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What Next? Spycops Inquiry Hearing
Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis
Spycops Inquiry Hearing:
Starmer Must Give Evidence to Inquiry, Say Activists Fitted Up by Spycops
Make Work Safe:
No More Deaths! Railway Worker Killed While Working on Track
The Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI) held a one-day hearing on January 26, with the aim of discussing how future hearings involving witnesses will be organised. The next set of hearings of evidence, covering the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) activities from from 1973-82, are currently set to take place in April and July. The first hearings covered the period from 1968-72, particularly on the infiltration by the state of the people's movement in this country against the US-led war against the Vietnamese people's struggle for national liberation.
The context of the January 26 hearing was the way the UCPI and the work done by the Undercover Research Group has itself exposed the extent of the criminality of the so-called "spycops", a criminality which the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS or "SpyCops") Bill now seeks to legalise, as does the Overseas Operations Bill in terms of military criminality.
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 resumed under retired judge Sir John Mitting on November 2 last year. 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. As the official website of the UCPI says: "The work of the Inquiry covers the full scope of undercover policing work across England and Wales. Two undercover policing units - the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) - have particular prominence for the Inquiry; however, its work is not restricted to these units."
As the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance (COPS) points out, far from summing up that it is the preferences of the police which have been given undue attention in the first tranche of hearings, rather than those of the "non-police/state core participants" (NPSCPs), who have been the targets of the undercover police, the Inquiry devoted much of its focus to issues which were "procedural or legal in nature, focusing on the conduct of particular aspects of the hearings, or the underlying points of law which different parties were relying on to argue their point".
In discussing the proceedings of January 26, the COPS website points out: "However, in amongst it, various bits of important information emerged. In particular, we learned that the majority of the pre-1995 files did not come from Metropolitan Police Service's Special Branch (which had overseen the Special Demonstration Squad). Rather they were obtained from elsewhere - which the begs the question whether they came from MI5. And if not them, where? Perhaps less surprising was the Inquiry's Chair, Sir John Mitting, commenting that he had seen little mention in the formal reports of relationships that undercovers had deceived their targets into. Heather Williams QC, representing many of those women, made the salient point that this was precisely why the women deserved full access to their files, as only they could give the nuanced interpretation needed to show where it was hidden."
The stance of the Metropolitan Police Service in regard to the Inquiry was a fulcrum of the one-day hearing. In a letter to the Inquiry, the Director of Legal Services of the Metropolitan Police had taken issue with the allegations that the MPS had been obstructive to the proceedings of the Inquiry. Responding, Rajiv Menon QC, representing a number of the NPSCPs, said:
"Specific complaint is made in the letter of what was said in our opening statement, namely that: 'The police have used every weapon in their arsenal and spared no expense to obfuscate, obstruct, undermine and delay an open, transparent and fearless public inquiry into undercover policing.'
"You [Mitting] have address this letter this morning, sir, in your introductory remarks, and have effectively confirmed what the Metropolitan Police Service have asked you to do, namely that there is no basis for the allegation that the Inquiry's work has been or is being obstructed by the Metropolitan Police Service....
"[The lawyers for police core participants] continue to suggest that it is the Non-State Core Participants who are responsible for the Inquiry not being as inquisitorial as it should be. We say nothing is further from the truth is in fact the correct position.
"If the Non-State Core Participants are marginalised, as we say they have been, and prevented, through their lawyers, from participating effectively and meaningfully in the Inquiry, if the State's obsession with secrecy is permitted to have a foothold in this Inquiry at the expense of openness and transparency, then it can hardly come as a surprise that there is, at times, an adversarial air to the proceedings.
"It should never be forgotten, in our submission, that it is the Non-State Core Participants who are the victims in this Inquiry of abuses of power by the State, in some circumstances with the most devastating of consequences.
"The former undercover police officers, with respect, are not victims and should never be treated as such."
It is becoming clear that the Inquiry is in danger of being in contempt of its own aims, namely to "get to the truth about undercover policing across England and Wales since 1968 and provide recommendations for the future". Its terms of reference indeed provide the seeds of this danger when Theresa May stressed that the Inquiry should look at "historical failings" and that "any allegation that the police misused this power [undercover policing] must be taken seriously". In other words, not surprisingly, the Inquiry is prejudiced to draw the line between use and misuse of police powers rather than drawing back the veil to uncover the truth of how these police powers are and have been fundamental to the state's attempts to disorient and crush the people's movements. In that sense, their use is synonymous with their misuse. Furthermore, the Inquiry sets out to lead those that authorise the police powers even farther away from accountability.
It is necessary to right the wrongs committed by the undercover agents, or "spycops". The question "is this still happening" is ostensibly on the agenda of the Inquiry, as well as the demand that the impunity with which these officers acted be ended. In addition, the historical role of "public inquiries" to cover over rather than uncover the truth of injustices, and to attempt to snuff out the people's anger at the dictate of the state, is not going unnoticed. In the case of the Mitting Inquiry, the issue of the "security risk" of live streaming of the proceedings is being raised by the police representatives, without the necessary discussion among the targets of the policing, and among the public in general, about what constitutes such a "security risk", and about whose security is at risk. The police are demanding anonymity for the "spycops" be preserved. The proceedings, even so far, are showing how the criminal and provocateur activity of the state is itself directed against the people's security.
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. Above all it is for an end to the governance of police powers and for an end to a police state, a state in which it is the police who decide on justice and other matters. The people it is who must be the decision-makers!
See also these articles from Workers' Weekly:
For the full COPS account of the one-day hearing, see:
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.
Following the government's instructions to the people living in areas affected by the South African variant of Covid-19, the transport union RMT have exposed both Transport for London (TfL) and Merseyrail for their disregard of these rules, and the government for its complicity through inaction. On February 1, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told people living in any of a set of postcodes across the country identified as centres of the new variant to stay at home, and that these areas would be targeted for surge testing. Ignoring the safety measure, TfL and Merseyrail have instructed staff living in these areas to attend work as normal if they cannot work from home. RMT has condemned the move and has called on the government to exercise public authority over these transport employers.
The ruling circles are finding themselves at an impasse, simply unable to deal with the Covid crisis. Meanwhile, business just wants workers to work, causing major problems in the pursuit of narrow private interests. That is just as much the case for employers such as TfL and Merseyrail, which are officially public bodies. These bodies are either directly connected with private interests via corporate entities such as Network Rail, which retain an element of public-private partnership, or are connected through playing their key infrastructure role in a socialised economy that is divided into competing privately-owned parts, in which business at large demands transport continue to run. The transport employers operate on the business model as state-run capitalist enterprises, claiming from the massive value their workers create in fulfilling this key role.
In doing this work, carrying out their productive activity, transport workers are facing dangers every day in the present health crisis. It is with these workers that the solution lies, in whose direct interest it is to solve the problem of their conditions of health and safety at work, as part and parcel of the health of society as a whole in all its aspects. They are speaking out but finding that their voice is ignored by those in authority. Whether it is transport workers, teachers, health professionals, whoever, the ability to have any say in any situation is at issue: workers are just being ignored.
The workers speaking out on all the circumstances of life find themselves speaking against those who assume the right to speak in their name. The workers demand that their voice be heard; they are not to be ignored. They reject imposition by their employers. They also demand that their voice be reflected in the political arrangements and mechanisms of decision-making. They demand arrangements that guarantee their rights, and demand arrangements that guarantee them to have a say; to have, in fact, the decisive role in decision-making.
They require an economy that is not in contradiction with their interests or the general interests of society. There is a necessity for transport to take place. These workers create massive value - it is for this very reason that their employers want them to work, they want to claim that value - but the workers therefore have a claim first of all. They have rights, and also expectations that they work in a safe environment.
The transport networks that exist must be have the aim of fulfilling the general interest of society and the rights and interests of the transport workers safeguarded. It must not be that transport is directed to satisfying narrow priority interests. "The economy" is equated with narrow private interests, which of course are all in competition with each other. In contradiction with the general interests of society and people's well-being, these narrow private interests are made the central aim.
Transport plays a vital role in production. Transport workers themselves produce value because they are, through their work, doing something of use for the rest of the economy. Not only that, but it is also the case that the rest of business is not paying for that value. Rather, it is funded through individual taxation or private customers' fares. Further, business, benefiting from that transport, does not concern itself with whether its activities are in the social interest. In every aspect, the present direction of the economy conflicts with the well-being of the transport workers and the entire population. A change in direction is required.
What is laid down by the government as "guidelines" and "rules" amounts to nothing if it is just made an individual matter about workers staying at home where they can. It immediately comes into contradiction with, and acts to conceal, these powerful private interests who run transport saying: you must come to work.
The key is for the workers to mobilise themselves around the demand to change the direction of the economy and for a solution in which people speak in their own name. It is the people themselves who have to be part of, must make themselves part of, solving the problem.
Statements of Mick Cash, RMT General Secretary
On February 2, RMT General Secretary Mick Cash wrote to TfL Commissioner Andy Byford condemning its guidance that workers in affected postcodes should come into work, saying:
"Your position, in clear contradiction of the government's statement, has understandably caused mass dismay and anxiety among London Underground and TfL members and we are dealing with the consequences of that now. You appear to be calling people to come to work who have just been urged by the government to stay at home, putting themselves, their families, communities and work colleagues at risk in the process.
"This is totally unacceptable. You need to take back control of this situation rapidly. I am asking that you write to all TfL staff now amending this guidance to reflect the government's position before this situation escalates any further."
Then on February 4, he wrote to the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, demanding action. He said:
"RMT members want to support the government approach to halting the spread of this variant, but can only do this by staying at home until their testing is complete and they are informed that it is safe to return to their normal work pattern. It is therefore highly irresponsible of their employers to be advising them to do otherwise, particularly as research has shown that a third of those with the virus do not have symptoms and as many of these staff work in public facing roles.
"I therefore write requesting that you urgently clarify your advice to transport employers whose staff live, or travel into, the relevant postcode areas."
Mick Cash said:
"I have written to the Transport Secretary demanding the government give clear advice to transport employers whose staff live, or travel into, areas that have been hit by the new South African strain of Coronavirus.
"Our members on TfL and Merseyrail are frontline workers who have kept transport running through a global pandemic in which Britain has been one of the hardest hit countries. They should not be put at further unnecessary risk.
"All we are asking for is that the government show consistency and clarity with the instructions Matt Hancock gave the public yesterday and direct these major transport organisations to follow the restrictions that are in place to help halt the spread of the virus."
GMB on February 5 announced 12 more days of British Gas strike action in the fire and rehire dispute which is now expected to continue until at least April. The fresh industrial action will be in three lots of four-day strikes, each beginning at 00.01 hours on February 12, February 19 and February 26 - ending at 23.59 on March 1.
Around 7,000 British Gas engineers have stood firm during 12 days of industrial action in anger against imposed cuts to their terms and conditions which would see many expected to work up to 150 extra unpaid hours a year. GMB points out that there are more than 170,000 homes in a backlog for repairs and 200,000 planned annual service visits have been axed by the company.
The action of the workers at British Gas is taking place in the conditions of the economic and Covid-19 crises where, despite companies like British Gas continuing to increase the value extracted from the workers, "fire and rehire" is being used more widely by the rich who dictate terms. It is on the way to becoming a "new normal", as happened with "zero-hours" contracts and the gig economy.
As Workers' Weekly has pointed out: "Workers will not stand for this, and that is why so many voted for strike action. They refuse to be treated as a so-called human resource on the one hand and a cost on the other. It is not a confrontation they wanted, but it is the company that ruptured relations; striking was a 'last resort' from the workers' perspective. But workers accepted their stand as necessary faced with the attitude and response of Centrica. There should be no sackings, conditions should not be arbitrarily determined by the company, and there should be no imposition of new contracts without discussion. The workers know that in the end, it is matter of who is in control and who decides."
GMB is asking people to sign this letter to the board of British Gas
Financial support is also welcome via contributions to the strike fund
Justin Bowden, GMB national secretary, said:
"GMB's Central Executive Council (CEC) concluded the British Gas CEO is doubling down on his fire and rehire cuts in pay and conditions for Field staff.
"In response, the CEC determined on strike action through to mid-April.
"Mr O'Shea is pressing on despite telling Parliament his acceptance of dodgy legal advice led to strikes and the breakdown of trust with his field staff.
"This in turn has led to more than 170,000 households already in a backlog for repairs and 200,000 service visits axed.
"The 83% figure is not relevant in that it mainly includes staff from other bargaining groups.
"The majority of the field staff are not prepared to accept the imposed cuts to pay and conditions.
"Mr O'Shea threw down the gauntlet to the gas engineers on hated fire and rehire and they picked it up.
"The CEC determined they should be supported on behalf of the entire membership of the union and other union members.
"Longer term, the practice of fire and rehire should be outlawed.
"The CEC will consider the matter again at its April meeting."
Tyler Byrne, a railway track worker from Aldershot, died after being struck by a train in south-west London. Emergency services were called to Surbiton railway station on South Western Railway (SWR) shortly before midday on Tuesday, February 9. Tyler Byrne, who was 30 and worked for Network Rail, was pronounced dead at the scene. Two other workers who were nearby are not thought to have been hurt. Workers' Weekly expresses its sincerest condolences to Tyler's family, friends and fellow-workers.
British Transport Police (BTP) said that its officers were working with the Office of Rail and Road and the Rail Accident Investigation Branch to establish the full circumstances behind Tyler Byrne's death. The incident happened between Surbiton and Weybridge and it is understood that Tyler was working on the tracks at the time.
The TSSA union general secretary Manuel Cortes said: "Any loss of life on our railways is a tragedy. It would be wrong to speculate at this time about what has gone wrong, but a full and thorough investigation must take place, so lessons can be learned. Our union has been warning Network Rail about the alarming number of near misses and fatalities we have seen over the past year.
"Our Network Rail members do so much to keep our railways running smoothly day in day out and must be able to do this in a safe environment. Our union will never compromise on safety, and safety can never be taken for granted. It is simply not acceptable in this day and age that people go out to work and end up losing their lives."
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