POLICE Scotland has a stubborn problem with racism, sexism and homophobia and requires a “fundamental” review of its culture, a damning new report has said.

Former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini said she received “very worrying evidence” of discriminatory behaviour and attitudes within Scotland’s single force.

She said part of the problem was a machismo "canteen culture" which contributes to a "racist, misogynistic or emotionally damaging environment".

Dame Elish said evidence from Black and Asian minority ethnic officers was “a chastening reminder” that attitudes had failed to change sufficiently for decades.

It meant some recruits had left the profession, often within just three to five years.

She said she was also “deeply concerned” to hear of discrimination experienced by female police officers and staff and by LGBTI officers and staff.

Although senior managers accepted there was a problem and were determined to deal with it, Dame Elish called for an independent “fundamental review” of equality matters to maintain public confidence in the force.

The report also said there was evidence that the Scottish Police Federation, which is supposed to support frontline officers, was “lacking empathy for minority groups”.  

Human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar called the report a “damning indictment”. 

Dame Elish’s report, commissioned in 2018, was into complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues in relation to policing, and makes 81 recommendations.

She recommended a series of changes to oversight mechanisms, including a “significant increase” in the powers of the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC).

She said it should be expanded, made accountable to Holyrood, and former police officers should be barred from filling its most senior positions.

She said gross misconduct hearings for officers should be held in public, and investigations continued after officers left the force, to stop them dodging a verdict.

Former Police Scotland Chief Constable Phil Gormley resigned in 2018 while under investigation for alleged gross misconduct - which he denied - but his exit brought the probe to a sudden stop.

In other parts of the UK it would have continued.

Dame Elish also said the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), which oversees the force’s £1bn budget, should no longer carry out the preliminary assessment of misconduct allegations against senior officers, which should transfer to the PIRC instead. 

She said the PIRC should also have the statutory power to call in an investigation of a complaint if there was evidence Police Scotland had not dealt with it properly.

The PIRC should also have the power to recommend the suspension of officers.

On deaths in custody, she said officers should not be allowed to confer before being interviewed to avoid “contamination” of evidence, whether inadvertent or not.

Her report said: “Early separation of officers, other than in pressing operational circumstances, is the best way to ensure non-conferral in practice, give transparency to the process and preserve the integrity of each individual’s evidence.  

“This is both in the interests of the individual police officers themselves and in the public interest in order to safeguard public confidence in the integrity of their evidence.  

“In any group of people there is a danger of group-think that could contaminate or colour evidence inadvertently or otherwise.”

On low level complaints from the public about the way officers dealt with them, which were often resolved by an apology, she said local officers and the line managers of those complained about should not be part of the process to ensure public confidence.

In one of the most damning sections, Dame Elish said: “In order to encourage confidence in the police and a willingness to interact with them, a police service should be representative of the whole of the society that it serves and its members should be drawn from diverse sections of that society.

“Much of the evidence presented to me by some serving officers from Black and Asian minority ethnic communities was a chastening reminder that in the police service and in the wider community attitudes have not changed as much as they should have since 1999 - the year of the Macpherson report of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry - or as much as we may like to believe that they have.

“The Review heard evidence that although there was a drive to recruit officers from the Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, the experiences of some recruits had caused them to leave the profession, often within three to five years.  

“The Review was told during a focus group that ethnic minority officers were leaving because of the culture of the police and the way they were treated.

“I was also deeply concerned to hear about the experiences of officers and staff about discrimination experienced by female police officers and staff and by LGBTI officers and staff.”

She said some officers and staff experienced “discriminatory conduct, attitudes, behaviours and microaggressions, both internally and externally, in the course of their duties. 

“We heard that many of these incidents go unreported even though some of these behaviours constitute misconduct and that there was a reluctance in those Black, Asian and minority ethnic officers to report for fear of being characterised as ‘playing the race card’.” 

She said part of the problem was the "canteen culture, humour and machismo behaviour within policing". 

She said: "Some of those impacts on individuals have been brought home to me in stark terms in much of the evidence that I have been given by serving police officers.

"There will always be a canteen culture, not all of which is harmful, but there is a responsibility on every person in Police Scotland to ensure that any sub-culture reflects the organisation’s values of integrity, fairness and respect, and that where it contributes to a racist, misogynistic or emotionally damaging environment it has to reform. 

"Changing the culture is a long game but it is worth investing time, effort and resource now to lay solid foundations for a process of change that is absolutely essential. 

"Police Scotland, the staff associations, the trade unions and the diversity staff associations all have a part to play and the SPA have an important role in holding the Chief Constable to account for progress in this area.

"I was deeply concerned to hear about police officers leaving the police because of their experiences of not feeling included, valued or listened to."  

She said there was a risk to the police service and to Scotland as a whole that enthusiastic, intelligent and public‑spirited people from minority communities who joined Police Scotland were "lost to the service because of a lack of support, nurture and equal treatment". 

"If the retention issues can be addressed and reversed Police Scotland could create a virtuous circle where enthusiastic and fulfilled recruits become the best possible salespeople and ambassadors for the organisation because they tell their friends and family about the great careers they have."

There was also sharp criticism of the Scottish Police Federation, which represents the force’s 17,000 frontline officers, for a perceived failure to support ethnic minority members.

The report said: “The Review heard evidence from different groups that they felt that the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) did not represent all its members equally and that they did not represent Black, Asian and minority ethnic officers well.  

“They were described as lacking empathy for minority groups and reliant on other support groups in relation to race issues.

“In evidence an officer told the Review that she had not felt able to go to the SPF for help.  “She noted that the SPF represented ‘both sides’ in internal complaints and that there was a lack of information for people who were the subject of a grievance; HR told them to go to the SPF, but not everyone is a member of the SPF.”

Dame Elish recommended all serious criminal allegations against the police, all deaths in police custody or following police contact, and serious injuries which occur in police custody, should be “reported forthwith” to the independent Procurator Fiscal. 

All other allegations against the police which infer criminality should be reported to the PFl within 48 hours to “maximise the scope for capturing or preserving evidence. 

Where a person dies in custody, the immediate family should get “free, non-means tested legal advice, assistance and representation” as soon as possible and throughout any subsequent fatal accident inquiry or public inquiry.

Dame Elish also said that although the public can complain directly to prosecutors about alleged criminal conduct by the police it was virtually unknown and “inaccessible”.

She said the introduction of body-worn cameras for officers should be accelerated.

In a statement, Dame Elish said: “My mandate from the Ministers was to make recommendations that will help to strengthen public confidence in policing in Scotland.  

“In addition to the recommendations contained in my preliminary report last year, this report presents a further set of major and wide‑ranging recommendations that will help to deliver a system that secures the human rights of all and ensure that complaints against the police are dealt with as effectively and fairly as possible.

“I am very grateful to the members of the public who came forward to share their experiences with me, to the former and serving police officers who provided evidence, and to the many individuals and representatives of organisations who met with me or provided submissions, information, advice or assistance.”

Aamer Anwar, lawyer for the family of Sheku Bayoh, whose death in police custody in Fife in 2015 is now the subject of a public inquiry, said: “Today’s review is a devastating and damning indictment of a police complaint system not fit for purpose in a modern and democratic Scotland.”

SNP Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf thanked Dame Elish foor a "very significant piece of work".

He said: “Scotland is well served by its police service, where every hour of every day officers and staff are responding to people who are in harm’s way or in crisis, working tirelessly to tackle crime and keep all of us safe.

“We have to recognise that things do at times go wrong, sometimes mistakenly or sometimes deliberately.

"It is in the interests of everyone in the police family, as well as the wider public, that we ensure the systems for investigating complaints or other issues of concern are as robust and transparent as possible.

"Those who raise legitimate concerns and those who are subject to investigations must always be treated in a fair and proportionate manner, helping to enhance accountability and strengthen public confidence in policing.

“The Lord Advocate and I will consider this detailed report and all of its recommendations with a range of key interests before responding formally to it.”

The Lord Advocate, James Wolffe QC, added: "It was clear when commissioning this work that many issues would be raised and given the scale of the report there is much for the justice sector as whole to consider.

“The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal will take time to consider the recommendations made in relation to its work and officials from COPFS will discuss any implications with relevant justice sector organisations.”

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said: “In discussions I’ve had with officers locally and nationally, I sadly recognise some of the serious concerns raised by Dame Elish, who deserves our gratitude for producing such a fearless and thorough report.

“Scotland’s current system of policing, complaints and governance was built by the SNP government yet this report exposes fundamental flaws.

“Dame Elish raises worrying concerns around discrimination on the grounds of race and sex and a system often lacking accountability, transparency and fairness.

“She identifies the need for legislative action but also for the SNP to work with the UK Government and adopt good practices used in England and Wales.

“There is clearly no easy fix but acting on Dame Elish’s recommendations will be vital in order to repair public confidence in the integrity of Scottish policing.

“A robust and fair system will not just protect the public but will also protect officers, some of whom have suffered greatly as a result of the existing complaints process.”

Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur said: “In the context of the Black Lives Matter protests across the world this year, it is extremely disheartening to hear that such attitudes continue to exist within Police Scotland.

“Twenty years on from the MacPherson report, lessons should have been learned.

"Discriminatory cultures must be weeded out, and the reports of lingering ‘canteen cultures’ should be a cause for blunt reflection and swift action."

Green MSP John Finnie, convener of Holyrood’s Justice sub-committee on policing, welcomed the report provided a “comprehensive review of the vexed issue of how complaints against police officers are handled”.

He said: “There are a large number of detailed, thoughtful recommendations, a number of which are common sense and could be implemented quickly, particularly around public awareness and understanding of citizens’ rights.

“As MSPs, we will reflect on the suggestions in the report around legislative changes to improve the process for complainers and those who are the subject of complaints. 

“It is vital both groups have confidence in the system.” 

Dame Elish is due to give evidence to the sub-committee next month.

Police Scotland was formed in 2013 by the merger of Scotland's eight regional forces into one.

SPF general secretary Calum Steele said: “On initial examination this report contains some good, some bad, and some unclear observations and recommendations. 

“We note that the report appears to have strayed into areas outwith its remit, whilst conspicuously avoiding others that might legitimately have fallen within it.

“We welcome the fact that Dame Elish has recognised the bar for misconduct investigations against police officers is too low, the recommended introduction of lay members in misconduct hearings, and the recommendation to examine the workloads and number of supervisors in the police service.

“We are disappointed that the report stops short of recommending a commitment to prosecuting those who make malicious or vexatious complaints against the police, and we are disappointed that there is no meaningful recommendation in respect of the welfare support that so many contributors clearly identified as being deficient.

“It is our considered view that yet again commentators on police complaints processes believe that changing structures and regulations will ‘build public confidence’. 

“It is not our experience that there is a widespread lack of public confidence in the processes as they exist now. 

“We know through bitter experience that there are those in society (and indeed within the police service itself) who will never be satisfied with any police complaints process, and we cannot be surprised that they would have contributed adverse commentary to this review.

“We note the numerous recommendations in respect of changes to regulations; regulations  first developed within the Scottish Government while Dame Elish was Lord Advocate.

“These regulations and processes were designed to move away from blame and sanction, to learning and reflection. We can only assume those approaches were supported by the law officers of the day. They were clearly supported by parliament.

“This report undermines those success and risks recreating a more adversarial blame-based system once more. This will not address the fact that the unsatisfied will always be unsatisfied, but it will make for a rich seam of work for lawyers and the legal profession, and lead to even more drain on the already woefully inadequate police budget.

“Clearly the public can have any form of police complaints system they want but they must recognise that the recommendations laid out in this report, will come at considerable financial cost. The report does not indicate how its recommendations ought to be paid for.  

“What is clear however is that cost cutting on training, supervision, and welfare support for police officers has created organisational and reputational risks for the police service. 

“It will be telling if this reality is overlooked in pursuit of sensationalist headlines about a police service that I do not recognise in this report, to satisfy the apparent demands of a public that I equally do not recognise, as clamouring for change.”

Michelle Macleod, of Pirc, welcomed the review and said it will carefully consider its findings, while the Scottish Police Authority said it will consider the report’s recommendations in full.

Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said the implications of the recommendations now require “careful consideration”.

He said: “Racism and discrimination of any kind is deplorable and unacceptable and I utterly condemn it. It has no place in society, and no place in policing.

“Our core values are integrity, fairness and respect and a commitment to upholding human rights. These are the foundations of policing in Scotland and are demonstrated every day by officers and staff up and the down the country.

“I agree it is crucial that the culture of Police Scotland is welcoming and inclusive to all and that we support all our people to thrive and flourish in what is an extremely demanding job.”