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IT’S not true across the board that all publicity is good publicity. But in the case of the undercover policing scandal — or #spycops as it’s known on Twitter, it probably is.
The deception of female activists into relationships with police spies is one of the greatest human rights outrages of British history.
Yet very few are even aware this happened. The saga has attracted scandalously little coverage from the media — with the exceptions of the Morning Star and the Guardian.
So I too was shocked — albeit very pleased — to see soap chain Lush mount displays across its British stores highlighting the scandal.
Shop windows are displaying police tape exclaiming “POLICE HAVE CROSSED THE LINE” alongside messages such as “#SPYCOPS INQUIRY: TRUTH OR COVER UP?”
The inquiry was announced by then home secretary Theresa May in March 2015. As well as the covert relationships, its remit includes looking at how elite undercover units passed on intelligence to an illegal blacklist of construction workers.
Thousands of union activists were denied work over decades for crimes including raising safety concerns in one of Britain’s most dangerous industries.
I’d already been covering the blacklisting saga, so the undercover policing inquiry was assigned to me as the Star’s industrial correspondent.
Naively, I assumed I’d be reporting on it throughout its lifetime. In fact, when I moved to Glasgow several months ago and handed on the beat to our talented courts reporter Sam Tobin, the inquiry had yet to start hearing evidence — and it still hasn’t.
Activists who were targeted by the police spies have given the inquiry more guidance than it deserves to get it right.
But its successive chairs — the late Christopher Pitchford and now John Mitting — have instead caved to the Metropolitan Police’s delay and obfuscation tactics.
In March the spying victims walked out of an inquiry preliminary hearing.
The victims’ lawyer Philippa Kaufmann QC said Mitting was “the usual white upper-middle-class elderly gentleman whose life experiences are a million miles away from those who were spied upon.”
She asked Mitting to either resign or sit with an independent panel like the one that presided over the Hillsborough probe.
The inquiry also only covers England and Wales — in spite of strong evidence that the same undercover officers being investigated also operated in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
On June 23, a public meeting in Glasgow will hear calls for the Scottish government to set up its own inquiry if the Home Office continues to refuse to extend Mitting’s remit.
“We know that undercover police officers operated illegally and immorally in Scotland,” Labour MSP Neil Findlay, who is addressing the meeting and has campaigned on the issue, told me today.
“Some had intimate relationships with women — which has been referred to as ‘state rape.’
“Yet victims in Scotland do not have any access to the UK public inquiry, and the Scottish government have point-blank refused to have a parallel inquiry here. This is a gross injustice.”
Lush’s campaign, organised in conjunction with the inspiring Police Spies Out of Lives group, not only shines a spotlight on the scandal but addresses these serious questions about the inquiry.
Most of the coverage — from the Telegraph to the Mirror via the BBC — has focused on the criticism of the cosmetics giant by a bunch of pro-police keyboard warriors.
The Twitter account @UKCopHumour, displaying a fitting lack of humour for a band of peelers, accused the chain of showing “contempt.”
Others questioned why the campaign’s graphics showed half of a policeman’s helmet as well as half of a scruffier, bearded face.
Lush responded by saying that it was not “an anti-police campaign.”
Rightly so. But the image of the police as respectable, benevolent guardians of civil society is key to the fact many react with sheer disbelief to the spycops revelations.
The chain may well end up dropping the displays, and that would only be a logical outcome of high-street capitalism. Lush deserves credit if it holds firm.
But when I received a press notice yesterday which read as a beginners’ guide for journalists covering the debacle, I knew this had worked. There’s no soft-soaping this one: #spycops has gone mainstream.
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