22 March 2012

Strathclyde polis: Operation Rubicon mothballed?

Yesterday, Chief Constable Stephen House was giving evidence before Lord Justice Leveson in the High Court in London. Before House got to the substance of his evidence, Leveson interrupted to make the following observation:

“Could I make it clear that I’m aware that the Strathclyde are presently involved in an investigation which raises a number of the issues with which this inquiry is concerned. And I want it to be understood by all. I am not merely not inviting you to deal with that inquiry. I’m positively requiring you not to. It has been a very important aspect of this work, that – of this part of the inquiry – that I am not trespassing on individual investigations. I’ve learned a fair amount about Operations Weeting, Elveden and Tuleta but only in the most general and not the most specific sense. Your operation, I understand it is very specific, and covers one particular incident. I have no intention whatsoever to – of – impeding or affecting any criminal investigation or inquiry.”

The interesting question being, where did Lord Leveson acquire this understanding, and what might he know that the rest of us don’t? The first thing to note is: Leveson’s estimation of Operation Rubicon's confines is quite unsupported by the material about the Strathclyde investigation in the public domain. Take yourself back to the July of last year, when it was launched. The Crown Office published the following press notice, detailing Rubicon's ambit:

The Crown had previously asked Strathclyde Police to make a preliminary assessment of the available information and the evidence given by certain witnesses in the trial of Tommy Sheridan following allegations made against the News of the World newspaper. The preliminary assessment has concluded. Strathclyde Police have now reviewed the available information and following liaison with the Area Procurator Fiscal at Glasgow the Crown has instructed an investigation should commence. The investigation will be progressed expeditiously and in close liaison with the Area Procurator Fiscal and Crown Counsel. Significant resources will be deployed though these will vary with the needs of the investigation.  The investigation will cover the following:

1. Allegations that witnesses gave perjured evidence in the trial of Tommy Sheridan.

2. Allegations that, in respect of persons resident in Scotland, there are breaches of data protection legislation or other offences in relation to unlawful access to personal data.

3. Alleged offences determined from material held by the Metropolitan Police in respect of 'phone hacking' (Contraventions of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000) and breaches of data protection legislation in Scotland.

4. Alleged instances of police corruption linked to items 2 and 3 above, in respect of the unlawful provision of information or other personal data to journalists or persons acting on their behalf.

Having investigated these matters Strathclyde Police will report to the Area Procurator Fiscal at Glasgow and Crown Counsel.

These terms of reference could give nobody who had diligently read them the impression that the investigation was going to be exclusively limited to some offshoots of the Sheridan case. Certainly, that line of inquiry is the most concrete one specified, but the overall impression is that Strathclyde was being more generally mandated to investigate these matters. According to reports in the Scottish press during August last, a “well-placed source” indicated that Strathclyde had assigned as many as fifty officers to the investigation.

So what’s the explanation? Has – heaven forfend – Leveson only skimmingly consumed Operation Rubicon’s terms of reference and misapprehended its compass? If that was true, and his understanding was wrong, isn't it curious that House took no steps to correct His Lordship's blip? Alternatively, and perhaps more plausibly, might Leveson’s remarks suggest has that Operation’s effective scope has now collapsed solely into examining matters arising from HM Advocate v. Sheridan, Leveson having been pre-briefed, off camera, to this effect?

I commend to your judgment, which explanation seems most likely. If the latter, it adds to the depressing evidence that what may or may not have gone on in Scotland - the phones hacked, data illegally accessed, or bought from officers of the law - (a) won't be a priority for Leveson (understandably); (b) was investigated by the Information Commissioner in the middle 2000s, whose findings have been largely ignored; (c) that they continue to be ignored by Holyrood politicians, who instead favour us with misleading tales about Fleet Street villainy, contrasted with Scottish press sobriety (with the evidence pointing the other way mind you) - and if that cheering troika wasn't enough, (d) that potential breaches of the law beyond HM Advocate v. Sheridan are not now being seriously investigated by the Scottish police.

It may be that I am reading too much into a brief aside by Leveson, and House kept mum out of courtesy, but the implications of their exchange are seriously discouraging.


  1. Couldn't it be both? a general inquiry is continuing but action on a specific issue is close?

  2. James,

    Plenty of "could be"s here. Could be Leveson got the wrong end of the stick about the Operation, or was simplifying and accidentally gave the wrong impression -- but I don't think the reading you propose sits easily what what the judge actually said, which doesn't seem - or appear to be - drawing any distinctions between the general & the particular of Rubicon.

  3. If the investigation into HM Advocate vs Sheridan finds that witnesses lied on oath, and assuming that Sheridan has his conviction quashed - the best/worse case scenario depending on your point of view - where will that leave the relationship between Salmond and Murdoch?

    Things seem to be getting messier every day. Makes you wonder if anyone is going to come out smelling of roses.

  4. Barbarian,

    I've written about the Sheridan aspects of this before. I'm skeptical that - even if Coulson was lying through his teeth - that a court would by dint solely of that, quash Sheridan's conviction. Here's some reasons why.

  5. LPW, read the the link, thanks. Even understood it!

  6. Splendid!

    I do aspire to comprehensibility.

  7. Yes even I understood it! Many thanks LPW

  8. Thanks for making these observations. I've been wondering myself what's going on with Rubicon. I wouldn't be happy that it's simply restricted to Sheridan's trial and the alleged perjury of Coulson. My understanding it was going beyond Sheridan and looking at similar criminal press activity North of the Border. I have to say it but I'm becoming increasingly skeptical about the integrity of Rubicon and I have no doubt whatsoever, that the same practises of press and police corruption were and probably still are, going on in Scotland.