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Justice Committee will call in government and police to answer 'serious questions' on spying row

Justice Committee will call in government and police to answer 'serious questions' on spying row

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson and Scotland’s most senior police officer will be called to appear before MSPs over Police Scotland’s breach of spying rules to identify journalists’ sources.

Holyrood’s Justice Committee this morning agreed to hold a one-off evidence session in two weeks’ time after “serious questions” were raised by the official surveillance watchdog.

The Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office (IOCCO) last week confirmed Police Scotland breached the watchdog’s code of practice on five occasions when seeking communications data.


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Four individuals were “adversely affected”, Interception of Communications Commissioner Sir Stanley Burnton said, labelling the breaches “reckless”.

Deputy Chief Constable Neil Richardson (above), who remains in interim charge of Police Scotland until a successor to Sir Stephen House is announced, will be called in to answer questions on the spying row.

Matheson will also be told to appear, as well as the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) and IOCCO itself.

Committee convener Christine Grahame said: “The Committee is clear that the IOCCO’s findings raise significant concerns and throw up serious questions.

“The Committee has therefore agreed to call Deputy Chief Constable of Police Scotland Neil Richardson, the IOCCo, an SPA representative, and the Cabinet Secretary of Justice to give evidence at its meeting on 15 December.”

IOCCO’s findings were first on the agenda for this morning’s meeting as members considered “next steps” they ought to take.

Judicial approval was not obtained to acquire communications data in relation to a single investigation, thereby breaching the Acquisition and Disclosure of Communications Data Code of Practice​, the watchdog said last week.

The five applications “failed to satisfy adequately the requirements of necessity and proportionality” and did not properly consider the European Convention on Human Rights, Burnton added. Two were approved by a ‘designated person’ who was not independent of the investigation in question.

Scottish Liberal Democrats MSP Alison McInnes said: “I think it’s pretty outrageous really that the police force has acted above the law.

“We need to be absolutely clear who knew what, when and what action was taken.”

Read the most recent article written by Alan Robertson - Time for Michael Matheson to live up to his motto of ‘smart on crime’

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