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Spycops' operations against left-wing activists were unjustifiable and potentially unlawful, inquiry hears

SPYCOP operations against left-wing activists over a 14-year period were unjustifiable and potentially unlawful, a public inquiry’s legal team has concluded.

The inquiry, headed by retired judge Sir John Mitting, said yesterday that officers serving in the Metropolitan Police’s special demonstration squad (SDS) between 1968 and 1982 had violated democratic freedoms and caused a lot of harm.

Officers in the secret Scotland Yard unit, which continued to operate until 2008, spent years undercover, hoovering up personal information and forming close relationships with their targets. 

Some formed sexual relationships with activists and even fathered children with them. 

Despite this, no senior police officer had ever considered whether the SDS deployments were justified or lawful, counsel to the inquiry David Barr KC said in his closing statement to the probe. 

Mr Barr said that if they had done so, “there is a strong case for concluding that … they should have decided to disband the SDS.” 

The inquiry heard how the SDS was set up in 1968 to gain intelligence to assist police to maintain public order in the streets. 

“However, the level of threat posed to public order was often not commensurate with a need to deploy undercover police officers for this purpose,” Mr Barr noted. “Not in the way that they operated.

“The benefits which the unit’s intelligence brought to public order policing do not, in our submission, justify the means.”

Mr Barr said the inquiry had not identified a single instance in which SDS intelligence averted a public order calamity between 1968 and 1982, the period the probe has finished investigating. 

The lawyer highlighted the infiltration of the Women’s Liberation Front, a small organisation campaigning for women’s equality, as a particularly clear example of unjustified targeting. 

He added that it was highly questionable whether the operations during that period complied with international human rights law. 

In a surprise admission, Met lawyer Peter Skelton KC later told the inquiry that the force had also reached the conclusion that operations during that period were not justifiable by modern standards.

However, he insisted that the SDS obtained intelligence that could not have been gathered by other means. 

In another significant finding, the inquiry’s legal team concluded that there was evidence that the risk of undercover officers engaging in sexual misconduct was obvious and recognised by managers and that more should have been done to reduce this risk. 

The inquiry’s lawyers also accepted that special branch managers could have leaked SDS reports to private firms such as the Economic League for the purposes of blacklisting. 

However, in a finding that will disappoint campaigners, Mr Barr said the inquiry had found no evidence to suggest that the SDS specifically targeted trade unions or their members.

Future phases of the inquiry, which is not expected to conclude until 2026, will hear evidence from operations up until 2007.

This round of hearings will conclude tomorrow. 

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