POLICE Scotland have been accused of conducting a “wholly illegal” surveillance operation targeting one of the country’s most prominent human rights lawyers.

Aamer Anwar was targeted by officers after he agreed to represent the family of Sheku Bayoh, who died after he was restrained on the ground by six police officers in Kirkcaldy, Fife, on May 3 2015.

An inquiry into Bayoh’s death, and whether his race was a factor, is ongoing and this week heard of secret spying operations targeting Anwar and Bayoh’s family, the Sunday Mail reported.

Anwar said: "I do appreciate there may have been occasions that police had a lawful purpose for intelligence gathering, such as when I faced death threats from extremists, but anything that targeted my legitimate activity as a campaigning lawyer or representation of Sheku’s family is unjustified and wholly illegal.

"Had it not been for the public inquiry, we would have been none the wiser. The scale of the checks really begs the question ‘what were they up to?’ “As soon as the Crown discovered any alleged criminality, it should have set off alarm bells."

The inquiry heard from William Little, an investigator with the Police Independent Review Commissioner (PIRC) watchdog, who said that officers had refused to tell him about the surveillance of Anwar.

Little said that statements from the police “raised a number of concerns in relation to the gathering of and retention of intelligence on Mr Anwar, which would appear to be linked to his employment as a criminal lawyer and his activities as a campaigner for human rights”.

He went on: "It also gave rise to a more general concern on why Police Scotland was holding intelligence on Mr Anwar."

READ MORE: Investigator in Sheku Bayoh case had no unconscious bias training, admits watchdog

Little was then asked: "What were your concerns at that time about these records that were retained by Police Scotland?"

He said: "That Police Scotland never had a lawful purpose for retaining – for keeping such a record."

Little spoke of a meeting PIRC had held with Police Scotland’s legal team, saying: "I think there was a consensus, we shouldn’t hold this intelligence. But we still needed somebody to explain why they had it.

"Anyone who was asked to provide a statement was extremely reluctant. I believe they realised this is not legal and has not been put through the process."

He said that he believed any information held on Anwar had since been deleted.

The National: Aamer Anwar, lead solicitor for the Scottish Covid Bereaved ahead of the Scottish Covid Inquiry

Anwar (above) said the revelations “really beg the question what other unlawful behaviour the police were engaged in”, adding: “The Sheku Bayoh family and myself always suspected unlawful surveillance and unlawful activity.”

Lawyer Matthew McGovern commented: “This is a further example of the price Aamer Anwar pays for doing what he does.

“Aamer is Scotland’s best answer to the question once posed by Martin Niemoller – who will speak out when they come for me?

“How much further can we sink?”

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: "It is vital that the role and independence of the public inquiry is respected to ensure the application of the rule of law, due process, and justice being served.”