POLICE watchdog chief Derek Penman is facing claims there was a conflict of interest at the heart of his review into undercover policing.

Penman, who is in charge of the country's policing Inspectorate, previously said he would take the “lead” on the probe after it was revealed that his colleague, retired detective Stephen Whitelock, had oversight of covert policing at the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency.

However, it has now been confirmed that Whitelock carried out some of the interviews in the Inspectorate probe on his own and helped brief the police on the findings. The review has been described as a 'whitewash'.

Undercover policing south of the border is the subject of a judge-led inquiry after revelations about officers forming sexual relationships with the women they were spying on - which campaigners and victims have described as 'state rape'.

The behaviour occurred in two Met-based units, the Special Demonstration Squad and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, which are now defunct.

The NPOIU and SDS also deployed officers in Scotland, particularly at the G8 summit at Gleneagles in 2005.

In a parliamentary statement last week, Justice Secretary angered campaigners after refusing to sanction a separate inquiry into undercover policing north of the border.

His justification was that a review he commissioned by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS), led by Penman, found no evidence that backed up calls for an inquiry.

“Based on the information that HMICS has been able to get access to and which is available to it as part of the documentation process, I do not believe that that evidence is sufficient to justify establishing a public inquiry at this stage,” he told MSPs.

HMICS examined undercover policing from 2000 onwards, focusing on the legacy forces and Police Scotland, as well as any Scottish activities of the SDS and NPOIU.

The review presented a largely positive picture of the controversial policing practice and found no evidence that "advanced undercover officers" from Police Scotland had infiltrated social justice campaigns.

It also established that the NPOIU’s most notorious undercover officer, Mark Kennedy, who had sex with numerous female victims, visited Scotland on at least 17 occasions.

However, HMICS chose not to examine Kennedy’s activities while he was in Scotland.

“We didn’t consider it appropriate or necessary to go in and look at the actual detail behind that. Our terms of reference was very much about getting some high-level figures [on] the extent and scale,” Penman told MSPs.

HeraldScotland: Tilly Gifford

Picture: Tilly Gifford, who was targeted by officers

Penman is now facing questions about the independence of his review due to the presence of Whitelock on his team.

As the one-time deputy general director of the SCDEA, Whitelock had management responsibility for all areas including Special Operations, which covered undercover policing.

When the Sunday Herald first revealed that Whitelock would be working on the review, HMICS said he would have a “role” while Penman would lead the exercise.

According to HMICS, Whitelock conducted “appropriate fieldwork activities” on his own, such as interviews. He also “participated in informal feedback on our findings to stakeholders”, including Police Scotland.

Tilly Gifford, an environmental campaigner who was targeted by so-called 'spy cops', said: “I’m totally outraged. This is a case of police marking their own homework and is clearly a conflict of interest. Why is it so hard to get justice in Scotland?”

Paul Heron, a lawyer at the Public Interest Law Unit at Lambeth Law Centre who has advised victims of spying, said Whitelock’s presence on the review was “alarming”.

He said: “This further questions the ‘clean bill of health’ given by the Justice Minister in his Parliamentary statement last week. At best the report only scratches the surface on undercover political policing in Scotland, at worst it can only be described as a whitewash.”

Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: "The HMICS review is a whitewash. I always suspected this could happen when the police inspect the police, but we now find senior players in the Review have a conflict of interest. Am I surprised at this? Not really."

Asked if Whitelock carried out most of the interviews, an HMICS spokesman suggested this newspaper submit a freedom of information request. A general statement was offered: “As was highlighted in our Terms of Reference published in January, 2017, this strategic review was personally led by Derek Penman, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland. He drew on the experience and expertise of a number of people during this review, including staff from within HMICS and others from outwith who were independent of policing in Scotland.

“Measures were in place to protect the overall integrity of the review and ensure that all members of the team were deployed appropriately into specific areas where there could be no conflict of interest.”