Police Scotland chief constable orders independent review of undercover unit

Scotland’s police chief has criticised “wholly unsatisfactory and unprofessional” conduct in the country’s former Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA) and asked an outside force to carry out a review.

Police Scotland held a review of the undercover unit after a former officer won a civil court case in January.

She had alleged she was not treated fairly after whistle-blowing over the discovery of mismanagement at the unit in 2011.

Chief Constable Iain Livingstone has told oversight body the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) he has asked another police force to carry out a further review.

He said this would ascertain if there should be further investigations and was being carried out to help restore public confidence in covert police operations.

Mr Livingstone highlighted the evidence from the former officer, known as Mrs K, included assertions “regarding unprofessional practice, including that documents were destroyed by burning following the April 2011 discovery”.

In the court judgment, Mrs K is recorded as telling the court she discovered boxes and bags of unopened documents and mail in an office she used with another undercover officer.

There were bank cards, mobile phone bills, letters from debt collectors and passports in pseudonyms she did not recognise, along with cash.

Mrs K said she knew of no operational reason for the items and was concerned undercover operations were compromised and the safety of officers could be at risk.

The covert officer who shared the office was admitted to a psychiatric unit then retired on ill-health grounds.

Mrs K said she was questioned for days as part of the investigation, suspended then told she would be temporarily transferred, before finding out her original job had been advertised, all causing her distress and leading to her taking ill-health retirement.

In a report to go before the SPA at a board meeting on Wednesday, Mr Livingstone said: “It is clear that the events which took place in the legacy SCDEA in 2011, as described in the civil action, were wholly unsatisfactory and unprofessional.

“I have now considered Police Scotland Review Team’s conclusions and recommendations.

“While I am entirely satisfied that the review was a thorough, robust and appropriate response, I recognise the legitimate interest that exists about what took place in 2011 and the importance of public confidence in the vital area of covert policing.

“To that end, I have requested that an external force, which has significant knowledge and experience in the area of covert policing, carry out a peer review to provide independent assurance.”

He added: “The purpose of this independent peer review is to ensure all legitimate enquiries have been carried out, and to identify whether there are any further lines of investigation which should be pursued.

“On completion and receipt of the peer review, I will determine what steps, if any, are required to ensure the integrity of the Police Scotland response and provide further public reassurance over this episode.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur questioned if anyone would be held accountable for the events in the unit, which was disbanded as its role was incorporated into the single force in 2013.

He said: “These events resembled scenes from Life on Mars.

“Chaotic filing was followed by officers being sent to buy an incinerator and petrol, taking documents to a wasteland by a river, then setting alight to them in a car park.

“As I have said previously, in order to restore public confidence we now need to see another force from elsewhere in the UK brought in to consider Police Scotland’s findings and look at additional lines of inquiry.

“There is also the outstanding question of whether anyone will be held accountable for these events.”

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