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Compensation culture is posing a threat to Scotland's public services like the police and NHS

This is my latest article in the Scotsman, published 19th December 2022.

An unsolicited email dropped into my inbox the other day. Nothing unusual in that at the festive season, but this one was different.

The message was offering to assist me in making a complaint against the police. Obviously some cunning algorithm had detected my interest in policing and thought I might need a hand in seeking redress for some long-held grudge. For financial compensation was what the inducement was all about.

Out of curiosity I clicked on the website to see the range of services they were offering. "We make claims easy” was the headline, with “stress-free service” from their team of “police complaints specialists”.

The shopping list was extensive: assault, stop and search, injury during arrest, unlawful Imprisonment, and, of course, discrimination of all shades and sizes. A no win-no fee deal was offered but in the small print I couldn’t help but notice that the fee would actually be 25 per cent plus VAT. The Americans call them ambulance chasers, but these speculative litigation companies are lucrative and they are costing us, the taxpayer, millions every year.

But if it’s a problem for policing, it’s our health service that attracts most claims. Payouts by health boards have risen dramatically over the last few years, and that’s before claims arising from the Covid pandemic start to filter through. We shouldn’t be surprised, there’s so much money in it that some legal firms have made a speciality of making claims for compensation, everything from medical negligence to diesel cars.

Which brings me neatly to body cameras. These are the tiny electronic recording devices that can be fixed to the jacket of front-line police officers. They record sound and video of interactions with the public and serve three purposes. Their presence is a constant reminder to those wearing them that high standards are required; they can provide crucial evidence; and, last but not least, they offer protection against false allegations.

For all sorts of reasons body-worn cameras are a huge advantage, but of course they are expensive – and here’s the problem. The capital budget allocated to Police Scotland for the purchase of kit like the cameras has always been hopelessly inadequate and with double-digit inflation and a poor budget settlement certain, it seems unlikely that there will be money to roll out these cameras beyond the present very limited level.

If we really want to improve standards, gather best evidence, and forestall spurious claims, we must give our front-line officers 21st Century tools to do the job. To do otherwise is a false economy.

Just think how much better it would have been if the Kirkcaldy police officers who were called to deal with the tragic Sheku Bayoh that fateful day in 2015 had been equipped with body cameras. The film would have almost certainly brought clarity as to what actually took place, and perhaps avoided another interminable and expensive public inquiry. The cost of purchasing cameras for the whole force would probably have been covered by the cost of this inquiry alone.

How much better it would have been for our public millions to be spent on equipping our front-line officers, rather than lining the pockets of lawyers.

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