Investigation to consider any criminal activity in police phone probe

Cleveland Police headquarters
Cleveland Police headquarters

An investigation will be carried out into whether a police force committed crimes by using powers to seize the phone records of news reporters and officers.

It comes after the judgement into Cleveland Police found it was unlawful and not proportionate when it used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) to establish who was giving information to the press.

Cleveland Police Chief Constable Iain Spittal.

Cleveland Police Chief Constable Iain Spittal.

The force has admitted in 2012 it used the act to access the information of two journalists from the Northern Echo to work out who was leaking details of an internal report about institutional racism within the force.

It had claimed it was justified in secretly monitoring officers’ phones of two ex-officers during the tribunal.

When asked if there would be a criminal investigation, the force has said it is now liaising with the National Police Chiefs’ Council to identify another force to independently assess the judgement.

They will also “determine any next steps” in respect of conduct or criminal matters.

I am confident that those who work with me will continue to strive to be the best that they can be each and every day.

Cleveland Chief Constable Iain Spittal

The force’s Chief Constable Iain Spittal said: “Although I have already contacted the people affected by this and said sorry, sorry on its own isn’t enough.
“Because of this the Police and Crime Commissioner and I announced, earlier this year, an expert review of the Professional Standards Department and all RIPA use over the past six years.

“I am proud to lead Cleveland Police.
“I am confident that those who work with me will continue to strive to be the best that they can be each and every day.

“When we get things wrong, as we did here, we will say sorry and work to make things right.”

The force has said it will also look at “remedies” for those involved in the case when the issue of compensation was raised, but has said it is a legal process and the outcome is not yet known.

A change in law two years ago means police must now gain judicial approval to view journalists’ phone records in cases where they are trying to establish sources.

Mr Spittal has said there has been no use of RIPA for such purposes since he joined in 2013.

Andrea Breeze, chairman of Cleveland Police Federation, said she was pleased an independent force will be called in to investigate.

She said: “Where standards of officer’s behaviour falls short of that expected it’s absolutely right that appropriate inquiries are made.

“This is something our members would expect, but it’s vital that any enquiries are carried out in a fair and proportionate way.

“On behalf of our members we will be seeking reassurances that there are no on-going investigations that fail to meet the standards highlighted in this case.”