On 16 July, the Home Office announced an inquiry into undercover police spies and their activities monitoring family campaigns and spying on protestors.
The Monitoring Group welcomes the spirit and substance of the Terms of Reference established for a judge led inquiry into police spying of campaigning and protest groups. The remit allows Lord Justice Pitchford, the chair of the Inquiry, to conduct a thorough, robust, wide-ranging and as far-reaching an investigation as possible so that the full facts are brought to light, and culpable and discreditable conduct is exposed publicly, and that clear lessons are learnt so that unlawful and dangerous practices are finally put to an end.
Over the last three years, the British public have been profoundly shocked at the persistent and damning allegations of police corruption, sabotage, unlawful surveillance and personal intrusion of individuals leading Black and Asian justice campaigns, such as the Stephen Lawrence campaign, trade unionists, environmental and animal rights activists. The undercover police officers’ activities included spying on bereaved families, targeting of women activists for sexual relationships and fathering children to gain information on legitimate protests.
This new Inquiry provides a unique opportunity to right the wrongs and to develop new thinking on police accountability. For this to become a reality, Lord Justice Pitchford should not hesitate to take the following initial but critically important steps. He must ensure that:
- All individuals or groups directly affected and damaged by police spying are given access to public funds so that they can be legally represented at the Inquiry.
- The specific issues and concerns arising as a result of undercover police deployment of different groups/individuals are considered sympathetically. A schedule of issues is drawn up listing the specific areas to be investigated at the Inquiry.
- He has the power to compel witnesses to attend and give evidence.
- The Inquiry, in its entire proceedings, is open and transparent. There is strong and visible public interest in this Inquiry, and he will need to think carefully that his decisions do not suppress or stifle this interest or damage public confidence in the process. Such an approach would require the Chair to make a commitment that his final report and recommendations will be published in full without hindrance or undue pressure and that the venue for the inquiry will allow the public and affected parties to attend and participate fully in the process.
- Protection is provided for Peter Francis (ex-undercover officer turned whistleblower) and other potential whistleblowers, so that they are not arrested, charged or prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act. The Chair should also name the undercover officers who spied on the Stephen Lawrence campaign and other protest groups. In this regard we fully support Baroness Lawrence’s demand that current police policy of ‘neither confirm nor deny’ in these circumstances is neither justifiable nor sustainable. See here.
- He fully understands the impact of undercover operations on Black and Asian communities and justice campaigns who are already subjected to disproportionate and discriminatory practices. One of the key reasons for the new Inquiry is that material evidence was withheld by police from the public judicial inquiry into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, chaired by Sir William Macpherson in 1998. In this respect, Lord Justice Pitchford must address an important concern for Black and Asian communities: whether institutional racism played a significant role in the police’s decision to deploy undercover officers in these communities?
The full text of our proposed terms of reference submitted to the Inquiry team were as follows:
Proposed terms of reference for the public inquiry on behalf of The Monitoring Group/Suresh Grover
To inquire into and make recommendations as to the role and conduct of the police service and HM Government in the establishment and deployment of undercover and covert policing operations, including the oversight and governance of such operations, with particular regard to the policies, practices, ethics and impact of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), National Public Order Intelligence Unit, the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit and any other similar units together with any public or private bodies or institutions which had any such remit or involvement and, in particular, to consider:
- The extent and nature of surveillance and deployment of undercover police officers on Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic (BAME) individuals, especially those associated with the Stephen Lawrence case during the lifetime of the family campaign, including the period of the Public Inquiry (from its establishment to the announcement of its recommendations);
- The extent and nature of surveillance and deployment of undercover police officers on BAME individuals, community organisations, justice campaigns and trade unionists and whether this action contributed towards any unlawful activity, including the arrest and/or conviction of individuals and/or sabotage of the intended targets work or its demise;
- The extent and nature of intelligence sharing between the SDS (and similar units), Special Branch and CO24 (Race & Violence Task Force), including intelligence on BAME individuals and activists on justice campaigns and/or those working with the police as advisors, critical friends and/or in consultative groups or similar capacity;
- The sharing of surveillance and intelligence information between police and other third parties, both within and outside the UK;
- The extent to which institutional racism influenced police deployment of undercover officers and surveillance of BAME civil society.
Suresh Grover of The Monitoring Group commented: ‘The very core of our democratic society is under threat from police spying of legitimate activities including the right to protest, to hold authorities to account, to privacy & family life, and the right to belong to an association. The Inquiry presents a profound and historic opportunity to right the wrongs. As an immediate priority, Lord Justice Pitchford must do everything in his power to gain the confidence of those affected by police corruption and misconduct.’