HMICS review finds ‘no evidence’ of inappropriate behaviour by undercover police in Scotland but calls for an inquiry continue
Michael Matheson had concluded that a Scottish public inquiry into undercover policing would not be in the public interest
HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Derek Penman - Image credit: Scottish Parliament TV
The Scottish Government has confirmed that it will not carry out a public inquiry into undercover policing following a report by the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS).
The HMICS report found that supervision measures in place in Scotland “minimise any risk” of an officer acting in a manner that is unacceptable.
There have been calls for a public inquiry into undercover policing following the launch of in the wake of revelations about some officers in special units linked the Metropolitan Police having relationships while undercover.
A public inquiry into undercover policing by English and Welsh forces in response to the revelations launched by Theresa May while she was home secretary does not cover Scotland.
However, giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “The HMICS strategic review was always going to be instrumental in informing my decision on how to respond to calls for a separate Scottish inquiry.
“We have seen no evidence of the sort of behaviour by Scottish police forces that led to the establishment of the undercover policing inquiry.
“The HMICS review provides reassurance to the public and to the Parliament around the extent and scale of the use of undercover police officers since 2000, identifies room for improvement and makes a number of recommendations that Police Scotland has committed to implement in full.
“I have considered carefully whether I should establish a separate Scottish inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005.
“Given all the circumstances, I am not satisfied that establishing a separate inquiry is necessary or in the public interest.”
The HMICS report found “no evidence that undercover advanced officers (UCA) from Police Scotland had infiltrated social justice campaigns or that officers had operated outwith the parameters of the authorisation”.
HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Derek Penman said: “We are reassured that the current internal supervision and oversight measures in place in Scotland minimise any risk of an individual officer behaving in a manner that is unacceptable.”
On the other hand, the report did find that the use of undercover policing in Scotland has been “underutilised” and there is currently insufficient capacity to effectively support multiple undercover operations across Scotland.
Since the establishment of Police Scotland in 2013, there have been 50 undercover operations focused on drug dealing, child sex abuse, human trafficking and serious organised crime
There were 373 undercover operations conducted by legacy Scottish police forces and the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency in the 13 years before that.
Penman said it was the inspectorate’s view that Police Scotland’s current capacity and capability to conduct undercover policing in support of online safety and serious organised crime is “limited and needs to be further developed”.
The HMICS review includes 19 recommendations for Police Scotland to improve the oversight, administration and support for undercover police.
These include having a dedicated covert operations manager for undercover who has day to day responsibility for the Special Operations Unit and the introduction of a process to ensure that undercover officers follow the Police Scotland code of conduct.
HMICS recommends, too, that there is a “welfare-based policy” for testing undercover officer for substance misuse testing and psychological support and counselling for those who operate in covert roles.
The police inspection body also calls for a partnership with the national undercover working group Police Scotland should establish a formal process for the reciprocal notification of cross border undercover operations, as there is currently no recognised mechanism for Police Scotland to be advised if undercover officers from England and Wales are deployed in Scotland.
Police Scotland will be required to create an action plan to take the recommended procedural changes forward.
However, the HMICS review does not resolve calls for a public inquiry into undercover policing.
The scope of the HMICS report is limited to Police Scotland and the legacy Scottish regional forces going back to 2000, while the UK inquiry is looking at operations going back as far as 1968.
But the UK inquiry will only report on actions of undercover officers from English and Welsh forces in England and Wales, even though it is known that some officers from the Metropolitan Police’s now defunct National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) and the Metropolitan Police Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) were also deployed in Scotland.
HMICS reports that between 1997 and 2007 the SDS deployed eleven undercover officers to Scotland, including six who supported the Scottish police at the G8 summit in July 2005.
The NPOIU had nine undercover officers deployed to Scotland between 2003 and 2010, which included the policing of the G8 summit.
One officer, Mark Kennedy, accounts for “the majority of NPOIU deployments to Scotland”, visited Scotland on at least seventeen occasions between 2004 and 2010.
Kennedy is one of five officers who infiltrated protest groups and had relationships with women while undercover for the Metropolitan Police.
The report also adds: “It is our assessment that the information provided in this report, in respect of the NPOIU deployments in Scotland, should be considered as provisional and not conclusive.”
The Justice Secretary has written to the UK Government calling for Scotland to be included in the existing public inquiry, telling MSPs that a separate Scottish Inquiry would not be “proportionate”.
But opposition parties have maintained that this is not enough and the HMICS report leaves questions unresolved and calling for a full inquiry.
Scottish Labour's Shadow Justice Secretary, Daniel Johnson, said: “There remain a number of unanswered questions on the history of undercover policing, specifically on cross border arrangements.
“Worryingly, this review only rules out infiltration in social justice campaigns since the formation of Police Scotland, not the legacy forces prior to 2013.
“More broadly, the report does not examine the impact on those targeted by undercover policing and their friends and family, which is such a large part of the controversy in England and Wales.
“Scottish Labour welcomes the publication of this report, but the next stage – as we have argued for several years – is an independent inquiry.
“Until we have that, there will remain unanswered questions, and potential victims cannot access justice.”
Scottish Green justice spokesperson John Finnie said: “Save largely administrative and line management processes the report largely gives Police Scotland a clean bill of health on its use of the practice
“However, the report falls short on where the real public interest lies, in the activities of the now disbanded, highly discredited Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), both run by the Metropolitan Police.
Finnie added that while the report is “welcome”, he believed it “gives rise to many more questions than it answers”.
He said: “We need public confidence in all police operations and given the UK government will not extend their inquiry to cover Scotland or Northern Ireland, the Scottish Government must hold a public inquiry.”
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