Documents from Pitchford inquiry reveal Met resistance
POLICE have sought to alter the course of a major inquiry into undercover surveillance tactics, new documents revealed yesterday.
High Court judge Sir Christopher Pitchford was tasked by the government in 2015 with investigating how officers deceived female activists into long-term relationships and spied on trade unions, among other aspects of surveillance.
As Mr Pitchford admitted that full evidence hearings are unlikely to begin before next year, he released a tranche of documents showing conflicts between the Metropolitan Police and inquiry lawyers.
The Met has been given until next month to apply for anonymity orders for undercover officers whose activities will be investigated. But a newly called preliminary hearing on March 5 will consider the force’s plea for an extension until October.
The force has also asked the inquiry to “reconsider” its decision to seek evidence from every surviving officer of the Special Demonstration Squad, one of the Met’s undercover units being probed.
In a statement published yesterday, Mr Pitchford said his “present view” was that the evidence should be required.
But Met lawyers said former “deep cover” officers could find the process of applying for anonymity “harrowing and upsetting” and claimed that the force had difficulty recruiting staff to risk-assess the effect of disclosing identities.
The newly published letters reveal that the Met’s current expenditure on responding to the inquiry — including resisting the arguments of the victims of police spying — already total £4.2 million.
The division charged with responding already employs 25 officers and staff, but the force says a further 75 could be required.
The papers also reveal that the inquiry has “raised concerns” over the Met’s appointment of Detective Chief Superintendent Marcus Barnett to oversee the division, in spite of him having worked with officers under investigation.
In addition, the inquiry has refused to admit assurances about document retention from an unnamed detective sergeant who is accused of involvement in the destruction of documents.
And an unnamed detective inspector, who in December was the only risk assessor the Met had managed to appoint, may have been involved in “passing information gleaned from [Stephen Lawrence’s friend Duwayne] Brooks to the [Met] for covert purposes.”
Network for Police Monitoring spokesman Kevin Blowe told the Star: “This is about slowing the process down and trying to get people to despair about whether this inquiry will even go anywhere.
“A number of officers have been publicly named, and there is no suggestion any of those people are under a raised degree of risk as a result.”
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