Scotland's Justice Minister has ordered an investigation into claims that two of Britain's top policemen have been secretly shadowed by junior colleagues in an attempt to discredit them.
The allegations are that Andrew Brown, the former assistant chief constable of Lothian and Borders, and Tom Wood, the force's Deputy Chief Constable, were placed under surveillance by disgruntled colleagues who hoped to topple them. Mr Brown is now Chief Constable of Grampian, which covers the Aberdeen area.
The operation is understood to have been discovered by John Hamilton, Chief Constable of Fife. For five months, Mr Hamilton has been looking into allegations that Mr Wood had links with Kenneth Erickson, a childhood friend convicted of murder 28 years ago, who served 13 years of a life sentence.
Mr Hamilton was due to report in private yesterday on the findings of his investigation. It is believed that Mr Wood has been cleared of wrongdoing.
Jim Wallace, Scotland's Justice Minister, asked yesterday for details of the alleged surveillance of Mr Wood and Mr Brown. He said: "I will be asking the Chief Constable [Mr Hamilton] to let me have a report on these allegations.
"I want to be reassured that if there is any evidence of wrongdoing by members of the force action will be taken.
"We must ensure the full confidence of the public in the efforts of the authorities in rooting out crime and wrongdoing wherever it may be."
The claims of undercover surveillance spring out of a long-running dispute within Lothian and Borders Police. There is said to have been discontent since the early 1990s about the disciplining of officers over claims that they agreed not to prosecute an intruder who burgled the force's headquarters.
In return the intruder is said to have a returned a document thought to include allegations against members of the Scottish judiciary.
A separate source of discontent has been the policy of rotating officers in the force, a strategy implemented by Mr Brown, who has been criticised for blocking promotions and backing the liberalisation of laws on prostitution and the use of cannabis.
It is understood that Mr Wood and Mr Brown - who became the targets of discontent - were unaware that they were being followed when off duty. However, a burglary of Mr Wood's flat in Edinburgh in 1999 is now being re-examined.
Mr Hamilton's findings into the allegations against Mr Wood will be considered by the Procurator-Fiscal. A Crown Office spokesman said the Procurator-Fiscal was "carrying out his own investigations into it and in due course will ask Crown counsel for their advice on this matter".
Within Lothian and Borders Police, the pattern of accusation and counter-accusation reveals a serious rift between top and middle ranks.
Both the Scottish National Party and the Conservatives have expressed concern at the level of trust the public can now maintain in a force which appears to have been at war with itself for several years.Reuse content