Police Scotland suspected of spying on journalists

Sir Stephen House. Picture: Michael Gillen
Sir Stephen House. Picture: Michael Gillen
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Police Scotland is coming under renewed pressure to “come clean” over whether the force has been “spying and snooping” on journalists.

Labour has lodged a motion at the Scottish Parliament demanding “full transparency from the Scottish Government about what exactly it knows regarding the allegations about spying on journalists and their sources”.

It comes after it was alleged that Police Scotland is one of two forces in the UK which has illegally monitored communications between journalists and their contacts.

Police are meant to get the approval of a judge before using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to identify a journalist’s sources.

But the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office (IOCCO) said it had “identified that two police forces had acquired communications data to identify the interactions between journalists and their sources without obtaining judicial approval”.

Scottish Labour justice spokesman Hugh Henry said Police Scotland “owe it the public to come clean”.

The former justice minister said: “If Police Scotland has been breaking the rules, then Police Scotland is responsible to the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament.

“Police Scotland need to come up front and the Scottish Government should be asking Police Scotland, are they one of the forces identified?”

Police Scotland came into being in 2013 when eight regional police forces were merged into one national body.

The force, which is headed by Chief Constable Sir Stephen House, has come in for criticism over its use of stop-and-search powers and the deployment of armed officers on routine duties.

Last month, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson ordered Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland to carry out an urgent review of police call handling after the force took three days to respond to a call about a car crash which resulted in the death of a couple.

The IOCCO, which is an independent oversight body, has already said it would be “wholly inappropriate” to name the police forces involved while matters are being investigated.

A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: “IOCCO has clearly set out its rationale for not identifying organisations in its report and therefore it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The investigation of the reported breaches is ongoing and is a matter for IOCCO. IOCCO have made clear it would be wholly inappropriate for them to make public the identity of the two police forces while their investigation is ­ongoing and have set out the reasons for this.

“It is therefore not appropriate to comment further while the investigations are ongoing.

“However, if there are any issues arising out of these investigations, they should be fully addressed by the appropriate bodies when concluded.”