The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-15085, in the name of Neil Findlay, on the need for an inquiry into undercover policing in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament notes the reports about the actions of undercover police officers operating in the National Public Order Intelligence Unit; is concerned about the alleged actions of officers, including an officer who, it understands, worked in Scotland on at least 14 occasions, including possibly in Lothian; further understands that this officer was authorised to work in Scotland by senior Scottish officers; notes reports that he formed intimate relationships with unsuspecting female environmental activists over many years in attempts to infiltrate activist groups; believes that the Pitchford inquiry that has been established by the UK Government will provide an opportunity for victims in England and Wales to access information and offer an opportunity for apologies and justice through the courts; understands with concern that such an opportunity will be denied to Scots, and notes the calls for the Scottish Government to hold a similar inquiry.
The debate follows a theme of the members’ business debates that I have secured and the issues that I have brought before the Parliament: class justice or, more accurately, injustice. I want to thank members from across the Parliament for supporting the motion and enabling the debate to take place.
The issue that is raised today gets to the heart of the principles of our criminal justice system and asks a key question. Do we have a policing and justice system that treats everyone the same, irrespective of class, status, colour, religion or political persuasion, or do we have one that picks out individuals and groups for special treatment because they challenge the prevailing orthodoxy and the established order or threaten, even in a tiny way, the grip that those in positions of power have on our economy and society?
If we look over my short lifetime we can see numerous instances when vested interests in the media, big business, Government, the police and the courts have worked together to quash dissent, control behaviour and prevent any challenge to their grip on power. That has been done through anti-trade union legislation, court reform, anti-terror legislation and much, much more. If we look at cases such as those of the Shrewsbury 24, The Cammell Laird 37, the 96 Hillsborough fans, the ordinary victims of phone hacking—not the celebrities—the family of Stephen Lawrence, the 95 miners arrested at Orgreave, the 300 Scottish miners arrested at Ravenscraig or the 4,000 blacklisted construction workers, 400 of whom were Scottish, we can see the state machine conspiring with powerful interests against ordinary working people whose only crime was to defend jobs and communities or support their fellow workers or even their football team.
I suspect that, in all those cases and many more, undercover police officers have been operating with the freedom to do whatever they want; with little control or accountability; and outwith any ethical framework in which they should be carrying out their activities. All of that was apparently sanctioned by senior officers in the areas in which they were operating, including Scotland.
My interest in the matter stems from my work on blacklisting. We know that the security forces have been involved in political and industrial campaigns going back to the suffragettes and beyond. In the case of blacklisting, special branch was working hand in glove with the Consulting Association, not to prevent terrorism or potential threats to life, but to infiltrate legitimate democratic trade unions and to act in collaboration with big construction companies to deny people the right to work.
We now know that at least 120 undercover officers have been deployed by the special demonstration squad since its formation in 1968, but so far only 12 have been exposed, half of whom worked in Scotland. The most infamous of those is Mark Kennedy, who was deployed here 14 times in his seven-year career. We now know that the undercover officers targeted Scottish workers and environmental activists who campaigned at the G8 in Gleneagles, one of whom now works for a Scottish National Party member of Parliament. The officers targeted trade union officials and at least 10 Labour MPs, including the current leader of the Labour Party. They did not gather evidence for use in court; instead, they amassed intelligence so that people could be monitored, anticipated and disrupted. Those officers acted as a law unto themselves.
An internal Metropolitan Police Service report from 2009 said that the officers
“preferred the less bureaucratic approach and directed their operational activity without intrusive senior supervision and management”,
and it went on to state:
“The SDS directed their own operations with significant tactical latitude and minimal organisational constraints”.
That is code for “They did whatever they liked”, and their tactics were truly abhorrent. The majority of known officers had long-lasting and intimate relationships with people they spied on, and three officers engaged in relationships with women in Scotland. That was all part of the strategy. More than one officer had a child with a woman while pretending to be someone else. One victim described it as
“like being raped by the state”.
The police in our country are operating like that. It is outrageous.
Officers acted as agents provocateurs, encouraging activists into confrontations and taking key roles in the organisation of events. Mark Kennedy was the transport co-ordinator for the protests at the G8, while Jason Bishop and Marco Jacobs drove van loads of activists up from England. Another officer, Lynn Watson, was also at the G8 as part of the action medics team.
Officers often received convictions under their false identity and withheld evidence during court cases that undermined those very cases. In any other circumstances that would be perjury and perverting the course of justice. We have now found out that more than 50 convictions have been quashed since the scandal came to light.
What kind of false identity did the officers take on? For some of them, it was the identity of a dead child. Police officers have been operating in our country under the identity of a dead child to victimise people whose only crime is to want a fairer, cleaner and more just society. I do not know about other members, but I find that nauseating and utterly corrupt.
Pitchford does not cover Scotland. When I asked the Cabinet Secretary for Justice last year whether the police were spying on trade union, environmental and political activists in his party and mine, he said, “I have no idea.” That was astonishing in both its arrogance and its complacency. Then, on the first day of the recess, as we all went off for Christmas, he slipped out a letter to the 10 MSPs who had written to him, stating that he now wants Pitchford to be extended to look at the operations that happened in Scotland.
Police officers committed a string of human rights abuses against Scottish citizens on Scottish soil. We do not know what arrangements they had with Scottish police forces or whether those arrangements existed in other force areas, nor do we know which campaigns they infiltrated. We do not know which Scots they spied upon or how many of our citizens were affected. If that was happening elsewhere, there would be condemnation all round, but it is happening or has happened under our noses.
The cabinet secretary has not appeared in the chamber for the debate. I find that sad, given that it is on such an important issue, but perhaps the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs can confirm whether, if the Home Secretary refuses to extend the remit of Pitchford to cover Scotland, the cabinet secretary will instruct a similar judge-led inquiry here.
I am well over my time. There is so much more that I want to say on the matter, but time does not allow it. What happened is a scandal and an affront to our democracy. We have to expose what went on here in Scotland and we must ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.
I congratulate Neil Findlay on securing this important debate and commend him for his passionate speech, in which he argued for transparency in Scotland in relation to the role of the police. I want to make only a brief contribution.
I instinctively support the police. I recognise their role in keeping our communities safe and in the past I have been active in ensuring that the police address issues such as domestic violence, violence against women and antisocial behaviour, so I do not come lightly to a position that recognises that there is a problem here in relation to policing. However, I do not think that we can overstate the significance of the revelations about the conduct of the police over a long period of time, the impact on confidence in the police or the right to justice for victims of behaviour that is hard to believe in its audacity and its cruel disregard for those who it affected. I want to add my comments on why the issues matter, why the aims of the motion matter and why I believe we are entitled to ask the Scottish Government what it is planning to do.
Just before Christmas, I had the privilege of attending an event that hosted representatives from the Orgreave truth and justice campaign. Those amazing women outlined their campaign to secure justice for miners in mining communities who were treated disgracefully at Orgreave during the miners’ dispute in the 1980s. The campaign emphasises the need for truth and justice. They need to know exactly what happened and who gave sanction for it, and they need justice for those who were attacked and maligned. They spoke particularly powerfully of those who went to their graves unable to clear their names of the attacks that were made upon them.
I recall the miners’ dispute in the 1980s as a difficult time but also as a time of solidarity and community, and I remember the kindness of those who sought to support those who were striking to save their industry. However, we also know now that it was a time when the state moved against a group of workers in an unbelievable and brutal way. At the time, on TV, we were shown pitched battles. There were reports of attacks and arrests and commentary on the violence, but although there were rumours about the behaviour of the police, their role in those actions and events was not properly understood, reported or addressed.
I believe that it is to our shame that miners were so badly treated and their actions misrepresented. At their meeting, the Orgreave campaigners highlighted the significance of what happened in the Hillsborough inquiry to change attitudes and open people’s minds to the possibility that the rumours of corrupt behaviour by the police could be true. The campaigners strongly believe that the exposé of the disgraceful behaviour of the police in the Hillsborough case has created an opportunity for the Orgreave justice and truth campaign to secure its aims because there is recognition that some of the rumours are not just wild imaginings but are true.
We have to salute those women for making that progress and salute those who took on the might of the press and the police in the Hillsborough campaign. However, we must recognise that there remains a challenge here for us, too, in terms of why the Hillsborough campaign matters. The actions by the police in the Hillsborough case were once regarded as being inconceivable, but they have now been laid bare. It is essential that we understand properly what has been done in our name in Scotland by the police, who made the decisions to allow those actions and when those people will be held to account.
If the Pitchford inquiry can be extended to Scotland, then that is fine. However, I think that there is a question about what we explore and understand with regard to what the police have done in Scotland to innocent victims here so that we can understand what we possibly need to address in policing to make sure that our communities can have full confidence in the police again. It is not about an attack on the role of the police in our communities and society; it is about supporting the rights of people to ensure that we have a policing regime that is open and that people can have confidence in.
I hope that the minister will give the reassurance that if the Pitchford inquiry is not to be extended to Scotland, he will do all that he can to make sure that a similar inquiry is conducted in Scotland. I think that the people of Scotland would expect nothing less.
I begin by recognising the commitment of Neil Findlay to the issue. It is fair to say that although the member sometimes ploughs a lonely or unpopular furrow, he has on this issue highlighted a legitimate area of public concern.
We know that the Gleneagles G8 summit in 2005 was a focus for spying on activists that seems to have involved divisions or organisations with a relationship to the Metropolitan Police—an organisation whose chief constable directly reports to the Home Office and the Home Secretary. Given those allegations and the fact that we know that the Metropolitan Police has already apologised to women who might have been befriended by undercover operators, and given the allegations that were unearthed by the Ellison review into the circumstances surrounding the investigation of Stephen Lawrence’s murder, I believe that it is right that the Home Secretary has instigated a judicial inquiry, for which she should be commended.
As Mr Findlay’s motion makes clear, however, that inquiry is currently restricted to England and Wales. If Metropolitan Police officers or divisions were operating in Scotland, though, it seems that it would be sensible to extend the inquiry’s remit to Scotland. I await with interest the minister’s comments on the Scottish Government’s request to the Home Secretary on that point.
It seems that the Pitchford inquiry will extend well beyond the issue of the G8 activists to that of campaigners on behalf of Stephen Lawrence, as I have said. We know that it is alleged that Labour MPs, trade unionists and anti-racism groups were similarly targeted. The extent to which there is a Scottish dimension to that remains to be seen, but if there is credible evidence of that, I say to Mr Findlay and others that it should be presented and is something that the Government should take on board.
On the point about evidence in Scotland, there are several court cases, a child has been produced as evidence and there is evidence from other campaigns. For example, Dame Stella Rimington, who became the head of MI5, was on picket lines during the miners’ strike not 2 miles from my house. There is extensive evidence of operations occurring in Scotland. If the Pitchford inquiry is not extended to Scotland, I hope that the member will support our having an inquiry here.
I hear what Neil Findlay says and I reiterate my point about presenting that evidence. However, if he lets me finish my speech, he will hear what I have to say.
I understand that 57 convictions have been quashed to date, but I am not aware that any such convictions were obtained in a Scottish court. However, it is clearly unacceptable in any democracy where the rule of law is sacrosanct for evidence to be obtained as result of duplicity on the part of offices of the state, save in carefully monitored circumstances. As I understand it, one of the problems is that the now defunct national public order intelligence unit was engaged in intelligence gathering and that the judiciary did not have the opportunity of reviewing any authorising officer’s decision, rationale and justification for deployment because it was classed as intelligence rather than evidence gathering.
Procedures have now changed, organisations have changed, there is now an agreed set of operating procedures and, of course, we now have a covert human intelligence sources code of practice, which was brought in as a result of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000. Therefore, things have moved on, and as a result of the Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary report of 2012, there is now tighter governance of what is rather unfortunately called “domestic extremism”.
We know, of course, something about the activities of Mr Kennedy, which formed the background to the 2012 report, but we do not know how other undercover policing has operated. The Pitchford inquiry intends to go back to 1968, to the start of the special operations squad, or the “special demonstrations squad”, as it became known. It is, of course, possible that evidence will be uncovered that relates to activity in Scotland since 1968, but I am not aware of any reports that in some way or other do not relate to the Metropolitan Police, apart from the matters to which Mr Findlay has referred. In the absence of that evidence, it seems hard to justify the need for a Scotland-only inquiry. However, in the interests of openness and transparency, the Scottish Government should be open to that possibility, should it arise, and it should keep an open mind on the need for an independent Scottish inquiry.
Mr Findlay was right to raise the issue; we will have to see how matters develop.
As one of the 10 MSPs who signed the letter that my colleague Neil Findlay referred to, I am pleased to participate in the debate. I commend Neil Findlay on securing a debate on issues that involve abuse of women that is quite difficult to comprehend.
The demand for the Pitchford inquiry to be extended to Scotland should never have been controversial, in any case. The police have already admitted wrongdoing and apologised for the damage that has been done to women who have been abused and manipulated as a result of undercover officers starting intimate relationships with them. Furthermore, there have been record compensation pay-outs to women victims as a result of the conduct of those officers. However, as it stands, the inquiry will be limited to police activity in England and Wales.
The campaign opposing police surveillance, which investigates the role of undercover police, has documented numerous instances in which officers who have been proved to have committed acts of abuse operated and were active in Scotland. There can be no doubt about that. I am astonished that some members still seem to doubt and question that. Despite the Metropolitan Police’s apology for the undercover operations, there is still a lot more to be investigated and revealed about the extent to which—not whether—those officers were active in Scotland as well as the rest of the United Kingdom.
One of the cases in England in which undercover officers were found to be active and potentially perverting the course of justice was the Stephen Lawrence murder case, which has been mentioned. An investigation into that case determined that the Metropolitan Police was “institutionally racist”. As a result of that inquiry, steps were taken to address the problem. Although there is still some way to go, improvements were made.
If we look at the frequent pattern of male officers abusing their position to exploit women and start sexual relationships, and the implied approval that that would require from senior officers, the question is whether the police are institutionally sexist. We urgently need a full and comprehensive inquiry into the role of undercover police in Scotland to discuss whether the issues of sexism and abuse of women can be openly and honestly addressed.
I would prefer an inquiry in Scotland. If we have that inquiry, perhaps the doubting Thomases can get the concrete evidence that is there. It can be put in front of their eyes.
The personal experiences of the women who were, effectively, victims of the police make very disturbing and distressing reading. I will not mention individual cases, of course, but in general the victims began relationships with undercover officers and often speak about how they genuinely fell in love with those men and shared every personal and physical aspect of their lives with them. Officers would attend family functions and even funerals of victims’ family members. Astonishingly, as Neil Findlay pointed out, in some instances children have been born who were conceived by undercover officers who never revealed who they really were. When those officers were finally extracted or extracted themselves from the operations, they would suddenly disappear at short notice from the women’s and their own children’s lives with fabricated excuses. They left broken homes and caused huge amounts of distress and heartbreak. That is the real story here.
When it was finally revealed to the women that the men were actually undercover officers, untold psychological damage was done to the women. Their whole lives were turned upside-down by those revelations. One woman speaks of having been in a relationship with “a ghost” when she now looks back on the time that she spent with him, as she never knew who he really was. The trust and confidence of those women have been shattered and the revelations have left them feeling humiliated, demeaned and violated.
Although the victims have stated that no apology or compensation can make up for the abuse that they have suffered, we owe it to them to fully investigate and expose those horrific practices. If we do not fully investigate the role of undercover police in Scotland, we will not only be letting down those women further but will be potentially risking the health and wellbeing of other women in the future. We must learn the lessons of the known cases in order to have any chance of stopping future abuse. The Pitchford inquiry should be extended to cover Scotland, but if that is not agreed, the Scottish Government has a moral duty to undertake its own inquiry into that horrendous practice and to provide truth and justice.
Before I call the next member, I let members know that because of the number of members who wish to speak in the debate, I am minded to accept a motion under rule 8.14.3 to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes. Mr Findlay, would you move such a motion?
That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Neil Findlay.]
Motion agreed to.
I thank Neil Findlay for bringing this debate to the chamber, as it provides the opportunity to explore some compelling issues relating to undercover police operations.
“To inquire into and report on undercover police operations conducted by English and Welsh police forces in England and Wales since 1968 ... For the purpose of the inquiry, the term ‘undercover police operations’ means the use by a police force of a police officer as a covert human intelligence source (CHIS) within the meaning of section 26(8) of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, whether before or after the commencement of that Act. The terms ‘undercover police officer’, ‘undercover policing’, ‘undercover police activity’ should be understood accordingly. It includes operations conducted through online media.”
The inquiry was set up in response to the concerns raised about the activities and conduct of undercover who were officers operating within the national public order intelligence unit and the SDS—the special demonstration squad.
We have established that anyone, including Scottish residents, who was affected by the activities of undercover officers is entitled to submit evidence. It will then be for the inquiry chairman and the counsel to the inquiry to review the evidence and decide on its admissibility. I also note the request to extend the inquiry’s remit to include Scotland.
By way of background, the SDS was formed in 1968 and based inside the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch, which focuses on national security. At a time of terrorist threats and heightened security, there clearly remains a requirement for undercover officers.
However, revelations about the activities of certain undercover officers have prompted the inquiry, which covers three broad areas. The first area is
“Establishing what has happened: the motivation for, and the scope of, undercover police activities in practice and their effect upon individuals in particular and the public in general” and
”the role of and the contribution made by undercover policing towards the prevention and detection of crime.”
The second area is
“Investigation of systems and procedures: governance and oversight of undercover policing the adequacy of justification, authorisation” and it covers
“the selection, training, management and care of undercover police officers and the statutory, policy and judicial regulation of undercover policing”,
“will also explore the state of awareness of undercover policing within Her Majesty’s Government.”
The third area looks to the future and
“will take evidence from a variety of witnesses, including expert witnesses, about the future of undercover policing and associated matters with a view to informing recommendations.”
The estimated publication date of a written report and recommendations is summer 2018.
It is clear that the Pitchford inquiry will be thorough and meticulous, so, although I have sympathy with the intent behind Neil Findlay’s call for a Scottish inquiry, I consider it to be premature, especially given the ability of those who reside in Scotland to submit evidence to the Pitchford inquiry and the request to extend its remit to Scotland.
I understand that. That is why we are looking at the admissibility of evidence from Scotland, how that will be treated, how it will affect the inquiry and whether it might lead to a decision to extend the inquiry. All those things are unknowns at the moment, but they will be explored and decided as the inquiry progresses.
Undercover police officers hold a position of privilege and carry out duties that are essential to the safety and security of the public, and it is deeply concerning that some undercover officers have strayed so far outside the framework within which they were authorised to operate. Therefore, if the findings of the Pitchford inquiry prove to be unsatisfactory in relation to the activities that were undertaken in Scotland, and in particular at the G8 summit in Gleneagles, the matter could and should be reconsidered. In the meantime, at the very least I would expect Police Scotland to monitor closely developments in England and Wales with a view to taking on board any lessons that are learned from that process.
I, too, congratulate Neil Findlay on bringing this important matter to the chamber for debate.
For reasons that I will elaborate on shortly, I am not surprised to learn that undercover police operations were conducted by police forces in England after 1968, but what shocks me is that such operations were still on-going in the 21st century and that they have been happening in Scotland.
I am not surprised to learn that, because a long time back—37 years ago, almost—I observed an undercover agent at work when I lived and worked in the south of England, which I did between 1976 and 1989. As people of my vintage may remember, at the end of the 1970s the National Front emerged as a significant political threat in parts of England and put up many candidates at the general election and the council elections in 1979. The Anti Nazi League, of which I was a member—I was also a young and idealistic member of the Socialist Workers Party at the time—was set up in 1977 in opposition to the rise of the NF, and it regularly demonstrated against NF marches and meetings.
On 21 April 1979, the National Front marched through the streets of Leicester, where it was hopeful of electoral success in both the general election and the local elections that coincided with it, and the Anti Nazi League, as was its habit, arranged a counter-demonstration. That was the day before Blair Peach was killed by an officer of the Metropolitan Police at a similar demonstration in Southall. After what I saw in Leicester, I was not surprised that someone lost their life.
Apart from being hit by a brick—which might have been thrown by someone on our side with poor aim, although the story on the bus that brought us drinks is that it was thrown by someone else—I still have a vivid recollection of one man. In fact, it is so vivid that I could still describe what he looked like. He was casually dressed and towards the front, although not at the front, of a large group of demonstrators and he was very vocal—he was shouting encouragement to the demonstrators and telling them to attack the police and to try to reach the National Front marchers.
Of course, under the circumstances, tempers flared and the demonstrators attacked and were subsequently pursued by police dogs and horses. As my left arm was by that point in a sling formed from a comrade’s belt and I wished to avoid further injury, I hung back from the crowd to observe what was happening. As the dogs and horses dispersed the demonstrators and the police arrested those whom they could get hold of, the man who had been doing all the shouting gradually retreated further and further back in, and eventually out of, the crowd. He then calmly got into the front—not the back—of a police van. He was not in cuffs and he voluntarily got into the front of the van. It is clear that he was an undercover officer and an agent provocateur. I tried to shout out to people what he was, but because of all the noise no one could really hear what anyone was saying.
I was not surprised by that back then, because the police in England had a bad reputation as far as people on the left of politics were concerned. As Johann Lamont has alluded to, most of us will remember the scenes from the miners’ strike in 1984. It certainly was not just Mrs Thatcher who believed that the left and trade unions were the enemy within at that time. However, I am appalled that spying and undercover activity has been on-going in Scotland and that, only 10 years ago, environmental activists wishing to make their views known at the G8 summit—
We know that to be the case, and what the member has told us about her experience is helpful in that regard. However, we have seen that members of the security services, who went on to very high levels, were involved. For example, the director general of MI5 was on picket lines in Scotland. Surely that tells us that such operations were extensive here at that time.
It certainly raises a large number of questions about what was going on. The fact that that was happening so recently shocks me—not terrorists but environmentalists were being treated as though they were enemies of the state.
Worst of all, female activists were deceived into sexual and emotional relationships with undercover agents. That was a terrible violation of their human rights. They could be considered to have been raped, as they thought that they were having a sexual relationship with someone different, and I wonder whether prosecution of the agents involved could be considered.
I am sure that the vast majority of police officers serving in Scotland will be as outraged by those activities as we are. We owe it not only to the victims of the undercover police spies to get to the truth of what happened here, but to the thousands of hardworking police officers fulfilling their duties to keep us safe, working day in, day out to look after their communities, as they could be stained by association if the truth remains unexposed. I hope that the Scottish Government agrees with me on that point.
I, too, congratulate Neil Findlay on securing the debate. He has pursued the issue with vigour.
I hope that we can all agree that the issue that we are discussing is important. The allegations that have been made against the police officers in question are serious. As we have heard, they used the identities of dead children for cover without discussing that with the parents, spied on the parents of a teenager viciously attacked and stabbed by a group of youths in a racially motivated attack and engaged in sexual relations with female environmental and political activists and, in some cases, formed long-term relationships and fathered children. The revelations have resulted in serious emotional trauma for those duped by the officers involved.
Ian Loader, Professor of Criminology has written:
“Every police-public interaction ... is a ‘teachable moment’—an occasion in which something is necessarily communicated about the law and legal authorities and what they stand for. That ‘something’ can have fateful (positive or negative) consequences for people’s future willingness to trust and co-operate with the police, and for whether they think of the law as worthy of their compliance because it represents moral values which they share.”
The police-public interaction in these circumstances has shocked us all. Such behaviour transgresses professional and moral boundaries and flies in the face of common decency. It is, in fact, such behaviour that threatens the legitimacy of policing.
We know that undercover officers were also allowed to operate in Scotland. For example, we have heard reports that they infiltrated protesters at the G8 summit at Gleneagles. Therefore, even if the officers were from police forces in England and Wales, it would appear that their authorisation to work in Scotland came from senior Scottish officers, so I support the call for the Scottish Government to hold a similar inquiry.
The Scottish Government has acknowledged that it is supportive of widening the Pitchford inquiry to include activities in Scotland, but does not believe that there should be a separate Scottish inquiry. The terms of reference of the Pitchford inquiry have been established and its work begun. It is unfortunate that the remit does not include the activities of the undercover officers in Scotland and I suspect that it is unlikely to change its remit.
Unless the SNP Government is arguing that unearthing what has gone on in Scotland, both in terms of English officers operating here and of undercover policing within Scottish forces, is of no importance, there must be an inquiry here in Scotland; otherwise Scottish people will be short changed. We, too, deserve to know the scale of the operations carried out and the lines of accountability and authorisation.
Given the recent revelations about Police Scotland spying and breaches of interception of communications orders, we certainly have no room for complacency. Citizens are entitled to expect the highest standards of policing and—rightly—they expect a clear justification for and authorisation of any clandestine policing. Equally, officers who are engaged in undercover policing should be carefully regulated and trained and regularly assessed.
Can we guarantee that such an approach has always been in place in Scotland? Is it in place now? We do not know. That is why an open and unflinching examination of the extent of undercover policing past and present and of its governance and oversight in Scotland is necessary, so that we learn lessons and establish clear terms of engagement. I support Neil Findlay’s motion.
I congratulate Neil Findlay on bringing the motion for debate and on making a speech that was not just passionate but comprehensive and analytical in setting out what is—to be frank—a horrific and unacceptable catalogue of abuse by the state in this country. If, in our complacency, we tolerate or refuse to properly investigate that, we will also be complicit in it. We owe it not just to ourselves and those whom we represent but to future generations to show that living in a democracy means that there are safeguards, there is protection and there are rules that everyone must follow.
I was watching the minister during Neil Findlay’s speech. The minister appeared to be surprised or maybe a bit cynical when Neil Findlay said that one of the victims is now working for an SNP parliamentarian. It would be well worth it for the minister to find out who that individual is and to speak to her, because she has a wealth of knowledge. If the minister does not accept what Neil Findlay and others say, at least speaking to her would help matters.
I take Hugh Henry’s point, but I was showing disbelief at the openness with which such matters were being discussed. I appreciate the sensitivity of the subject and its importance to Mr Findlay and other members, but I was concerned that we should be careful not to name inappropriately people who have no opportunity to defend themselves in this place.
I will finish my point; if Neil Findlay still needs to come in after that, he can do so.
The individual whom I mentioned came openly to a meeting that an MSP organised in the Parliament and publicly contributed to the discussion. She has no problem with being identified, so no confidences are being betrayed and there is no erring on the wrong side—
Not just now, thank you—I want to make progress.
I welcome some of Margaret Mitchell’s comments, but Alison McInnes touched on the fundamental issue. We are not talking just about providing additional information to Pitchford or saying that we would like the inquiry to look at some things in Scotland. Because the terms of reference have been established, what the inquiry can do is limited. I welcome the Scottish Government’s belated action to write to ask for the inquiry to be extended but, unless we get a guarantee that it will be all-encompassing and that the terms of reference will include things that have gone on in Scotland over the years, so that it is a genuine UK inquiry, we will be short changed and we will need our own inquiry.
As I said, some of the things that have been touched on are—to be frank—unacceptable in a democracy. We need to do something about that. The new chief constable of Police Scotland, who is coming into the job fresh, has an ideal opportunity to work with the Scottish ministers and look at what has gone on. In some respects, he is uniquely qualified, because part of his responsibility when he worked in England was special branch and units that special branch worked with, which Neil Findlay and others mentioned.
I do not know whether those who interviewed the new chief constable asked him about those activities or asked him for assurances and guarantees but, along with ministers, the accountable body for the police should at least tap into the new chief constable’s knowledge and find out what he knows about unacceptable things that have gone on here. That could help to shape any terms of reference for an inquiry here.
Johann Lamont was right to say that we need to know what was done.
No, thanks. I need to make up some time.
It is not just about some of the historical things that Neil Findlay mentioned and that I and others were involved in. In the recent referendum, were any of these people involved on either side of the debate, provoking yes or no votes or trying to inflame the situation? Johann Lamont is right to say that we support the police, and many police officers are disturbed by some of the things that go on, which are not about issues of national security but about protecting the interests of big business or certain political views. Were any of these people involved in the referendum campaign? We should be told whether people were trying to stir things up in the way that Elaine Murray mentioned.
This is the one opportunity that we have to put things right. We know that wrong has been done over many years, in Scotland as well as in the rest of the United Kingdom. If we fail to take the opportunity to get to the bottom of what was done and put things right, we are letting Scotland down, we are letting future generations down and, frankly, as individuals, we are letting ourselves down.
I, too, congratulate my colleague Neil Findlay not just on lodging the motion but on his tenacity—which other members have mentioned—in relation to a number of issues. Like many members, he wants to protect hard-fought-for workers’ rights and the right to peaceful protest, and, like many, he is concerned that the full force of the state was visited on the miners’ strike, with all the challenges that that brought.
Nevertheless, I would like to qualify something that Mr Findlay said. He said that this is about the police, whereas I would say that this is about an attack on the police by the state. As members will know, I was a police officer for 30 years and my sworn duty was to guard, watch and patrol so as to protect life and property. Uniformed officers play an important, visible role in reassuring the public, but there is also a role for plain-clothes officers and an important role, on occasions, for undercover officers—all, however, to reassure and protect the public.
I thank Mr Finnie for allowing me to clarify my comments. The police officers I know in my community do a fantastic job, and I have a very good working relationship with them. What we are talking about is the type of thing that undermines confidence in the police, and I am sure that the officers Mr Finnie served with will be as appalled by it as I am.
Indeed, they are. Mr Findlay need only visit my Facebook page to see that. In my experience, officers were entirely well motivated and were trying to catch the bad guys. Importantly, however, it was the courts who decided who the bad guys were. The problems that have associated themselves with various constabularies have come when the police have wanted to act as judge and jury.
There are issues with the security services, which I have raised in committee in the Parliament—and I have received some astonishing responses to that. An officer might return home from work and say that they have infiltrated a legitimate protest group, but I cannot envisage their explaining that they have had relations with someone in that group. It is important that we use the words that the woman involved used—she said that she had been “raped by the state”—because that level of language is appropriate in this instance. It is also disgusting that the identity of a dead child was taken. Officers I served with were appalled by that sickening behaviour.
The worrying thing is that that was not the action of a rogue individual; it must have been known to supervisory officers. Either they ignored it or they were unaware of it, but, either way, they were negligent. Who were they? Indeed, do we have one in our midst in the form of our new chief constable? People will be aware of the coverage of that appointment. SNP members are smiling, but, as Mr Henry rightly points out, given that the new chief constable had supervisory responsibility in his special branch role, it is inconceivable that he does not have some knowledge that he could share.
Given that he shares membership of the Justice Committee with me, I am surprised that Roderick Campbell would say that things have moved on. As my colleague Alison McInnes said, at the moment we are dealing with the public’s deep-held concerns about intrusion and privacy.
The motion talks about the opportunity that is being afforded to victims in England and Wales, but what about victims in Scotland? I will not go into the G8 protests, but to assume that the monitoring that went on across Europe suddenly stopped at Gretna is to be blissfully naive. The monitoring was either continued or handed on. One way or another, it certainly took place here—I attended G8, in the capacity of protecting the welfare of officers.
It is true that there are some nasty folk out there who need looked after, but there are legitimate ways in which that can be done. The issue is about the supervising and scrutinising that needs to go on.
I am surprised and deeply disappointed by the Scottish Government’s response and, going by the attendance here, my colleagues’ response to the issue. I am sure that there are many important meetings taking place elsewhere in the building tonight, but this level of interest is disappointing. I am sure that people would expect a greater level of interest.
Scotland has a separate legal system and police system. The ability of someone to act with power of constable in Scotland is something that should be richly regarded and held in absolute esteem. Uniquely on this issue, the Scottish Government seems keen to cede any involvement or control to the UK Government. I find it strange that it would allow UK intrusion—if you like—by inviting a Tory-inspired inquiry to deal with something on which there is clearly evidence that should give rise to an inquiry here.
It is not good enough. Pernicious forces were at work, and I fear that they may still be at work. If the minister wants to provide reassurance, this is a very good time to do that, given that a new chief constable is in place and given all the difficulties that we have had. The way to do that is not to piggyback on the actions in England and Wales—possibly in the knowledge that we would get a knock-back anyway—but to acknowledge that there are problems in Scotland and to address them by putting in place an proper inquiry. I am sure that the minister would get support from across the chamber if he did that.
Thank you, Presiding Officer, for taking the late bid. I did not intend to speak in the debate; I thought I would listen. I do not know too much about the background, but I have been involved in various issues, particularly while working with anti-racist groups that have had to report to the police. I have been concerned with that.
When I intervened on Hugh Henry, he was talking about the miners’ strike and the referendum. I have known him for many years, going way back to my Renfrewshire Council days and the time of the militant faction—although I was not involved in that. That is why I wanted to intervene on him.
I am concerned about some things that members have said that have given the impression that the chief constable—John Finnie just mentioned him—and others are, for some reason or other, doing underhand things.
I am not making assertions about anything. Hugh Henry rightly pointed out that an excellent opportunity has been afforded to us by the arrival of a new chief constable, who may have some knowledge and could share that knowledge with us. That may well put a lot of our concerns to rest. I suspect that it would not, but it is an opportunity.
I thank John Finnie for making that intervention, because he used a word that has not been used in the debate: “may”. I am not sticking up for anybody, but I am thinking about the letter of the law, sub judice issues and various other issues. Other words have been bandied about in the debate, but if members use the word “may” or “alleged”, which is used in the motion—[Interruption.] I am sorry. Mr Findlay can come in if he wants—I do not mind.
Neil Findlay rose—
I will let him in if he lets me finish this point. The motion that Mr Findlay lodged says “allegedly”, and that is fine. Other members have not said “allegedly” or “may” but have made assumptions. The assumptions in some of the contributions have been that people knew about underhand things that were going on. I cannot be party to that, and I do not think that this Parliament can be party to that either.
I am all for looking into things. I am all for an inquiry. Hugh Henry, in another part of his speech that I wanted to intervene on, brought up one of the issues that I wanted to mention, which was the referendum.
I will just finish this point.
Obviously, the unit was set up in 1968, which was under a Labour Government and, in 1979, we had the first referendum. I would be interested in whether we can get any information on that. That is another reason why I wanted to intervene on Hugh Henry, so I am glad that I have been able to say that.
Can I take an intervention, Presiding Officer?
Thank you, Presiding Officer. If I recollect correctly, it certainly was not anything that Mr Findlay said, but I am sure that we will look at the Official Report of the debate and see it there.
I am all for an inquiry, whether it is extended from Westminster to Scotland or whether we have our own inquiry. I do not know what the minister is going to say, but I am all for it, because I want to find out. The unit was set up in 1968. We had various things happening such as the miners’ strike, anti-racism activities and the rise of the National Front, which Elaine Murray mentioned. There have been lots of things that I certainly have had concerns about with regard to policing, and I would like answers, too.
We need to look at the timescale. The unit started in 1968 and it is now disbanded. How far would we go in the timescale? If we ask the inquiry to look at the issues or set up our own inquiry, I hope that lots of things would come out with regard to infiltrators, MI5 or anything else and in relation to not just 1968, 1979 or 1980 but more up-to-date events.
Thank you, Presiding Officer, for indulging me as a latecomer.
I recognise that compensation has been paid, but that is not to do with the sub judice points that I was talking about. The member should look at the Official Report of the debate, and I will have a look at it, too. I was certainly a bit uncomfortable with some of the language that was used by some contributors.
I thank members for their contributions on what I fully acknowledge is an important and sensitive subject. As members have outlined, the impacts on individuals are very significant indeed. I fully acknowledge that that is potentially the case. A number of valid and constructive points have been made. I recognise and value the concern that members have expressed about ensuring that legitimate protests can take place unmolested where they comply with the law of the land and are entirely lawful. If that has been subverted, we obviously all share the concern about that.
I am sure that it will not have escaped members’ attention that, although the Scottish Government is accountable to this Parliament for policing by Police Scotland, the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament are not responsible for the activities of the Metropolitan Police Service or its specialist units. I am not trying to get away from the importance of the issue; I am just stressing the point of fact that those units are not accountable to the Scottish Parliament.
If I can develop the point, I will bring in Mr Findlay.
It is the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and the deputy mayor for policing and crime, Stephen Greenhalgh, who hold the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to account. It is the Home Secretary who is responsible to the Westminster Parliament for policing in England and Wales and who in March announced the Pitchford inquiry into undercover policing.
A report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary in 2012, called “A review of national police units which provide intelligence on criminality associated with protest”, said:
“Although Mark Kennedy worked for a national unit, his undercover activities were authorised”— that word is in bold—
“by senior officers from the police force that covered the particular local area in which he was working.”
That clearly states that, if he was operating in Scotland, authorisation was given here.
I appreciate that that is a statement that Mr Findlay has made in relation to a point made by another individual, but I point out that we are not aware of evidence that Scottish officers have authorised that. Indeed, it would be something that we would hope—
Mr Findlay, I need to develop my point. Can I please finish the point first?
To address Alison McInnes’s point about officers in those units being authorised by senior Scottish police officers, we are not aware of that happening. English authorisation, if I can use that term, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, not the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000, would most likely have been put in place in that scenario.
I give way to Mr Findlay.
I thank the minister—he is being very good with his time.
I received that response in a parliamentary answer from the minister. I refer him to the HMIC report, which he can find online. I suggest that he looks at it, assesses what has been said by HMIC and comes back to me and members of this Parliament with a response to that point, because the report clearly states that the authority was given by senior officers in the area in which those people were operating.
There is a clear difference between what the minister is saying and what that report is saying. This Parliament has to know what the facts are on that point. Will he come back on it?
I will point out two things. First, just to correct the record, I am not responsible for the answer to which Mr Findlay refers. I believe that the answer would have come from the cabinet secretary rather than from me. Secondly, on the point that Mr Findlay is making, there is no specific reference to Scotland. That is the point that I am making. I appreciate Mr Findlay’s point, but we do not yet know whether Scottish officers authorised such operations. Indeed, that is something that we hope will be covered by the extension of the Pitchford inquiry to Scotland.
I am very short of time. I apologise to Ms Lamont. If I can, I will let her in after I have made some progress. This is an important matter so I need to put stuff on the record.
I trust that Mr Findlay is pursuing the Home Secretary and indeed the mayor of London with a similar vigour to that which he has shown in his pursuit of the matter with the Scottish Government. I am not being flippant; I am making a factual point again. It is important to note the lines of accountability for the units concerned.
I really must make progress—I apologise. I will try to bring members in later if I can make some progress.
There was much focus in Mr Findlay’s speech on criticism of the Scottish Government but I encourage him to encourage Ms May to extend the inquiry to include Scotland.
Notwithstanding that, if officers attached to those units—
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I wonder whether you can help me out. We seem to be in a unique position in which the Scottish Government is for once saying, when there has been encroachment on its patch by the UK, “This is nothing to do with us, guv. Go and see Boris Johnson, or whoever the bloody mayor of London is these days.” What is going on here today is bizarre, Presiding Officer. I wonder whether you can ask the minister to clarify the position.
As I said, notwithstanding the point that I just made, if officers attached to those units were active in Scotland—and the inquiry has been set up specifically to look at related activity—we strongly believe that the inquiry should be able to consider that activity, irrespective of where it took place.
That is why the Cabinet Secretary for Justice wrote to the Home Secretary on 10 December last year asking her to confirm that the inquiry would be able to take account of any activity by Metropolitan Police units that took place in Scotland. To date, as of 10 to 5 when I came down to the chamber, we have not yet received any response from Ms May, but we are hopeful that we will receive one, of course.
We are not and must never be complacent about these matters and I recognise members’ concerns. Even on my own party’s benches, my colleagues Sandra White and Roderick Campbell have made the point that they are concerned about the nature of the activities that may have been conducted in Scotland.
Undercover policing is a legitimate policing tactic, as Mr Finnie has said—
However, that tactic can intrude on privacy and must always be subject to the most robust procedures and rigorous oversight to prevent the harms to individuals that members have referred to.
It is our belief that the use of undercover officers by the Scottish police is very different from the allegations that have caused such concern and attracted so much media attention. Nevertheless, we have put in place measures to strengthen the control of undercover officer deployment by Police Scotland.
If Mr Findlay will allow me to develop my speech, I am trying to establish the point to which he is referring. I am not referring to the allegations about Metropolitan Police units; I am talking about undercover operations of the Scottish police in Scotland in general, to address Mr Findlay’s concern.
As I said, we have put in place measures to strengthen the control of undercover officer deployment by Police Scotland. I hope that that will be of some reassurance to Elaine Smith, Johann Lamont and other colleagues who have stressed their support for Police Scotland and the work that it is doing. I welcome that support. They rightly want to be sure that that work is done to the appropriate standards, and I will go on to set out why I believe that it is.
Our response to an HMIC report that made recommendations for police forces in England and Wales was to bring forward legislation that raised the rank at which authorisation may be given; we required all authorisations to be notified to the Office of Surveillance Commissioners; and we required all deployments to be approved by the Office of Surveillance Commissioners once they reached the 12-month stage. Furthermore, when the Pitchford inquiry comes to make its recommendations, we will look at those recommendations very carefully, and if there are sensible measures that we can take in Scotland, of course we will do so.
The deployment of undercover officers is an operational decision for the police, and I know that Police Scotland takes such sensitive matters very seriously. Police Scotland has a code of ethics that clearly sets out its core values of integrity, respect, fairness and the importance of human rights. Indeed, the human rights elements of policing were built into the fabric of the service when the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 was passed, and every constable now makes a solemn declaration when appointed that they will “uphold fundamental human rights”.
I will do so with apologies to Mr Finnie.
Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000, which was passed during the Liberal Democrat and Labour Administration, the Parliament put in place the covert human intelligence sources code of practice. The code states:
“Any Police Scotland Officer deployed as a ‘relevant source’”
—the term used for undercover officers—
“in Scotland will be required to comply with and uphold the principles and standards of professional behaviour set out in Police Scotland’s Code of Ethics.”
We raised the bar in 2012, and the Office of Surveillance Commissioners, the independent judicially led body that oversees undercover policing activity by all UK forces, has extensive powers to address any issues that arise. I understand that, to date, the commissioners have not raised any issues with either Police Scotland or Scottish ministers.
I have listened carefully to the arguments that have been made by members during the debate—not least by colleagues in my party—and the case that they have made for a separate Scottish inquiry. However, at this stage, it is important to press the Home Secretary to extend the Pitchford inquiry to cover activities that might have taken place in Scotland. That is the right way forward.
When police forces do not live up to the high standards that we expect of them, it is only right and proper that they should be held to account, but that accountability has to be to the appropriate body. In the case of the allegations that have been made to date, that accountability is clearly to the London mayor and the UK Government.
I take Mr Finnie’s point.
As I indicated previously, the Scottish Government believes that there is a strong case for Lord Justice Pitchford’s inquiry to consider the activities of specific Metropolitan Police units in Scotland, and we await the Home Secretary’s response with interest.
Meeting closed at 18:08.