Matheson pledges full police review on press sources

Justice secretary Michael Matheson has promised a “thorough and in-depth” review of Police Scotland’s counter-corruption practices after admitting the government knew about data breaches five months ago.

Michael Matheson knew of breaches five months ago. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Last week the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office (Iocco) said the force had failed to obtain judicial approval when attempting to access communications data to unmask a journalist’s source.

The breaches followed media reports about failures during the investigation into the unsolved murder of Emma Caldwell, who was killed in 2005.

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Speaking in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, Mr Matheson said the Scottish Government had been made aware of the breaches in July.

He said: “On learning of the breaches in the summer, the Scottish Government contacted Police Scotland to seek reassurance they would co-operate fully with the Iocco investigation.

“That reassurance was given and Police Scotland have been working on a robust action plan since July to ensure there has been no repeat of these incidents and it cannot happen again in the future.

“It’s clear that Police Scotland’s actions in accessing communication data have fallen short of the standard expected and I welcome last week’s announcement by the Scottish Police Authority that they would ask HMICS [HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland] to review the robustness of the procedures around Police Scotland’s counter-corruption practices. I can reassure the chamber this will be an independent, thorough and in-depth review.” Mr Matheson said the HMICS review would be laid before parliament in the spring.

He added: “A free press is a cornerstone of a healthy democracy and we’re committed to protecting the privacy of all law-abiding members of the public, including journalists.”

Labour justice spokesman Graeme Pearson said the case showed the need for better oversight of the national force.

Mr Pearson said: “For years in this parliament I have asked the cabinet secretary to ensure that proper governance, accountability and oversight was in place for the new national police force and that has been rebutted by this government with some energy.

“Will he now accept there is not sufficient governance in place and make sure it occurs?”

Mr Matheson said governance and oversight in the area of communications data was a matter for Iocco.

Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said: “What we are still missing from this case is a proper explanation as to who did this and why.

“Rather than reopening the [murder] investigation, they tried to find the leak. We need a proper explanation as to why that was allowed to happen.”

Meanwhile, Labour MSP Neil Findlay called for the Scottish Government to establish an independent inquiry into undercover policing amid claims activists were spied on by the Metropolitan Police including at the G8 summit at Gleneagles in 2005. Mr Matheson said he would consider the issue if there was “clear evidence” that Police Scotland or one of its legacy forces had been involved.