Scottish coppers have had to fork out £10,000 to a journalist after it illegally intercepted his communications data in an investigation into a botched murder case.
The investigatory powers tribunal ruled the force had breached the human rights of Gerard Gallacher, a former copper turned freelance journalist, who had spent 18 months investigating a cold murder case in which a prime suspect had been released without charge.
Gallacher claimed he suffered “invasion of privacy, familial strife, personal stress and strain and loss of long-standing friendships” after detectives accessed 32 days of his communications data, ignoring clear court rulings to protect journalists and their sources.
The ruling had been expected. Sir Stanley Burnton, the communications interception commissioner, ruled last November that the force had been reckless in its repeated abuse of its powers.
It appears that detectives in an elite anti-corruption unit breached the law five times when they collected phone records for Gallacher and two police officers suspected of leaking information.
In its ruling the tribunal agreed that the collection of their data breached the Human Rights Act and the European convention on human rights in six cases.
Only Gallacher sought damages from the tribunal, and he was awarded £10,000 for stress and loss of earnings.
The whole thing was based on the unsolved murder of Emma Caldwell in woods 40 miles from Glasgow in 2005. Four Turkish men were arrested after an operation involving police from several countries and covert surveillance. However the trial collapsed after prosecutors realised the evidence against them was flawed.
In 2013 Gallacher discovered that oanother suspect, who had admitted having with Caldwell in the same woods on numerous occasions went free without being charged seven months before the Turkish men were arrested. Police investigating the man were hacked off that they had to focus their inquiries on someone else.
The Sunday Mail ran a series of articles on the case based on Gallacher’s investigations over three successive weekends in May 2015. Prosecutors ordered Police Scotland to reopen the case. But at the same time the anti-corruption unit secretly opened its own parallel investigation into whether serving or former police officers had leaked intelligence to Gallacher. Detectives involved were told explicitly by a Police Scotland specialist that they needed a judge’s approval to bug a journalist or intercept their data, but they did it anyway.