POLICE Scotland hired a high-profile QC who worked for the police on the Hillsborough and Birmingham pub bombing legal cases to represent the single force in the illegal spying scandal.

Jeremy Johnson was instructed to represent the cash-strapped organisation after officers unlawfully used their snooping powers to go target journalists’ sources.

It has also emerged that chief constable Phil Gormley has asked Durham Constabulary to carry out an independent investigation into the scandal.

Police Scotland broke the law last year after using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to establish if four serving and retired officers had leaked information to the media.

The forced failed to get judicial approval for the mole hunt, which directly related to a newspaper report into the failed police investigation into murdered prostitute Emma Caldwell.

A watchdog ruled that the breaches had been “reckless” and the four individuals took their cases to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal earlier this month.

Police Scotland accepted the actions had been unlawful, but the IPT heard claims that the breaches had been wilful rather than accidental.

Craig Sandison, a QC representing three of the four men, successfully argued for an outside police force to be tasked with investigating the circumstances of the illegal spying.

However, although Police Scotland has faced claims recently that officers have had to buy equipment from charity shops, the single force hired one of the UK’s top policing lawyers to act on its behalf.

Johnson, who has been described as a “class act” and “phenomenal”, was the QC who represented West Midlands Police during the inquests into the deaths arising from the Hillsborough disaster.

Although South Yorkshire Police had been in charge of planning and operational duties on the day of the tragedy, WMP carried out the original probe into the conduct of officers.

Johnson also represented the same force in recent court hearings that related to the Birmingham pub bombings over forty years ago.

In November 1974, 21 people were killed after a bomb widely believed to have been planted by the IRA exploded.

Six men were wrongly imprisoned for the atrocity and an inquest that had been stopped in the 1970s was recently re-opened.

The high-profile lawyer was also used by the Metropolitan Police to represent the force in the cases involving undercover officers who had sexual relationships with female targets.

He also worked on the inquests into the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Al Fayed, where he represented the Secret Intelligence Service, the Security Service and Government Communications Headquarters.

Johnson’s biography states: “Jeremy acts for claimants, chief constables, police and crime commissioners and the Independent Police Complaints Commission in all cases involving the police...”

Police Scotland now accepts an independent investigation into the row will take place.

Deputy chief constable Iain Livingstone said: “The Chief Constable, Phil Gormley, has asked Mike Barton, Chief Constable, Durham Constabulary, to conduct an independent investigation into a number of non-criminal complaints, which relate to matters connected to the breach of communications data protocols and guidance.

“We await the findings of the IPT and will comply with any directions given. Police Scotland has fully accepted that standards fell below those required in this case. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage given the investigation is to be conducted by Chief Constable Barton.”

Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur said: "Police Scotland seem more interested in spending big money on lawyers than focusing on making the changes we need to ensure that this never happens again. Their priorities are all wrong. Police Scotland ignored rules that are in place to protect our privacy to try and uncover journalistic sources. This was a clear attack on the freedom of our press."

Police Scotland did not comment on hiring Johnson.