Police Scotland’s mole hunt unlawful, rules IPT

Police Scotland’s mole hunt made in order to reveal journalistic sources was unlawful according to a judicial tribunal.

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) ordered the single force to pay a journalist whose communications were intercepted £10,000 in compensation.

Two serving officers along with two retired officers, and their wives, brought the case against the police to “complain of the collateral interference with their privacy”.

Gerard Gallacher, a former officer who undertook an 18-month journalistic investigation into the murder case, will receive £10,000.

He told the tribunal he suffered “invasion of privacy, familial strife, personal stress and strain and loss of long-standing friendships” because of Police Scotland’s actions.

The IPT found the interference to be “serious in respect of the obtaining of more than 32 days of communications data”.

In response to the ruling, Police Scotland deputy chief constable Iain Livingstone said: “Police Scotland has fully accepted that standards fell below those required in this case. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage given the investigation to be conducted by Chief Constable Barton.

“Following the breach, a full review was immediately conducted to ensure there could be no repeat of the circumstances which led to the IOCCO determination, which Police Scotland accepted.”

Detective inspector David Moran, a complainant, said: “That there is to be an inquiry by an external police force into the circumstances surrounding the affair is a large step forward, however I have concerns that Police Scotland have invited the Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary to examine the outstanding ‘non-criminal’ matters only.

“I do not believe that is in the spirit of what was discussed at the IPT hearing on July 22 and that all matters, whether potentially criminal or non-criminal, should be on the agenda for a new independent and impartial enquiry.”

Deputy general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, David Kennedy, said: “This judgement leaves no doubt that the actions of the Police Service of Scotland towards our members (and others) breached their human rights.

“The SPF had no hesitation in supporting our members seek remedy for this breach and we sincerely hope the service will reflect on this ruling when considering their future actions.”

Speaking to Scottish Legal News, Dr Nick McKerrell, lecturer in law at Glasgow Caledonian University, said: “The relatively obscure statutory officer who operates UK wide - the Interception of Communications Commissioner referred the case to the Tribunal who have now ruled in favour of the individuals who have had their human rights (specifically the right to privacy) invaded. This is another institution which Police Scotland has fallen foul of.

“Although Gormley has now brought in Durham Police to investigate how this breach took place there are a lot of unanswered questions. Central though to this issue is the general lack of accountability of Police Scotland. This has been found time and time again. There also seems to be a culture which allowed certain police officers to act in a way which was above the law and breached basic rights.”

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