PEOPLE detained by police are routinely having their human rights violated and officers are increasingly at risk of assaults because of cuts to the number of custody centres, officers have claimed.

In damning evidence to MSPs, the union representing rank and file officers said the budget-driven reductions meant people were suffering the stress of being kept in handcuffs and cages for long periods of time.

The Scottish Police Federation (SPF) said that “as a direct consequence of diminished funding” the officers involved were under “intolerable pressures”.

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The result, despite people’s best intentions, was that “an unacceptably large number of prisoners are treated in a manner… completely incompatible with their human rights”.

The SPF blamed cuts to the number of custody centres for forcing officers to convey prisoners “vast distances” to cells, “zigzagging the country” in an “inherently wasteful” use of police time.

Despite a dedicated custody division improving “cell care” once people arrived, it said there were growing problems with empty spaces, transportation and the processing of detainees.

The claims are contained in a written submission to this week’s Holyrood’s Justice sub-committee on policing, which will look at the 2018-19 budget for Police Scotland.

The Federation also said it would be an “an act of unforgivable betrayal” if, as forecast, police pay rises stayed capped at one per cent, while they went up for other public sector staff.

In 2013 there were 42 full-time and 60 part-time custody centres across Scotland processing around 200,000 detainees; there are now 35 full-time and 50 part-time centres.

Referring to the drop in numbers, SPF General Secretary Calum Steele wrote: “It is arguable that as a consequence the human rights of prisoners are being ignored.

“Prisoners are now routinely conveyed over vast distances to be accommodated in cells.

“Many prisoners are now conveyed for longer than could arguably be considered acceptable while in handcuffs, or insecure in a cage in the back of a police vehicle.

“This is a practice that prevails from the time of the original ‘lock-up’, as well as the now almost routine ritual of shunting prisoners from one custody holding facility to another.”

He said the delays led to delays in the system, “internal friction” and danger to officers.

Even once a cell space was found, “waiting times of several hours to process prisoners are not uncommon, and this inevitably creates internal friction over who ‘owns’ the processing responsibility if the prisoner came from outwith the area”.

He warned: “Travelling these distances and delays at centres resulting in prisoners being kept in cages or handcuffs for even longer create considerable stress for police officers as well as stress for prisoners.

“Even the patience and good will of the most compliant prisoner can be tested in these circumstances which increases the risk of assault and injury to police officers as well as the inevitable additional charges against the accused.”

Mr Steele said around 118 Police Custody Security Officer vacancies across Scotland had “simply been deleted”, suggesting a lack of urgency in addressing the problems.

It comes as Police Scotland is due to start the next financial year with a £47.2 million budget deficit.

It was a matter of “considerable regret” that force management and the SPA continued not to involve the frontline in the budget process, Mr Steele said.

The SPF complained that police pay was assumed to increase by just one per cent up to 2020/21, despite Nicola Sturgeon promising to end the cap for other public sector workers.

The government’s tight rein on the force’s budget meant there was “little room for manoeuvre” to consider wage growth with a prevailing budget deficit, it said.

Mr Steele said: “Police officers are wholly unique in the public sector and this status deserves to be respected and reflected in the actions of those who fund the service.

“Police officers will consider it an act of unforgivable betrayal if, at the time wages grow beyond the limits of the historic pay cap for other workers, they are denied the opportunity to secure fair wage growth as a direct consequence of a funding settlement that kills that potential stone dead.”

Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur said: “The SNP said that centralising policing would deliver savings. We know from Audit Scotland that these have failed to materialise.

“Instead we have a police budget under such pressure that the SPF is warning that prisoners’ human rights are not being respected in some instances.

“This should have alarm bells ringing within the Scottish Government and demands an urgent response from Ministers.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have committed to protecting the police revenue budget in real terms, safeguarding policing from Westminster budget cuts and delivering an additional £100m of investment by the end of this Parliament, in addition to funding to support reform of £61m this year.

“Ministers have been clear in their continued calls for the UK Government to end the glaring VAT disparity which means the Scottish Police Authority is the only territorial police authority in the UK unable to recover VAT. This could see a cost to the Scottish public purse of £200m by the end of the current parliamentary session.”