Scottish Police Authority comes under fire for investigating complaints against itself

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The Scottish Police Authority (SPA) has “huge transparency and accountability issues”, an MSP has said after discovering the organisation investigates complaints against itself – but cannot say how many there are.

Holyrood’s Justice Committee Convener, Margaret Mitchell, said she was not aware the police oversight body could investigate itself and criticised its complaints head for not knowing how many of these complaints have been lodged.

Lindsey McNeill, SPA’s governance and assurance director, told the committee the authority deals with complaints against itself but said she did not “have the figures to hand” when asked how many are currently being investigated.

She also said the authority’s complaints and conduct committee had been re-established after being disbanded by the previous chairman Andrew Flanagan, with all complaints decisions taken by the then chief executive John Foley.

The two men stood down in 2017 amid serious and sustained criticism over transparency, governance and decision-making at the SPA.

Ms Mitchell said: “Certainly from my point on view there are huge transparency and accountability issues here.

“We sit on [Holyrood’s Policing] sub-committee but I wasn’t aware [that the SPA investigates complaints against itself], I doubt the general public is.”

She said she was “disappointed” Ms McNeill had come to the committee to answer questions on complaints but was unable to say how many are lodged against the SPA.

Margaret Mitchell
Justice Committee Convener Margaret Mitchell (Katielee Arrowsmith/Scottish Parliament/PA)

Ms McNeill said she could not answer questions on the processes around this as it related to a specific case, when she was not at work, and she is “not familiar” with the process.

“There are several things we’ve asked you that you don’t appear to have the answers to,” Ms Mitchell said.

“I mean, have we got the wrong person in front of us today?”

Ms McNeill replied: “No, convener. I am the director in charge of complaints handling procedures. Having since returned to work full-time in June I have worked with the team, worked with the committee and we are currently taking on board various lessons learned.”

She added the authority is engaged with the government-commissioned review into how complaints against the police are handled, being carried out by former Lord Advocate Dame Eilish Angiolini.

She said: “We absolutely welcome the Eilish Angiolini review because actually as our own chair has said when she took up the post in December she feels that the system is broken and she is very keen to look for system-wide review.”

Ms Mitchell ordered Ms McNeill to write to the committee giving the number, nature and outcome of the complaints against the authority, the information surrounding the previous decision to disband the conduct and complaints committee and on special leave procedure.

However, some committee members appeared to come to Ms McNeill’s aid, with Fulton McGregor reminding the convener to treat those giving evidence “with respect” and Shona Robison saying questions had been answered in an “open and transparent manner”.

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