First Minister praises Police Scotland’s Chief Constable for Admission of Institutional Racism

The Chief Constable of Police Scotland, Sir Ian Livingstone, has made an unprecedented announcement declaring publicly that the body that he oversees – Police Scotland, is ‘institutionally racist and discriminatory’.

Addressing a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority (the body to which he is answerable as chief constable) on Thursday 25th May, he said:

It is right for me, as Chief Constable, to clearly state that institutional racism, sexism, misogyny and discrimination exist. Publicly acknowledging these issues exist institutionally, is essential to our absolute commitment to championing equality and becoming an anti-racist service.’

The First Minister, Humza Yousaf, was full of praise in respect of the Chief Constable’s admissions and said that as a person of colour who had been stopped by police more than a dozen times as a young adult, Sir Iain Livingstone’s comments were “monumental” and “historic”.

Given that Police Scotland is the second-largest police force in the United Kingdom (after the Met Police), it is likely that the Casey Review into the Met Police published in March this year, which declared the Met Police to be institutionally racist, had some bearing on Sir Ian Livingstone’s decision to make the statement.  

Death of Muslim, Sheku Bayoh in Police Custody compared to George Floyd

He may also have been sensitive to the ongoing inquiry into the death of Sheku Bayoh, a 33 year old Black Muslim who died in police custody eight years ago this month on May 15th 2015 and whose death has been compared to the killing of George Floyd almost 5 years later by police officers in Minneapolis on 20th May 2020.

It was a point of some controversy that in November 2019, the Lord Advocate announced that there would be no criminal prosecution of any of the police officers who arrested Sheku Bayoh. However the day following this announcement the then Justice Secretary and now First Secretary, Humza Yousaf, announced that there would be a full Public Inquiry into Sheku’s death, to be led by Judge Lord Bracadale, with a clear mandate for establishing ‘if Mr Bayoh’s actual or perceived race played a part in events’

Then 1st Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Justice Minister Humza Yousaf met Bayoh’s family in 2019

The event itself was reported at the time as ‘a number of Police Scotland constables responding to a call-out of a black man wielding a knife’, who then deployed pepper spray and batons, before cuffing Bayoh’s wrists and ankles. Bayoh lost consciousness soon after being restrained and was pronounced dead later the same morning as he arrived at hospital. Although the post mortem determined that Bayoh, had sustained multiple bruises across his body, including a fractured rib, the presence of traces of the street drug MDMA in his body, gave justification to record his death as ‘sudden death in a man intoxicated…[with drugs] whilst under restraint’. The results of the Bracadale Public Inquiry, is not expected before the spring of 2024.  

According to Inquest data relating to the period 1990 to 2019, there have been 1741 deaths in police custody between 1990 and 2019, whilst not one police officer has been convicted of a death in police custody since 1969.  A recent study carried out by bereavement charity ‘Inquest’, revealed that deaths in custody among individuals from a BME background are seven times more likely to occur than those from a white background. The disparities in deaths in custody also occur within the prison system, although reliable data remains unclear as to exact numbers.

Sir Ian Livingstone in his statement, admitted to not having all the answers, that Police Scotland ‘can improve, must improve’. He said that:

‘Recognition that institutional racism exists within Police Scotland is a key step, a fundamental step forward towards being an inclusive Service which champions equality for all the people of Scotland. It is the right thing to do and will make policing in Scotland even more effective in keeping people safe.’

’He added that his acknowledgement of institutional discrimination ‘absolutely does not” mean police officers and staff are racist or sexist’. But then made clear that: ‘

There is no place in Police Scotland for those who reject our values and standards.’

First Minister Humza Yousaf praises Sir Livingstone’s comments as ‘Historic’ and ‘Monumental’

The First Minister, Humza Yousaf, added to his praise of the Chief Constable’s statement by stating that as a person of colour who had been stopped by police more than a dozen times as a young adult, Sir Iain Livingstone’s comments were “monumental” and “historic”. He said:

‘There is no doubt that institutional racism exists in our society, and I want to take a moment just to say as a person of colour the statement from the chief constable is monumental, historic… I remember raising issues around racism in the police force, Strathclyde Police as it was back then, when I was stopped and searched over a dozen times as young boy, whether it was in my car, walking with my friends in the streets, in airports.’


Family Lawyer of Sheku Boyah says ‘Asian communities have known for decades’ about the institutional racism

Aamer Anwar, the lawyer acting for the family of Sheku Boyah, responded to the Chief Constable’s announcement by saying:

‘[We] thank the chief constable for raising his voice for the truth and being brave enough to say what black and Asian communities have known for decades…Our communities are tired of grieving at gravesides, tired of trying to prove structural racism exists. Policing by consent is the pillar of any civilised democracy and today is an opportunity for a fundamental reset and restoring trust with all our communities.’


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