POLICE Scotland has confirmed that spying legislation was used in an attempt to flush out journalists’ sources on twelve separate occasions.

The single force, after months of refusing to hand over the figures, confirmed the new snooping cases on the eve of a parliamentary hearing into the growing surveillance scandal.

Since March, police forces have been required to get judicial approval before using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to identify whistleblowers and sources who speak to journalists.

However, the Interception of Communications Commissioner's Office (IOCCO) confirmed recently that Police Scotland had broken the law in this area five times.

The breaches were in connection with newspaper articles into the botched investigation into the murder of sex worker Emma Caldwell.

Telephone records of serving and former police officers suspected of helping journalists were illegally accessed by the force’s Counter Corruption Unit (CCU).

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The victims can now pursue compensation cases at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT).

The CCU was in the portfolio of deputy chief constable Neil Richardson, who has been called to a special Justice Committee hearing on Tuesday to explain the illegal practices.

HeraldScotland: Deputy Chief Constable Neil Richardson (left)

Picture: Neil Richardson (left)

However, Police Scotland has finally admitted that there had been seven other RIPA applications to determine journalists’ sources.

The information had been sought by Scottish Newspaper Society director John McLellan, who asked for details of historical applications.

The force refused but released some of the figures following contact with the office of the Scottish Information Commissioner.

McLellan was informed that the seven other applications were made in the three years before October 2014.

Of the seven - which were all within the law - six were authorised by officers and one was turned down. Four related to legacy forces.

McLellan said: "We might never know exactly why Police Scotland found it necessary to trace journalists' sources on so many occasions, but this shows the extent to which they went to investigate matters which were almost certainly more about embarrassment rather than the public interest.

"Once the practice became known, we sought more information and to compound the felony Police Scotland then spent over a year blocking what was always a reasonable request. We are therefore grateful for the intervention of the Scottish Information Commissioner to help Police Scotland find a sensible way forward.”

HeraldScotland: John McLellan: The intelligent use of state snooping

Picture: McLellan

Scottish Labour justice spokesman Graeme Pearson, former Director General of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, said: "This kind of spying seems to have been more of a snoop to protect the reputation of the police service than to investigate crime.

"At Tuesday's justice committee, I would hope that, rather than deliver some superficial one-line quote, Michael Matheson would realise that he is there as justice secretary to maintain the standards that we expect within a democratic society.”

Liberal Democrat MSP Alison McInnes said: "Police Scotland have stonewalled for months then released this information days ahead of a key committee hearing. People will think that they are more concerned with managing bad news than being fully transparent over the extent to which journalistic sources were spied on.

"Neil Richardson has some tough questions to answer when he appears at the justice committee on Tuesday."

Assistant Chief Constable Ruaraidh Nicolson said: "None of these seven applications concerned a journalist, and the six applications were legally and appropriated authorised under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000 and were later the subject of IOCCO inspection in the usual way.

"Communications data is an important investigative tool. As the public would expect, Police Scotland investigates all allegations of information breaches.”