20 November: protest at High Court as public inquiry reaches turning point

On Monday 20 November there will be a protest at the Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand, London WC2A from 9am-10am. Core participants and those who campaign on spycops will air their grievances over the conduct of the public inquiry, now dragging into its third year.

This preliminary hearing takes place at a pivotal stage and is due to last three days. Sir John Mitting, appointed as chair when Christopher Pitchford retired due to ill-health, is scheduled to give “a statement on the future conduct to the inquiry.” No-one is quite sure what he will say but most of his decisions so far can only give reasons for foreboding.

In early August Mitting issued a series of “minded to” notes in which he appeared to discard the principle of openness and instead grant undercover police officers almost blanket anonymity, regardless of the grounds. For example, he was minded not to reveal the identity of a spycop active in the late 1960s because his widow fears media intrusion, despite saying: “There is no risk to [her] safety and minimal risk of intrusive interest in [his family] even if his real name were to be published’.

The inquiry was precipitated by revelations over the Met’s spying on the family of murdered teenager, Stephen Lawrence. It is one of the central issues and probably the one with most public concern. Yet even here Mitting indicated he was willing to consider full anonymity and would determine this by holding closed hearings.

Core participants are outraged by Mitting’s bias towards the police. In September 13 women who were deceived into intimate relationships with spies wrote to Home Secretary Amber Rudd, requesting a meeting. The accused the Met of “institutional sexism” and said they saw Mitting’s appointment and conduct as part of that problem, given he is a member of the all male Garrick Club.

In October  a second letter was sent by 115 of the core participants. It asks Mitting to respond to five questions:

1.What steps will be taken to ensure that all undercover identities are released as soon as possible, and when can we expect that to happen?

2. What steps will be taken to ensure that the names of the 1,000 or so groups spied upon by undercover police officers are released as soon as possible, and when can we expect that to happen?

3. What steps will be taken to conserve, and speed up disclosure of the evidence controlled by the MPS, in order to allow the victims of undercover policing to understand the extent to which their lives have been affected?

5. What measures will be taken to the tackle the significant financial and power imbalance between the MPS and victims of police spying within the Inquiry?

6. Most importantly, what steps will be taken to ensure that the Inquiry is open and transparent, so that the public and NSCPs can have confidence in its findings?

The full letter and list of signatories is here:  http://campaignopposingpolicesurveillance.com/2017/10/24/victims-of-undercover-policing-call-on-inquiry/

The legal submissions made by the CP’s solicitors accused Mitting of departing from the agenda set by his predecessor, Pitchford, ignoring the rights of victims in this scandal and also making basing decisions on police information only, without hearing evidence from other affected parties. Yet more pressure was applied when a meeting on spycops in Parliament, which included Neville Lawrence and the Lawrence family’s lawyer Imran Khan, unanimously agreed that Mitting should be sacked.

On 23 October Mitting issued a “supplementary minded-to note” in which he appeared to give ground to certain concerns which were raised. He accepts there is a “compelling public interest in getting to the truth about HN81’s deployment” which means the cover name of that spycop must be released for the inquiry to be effective. HN81 is the cypher for the officer who infiltrated the Lawrence family. He is also minded to devulge the cover names of two more spies, HN16 and HN26, for similar reasons.

But before we get too excited, it should be noted that he has not backtracked on giving full anonymity to HN7, a decision taken without allowing submissions from CPs or their lawyers. According to an article entitled Mounting pressure on spycop inquiry chair published on 26 October at https://www.byline.com/column/60/article/1907

The Chair of the Inquiry’s recent response does not dispel the concern that he intends to reverse Pitchford’s commitment to openness and transparency. Mitting has said he will give a statement on the conduct of the inquiry at the next hearing, now scheduled for 20 November. It is fair to say that campaigners and core participants await it with foreboding. The Chair will have to shift position quite considerably to convince them that he is not as much part of the problem as the police are in hampering the conduct of the Inquiry.

This makes it all the more imperative for people to attend the demonstration on 20 November and then go to court 76 to listen to what Mitting has to say.  For most of the CPs it will be make or break time for the inquiry.

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