Scots counter terrorism chief oversaw Met Police unit under investigation

Scotland’s former counter-terrorism chief was seconded to a controversial undercover Met unit now under investigation.

Ronnie Liddle was head of CID at Lothian and Borders Police before being appointed to lead counter-terrorism in Scotland in May 2012.

But we can reveal Liddle – now retired – was seconded to the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Intelligence Unit (CTIU), responsible for undercover police, seven months later.

Part of his remit was overseeing domestic extremism, including officers spying on protest groups in Britain​.

The activities of undercover officers with the Met’s Special Demonstration Squad ​have provoked an official inquiry after they were accused of abusing their power and tricking women – who were unaware of their true identities – into relationships.

There is increasing pressure for the Pitchford Inquiry , limited to England and Wales, to widen their scope to include the work of English-based undercover officers in Scotland.

Those calls have escalated since Police Scotland confirmed last week that new Chief Constable Phil Gormley led the Met’s Special Branch in 2006, with responsibility for the Special Demonstration Squad, investigating environmental and political activist groups. Liddle’s secondment to the Met is detailed in the minutes of a Lothian and Borders Police Board meeting in 2013.

It says Liddle was: “Temporarily promoted to Assistant Chief Constable from 23/4/12 upon secondment to CTIU for the period 23/4/12 to 15/12/12.”

Part of his remit at CTIU included responsibility for national domestic extremism.

Politicians and campaigners are demanding answers on what senior officers in Scotland knew about the abuse of powers by undercover officers.

Labour MSP Neil Findlay has been campaigning for the Pitchford Inquiry to be extended.

This scandal grows by the day and we now need a full inquiry in Scotland to get to the bottom of this. Neil Findlay, MSP

He said: “This latest information is yet more evidence that this scandal impacted upon Scotland and Scots.

“We now know the new Chief Constable led Special Branch, we know that the SDS operated in Scotland, we know some of the Scottish victims and we now know that Ronnie Liddle was seconded to this unit up until 2014.

“What we don’t know is the extent of operations, who was being watched and by whom and who authorised such activity. This scandal grows by the day and we now need a full inquiry in Scotland to get to the bottom of this.”

Labour MSP Cara Hilton said: “This latest development further reinforces the need for the inquiry to extend to Scotland. Victims in England and Wales will get the answers they deserve so it is only right that this is applied to people here too.

“I have been a firm supporter of my colleague Neil Findlay’s campaign calling on the SNP Government to establish an inquiry into the appalling behaviour of some undercover officers in Scotland.

“For every day that goes by without this probe being set up, victims in Scotland will continue to rightly feel that no form of justice has been delivered. It’s time for the SNP to act now.”

Undercover Research Group – who have exposed the activities of undercover police via the Special Branch Files Project – also say Pitchford must investigate Scots police.​

URG’s Donal O’Driscoll said: “Liddle’s secondment shows it is clear that the involvement of Scottish police in spying on political movements is one of long standing and goes to the highest ranks.

“It cannot make sense to treat Scottish police separately from those of England and Wales by excluding them from being examined by the Pitchford Inquiry.”

Meanwhile, Home Secretary Theresa May is reluctant to extend the Pitchford Inquiry to Scotland, according to a letter seen by The Ferret.

Writing to the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance (COPS), the Home Office said: “The Home Secretary is not minded to expand the terms of reference at this point.”

Lindsay Davies, of COPS, said: “If the inquiry really wants the whole story, then it can’t be shackled by Theresa May.

“It’s encouraging that the inquiry is getting a lot of evidence already but it’s a ludicrous excuse for ignoring such a sustained, key part of what these disgraced officers did.

“If they haven’t got enough staff to do the job properly, they should get them, rather than ignoring a significant part of the task at hand.

“No court would be allowed to exclude vital evidence this way and, as the Met have admitted officers abused citizens, this should be taken just as seriously.

“People in Scotland and elsewhere deserve truth and justice every bit as much as those in England and Wales”.

We reported last week that Justice Secretary Michael Matheson was to discuss extending the Pitchford Inquiry to Scotland with the Home Secretary.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We have received a response from the UK Government in which the Home Secretary has offered to discuss the matter further with Mr Matheson.

“The Justice Secretary intends to take her up on her offer in due course.”

Police Scotland said: “The Home Office are still establishing the parameters of the Pitchford Inquiry and whether or not this will extend to Scotland.

“It would be inappropriate for Police Scotland to provide further comment at this time.”

Last week, after weeks of speculation, Police Scotland admitted Chief Constable Gormley was head of Special Branch in 2006 as his Met team targetted domestic activists.

He headed a merger of Special Branch and counter-terrorism units at the Met in 2005 while undercover officers were sleeping with women they had duped.

A version of this story was published by the Sunday Mail on 24th November 2016.

Cover photo: By Carlesmari (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Good journalism changes things

The Ferret was established in 2015 with a mission to publish fearless, high quality journalism.

Since then thousands of people have joined us. We hope you will too.

We're a cooperative with places reserved for both our writers and subscribers on the board.

We're independently regulated, and work hard to keep our overheads down. This means that all the money we get from our subscribers is invested directly in original public interest news.

We're avowedly non-partisan so we can treat everyone fairly. We don't publish click bait and we don't do favours for political parties or powerful vested interests. We do help to change things.

Or see your other subscription options.

Got a story idea?

Tell us what you'd like us to write about next and vote up the best ideas.