Another hearing of the Undercover Police Public Inquiry took place at the High Court today. As usual there was a demonstration at the main entrance with core participants and their supporters demanding a transparent, accountable and just investigation of a policing scandal which is 50 years old this year.
Inside the court room, Lord Justice Mitting presided over the proceedings. At his first hearing in November, several CPs stood up and forcefully expressed their anger and dismay over the direction of the inquiry. I was there that day and the seething resentment of those present, many of whom were targeted by spycops, permeated the courtroom.
I didn’t go today but thanks to COPS, Tom Fowler and others we were kept informed on what was happening throughout the hearing via #spycops on Twitter. Those who want along did so with foreboding. And with good reason as Mitting’s statements on his “minded to” notes and rulings over the last few months have seen him almost invariably give the police what they have asked for.
There were no protests from the public gallery today but some CPs did walk out out in response to something said by Mitting. It’s not clear what that was but there must have been a collective “clunk” as jaws hit the floor after this utterance by the chair:
My point is narrower: that a spycops officer who has been married to the same woman since he was young and is still married to her is highly unlikely to have deceived women into relationships whilst undercover. I may be a little old fashioned in this.
The words are paraphrased but they are basically correct. The transcript will be on the @ucpinquiry site in the next few days. He said that a man with only one wife must always have been faithful to her. More to the point is the implication that any spycop who’s always been married to the same person does not deserve to have their record scrutinised – we should take it on trust they’re a person of good character.
Responses on Twitter were a mixture of incredulity and anger.
@fruitbatmania tweeted: “This man is either an idiot or a cynical liar. Either way I don’t have any confidence in his ability to investigate sexual and human rights abuses.”
@rachel787878 responded with: “What’s particularly worrying about this is it suggests a fundamental misunderstanding about what these spycops were doing when they slept with women activists. It lacks total insight into the psychology of these sociopathic men.” She added: ” ‘I may be considered naive and old fashioned’ regards his attitude towards married men’s fidelity to their wives. Is someone naive and old fashioned best suited to chairing an inquiry predicated on deceit and lies?”
@pavlovica31 summed up the frustration we all feel: “Time for Mr Mittens to apologise to non state core participants for conduct of inquiry so far.” But as @copwatcher put it, ” It is clear Justice Mitting does not see “non-state core participants” (people who were spied on) as anything but peripheral to the inquiry.”
In one development Mitting did agree to release the real name of the police spy who used the cover name Rick Gibson in the seventies. He was clearly reluctant to do this but found himself boxed into a corner by his previous pronouncement that any spycop entering into a relationship through their deployment should have their true identity disclosed.
Even here, however, Mitting caused bemusement by saying he would give “Mary” (the woman Gibson slept with) his real name “and if I do that she may do with the information what she wishes.” @copscampaign commented: “Extraordinary approach from the Chair of the spycops inquiry, making exposure of officers the victims’ responsibility.”
John Mitting was born in 1947 and his attitudes towards marriage and relationships are clearly, as he admits, “a little old fashioned”. He was, after all, educated at an independent catholic school and Trinity Hall, Cambridge, before being called to the bar at Gray’s Inn in 1970, thereafter spending his entire career in the rarified world of the legal/judicial profession.
He may be an expert in law but in terms of how the mores of society have developed since the sixties – the precise period covered by the spycops inquiry – he is clearly out of his depth and not fit to be in charge of such an important investigation. He should quit now.