John Mitting took over as chair of the Undercover Policing Public Inquiry in July 2017 and four months later made his first statement in open court. He confirmed his late predecessor Christopher Pitchford’s determination to discover the truth – saying “I will also make no decision whose purpose is not to fulfil that aim” – and then turned to those matters which he considered were of vital importance to the direction of the inquiry.
The first of these were the abusive relationships police spies had while posing as activists. Mitting said he found the womens’ stories “eloquent and moving” and each of them was entitled to know “how and why they came to be induced to conduct an intimate relationship with a man deployed for police purposes with an identity and background which was not his own.” They were also due an explanation of how far up the chain of command knowledge of the relationships went and whether superior officers sanctioned or encouraged them.
Mitting claimed the truth would be uncovered “by an exhaustive investigation of the facts, using all of the statutory tools available to the Inquiry” and added the following commitment:
Where a claim of an intimate relationship with an undercover officer is admitted or found by me to be true, they have a compelling moral claim to know the true identity of the man with whom they had that relationship. When there is material which gives rise to a suspicion that such an intimate relationship may have been formed by an undercover officer in a cover name, there is a compelling practical reason to require the cover name to be published: to reveal to the woman or women concerned that they may have had an intimate relationship with a man in an identity not his own.
The reaction of most non-state, non-police core participants to Mitting’s appointment was one of scepticism. He had, after all, served on two secret judicial bodies: the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, a secret court which oversees claims of government surveillance, and the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which deals with applications to deport people accused of being a threat to national security. Furthermore, Mitting was also a member of the Garrick, an elite “gentlemen’s club” which doesn’t allow women members.
Nevertheless we were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and his first ruling was positive: he granted “Jessica,” the woman deceived into an intimate relationship by Andy Coles, core participant status. In November 2017 he issued a minded to note on Special Demonstration Squad anonymity applications in which the officer designated HN1 was described as deployed in the animal rights movement from 1992-97 and had a cover name already in the public domain. I knew straightaway this had to be Matt Rayner and wrote about it here.
Mitting said only HN1’s cover name would be released. If his real identity was known, Mitting claimed there could be “significant risks” to his physical safety and well-being and the well-being of his family which would breach their rights to private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. He did not give an explanation for his decision, saying it “cannot be set out openly,’ and instead the reasons were laid out in a “closed note,” a document to which we are denied access.
This minded-to note and others followed a two day court hearing in which Mitting set out the future direction of the Inquiry. Core participants and those seeking justice for victims of spycops were immediately alarmed by his constant reference to the human rights of the perpetrators of human rights abuses. It set the tenor for the next eight months and has led to a complete breakdown in trust and confidence, to the extent we feel the Inquiry won’t be able to fulfil its terms of reference without a panel sitting alongside Mitting, able to draw on a much greater breadth of knowledge and experience in the real world than he can.
In the face of this the question remained: would he still reveal the real names of officers who deceived activists into intimate relationships? Rayner had been with a woman named Denise Fuller and I had tracked her down several years ago. After telling her about HN1 she applied for core participancy. In May 2018 this was granted and Mitting stated that Rayner admitted Denise was telling the truth. At that time I said: “This will be a test for the chair’s resolve as the Met will, no doubt, be insistent that Rayner’s real name remains secret.”
We now know Mitting’s resolve has crumbled. On 30 July he issued a ruling on 36 spycops from the SDS who had applied for restriction orders over their identities. The first of them is Rayner and he stated:
When I made the statements in paragraph 7 of my opening remarks of 20 November 2017, I had not envisaged the circumstances which apply in this officer’s case. The compelling reason for disclosure to Denise Fuller of the real name of HN1 is outweighed by an even more compelling reason of public interest which cannot be stated openly. It is indicated in the closed note which accompanies these reasons. I had hoped that this issue could have been dealt with in a way which was more respectful of, and sensitive to, the feelings of Ms Fuller at a later stage of the Inquiry. The submissions made, however, require me to deal with it unequivocally, now.
In yet another bizarre twist this saga, the chair rules Rayner’s real name must be concealed due to “public interest” yet the public will never find out what that interest is. This represents a further ratcheting up of confidentiality and is deeply disturbing. He briefly referred to “public interest” in his opening remarks in November 2017 when he said cover names of a deployed undercover officer will be published “in every case in which it can be done without disproportionate damage to the public interest or harm to the individual concerned.” But ever since he had always used the latter as grounds for restriction orders.
Why then has Mitting changed tack? It appears “public interest” is his get out of jail free card and he waited until a particularly awkward situation arose to use it. The Met would have been adamant Rayner’s real name should remain secret because he is accused of serious crime and is at the centre of a miscarriage of justice allegation. While deployed undercover in the nineties he befriended activist Geoff Sheppard who says Rayner encouraged him to obtain a firearm and materials used to build an incendiary device. These were found when Geoff’s flat was raided by the police and he was later sentenced to seven years.
For nearly 20 years no-one suspected Rayner was a police spy but following revelations about Mark Kennedy, Bob Lambert and John Dines, people who had known him became suspicious. In 2013 I discovered the real Matt Rayner died aged five in 1972. The spycop had stolen a dead child’s identity, a common practice at the time. The following year Geoff lodged an appeal against his 1995 conviction on the grounds that Rayner’s involvement was withheld at his trial and he was misled into pleading guilty.
That the chair declined to reveal Rayner’s true identity comes as no surprise to those involved. As this article outlines, “Mitting has shown himself to be gullible, taking police assertions at face value despite the fact that the Inquiry is into wrongdoing by trained police liars.” Rulings on 36 undercover officers were issued on Monday, including Rayner. In 17 of them – nearly half the total – Mitting granted restriction orders on both real and cover names. That means not only their names but anything which could lead to their identification will never be made public. None of the 36 officers’ real names are to be divulged. The idea of a public inquiry has been turned on its head. This sham of a proceedings is a fully fledged privacy inquiry.
No surprise then that victims of spycops are taking matters into their own hands. There are two legal challenges underway. The first will be to review the Home Secretary’s refusal to appoint a panel with the skill and diversity which Mitting lacks. The second will challenge to the chair’s restriction of the cover names of former undercover officers which is incompatible with the conduct of an effective inquiry. Quite simply there are vast numbers of people who will never know they were targeted unless the spycops’ cover names are revealed.
There are just three days left to finance the challenges through crowdfunding. Please give generously if you can afford it.