Scottish Inquiry – Reputation Before Justice

HMICS whitewashThe announcement of the terms of reference for HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland’s review into undercover policing manages to go beyond being meaningless, insulting those demanding answers for historical abuses by spycops, explains Dónal O’Driscoll

Last week Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) announced the terms of reference for its Review of undercover policing. Though campaigners were not holding their breath, the terms were more offensive than we expected.

From the beginning we’ve denounced this Review as police investigating police. We experienced the efforts of the Inspectorate of Constabulary in England & Wales and the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Herne. Each report they produced was irrelevant, and in one case pulped the day before publication for misrepresenting the extent of the scandal.

The reality is that HMICS is staffed with ex-police, some of whom will return to policing the force they are examining. Its limited credibility was already strained to its limits when it was revealed that those conducting the review would not just be ex-police but include those closely linked to undercover policing in Scotland.

In no other situation would it be considered acceptable for abusers to investigate themselves. Yet, according to HMICS they will:

‘provide an independent view of the operation, procedures and safeguards in place by Police Scotland in relation to undercover policing, with the objective of providing assurance to Scottish Ministers, the Scottish Parliament and the public’.

We wonder what opinion Scottish Justice Minister Michael Matheson, who commissioned this review, must hold of the public to believe it would blindly accept such assurances. And this in the week we learn that even the rudimentary oversight provided by the Office of Surveillance Commissioners is being ignored by Police Scotland.

Basic political common-sense would say to provide something tangible to reassure campaigners. There was nothing – no promise of answers, no talk of transparency or even listening to the concerns of those most affected.

The announcement stated:

‘HMICS will be mindful of all time of the wider interest of public safety and and will not reveal information capable of impacting negatively on this interest including covert tactics, operational methods, and material potentially leading to the identification of covert human intelligence sources, including undercover officers’.

It is language we have heard many times before from the police. It leaves no doubt that HMICS will adopt the same policy as the rest of the UK – say nothing and stick to Neither Confirm Nor Deny – because it’s more important to them to shield police from consequences of how they abused people than to actually deliver justice. Given the current Chief Constable of Police Scotland oversaw the Special Demonstration Squad, we are not really surprised, however.

The words ‘justice’ or ‘accountability’ are conspicuously absent from the 16 page announcement. There is no mention at all of those most affected by the spycop scandal, a shameful if unsurprising omission.

The investigation is limited to anything after the year 2000, though abuses were taking place long before then. These are grave injustices; there is no statute of limitation, so no reason to stop investigating. Rather, it is the classic police line of ‘nothing to see, move along’. It merely underlines why we demanded an independent inquiry from the beginning.

When we heard the terms of reference for the HMICS review were being released, it felt irrelevant. There was little doubt it would be meaningless political speak. We did not imagine we would be quite so offended. Yet, according to their statement, the review will:

‘comment on the contribution made by undercover policing operations towards public safety in Scotland’.

In plain language, the review is there to give undercover officers a congratulatory slap on the back. Not a word of the abuse conducted by them, but a big well done to the men who deceived, betrayed and destroyed the lives of people fighting for a better world.

Just read the account of Andrea, targeted by a spycop for a relationship, to see why this leaves a bitter taste in our mouths. They will tell us how undercover policing protects the public yet take no interest in protecting the public from these undercover police.

They are not investigating suspicions or allegations. The police themselves accept that it was morally wrong and ‘an abuse of police power’. The people targeted by spycops have uncovered a small fraction of what went on. The question is how far did it go? Instead of addressing that, the Scottish police and their satellite bodies, like their colleagues south of the border, are intent on glossing over what cannot be denied and keeping the rest firmly hidden.

Derek Penman, head of HMICS, wants to maintain public confidence in undercover policing – if anything, he achieved the opposite, demonstrating that the culture of cover-up where reputation comes before justice is the most important motivating factor. It motivated the police at the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry and it is being repeated here.

Mr Matheson, the goal is so wide at this point, that the only possible conclusion is that you are deliberately choosing to miss. This goes beyond ineptitude to intentional collusion with known abusers in covering-up this scandal. It is frankly corrupt. Collaborating in this cover-up stains the entire Scottish Ministry of Justice.

Though these are my views, a group of those of us spied upon in Scotland, shall be writing to the Justice Minister this week, asking for a meeting.


The author was spied upon in Scotland by Mark Kennedy and other undercovers, and is a core participant in the Pitchford Inquiry.

Read Andrea’s description of her relationship with a spycop published last week in two parts here and here.

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