Police Scotland’s failure to allow senior officers to appear before MSPs has fuelled a “conspiracy theory” about the force spying on journalists, the former justice secretary has claimed.
Kenny MacAskill said Police Scotland’s refusal to allow officers to attend Holyrood’s justice committee had left the force looking “at best defensive and at worst shifty”.
MSPs called on four senior officers to give evidence following a ruling by the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office (Iocco) in November that Police Scotland contravened data guidelines by attempting to expose details of a journalist’s source without first seeking judicial approval.
Police Scotland’s Counter Corruption Unit used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) to carry out mobile phone subscriber checks after details were leaked to the press from the inquiry into the 2005 murder of Emma Caldwell.
Deputy Chief Constable Neil Richardson and Assistant Chief Constable Ruaraidh Nicolson have appeared before MSPs to give evidence, but four senior officers involved in applying for the data have refused to attend.
Writing in Police Professional, a weekly journal, the former justice secretary said the case had become a “farce”.
Mr MacAskill wrote: “To be fair, there was some substance in the reluctance of Police Scotland to have the individual officers brought before the committee. Ministers would expect to answer for any sins of omission or commission by officials working for them.
“However, the police profile was one of hiding behind legal responsibilities and who was accountable.
“That simply fuelled those who already believed in a conspiracy theory and irritated the committee intent on flexing its muscles.
“Nothing irritates elected representatives more than being told it’s none of their business. At best it was insensitive and at worst insulting.”
Mr MacAskill said the affair had allowed Police Scotland to be portrayed as “at best defensive and at worst shifty”.
Following the refusal of the four officers to attend, the justice committee has now called on Chief Constable Phil Gormley and the chairman of the Scottish Police Authority, Andrew Flanagan, to appear.
Asked when the four officers will appear before the committee, a spokesman for Police Scotland said: “The matter remains under consideration.”