14 Aug 2015

An opinion piece for Sunday Mail

A healthy democracy needs a free and vigorous campaigning press capable of exposing wrong-doing and injustice. 

Now those in positions of power may not always like the stories our press choose to investigate but can have no legitimate complaint if the reporting is fair and in the public interest.
That is why the suggestions that Police Scotland spied on journalists and investigated their sources are so profoundly worrying. 

When papers like the Sunday Mail reveal failings in murder investigations like the Emma Caldwell inquiry, they should be thanked for their efforts. 

We don’t know if Police Scotland have unlawfully tried to find out who journalists have been talking to and we don’t know, if they were one of the two forces involved, what story they were investigating.

We should know, however, and we need to be told.

It appears Police Scotland only renewed their efforts under instruction from the Lord Advocate weeks after the Mail’s story. That’s not good enough. 

Surely, Police Scotland were not more concerned about their pride and internal considerations than in finding Emma Caldwell’s murderer?

Surely, their reaction to a first class piece of investigative journalism was not an unauthorised attempt to find out how journalists obtained their information? 

If it was, then those ordering those inquiries were doing a disservice to our dedicated front line officers who are trying to do their best in difficult circumstances. 

Police Scotland and the Scottish Government need to come clean and tell us if the force is being investigated by the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office. And, if so, why?

If Police Scotland have broken the rules then a full investigation is needed. This could be just the tip of the iceberg, that our police have spent far too much time and resource chasing journalists’ sources for no good reason.

If we cherish our democratic traditions then unauthorised police surveillance and spying on journalists needs to be stopped.

When we find out what has happened here, the people of Scotland need two things.

We must have confidence that Police Scotland are playing by the rules and we must know that our ministers are willing to be open, transparent and tell us when things have gone wrong.