Seven women who suffered at the hands of undercover police officers posing as political activists have taken their case to the United Nations. They argue the UK Government’s failure to prevent institutionalised discrimination caused serious psychological harm as they were deceived into long term intimate relationships with five different spycops for nearly 25 years. The UK is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), under which the case is being brought.
Although the Met issued an unreserved apology in 2015 it refused to disclose information about the operations. Moreover none of the officers or their supervisors have ever been prosecuted or sanctioned and the UK government has failed to amend UK law to explicitly make such relationships an offence.
Helen Steel, one of those behind the case, said: “Our central aim…is to make sure that these abusive relationships are not allowed to happen again. The repeated use of women in this way by undercover policemen is a form of discrimination against women and a barrier to women’s rights to participate in protest activity.”
“Lisa”, another of the applicants, added: “In signing up to this Convention, the UK has committed itself to work to end discrimination against women. If the committee finds against the UK it will be a huge embarrassment and will shine a spotlight on the institutional sexism in the police and the government’s ongoing failure to outlaw these abusive practices.”
The case has been launched to coincide with the 16 days of action called by the United Nations that commenced with International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25th November and culminates in Human Rights Day on 10th December.
Meanwhile this week the Met made a landmark admission at a preliminary hearing for Kate Wilson, one of eight women tricked into intimate relationships by undercover officers, who sued the police in 2011. They alleged deceit, assault, misfeasance in public office and negligence. Unlike the other women, Kate’s relationship (with Mark Kennedy) occurred after the Human Rights Act 1998, which meant she was entitled to bring a claim for breach of her human rights.
The Met’s 2015 apology stated the “relationships were a violation of the women’s human rights, an abuse of police power and caused significant trauma”, but they didn’t state which human rights had been violated. Finally, six years after Kate brought the action and and two years since the Met admitted breaching human rights, it accepted Kennedy’s actions as a police officer were indeed a breach of articles 3 and 8
Article 3 is “no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” There can never be any justifications, excuses or exceptions to breaching article 3.
Article 8 – “everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence” – is conditional. There can be grounds for breaking it and these include “national security, economic wellbeing of the country, prevention of disorder or crime and protection the rights and freedoms of others.”
The Met’s admission it breached Kate’s Article 8 rights has enormous implications for it concedes it had no legitimate grounds for its conduct such as national security or protecting the public. In the past senior police officers have claimed that Kate and other activists were a serious threat and that justified using agents like Kennedy to intrude into their lives in the most intimate way possible.
This concession will no doubt be seized on by the legal team representing non-state core participants in the public inquiry to bring more pressure on the chair, John Mitting, to release the cover names of every spycop. Only by doing that will victims have enough information to come forward to the inquiry.