By Paul Hutcheon

ON Tuesday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon responded to mounting concerns about Police Scotland by announcing a review into the governance of the service.

The Scottish Police Authority is the oversight body for the single force, but a number of other publicly-funded organisations exist either to scrutinise or research Police Scotland.

The Sunday Herald has examined whether three bodies - the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC), the Scottish Institute for Policing Research, and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland – are genuinely independent of the police.


NEARLY 75% of the senior investigators on the quango tasked with probing complaints against police officers are ex-police, it can be revealed.

The revelation has prompted concerns that the staff working for the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC) are too closely tied to the service they are supposed to hold to account.

The PIRC was established in 2013 with an expanded remit to investigate alleged shortcomings in Police Scotland.

Its role is to undertake investigations into the most serious incidents involving the police and to provide scrutiny of the way complaints from the public are handled.

The PIRC was tasked recently with investigating the death in custody of Fife man Sheku Bayoh and the separate tragedy of the police failing to respond to a call about a fatal car crash on the M9.

Lamara Bell, 25, lay injured for three days following the accident on the M9, and died in hospital four days after she was found. Her partner, 28-year-old John Yuill, died in the crash, which was reported to police but not followed up.

According to the body’s website, the PIRC is “an independent organisation not connected to the police”.

However, statistics obtained by this newspaper show close ties between the PIRC and the police service.

Of the 27 investigators responsible for dealing with PIRC cases, 15 used to be police officers.

Of the 11 individuals who are in senior positions, eight are ex-police - around 73%.

The two key individuals overseeing and investigating the Bayoh case are former senior officers with a link to the service spanning over fifty years.

John Mitchell, the director of investigations, is a one-time detective chief superintendent and former head of CID at Strathclyde Police.

John McSporran, a key member of the Bayoh case team, retired from Strathclyde Police in 2012 after 30 years service.

The Home Affairs Select Committee at Westminster recommended in 2013 that a maximum of 20% of investigators at the Independent Police Complaints Commission – the PIRC equivalent for England and Wales - should be ex-police.

“If the Commission’s primary statutory purpose is to increase public confidence, then it must act to rectify the impression that the police are investigating the police,” MPs argued.

“The Commission must improve its in-house investigative resources and move to a target of 20% of investigators who have moved directly from a career as a police officer, or fewer, so that the number of former officers investigating the police is significantly reduced.”

Aamer Anwar, who represents the Bayoh family, said: “If the PIRC is supposed to be independent from the police then why are most of its investigators former police officers? How can it remain impartial, when its investigators have spent so much time on one side of the ‘thin blue line’?

“It is the public perception that counts here. The police service is a family, and if you come out of the service to go into a different job, you are still part of the family.”

A spokesman for the PIRC said: “When the decision was made to set up the PIRC, it was important that an experienced team was put together to face the various challenges they may encounter.

“Staff were selected from a variety of backgrounds - including the police, fire service and military amongst others - for their skills in dealing with situations such as deaths in custody, crime-scene management and providing family liaison support.

“Since the inception of the PIRC, a trainee programme was established to recruit staff with no previous investigatory experience and provide them with the necessary skills."


HALF of the lead inspectors in the watchdog set up to provide “independent scrutiny” of the single force are former police officers themselves.

The remit of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) is to investigate the “state, effectiveness and efficiency” of both Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority.

It is funded entirely by ministers to the tune of around £1.1m and is based in the Scottish Government headquarters at St. Andrew’s House.

However, although HMICS is tasked with probing the police service, its staffing arrangements cast doubt on its genuine independence from the force.

The current Inspector of Constabulary, Derek Penman, became a police officer in 1984 before rising to become deputy chief constable and then temporary chief constable of Central Scotland police.

In January 2013, he was appointed as an assistant chief constable of Police Scotland.

Andy Cowie, the assistant Inspector, joined HMICS on secondment from the police service as an assistant chief constable and has around 25 years policing experience.

Three of the six lead inspectors listed on the watchdog website are also ex-police: Frank Gallop, an ex-superintendent with Northumbria Police; Brian Plastow, a former Chief Superintendent; and former Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency deputy director Stephen Whitelock.

HMICS has examined hot button issues such as armed policing, stop and search, and staffing problems in control rooms, but Holyrood sources believe the reports tend to be heavy on civil service jargon.

In August, it was revealed that HMICS had watered down a critical report into stop and search after a personal intervention by chief constable Stephen House.

In the original draft, HMICS noted that non-statutory searches were not backed up by a “legal authority or protection”.

However, in a letter to the watchdog, House claimed: “It would…be helpful and reflect a more balanced approach if any reference to consensual searching having no legal authority or protection was removed.”

HMICS took out the phrase and watered down the criticism.

Weeks later, a review group headed by QC John Scott queried the legality of non-statutory searches, which are now to be banned by the Scottish Government.

John Finnie, the Scottish Greens' justice spokesperson and a former police officer, said: “The well-documented controversies which followed the advent of the single police service have shown the need for a robust inspection regime.

“Engaging suitable individuals to inspect from within the ranks of any organisation - and the police is no exception - can bring the benefits of the ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’ scenario.

“So long as there is sufficient practical police knowledge within the Inspectorate, there is no reason why for instance the lead person need be an ex-police officer or why there shouldn’t be greater proportion of non-police members.”

A spokesperson for HMICS said: “HMICS is confident in its independence. Its recent reports and findings, which are evidence led, have been tackling head on all the key issues in policing.

“HMICS has taken steps to strengthen its independence since the establishment of the single police force. Previously all HMICS lead inspectors were on secondment from legacy forces. But in light of the new policing landscape, it adopted a model where no lead inspectors are on secondment and now there is a 50/50 split of former police officers and those from other relevant backgrounds.”


An academic body responsible for carrying out research into policing has senior officers on its committees and gives the single force the opportunity to shape its work.

The Scottish Institute for Policing Research (SIPR) gives force representatives a “key role” and backs the “alignment” of its projects with Police Scotland priorities.

SIPR was established in 2007 as a collaboration between the country’s universities and the police service.

In 2014/15, SIPR’s core budget was £142,000, of which £50,000 came from Police Scotland.

However, while policing sources believe the Institute carries out valuable work, the closeness to the force it researches has been questioned.

SIPR is comprised of an executive committee, an advisory committee, and four ‘networks’ that focus on themed research.

According to SIPR’s annual report, Police Scotland deputy chief constables Neil Richardson and Iain Livingstone sit on the executive, which has “overall responsibility” for ensuring the Institute meets its research objectives.

Its advisory committee also has a police link in the form of Peter Wilson, formerly the chief constable of Fife Constabulary.

Richardson, Livingstone, chief superintendent John Pow and assistant chief constable Malcolm Graham are respectively listed as the “liaison” for the SIPR networks for police-community relations, evidence and investigation, police organisation and public protection.

SIPR’s extensive list of researchers also includes police officers.

The Institute’s website makes clear that the officers wield significant influence on the body: “Police representatives play a key role at all levels of the management structure of SIPR. Within the research networks, there is a senior police representative on each network steering group whose role includes bringing forward proposals for research from within the police service and helping facilitate access to police personnel and data for researchers undertaking research projects.”

However, SIPR is believed to focus primarily on relatively uncontroversial research areas.

Daniel Donnelly, a former police officer turned academic, raised the close links in his 'Scottish Police Officer' book.

“[T]here is one issue that arises with SIPR and that is the high level of police involvement in the management of research into its own organisation and whether this has an impact on the topics chosen to be researched (or not to be researched) and the independence of research undertaken,” he wrote.

“Intriguingly, there was an absence of research work and comment from SIPR during the initial years of debate and discussion on the topic of police reform in Scotland and the concept of a national police service – which was a surprise to many.”

However, it emerged last month that the Institute had been given funding to examine the effectiveness of the single force.

Professor Nick Fyfe, the director of SIPR, said: “SIPR is supported by investment from twelve collaborating universities and their support is based on SIPR fulfilling its strategic objective of conducting high quality independent research on policing. Although SIPR also receives some additional funding from Police Scotland and SPA, SIPR’s governance arrangements – which include a Board of Governance comprising the Principals of the twelve universities and HMICS and chaired by a senior academic - are there to protect its independent position.

“The presence of senior police on SIPR’s committees and our engagement with police officers and staff across police organisations in the UK and internationally ensures SIPR’s research is relevant, responsive and impactful.”