A UK surveillance watchdog has accused the Scottish Government of misrepresenting its position over the row on police spying on journalists and their sources.

The Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office said SNP Government claims that the IOCCO does not name the bodies that break snooping rules is “simply untrue”.

An IOCCO spokeswoman said the watchdog had not ruled out naming the two forces that had breached the new spying code, one of which is claimed to be Police Scotland.

Scottish Labour shadow Justice Secretary Hugh Henry said First Minister Nicola Sturgeon now had “no excuse but to come clean” on her knowledge of the spying row.

Since March 25, police forces have needed to get judicial approval before they can use the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to identify a journalist’s source.

The law was changed following revelations that police forces had used the RIPA in this way on hundreds of occasions over a three-year period.

However, there have since been two breaches of the revised Code of Practice for the acquisition of “communications data”, which can include phone records, texts and emails.

The matter was described as “serious” by the Prime Minister, who appointed the Commissioner.

The Herald’s sister newspaper, the Sunday Herald, reported claims at the weekend that Police Scotland was one of the two forces that failed to get judicial approval before using the RIPA to identify a journalist’s source.

The report claimed the single force’s Counter Corruption Unit was responsible for a breach now being investigated by the IOCCO.

Police Scotland declined to confirm or deny the story, noting that the watchdog had set out its “rationale” for not naming the forces.

The Scottish Government, which has been under pressure to comment on the case by opposition parties, has also refused to provide details.

“The policy of IOCCO is that it does not identify agencies where breaches have occurred,” a spokesman said earlier this week.

However, the IOCCO has hit out at the Government statement: “This is simply untrue and misrepresents our position.”

IOCCO will not name the bodies while an investigation into the breaches is ongoing, but the watchdog will decide whether to identify the forces once enquiries have been completed.

A Scottish Government spokesman said last night: “IOCCO has set out its position of not naming the two agencies involved while investigations are ongoing and have set out the reasons for this.

"The Scottish Government’s statements on this issue were based on this being the current position and were not intended to suggest that the forces would never be identified."

But Mr Henry said: "It is now clear that the SNP Government can no longer hide behind the IOCCO. SNP ministers such as Nicola Sturgeon and Michael Matheson now have no excuse but to come clean and tell the Scottish public what they know about the police spying row.

"They also need to tell us whether they have authorised the interception of communications to and from journalists."

Mr Henry has also called on the single force and the government to say whether the breach related to the unsolved murder of prostitute Emma Caldwell, who was killed 10 years ago.

On April 5, the Sunday Mail newspaper published a nine-page investigation that exposed alleged shortcomings in the original police investigation.

The tabloid, which ran the piece under a joint byline of its editor and news editor, also named an individual who had been questioned several times by police in the first probe.

Weeks later, the BBC broadcast its own investigation into the case by journalist Eamon O’Connor, who said on Wednesday that a “dependable source” had informed him he had been targeted by the CCU.

The IOCCO report stated that one of the breaches related to a suspected journalistic source inside the police and a former force employee believed to be an intermediary.

The watchdog added that the case was one where “journalists” had “published” an article.