A candidate to be Police Scotland’s next chief constable is under pressure after a watchdog found that a unit under his control broke new rules on spying on journalists’ sources.

The Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office (IOCCO) is expected to distribute its findings soon into serious breaches by the force's Counter Corruption Unit (CCU).

Neil Richardson, the designated deputy for chief constable with responsibility for the CCU, is one of three contenders in line to replace the outgoing Sir Stephen House.

The shortlist has been whittled down from six names and also features Iain Livingstone and ex Norfolk chief constable Phil Gormley.

Liberal Democrat MSP Alison McInnes said last night: “We need answers and we need them now.”

Since March, police forces have required judicial approval before using spying legislation to obtain details of phone records, emails and texts to determine a journalist’s source.

The revised Code of Practice – agreed at Westminster - followed widespread concerns that the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) in this way breached human rights.

It was amended specifically to protect journalists and their sources.

The Herald: File photo dated 22/10/14 of a teenage girl using a mobile phone, as smartphones and other personal electronic devices like tablets could be banned from the classroom over fears they cause too much disruption to lessons. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue dat

Picture: Police forces can obtain details of phone records, texts and emails


However, in July the IOCCO revealed that two unnamed forces had committed “serious” breaches of the new Code by not getting judicial consent.

The Herald's sister paper, the Sunday Herald, revealed that Police Scotland was one of the two transgressors, a disclosure the single force and the Scottish Government refused to confirm or deny.

Although unconfirmed, it is believed the breach may relate to a newspaper investigation into the unsolved murder of prostitute Emma Caldwell.

In April, the Sunday Mail published a series of articles into the failings of the original police investigation in the Caldwell case.

A retired detective, who helped the tabloid expose the shortcomings, was paid a visit by Police Scotland officers weeks after the stories were published.

He was not at home at the time of the police visit and the force left him a calling card.

The Government has maintained its position of not commenting on the grounds that the IOCCO investigation is ongoing.

IOCCO head Jo Cavan informed Holyrood’s Justice Committee that a final determination could not be made until a new Commissioner for the watchdog was appointed by the Prime Minister.

However, Sir Stanley Burnton was unveiled yesterday as the Commissioner and the IOCCO is now expected to distribute its report.

It is believed the IOCCO investigation eventually established multiple breaches of the rules by Police Scotland relating to journalists' sources.

In its July report, the watchdog revealed that one breach related to a “suspected journalistic source” working in the police and a former force employee believed to be acting as intermediary.


The CCU, which investigates alleged police corruption, is headed by Detective Chief Superintendent Clark Cuzen and sits within Richardson’s portfolio.

Richardson is the second highest ranking police chief in the single force after House. There is no suggestion he had any personal involvement in the breaches.

Policing sources believe the behaviour could lead to probes by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal – which can award damages to individuals – and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS).

The Parliament’s Justice Committee has also expressed an interest in investigating issues relating to the breach.

McInnes said: "These are incredibly serious allegations. If Police Scotland units deliberately breached privacy rules to spy on journalists then we need to know about it. This saga has dragged on and on. Police Scotland and the Scottish Government can no longer stonewall people seeking answers to entirely legitimate questions.

“Up to this point, the Justice Secretary has refused point-blank to confirm or deny whether Police Scotland is one of the forces involved in this probe, or even whether he is aware of the names of the forces involved. This position is clearly no longer tenable in light of these revelations."

Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “Police spying on journalists – routinely or even on a one-off basis – is something a transparent society simply cannot tolerate.

“It seems this report will conclude what many have suspected.

“Once the findings are revealed, it’s imperative that both the Scottish Government and Police Scotland give firm guarantees that this practice will not be repeated.”

After asking if the force or Richardson wanted to comment, a Police Scotland spokesperson said: "IOCCO has not identified any organisation currently under investigation and therefore it would be inappropriate to comment further."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said:

"IOCCO has confirmed they are unable to make a final determination on their investigations and bring them to a formal conclusion. Following Sir Stanley Burnton’s appointment as Interception of Communications Commissioner we hope this situation will be resolved shortly, and in the meantime the Scottish Government does not believe it would be appropriate to comment further."

A spokesperson for IOCCO declined to comment.