Posted: Monday 30 July 2012

Use of force and forced entry complaints feature in latest reports from police watchdog

A man who claimed that he had been detained unlawfully by Northern Constabulary has had two out of three complaints rejected by the Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland.

In his report published this week, Professor John McNeill, examined how Northern Constabulary handled three complaints from a man detained in relation to a suspected breach of the peace in September last year.

He found that the inspector who investigated the complaint of unlawful detention had 'fully and comprehensively' addressed  this in his response to the man by laying out the terms of section 14 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. Section 14 allows a police officer to detain a member of the public for the purposes of investigating a crime.  The Commissioner was satisfied that the detention was lawful and went on to conclude that there was therefore no reason for Northern Constabulary to apologise.

At the same time man complained that officers had discriminated against him because of his disability and that his wrists had been injured by handcuffs applied at the time of his detention.

In reviewing these issues, Professor McNeill found no evidence that the man had been discriminated against and included a reference in his report to the vulnerability assessment carried out by the force, which led to a doctor being called and the man subsequently being taken to a local hospital.

He did however find variances between the Scottish Police Services Students' Training Manual and the force's own Custody Care Manual, in relation to the use of force and handcuffs, as well as an inconsistency within the force's guidance itself. As a result, he has asked the force to look again at whether the man should have been handcuffed and has recommended that it amends its Custody Care Manual relating to the use of force, to ensure that it is consistent with the Scottish Police Services Students' Training Manual.

Professor McNeill said: "The responsibility and accountability for the use of force should rest with those using that force, in this case the officers involved. I readily acknowledge that this will often be a careful balancing exercise for the officers, who will be required to take all relevant factors into account. That makes it all the more important that the guidance available to them is clear, unambiguous and consistent."

As well as reviewing the way that a complaint has been handled, the Commissioner can make recommendations to the police as part of his remit of driving up standards in police complaints handling.

In one such case published this month, Professor McNeill has asked Tayside Police to provide a further response to a man who had complained that officers, forced entry without warning and that damage caused was not subsequently repaired properly. The Commissioner has recommended that the response specifically addresses whether the man should have been given a warning by the officers in possession of a warrant granted by a Sheriff under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, that entry would forced and the responsibility, if any, that lies with Tayside Police for making good the damage to the door.

This month the Commissioner published eight reports, known as complaint handling reviews, containing 30 individual complaints. Nineteen were found to have been handled reasonably by the police and the remaining 11 were not.

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