Cast aside the mendacious messages dominating the headlines by the Remain and Leave campaigns for tomorrow’s referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. For today Sir Christopher Pitchford “will consider whether the state has a duty to disclose to the parents of a deceased child that the child’s identity was used for police purposes.”
The Pitchford inquiry was established last year by Theresa May, Home Secretary, in the wake of the Guardian’s revelations from 2011 on the activities of the Met police’s Special Demonstration Squad (SDS). 106 covert identities were used by officers of the SDS. Formed in the aftermath of the anti-Vietnam war protests in Grosvenor Square in 1968, the remit of the SDS was to ensure “sufficient and accurate intelligence to enable the police to maintain public order”.
Using controversial tactics such as identity theft, acting as agent provocateurs and forming sexual relationships with members of groups under state surveillance, the SDS’s list of subversives also included those seeking justice for Stephen Lawrence, victim of a racist murder, and supposed Stockwell bomber, in fact innocent engineer, John Charles de Menezes.
Seven women who were hoodwinked into encounters with undercover cops have received a public apology and compensation from the Met. Jacqui, a former animal rights protestor whose child “Francis” was fathered by former police officer Bob Lambert, believes she was “raped by the state”. Writing in the New Statesman, Laurie Penny takes this analogy to its logical conclusion:
The women who were betrayed and exploited by police officers are the first victims of this outrage – but everyone with a stake in civil society has a right to answers. Until we know how the police are operating, until we know who is watching us and why, the public cannot give informed consent to be governed – and that’s a violation of everyone’s dignity.
Pitchford’s terms of reference are to
- investigate the role and the contribution made by undercover policing towards the prevention and detection of crime;
- examine the motivation for, and the scope of, undercover police operations in practice and their effect upon individuals in particular and the public in general;
- ascertain the state of awareness of undercover police operations of Her Majesty’s Government;
- identify and assess the adequacy of the:
1. justification, authorisation, operational governance and oversight of undercover policing;
2. selection, training, management and care of undercover police officers;
- identify and assess the adequacy of the statutory, policy and judicial regulation of undercover policing.
More than 100 police officers infiltrated 460 political groups over a forty year period. According to the Guardian,
An internal inquiry uncovered evidence that the managers of the secret Scotland Yard unit, known as the Special Demonstration Squad, clearly exaggerated the value of intelligence gathered by its undercover officers.
Given the poor press which the police has faced over the past decade with heavy-handedness evident in the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests (2009) and Plebgate (2012); incompetence and fraud by Royalty Protection officers (2009 and 2014); set alongside allegations of kickbacks to cops from Soho night club owners (2015) and corruption in the ongoing investigation into the murder of private detective Daniel Morgan (1987), it remains imperative that Pitchford is no whitewash.
- Undercover Policing Inquiry https://www.ucpi.org.uk/
- Dominic Casciani, “Undercover Policing Inquiry Considers Dead Children’s ID Disclosure”, BBC News, 22 June 2016 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-36587661
- Lauren Collins, “The Spy Who Loved Me”, New Yorker, 25 August 2014 http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/08/25/the-spy-who-loved-me-2
- Rob Evans, “Met’s Undercover Unit ‘Exaggerated its Success to Secure Funds”, Guardian, 21 June 2016 https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jun/21/mets-undercover-unit-exaggerated-its-success-to-secure-funds
- ________ and Paul Lewis, Undercover: The True Story of Britain’s Secret Police (London: Faber and Faber/Guardian Books, 2013)
- Laurie Penny, “The True Betrayal at the Heart of the Met’s Undercover Police Scandal”, New Statesman, 2 February 2016 http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2016/02/true-betrayal-heart-mets-undercover-police-scandal
- “Undercover Police: ‘Deception Overseen by State'”, BBC News, 20 November 2015 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-34882540