Investigation indicates Police Scotland breached activists’ rights


Investigation followed complaints made by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign

POLICE SCOTLAND have been criticised by a Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC), which raised concerns that police actions involving the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) may have interfered with SPSC members’ rights to freedom of assembly and peaceful protest.

The SPSC made a series of complaints relating to incidents involving Police Scotland in 2016. According to Fiona Napier, Chair of the Aberdeen branch of SPSC, police officers were involved in attempts to “intimidate Palestine solidarity campaigners” in the city.

One complaint made by the SPSC concerned a late night visit by police officers to an individual’s home address, during which the officers concerns warned the individual not to attend a protest organised by the SPSC the following day at a specified location.

PIRC found that the Police Scotland response to aspects of the complaint was “at odds” with the material evidence available, adding: “The police cannot impose conditions on the location of a peaceful protest that effectively negates the purpose of the protest.”

In a related matter, PIRC also found that Police Scotland’s stated grounds for not allowing members of the public entry to a court were “inadequately reasoned” and instructed Police Scotland “to explain precisely why, if there were no concerns about the protesters outside the court, a different view was taken about allowing them inside the court building”.

A further incident, taking place on 7 April 2016, involved a uniformed officer entering a SPSC campaign workshop and asking to participate. The officer was asked by campaigners to leave the meeting, but the PIRC’s investigation revealed that information gathered by the officer, including one individual’s personal details, was recorded on police systems.

The SPSC has also obtained correspondence via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request between the Crown Office and a pro-Israel lobby group, in which details of both an SPSC workshop and an ongoing legal case in Glasgow were discussed.

According to the SPSC, the unnamed individual reported to the Crown Office contact that “our colleagues in Aberdeen have reported this [meeting] to the local police, who are taking the matter very seriously”.

Police Scotland have now been instructed by the PIRC to consider whether the actions investigated were lawful, proportionate and adhered to the European Convention on Human Rights, in particular Article 8 (the right to respect for private and family life) and Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association).

PIRC described some of Police Scotland’s responses to their investigation as “ambiguous”, saying they contained “shortcomings”. However, the PIRC did acknowledge that three other SPSC complaints were handled by Police Scotland to “a reasonable standard”, and that Police Scotland “appear to have recognised” that “there were other methods the police could have used to gather the necessary information in order to facilitate any further protest”.

Sofiah MacLeod, National Chair of SPSC, said in response to the PIRC investigation’s findings and the revelations of their FOI requests: “SPSC investigations confirm that the pro-Israel lobby is working with some success in Scotland to influence the Crown Office, Police Scotland, Scottish Government and other institutions. 

“We welcome the PIRC conclusions and await a further response from Police Scotland – in the meantime, we call on all those who value free speech and the right to protest to take steps to ensure that institutions and public bodies are not used to protect the actions of a rogue state and its violations of human rights and international law.”