Police Scotland criticised over treatment of vulnerable informants

An independent assessment of Police Scotland’s covert surveillance work has raised concerns over the force’s treatment of informants.

In a heavily redacted report by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office (ICPO) obtained by The Ferret, officials raise concerns over “resistance” from some officers to new vulnerability checks designed to protect police informants.

Police Scotland is inspected each year by IPCO, in an attempt to ensure there is some independent oversight of its covert surveillance work and the use of informants, known as covert human intelligence sources (CHIS).

The law requires that informants are managed by designated “handlers” at Police Scotland who are supervised by named authorising officers.

In the latest ICPO report on Police Scotland, The Rt. Hon. Lord Justice Fulford said: “We were made aware by some authorising officers that there was resistance among some handlers to the new Risk Assessment regime, in particular the introduction of the Vulnerability Assessment. Controllers should ensure that such resistance is eradicated to ensure that IPCO does not need to raise this as an issue in future inspections.”

In a broadly positive inspection report, the force’s treatment of informers and the intelligence they supplied was singled out for criticism.

In one specific case highlighted the ICPO noted that: “The list of Vulnerability Assessment questions, developed by Police Scotland for the purposes of better assessing risk factors, had not been discussed with the CHIS.

“It could not be established from reading the associated documentation, and in particular the CHIS policy logs, why this was the case and why the authorising officer had not been more intrusive into why these risk factors had not been assessed.”

Having seen the report, Scottish Green Party justice spokesperson John Finnie stressed the importance of protecting police informers.

“Covert policing is a sensitive issue and can leave people vulnerable. That’s why it is important people are protected at all levels. We need public confidence in all police operations, and vulnerability assessments are an important part of ensuring such work remains credible and ethical,” he said.

Richard Haley of civil rights campaign group, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, said the ICPO inspection report was “worrying” and added that police surveillance “can impact anyone and can have catastrophic personal consequences.”

“What the report does not say is that the process of recruitment is apt to rely on a potential informer’s vulnerability, and that police are apt to conduct themselves in ways calculated to make the potential informer feel more vulnerable.

“Some informers may be living or working in dangerous situations alongside potentially violent criminals. Others may be living unremarkable lives in their communities, vulnerable because of economic precarity, mental health issues or social pressures,” Haley continued.

“None of this is reflected in the report, which avoids any discussion of the lived experience of people targeted by the police for information.”

Haley also highlighted cases where Police Scotland had sought to recruit informers even though they had no obvious link to criminal activity, such as environmental campaigners or Glaswegian Muslims. He claimed that “counter terrorism police treat the whole Muslim community as suspect.”

IPCO declined to comment and referred The Ferret to Police Scotland.

A spokesperson for Police Scotland said: “Police Scotland welcomes scrutiny from IPCO and we are working with partners to continually improve the service we provide to our communities across the country.”

It was reported in July that a man was stabbed in Paisley after he went to police with information about his father-in-law, who is an underworld figure currently in prison.

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