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Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance, February 4, 2021
A group of climate activists are calling on Labour leader Keir Starmer to give evidence to the Undercover Policing Inquiry, alleging he may have been involved in a cover-up of police and prosecutors orchestrating wrongful convictions.
The 18 activists were part of a group of 114 arrested while planning a protest against Nottinghamshire's Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal-fired power station in April 2009.
Some of them were prosecuted and convicted of conspiracy.
A further six were in a group prosecuted separately, whose trial dramatically collapsed after they discovered one of the protesters was undercover police officer Mark Kennedy.
When they asked to see Kennedy's secret evidence, rather than disclose it the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) dropped the charges. When the defendants were given transcripts of Kennedy's secret recordings of the protest planning meetings, they did indeed exonerate the six. The 20 activists convicted at the earlier trial have now had their convictions quashed.
Two reports were commissioned into the withholding of evidence from the court, one by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, another commissioned by the then-head of the CPS, Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer, who appointed Sir Christopher Rose to inquire.
The Rose report concluded that "the failures were individual, not systemic". But when making a timeline of the facts as given in the two reports, it is clear that police and prosecutors knew full well about the involvement of undercover police, and went to great lengths to keep it secret.
The pivotal CPS figure was prosecutor Nick Paul, the CPS National Co-ordinator for Domestic Extremism (an extraordinary role, given that the term "domestic extremism" has no meaning in law). Paul - who, due to Kennedy's information, was aware of the Ratcliffe protest before it happened, indeed before many of the activists involved - and was already coordinating with police.
The Guardian published extracts of an email exchange between him and more junior CPS official, Nick Cunningham, discussing the risk of the truth coming out. The Rose report attributed the failings to Cunningham rather than Paul.
Nick Paul had previously been the CPS' prosecutor in another case setting up climate activists with wrongful convictions, the Drax 29. This surely makes it a systemic issue. The Rose report includes a list of people interviewed; despite his central role in the case, Nick Paul is not mentioned.
By the time the Rose report was published in December 2011, we had learned that Jim Boyling another - wholly unrelated - undercover officer had similarly been involved in a court case in 1997 without the defence being given relevant evidence.
As DPP, Starmer handled the media on the Rose report personally, insisting that we must accept its finding that there's no systemic problem, despite journalists pointing out to him that this was untrue.
Nick Paul left the CPS immediately after the Ratcliffe case collapsed, returning to be a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, where he Starmer had previously been colleagues before they worked for the CPS. Starmer rejoined him after his tenure as DPP ended 18 months later.
The Undercover Research Group's report into the Ratcliffe case, Operation Aeroscope - A Re-examination, makes clear that there are still many serious questions unanswered.
The group of activists arrested at Ratcliffe-on-Soar in 2009 are now asking for the relevant CPS officials to be called to give evidence to the Undercover Policing Inquiry.
The Inquiry's terms of reference specify that it will examine such miscarriages of justice. It is already clear that, over decades, undercover officers from Britain's political secret police were often arrested and went through the judicial system in their fake persona, lying to courts and withholding evidence. The problem was clearly systemic, and the public deserve answers.
The full text of the statement from the group of people arrested with Mark Kennedy at Ratcliffe-on-Soar, "Call Keir Starmer to give evidence to the Undercover Policing Inquiry", January 31, 2021, is available on the COPS website.