Pressure for Scottish spycop public inquiry continues
The Pitchford Inquiry into Undercover Policing is limited to operations conducted in England and Wales. Yet, this ignores a significant section of spycop activities given that the majority of known undercovers exposed to date were active in Scotland. Including conducting relationships with the women they targeted there.
Two years ago, the Scottish SNP government recognised the importance of this and wrote to the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, asking to be included in Pitchford. She knocked them back , but campaigners persisted in their demands. Stories continue to emerge, challenging the omission, while a judicial review case was launched, recently completing its first round of crowdfunding.
Forced to act, Matheson asked HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) to provide a review of the activities of the controversial units in Scotland. The move backfired dramatically. In the first instance, those spied upon have had enough of police investigating themselves having experienced the previous whitewashes produced by HMIC and Operation Herne.
It also rapidly emerged that the HMICS was especially tainted. Specifically, there was anger over the role of one Stephen Whitelock in HMICS' review. As campaigners put it sarcastically, the former Strathclyde Police intelligence chief was just a little too well-placed to investigate his own activities and those of his former colleagues. A letter made it clear that campaigners would not be co-operating with HMICS.
The anger of those on receiving end of the police spying was compounded by Matheson failing to reach out to them despite the wealth of evidence assembled. For them, in speaking only to police before ordering the review, it crossed the line from inappropriate to insulting. As result they requested a meeting with the minister himself.
That meeting took place on 10th May. We were told by some who attended that it was a frosty affair, with the minister dismissing their statements of fact as simply opinion and failing to address real points of concern regarding the appropriateness of HMICS conducting such a review.
Matheson promised the five individuals who went to meet him a full and complete review. However, it was pointed out that this could not be the case as the review only started from in 2000 so ignored the previous thirty years of spycops activities. Noted campaigner Helen Steel pressed him on the point as it ruled out her time in Scotland with spycop John Dines. However, he was unable to answer their concerns on this issue. The closest he came to a reason was that he was limited to the period the Scottish Parliament had authority for the police there.
Among those meeting the minister was a family member of ‘Andrea’ , who had been targeted by Carlo Neri. Andrea wrote this week of the impact of the deceitful relationship with Carlo on her own life, but it did not stop there. He integrated himself her family, went to significant events such as Andrea’ sister’s graduation, in what was described as ‘state sanctioned violation’. It was made clear such unconscionable abuses demanded proper explanations and the HMICS, without teeth in the matter, was not in a position to deliver on that.
Another present, Tilly Gifford, who leads the judicial review efforts, pointed out that as someone who was spied upon in Scotland she is cut off from Pitchford as things stand, and has no other access to justice.
Matheson, despite their clear disapproval, kept stating his faith in HMICS. He was keen to portray their review as a scoping exercise to determine whether a full inquiry is necessary. However, he was left in no doubt they did not share it and as far as they were concerned an unnecessary delaying tactic. As far as the delegates present were concerned, there was already years of accumulated evidence making such a review redundant. This after all being the foundation of Matheson's request in 2015 for Scotland to be included in Pitchford.
Thus, HMICS will have produce considerably more than its English & Welsh counterpart if it is going to be deemed anything other than the expected whitewash. As one of those present said, if Matheson learned anything from the meeting, it is that the issue is not going away anytime soon.
As one present told us, given the general antipathy between the Tories and the SNP, it is a struggle to understand just why the Glaswegian minister was so determined to miss this open goal.
The campaigners, if they cannot get Pitchford to examine the spycop abuses in Scotland, want the Scottish Government to start their own independent one. With the UK government unlikely to give ground and Pitchford itself still limping along, the demand is becoming more attractive. However, in the meantime, Matheson has bought himself some time, as HMICS have stated the final report will be provided to Scottish Ministers and laid before Parliament there in September 2017.
We asked Mr Matheson for a comment and were sent the following statement:
I was very glad of the opportunity to meet with the campaigners this morning to discuss undercover policing.
My position continues to be that a single inquiry across the UK would be the best option for a comprehensive and coherent investigation into these matters. As the UK Government has refused our request for this, we have directed HMICS to carry out an independent review of undercover policing in Scotland.
The review will be essential in gathering facts about existing and historical undercover policing activities, over the period the Scottish Parliament has had responsibility in this area, and will inform any future decisions we make.
People can have full confidence that the HMICS review of undercover policing will be thorough and independent.”