UK College of Policing trains hundreds of Saudi police

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Police officers in Manchester in 2011

More than 250 officers from Saudi Arabia have been given specialist training by the College of Policing in recent years, the BBC has learned.

Human rights groups have called on the college - an arms-length body of the Home Office - to disclose the type of specialist training provided but it has not done so.

The college said all the training it provides "meets the highest international human rights standards".

The Home Office declined to comment.

Maya Foa, of human rights campaign group Reprieve, told Radio 4's World At One programme that given "clear concerns about torture and the death penalty in Saudi Arabia", the college needed to be "more transparent" about the training.

The data, released to the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act, revealed that 270 Saudi officers had been trained between December 2012 and October 2015 by the college, which is responsible for setting standards of ethics and training for the police service.

The college has refused to tell the BBC how much income it receives from Saudi Arabia for the police training, providing only a region-wide figure.

In October the government pulled out of a £5.9m prisons deal to provide a "training needs analysis" for Saudi prison service staff.

The decision followed controversy over Saudi Arabia's human rights record, but at the time, Number 10 said that they had decided to focus on domestic priorities instead.

Shortly afterwards, the Saudi ambassador had warned that an "alarming change" in Britain's attitude towards Saudi Arabia could lead to "serious repercussions".

'Respect for human rights'

In addition to the 270 officers receiving specialist training, leadership training was also offered.

Between 2012 and 2015 inclusive, 20 Saudi officers attended the college's International Leadership Programme and 11 attended the International Strategic Leadership Programme.

Additionally, 26 College of Policing employees had been deployed to Saudi Arabia - each on a short-term basis only - since December 2012, the FoI release stated.

Before training is provided, often at the request of the Saudi government, proposals must be approved by the International Policing Assistance Board (IPAB), which includes representatives from the police and from government departments.

However, the BBC has learnt that, since the formation of the college in 2012, no proposal for the provision of training by the college has been rejected by the IPAB.

It is understood that the reason the college does not discuss details of the specialist training it provides is because it might reveal areas of weakness in Saudi police capability.

In a statement, the college said: "Respect for human rights and dignity is interwoven into programmes."

Labour MP Ann Clwyd, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group, has said that the college needs to be more open about its activities before the public can decide whether the training is "contributing or not to serious human rights violations in Saudi Arabia".

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