Sir Stephen House clashes with sheriff over remarks on cover-ups within the single force

Sir Stephen House
Sir Stephen House

Sir Stephen House, the chief constable of Police Scotland sparked a row between the police and the judiciary after he criticised a sheriff for making “unsubstantiated comments” at the trial of one of his colleagues last year.

Sheriff Robert Dickson suggested there may be a “perceived culture that officers are willing to prevent the arrest of a colleague” after he jailed a constable who failed to breathalyse another officer following reports that officer was driving under the influence.

He said: “If that culture exists, then every superior officer and anybody involved in the training of the police must ensure that it is stamped out forthwith.”

David Carmichael was jailed for seven months after he neglected to breathalyse Daryl McKillion, who was depressed and later committed suicide.

Mr Carmichael told the junior officer with him that he would not grass a fellow officer up.

His comments provoked Sir Stephen to write to Sheriff Dickson’s superior, Sheriff Principal Brian Lockhart.

That correspondence, seen by The National, questions Sheriff Dickson’s belief there is a “culture” of officers willing to bend the rules for their colleagues.

However, Sheriff Principal Lockhart said Sheriff Dickson had “ample evidence” to come to that conclusion.

The information was obtained by the paper under a freedom of information request made of the single force.

Sheriff Dickson made the inference that Mr Carmichael’s behaviour may be endemic to the force because the tip-off about Mr McKillion came from a 999 call made by an off-duty officer who chose to remain anonymous.

Sentencing Mr Carmichael, Sheriff Dickson said: “She deliberately chose not to state his name or job when she phoned the police office to report what she had seen.

“She did so because she was concerned that, if she revealed that the driver was a police officer, her report would not be dealt with appropriately.”

Sheriff Principal Lockhart supported this view, saying in a letter to Sir Stephen that Sheriff Dickson had every right to make the comments, so that “public confidence in the judicial system is not further damaged. To suggest otherwise fails to recognise the role of the judiciary”.

Professor James Chalmers, Regius Professor of Law at the University of Glasgow said it was unjustified for Sir Stephen to attack “the messenger”.

He said: “It may only be a problem of perception, but that’s still a real problem which he has a responsibility to do something about.

“The problem seems to be one of perception within the force rather than more generally, so there’s no room for the argument that the sheriff was making the problem worse by speaking out publicly.

“On the plus side, it’s good to see the independence of the judiciary defended so robustly, which is particularly important now that we have a single police force”.

A spokeswoman for Police Scotland said: “The correspondence clearly sets out the chief constable’s rejection of the claim that such practice may have been widespread and his personal condemnation of any officer who wilfully neglects their duty and that all members of Police Scotland are expected to maintain the organisation’s highest professional standards.”

Chief superintendent Niven Rennie, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, said: “Sir Stephen was right to challenge the sheriff on making a sweeping generalisation from just one case.”

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