Recommendations made by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC) to Police Scotland following complaints about how officers treated a disabled woman and her son have now been implemented.
The woman contacted the PIRC to request a Complaint Handling Review (CHR/00211/16) as she was unhappy with the response to her initial complaint after being arrested following a report that she had assaulted one of her son’s fellow pupils in July 2016.
Officers detained the woman, who states she has a number of disabilities including chronic anxiety, short-term memory loss and severe dyslexia and struggles to process information, causing her to shout and become aggressive without realising it.
Whilst at the police station the woman refused to answer the required risk assessment questions, be searched or have her photograph and fingerprints taken.
An appropriate adult was requested to help make sure she understood the custody procedures and a community forensic nurse was also requested to provide a medical assessment on her suitability to be held in custody.
The woman agreed to pay a fine after being charged with obstructing police officers in the execution of their duty and for threatening or abusive behaviour.
Following the incident, the woman made six complaints to Police Scotland and during the CHR it was found that four of these had been handled to a reasonable standard with no further action needed in respect of them.
However, two of her complaints were found not to have been handled to a reasonable standard and two recommendations were made to the police. In addition, a ‘Learning Point’ was identified by the PIRC in connection with the retention of CCTV footage.
The woman’s complaints included that her son, who has a number of disabilities and was unable to be left at home alone during her arrest, was left unattended at a police office. During the review it was found that although her son had been left alone for a short time, officers stated they checked him remotely by CCTV. It was recommended that to fully examine the complaint, the son and his father, who had been contacted, should be asked to provide a statement.
Secondly, the woman complained that a custody officer made a discriminatory comment regarding her disabilities when he asked if she was able to use her phone and said to her “Not that I’m making a fool of your disability”. She believed this was discriminatory as the officer would not have asked a “non-disabled” person the same question.
Although the Sergeant believed he asked her the question in an empathetic and courteous manner in order to establish her understanding and capacity, the report found that during the review of this complaint his statement was not taken into consideration. Therefore, it was concluded this complaint had not been handled to a reasonable standard and should be reassessed taking his statement into account.
Both recommendations have now been implemented, with Police Scotland having reassessed the two complaints and now upholding one of them.
During the review it was found that CCTV was not available to the PIRC as this had been submitted to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) in connection to the charges against the woman during her arrest. After she had paid the fine and the case was disposed, the COPFS provided a release note to Police Scotland allowing the CCTV to be destroyed.
The PIRC raised a Learning Point that Police Scotland should, when dealing with complaints where CCTV footage is a relevant source of evidence and this footage is also being used as a production in a criminal case, make a copy of the CCTV footage specifically for the complaint file to be kept by the Professional Standards Department.
This would prevent the relevant footage being completely destroyed when the criminal case is concluded, and would ensure that all information used to come to a determination on a particular complaint can be passed to the PIRC where necessary.