17 Days Remaining

Tuesday 29th
posted by Morning Star in Features

DAVE SMITH writes on the kafkaesque situation of Lord Justice Pitchford’s Undercover Police Inquiry and the Met’s despicable delay tactics preventing justice for the victims

WHEN Theresa May set up the public inquiry into undercover policing, Lord Justice Pitchford was asked to deliver his report within three years.

That timetable has already gone out of the window. Sixteen months in, no oral evidence has been heard and not a single document has been disclosed.

There is little likelihood of any real progress in the next 12 months as the inquiry is now bogged down in longwinded legal wrangling about how it will operate.

The main reason for the delay is the “neither confirm nor deny” (NCND) position adopted by the police.

This is presented as a long-established protocol, essential due to the very nature of undercover policing.

The vast majority of the mainstream media barely question this assertion.

If any journalist carried out the most elementary investigation, they would discover that Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe was confirming the identities of undercover officers right up until 2011.

But that was at a time when the whole scandal was being blamed on the wayward actions of one or two rogue officers.

As more evidence has emerged, and the systematic nature of the scandal became apparent, the police position changed.

NCND appeared from nowhere and has now been elevated to a virtual sacrament, acting as a barrier to keep police wrongdoing away from public scrutiny.

In criminal trials, often involving genuinely violent individuals, it is standard procedure for police who have operated undercover to give evidence in open court.

Yet for the shady political policing units, the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) and National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NETCU), the police demand complete anonymity and the right to unilaterally decide which documents to disclose to the “core participants” in the inquiry. This must stop if Pitchford is to have any chance of fulfilling his remit.

NCND means that we currently have the ridiculous situation where literally everybody involved with the public inquiry knows that John Dines was an undercover SDS officer who spied on London Greenpeace in the 1980s, having a long-term relationship with the blacklisted McLibel defendant Helen Steel during his deployment. He is currently the director of a police training college in Australia.

Another officer, Mark Jenner, was in a long-term relationship with “Alison” while infiltrating Ucatt campaigns protesting against deaths on building sites and in police custody at the Hackney-based Colin Roach Centre in the late 1990s.

Both of the police spies have been widely named in the media and last November both women received an unreserved public apology and financial compensation from the Met.

But to this day, the police will neither confirm nor deny whether either Dines or Jenner were police officers. This is Kafkaesque.

Worse still, NCND is obstructing justice. Every British citizen is entitled to make a subject access request to obtain information held on them by the police — not just about convictions but intelligence gathered about attending political meetings or peaceful demonstrations.

Yet core participants in Pitchford are still being refused access to their police files or having them heavily edited to remove any reference to the undercover officer who was targeting them.

Freedom of information requests are routinely turned down as NCND is being used to deliberately conceal information that might be embarrassing to the police.

Fortunately they are not having it all their own way and Pitchford has ruled that NCND will not be allowed to apply as a blanket policy throughout the inquiry.

However, officers can apply for anonymity and for hearings to be held in secret on an individual basis.

This could result in the perpetrators of what the Met has already acknowledged as human rights abuse being allowed to give evidence in secret with their identity protected — while the innocent victims such as Doreen and Neville Lawrence or the abused female activists are forced to relive traumatic experiences in open court. This is not justice.

Virtually every officer in the inquiry is currently only identified by an “N” number. Most are now applying for continued NCND-style anonymity and this process will effectively put the brakes on Pitchford for another year.

One tiny glimmer of hope took place last week, when Pitchford confirmed that a man I knew as Carlo Neri, who stood on picket lines with me, who participated in anti-BNP protests, who lived in my friends’ homes and who had long-term relationships with female activists he was sent to spy on, was in reality an undercover police officer (N104).

This admission has been dragged out of the police because activists unearthed the truth about Neri.

But what about all the other spy­cops? Over a 40-year period, there were over 100 undercover officers from the SDS alone and an unknown number from the NPOIU.

To date, the police have only confirmed five, despite activist researchers being able to name 17. These are the only officers currently being investigated by Pitchford.

Just in case anyone is under any misapprehension, the SDS and NPOIU were not spying on paedophile rings or armed people traffickers — they spied on people participating in democratic political activities.

The operations of these undercover police units for more than 40 years has nothing to do with the detection of crime: it is all about the secret state keeping political activists under surveillance.

The police internal investigation, Operation Herne, has admitted that at least 460 political campaigns were infiltrated. This is political policing on an industrial scale.

The lack of inquisitiveness by the mainstream media regarding Pitchford is breath-taking. 

The lack of scrutiny by Parliament is even more worrying. The home affairs select committee has repeatedly questioned key people in the child sexual abuse inquiry but Pitchford seems to have become the forgotten inquiry. When are MPs going to properly scrutinise the policy of NCND?

Now is the time for the police to come clean and disclose which campaign groups, trade unions and political parties were infiltrated. The cover names of all the undercover officers must be released. Otherwise how will we ever get to the truth?

The undercover policing inquiry is looking into very serious human rights violations committed by the police over a period of decades. Institutional sexism has seen female activists viewed as disposable commodities to be emotionally and sexually abused, the identities of dead babies have been stolen to provide fake personas, grieving families searching for justice on behalf of their deceased relatives have been secretly spied on at their most vulnerable moments.

Trade unions, anti-racist campaigns and perfectly democratic political parties have been infiltrated and elected politicians targeted, including the current shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott. Scores of criminal convictions have been overturned and officers have been accused of acting as agent provocateurs inciting, and in one case committing, arson.

Yet at a hearing earlier in the year to discuss NCND, Stephen Hall QC representing the Met Police told the inquiry that these undercover police units were defending “the democratic values of this country.” 

The conflicting assessment of the same facts couldn’t be more stark. Getting to the truth is in the public interest and has huge implications.

NCND is a barrier to justice with the potential to derail the entire Pitchford inquiry. It is forcing us to ask the question: do you trust the police?

  • Dave Smith is co-author, with Phil Chamberlain, of Blacklisted: The Secret War between Big Business and Union Activists.

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