Tavish Scott: Press, politics and police must be kept separate
A TORY Minister lost his temper at police guarding the Downing Street gate. That much seems clear. What Andrew Mitchell did or did not say is now a news story that has run for a week. What is more worrying than Mitchell’s fate is that the police and the Sun newspaper are at it again.
On Monday Murdoch’s tabloid exclusively revealed that an official police report shows Mitchell called officers “plebs”. How did that report end up in the Sun? The police gave it to them. There can be no other conclusion. The Leveson Inquiry into the Murdoch press phone hacking scandal highlighted the cosy and inappropriate relationship between police officers and newspapers. No lessons have been learnt. The police brief tabloid newspapers and the media when it suits them. Fact.
The police are on a sticky wicket here. The publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report into the death of 96 Liverpool football fans in Sheffield in 1989 is a damning indictment. A total of 118 police statements were altered. Officers covered up the truth and during those intervening years some sought to mislead and obstruct the pursuit of justice.
If we cannot trust the police to act correctly and be truthful then the nation has some fundamental and unpleasant issues to address. Will there be prosecutions of those officers who lied about what really happened at Hillsborough? The Sun has had to apologise for the callous lies they printed about Liverpool fans following Hillsborough. The lies were fed to them by the police.
The Mitchell and Hillsborough cases should lead us to question the role of the police more generally. And the one certainty is that a national police force for Scotland is full of comparable dangers. It will be the second largest force in the UK with 17,000 officers. Who will look into police mistakes now that eight Scottish forces are centralised into one? It is inconceivable that a Nationalist government will allow an English force to review a serious mistake by a national Scottish police force, but would that do any good?
For the health of our democracy we need politicians, police and press to be separate and independently scrutinised. If a cover-up by the state can happen over 96 deaths at Hillsborough then imagine what could occur when an incident of far less magnitude occurs. A national police force for Scotland will make the cover-up easier. The politicisation of Scotland’s police force under an authoritarian and centralising nationalist regime should make any citizen profoundly uneasy.
Scotland’s first national police chief has now been appointed by the Nationalist government. Strathclyde’s Stephen House will be under constant ministerial pressure. When the Police Service of Scotland provokes media interest for the wrong reason for the first time, the first call the force will get will be from the justice minister’s office. Openness and transparency will not be the main requirement of government. Handling the press will be. Just like Hillsborough. • Tavish Scott is Lib Dem MSP for Shetland
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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