POLICE Scotland pursued an illegal spying operation against serving and former officers after leaks revealed failings during the investigation into the murder of sex worker Emma Caldwell.

Police wasted vital resources on the unlawful molehunt by combing through the phone records of officers they suspected had blown the whistle to the press on the mishandled investigation.

One of the ex-police officers, Gerry Gallacher, will take the force to a Tribunal after he was told last week by a surveillance watchdog that he is one of the victims.

“I am furious that my privacy has been breached without justification,” he said.

The Interceptions of Communications Commissioner’s Office (IOCCO) confirmed on Wednesday that Police Scotland was guilty of five breaches of a new Code to protect journalists’ sources.

Since March 25, any police force wanting to use the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to flush out a source has to obtain judicial approval.

RIPA allows officers to access details of texts, emails and phone records.

The March rule change had been pushed through by MPs because protecting whistleblowers and journalists’ sources is judged to be an indispensable human right.

However, the IOCCO stated in July that two unnamed forces had not sought judicial permission and the Sunday Herald went on to reveal that Police Scotland was one of the culprits.


The IOCCO’s official confirmation last week ended months of silence from Police Scotland and the Scottish Government on the subject.

The breaches affected four individuals, who can now seek compensation from the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT).

The Sunday Herald has now also learned that Police Scotland pursued the illegal spying operation following a report in the Sunday Mail newspaper into Caldwell’s murder.

The sex worker's body had been found in woods in South Lanarkshire in 2005 and the then Strathclyde Police spent millions trying to find the killers.

The force targeted Turkish suspects who were subsequently charged, but the case against the men was dropped. Nobody has ever been brought to justice.

On April 5, to mark the 10th anniversary of Caldwell’s death, the tabloid ran an article highlighting the flaws in the original investigation.

The newspaper also named a non-Turkish suspect who had been a regular client of Caldwell and who had been interviewed six times by officers during the original investigation.

He had admitted driving the sex worker to the spot where her body was found, but he was never charged.

The article also quoted Gallacher, a former detective turned author, who had researched the Caldwell case for 18 months. “I do not understand how a man who changed his story so many times, admitted knowing Emma and knew how to find such an incredibly isolated spot in the middle of nowhere was not pressed further on her death.

“I fear the operation against the Turks was so big and at such an apparently advanced stage that it may have blinded the officers in charge to what was in front of them,” he said at the time.

However, the reaction of Police Scotland to the embarrassing story now lies at the heart of the spying scandal.

Instead of using the revelations to learn lessons, officers in the Counter Corruption Unit (CCU) pursed a molehunt for officers they believed were talking to the press rather than a renewed manhunt for Caldwell's killer.


Picture: former detective Gerry Gallacher. Copyright: Victoria Stewart, Daily Record


Gallacher, who received a CCU calling card days after the story appeared, was one of the four individuals suspected of being a journalistic source.

He was told by the IOCCO last week that the force had breached his telephone communications.

Gallacher said yesterday: “On a personal level, I am furious that my privacy has been breached without justification.

“On a professional level, I will never understand how officers, presumably some of the most senior in Police Scotland, decided this was the right thing to do. What they did was the opposite of the right thing. Anyone reading those reports that Sunday morning would have thought the police had a very a simple decision to take.

“But instead of ordering an immediate review of the new information, they launched a hunt to find the source of that information. That is, I’m afraid, a dereliction of duty and a shameful decision."

Gallacher now intends to pursue his complaint through the IPT: “To be honest, when it was suggested to me that the police had been intercepting my phone information, I found it very hard to believe. But, now that it has been confirmed, I still find it very hard to believe.”

One of Gallacher’s friends – an experienced detective who had nothing to do with the newspaper story – also received a letter from the IOCCO.

A third individual is also believed to be a serving officer, while the identity of the fourth person is unknown.

Eamon O'Connor, a journalist whose documentary on the Caldwell case was broadcast in May, told the BBC last week he was “extremely concerned” that his sources may have had their “communications improperly put under surveillance”.

However, the IOCCO noted that the breach related to an article that had been “published” by “journalists” – the tabloid expose was written by two reporters.

Police Scotland also confirmed that the spying operation related to the alleged unauthorised release of sensitive information in “early April 2015”, which pre-dates the BBC programme coming out.

The force’s unlawful spying operation came before the Lord Advocate’s decision in May to instruct a re-investigation of the case.

The spying, which has been criticised by Justice Secretary Michael Matheson, looks set to be examined in multiple investigations.

All four individuals “adversely affected” are entitled to take their case to the IPT, while Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary is reviewing the CCU's operations.

Holyrood’s Justice Committee will this week decide whether to launch its own investigation into Police Scotland’s use of RIPA powers on journalists and their sources.

Police Scotland has refused to confirm or deny using the surveillance legislation for this purpose before March this year.

The unfolding scandal may also have an impact on the race over which senior officer succeeds Sir Stephen House, as one of the three shortlisted candidates has portfolio responsibility for the CCU.

Neil Richardson, currently deputy chief constable, was silent on the controversy last week and is now believed to be an unlikely choice for the top job.

HeraldScotland: Deputy Chief Constable Neil Richardson (left)

Picture: Neil Richardson (left) has responsibility for the CCU

John Finnie MSP, a former police officer who is the justice spokesman for the Scottish Greens, said: "There can be no immunity from the law for those charged with upholding the law. This whole episode must be fully exposed. I intend raising the matter at the Justice Committee when we can discuss the options for ensuring that happens."

Liberal Democrat MSP Alison McInnes said: "It is disappointing that Police Scotland's response to reports of serious failures in the Emma Caldwell case was to focus on chasing whistleblowers rather than focusing on fixing their investigation.

"People would be forgiven for thinking senior officers were more concerned with protecting their reputations rather than addressing the real problems that the reports revealed. These spying revelations underline the need for a full investigation into the operations of Police Scotland."

Labour MSP Graeme Pearson, former Director General of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, said: “This has all the hallmarks of a vendetta by Police Scotland. Someone authorised this action when it should have been obvious it was outwith the force’s powers. Who requested this action and who authorised it?”

Scottish Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone said: "It's completely unacceptable for police officers to be spying on journalists or their sources. When this agenda threatens to take precedence over an actual investigation, questions have to be asked. That is not what the public expects from a taxpayer funded police service."

Paul Holleran, the Scottish Organiser for the National Union of Journalists, said: “If the Justice Committee has an inquiry, we must hear what plan has been put in place by Police Scotland to ensure no further abuse takes place. Are we supposed to just believe Police Scotland that it won’t happen again?”

When contacted by the Sunday Herald, a Police Scotland spokesperson said: “We won’t be commenting any further.”