Victims of undercover police officers who abused their powers have condemned the Scottish Government for its response to their fears that a forthcoming review into covert policing by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland could be a “whitewash”.
The Scottish Government ordered a review of undercover policing in Scotland in September after UK ministers refused to extend an existing probe called the Pitchford Inquiry north of the border.
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson directed Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) to carry out the “strategic review”, which will examine activities dating back towards the start of the millennium.
The review will look at the extent and scale of undercover policing in Scotland going back to the point when the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 came into force.
It will also look at undercover operations carried out north of the border by the disgraced National Public Order Intelligence Unit and Special Demonstration Squad, defunct covert units that were once attached to the Met.
Pitchford was set up by Prime Minister Theresa May in one of her final acts as home secretary, following revelations about the activities of undercover officer Mark Kennedy who admitted having intimate relationships with a number of people while undercover.
The London-based NPOIU worked with forces in Scotland and Kennedy visited Scotland 14 times, a review by HM Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) found.
Victims of the so-called ‘spycops’ wrote to the Scottish Government arguing that the review by HMICS was tantamount to a “whitewash” because the organisation, in their view, was not independent of police.
They have called for a full public inquiry to be held in Scotland.
However, in a letter to one of the victims the Scottish Government defended its decision. The letter said: “(HMICS) provides independent scrutiny of Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority.
“It is an entirely separate entity to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary for England and Wales. The Scottish Government continues to believe that a single inquiry across the UK would be the best option for a comprehensive and coherent investigation into the matters.
“As the UK Government has refused the Scottish Government’s request for this to happen, Scottish Ministers have taken the step of directing HMICS to carry out an independent review of undercover policing in Scotland.
“The review will be essential in gathering facts about existing and historical undercover policing activities, over the period the Scottish Parliament has had responsibility in this area, and will inform any future decisions the Scottish Government makes.”
The letter continued: “You may also be interested in seeing the clarification of the Pitchford Inquiry’s approach, as provided to the Scottish Government by the Solicitor to the Inquiry:
‘The Chairman may admit evidence of undercover police activity outside England and Wales because it is relevant to subject matter that does fall within our terms of reference (“relates to part of a wider operational matter that does relate to England and Wales”). It would be part of the narrative of a police undercover operation in England and Wales by an England or Wales police force.
‘What the Inquiry may not do, however, is to apply its investigative obligations under the terms of reference to any undercover activity that took place in Scotland.’”
In reply, Donal O’Driscoll, of Undercover Research Group, an organisation that has exposed police spies in the public interest, said: “Experience has shown time and time again that we can’t rely on the police to properly investigate their own.
“We would like to be proven wrong with HMICS but are not holding our breath. HMICS are effectively a branch of the police, not the independent inquiry it has clearly been shown is needed.”
Merrick Cork, one of the victims of undercover policing, said: “There isn’t a body less appropriate in all of Scotland than HMIC(S). This is police investigating police. It’s not for mere suspicions but for an admitted campaign of abuse of citizens by fellow officers. These disgraced units were run by Scotland’s current chief constable, Phil Gormley.
“It deserves thorough, transparent and independent inquiry – the same deeds by the same units are given that in England. For the Scottish government to treat the Scottish people as second class citizens beggars belief.”
The full letter from the Scottish Government is here.