Seven officers from a North East police force have been served with gross misconduct notices after a probe into how a police force used investigatory powers to spy on journalists and ex-cops.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) launched Operation Forbes in February last year to look into how Cleveland Police used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).
Today, the IOPC said the investigation has now reached a "significant milestone", and that seven officers, including five who have now retired, were served with notices of gross misconduct on Monday and Wednesday, as well as one member of staff.
The police watchdog said Operation Forbes is "not currently a criminal investigation" and that the serving of notices is "not a finding of guilt, but to inform an officer, or member of staff, that they are under investigation".
The force's use of the investigatory powers act was the subject of an Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruling, concluding in January 2017, which found that Cleveland Police had in some cases used it unlawfully.
As a result, then-chief constable Iain Spittal was forced to apologise to three journalists, including two from the Press Association, for the force spying on their phones using the act, which is intended to be used in the interests of crime prevention and national security.
The use of the investigatory powers is one of three areas being dealt with by the IOPC operation, with a case of racial discrimination and complaints over an Equality Review carried out by the force in 2011 also being looked over.
The body said its enquiries into the treatment of now-retired Pc Nadeem Saddique - who a 2015 employment tribunal ruled was the subject of racial discrimination - are complete and that a "final report will soon be sent to the force for their consideration".
On the 2011 Equality Review, the IOPC said investigations are ongoing, but added: "We can confirm no notices have been served and this is not a criminal investigation".
IOPC regional director Miranda Biddle said: "This remains a complex, multi-strand, operation.
"It continues to involve a considerable amount of evidence, which is why these investigations are taking time to complete; we must be thorough in our analysis and explore every available avenue.
"With regard to the investigation relating to the use of the RIPA, the serving of the notices follows detailed conduct assessments. "
She added: "The decision to serve notices of such severity is not taken lightly, and must meet a specific threshold.
"We have very carefully considered the evidence available to us, at this time, and made the decision to investigate the actions of the identified police officers and member of staff."