Police Scotland refuses to send officers to Justice Committee for questioning over illegal spying activity

Neil Richardson

Police Scotland have refused to comply with a Holyrood committee’s request to speak to four officers over the its illegal spying activity of journalistic sources on the basis of “critical legal issues”.

Assistant chief constable Ruaraidh Nicolson will answer the Justice Committee’s questions but MSPs have not ruled out calling the four serving officers.

Since March 25 last year, police across the UK have had to seek judicial approval before availing themselves of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000 (RIPA) to find journalists’ sources.

However, the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office (IOCCO) confirmed Police Scotland had illegally obtained this information five times last year.

Specifically, the single force’s Counter Corruption Unit undertook the unlawful activity in connection with the Sunday Mail’s expose of the police investigation into the murder of prostitute Emma Caldwell.

Following the IOCCO’s ruling the breaches were “reckless”, deputy chief constable Neil Richardson appeared before the committee. MSPs also asked four other officers to appear before them next week – detective superintendent David Donaldson; detective inspector Joanne Grant; detective superintendent Brenda Smith; and chief superintendent Clark Cuzen.

Despite the request, Police Scotland have twice refused to send officers to explain their actions before MSPs.

Deputy chief constable Richardson wrote in a letter to the committee: “There clearly remain some critical legal issues, and particularly those touching on matters of competence, which are not yet fully resolved. There is also the issue of risk to the four named officers and that, too, remains outstanding.

“While such matters remain unresolved and outstanding I do not see that I am in a position, properly, to forward the invitation…”

Instead, the single force has offered to give the committee redacted inspection reports into its use of RIPA.

Elaine Murray, the committee’s deputy convener, said: “The agreement to hear from ACC Nicolson is without prejudice to any further decisions the committee may take in relation to these matters.

“The committee will consider next steps, including whether to call further witnesses, in light of the evidence taken next Tuesday.”

MSPs can compel witnesses to attend sessions of Holyrood committees.