ACTIVISTS spied on by undercover police officers interrupted the new chair of the troubled spycop inquiry today after he told the court that many officers’ real identities may never be released.
Sir John Mitting, the judge who took over the inquiry from the late Sir Christopher Pitchford, used his first appearance in court to stress his determination to “discover the truth.”
He said women activists deceived into relationships by undercover cops had a “compelling moral claim to know the true identity of the man with whom they had that relationship.”
But to the anger of dozens of activists in the court gallery Mr Mitting announced that only officers’ cover names would be published in many other cases, and that the inquiry would receive evidence in secret when their deployments had posed a “real risk to [their] lives and safety.”
After he pledged to protect officers’ “human rights” — saying that many had “genuine concerns” and some had “done nothing to merit legitimate criticism” — he was heckled by victims of police spying in the Royal Court of Justice in London.
Blacklisted trade unionist Dave Smith, who was spied on in the 1980s for trying to improve safety on building sites, led a chant of “No justice: no peace!” He then delivered an impromptu address to the hearing, ignoring the protestations of court ushers.
"There's a lot about the human rights of the undercover officers, but precious little about the people who have been spied on,” Mr Smith shouted.
“The question of national security is absolutely outrageous.
“It ends up that the people guilty of wrongdoing get away with it, and the people who are victims get no justice whatsoever.”
Mr Smith added that there is “a very obvious imbalance of justice” in the inquiry. “The British state is represented here by about eight QCs,” he said, whereas the “non-police, non-state” core participants of the inquiry — who include a vast range of different activists and campaign groups — have just one counsel between them.
“I’ve been told I should keep a dignified silence in situations like this,” he said. “But we’ve got every right to make a fuss.”
Helen Steel, who was deceived into an intimate relationship by a spycop when she was a member of London Greenpeace, also stood up to address the new chair.
“How can 200 people be represented by one set [of lawyers]?” she asked.
“It’s utterly ludicrous that you’re expecting us to basically shut up and go away.”
Ms Steel, who was also spied on as a defendant in the infamous McLibel case, said the inquiry’s refusal to fund more advocates for the non-state participants had led to a “total inequality of arms, and it needs to change.”
The inquiry was announced by then-home secretary Theresa May in 2015.
This followed the exposure of several officers who took on false identities — often stolen from dead children — to infiltrate left-wing campaign groups and trade unions in England and Wales since 1968.
Claims also emerged during this time that undercover police officers had spied on campaigners fighting for justice for murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, including his family.
Although the inquiry was triggered three years ago, no evidence has yet been heard and activists have accused the Met of deliberately attempting to obstruct the investigation’s progress.
The Metropolitan Police’s undercover units have also shredded documentary evidence in defiance of official orders.
And the Met has repeatedly missed deadlines for applying for orders to restrict the disclosure of officers’ identities.
Mr Mitting used his speech yesterday to set out a plan to “speed up” this process.
The judge also said senior officers would be “expected to account for their decisions” at the inquiry “publicly and in their own name.”
But the legal team has said it is unlikely to hear any evidence before the second half of 2019.
Mr Mitting suggested even this “distant date” might not be met if preliminary work was not accelerated.
Mr Pitchford stepped down from the inquiry in July after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease. He died last month.
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