Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 51 Number 5, February 13, 2021 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

What Next? Spycops Inquiry Hearing

Undercover Policing Inquiry Holds One-Day Hearing

Police on horseback charge demonstrators against the Vietnam war at Grosvenor Square, March 17 1968.

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."

Rajiv Menon QC, representing a number of the NPSCPs

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:


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