THE number of Scottish police officers taken off the front line while under investigation has jumped by half in a year.


New figures show that 141 constables, sergeants and inspectors are currently on "restricted duties", two out of five of them because they are suspected of data protection offences.

This is up 48 per cent from 97 a year ago as the new national force takes a stern line on those in its ranks suspected of criminality.

Three civilian members of staff and two special constables are also on restricted duties, according to papers submitted to the force's civilian watchdog, the Scottish Police Authority (SPA).

Another 13 officers were suspended.

Three of the suspended officers were accused of rape, one of attempted rape.

Constables were also suspended while under investigation for domestic assault, assault, abduction and fire-raising aggravated by racism and homophobia; stalking; misuse of drugs; and offensive behaviour at football.

One officer was suspended pending a probe in to criminal neglect of duty and another for a charge of data protection offences; the latter was the only individual to be sent home for no other reason than data protection.

Police Scotland has come under fire in recent weeks for the way it carries out internal investigations, especially on data protection.

One solicitor, Aamer Anwar, has accused the service of using data protection offences as a "catch-all" or "sledgehammer" and an MSP, the SNP's Linda Fabiani, has said she fears there was a "culture of secrecy".

The Herald understands that Police Scotland is currently working to harmonise professional standards and complaints investigations across all eight former territorial force areas.

Deputy Chief Constable Neil Richardson personally decides who is suspended when under investigation and stressed that 13 officers kept at home was tiny compared with the overall force of more than 17,000 men and women.

He said: "Service integrity is a key theme for Police Scotland and as we move into year three of the organisation, work continues to ensure officers and staff fully understand what is expected of them in terms of maintaining the highest possible professional standards.

"Suspension is a tool of last resort and is only used where it is appropriate and justifiable.

"Complaints about the police and the conduct of officers and staff are closely scrutinised from a number of quarters, including the SPA."

Police internal investigations can take a long time - not least if a criminal investigation and prosecution is followed by misconduct hearing.

Thirty-eight officers have been on restricted duties for more than 700 days, more than half of them are under investigation for data protection issues and nothing else.

The Scottish Police Federation, the body that represents rank and file officers, including when they are being disciplined or investigated - argues that accessing data should be treated differently than sharing data.

Mr Richardson has previously warned that organised criminals are trying to use corrupt or naive officers to access police data. The Crown Office takes a tough stance on the offence.