Police review reveals room for improvements

The deaths of Falkirk couple Lamara Bell and John Yuill on the M9 in 2015 sparked an urgent review of police call handling
The deaths of Falkirk couple Lamara Bell and John Yuill on the M9 in 2015 sparked an urgent review of police call handling

A review of Police Scotland control rooms has found performance is improving but warned errors and near misses are still taking place.

The update report from HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) followed an assurance review of call handling in 2015 after the deaths of Falkirk couple John Yuill and Lamara Bell.

The pair died after their car crashed on the M9 in July of that year and police took three days to find it after a call from a member of the public was not properly logged.

In a report published last week, HMICS said 98 “notable incidents” had taken place between April and November last year, the majority down to individual error.

Thirty-six of those arose from 999 calls, while 52 related to calls to the non-emergency 101 number. The remainder arose from email contacts or direct contact via partner agencies such as the ambulance service.

While a plan has been put in place to deal with such incidents, the report said a number remained “open” and unresolved for months, with many only closed in the weeks before the review took place.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Ministers have seen first-hand how Police Scotland has been working hard to strengthen call handling and the improved assurance processes put in place by SPA.

“We expect Police Scotland and SPA to consider the HMICS report carefully, to continue the good progress already made and address the areas highlighted as needing further attention.”

The report also noted a “culture of blame” attached to mistakes and said one member of staff was responsible for three mistakes and involved in a fourth before consideration was given to an improvement plan.

Three notable incidents have been investigated by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc).

HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Derek Penman said: “It is essential that public can have confidence in police call handling.

“HMICS has been working closely with Police Scotland and the SPA since our initial report was published and have been continually assessing the progress made against our recommendations.

“Over half of our original 30 recommendations have been completed with another 12 partially completed and only two remaining for further action. This reflects the hard work and commitment of both Police Scotland and the SPA in implementing a new national call handling model.” HMICS said that since its report in November 2015, performance in the control rooms had continued to “stabilise and improve”, with “significant efforts” made to engage and reassure staff. The service the public receive has improved with 999 “grade of service” performance now consistently high at 93 to 97 per cent and 101 “grade of service” ranging from 91 to 100 per cent.

Assistant Chief Constable John Hawkins, of Police Scotland, said: “HMICS recognition of the good progress which has been made in relation to call handling by Police Scotland is extremely welcome.

“We have made clear progress in relation to our programme of change which is already delivering faster, more effective and more resilient 999 and 101 services.

“We see evidence of this progress daily – for example over the last week we have answered over 97 per cent of 999 calls within 10 seconds and over 97 per cent of 101 calls within 40 seconds every day. This clearly represents a very high level of service.”

Scottish Police Authority (SPA) board member Nicola Marchant said: “While we are confident that a strong call-handling service is being provided to the public, we are not complacent and work continues to progress outstanding recommendations and strengthen the programme.”

The Scottish Government spokesperson added: “This report highlights the significant progress already made and indicates HMICS’ support for the strategic changes made through the call handling programme.”