POLICE Scotland has triggered a constitutional stand-off with Holyrood by resisting attempts for serving officers to give evidence to an inquiry into the on-going illegal spying scandal.

The single force has warned the Holyrood justice committee that it may be acting “beyond its powers” by calling four police officers as witnesses for its probe.

However, committee convener Christine Grahame has stood her ground and repeated the invitations.

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BACKGROUNDERS:

- How the force acted unlawfully

- MSPs seek to quiz police officers in spy probe

Since March 25, police forces have required judicial approval before using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to identify a journalist’s suspected sources.

However, the Interception of Communications Commissioner – which oversees the use of the RIPA – recently confirmed that Police Scotland had committed five “reckless” breaches of the new rules.

The force illegally used its spying powers to establish who had helped reporters expose the botched police investigation into the murder of sex worker Emma Caldwell.

Former and serving police officers were targeted as part of the rogue spy probe and they can now apply for compensation at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

Holyrood’s justice committee held a hearing into the unlawful behaviour by the force’s Counter Corruption Unit and called Neil Richardson, who at the time of the breaches had portfolio responsibility for the CCU, to give evidence in December.

However, after the evidence session, MSPs decided they wanted to hear from four other officers on January 12: Detective Superintendent David Donaldson; Detective Inspector Joanne Grant; Detective Superintendent Brenda Smith; and Chief Superintendent Clark Cuzen.

In a letter sent two days before Christmas, Police Scotland interim head of legal services Duncan Campbell wrote to the committee: “I am asked to respectfully request that the invitations to the four police officers are withdrawn”.

Campbell said the force had concerns of “risk” to “certain named individuals”, “improper” disclosure of information, and that the Committee may be acting beyond its powers.

On the latter, the solicitor noted on behalf of the force that the RIPA matters under consideration by the Committee were “not within the competence generally of the Scottish Parliament”.

However, he added: “There is no intention to be obstructive.”

HeraldScotland: Neil Richardson

Picture: Richardson

In her response, Grahame dismissed the suggestion that the Committee may be acting outwith its powers, as she argued the sessions were concerned with Police Scotland “governance”.

On the fears of “risk” to named witnesses, Grahame questioned whether the comments had any “legal relevance”, adding: “With regard to the individuals, in relation to at least some of them, I do not understand their identities or positions within Police Scotland to be a matter of secrecy.”

She concluded by again extending the invitation. The committee requests to the four officers are currently invitations, which can be turned down, but Holyrood has powers to require attendance of reluctant witnesses.

In a related matter, the president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents wrote to Holyrood presiding officer Tricia Marwick outlining concerns about Richardson’s questioning by the Committee.

Niven Rennie claimed: “My Association have (sic) asked me to raise concerns with you regarding the manner in which some of the questions were put to these witnesses which resulted in the names of serving officers being placed in the public domain.”

Marwick replied to Rennie, as did Grahame, the latter of whom wrote: “The appropriateness of a particular line of questioning is always a matter for any Convener’s individual judgment...It is my considered view that an appropriate balance was struck at the 15 December meeting.”