By Merrick Badger @MerrickBadger – SpyCops Correspondent
In 2010 a group of environmental activists exposed our comrade Mark Stone as undercover police officer Mark Kennedy. It triggered an avalanche of revelations and outrage about Britain’s political secret police.
Three years later we had enough of an overview to realise that Kennedy was not the rogue officer his bosses portrayed him as. As I outlined for Open Democracy, he was just the latest in a line of officers who had done the same thing. Three years further on, what more have we learned?
FULL PUBLIC INQUIRY
In summer 2013 came reports that officers from the Special Demonstration Squad had spied on the family of Stephen Lawrence. Theresa May, then Home Secretary, ordered an investigation headed by Mark Ellison who, a year earlier, had secured convictions for two of Lawrence’s killers. The report he delivered in March 2014 was described by Met commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe as ‘devastating’. He showed clear evidence of spying on the Lawrences, and many other families in similar situations.
The Home Secretary was left with little choice and announced an independent public inquiry. It took over a year for her to appoint Lord Pitchford as the chair and give the terms. Alarmingly, it is limited to events in England and Wales even though most of the exposed officers went abroad. It’s absurd to say abuses that deserve a public inquiry here should be ignored if perpetrated elsewhere.
The Scottish, Northern Irish and German governments formally asked to be included but were rebuffed. The Irish and Scottish governments have commissioned bullshit whitewashes (getting police to investigate with a very narrow remit that cannot get an overview). Campaigns are continuing to extend the Pitchford inquiry beyond England and Wales or else get proper inquiries in other countries.
Whatever its remit, the police want the public inquiry to be as secret as possible. They initially applied to have all hearings in secret, with Pitchford only giving his findings publicly at the end. The clue to the nature of a public inquiry is in the name – if it’s held in secret it fails before it begins.
Pitchford says the inquiry will have a presumption for openness, only keeping back information in exceptional circumstances. But with the police as incompetent gatekeepers for the files and recent reports of deliberate destruction, we have no idea what is really going on.
It’s proof of the wider exceptionalism granted to the police. No other group already proven to have done wrong would be allowed the position of custodian for evidence that incriminates them.
CONCLUSION OF WOMEN’S LEGAL CASES
Under the banner of Police Spies Out of Lives, a group of women deceived into relationships with undercover officers brought a legal case against the police. They were told sexual contact was never authorised and it was nothing to do with management. Then the police realised they could steer the case from open court to a secret tribunal if the actions were, after all, permitted. So the same lawyers went back and told the same court that that it was all authorised. The Met tried anything to avoid accountability, putting their victims through years of gruelling and humiliating legal obstructions.
In 2014 the Met settled a case with Jacqui who had a relationship and child with Special Demonstration Squad officer Bob Lambert. Settling cases is a last-ditch ruse to avoid having to go to court and explain themselves. The payment, just under half a million pounds, came from public funds rather than Lambert himself.
‘The amount of money shows there is a cover-up,’ she told the BBC. ‘It says the more we dig the dirtier it gets. All they want to do is concrete it in – put it in a box and make it go away. If I had a choice – less money and more truth, I obviously would have gone for that.’
The Police Spies Out of Lives women persevered and in November 2015 received damages and an unprecedented apology. The Met admitted that the relationships ‘were abusive, deceitful, manipulative and wrong…a violation of the women’s human rights, an abuse of police power and caused significant trauma’. Whilst stopping short of using the phrase ‘institutional sexism’ they conceded ‘it was a gross violation and [we] also accept that it may well have reflected attitudes towards women that should have no part in the culture of the Metropolitan Police’.
Despite this, the Met is still refusing to settle other cases with people in identical circumstances, even though some of them involve the same officers the Met has made admissions and apologised for.
HIDING FROM DISCLOSURE AND THE LAW
They are still saying they can’t talk about what was done because they have a long-standing policy to ‘neither confirm nor deny’ anyone was ever an undercover officer. It’s demonstrably untrue, as Helen Steel proved to a preliminary hearing of the Pitchford inquiry with such comprehensive force that the courtroom erupted into applause at the end.
The prospect of individual spycops facing criminal charges has receded. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) – who colluded with spycops to engineer miscarriages of justice – decided that they would charge any officers with Misconduct in Public Office. They said they would ‘have to show that an officer knowingly abused their position in order to bring a sexual relationship about,’ something there is already an overwhelming amount of evidence for in a large number of cases.
The CPS also decided not to charge spycops with sexual offences. They explained the threshold for criminality in sexual deceit, citing Julian Assange failing to use a condom having promised to do so, and there are numerous cases of convictions when women deceived other women into thinking they were men.
The CPS claim that these officers – not merely lying but devising a wholly fictional character who was the opposite of what they appeared to be, and doing it because they were being paid by the state to undermine and betray the women involved – is somehow a lower level of deception and violation than the one Assange is accused of. They imply that if Mark Kennedy had once failed to use a condom when he said he would then they would bring charges, but his campaign of sustained deceit against numerous women over many years was a lesser abuse.
Again, this illustrates with awful clarity the exceptionalism enjoyed by police. If anyone else had done this they would be in jail.
MISCARRIAGES OF JUSTICE
In 2014 the convictions of 29 people who stopped a coal train were quashed because Mark Kennedy’s involvement had been kept from the court in their trial. This brought his personal total of wrongful convictions to 49.
Taken as an average for the 150 or so officers from these units, it would mean around 7,000 miscarriages of justice are being left to stand. Even if it were just one per officer per year of service, it would be about 600. This is probably the biggest nobbling of the judicial system in English history yet nobody is really talking about it.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE INQUIRY
The Pitchford inquiry somewhat optimistically said it would start taking evidence in summer 2016 and report in 2018. It is unlikely to hear its first testimony until the middle of 2017 at the earliest. How long it runs is anyone’s guess. Most similar inquiries – Bloody Sunday, Hillsborough – are about a single event and the subsequent cover-up. This is 50 years, hundreds of targeted groups, hundreds of miscarriages of justice, tens of thousands of targeted citizens. The scope is overwhelming and, moving at the glacial pace of the legal system, a two year schedule is risible.
Pitchford has designated 200 people – mostly victims, but some police officers – as ‘core participants’ at the inquiry. They will get legal representation for the duration. Perhaps recoiling from the colossal scale of his task, Pitchford has recently raised the bar for qualification as a core participant. Newer applicants – even prominent people with convincing evidence of being spied on such as Janet Alder, Ricky Tomlinson, Peter Tatchell and Jenny Jones – have been refused.
CONTINUING BEYOND THE INQUIRY
New alliances have been built between those targeted, whether they are core participants or not. Activists who may have previously politically approved of one another without contact or active support – perhaps even opposed one another – have found common purpose and are combining to investigate, bring legal cases and take action together.
These collaborations have led to the Undercover Research Group being able to expose more officers, such as Carlo Neri. The police and Pitchford have made complaining noises about this work being done when they should be praising it for bringing abuse to light.
As with other justice campaigns of state abuse, so far it has fallen to the victims to do the detective work, actively hindered by the actual paid state detectives. They were resourceful and tenacious campaigners anyway – that’s what got them spied on in the first place – but standing together as a coalition of the targeted, there is a new kind of strength.