On Tuesday 7 February a judge at Belfast High Court gave permission for a judicial review of the Home Secretary’s insistence that the Pitchford Inquiry should not cover the activities of police spies in Northern Ireland (NI).
The case was brought by Jason Kirkpatrick, an anti-globalisation activist who is a Core Participant in the UCPI because he was spied on by Mark Kennedy in England.
However, Kennedy also spied on Kirkpatrick in Scotland, NI, the Irish Republic and Germany. He was told that evidence on that to the Pitchford inquiry will not be followed up and included in the Inquiry report because the terms of reference only cover England and Wales.
His lawyers argued it is absurd for Pitchford to investigate the activities of officers such as Mark Kennedy in England and Wales but for that to stop at the border when he enters NI and restart again when he gets back to England or Wales.
This argument has been supported by two different NI Ministers of Justice who wrote to the Home Secretary that it is ‘imperative‘ the inquiry can follow the evidence of the activities of undercover officers working for UK units such as the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) if they are found to gone to NI.
The court then heard that the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) have now been told by the Met in London that officers from the SDS and NPOIU entered NI on a number of occasions and also spied on the families of people murdered in The Troubles. The Met has contacted one family to inform them officers from the SDS attended demonstrations supporting their campaign, and another family will be contacted soon.
PSNI’s Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton says they were “completely blind” about spycops even entering Northern Ireland, let alone spying on political activists there. This raises serious questions about authorisation and accountability, as well as the dangers officers put themselves and others in. Hamilton described the deployments as “an act of madness”.
The PSNI have reviewed thousands of spycops-related documents provided by the Met relating to NI, and there is still a lot of material to review. They warned some of those activities may have implications for legacy investigations into the Troubles. Due to this the PSNI has also written to the Home Secretary to request the Pitchford Inquiry be extended to NI.
Ben Emmerson QC bluntly accused the Home Office of taking a ‘brass monkey attitude’ of “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil – just turn a blind eye” and described their decision-making process as “hopeless… flawed from the top to bottom and frankly embarrassingly bad”.
For their part, counsel for the Home Secretary appeared to have little to say, although they did claim that there is no need to expand the terms of reference. Apparently they believe the Pitchford Inquiry was not set up to consider ‘every specific incident’, and that the terms of reference only require it to look at ‘more general, systemic issues’, for which, counsel claimed, a few examples of incidents from England and Wales would be sufficient.
Letters from the Home Office also indicated that the ‘particular history of Northern Ireland’ means that extending the investigation to Northern Ireland could be ‘costly’ and is ‘not in the public interest’.
The judge, Mr Justice Maguire, seemed to disagree, and granted leave to have a full Judicial Review, which will take place in about 10 weeks’ time. He said perhaps in the future, the Home Office could provide compelling reasons why they should not open the inquiry up to include this jurisdiction. They certainly did not manage to do so yesterday.
All this raises the question of Scottish inclusion in the Pitchford Inquiry. The majority of known spycops were in Scotland. Every party in the Scottish Parliament backed their government’s call to be covered by the Inquiry, but the Home Office refused.
The Scottish government responded by commissioning a whitewash from HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland. This self-investigation by police, including those implicated in undercover work, could scarcely be less credible, even before the government restricted it to only looking at the last few years of police spying.
It has been derided by campaigners who insist that if abuses are serious enough to warrant a proper public inquiry in England and Wales then they must not be ignored elsewhere. Scottish eyes will be watching Belfast in ten weeks’ time.