Monday, 26 October 2015

Plugging the leaks

In two and a half years, Police Scotland has endured more controversy than the legacy forces attracted in a decade.
Stop and search and the use of firearms were the big policy rows, while the M9 tragedy and the murky death in custody of Sheku Bayoh continue to dog the force.

These important issues should be enough to keep any police chief awake at night, but I understand some of our senior officers have been nursing another obsession.

I’m told the police chiefs are paranoid about “insider threats” – namely, coppers speaking to journalists and MSPs.

Police Scotland would much prefer whistleblowers come forward internally, rather than amplifying their concerns with political or media exposure.

To this end, a new “standard operating procedure” (SOP) was published earlier this year on the rules for officers and staff accepting gifts, gratuities and hospitality. It was crafted by the Counter Corruption Unit, which has unlawfully used surveillance legislation in an attempt to flush out journalists' sources.

Much of the document is common sense: for instance, cash gifts are quite rightly banned.

However, the new Post-Leveson rules go further.

According to the SOP, hospitality may not be accepted if the provider is “directly or indirectly associated with a media organisation or a journalist”.

To spell this out, if a cop accepts a coffee from a journalist he or she could face a misconduct hearing. 

An exception is made where pre-authorisation is granted by the Head of Corporate Communications as “part of an approved media relationship strategy”.
Call me cynical, but it seems unlikely the Head of Comms will “approve” a police officer raising a public interest matter about the force to the media.

MSPs, some of whom are trusted contacts for police officers, are also part of the new SOP.

Officers must now think carefully before taking hospitality from a “representative of a political party”, where the acceptance would compromise the “impartiality and integrity” of Police Scotland.
Imagine a serving officer raising concerns about the force to an MSP, in the course of which he accepts a cup of tea or a beer. Would this be an example of compromising the “integrity” of the force?

Police Scotland has been subject to unprecedented scrutiny and leaks since April 2013 – and the chiefs don’t like it one bit.