An organisation seeking the truth over the undercover policing scandal has branded the terms of reference for a forthcoming review as an “insult to our intelligence”.
Undercover Research Group – a group exposing police spies who abused their powers – commented as HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) today published his terms of reference for a review of undercover policing in Scotland.
The review was ordered by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson after the Home Office refused to extend the Pitchford Inquiry to Scotland.
Pitchford was established to examine undercover policing in England and Wales after revelations that officers with covert Metropolitan Police units abused their powers over many years. Some of the officers operated in Scotland.
Announcing the terms of reference, HMICS said: “This will be the first time that HMICS has scrutinised undercover policing in Scotland and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice has set out the following expectations of the review:
■ provide an independent view of the operation, procedures and safeguards in place by Police Scotland in relation to undercover policing, with the objective of providing assurance to Scottish Ministers, the Scottish Parliament and the public. Where relevant, this should include recommendations to address any gaps in the current operation, processes and safeguards or where opportunities to drive improvement are identified.
■ examine the extent and scale of undercover policing in Scotland by Scottish policing since introduction of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.
■ examine the extent and scale of undercover policing operations carried out in Scotland by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU)i and the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) ii in the same period.
■ comment on the contribution made by undercover policing operations towards public safety in Scotland.
However, Donal O’Driscoll, of Undercover Research Group (URG), said the review is about protecting the police’s reputation.
He added: “They completely ignore the demands of those who have suffered at the hands of the spycops who deceived people into relationship, stole children’s identities and were instrumental in miscarriages of justice.
“There is no commitment to transparency or providing answers to the affected. While limiting it to the period after 2000 ignores entirely all those who were affected prior to this. Frankly, it’s an insult to our intelligence, and adds another twist of the knife.”
O’Driscoll continued and said that URG’s view was that HMICS is neither the right or fit body to conduct the review given its “closeness to the force and serving officers it is supposed to be investigating”.
He went on: “This is not the independent scrutiny needed. Given previous experience, it is not going out on a limb to predict that what we will get back is a anodyne report devoid of detail, feeding us the usual police line of ‘nothing to see, please move along’.
“Nothing in the terms of reference gives me confidence that the report will be robust or meaningful, and so I shall continue to calling for a proper public inquiry to look into these issue, whether through Pitchford or an independent one in Scotland.”
The review will be led by Derek Penman, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, who said: “To maintain public confidence in policing, the tactics employed in undercover operations must be lawful, proportionate and necessary.
“They must also be subject to appropriate governance and oversight and police officers engaged in this specialist area of policing must comply with the law as well as the associated codes of practice.”
He added that “Our report will provide assurance on whether undercover police operations are operating effectively and efficiently within Scotland, as well as assessing the contribution they make to public safety.
“In terms of safeguards, we will balance the requirement for visibility and transparency of undercover policing in Scotland with the need to protect sensitive covert policing techniques and operational deployments.”
You can read more from The Ferret on Privacy and Surveillance in Scotland here.