Police Scotland is facing multiple investigations after the UK surveillance watchdog judged that the single force recklessly broke new rules on spying on journalists’ sources.

The Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office (IOCCO) found five breaches - committed by the force’s Counter Corruption Unit.

The CCU is headed by Deputy Chief Constable Neil Richardson, who is one of three shortlisted candidates to succeed Sir Stephen House.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said Police Scotland had “fallen short” of expected standards and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) immediately ordered a review of the CCU.

Senior MSP John Finnie said he hoped Holyrood’s Justice Committee would launch a parliamentary inquiry into the scandal, while the affected individuals can also now pursue compensation cases at a special tribunal.

Since March, police forces across the UK have required judicial approval before using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to identify the source of a journalist’s information.

A new Code of Practice was pushed through by MPs after it was revealed that officers had used the powers - which can obtain details of texts, emails and phone records - to spy on the media on dozens of occasions.

HeraldScotland: Police covert investigations unit breached spying rules 'multiple' times

Picture: the RIPA legislation allows access to details of texts, emails and phone records

The March change was implemented specifically to protect the confidentiality of journalistic sources.

However, the IOCCO disclosed in July that two unnamed forces had breached the new rules on judicial approval.

The Herald’s sister newspaper, the Sunday Herald revealed the CCU was one of the culprits, but the Scottish Government and the force declined to comment.

The watchdog’s new commissioner, Sir Stanley Burnton, confirmed the identity of Police Scotland yesterday.

He said of the “reckless” breaches: “I concluded that there had been contraventions of the Code in respect of 5 applications for communications data submitted by Police Scotland relating to one investigation.

“It is evident from these applications that Police Scotland sought communications data in order to determine either a journalist’s source or the communications of those suspected to have been acting as intermediaries between a journalist and a suspected source.”

He said he would write to the four individuals “adversely affected”, who can now take their case to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

HOW THE SUNDAY HERALD BROKE THE STORY

WHY THE CCU SCARES POLICE OFFICERS

The IOCCO did not name any of the suspected journalists’ sources who had been targeted, but speculation has persisted that the breaches relate to a newspaper investigation into the unsolved murder of prostitute Emma Caldwell.

SPA chief executive John Foley said Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary had now been asked to carry out an “in depth assurance review” of Police Scotland’s “counter corruption practices”.

Mr Finnie said: “I’ve previously asked that the Justice Committee examine this and related surveillance matters and trust, now we have this report, the Committee will press ahead with a full enquiry.”

HeraldScotland:

MSP John Finnie: there should be a Holyrood inquiry

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said: "It is not just reckless, it is outrageous that police officers thought they were above the law and simply reinforces the need for a wider inquiry into the workings of Police Scotland."

Solicitor Aamer Anwar, who has represented officers investigated by the CCU, said: “DCC Richardson must provide a statement to Parliament and the SPA on the ‘rogue’ activities of his Counter Corruption Unit.”

Scottish Labour Justice Spokesperson Graeme Pearson said: “This reckless conduct falls well below the standards we expect of our Police Service.  The breaches must have been approved at a very senior level by someone. I want to know who, why, when and where these approvals were sought and authorised.

“SNP Cabinet Secretary Michael Matheson has already admitted he has no idea what is going on. It’s time we received positive assurances that the Government has proper governance and accountabilities in place to oversee Policing in this sphere of spying.”

Mr Matheson said: “Any breach of the Code of Practice in this area is unacceptable and I expect Police Scotland to comply fully with any recommendations made by IOCCO.”

Mr Richardson did not comment yesterday, but Assistant Chief Constable Ruaraidh Nicolson said: “Police Scotland can confirm that it did not adhere to the new guidelines covering access to communications data during a recent investigation into alleged serious breaches of information security.

"We also acknowledge the deficiencies in the applications themselves, which have been highlighted by IOCCO.”