In his first ruling as the new chair of the public inquiry into undercover policing, Sir John Mitting has given core participant status to Jessica (not her real name), the woman who as a 19 year old was deceived into a longterm intimate relationship with Andy Coles, now a Tory councillor in Peterborough.
Mitting added that “she had no reason to apply earlier than she has done to be made a core participant” because she did not find out the truth about Coles until February 2017. Being granted core participancy in “Category H Individuals in relationships with undercover officers” means the chair believes she has a special interest in the inquiry and therefore the conduct of Coles will be under examination. It also heaps further pressure on Peterborough Council to suspend Coles from his position as councillor there.
John Hilditch, Tory leader of the council, has gone out of his way to support Coles but he will now face fresh calls for the ex-spycop to be suspended. Demonstrations have taken place at the last two full council meetings and the issue has been widely covered in the local press and media.
Mitting was selected to succeed Christopher Pitchford as inquiry chair on 31 May due to the latter’s ill health – he had announced earlier this year that he suffering from motor neurone disease. Matting formally assumed the role on 26 July and said:
I join the rest of the Inquiry team in wishing Sir Christopher well, I know I have a hard act to follow. He has set up a strong framework for the Inquiry. I am committed to continuing his approach and echo his words from the start of this Inquiry: “the Inquiry’s priority is to discover the truth. This is a public inquiry to which, as the name implies, the public will have access.” I am committed to discovering the truth and will endeavour to do so in an open a manner as possible.
When Mitting was appointed , there was concern that he was far from being an ideal candidate. This centres around him being vice president of the of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, a bizarre secret court dealing with claims of government surveillance against its own citizens. The IPT sits in secret and those who bring claims are not allowed to see the evidence against them (nor are their lawyers). Not surprisingly the Court has ruled in favour of claimants in only 10 complaints out of 1,468 between 2000 and 2010.
From 2007-2012 Mitting also sat as a judge in the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, another secret court which deals with applications to deport people accused of being a threat to national security. The cases are based on secret evidence which has never been heard by either the appellants themselves or their lawyers. In many of the cases, a return to their country of origin would be likely to result in detention and a high risk of torture.
Mitting has also been criticised by spycops campaigners for being a member of the Garrick Club, a “gentlemen’s club” which doesn’t allow women members. As the public inquiry is supposed to be examining the institutional sexism of units such as the Special Demonstrations Squad and National Public Order Intelligence Unit, whose operatives systematically abused female activists, Mitting’s choice of an elite institution which symbolises male privilege and domination does not bode well.