Matheson: Scottish inquiry into undercover policing ‘unnecessary’

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A Scottish inquiry into undercover policing is not in the public interest, the Justice Secretary has said.

Michael Matheson said he had taken into account public concern over the use of covert police officers but concluded that a Scottish probe was “not necessary or justified”.

Mr Matheson was addressing parliament after a review by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) said undercover policing had been used effectively and that Police Scotland had not infiltrated social justice campaigns.

HMICS found the use of undercover operations was not widespread but that the Metropolitan Police’s controversial Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) and National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) had both deployed officers to Scotland.

It examined the practice between 2000 and 2016, following on from the Undercover Policing Inquiry which was set up in England and Wales to investigate allegations of misconduct by undercover officers.

A legal challenge has been brought by campaigner Tilly Gifford who wants that inquiry to be extended to Scotland, and Mr Matheson has faced calls for a separate Scottish probe.

The justice secretary told MSPs: “We have seen no evidence of the sort of behaviour by Scottish police officers that led to the establishment of the Undercover Policing Inquiry.

“The HMICS review provides reassurance to the public and to this parliament around the extent and scale of the use of undercover police officers since 2000.

“It identifies room for improvement and makes a number of recommendations that Police Scotland have committed to implement in full.

“I’ve considered carefully whether I should establish a separate Scottish inquiry under the Inquiries Act.

“In all the circumstances I am not satisfied that establishing a separate inquiry is necessary or in the public interest.”

Mr Matheson said a separate probe would be subject to delay and duplication and would be disproportionate in cost.

He said he had written again to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd urging her to widen the terms of reference of the English inquiry.

Labour’s Neil Findlay said: “By refusing a public inquiry or to look beyond the year 2000 the cabinet secretary fails victims, many of them women, and fails our democracy.

“Now the only people on the  mainland UK who will not have access to justice are Scottish victims.”

Green MSP John Finnie told Mr Matheson: “You need to take charge of this situation, you need to call an inquiry, you need to assert your independence in relation to this. This is a Scottish matter – please deal with it.”

Lib Dem Liam McArthur said he was also “disappointed” at the failure to instigate a public inquiry and urged the justice secretary to reconsider.

Conservative MSP Liam Kerr questioned what was being done to address the lack of a formal notification process for cross border operations, as highlighted by HMICS.

Responding to the decision, Ms Gifford said: “This is an ongoing fight for truth and accountability.

“It is the very political, policing and corporate establishments who sanctioned these abuses that have composed this HMICS review, and now deny Scotland a public inquiry.

“Our process of legally challenging this decision will continue.”

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