POLICE chiefs have strongly rejected a watchdog’s claims that officers made errors in recording crimes because they are incompetent or motivated by something more “sinister”. 

Kate Frame, the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc), accused officers of failing to refer criminal allegations within their ranks to prosecutors.

She said a case of unlawful detention was wrongly recorded as a “quality of service complaint”, and suggested police incompetence or something more sinister may have contributed to the mistakes.

She said: “I think there may be a combination of factors that have contributed to it – either by way of incompetence or other more sinister aspects.”

However Ms Frame’s office was later forced to retract claims police had recorded an allegation of rape as merely an “incivility” rather than a serious crime. The force said this was “categorically incorrect”.

Speaking to Holyrood's justice committee, Ms Frame said: "Recently, we've seen some evidence of serious criminal allegations which have been inappropriately recorded.

"We have examples of a complaint where someone had been unlawfully detained. That was recorded by the police as a quality of service complaint.

"There is a further example of someone who had been punched twice on the face that was recorded by the police as excessive force rather than assault."

She said she had concerns about the "level of police discretion which continues to allow them to investigate some of their own actions", and said it was “very difficult” to assess how commons mistakes are. 

This was echoed by Pirc's head of investigations John McSporran. He told MSPs: "If you cannot examine it, you cannot tell the extent of the problem and, at present, there is no audit of those sort of processes to determine the extent of the problem.”

Assistant chief constable Alan Speirs insisted claims there is no audit of police complaints are “incorrect”. 

He said: "Where it is assessed there is an inference of criminality within a complaint about the police, the matter is reported to the Crown Office.

“The assessment of criminality is subjective and undertaken in accordance with the Lord Advocate's Guidelines.

“Police Scotland categorically rejects the assertion made by the Commissioner that any failure to report matters is due to 'sinister aspects'.

"Police Scotland deals with over 6000 complaints annually and all complaints against the police are fully recorded and subject to fair and rigorous investigation.

“Every complainer has a right of recourse in circumstances where they are dissatisfied, and are provided by Police Scotland with details of how to seek further action.”