The federation that represents rank and file police officers in Scotland is failing women, whistleblowers and their lawyers have told the Guardian, after an extensive survey of officers and staff described it as “the same old boys’ network”.

Following a series of internal reports revealing the extent of racist and sexist behaviour within Police Scotland, as well as the admission by the chief constable, Sir Iain Livingstone, that the force is institutionally racist and discriminatory, the focus has shifted to the Scottish Police Federation (SPF), which represents more than 16,000 officers.

The federation is “part of the problem”, claimed Margaret Gribbon, a solicitor who represents a number of female former officers, including Rhona Malone, who received nearly £1m in damages after an employment tribunal found she had been victimised by a “horrific” boys’ club culture in the force’s elite armed response unit.

Gribbon said: “My clients say they are fighting two battles, one with Police Scotland and one with the federation.”

But David Threadgold, the SPF chair, said he did not recognise the “old boys” characterisation. He said: “Within the last 18 months we have brought in a new team of staff working very hard to deliver for the membership throughout Scotland.”

He added that one of his first acts since taking up his post in February was to invite representatives of various staff diversity associations. “We are working very hard to engage with them, because they are the people who can provide the lived experience.”

Malone previously described how the SPF withdrew funding for her legal action in 2019 when she refused to accept a payout from Police Scotland and sign a non-disclosure agreement. She went on to fund her own case.

Karen Harper, who became a whistleblower after an employment tribunal found she was victimised by her then boss because she lodged a bullying complaint against him, said the SPF “refused to give me legal assistance after paying dues for 17 years and said I couldn’t win my case”.

Threadgold said he had no involvement with those cases “but what we are trying to do is learn as an organisation”, adding that decisions to fund cases “are made on fact and prospects of success. We do not make decisions based on prejudice.”

The lawyer Aamer Anwar alleged the female officers he had worked with “say they were first failed by Police Scotland and then failed by the federation that is supposed to represent them”.

He said he believed the SPF was in a state of denial about repeated critical reports and Livingstone’s statement.

Following the chief constable’s comments two weeks ago, Threadgold said officers had been “deeply offended”.

He said the SPF “agrees with the principles of what the chief said”, but remained concerned that the statement made officers’ jobs more difficult because the public were unlikely to distinguish between the institution and individuals being labelled as racist and discriminatory.

Livingstone stood by his remarks on Sunday, saying: “To misinterpret what I said as some negative criticism or condemnation of police officers and police staff as being racist is not what I meant.”

In an interview with the Sunday Times, he said women, girls and ethnic minorities had welcomed the acknowledgement, adding: “I don’t think this is a negative statement, I think this is a positive statement of recognition, so it should actually act as an accelerator to make the changes we wish to make.”

The support offered by the federation was previously challenged in a report into how the force handled complaints and misconduct by Dame Elish Angiolini three years ago. She highlighted that different groups “felt that the Scottish Police Federation did not represent all its members equally and that they did not represent Black, Asian and minority ethnic officers well”.

Moi Ali, who stepped down from the Scottish Police Authority board amid a transparency row, believes the SPF’s response to Livingstone was “extraordinary”.

“They have completely alienated a huge section of the workforce they are paid to represent.”

Last week, a report compiled by a working group on sex equality and tackling misogyny as part of the force’s wider Policing Together strategy described how sexism and misogyny within the ranks of Police Scotland was “massively underreported”, with those who do come forward made to feel they have “a target on their back”.

Discussing barriers to raising complaints, the report heard from one officer who alleged the federation was “the same old boys’ network”. Another interviewee claimed that if someone challenged what they considered to be sexist behaviour, “you get made out to be the baddy, the [federation reps] telling you not to bother, it’s because there’s no consequence at the end of it.”

Threadgold said: “I’m proud to do this job and the reason I started doing it was to deal with bullies. If someone feels dissatisfied with the service they have been given through the SPF then contact us and we’ll work to resolve it.”

2023-06-04T13:42:44Z dg43tfdfdgfd