A police watchdog senior investigator had received no training in unconscious bias when he began investigating the death of Sheku Bayoh, an inquiry has heard.
Keith Harrower, a senior investigator for the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc), told the Sheku Bayoh inquiry he now has a “better understanding” of unconscious bias since receiving training on the issue.
Mr Bayoh, 31, a father-of-two, died after he was restrained on the ground by six police officers in Kirkcaldy, Fife, on May 3 2015.
The inquiry is examining the circumstances leading to his death, how police dealt with the aftermath, the investigation into his death, and whether or not race was a factor.
Mr Harrower, who has worked for Pirc since 2013, told the KC: “I’ve had training on unconscious bias, but that was after this incident.
“I’ve had other training but I’m aware of what it is and how it can work with people, and a lot of the time because the nature of what it is, and the social stereotyping of people, that they may not even be aware that they’re thinking along these lines, and that’s the danger.
“I always like to progress and really think about your decisions, and take that momentary bit of time to consider when you’re getting out of it, to try and alleviate or negate the fact that that may occur.
The lawyer then asked Mr Harrower if he felt he had been “put into the best position to guard against unconscious bias”, despite not having had training on the matter at the time.
He said: “I think you can – let’s face it – you can always be better equipped with additional training in certain areas.
“I feel, on a personal basis, that, I think these things through and guard against these outside influences but you’re never going to be able to say, ‘it’s a perfect world’ and everybody’s going to be 100% trained to cover every aspect of every type of investigation we come across.”
He said: “Yeah, I would think so. I definitely have a better understanding of what it actually is, how to guard against it.
“How other individuals, when they’re conveying information to you, or versions of events that, things that they may be going through, and how they articulate that.
“So, there’s a lot of component parts.”
Ms Bell previously told the inquiry, last February, that Pirc is “made up of ex-police officers”, stating she had “lost all trust” in the police and Pirc, as she thought they were formed mostly of former police staff.
Ms Bell said it is “not really transparent if it’s the police investigating the police” and that it is “unfair”.
Ms Grahame asked Mr Harrower if he could comment on this, to which he said Pirc is “not made up of 100% police officers”, and that the workforce consists of a wide range of investigators from a number of professional backgrounds.
Mr Harrower told the inquiry that, in 2015, Pirc had 25 staff, and it now has 60 to cope with an increased workload.
Ms Grahame asked if he was concerned about recovery of evidence at the scene but Mr Harrower said he was not.
The lawyer said: “Do you have any concerns about the delay in getting Pirc there?”
Mr Harrower said: “For the same reasons, No. These areas had been sealed.”
The inquiry heard that all the communications with police officers were done through their senior managers, and Mr Harrower admitted he did not speak to officers involved who were in the canteen at Kirkcaldy police station and refused to give statements.
Mr Harrower said: “That was the way it was done at the time. Even in relation to requests for witness statements was done through senior managers.”
Lord Bracadale said: “Was there anything to prevent you from going into canteen?”
Mr Harrower said: “Maybe I should have done.”
Lord Bracadale said: “Do you think going to Police Scotland looks slightly deferential when you are supposed to be in charge?”
Mr Harrower said: “Potentially.”
A statement issued on behalf of the Sheku Bayoh family outside of the hearing by their solicitor, Aamer Anwar, said the inquiry is beginning a “critical chapter” in the evidence and that the family hope Pirc are held to account.
Mr Anwar said: “They are not fit for purpose – and the family hope they are finally held to account.”
A Pirc spokesperson said: “As the Pirc is a core participant in the proceedings which are live, it would be inappropriate to comment upon the matter at this time.”
A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “It is vital that the role and independence of the public inquiry is respected to ensure the application of the rule of law, due process, and justice being served.
“Police Scotland will continue to participate fully in an open and transparent manner.”
The inquiry, before Lord Bracadale, continues at Capital House in Edinburgh.