Police Complaints

Kinds of Complaints
Generally, you make an official police complaint by writing to the Chief Constable of the police area concerned.

However if the most important part of your complaint relates to a criminal offence committed by a police officer, it will be dealt with by the procurator fiscal. You can write to the procurator fiscal directly, or through the Chief Constable.

If you are alleging something where you are liable to be facing a charge yourself, e.g. manufacture of evidence, it is important that you take legal advice before making your complaint. You may prejudice your case by complaining at the wrong time e.g. if you wait until your trial before complaining the court may not take a sympathetic view of your complaint.

If you are complaining mainly about serious distress or loss, caused to you by an action of the police, it is best to seek legal advice about taking a civil action for damages against the Chief Constable. In this case, you should not make a police complaint. The solicitor you consult will advise on lodging notice of a complaint for you but making a full complaint at this stage might make your action for damages more difficult. Experience suggests that, where there is a legal case for damages a court action is far more effective than the police complaints procedure.

Making an official complaint
You can make a complaint in person at any police station but it is better to send a detailed written statement of complaint to the Chief Constable of the area concerned. A solicitor or CAB will be able to help you write this letter. You should do this as soon as possible after the events giving rise to the complaint. This letter should give as many details as possible of: the time, date and place of the incident complained of; the numbers or names of the officers concerned (if known); the names and addresses of any witnesses; a brief factual account of the incident. You should keep a copy of this letter.

Your complaint will be recorded and passed to the Assistant Chief Constable. He will then appoint a senior police officer to conduct the investigation. This officer must have had no earlier involvement with your case. A Chief Constable can invite officers from another force to investigate the complaint but this power is rarely used.

The officer will arrange to interview you. You may be asked to go to a police station but you can ask to have the interview in your own home or at a solicitor’s office. You can have a friend with you at the interview. If you are visited by anyone below the rank of Inspector, this is not part of a proper investigation of your complaint. You will be asked to make a full statement. When this is complete you should check that it is an accurate account of what you want to say and that nothing has been added or missed out. Make sure that the police have the names and addresses of any witnesses so that they can be interviewed as well.