|Volume 50 Number 42, November 21, 2020||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
The Undercover Policing Inquiry with retired judge Sir John Mitting as chair has been in session from November 2. The judge-led public inquiry was launched six years ago by the Home Secretary at the time, Theresa May, after it was revealed how police had covertly monitored the campaign for justice over the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence. The inquiry has resumed by hearing evidence from the period 1968-1972, particularly on the infiltration by the state of the movement against the Vietnam War. Overall the inquiry is due to scrutinise the deployment of nearly 140 undercover officers who spied on more than 1,000 political groups across more than four decades. Our Party, RCPB(ML), and its forerunner organisations were among those targeted, with Party activists framed and sent to jail.
It is necessary to right the wrongs committed by the undercover agents, or "spycops". The answer to the question, "is this still happening" is on the agenda, as well as the demand that the impunity with which these officers acted be ended. It is of course notable that the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill [CHIS Bill, known as the "SpyCops Bill"] going through Parliament seeks to create special classes of defendants in domestic law in respect of whom the criminal law will not apply right at this time.
In these circumstances, the call is that injustices must be righted, and the opposition to the criminalisation of all those who fight for their rights and for justice must also be strengthened.
The Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance (COPS) is publishing daily and weekly reports of the proceedings of the Inquiry. Below we reproduce extracts from the first two weekly reports.
Weekly Report 1
2-6 November 2020
After five years of waiting, the Undercover Policing Inquiry finally got off the ground in earnest this week. This first round of hearings will be split in two parts. First, Opening Statements from all the core participants. Second will be actual evidence for the period 1968 to 1972.
The Opening Statements are a chance for the various parties to essentially lay out how they view things. They began with the Counsel to the Tribunal, David Barr QC, presenting a general overview of where we stand.
This was followed by barristers for police and those who were once in the world of police but are no longer. Finally came the non-state/police core participants, whose statements will continue into this coming week. In this report we will try to summarise what was a lot of material, and reflect upon the words of the lawyers.
Barr noted that much of what the spycops did during their deployment is already public knowledge:
Despite acknowledging this, it is disappointing that Mr Barr failed to properly credit the activists. The women deceived into relationships were a fundamental part of exposing the spycops. The existence of this Inquiry is based on their work.
This phase will also look at various documents and hear evidence from 1968-1972. It does not cover the actions of spycops while outside England and Wales, despite them being active in around 20 other countries during their deployment.
There were also some surprising pieces of previously undisclosed information, and statements from people previously unheard from.
How and why was the Special Demonstration Squad set up?
Following the windows of the US Embassy being broken during an anti-Vietnam War demonstration in March 1968, Special Branch attempted to gather information on the next demo. Their usual tactics being unsuccessful, they created the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) who went deep undercover, living as activists among various anti-war groups.
The next demo in October 1968 was less volatile, and this was taken as a sign of the new unit's success. Mr Barr has stressed that the Inquiry must decide not if it was successful, but if it was a necessary or disproportionate response.
The SDS rapidly widened its scope and began investigating subversion and demonstrations and disruptions of public order. Any organisation seeking social change could easily be said to be covered by their remit. By the early 1970s, the SDS was aiming to profile anyone 'within weeks' of first showing interest in 'extremist ideas'.
One of the police barristers, Oliver Sanders QC (representing 114 spycops, the majority of former and current undercovers), stated that the main function of the SDS was to assess public order threats. In the period currently being examined by the Inquiry, 1968-72, many of these came from political protests. Their secondary function was providing intelligence on 'subversion' to MI5.
What was the role of MI5 and the Home Office?
Since the story of the spycops surfaced, the events have been framed as the work of one rogue officer, then several rogue officers, then rogue units. Those higher up unfailingly point the finger at those lower down.
It is now clear that from the very beginning, the SDS was funded by the Home Office and reported to MI5.
Sanders provided new information:
Despite the Home Office directly funding the unit for over 20 years, a 2014 report commissioned on the link between the two institutions noted the key file was suspiciously missing. However, a lot of SDS reports have been retrieved for the Inquiry from copies sent to MI5.
How are the police lawyers attempting to portray the actions of the SDS?
It is now clear the various police lawyers are switching tactics and actually trying to justify the actions of the SDS. They describe the spycops as a benevolent and useful group, indispensable to the safety of the public, who only wanted political information so that demonstrations could be effectively policed.
Claim: Police never intend to harm anyone, including the women deceived into relationships
Peter Skelton QC, for the Metropolitan Police, told the Inquiry that the Met is 'aware of continuing anger and distress of victims of spycops'. He said the Met stands by its 2015 apology to women deceived into relationships by spycops (despite the fact that it still won't let women see their files, and is delaying civil claims by some of them).
Richard Whittam QC, representing a smaller group of undercovers and managers, also mentioned the apology naming such activity as 'abusive, deceitful, manipulative and wrong'. But, he said, spycops committing crime is essential for national security and the prevention and detection of other people committing crime. The apology should be seen 'in context', by which he seemed to mean it should be disregarded.
This echoed other police lawyers, who have implied that it was acceptable to abuse people because times were different then, and it was all done for the greater good.
Claim: Spycops are better than the alternative
Kevin Gately - circled - killed by police at this Red Lion Square anti-fascist protest, 1974.
Repeatedly, police noted that people have been killed on protests - citing two cases from the 1970s, Blair Peach and Kevin Gately - and there would be more death and injuries if it wasn't for the undercovers ensuring demos were policed properly.
Contemptuously, they failed to mention that Blair Peach and Kevin Gately actually both been killed by the police; Gately in 1974 on an anti-fascist protest organised by heavily spied-on groups, and Peach in 1979 as a member of the most spied-on group of all, The Socialist Workers Party, on an anti-racist protest.
Discussing spycops stealing of dead children's identities, Sanders said that though it was regrettable, it was necessary to prevent risk of exposure. The alternative to spycops with stolen identities was paramilitary police on demonstrations, he said. This is a patently ridiculous excuse.
Claim: Intelligence must be gathered indiscriminately
Spied-upon groups which were newly named this week include Justice for Rhodesia, Croydon Libertarians, and the St Pancras & Camden United Tenants Association. This contrasts strongly with police insistence that spycops saved the public from violent riots, murder and mayhem by infiltrating these groups; that it was necessary to spy on people who were committing no crimes in order to get to the 'real criminals'.
The SDS essentially turned belonging to groups such as Hackney United Tenants Ad-Hoc Committee into a valid reason for the state to target you for surveillance. A report from 1973 gives the names of three people who had merely asked about the International Marxist Group.
They did, however, say they found it difficult to infiltrate black power movements; a rather telling sign that they were lacking in Black police officers.
Claim: Even though they're bad, we can't judge them because it was a long time ago
Essentially, police lawyers found various ways to say 'what the spycops did may have been bad but it was a long time ago, lessons have been learned, it's different now, nobody need lose their job or pension, move on, there's nothing to see here'.
This directly contradicts documents that make clear the government was aware from the very beginning that what they were doing was deeply unethical, and would cause public outrage if discovered. Even by the standards of 1968, the spycops' behaviour was blatantly immoral.
This refrain was accompanied by police barristers stating that other types of undercover work keep the public safe from paedophiles and terrorists. This is of little relevance to the activities of political secret police.
It ignores that the spycops of 2010 - long after the supposed new regulatory framework of the Human Rights Act, and Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act - were, if anything, committing even worse abuses than their 1968 counterparts.
The Inquiry also heard from representatives of the groups and individuals who were spied on
Families of the dead children whose identities were stolen
The Inquiry recently informed 19 families that their dead children's identities were stolen by spycops. The Home Office Select Committee demanded in 2013 that affected families be told, yet the Met refused. Skelton conceded that the Met hadn't cared about the families of these children.
Sanders said this procedure was invented in an earlier time when people felt differently about death and risk (once again using the 'it was a long time ago' excuse), yet the practice continued until the 1990s.
Additionally, one family whose living child's identity was stolen has been informed.
Justice campaigns of grieving families, represented by Richard Parry and Jane Deighton
These were families in mourning who just wanted answers about what had happened to their loved ones so that they could have at least some closure; in many cases the parents and relatives of people who were barely more than children, and died violent deaths under traumatic circumstances.
Instead, their efforts were blocked and police were openly hostile to them and spycops infiltrated their campaigns for the truth. Police resources that should have been spent catching killers were instead spent on obstructing justice.
As a teenager in 1993, Duwayne Brooks survived a racist attack in which his best friend Stephen Lawrence was murdered. Brooks was spied upon in an attempt to discredit his evidence. He said this week that he won't testify unless he can see his whole police file first.
Skelton said the Met is 'grateful' for Duwayne Brooks' and Stephen's mother Doreen Lawrence's work.
Workers with trade unions and/or politically active workers who were blacklisted
Reports show that trade unions were targeted and spied on from as far back as 1973. Yet, Sanders unequivocally stated that the SDS did not have any involvement in industrial blacklisting.
It did not target justice campaigns, members of parliament or trade unions directly, it was merely inevitable collateral collection while spying on other things, he claimed. These are lies, with 'collateral damage' as an excuse. Whether accidental or deliberate, it's still spying.
Dave Smith, a trade unionist and co-author of Blacklisted: The Secret War Between Big Business & Union Activists, was due to give evidence on Friday 9 November but was gagged by the Inquiry after a legal challenge to the content of his prepared statement.
Three wives (now ex-wives) of spycops, represented by Angus McCullough QC
For all but one of the wives of the undercover officers, it is the first time their words have been heard. In most cases they are now ex-wives, such was the stress their relationships were subjected to due to the activities of their husbands.
There can be no doubt that they were deceived and abused as badly as any other victim of the spycops. They were told that their husbands were gone for long periods in the interests of national security, not that they were on holiday in Thailand or Crete with women they'd manipulated into believing were the loves of their lives.
McCullough described how although they were vetted as support for their husbands, the wives and their children were offered no support during the periods of deployment. Nor were they years later, when the Met knew that the stories were about to hit the press and yet did not deign to warn them.
The officers themselves were flatly told that there would be very little support during deployment. They were given no prior warning of the psychological impact that going deep and long-term undercover would have on them. They received even less support than they'd been promised.
Skelton admitted the Met 'hasn't always understood' how to support the spycops officers. Their wives, all of whom are mothers with children to care for, were used by the SDS and the Met as free, unqualified, in-house emotional support and therapy for their officers.
Peter Francis, represented by David Lock QC
Peter Francis, the only spycop whistle-blower to have come forward, was an SDS officer from 1993-98.
This week he requested a cast-iron guarantee from the Metropolitan Commissioner of immunity to prosecution for information about spycops he revealed prior to the Inquiry starting. Under the Inquiry's terms, witnesses including Peter Francis cannot be prosecuted for anything that he says during the proceedings.
However, he could be charged under the Official Secrets Act for his previous public statements. His pension hangs in the balance, and he will not testify without absolute confirmation he will not be charged.
It should be obvious that without his evidence, this cannot be a properly informed inquiry. Under the current timetable, the Inquiry doesn't intend to take evidence from Francis until 2023.
People from a vast range of groups targeted for their political beliefs and activism, overwhelmingly from the left
By the Inquiry's own admission, over 1000 groups were spied upon (although Sanders and the police themselves now deny this).
This week, they revealed the previously unknown names of just 44 of them. This comes too late for members of those groups to ascertain which of their friends or intimate partners never really existed, let alone participate in their only current chance for some kind of justice.
New photos of SDS officers published
The Inquiry also published previously unseen photos of various officers. Only one was a spycop; the rest were mostly back office staff, apparently all at the same festive event in 1968.
People are excluded from the Inquiry, including core participants
Lawyers for the non-police side noted that without names and photos of spycops it is impossible to reach all the people who were their victims. It is grossly unjust that they will not be represented through the deliberate choice of the Inquiry to exclude them.
There are a great many people who, even though they know they were spied on and have come forward, will also be excluded. Another deliberate choice by the Inquiry is to refuse to livestream the proceedings.
After this week, the hearings will be conducted in secret. Despite that fact that secure livestreams have been set up due to Covid-19, only the text will be made available after the proceedings have finished.
As already stated, over five years into the Inquiry many victims still have no documents. Many more have no names or photographs that would answer otherwise impossible, unanswerable questions.
People giving evidence who were spied on during this time were only provided with relevant documents - a total of 5,263 pages - five weeks ago. Attempting to read all of them before the start is roughly equivalent to reading all of Lord of the Rings twice a week for five weeks straight.
No diversity, no understanding
The Inquiry's Chair, Sir John Mitting, is not just preventing the victims' access to full understanding, he's determined to prevent his own. From the very beginning, calls have been made for a diverse panel of people with relevant life experience to advise and guide the Inquiry. This is standard practice for other inquiries, yet Mitting refuses to follow precedent.
The goal of this Inquiry should be to unflinchingly and honestly deal with institutional sexism, racism, and attacks on workers' rights and the conditions of the disadvantaged. As an old white cis male Knight of the Realm who is a member of the men-only Garrick Club and finds the Macpherson definition of institutional racism 'controversial', comprehending these realities is beyond him.
As Ruth Brander, representing the Non Police/ State Core Participants, told him this week, 'With respect, the concern is you, sir'.
A wise and impartial man would ask for help. Instead, Mitting refuses the offer of information that would increase the chances of a fair conclusion to the proceedings.
Weekly Report 2
9-13 November 2020
After seven days of opening statements, and six years since it was first announced, the Undercover Policing Inquiry finally started taking evidence from witnesses this week.
This phase of the Inquiry concerned the earliest days of the Metropolitan Police's spycops unit, the Special Operations Squad (later called the Special Demonstration Squad), for the years 1968-72.
The week began with the final opening statements from the significantly affected people whom the Inquiry has designated 'core participants'.
Some came from the women deceived into relationships by officers, many of whom were directly responsible for the uncovering of the spycops who abused them. We touch on their accounts here, but cannot do full justice to these often harrowing stories.
On Wednesday, we heard from the very first witness, Tariq Ali. A 77-year old journalist, writer and broadcaster who has been politically active most of his life, Ali was spied on by many undercovers, right from the inception of the units in 1968 through to the 2000s. And for the first time we heard the undercovers themselves, with three sessions on the final two days from officers who were part of the unit when it was formed.
Given breadth of the hearings, in this report we will focus on bringing out the main themes and highlights of the week, rather than going into specific detail. All of the detailed daily reports can be found on our UCPI public inquiry page.
The opening statements heard this week powerfully repeated points those who were spied on have been arguing for years.
They put the case that in order to get to the truth, we need to know:
Another point reinforced was the demand, argued for years now, that the Inquirys Chair, Sir John Mitting, urgently needs the assistance of an advisory panel, made up of people with more life experience and expertise than him. It is clear he lacks the understanding to investigate the institutional racism and sexism which lie at the heart of this scandal.
These initial problems with the Undercover Policing Inquiry, and more, are detailed in our report from last week.
NEW PROBLEMS: LIVE STREAMING & REPORTING
Although this was already known about last week, the loss of public access to the live-streaming of the hearings from Wednesday morning has caused even more than the expected difficulties. A few things changed in light of protests from those attending, but there are still significant problems for those present and those prevented from attending.
There is considerable upset that people could only follow it properly by travelling to central London during a pandemic. However, Mitting is still flatly refusing to live-stream the whole thing on 'security grounds', even though other inquiries dealing with sensitive material, such as Grenfell and Manchester Arena, are live-streaming their hearings.
It's clear it's technically possible; it was done for the seven days of opening statements. Indeed, Mitting is still permitted his own personal live-stream, and two more are in the rooms provided for no more than 60 people to watch proceedings. The rest of the world had to deal with video of a live transcript of what was being said. One core participant trying to follow it described it as watching 'speeded up Ceefax'.
IMPOSSIBLE TO FOLLOW
Another problem was that many of the documents being referred to were not shown, making it near impossible to follow some of the key details. The video feed couldn't be rewound to check things that had been said. If you missed something, that was it.
This led to outright anger from some of the media, as well as victims' lawyers. Journalists said it was making it impossible for them to report on issues. Many people trying to follow it from elsewhere were bitterly frustrated with how difficult it had become. These complaints resulted in some minor improvements such as a different video process and the documents being released on the same day.
The Inquiry video venue is also proving problematic for those attending; the two live-stream rooms are windowless and unventilated.
Another significant issue this week is Mitting's continuing refusal to let the real name of spycop 'Carlo Neri', which is Carlo Soracchi, be used in proceedings. This is on the application of his ex-wife.
Soracchi was deployed 2001-2006, infiltrating trade union, socialist and anti-fascist groups.
Mitting's ban on anyone saying his real name has affected two of the women he deceived into relationships, and the Blacklist Support Group (BSG).
As a result, Dave Smith of the BSG was unable to give his Opening Statement. This is despite the fact that Soracchi's name has been out in public for quite some time, reported in newspapers and on social media.
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED IN THE SECOND WEEK OF UCPI HEARINGS?
One of the most shocking facts to emerge this week is that many of the abuses, previously portrayed as the unsanctioned acts of rogue officers that were only perpetrated in recent years, have all been going on since the very beginnings of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS). These include:
POLICE FOCUS ON VIOLENCE
A repeated theme this week has entailed barristers for the Inquiry asking about the violent tendencies of protestors, and the protestors emphasising the peaceful nature of most of the groups and campaigns they were part of.
Back in October 1968, protestors were asked not to bring fireworks and marbles to the demonstration against the Vietnam War, let alone anything else. Tariq Ali edited left-wing magazine Black Dwarf which published an article titled 'Softly, Softly' which stressed that, to ensure the protestors' buses made it to the demonstration, nothing should be carried that could give the police cause to stop them.
A decade later, Ali was the Socialist Unity parliamentary candidate in Southall. During a confrontation between the National Front and anti-racists, local organisers put Ali in a safe house to keep him out of any trouble.
Police raided the house and the occupants, including Ali, were made to run a police gauntlet as they were ejected. Ali was truncheoned so severely that he passed out. The skull of the man he was with was fractured, leaving him in a coma for five months.
That was the same day, and in the same area, that Blair Peach - who we have already heard about in this Inquiry - was killed by the police. When the police unit responsible for killing Peach had its lockers searched, weapons found included a crowbar, metal cosh, whip handle, stock ship, brass handle, knives, American-style truncheons, a rhino whip and a pickaxe handle.
When considering which groups were the most violent and heavily armed, the police - with their arsenal of illegal weapons, aggressive attitude and fatal injuries - were clearly more of a threat than the activists.
Tariq Ali told the Inquiry in a written statement:
'my strong feeling is that this Inquiry is likely to be a monumental waste of time. This is because the direction of travel is clear from the questions - to dissect the politics of the victims of police spying, and therefore to turn the spotlight away from the actions of the police. This is the politics of "blame the victim".'
INSITUTIONAL RACISM & SEXISM
Undercover political policing's core traits of institutional racism and sexism aren't news to anyone who has been following this topic, but the more evidence is heard at the Inquiry, the more inescapably obvious it becomes.
Some of the most shocking testimony this week came from the women activists who were deceived into intimate and often long-term relationships by spycops.
Phillippa Kaufmann QC and Heather Williams QC spoke on behalf of over twenty of them; we cover this in detail in Monday's summary of events. Kaufmann's written statement gives further details of each woman's story, and we strongly recommend that you read it.
Kaufmann also highlighted how both opening statements last week by Counsel for the Inquiry and whistle-blower spycop Peter Francis severely understated the role the women have played in exposing the spycops scandal. It was the women who, in the aftermath of their 'loved one' disappearing, uncovered the truth. Their unflinching determination cannot be overlooked.
Trying to summarise their evidence in this report cannot do it justice. Many of their experiences, in their own words, are gathered on the Police Spies Out Of Lives site and should be read there.
On Tuesday, the leading focus was the targeting of Black family justice campaigns and groups. In particular, we heard from the barristers representing Doreen and Neville Lawrence, The Monitoring Group, and Mike Mansfield QC. The Inquiry was reminded again of how it has an uphill struggle to even convince these core participants that it is capable of preventing yet further injustice, let alone of tackling the issue of institutional racism.
'YOU WILL BE SILENCED'
Sir John Mitting, who is so sure of his own lack of bias that he's refused input from any perspective other than his own, has treated Rajiv Menon QC, barrister for the victims of spycops, very poorly.
As the very first police witness gave evidence, Menon wanted to ask a series of questions. Mitting was clearly unhappy with this, describing his own decision to permit Menon questions on a single issue as 'exceptional, and I do not propose to invite you to ask questions on any other topic'.
Menon tried to protest and explain why it was important for the non-police core participants, at which point Mitting's hostility became overt, telling Menon to obey or 'you will be silenced'.
On Wednesday, Menon questioned Tariq Ali about a closed meeting of the Stop the War Coalition steering committee in 2003. As the public were not allowed at this meeting, the report must have come from a committee member or a recording device.
Mitting's reaction to this simple statement was extraordinary: immediately and forcefully interrupting to warn Menon that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 prohibits any reference to intercepting communications unless Mitting deems it necessary in advance. 'You will be committing an offence if you persist', he intoned. 'I would warn you not to'.
Menon, a barrister of 26 years' experience and well aware of the law, explained that he was talking about the committee being bugged by a recording device, rather than an interception of communications, and therefore, the Act doesn't apply. Mitting apologised, but it's clear that he is giving Menon very little credit, and even less chance to pursue vital lines of questioning.
Mitting's attitude and performance so far fall completely in line with the overarching theme that the State and the spycops are there to support each other in maintaining the norms and values of the current government.
Spying upon anyone who they wanted to spy on was not only justified, but good, simply because they did it. National security, public order, and the convenience of the government of the day were fully interchangeable concepts for them. Any intrusion was justified because every citizen is a potential subversive.
Joan Hillier said that personal details - dates of birth, home addresses, etc - of those not even suspected of anything untoward would be routinely added to Special Branch files 'in case it was needed in the future'.
By the spycops' own admission, their aims were hazy, their training ranged from the informal to the non-existent, and they often didn't feel like they accomplished anything.
On Thursday, Counsel to the Inquiry David Barr quoted from spycop John Graham's written statement on Special Branch's role regarding policing political groups:
'I understood the role of Special Branch to be carrying out enquiries concerning the security of the State, in other words gathering intelligence on activities that sought to undermine the status quo, the government of the day and the political establishment'.
The conflation of national security with the convenience and policy of the government has always been a central factor in what spycops do. This Inquiry is, thus far, no different from the spycops' operations.
There will be three more days of evidence from police (Monday, Wednesday and Thursday), with the possibility of unfinished things being heard on Tuesday and/or Friday.
After that, the Inquiry will take a break to assess what it's heard. It will be back next year for another batch of hearings covering the SDS 1973-82. That's currently expected to be around April 2021.
Hearings concerning the SDS 1983-1992 are expected in the first half of 2022, and those examining the SDS 1993-2007 are likely to take place in the first half of 2023.
Some time later there'll be hearings on the National Public Order Intelligence Unit 1999-2011, then other undercover policing, then mid and senior rank officers, other agencies and government departments.
The Undercover Policing Inquiry has no set end-date, but is expected to perhaps conclude around 2026.
For full daily and weekly reports, see the COPS UCPI Public Inquiry page: