On Wednesday and Thursday this week, groups and individuals targeted by undercover police will address a hearing of the Undercover Policing Inquiry at the Royal Courts of Justice, demanding an end to further delaying tactics by the police.
A picket has been called for 9am to 10am outside the court, in support of those targeted by political policing units for nearly 50 years. These targets include many of the individuals and organisations who founded Netpol back in 2009.
This is a general call for people to support the picket, as this hearing is crucial for the future direction of the Inquiry.
Royal Courts of Justice, the Strand, London WC2A 2LL, 9-10 am.
People spied on by undercover police are attending a hearing this week to demand
- the immediate release of the cover names used by undercover police officers, the campaigning and community groups they spied on, and the personal files held on those spied on
- that Inquiry Chair Lord Pitchford puts a stop to police cynically delaying the Inquiry to avoid disclosure of their misconduct.
- vital changes in the way the Inquiry process, to redress a massive imbalance in resources between them and the police.
Background to the Inquiry
The Undercover Policing Inquiry was announced by the then Home Secretary Theresa May in 2014, after a public outcry after revelations of widespread abuse, sexual misconduct by undercover officers and the routine targeting of activist groups, justice campaigns and the families of racist murder victims.
The two years since the Inquiry was established in 2015 have seen continual attempts by the police to delay any progress, blocking any release of documents or information on undercover officers and the units they belonged to. The police remain in possession of thousands of files on those spied on and have destroyed large amounts of this evidence.
So far the Inquiry has not made any attempt to challenge police stonewalling or order the release of evidence. In addition, the Inquiry’s rulings on how the Inquiry should be structured have restricted and curtailed how the targets of this abuse can respond – limiting our legal representation and ability to speak for ourselves to a drastic degree. By contrast, the police have access to millions in public money and large legal teams.
Police argument for further delay has centred around the need for ‘anonymity’ for undercover officers, claiming potential dangers to any officer whose identity is exposed. However, they have failed to as yet submit any applications for anonymity – while the cover names of officers involved in criminal and even terrorism trials are routinely made public.
The Inquiry was supposed to be investigating what happened to those spied on – so far every delay has benefited the institutions that carried out these abusive practices.
All the information of the abusive activities of these undercover policing units has so far been discovered by activists themselves, or by whistleblowers. The police’s aim is to prevent the release of any information or cover names of officers not already in the public domain and to put off as long as possible the exposure of their wrongdoing – if not indefinitely.
Why the hearing on 5th and 6th April is importanmt
A number of ‘core participants’ (those affected by undercover policing), who have been recognised by the Inquiry as important to its success, have in the last week made written submissions to Inquiry chair Lord Justice Pitchford. Mandated by a meeting of 40 non-state, non-police core participants, they intend to explain their concerns in person at the Inquiry preliminary hearing on 5th and 6th April. This hearing will deal with the latest police delaying and avoidance tactics – the police have applied to delay the Inquiry further and to drastically restrict the scope of the Inquiry.
Kate Wilson, who was deceived into an intimate relationship with undercover officer Mark Kennedy, and is one of the signatories of the letter, said:
“What’s being investigated by the Inquiry involves serious human rights abuses, miscarriages of justice and criminal offences by police. Yet much of the control over the evidence and proceedings has been left in the very hands of those being investigated. From what we have seen so far it is that the police have no sense of urgency about the Inquiry, in fact they have sought to prevent the victims of their abuses from finding out the truth. This creates a very real risk of compounding the harm and distress of those of us who suffered at their and who so urgently need to find truth.”
In February 2016, 133 core participants wrote to the Inquiry to express the collective view that a list of all the organisations targeted; the cover names of the individual officers who spied on activists and campaigns; and the individual Special Branch files for each pore participant group or individual, should be released.
A year on, this has still not happened.
Kate Wilson says this “demonstrates that the only reason the police are avoiding releasing the names is to avoid further revelations of human rights. Only seven cover names have been confirmed by the Inquiry and we now know the devastating impact they have had on lives. People have a right to know how they have been affected. If this inquiry is truly about justice and accountability then we need this information.”
Core participants’ submissions to this hearing also stress the need for proper representation for those affected by undercover policing in the Inquiry, drawing attention to the huge inequality of representation between them and the police, and stating that the current situation is preventing them and their lawyers from being able to engage effectively with the process.
These submissions are a reminder that all of the shocking revelations about police abuse that led to the creation of this inquiry came from campaigners themselves. Without the tireless work of the groups and individuals who were targets of that abuse, and who have endured many more invasions into our privacy in our fight to uncover the truth, the Inquiry would not exist.
There is no question that the meaningful participation of those who were targeted by the police is vital to the inquiry being able to achieve its goals.
Support the picket and the call to release the cover names and the files on campaigners.