Deputy chief constable Neil Richardson OBE, who was second in command at Police Scotland when his force tried to unlawfully access journalists’ sources, has stepped down after 30 years of service.
The announcement yesterday comes three months after Richardson was grilled by the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee over a breach of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), described as “reckless” by the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office.
During the hearing at Holyrood in December, reported on by Press Gazette, Richardson refused to explicitly confirm to MSPs whether his force had accessed the phone records of journalists to find sources of press coverage about the failed Emma Caldwell murder investigation.
He blamed the error on the “pace” with which reforms to RIPA, championed by Press Gazette through its Save Our Sources campaign, came into force and said that the “officer concerned” had misinterpreted new legislation having only been 22 days into his job and yet to receive proper training. The force failed to seek external judicial approval to acccess the records as now required by law.
“I think it's on public record that the pace that the guidance came into being was very aggressive,” he said. “As a consequence there is no doubt that that did lead to a more pressured introduction of these guidelines and as a consequence it perhaps has played a factor in the error that undoubtedly was subsequently made."
He added: “A mistake was made, but the context of the mistake was really important. This was an officer that was trying his best to do his professional duty and has made an error of judgment.”
In answering the accusation that the breach was “reckless” Richardson drew an incredulous response from Christine Grahame MSP in saying: “For you and I the word reckless is quite an extreme word and for any member of the public that would read that it does have a level of concern rightly that would be associated with it.
“But it’s important to understand that in the circumstances here, reckless is effectively defined by something that has failed to be done or has not happened, and it was the only consequence that could be reached, or the only term that could be used other than ‘wilful’.
“I think that’s really important for people to understand because, again, the general intuitive understanding of reckless is more extreme.”
Richardson, who was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal in 2011 and an OBE for his work on police reform in 2014, is due to step down from his role when his contract expires later this year. Head of Police Scotland, chief constable Philip Gormley, is said to be in discussions with the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) over his replacement.
Gormley said: “Neil has served the communities of Scotland for over 30 years and has been a pivotal figure in the reform of policing and the creation of the single national Service. His contribution has been outstanding and that has been recognised with the award of the OBE and Queen’s Police Medal.”
Commenting on his decision, Richardson said “I am extremely proud of what we have achieved in Police Scotland and privileged to have been able to play a part in what has been an historic change to policing in this country.”
SPA chairman Andrew Flanagan said: “Neil has been a leading figure in Scottish policing for many years and I wish him every success as his future develops beyond policing. He has been an outstanding public servant and leader.”