Scotland politics

Call for Holyrood to mount undercover policing inquiry

Police pass out at Tulliallan Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The UK government has refused to expand its probe of undercover policing to cover Scotland

The Scottish government has been urged to set up its own inquiry into undercover policing after the UK government refused to extend an existing probe north of the border.

Calls to expand the Pitchford Inquiry to Scotland were backed by representatives of all parties.

But policing minister Brandon Lewis said this was "not possible".

Scottish Labour now wants Holyrood to conduct its own probe into the conduct of undercover police officers.

A spokesman for the Scottish government said it was "extremely disappointed" that Pitchford would not be extended, and is now considering the next steps.

The Pitchford Inquiry was set up in England and Wales after allegations of undercover officers fathering children and causing miscarriages of justice.

It has been claimed that undercover Metropolitan Police officers also spied north of the border. Mark Kennedy, one of five offices known to have had relationships with women, is alleged to have infiltrated environmental groups ahead of the G8 summit at Gleneagles.

The Met has issued an "unreserved apology" and agreed compensation packages for seven women deceived into having relationships with undercover officers.

Image copyright Guardian
Image caption Mark Kennedy is said to have been among the undercover officers who targeted campaigners in Scotland

Labour's Neil Findlay appealed for then Home Secretary Theresa May in June, asking for the probe to be expanded to Scotland. He won backing from MSPs, MPs and MEPs from Labour, the Greens, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, while Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael lodged a similar motion at Westminster with the backing of SNP MPs.

However, Mr Findlay's appeal was turned down by Home Office minister Mr Lewis, who said there were a "number of reasons" why the probe could not be expanded to Scotland.

In a letter to the MSP, the minister for policing and the fire service said there was a risk that the inquiry could be "acting outside of its powers" as defined in its terms of reference.

He said Ms May, now the prime minister, had "carefully considered" the request, but said the probe was already "extensive and complex", adding: "In the interests of learning lessons from past failures and improving public confidence, it is important that the inquiry can proceed swiftly and make recommendations as soon as possible."

'Utterly unjust'

Mr Findlay said this decision meant "the victims of unethical and illegal undercover policing" in England and Wales would have access to "the truth and potentially justice", while those in Scotland would not.

He said: "The onus is now very firmly on the SNP government - all along they have said they would wait on the response from the UK Government before deciding what to do - well now we have the UK government's response and it is a refusal to extend the Pitchford inquiry.

"It would be completely and utterly unjust for Scottish victims to be denied access to the truth. There is now no other option available to the Scottish Government - they must hold their own inquiry into this scandal. I have today written to the Justice Secretary, Michael Matheson calling on him to act."

Pat Rafferty, Scottish secretary of the Unite union, said it was "crucially important that the Scottish government now organises a Pitchford style inquiry in Scotland to deliver full justice for workers and political and environmental activists who may have suffered through immoral and undemocratic covert surveillance."

A Scottish government spokesman said it was "extremely disappointed" that the UK government had indicated it would not extend the inquiry.

He said: "We continue to believe that a single inquiry across the UK is the most effective approach to provide a comprehensive and coherent investigation into these matters.

"This narrower approach risks doing a disservice to people in Scotland affected by the activities of a force which falls under the oversight of the Home Office. We will now consider how best to take this matter forward."

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