A police division at the centre of an investigation over the death of a man in custody was the subject of an assault allegation nearly every two weeks last year, the The Ferret can reveal.
Figures obtained show that during 2014 there were 22 allegations of police assault in the Fife area but Police Scotland has refused to reveal details of which police stations were involved prompting criticism over a lack of transparency.
Police Scotland has been embroiled in controversy since the death of Sheku Bayoh who died on May 3rd after being arrested in Kirkcaldy.
Mr Bayoh – a gas engineer and father of two – died in custody of suspected asphyxia in yet unexplained circumstances after he was detained by up to nine officers.
Using Freedom of Information legislation Police Scotland were asked for details of recent allegations of assault made against police in Fife and which stations were involved.
Police Scotland said in response: “The system used to record complaints about Police is unable to extract how many assault allegations were made against officers currently attached to P Division (Fife). The system can produce data relating to the number of assault allegations that occurred in the geographic area of Fife, not all of which would be attributable to officers posted within this command area. Many officers, who are not routinely posted to Fife Division work on a case by case basis in this geographical area. In addition the information cannot be broken down into police stations, as some assault allegations do not relate to incidents that occurred within a police station. In total, 22 allegation of assault were made relating to incidents which occurred in the Fife geographical area in 2014.”
The force refused to disclose details of anyone requiring medical treatment in stations and at hospitals after alleging assault against police officers.
Police Scotland’s FOI response said: “Records held by Professional Standards in relation to complaints do not show whether or not a person who was arrested or detained made an assault allegation. Additionally, these records do not hold the information relating to medical treatment, or admission to hospital. In order to provide this information new information would need to be obtained by Professional Standards. As you may be aware, the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act specifically states that no new information should be created in order to respond to a request. Therefore, I must again respond to you in terms of Section 17 of the Act: Information Not Held.”
Police Scotland’s replies prompted criticism from Aamer Anwar, a lawyer representing the family of Sheku Bayoh. He said: “It is shocking that Police Scotland, an organization otherwise obsessed with statistics, chooses not to keep records of injuries to members of the public. Why such a secret? Police Scotland might claim that allegations of violence by their officers are small, but if they want to expose such criminality then keep the statistics, which would speak for themselves. We learned through the death in custody case of Sheku Bayoh that since March 26th police officers are no longer required to provide operational statements where there is an inference of criminality. This will only encourage a culture of immunity and violence.
This is yet another example of lack of transparency and accountability on the part of Police Scotland. Richard Haley
The human rights organisation Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) was also critical of Police Scotland. SACC chair, Richard Haley, said: “This is yet another example of lack of transparency and accountability on the part of Police Scotland.
“It follows their unaccountable and uncontrolled use of stop and search and their unaccountable and still unexplained deployment of firearms last year. The same culture of unaccountability has sabotaged efforts to investigate the death of Sheku Bayoh in police custody. Unaccountable police are dangerous police.”
Responding to the criticism, Police Scotland said: “Police Scotland complies with the Freedom of Information Act and believes it has fully answered this request within the legislation. Everyone who makes an FOI application is advised in the response that if they are not satisfied with the way in it has been dealt with, they are entitled to request a review of the decision and how to do so. If, after review, they are still not satisfied, then they are entitled to appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner, and again advised on how to do this.”
A version of the above report was first published by the Sunday Herald on 14 June 2015.
If you enjoyed this story, you can support us to carry out original investigative work for The Ferret here.