Spycops Inquiry sets “ambitious” target to finish within the next six years

Protesters stage a sit down outside the entrance to the High Court on 9 May over the direction of the Inquiry.

On Thursday 10 May the Undercover Policing Public Inquiry published its strategic review. This was announced  a year ago when it became obvious that the Inquiry couldn’t keep to its timeframe of three years. The review also coincided with the appointment of John Mitting as the new chair following the resignation of his predecessor due to illness.

Non state, non police core participants (CPs) have been increasingly dissatisfied with Mitting’s conduct, especially his willingness to side with the state against those who were spied on. A hearing on the 9th was boycotted by all the CPs, including for the first time whistleblower Peter Francis, who said:

Without meaningful disclosure, neither I nor, more importantly perhaps, the victims of undercover policing will be able to properly question the evidence put forward by the police officers during the evidential stage of the inquiry.This is crucially important, particularly when the inquiry must remember that these former police officers have been trained to lie. It was a fundamental part of their job. Without cover names being released, so many victims of undercover policing will never even know they were targeted. Such an outcome is the very opposite of the professed aim of the inquiry, which is primarily to establish the truth.

In their written submissions the CPs’ lawyers objected to the granting of restriction orders for 17 undercover officers from the Special Demonstrations Squad (SDS). They were unable to effectively challenge the chair’s minded to position, however, due to the inadequate disclosure permitted by him. The hearing was over in just six minutes while a protest went on outside. Mitting told a nearly empty court he would consider scrapping  further hearings as “there is no point in spending taxpayer’s money either directly or via the police funds on hearings that serve no purpose.”

The contents of the strategic review serve notice that Mitting is not willing to change. First, he regards the CPs as dispensable. In the foreword he emphasises he will not consult them over the direction of the review and he also claims that even if they do not participate in the Inquiry,  it can “get as close to the truth as it can without them”.

The truth is quite the opposite. The input of those who were targeted by political policing units such as the SDS and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) is absolutely essential if the Inquiry is to have any credibility whatsoever. The group Police Spies Out of Lives nails it when they say: “Without us, he’s relying on the stories of trained liars and manipulators to work out what really happened. The only people who have been willing to speak out honestly about undercover policing have been us, the victims of these units, and one whistle-blower, Peter Francis.

Second, Mitting brushes aside the demand of CPs for a panel of people from diverse backgrounds to assist him at the this stage of the Inquiry on the grounds it would “impose a heavy cost in both time and money.” It seems this matters more than getting to the truth. He then adds insult to injury by agreeing to a panel for the final stage, when recommendations for future action are to be made. The problem with this is it would be like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. The value of any recommendations will be entirely dependent on discovering what really happened. Otherwise how will we know what needs to be changed?

Mitting is from such a privileged background and so pro-establishment ( a member of the all-male Garrick club no less) that he can’t possibly understand the issues of sexism and racism at the heart of this scandal. As Donal O’Driscoll from the Undercover Research Group and himself a CP argues forcefully:

Mitting’s half hearted concession of a panel for the very last part of the Inquiry is a pretense he is listening to these issues. At that stage it will be too late, the damage done as without the effective input that only the non-state/police core participants can bring at this stage, the police command the material. The last stage, the part on making recommendations and moving forward, is reliant on the finding of facts of the investigation of the undercovers activities, a set of findings Mitting is reserving entirely to himself. Given he thinks that men who have been married to the same woman all their lives wouldn’t have affairs, you will excuse us if we don’t find that reassuring.

In late April a delegation of victims delivered a letter to the Home Office on behalf of all CPs. They were Neville Lawrence, the father of Stephen, Sharon Grant, whose late husband and MP Bernie was spied on by the SDS, and Alison, Andrea and Jessica, all of whom were deceived into intimate relationships with spycops. The letter made a series of demands:

  • A full list of cover names used by undercover officers and the names of groups that were targeted.
  • The police files of all CPs to enable them to see what information is stored about them
  • The extension of the Inquiry to other countries where police spies were active, eg Ireland and Scotland.
  • In view of the growing dissatisfaction at Mitting’s conduct, especially the “shift towards secrecy being implemented by him” and his lack of “skill or expertise to properly investigate issues like institutional sexism and racism”, a diverse panel should be appointed as soon as possible.

The letter asked for a reply from the Home Secretary within 21 days. That time is almost up. Previous  communications with the Home Office have been ignored for months which does not inspire confidence that the matter will be dealt with urgently. It appears Mitting will continue chairing the Inquiry in his usual one-sided manner, giving the police and their agencies all that they ask for and sometimes more, with the blessing of the government.

A special hearing will be held on Friday 18 May to discuss the strategic review in Court 76 at the Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand, London WC2A 2LL. According to the Inquiry’s press release, the main goal is to “discuss with the state core participants, in particular, what needs to be done to meet the Inquiry’s ambitious timeline. The state bodies can also set out what they will require from the Inquiry to be able to meet the proposed timeline.” In other words it is not really meant for the victims, although Mitting then adds as an afterthought: “It is an open hearing that non-police, non-state core participants or affected individuals may also wish to attend.”

According to the strategic review the final report “is expected to be sent to the Home Secretary towards the end of 2023, ahead of publication.” In fact there will be two reports, one that is open while the other will contain “information that cannot be safely published” and therefore closed. So secrecy will dominate the Inquiry until the bitter end. In this timeframe the final report will not be made public until 2024, 10 years after Theresa May announced the setting up of the Inquiry when she was Home Secretary in March 2014.

How many CPs will go along to the court to make their views heard is not clear. We were given only 10 days notice so many people might not be able to attend even if they wanted to. Whatever happens it is unlikely to signal any change in approach from Mitting. The Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance has called for a demonstration outside the front entrance of the High Court from about 9am-10.30am, before the hearing begins.

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