Scottish police watchdog under fire for spycops review

A review of undercover policing by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) failed to look into claims of unlawful behaviour or potential police involvement in the blacklisting of trade unions, says a new report.

Political Undercover Policing in Scotland, a report produced by the Scottish Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance (SCOPS), says that many questions about so-called spycops remain unanswered due to omissions by HMICS, which oversees the police for the Scottish Government.

SCOPS argues that the inspectorate’s Strategic Review of Undercover Policing in Scotland in 2018 failed in a number of important respects – including investigating alleged malpractice by officers – and has called on the Scottish Government to hold a public inquiry into the issue.

In reply, however, HMICS said its review was “comprehensive” and met its remit. The Scottish Government said the judicial decision not to hold a public inquiry was currently the subject of an appeal.

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SCOPS has been campaigning for a public inquiry to be held in Scotland on spycops after it emerged that known undercover officers such as Mark Kennedy worked in Scotland.

The group points out in its report that the Undercover Policing Inquiry (UPI) in England – a public inquiry – was set up on the basis of “legitimate public concern” regarding undercover police officers entering into sexual relationships and integrating into family life where children were concerned.

There were also concerns over the inappropriate targeting of groups by police spies, miscarriages of justice and the blacklisting of trade unionists. As a result, the UPI was established to investigate and report on undercover police operations conducted by English and Welsh police forces south of the border since 1968.

There has been no similar public inquiry held in Scotland despite evidence of malpractice by spycops working for covert Metropolitan Police units who were operating north of the border for many years.

SCOPS says there were several areas that the review did not examine. These included the role played by Scottish legacy forces and whether or not any Scottish police officer had ever been seconded to the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) in an undercover role.

The review also failed to state whether the NPOIU deployed undercover officers specifically into Scotland for the purposes of targeting groups based there. SCOPS said the review didn’t look into any alleged unlawful behaviour by the Special Demonstration Squad or NPOIU officers in Scotland.

“There was also a failure to examine issues of blacklisting of trade unionists and possible involvement of Scottish Police,” the report says.

Evelin Lubbers, who authored the report, said that Scottish officers had “crucial leading management roles” in both the NPOIU and the overseeing body known as ACPO TAM, and were involved in “setting the agenda for the secret undercover units”.

“Our findings confirm that the NPOIU acted on a national level, and that Scotland was within its remit,” Lubbers said. “We also discovered that undercover officers came to Scotland in their role pretending to be an activist.”

She added: “One example of the scale of the operations is the fact that every known active officer in both units was at the G8 summit in Stirling in 2005, plus foreign agents from other countries including half a dozen from Germany.

“With two units and decades of spying, those activities were presumably authorised by numerous generations of Scottish senior police.”

Labour MSP, Neil Findlay, described the new report as “very important” and said it exposed the way in which undercover police officers infiltrated peaceful, social justice campaign groups using a “wide range of immoral and often illegal methods”.

He added: “The impact on victims was terrible with many still suffering the consequences. There is currently a public inquiry underway in England and Wales but it is completely unacceptable that the only people on the mainland UK who do not have the ability to give evidence at such an inquiry are Scottish victims.”

Findlay continued: “This is unjust and wrong – we need a Scottish inquiry now. The SNP government cannot ignore this powerful report.”

Dave Smith  – a blacklisted trade unionist and secretary of the Blacklist Support Group – said the targeting of union members in construction is a “national scandal” and that a “disproportionately high number of Scottish workers appear on the blacklist”.

Smith claimed that workers have been victimised for working on North Sea platforms and public sector projects such as Holyrood. “It has now been officially confirmed that intelligence gathered by undercover police officers was shared with the blacklist, putting Scottish workers on the dole,” he said.

“Those honest hard working families that have been affected by this unlawful conspiracy have been let down by the decision in Scotland.”

Review of secret police condemned as a “whitewash”

HMICS said the terms of reference for its review of undercover policing, which was directed by the then Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, were published in January 2017 detailing the areas and timescales to be reviewed.

Its review, published in February 2018, was “comprehensive”, “well-evidenced” and fulfilled the “specific direction” received from Matheson, said a spokesperson.

“HMICS provided an independent view of the safeguards in place by Police Scotland in respect of undercover policing. In terms of legacy forces, including the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, our remit was only to establish the extent and scale of their undercover policing operations.”

The review made 19 recommendations, all of which were accepted by Police Scotland, who established an Undercover Policing Steering Group to “drive progress”, the spokesperson added.

“You will also be aware of Lady Carmichael’s judgement in November when she rejected a challenge to the Scottish Government’s decision not to hold a separate Scottish inquiry into undercover policing. A report from Dr Lubbers had been submitted for Lady Carmichael’s consideration.”

The Scottish Government pointed out that its decision not to hold a public inquiry in Scotland was under judicial review. “The decision reached by Lady Carmichael in November 2018 to dismiss the petition on all counts is currently subject of an appeal,” said a government spokesperson.

“As such, this remains a matter for the courts.”

Assistant Chief Constable, Steve Johnson, at Police Scotland, said: “The HMICS report accurately reflected the careful consideration afforded by Police Scotland to its use of undercover officers.

“Covert policing plays an important part in the way we keep our communities safe, with particular emphasis on protecting vulnerable people and targeting those who inflict significant harm on our communities.

He added: “We continue to demonstrate strict governance around the use of this tactic and why it is reserved for investigations into the most serious offences, such as child exploitation and organised crime.

“We will continue to work hard to deliver a covert capability, reflecting the ethics and values expected of a modern police force, and provide the best possible service to the people of Scotland, endeavouring to keep them safe from harm.”

The report by the Scottish Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance

This story was updated at 20.42 on 13 May 2019 to include comments from Police Scotland.

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