Police Scotland bosses have been accused of having “inappropriately recorded” allegations made by the public, MSPs were told, including a rape claim that was recorded as an “incivility”.
Kate Frame, the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc), also said when someone reported being “unlawfully detained” by police it was treated as a “quality of service complaint” by the force.
In another example, she said an allegation of someone being punched in the face by a police officer was recorded as them having used “excessive force” instead of an assault.
Ms Frame made the allegations when giving evidence to MSPs on Holyrood’s Justice Committee, who are examining the impact of the legislation used to create a nationwide Scottish police force.
She explained Pirc could be contacted to review complaints against police if the person making the allegations was not satisfied with the response from the force.
At @SP_Justice Committee, @DJohnsonMSP is concerned to hear allegations against Police Scotland of unlawful detention and rape being wrongly recorded by Police as 'quality of service' and 'incivility' complaints — witness Kate Frame, Police Investigations & Review Commissioner.
— Hannah Graham (@DrHannahGraham) November 6, 2018
In a submission to MSPs ahead of the meeting, it said “several instances have been identified where Police Scotland has failed to refer criminal allegations against officers to the COPFS as required, or attempted to deal with serious and complex complaints via ‘frontline resolution’ (a process that should be used only for minor and straightforward complaints)”.
Ms Frame said she had concerns about the “level of police discretion which continues to allow them to investigate some of their own actions”.
She said: “At the recording stage, obviously there is significant discretion afforded to the police at that time, how a complaint is initially recorded by the police will generally determine the route that it then takes.
“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 another example of an allegation of rape, that was recorded as incivility.
“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 added: “So in all of those cases the only reason and the only way in which we found out about how the recording process had taken place was because the complainers had made a complaint to the police, which had been dealt with, they felt dissatisfied and they came to us seeking a complaint handling review.
“At that stage we were able to refer the matter to Crown Office for their instructions in relations to the criminality involved.
“So had the complainers not had the option of coming through the complaint handling process we would have been none the wiser.”
Labour’s Daniel Johnson asked: “Do I hear you correctly saying rape and assault were recorded as quality of service and incivility?
“Can I just ask you to confirm that and more importantly comment on what is going on there? Is it incompetence? A clerical error? Or something more disturbing or untoward?”
Ms Frame told him: “I can confirm in relation to the example I gave of unlawful detention that was recorded as quality of service. In relation to an allegation of rape that was recorded as incivility.”
She added: “We were surprised when we received that through the complaint handling process.
“I think there maybe a combination of factors that have contributed to it, either by the way of incompetence or other more sinister aspects.”
Mr Johnson then pressed Ms Frame on how widespread such practice was, saying to the commissioner: “You stated you are finding this out by accident because people are asking for a review of the internal police complaints handling.
“Do you have any sense of how significant an issue this is?”
Ms Frame said it was “very difficult to assess that because it only is the complainers who come to us after the event, and some may very well not”.
John McSporran, head of investigations at Pirc, said: “It’s the old adage you only know what you know.
“If you can not 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.
“The problem might be small and there might be a few isolated examples but unless you can actually look at the extent of the problem, how do you tell whether wholesale change is necessary?”