Mass walkout at spycops inquiry over secrecy and lack of representation

There were dramatic scenes at the latest hearing of the Undercover Policing Public Inquiry on Wednesday when at least sixty campaigners who had been targeted by spycops filed out of the courtroom. Prior to this barrister, Philippa Kaufman, QC for more than 200 core participants, read a prepared statement to the chair, John Mitting.

She described the 70 year old judge as “the usual white, upper middle-class, elderly gentleman whose life experiences are a million miles away from those who were spied upon.” She said Mitting had been ignoring her clients’ concerns over the anonymity he was granting to ex-spycops with by giving “scant and largely uninformative” reasons for allowing the applications.She added the victims “are not prepared actively to participate in a process where their presence is mere window dressing lacking all substance and meaning which would achieve nothing other than to lend the process a legitimacy it does not have”.

Later on outside the High Court, Philippa explained further to the press. She said she had asked Mitting “to do what happened with the Lawrence Inquiry, to sit with a panel of individuals who have direct experience of the matters that go into the heart of this inquiry, because race discrimination and sex discrimination lie at the heart of what happened with undercover policing – the infiltration into the Lawrence campaign [and] into the other justice campaigns which are about the deaths of the young black men in police custody and all of the relationships that women had with undercover officers”.

There was also a lively demonstration at the entrance to the High Court with a large banner saying: “TEAR DOWN THE #SPYCOPS INQUIRY’S BRICK WALL OF SILENCE.” This is a reference to something Mitting said at the previous hearing in early February. It really summed all that we think is ridiculous and unreasonable about him and the direction in which he is taking the Inquiry.

This concerned two spycops officers whose cyphers are HN23 and HN40. All that was disclosed about them was the bare minimum of information. Mitting claimed releasing their cover names could lead to the real names being discovered which, in turn, could lead to the risk of serious violence against them. Both worked for the discredited special branch unit, the Special Demonstrations Squad (SDS).

HN23 was deployed against one group and reported on other groups in the nineties. They fear their friends and family would feel betrayed if they had found that they kept their spycop past a secret. HN40 targeted two groups in the last decade of the SDS (1998-2008). They were prosecuted under their false name. Despite clear evidence of perjury and perverting the course of justice, Mitting agreed to fully protect this officer by granting him complete anonymity.

When Philippa said refusing to say anything at all amounted in essence to Neither Confirm Nor Deny – a Met “policy” which Mitting and his predecessor Pitchford both said they had rejected – the chair retorted with: “With respect it is not a Neither Confirm Nor Deny approach. It is stronger than that. It is a flat refusal to say anything about the deployment in the open.” Philippa then asked if we could at least be told why the decision was taken. Mitting rebuffed her with: “I am afraid that HN23 as HN40, they are examples of deployments where you are going to meet a brick wall of silence.’

Philippa then tried another approach, saying: “It strikes us as extraordinary that we cannot even be told, for example, was this officer engaged in a deployment in relation to left wing groups or right wing groups. How on earth can the disclosure of that fact alone put that officer at risk?” But Mitting was adamant, waiting for her to finish speaking and simply repeating himself: “I am afraid you are meeting a brick wall in these two cases and others.”

Mitting’s intransigence, summed up by the “brick wall” metaphor, symbolises the unaccountability, opaqueness and injustice of the Inquiry. How fitting it is that it has now been incorporated into a banner with which to protest against all this.

Mitting gave no reaction to the walkout, instead  carrying on with the hearing as though nothing had happened. The only core participant left was Peter Francis, the ex-spycop turned whistleblower. He argued that the real names of the undercover officers should be released and criticised Mitting for his “opaque” reasoning.

The following article by the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance gives Philippa’s statement in full.


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.