SCOTLAND’S environmental regulator has been accused of “outrageous” attempts to subvert the public’s right to vital information about the impact of fish farming.

Campaigners insisted the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and other public bodies are deliberately “playing the system” to avoid controversial information being released.

It comes as it emerged SEPA and Scottish ministers have repeatedly failed to comply with freedom of information laws in recent months by wrongly withholding or failing to identify documents – or taking too long to answer.

The SNP Government’s handling of FOI requests is currently being probed by Scotland’s information watchdog amid widespread complaints over delays and political interference, with a report due out next week.

Guy Linley-Adams, a solicitor acting on behalf of Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland (STCS), has won six cases after referring them to the Scottish Information Commissioner in the last year. All related to environmental issues.

He accused Scotland’s public authorities of deliberately withholding and delaying information, adding: “I think they are playing the game. It subverts the right to information, because that information is useless by the time it comes out.

“The Commissioner keeps ruling in our favour, because frankly this information should be out in the public domain.

“The problem is that the Scottish Government and SEPA know that getting a negative ruling from the Commissioner means absolutely nothing. They are playing the system knowing there’s no real threat.”

He added: “Frankly, civil servants forget who employs them. There’s increasingly a problem that government departments think they can do what they want, without us knowing.”

Andrew Graham-Stewart, director of STCS, also accused public bodies of using “tactical delaying methods” to avoid scrutiny, adding: “It’s really quite outrageous.”

In one case, STCS asked for any correspondence between SEPA and Marine Scotland relating to the environmental impact of sea lice medicine, which is used to treat infected fish.

SEPA initially insisted no such correspondence existed – but this was later found to be “completely inaccurate”. Some of the information requested was eventually handed over more than six months late.

Mr Linley-Adams said one request to the quango also found the body had “destroyed” notes from a meeting with one of the country’s biggest fish farms, only eight days after it took place.

Scotland’s fish farm industry is currently being probed by MSPs amid concerns over pollution, the spread of disease and high rates of mortality.

Scottish Labour’s environment spokeswoman Claudia Beamish said it was “very worrying to learn that we can’t trust SEPA to release accurate information on issues of public interest and concern”.

She added: “My particularly interest in the issue of sea lice is that the industry is not addressing the threats to sustainable fish farming and to wild salmon.

“It’s important for both consumers and research purposes that this information is accurate in the public domain for the future of a sustainable salmon industry.”

Liberal Democrat MSP Mike Rumbles said the “secretive” Scottish Government had “an appalling record when it comes to transparency”.

Jo Green, chief officer of performance and innovation at SEPA, insisted it was "firmly focused on supporting access to information" and took its responsibilities "very seriously indeed".

She added: “In the last year we managed 652 access to information requests, an increase of 23 per cent over the previous year. Whilst our on-time resolution rate of 98 per cent is one of the highest across the public sector, we’re committed to working with the Scottish Information Commissioner on how we get better still.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scotland has some of the most far reaching FOI rules and we take our responsibilities very seriously.

“In the majority of cases, the Scottish Government responds on time and in full to FOI requests. There will be occasions where exemptions are applied and these will always be considered carefully, and applied in line with FOI legislation.”