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'Do as I say not as I do': Scotland's police union leader has banned social media abuse after he used Twitter to launch offensive personal attack ... Federation boss Calum Steele was found guilty of trolling Angela Wilson but now threatens to sack staff ... Fears the new rules could silence criticism of Steele and his Scottish Police Federation regime

A POLICE union boss found guilty of abusing a female ex-police chief on Twitter is threatening to sack staff if they misuse social media.

Scottish Police Federation general secretary Calum Steele has issued new rules to employees and local police reps about how to communicate.

It comes after Police Scotland upheld a complaint against Steele over his “inappropriate and offensive” Twitter tirade against former assistant chief constable Angela Wilson.

Steele branded her “one of the most incompetent imbeciles ever to have held rank in the police service” and a “buffoon” and falsely alleged that a corruption inquiry “extended” to her.

He then refused to apologise or delete the tweets.

Last month Steele, who represents 18,500 members, issued the four-page policy to all staff and reps who represent officers across Scotland.

They have been told they can use Tweeter, Facebook and other social media for work purposes —  but not for "bullying or harassment of any individual”. A serious breach of the police could result in sacking. 

It states: “How you communicate with people not only reflects on you as an individual but also on the organisation.”

All communications must be cleared in advance by the federation’s four most senior bosses, including Steele and vice-chair David Hamilton.

Yet Steele, Hamilton and the two other bosses are exempt from the approval process.

Hamilton was also found guilty of inappropriate tweets after branding Brexit backers ‘slightly thick and slightly racist muppets’. He later deleted the tweet after numerous complaints were upheld.

Some officers fear the policy could silence internal debate and legitimate questions about the leadership.

Staff and reps are banned from “criticising or arguing with members, supervisors, colleagues or rivals” and “making defamatory comments about individuals or the SPF or any of its committees or other bodies”.

A former rep, who cannot be named, said: “Steele and his cohorts seem more interested in shutting down debate. What if this policy was extended to include every single federation member?

Wilson, who was targeted after raising concerns about Chief Constable Iain Livingstone’s past allegations of sexual assault, said: “Given Calum Steele’s abusive online behaviour towards me and refusal to apologise, this new policy could be seen as ‘do as I say not as I do’.

It should be welcomed if it gives clarity about what is and is not acceptable but I am not convinced that lessons have been learned.

“Worryingly, these rules introduce an effective ban on criticism of the SPF and its leadership. A sign of good leadership is encouraging constructive criticism.

“In addition, they do not define what is meant by bullying. By failing to define it, this could also be used to silence legitimate debate. Bullying is not the same as having a different view than the general secretary.

“It is also interesting that SPF staff and reps need approval before making any communication — with the exception of the general secretary and three other senior officials.

“Why are only those at the top not covered by some parts of the rules. Who holds them to account?

Another concern is the revelation that the federation can gather and store information about social media use for three years and can block access during work time.

During the investigation into Steele, it emerged that he sent the Wilson tweets while on duty.


David Morgan, a partner at law firm Burness Paull LLP said: 

"For me, social media is just part of the conversation.  Employers ignore it at their peril.

"The balance that must be struck is to remind reps and staff that the laws of the land apply equally to what is said online.

"It is therefore no surprise that that SPF has introduced a policy to address acceptable use of social media.

"Disputes most often arise from posts made outside of work or on personal devices.  The courts have told us that there can be no expectation of privacy when it comes to social media.

“Employees represent their employer in all that they do —including on social media — and the risk of damage to reputation and claims for defamation or discrimination is just as likely in this ‘extension of the workplace’ when posts are linked back to an employee or rep’s role for their employer.

“Warren Buffett famously said that it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. When it comes to a hasty social media post, the damage can be done in five seconds."

A version of this report was first published in the Sunday Mail newspaper on 30 September 2018


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