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Scottish undercover policing inquiry ‘could be revisited’

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said he was not closed to the idea, should new information emerge.

A Scottish inquiry into undercover policing could be revisited if new information comes to light, the justice secretary has said.

Michael Matheson, who on Wednesday insisted a probe was not in the public interest, said he was not closed to reconsidering should further evidence arise.

Mr Matheson faced questions from Holyrood’s Justice Sub-Committee on Policing about the decision, which followed a review by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS).

Labour MSPs raised concerns about the limited nature of the review, which examined activities in Scotland between 2000 and 2016, following on from the Undercover Policing Inquiry set up in England and Wales to investigate allegations of misconduct by undercover officers.

Environmental activist Tilly Gifford, who says she was targeted by undercover officers, is seeking a judicial review to either force the Home Office to extend the English and Welsh inquiry to cover Scotland or compel Scottish Ministers to set up a separate probe.

Daniel Johnson MSP said there were situations which would be “left in the gap” between the HMICS review and the English and Welsh inquiry, while colleague Neil Findlay said it was “inconceivable” to think that abuses only happened south of the border.

Mr Matheson told the committee: “Should new information or evidence become available in due course, particularly through the Undercover Policing Inquiry, I will give it careful consideration and if appropriate revisit the possibility of an inquiry.

“I’m not closed to if there are concerns or issues being raised or highlighted to me that they shouldn’t be considered.”

The justice secretary said individuals could take cases to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

He said it was also important to recognise that the English and Welsh inquiry had been set up to address serious concerns about the “unethical and unacceptable” behaviour of undercover officers, and the review had given the assurance there was no similar problem in Scotland.

The committee also heard from Derek Penman, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, who said no one had come forward in response to a plea for those affected by undercover policing in Scotland to contribute to the review.

Asked whether Ms Gifford had been under surveillance by a Scottish force or by the Metropolitan Police he replied: “I genuinely don’t know”.

He was also questioned on evidence in the report that Metropolitan Police officer Mark Kennedy, who formed relationships with women while undercover,  made 17 visits to Scotland involving “multiple activities”.

Committee convener John Finnie said the information raised “more questions than answers”.

Mr Penman said the detail was outwith the terms of reference of the review.

“We didn’t consider it appropriate or necessary to go in and look at the actual detail behind that,” he said.

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