POLICE Scotland has been accused of “institutional racism” by a government-funded charity.

The force has been attacked over the recruitment and retention levels of staff from black and minority ethnic (BME) communities.

The Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (CRER) also criticised the force on the same grounds for the way it responds to racist incidents.

In one case, the CRER said that a person who received a threatening and racist email was asked if it could have been “just a prank” and whether it was “worth the hassle” to pursue the complaint.

The organisation added that the “problem of institutional racism” within Police Scotland must be “named and acknowledged before it can be addressed”.

The CRER, which received over £70,000 in 2016/17 from the Scottish Government, strives to eliminate racial discrimination and promote racial justice.

It has liaised with Police Scotland, whose chief constable is Phil Gormley, on issues relating to recruitment, hate crime reporting and external advisory groups.

However, in a hard-hitting submission to a Holyrood committee, the CRER has criticised the force over its engagement with BME communities.

According to the submission, only 1% of officers, police staff and special constables are from a BME background - a tiny proportion which the charity says is “relatively unchanged” since 2013.

The Coalition added: “The proportion of BME police officers has never risen above 1%. A lack of diversity in this respect is perhaps the most significant barrier for BME communities in engaging with police services locally and nationally.”

The charity also claimed there is a “particular problem” with retaining BME staff once in post: “There is no point in bettering recruitment if BME police officers and staff continue to leave Police Scotland in high proportions.”

In an alarming section of the submission, the CRER added: “It contributes to the perception [and experience] of institutional racism within Police Scotland. If Scotland wants to be a nation in which all of its citizens feel safe, protected, and included, then concerted and deliberate action to increase BME representation within Police Scotland is needed.”

The phrase “institutional racism” was used by Sir William Macpherson to describe the Metropolitan Police in London after the force’s disastrous handling of the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

At that time, it was defined as the “collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin”.

The CRER also hit out at the way Police Scotland has dealt with complaints by members of BME communities.

“In our experience, many people who report ongoing racial harassment...have previously complained to the police services about issues such as verbal harassment or minor vandalism.

“These complaints are often not resolved at an early stage or not taken seriously. Not only does this discourage individuals from reporting more serious incidents to police, it also contributes to an apprehension of, and distrust in, police services.”

The charity elaborated: “In one such case, the person being harassed had complained repeatedly and no action had yet been taken against the perpetrators. When he was eventually attacked on his doorstep, he fought back. The police arrested him instead of the perpetrators, and held him for some time.”

According to the charity, the individual eventually received an apology, but this outcome did not change the “lack of support and unfair treatment” he experienced.

The CRER wrote that it was also aware of cases in which people were “discouraged” from reporting a crime as racially motivated: “Usually this occurs in face-to-face contact with officers, with the officers putting forward alternative motivations or asserting their own opinions in a way which diminishes the complaint being made.”

The charity offered an example: “One person who received a threatening, racist email was repeatedly asked if it could be ‘just a prank’ and whether it was ‘worth the hassle’ to pursue the complaint. Being treated in this way and having racist incidents invalidated contributes to a belief that the police do not understand racism and that engagement on race equality issues is futile.”

In an unsparing conclusion, the CRER wrote that “high ranking members” of Police Scotland have “denied that institutional racism exists” which “indicates a misunderstanding of the issue” and a “refusal to acknowledge the experiences of BME individuals”.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Police Scotland enjoys a good working relationship with the CRER, with regular meetings and we value the skills they bring in support of consultations about the BME community.

“Racism and hate crime of any description will not be tolerated in Scotland – it causes fear, isolation and a sense of helplessness for victims. There is simply no place for behaviour motivated by prejudice within a 21st century Scotland and Police Scotland has a zero tolerance approach to these crimes – all officers have compulsory diversity and equality training.

“Police Scotland is always striving to improve the BME representation in the Force and the Positive Action Team, formed last October, ensures a cohesive approach to engagement with minority communities. During the past few months, led by senior officers, a series of new BME engagement initiatives were held with potential recruits and their families over several weekends. On the September 8 2017 the work of this team saw the Scottish Police College host its largest ever passing out parade of 213 new police constables, more than 10% of whom were from BME backgrounds.”