POLICE Scotland has been rapped in a watchdog probe following complaints over its “interference” with the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

The watchdog has now told the force to consider whether three officers' actions were lawful and a breach of human rights.

The Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc) found that one uniformed sergeant’s unannounced visit to a meeting to give advice to activists in a cinema turned out to be an information-gathering exercise, which was recorded on force systems along with an individual’s personal details.

In a separate visit to one SPSC member’s house by a police sergeant and inspector, a warning was given that he should not to take part in a planned supermarket protest. The watchdog has now told the force to consider whether the three officers’ actions were unlawful and a breach of human rights.

And a ban on SPSC protesters entering a court room explained as due to "potential public order issues" to the complainers was described by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner as "not adequately reasoned" as earlier police responses said the demonstrations were "lawful and peaceful" with no arrests.

The PIRC found the force had not handled three of six complaints from the SPSC about "force interference" to a reasonable standard and have been asked to reconsider its responses.

It described the force’s explanations as “not consistent” and “not adequately reasoned”.

It has instructed Police Scotland to appoint independent officers to entirely re-examine two of those complaints from the start. 

The Herald:

Sofiah MacLeod, national chairman of SPSC said the findings reveal a pattern that should be a "cause of concern" for all human rights campaigners.

A report on the probe first raised concerns over an explanation for a sergeant's meeting visit in April, last year - which Police Scotland suggested was to fulfil a "positive obligation in respect of facilitating any future protest".

SPSC, who asked the officer to leave the meeting, said it discovered through a Freedom of Information request correspondence between Crown Office personnel and a pro-Israel lobby group where details of the SPSC workshop and of an ongoing legal case in Glasgow were discussed. An unnamed individual reported to a Crown Office contact that “our colleagues in Aberdeen have reported this [meeting] to the local police, who are taking the matter very seriously”.

The sergeant's chief inspector said the visit in April, last year was made in order to provide the group with "any advice or assistance that it may require to facilitate any protest".

The sergeant in response to the complaint had stated that he was met with a "relatively negative attitude" from the group and left when he established he could not be of any help or assistance.

But the PIRC said that the visit appeared "primarily motivated" by concerns raised by a member of the public about the meeting, details of which appeared to have been observed on a public social media page.

The Herald:

"Moreover, it is apparent from the evidence available, including [the sergeant's] account, that he gathered information about the group during the visit which was thereafter recorded on police systems. The information recorded included an individual’s personal details," said the PIRC.

"Accordingly, [the chief inspector's] assertion in the response that there was no reason for the visit other than to offer support and answer questions is not consistent with the material information available. It is therefore concluded that this complaint was not handled to a reasonable standard. "

It suggested that Police Scotland should consider whether the SPSC say the series of complaints relate to incidents in 2016 where police officers were involved in attempts to “intimidate Palestine solidarity campaigners in Aberdeen".

The following month, the group complained that two officers arrived unannounced to one member's home to warn him not to attend protests at specified locations organised by SPSC for the following day.

The PIRC said that neither officer addressed the question of whether the member was advised not to protest, but incident reports showed that the member was "warned not to protest at either the shopping centres which he undertook to do".

An email from a chief inspector to SPSC confirmed that one of the reasons for the officers' visit was to offer advice regarding the preferred location of any protest. The force preferred any protest should be outside the shopping centres.

The PIRC said the police "cannot impose conditions on the location of a peaceful protest that effectively negates the purpose of the protest".

It said that Police Scotland should give "very careful consideration" to whether the warning not to protest at particular locations was compatible with The European Convention on Human Rights and on the police "obligation not to prevent, hinder or restrict peaceful assembly except in certain prescribed circumstances".

PIRC also said police response to a complaint that in September, 2016, 35 protesters were denied entry to a court hearing while an opposing group was allowed was described as "not adequately reasoned".

Police said in response to the complaint that the decision was taken to "prevent unnecessary disruption or potential public order issues with an overarching focus on public safety".

But the PIRC said the response at the time was that the protest was "lawful and peaceful" and that there were "no disturbances or issues" and no arrests inside or outside the court building that day.

"Given those factors and the absence of anything in the wider evidence available to suggest that there was any criminality or public disorder that day, the precise grounds for Police Scotland's concerns about disorder and public safety are not clear," said the PIRC.

Chief Superintendent Alan Speirs, head of professional standards at Police Scotland, said in response to the watchdog decisions: "Police Scotland is in the course of responding to the PIRC over this issue, and will do so within their timescale.

"It would therefore be inappropriate for us to comment at this time, however we can confirm that PSD (Professional Standards Department) officers from a different part of the country are undertaking the reconsideration direction."