Activist given legal aid
UNDERCOVER policing in Scotland is one step closer to a public inquiry following a decision to grant legal aid to campaigners seeking a judicial review.
The Scottish Legal Aid Board reversed a January decision to reject activist Tilly Gifford’s application for legal aid to challenge the Scottish and UK governments’ decisions not to hold a public inquiry into undercover policing in Scotland.
Ms Gifford, an environmental activist who exposed police attempts to recruit her as an informer in Glasgow in 2009, declared the SLAB’S decision a “victory”, but was critical of the obstacles she has faced.
She said: “As much as I am pleased, should it really be the case that in order to get legal aid in Scotland you need to wage such a battle? It makes me worry about other public interest cases that don’t have the same amount of muscle behind them.”
Calls for a public inquiry into the undercover policing of political activists in Scotland follow the revelations that undercover police officers spent years infiltrating social justice campaigns throughout the UK, with some having sexual relationships and children with activists they spied on.
The revelations led the UK Government to initiate the Pitchford Inquiry into undercover policing.
The UK Government decided, however, that the inquiry would only apply to England and Wales, leading Ms Gifford to bring a legal challenge to extend it to Scotland.
Former undercover Metropolitan Police officer Mark Kennedy, one of the first “spy cops” to be unmasked, is known to have spent time with activists in Scotland, as well as the north and south of Ireland.
Jason Kirkpatrick, an activist who was also targeted by undercover police, has been granted legal aid by a Belfast court to pursue a judicial review in the north of Ireland.
A recent report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland confirmed that Kennedy and other officers had been deployed in Scotland, including 18 undercover officers in Gleneagles during the G8 in 2005.
Despite this confirmation that undercover police officers spied on political activists in Scotland, Justice Minister Michael Matheson earlier this month dismissed calls for a public inquiry into undercover policing in Scotland, saying it would not be “necessary or proportionate”.
Ms Gifford’s solicitor, Paul Heron, said of the SLAB’S decision: “It is unfortunate that it has taken this long for them to understand not only that the case clearly has merits, but also the importance this case has to my client, and potentially others who are unaware that they had been spied upon.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Cabinet Secretary for Justice provided Parliament with a clear and detailed statement on February 7, and set out his full reasons for not holding a separate Public Inquiry in Scotland. Decisions on who was involved in the review was a matter for HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland Derek Penman who led the review.”
It makes me worry about other public interest cases
Protestor Tilly Gifford dressed as an air stewardess for a Plane Stupid protest against airport expansion.