POLICE Scotland’s new chief constable led the Metropolitan police branch that controlled a notorious undercover unit whose officers had sex with their female targets.

Phil Gormley was in charge of the Met’s Special Branch, which had responsibility for the disgraced Special Demonstration Squad (SDS).

The SDS’s activities are now central to a judge-led inquiry into undercover policing in England and Wales.

Loading article content

MSP Graeme Pearson, former Director General of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, called on the police chief to provide answers on any links he had to the SDS.

Gormley, the former deputy director of the National Crime Agency, came out of retirement to secure the top job in Scottish policing and starts this week.

He succeeds Sir Stephen House, whose term was marked by controversies on stop and search, armed policing, call-handling and unlawful spying.

However, as Gormley prepares to take over, the spotlight is on his career at the Met, where he was a commander for four years from 2003.

The SDS was formed in 1968 – as the Special Operations Squad – in response to mass protests against the Vietnam War.

Over the next 40 years, SDS officers would be embedded undercover into protest and environmental groups with a view to keeping tabs on their activities.

The Unit was based inside the Met’s Special Branch – which focuses on national security.

However, the SDS has become discredited over the tactics used by its undercover officers over the decades.

A number of the plants formed sexual relationships with female activists and one ex-officer, Bob Lambert, even fathered a child with a protestor in the 1980s.

In November, it was announced that seven woman received compensation for what the Met described as "totally unacceptable" behaviour of some of its officers.

The compensation was linked to behaviour by former officers for the SDS and the separate National Public Order Intelligence Unit.

Officers also assumed fake identities by taking the names of dead babies and gave evidence in court using the false names.

The SDS also stands accused of spying in the 1990s on the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence – an allegation that led to Home Secretary Theresa May to announce the Pitchford Inquiry. The SDS was eventually wound up in 2008.

According to his online Police Scotland biography, Gormley became a Met commander in 2003: “Initially responsible for firearms and aviation security, then for special branch and counter terrorism.”

His NCA biography provides more details of this stint: “From 2005 Phil led the modernisation of Specialist Operations and took command of MPS Special Branch, driving forward the merger of Special Branch and the Anti Terrorist Branch to form the new Counter Terrorism Command.”

In 2005, when Gormley took command of Special Branch, the SDS – now called the Special Duties Squad – was still in existence.

In an official inquiry into SDS, carried out by Derbyshire chief constable Mick Creedon, the two most senior officers in the SDS pecking order were “Commander Special Branch” and a Detective Chief Superintendent.

There is no suggestion Gormley was aware of the SDS’ controversial operational practices, but calls have now been made for openness on his knowledge of the Unit.

MSP John Finnie, a former police officer, said: "I would be keen to understand what the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) knew about Mr Gormley's policing background and what enquiries, if any, they made about his role with Special Branch and the SDS.

"If the SPA were unaware of this hugely significant matter, then, once again, it would bring into question their competence.

"The public will rightly question how someone who was in charge of Special Branch, which controlled the notorious SDS, is now our chief constable."

Pearson, Labour’s justice spokesman, said: “It would be helpful to hear from Mr Gormley from the start what he knew about the Special Demonstration Squad during his time in command and what decisions he took in relation to the activities of that Unit.

“I believe as the incoming chief constable of Police Scotland a candid response now would be the best way to deal with this possibly damaging issue.”

The Sunday Herald contacted Police Scotland, and asked the force if the incoming chief constable would like to comment, but the force referred enquiries to the Met.

A spokesperson for the Met said: “At this stage we cannot discuss which officers had an oversight role of the SDS/NPOIU, as this is a piece of work that is ongoing in preparation for the Public Inquiry.”