AT least five police officers are facing a misconduct investigation after an independent probe into the journalist spying scandal came to a close.

Durham Constabulary handed over two reports earlier this month and Police Scotland now has to make a decision on how to proceed.

However, while experienced officers may be in line for a formal disciplinary process, Durham is understood to have cleared police chiefs of wrongdoing.

In 2015 the Sunday Herald revealed that Police Scotland’s Counter Corruption Unit (CCU) had unlawfully used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) in a bid to flush out a newspaper’s sources.

The paper had embarrassed the force by exposing the failed investigation into murdered prostitute Emma Caldwell and detectives wanted to know who had leaked the information.

The CCU targeted the phone records of two serving officers, as well as two retired policemen, who were wrongly suspected of involvement.

The scandal triggered evidence sessions at Holyrood and led to an unprecedented Investigatory Powers Tribunal, at which the force admitted illegality.

In the wake of the row Police Scotland asked the Durham force to carry out an inquiry into the non-criminal aspects of the botched RIPA operation.

Durham Constabulary handed over their reports – one to the Scottish Police Authority, which deals with the most senior officers, the other to the Police Scotland, which caters for officers lower down the hierarchy.

This newspaper understands the Police Scotland report, which is over 100 pages long, recommends that a preliminary assessment should now be carried out and a misconduct investigation should take place into a number of officers.

According to senior sources three options present themselves now that the force has the report.

The first option would be to reject the recommendation, but this would risk a political and media backlash.

Alternatively, the force could deal with the next stage in-house, but sources believe this would directly contradict the IPT conclusion that an investigation should be independent.

The final option is for Police Scotland to task another outside force – it could not be Durham – to handle the next stage of the investigation.

The report to the SPA is believed to say that no officer of the rank of assistant chief constable and above committed misconduct or gross misconduct.

Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Douglas Ross said: "Given Police Scotland felt it necessary to get an outside force to conduct this inquiry it would seem prudent for an outside force to follow up the preliminary assessments which have been called for.

"Failure to do this could lead to Police Scotland being accused of ignoring the recommendations and attempts to review this within the force would surely raise questions about impartiality."

Scottish Greens MSP John Finnie, a former police officer, said: “Whatever approach is adopted, Police Scotland will have to evidence that they have fully responded to this serious matter and put in place robust mechanisms to ensure there is no repetition thereby guaranteeing journalists are able to provide the scrutiny service the public expect.”

Rose Fitzpatrick, the Deputy Chief Constable of Police Scotland, said: "Police Scotland has received a Non-Criminal Complaint Investigation Report from Durham Constabulary into complaints about Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) procedures and associated matters, which was commissioned by the Chief Constable. The report is now being carefully considered, which given the volume and complexity of these matters, will take some time to progress. When that consideration is complete we will write to each complainer to advise them of the findings.