A senior police officer within Police Scotland raised concerns about applying for information on journalists’ sources before the force breached data guidelines, it has emerged.
Appearing before the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee today, Assistant Chief Constable Ruaraidh Nicolson said a detective superintendent had provided advice on the issue before an officer of the same rank “misinterpreted” a recently introduced code of practice.
The Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office (Iocco) ruled last year that Police Scotland contravened data guidelines while attempting to expose details of a journalist’s source.
Last week, Police Scotland admitted in a letter to MSPs that senior officers were aware of changes to data interception guidelines in the weeks before they were broken.
Giving evidence today, Mr Nicholson said: “In general terms, I am aware that a SRO (senior responsible officer) did provide advice that these kind of applications potentially would breach the code.”
MSP John Finnie replied: “Why are we here then?”
To which Mr Nicolson responded: “I would rather not be here and would rather that we had not breached the code - that would be the best possible position for use to be in, but unfortunately we have.”
Mr Nicolson said concerns had been raised by an officer after press reports on the investigation into the 2005 murder of Emma Caldwell showed there had been a leak.
He said Police Scotland began investigating the leak in early April, a month before the lord advocate ordered the murder itself be reinvestigated.
Mr Nicolson was giving evidence after Police Scotland refused to allow four senior officers - including Detective Chief Superintendent Clark Cuzen, head of the force’s Counter Corruption Unit - to appear before MSPs.
Mr Nicolson said there were concerns within the force about the safety of the officers should their identities become known.
While their names are already in the public domain, Mr Nicolson said their appearance before the committee would put them at risk.
In a letter to the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee published last week, Police Scotland’s head of legal services, Duncan Campbell, said the force’s Communications Investigation Unit (CIU) had been made aware of the changes on 24 February and was told to “cease progression” of any applications for data involving journalists.
In December, Deputy Chief Constable Neil Richardson said Det Supt David Donaldson had “misinterpreted” the new code 22 days after it came into effect on 25 March.