'Wall of silence’ threatens Undercover Policing Inquiry

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

The police are building a near 'impenetrable wall of silence' around some of their most secret and harmful practices, according to a new report out today.

The report shows that over six years on from revelations about police infiltration of political activist groups, and more than two years since the establishment of a public inquiry to investigate their activity, little more has come to light about undercover policing practices.

The report, The undercover policing of political protest, comes the week before the Chair of the public inquiry into undercover policing, Sir John Mitting, is expected to give a statement on the future conduct of the inquiry. A number of those who were spied on by the police are deeply concerned about Sir John's willingness to conduct the inquiry in an open and transparent manner.

The police are estimated to have infiltrated more than 1,000 activist and campaigning groups since 1968. Undercover police officers befriended activists, in some cases having intimate relationships with them. In 2014 the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, established the Undercover Policing Inquiry to get to the bottom of what she described as the ‘profoundly shocking and disturbing’ revelations.

Today’s report demonstrates:

  • Review and accountability processes have failed to bring significant new information into the public domain.
  • The troubling progress the public inquiry into these matters has made. Now over two years into its original three-year timetable, the Undercover Policing Inquiry has yet to hold a public evidence hearing. It likely will not do so until 2019.

The report is published at a critical time, when the public inquiry into these practices is deciding the extent to which former undercover officers’ cover names will remain anonymous in the inquiry – a matter considered key to a full and frank account emerging.

Author of the briefing, Helen Mills, Senior Associate at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, said:

It’s hard to imagine a more intrusive use of police power than their posing as someone else, entering long-term relationships on this basis and keeping up this deception, often for years. For those violated by these practices, finding out what happened and why is so important.

Police spying also raises critical questions about the accountability of policing in an open, democratic society. Who authorised these operations? Why? With what legal authority? Are these practices still going on?

Answering these questions should be a matter of urgency. The slow progress of the Undercover Policing Inquiry means that many victims of police spying, as well as wider public, are questioning whether the police will ever be held to account by the people they purportedly serve.

Suresh Grover, Director of The Monitoring Group, and spied upon activist participating in the Inquiry said:

This is one of the most important Inquiries of recent times. It has the power to expose how democracy was subverted by police anxious to quell powerful justice campaigns and political protests. It also has the power to safeguard the right to protest. These aims will not be achieved if it continues to hide behind secrecy and slide towards a cover-up.

Stafford Scott, Coordinator of the Tottenham Rights project and a non-state core participant representing Broadwater Farm Defence Campaign said:

If the police have their way, this will be the most secretive public inquiry to have ever taken place. It will be a public inquiry where even the victims of the spycops will not be allowed to see the faces, or learn of the identities, of the police officers. We need a very public inquiry, where no officer of the state is allowed to hide behind their office. A public inquiry where the search for truth far outweighs the needless secrecy and cover up that we are currently witnessing.