Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (Mismanagement Allegations)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 5th February 2019.

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Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

2. To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reported allegations of mismanagement and a cover-up at the former Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency. (S5T-01479)

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

Police Scotland is considering the court’s judgment, which was published on 31 January. Obviously, that is an operational matter for Police Scotland, but I will pay close attention to how it intends to respond and to members’ concerns. It is important to establish first and foremost whether the allegations are accurate and, if they are, how the circumstances surrounding them are to be scrutinised. It is also important to mention that these matters are still under active consideration by Police Scotland.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

The

Sunday Post has published details of an episode that sounds like a scene from “Life on Mars”. It involved chaotic filing; a stash of documents, from passports to credit cards and receipts; officers being sent to buy an incinerator and petrol; and documents taken to wasteland on the other side of the river to be disposed of before being burned in a car park. That all throws up serious questions. I appreciate that that happened in 2011, but has the Scottish Government asked anyone at Police Scotland for their version of events? Has the Scottish Government considered referring the matter for further investigation to the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner or to another police force in the United Kingdom?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I spoke to the chief constable this morning. It is fair to say that he shares that shock about the alleged practice in the SCDEA. It is important that we keep referring to these as allegations, and that we recognise that the matters that are referred to happened prior to Police Scotland’s establishment. Notwithstanding all that, the member is right to make the point that such practices would, of course, raise concerns.

It is important that I say that, under the current regime, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office provides independent and judicially led oversight of investigatory powers. Police Scotland’s most recent inspection, which took place from 17 to 21 September 2018, was led by Lord Bracadale and Lord Bonomy.

Police Scotland has the ability to appeal the judgment. It is important that we let it determine what route it intends to take. Thereafter, all the options for further scrutiny that the member has raised should be on the table.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

The justice secretary said that the matter is not the responsibility of Police Scotland, but it does not sound as though it is the responsibility of anybody. Last week, two of the people who were at the top of the SCDEA announced their retirement, and it has been denied that that had anything to do with these matters. The Scottish Government has already asked Dame Elish Angiolini to look into complaint-handling investigations and misconduct issues in relation to policing, following concerns that senior officers could retire in order to avoid being the subject of misconduct allegations. Does the cabinet secretary think that those rules need to be changed?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I will do nothing to prejudge Dame Elish Angiolini’s review. When I have appeared before the Justice Committee, I have often said to the member that it is important that Dame Elish has the independence to take the review in the direction that she wishes. If the member wants to make direct representation to her on that matter, he can.

As I said, it is important to see what Police Scotland’s next moves will be. On the independent scrutiny to determine whether the allegations are accurate, I am open to listening to members’ concerns and suggestions.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

As with a number of the scandals that have rocked Scottish policing in recent years, the alleged practices look to be the result of a failure of leadership and oversight at the top. The cabinet secretary talked about the current regime being more robust. Can he assure us that the practices that allegedly took place at the SCDEA would be impossible in the Police Scotland structure?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

As I have said, the chief constable is absolutely shocked by the allegations. I would not expect such practices to take place in Police Scotland. It is really important to distinguish the SCDEA from Police Scotland. The alleged practices took place in 2011.

On the first part of Liam Kerr’s question, it is important that I reiterate that there is independent and judicially led oversight of investigatory powers. There is also the covert human intelligence sources code of practice. It is also important to say that, only a matter of months ago, the inspection team that was led by Lord Bracadale and Lord Bonomy carried out a routine investigation into Police Scotland’s investigatory powers and no substantial issues were raised. Notwithstanding that, as I said to Liam McArthur, it is important that we let Police Scotland decide how it will move forward in relation to this specific case. Equally, we should—I certainly will—keep an open mind on how the allegations are scrutinised.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

The

Sunday Post’s reports are worrying, because they reopen many of the questions about undercover policing. They also cast a shadow of doubt on the previous investigation into those issues. I heard what the cabinet secretary had to say, but surely there is a question about whether it is appropriate to leave the matter to Police Scotland. Surely we need an independent investigation into the alleged destruction of the evidence, and surely an external police force is required to do that. Does the cabinet secretary accept that now we must have a full and independent review not just of these matters, but of undercover policing as a whole, because of the questions that have been raised?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I will try to clarify matters; what I have said has perhaps been misinterpreted. I have said that Police Scotland is subject to a judgment, and it has a choice on whether to appeal it. I would not want to prejudice that court process.

I do not disagree with Liam McArthur and Daniel Johnson that, to give confidence in the scrutiny of the veracity and accuracy of the allegations, a measure of independence from Police Scotland will be needed. That can be provided through a number of routes, and Daniel Johnson has made one suggestion that should be on the table. I hope that I can clarify that nuance.

As for a public inquiry, it is worth saying that the most recent letter from the Minister of State for Policing and the Fire Service, which is from June last year, said that the Pitchford inquiry,

“under its current Terms of Reference, can receive evidence from key witnesses in relation to the tasking by English and Welsh forces of undercover officers who were also deployed outside of England and Wales.”

The serious allegations that have been made about the potential practices of English and Welsh forces in Scotland can be investigated by the Pitchford inquiry.

As I have said, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary in Scotland, which is independent, produced a report on the current structure of undercover policing. There is also independent judicially led oversight of such policing. The possible extension of the Pitchford inquiry was the subject of judicial review and that case was dismissed.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I am sorry that that is all that we have time for—we have already gone six minutes over the allocated time. I apologise to Rona Mackay, Neil Findlay and John Finnie, who all wished to ask supplementaries.