Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill may allow police and security services to kidnap and murder people – Kenny MacAskill MP

As a new Justice Secretary, I recall signing covert surveillance warrants and coming across the name “Chis”. At first glance I thought it was a nickname until I realised it was an acronym for Covert Human Information Source.

A man receives attention during the Bloody Sunday shootings in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, in 1972 (Picture: PA Wire)
A man receives attention during the Bloody Sunday shootings in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, in 1972 (Picture: PA Wire)

It was to make a regular appearance in such warrants which frequently related to actions against highly sophisticated drug gangs.

I was also to discover, in my naivety, that some illegal actions – under strict conditions and supervision – were required to be carried out by police. Placing covert surveillance devices sometimes required premises to be accessed surreptitiously and other illegal actions to be carried out or condoned.

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I have to confess I didn’t know we had such police officers, but they were necessary as were those who went undercover. Meeting the latter, I was hugely impressed at their courage in what were often very dangerous situations and always extremely challenging circumstances.

There have been actions taken by undercover officers south of the border that are entirely unacceptable and infiltration of organisations that are perfectly legitimate. I can safely say that although I was never asked to sign any warrant that authorised either, I can’t speak for the security services.

But the actions taken were reasonable and proportionate, subject to set rules and under strict supervision. To protect our communities that latitude I believe is required, even if to be regretted.

However, last week in Parliament I refused to support the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill for it goes too far. The powers being authorised legitimise actions by police and the security services that are simply unacceptable in a democracy. Allowing the most serious criminality, including potentially kidnap and murder, not only threatens our society but can corrode those institutions from within.

Anyone who thinks it can’t happen here is deluded and they need simply to look at what was going on in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles. The author Martin Dillon’s book “The Dirty War” and the film “The Miami Show Band Massacre” show what can happen when the forces of law and order go rogue.

Illegal actions by the authorities must be regulated and limited. This is a dangerous step.

Kenny MacAskill is the SNP MP for East Lothian

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