A GRIEVING mum told a Holyrood committee how she was forced to endure ‘a hellish merry go-round of obstruction’ while dealing with Police Scotland’s complaints process.

Brave Stephanie Bonner has faced a near five-year fight for justice following the unexplained death of her son Rhys.

The Barlanark mother provided powerful evidence to the Scottish Government’s Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday, highlighting several key factors she feels should have been handled differently after the teenager’s body was found on marshland between Easterhouse and Gartloch Village in August 2019.

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Her recommendations will now be considered by members as part of its remit to shape the Police (Ethics, Conduct and Scrutiny) (Scotland) Bill, that will govern how the force operates.

Tearful Stephanie revealed the heartache she has endured since the death of Rhys, 19, and outlined the issues she feels exist in how unexplained deaths are investigated.

She said: “In my case it took me over six months from the discovery of my son’s body to actually being able to make a formal complaint against the police. 

“During this time, Police Scotland took me on a journey that I can only describe as a hellish merry-go-round of distraction, deceit, deception and manipulation, all in the hope that I would be overcome with grief and simply go away. 

“Rhys's body was discovered on August 8 2019 and the police closed their investigation four days later. That was one full working day, but they never told me this, they led me on and on and on.

“Every time I mentioned making a complaint, they would stall me or distract me. Then when I asked Alex O'Kane to represent me in February 2020, Police Scotland refused to put a mandate in place for him. They told him, in writing, that the investigation was still ongoing, despite it being closed six months earlier.”

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Glasgow Times: Stephanie with a photo of her son Rhys.Stephanie with a photo of her son Rhys. (Image: Gordon Terris)

Stephanie says she believes changes must be made to allow for complaints to be lodged in a simpler way – and dealt with faster.

She added: “In my case, it wasn't that easy for me to even start the complaints process. It makes me wonder how many other grieving families have experienced the same obstruction and are prevented or dissuaded from making complaints.  I know of other parents who have simply been overcome by grief and have not had the strength to engage with the police or the process.  Whilst I am the voice for my son, I am determined to give other parents and other families a voice too.”

The Bill will now be considered by committee members before being put forward to become law. Its aim is to ensure that there are robust, clear and transparent mechanisms in place for investigating complaints, allegations of misconduct or other issues relating to the conduct of Scotland’s police officers.

The legislation intends to embed good practice and underline the importance of maintaining the high standards expected of the force.

Stephanie’s evidence is supporting several sections of the Bill. These include introducing a requirement for Police Scotland to respond to recommendations in complaint handling reviews and provide details on what they have done or propose to do in response to these within a timescale set out by the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC). The changes will also allow PIRC to take over a complaint in certain circumstances rather than simply reviewing how it has been handled. It will also give the watchdog direct access to Police Scotland’s electronic database to view records and files.

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Glasgow Times: Stephanie in Holyrood.Stephanie in Holyrood. (Image: Supplied)

Members of the Criminal Justice Committee praised Stephanie’s fortitude, with Russell Findlay MSP describing her courage as ‘admirable’.

The West of Scotland politician asked her in the chamber what her experience has done to her faith in Police Scotland.

Stephanie replied: “I have no faith now in policing. It can be repaired if the proper safeguards are put in place, but I had to conduct my own investigation and PIRC established that.”

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She also told the committee that PIRC had recently upheld another two complaints against the force.

She added: “Make no mistake, Police Scotland was hell bent on making my life difficult.

“Indeed, this month PIRC upheld another two complaints I made. One was regarding the Police continually contacting me whilst being specifically told not to and the other was regarding a marked police van being sent to Mr O'Kane's home with a number of uniformed officers simply to deliver a letter acknowledging an email he sent.

“I believe this was part of a course of action to try to intimidate me and my representative. On one occasion officers put hands on me and gave me a written warning to try to stop me campaigning for justice for my son. In other words, I was threatened with the force of the law in an attempt to silence me from raising genuine concerns. Five of these concerns, including failing to properly investigate the death of my son, have now been upheld by a PIRC review.  

“Potentially vital evidence was lost forever, and I will never know what truly happened to my son. Police Scotland has to be reformed and I am relieved that the Justice Committee has taken on this task.”

Police Scotland say Rhys’s death was fully investigated and declared it 'not suspicious'.