The English police force asked to investigate claims of potentially criminal chaos and cover-up at Scotland’s undercover unit ordered its closure, according to legal papers.
The involvement of the Metropolitan Police in the aftermath of the shambles exposed at the now-defunct Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency has been questioned by legal experts, politicians and campaigners.
Police Scotland Chief Constable Iain Livingstone last week told the Scottish Police Authority he had asked the Met to carry out a “peer review” into the scandal revealed after a whistle- blower, a former undercover officer, sued the force, claiming she had been made a scapegoat and forced out of her job.
In paperwork relating to her case, Police Scotland claimed senior Met officers, representing the National Undercover Working Group, had recommended Scotland’s only undercover unit should be suspended in 2011 after mismanagement was revealed that risked SCDEA’s covert operations and the safety of officers.
However, the claim was denied by the Met, who said they had no influence on the decision.
Meanwhile, Mr Livingstone’s predecessor as Police Scotland chief constable, Sir Stephen House, now deputy commissioner at the Met, had an officer at the heart of the scandal.
He was chief constable of Strathclyde Police in 2011 and one of his officers, a sergeant on secondment to the SCDEA, was responsible for the Special Operations Unit exposed as a shambles.
At the time, the Strathclyde force voiced serious concerns at the highest levels about an internal SCDEA inquiry launched into his conduct and demanded another take place.
Law lecturer Nick McKerrell warned that London officers must not be allowed to “mark their own homework.”
Dr McKerrell, of Glasgow Caledonian University, said: “This referral to the Met does not seem to deal with the strategic problems of supervising undercover policing nor the behaviour of those involved in the specific case mentioned in the civil action. The decision overlooks the Scottish machinery for exploring police misconduct – the Police Investigations Review Commissioner.
“It is frustrating that the board of the Scottish Police Authority did not challenge why this was being done. The development of the PIRC was meant to stop forces investigating each other.
“And, if it is true that the Met and the Undercover Working Group were involved in 2011 then there must be a concern that any peer review of the incidents will be nothing more than the London police marking their own homework.” The choice of the Met was also questioned because the London force has faced a raft of allegations about the conduct of its own undercover officers.
Tilly Gifford, an environmental campaigner offered cash by undercover officers seeking information about a group opposed to airport expansion in 2009, said: “It is dark comedy that Police Scotland seek assistance from the Metropolitan Police to review their undercover policing.” Paul Heron, solicitor at the Public Interest Law Centre, who represents Ms Gifford, said: “It is simply an abdication of responsibility by the policing authorities in Scotland to even countenance this as a serious proposal.”
Senior politicians also questioned the Chief Constable’s decision to invite the Met to review the SCDEA scandal.
Chairman of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Sub-committee on Policing, John Finnie MSP, a former police officer, said: “Whilst the Met is often seen as the go-to force for big issues, given their past record on undercover policing many believe they should have been given a wide berth.
“And given emerging information about prior involvement in this sorry tale, unless there’s a compelling reason why they should be involved. I believe a force untainted by this episode should be called in.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP said: “The Met will need to explain how it plans to manage potential conflicts of interest. This process is too important to be left shrouded in questions over its legitimacy.
“It is essential that every avenue is explored, particularly in relation to the alleged actions of senior officers, and clarity is needed as to whether disciplinary proceedings or criminal proceedings are, or would have been, appropriate at the time.”
Police Scotland refused to reveal the remit of the Met’s review or release the internal report which prompted it. Mr Livingstone summarised the findings at a meeting of the SPA on Wednesday saying it had concluded the events were “wholly unsatisfactory and unprofessional.”
Later, Mr McArthur raised the issue at Holyrood when the First Minister backed the decision to involve the Met, saying: “The chief constable is absolutely right to recognise the seriousness of the matter and to take the action that he has.”
The Met denied there is any conflict of interest.
The whistle-blower, known as Mrs K in court, won her civil action after suing Police Scotland claiming she was unfairly scapegoated and frozen out of the SCDEA by bosses trying to avoid responsibility for the mismanagement she had exposed. The force is appealing the judgement.
Chief: I want to know what happened and what needs to happen
Chief Constable Iain Livingstone has defended his choice of the Met to review the scandal at the Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency (SCDEA).
He said: “The size of the Metropolitan Police, their depth and credibility in this area is such that they are the right people to do it.
“They’ve had bitter experience with ongoing issues and I know the most rigorous, robust review will be carried out by the Metropolitan Police.
“I want to know what happened and I want to know if anything further needs to be done and, critically, is there anything we need to do to make sure that the use of covert policing is subject to a robust review.
“There were a number of instances of conduct by a number of people that were wholly inappropriate and publicly I can say that.”
The Chief Constable told the SPA board the SCDEA reported the chaos at the unit to the Crown Office in 2011 “for the consideration of criminal proceedings”.
And speaking to the Post after the board meeting he reiterated that “a number of these matters were passed to the Crown because of the potential for criminality”.
However, a Crown Office spokesman said yesterday they received only information from police, not a prosecution report.
The spokesman added: “For COPFS to consider a prosecution there would have to be a prosecution report. There was no prosecution report sought, or any further information sought, because on the basis of the information provided there was no evidence of any criminality.”
This Authority needs to show some authority to police the police
SUNDAY POST OPINION
It was, as Lloyd Bridges might have said in Airplane, a bad day for Susan Deacon to insist there was a new sheriff in town.
The chair of the Scottish Police Authority took time out on Wednesday to tell MSPs to wind their neck in when it comes to questioning the national force.
That might have been justified before her arrival, she humbly inferred, but the SPA is now a very different, more fearsome beast and must now be the go-to guys for holding our national force up to the light.
Well, up to a point but the point was apparently reached a short while earlier when Iain Livingstone popped along to fill the SPA in about a little unpleasantness at the Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency in 2011.
It had been, he rued, “wholly unsatisfactory and unprofessional” and he was going to ask the Met to undertake a “peer review”.
Okay, said the SPA board, but we have a few questions, Chief Constable. What exactly was wholly unsatisfactory and unprofessional? The potentially-criminal chaos at Scotland’s only undercover police unit? Or the apparent and potentially-criminal cover-up? Or both?
Oh, and another thing, what exactly is a peer review? Is it a full, formal and rigorous external investigation with all necessary powers to interview officers, serving and retired, following the evidence wherever it leads? And, if it isn’t, shouldn’t it be?
That is, of course, what the SPA board could have asked if they felt like it. Instead – taking their lead from their chair – they asked next to nothing at all.
Only former police chief Tom Halpin queried Mr Livingstone’s choice of the Met
to conduct a review of the mismanagement of undercover policing and subsequent cover-ups when they remain up to their neck in not dissimilar problems? The Chief, to the surprise of no one at all, thought it was fine…and then on to Item 6.
Ms Deacon is, of course, quite right to say these things happened in 2011. She is quite wrong to dismiss them, as she came very close to doing, as “legacy issues” before musing aloud whether the SPA should spend very much time looking back when they can look forward to a brighter tomorrow instead.
For many different reasons, which are likely to become clearer as this scandal slowly unfolds, these issues have the potential to damage the reputation of Police Scotland in the here and now and, if they really cannot do better than this, the reputation of the SPA will suffer its own collateral damage.
Ms Deacon was recruited amid some fanfare trailing the hope she would bring a new rigour, challenge and transparency to the SPA. On the basis of last week, she has some way to go.
Meanwhile, those meddling politicians should keep on keeping an eye out.