The Monitoring Group welcomes the announcement by the Home Secretary of the Chair of the Inquiry into Police Spying of protest groups, justice campaigns and others. This is an important step signalling her commitment to the public that the Inquiry will take place regardless of who forms the next Government and sets in motion a likely timetable for all parties to work towards.
Following on from the Ellison Review into police spying and corruption, the Home Secretary announced, in March last year, a Judge led Public Inquiry into the activities of the secretive spying unit, the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), based at New Scotland Yard. It is now confirmed that the SDS spied on family campaigns, peaceful environmentalist and animal rights protest groups. Their activities also included the use of dead children’s identities, unlawful targeting of women activists, which led to intimate relationships, fathering of children, collusion and participating in criminal activities. To date over 50 activists have had their convictions overturned as a result of further revelations and court actions.
The new Chair, Lord Justice Pitchford, may have a difficult task ahead, and the decisions he makes will influence both the parameter and character of the Inquiry.
This is a unique opportunity to right the wrongs and to develop new thinking on police accountability. The Chair must ensure that the Inquiry has the fullest and frank accounts of those police officers who were tasked to spy on campaigners. In this respect he needs to make a decisive decision as soon as he assumes his role as the Chair of the Inquiry. He must provide protection for Peter Francis, ex under cover officer and now whistleblower, so that he is not arrested or prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act. Later today we will launch an online petition demanding such action.
The Chair has a duty and the responsibility to ensure that the Inquiry, in its entire proceedings, will be open and transparent. There is strong and visible public interest in this Inquiry, and he will need to think carefully that his decisions do not suppress or stifle this interest or endanger public confidence in the process.
The Chair will need to be robust both in his objectivity and examination of facts. In this regard, he must not simply rely on the Police’s version and spin on events. He will need to think carefully on the impact of current police explanations and practices when asked to provide more information by interested parties. For instance, the policy of ’neither confirm nor deny' and the double speak of 'collateral intrusion' when explaining spying on bereaved families are both unacceptable practices that need to be addressed. Moreover police denial of institutional racism as a significant factor in their decision to spy on Black and Asian communities and family justice campaigns needs to be robustly challenged.
It is critical that all parties directly affected (and damaged) by police spying are consulted on the terms of reference and given access to public funds so that they can be legally represented at the Inquiry.
Over the coming months we will help in the process of bringing different groups together so that we can coordinate our efforts to prepare for the Inquiry. The first meeting will take place on Wednesday 25 March 2015 in Central London. If would like more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.