were influenced by his "actual or perceived race."

Lawyer Aamer Anwar, responding on behalf of the Bayoh family said: "Today’s statement is testament to families like those of Sheku Bayoh, Surjit Singh Chhokar and all those struggles fought by the victims of racial violence and injustice.

"Today is testament to all those officers who took an oath to serve our community, but because of their race, sexuality or gender were persecuted and discriminated against by their police service.

"The family of Sheku Bayoh want me to thank the Chief Constable for raising his voice for the truth and being brave enough to say what black and Asian communities have known for decades.

"The Sheku Bayoh family also want me to place on record their thanks to the Chief Constable for his compassion and empathy, wishing him all the best in his future.

"Fighting for a proper investigation, never mind achieving robust and meaningful change, has involved the Bayoh’s in enormous challenges and obstacles at great personal cost to the emotional and physical health of their family, young and old."

The Chief Constable's statement comes as the SPA also received a report from an independent expert panel that it had heard "first-hand accounts of racism, sexism, and homophobia" as it interviewed serving officers and staff about the force's culture.

It added: "We also heard of poor behaviour being known and seen ‘in plain sight’ with no action being taken; a vicious circle of the personnel affected not having the confidence to report concerns, peers not speaking up and managers not taking action.

"We encountered a degree of scepticism and even outright fear about raising concerns... we heard of people being ‘punished’ for raising issues or concerns, for example being sidelined within teams or moved to a less convenient location."

Raising the issue of how complaints about discrimination were handled by Police Scotland at First Minister's Questions, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the system was "broken" and it was "unacceptable that police officers raising concerns were punished."

He also urged the Scottish Government to deliver extra resources for Police Scotland and provide extra protection for whistleblowers.

He said: “The vast majority of Scotland’s frontline police officers do a fantastic job under incredible pressures. My wife is one of them.

“But this new report raises a number of serious systemic issues throughout Police Scotland. The problem here is wide, it is systemic. It starts far away from the frontline, with the management and leadership..

Mr Yousaf said that previous recommendations made by Dame Elish Angiolini in her review of the force were being taken forward.

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