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Michael Matheson calls for police spy investigation to be 'free from interference'

Michael Matheson calls for police spy investigation to be 'free from interference'

Scotland’s Justice Secretary has insisted ministers are right not to have entered into the police spying row as he launched a broadside against critics of the SNP government’s stance.

Michael Matheson said an investigation into reports that two UK police forces spied on journalists must be left to complete its work “free from interference”.

The Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office (IOCCO) revealed last month that it was investigating two unnamed forces for “serious contraventions” of its code of conduct.

The Sunday Herald has claimed Police Scotland are one of the forces in question, allegedly failing to get judicial approval before using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to identify a journalist’s source.


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The claim has sparked calls for Holyrood’s justice sub-committee on policing to conduct a parliamentary inquiry.

A parliamentary motion has also been lodged calling for "full transparency from the Scottish Government about what exactly it knows regarding the allegations about spying on journalists and their sources".

However, Matheson has said ministers will not comment on live cases or ongoing investigations as he insisted the SNP government has a “proven track record on civil liberties”.

“Our history of championing civil liberties goes far beyond that of our political counterparts, and I am determined to ensure we continue in our commitment to be the most transparent, accountable and accessible government yet.”

Matheson said the IOCCO’s rationale for not naming the forces at this time is “clear, simple and sensible”.

“They believe that doing so could prejudice their on-going investigation process and threaten the privacy of individuals involved,” he added.

“They also believe that any future prosecutions and legal proceedings could potentially be compromised and individuals denied justice as a result of any ill-timed comments.

“Any responsible Government has to respect the IOCCO position. These specific cases aside, the position mirrors a long established protocol that the Scottish Government and Ministers do not comment on live cases or on-going investigations.

“We need to let IOCCO complete their investigations free from interference otherwise we risk failing both victims and the wider justice system.”

If the IOCCO code has been breached “appropriate action must be taken by those bodies responsible”, he added.

Earlier this week, investigative journalist Eamon O Connor told BBC Scotland a police source had informed him his communications were being monitored illegally as he investigated the unsolved murder of Emma Caldwell.

Police Scotland, which has refused to confirm or deny it is under investigation by the IOCCO, said it did not comment on individual cases.

Matheson’s intervention comes after Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Alison McInnes wrote to the convenor of Holyrood’s justice sub-committee on policing to ask that it investigate recent claims.

If agreed, an inquiry could see senior figures from Police Scotland and the Scottish Government asked to provide evidence.

In a letter to Christine Grahame, McInnes said: “Reports that Police Scotland has been involved in illegally spying on journalists threaten to sour public trust in our public institutions.

“The refusal of the national force and Scottish Government to confirm or deny Police Scotland’s involvement in this matter will only fuel concerns about a conspiracy of silence.

“I am writing to ask that the Policing Sub-Committee undertake a full inquiry into these allegations in order to ascertain Police Scotland’s involvement.

“This would allow both ministers and Police Scotland bosses to set the record straight.”

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