EVEN the staunchest defender of covert policing accepts there is a need for a certain amount of information to be available to the public on this shadowy, albeit necessary, form of law enforcement, in order to ensure that officers are acting legally.

Officers from units south of the border were embedded into peaceful protest groups and entered into sexual relationships with the women they were spying on.

Part of the snooping took place in Scotland - at the G8 in Gleneagles, in particular - and Scottish officers were seconded to rogue units.

In 2009, the practice of the police paying informants to snoop on campaign groups was also exposed.

Officers purportedly from Strathclyde Police tried to get a protestor to informer on her friends and pass on information about the Plane Stupid group. She refused and recorded the exchanges.

Against this backdrop, the Sunday Herald asked Police Scotland for the total number of informants it had recruited between April 2013 and January 2016.

Publication of this information posed no risk whatsoever, as the figure was national and covered a significant period of time.

However, with depressing predictability, the force refused and took the case all the way to the Scottish Information Commissioner.

In an unequivocal judgement, the SIC stated: “The Commissioner considers the submissions she has received are general in nature, speculative, and do not evidence how disclosure of the information requested would be the catalyst of any of the harm claimed by Police Scotland.”

Despite this defeat, Police Scotland embarked on a ridiculous court challenge in an attempt to stop the information from coming out. The force lost, again, and it remains to be seen how much public cash has been wasted.

However, Police Scotland is not alone is being woeful when it comes to FoI. As has been previously reported, senior journalists raised concerns recently about the Scottish Government’s record on FoI. Government meetings were not being minuted and special advisers ‘screened’ responses. Our story today confirms the fears of a two-tier FoI system.

FoI amounted to a law change, but it was also supposed to transform attitudes. Police Scotland and the Government are bad role models and need to raise their game.