Pitchford Inquiry

The Pitchford Inquiry is the name usually given to the Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI), chaired by Lord Justice Pitchford. This was announced by then home secretary Theresa May in March 2014 following revelations about undercover officers spying on the family and supporters of the Stephen Lawrence campaign in the nineties.

The inquiry is taking place at the Royal Courts of Justice, the Strand, London WC2A 2LL and was originally scheduled to last tree years. Due to a serious of delays, mainly caused by the police, it is unlikely to report its findings before 2019.

The terms of reference are broad, encompassing all undercover policing operations in England and Wales since 1968. The exclusion of Scotland and Ireland is controversial and there have been calls for the inquiry to be extended to those countries and even abroad when spies were deployed there.

Expectations are the inquiry will focus on the Special Demonstration Squad and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit although undercovers were deployed by regional police forces as well. Pitchford will only examine undercover policing, not corporate spies, informants or MI5

The main part of the inquiry will be split into three consecutive modules:

Module one: Examination of what happened in the deployment of undercover officers in the past, their conduct and the impact of their activists on themselves and others. Evidential hearings for this are due to begin in the summer or autumn of 2017.

Module two: Examination of the management and oversight of undercover policing. In particular it will look at the authorisation of and justification for undercover police operations. It will include the role of other government departments such as the Home Office. It will look at issues such as the selection, training, supervision of undercover officers, as well as the care they receive after their deployment ends.

Module three: Pitchford will make recommendations about how undercover policing should be conducted in the future.

There are 180 non-state core participants (NSCPs). They are individuals or groups who  either know they were targeted or have good reason to be believe they were targeted by undercover police. They cover a wide range of political and protest groups from the last 50 years, including trades unions, black justice, leftwing, anticapitalist, environmental and animal rights groups and individuals involved in them. There are separate categories for people who were deceived into relationships with police spies and those who were victims of miscarriages of justice.

There are animal rights campaigners participating in the inquiry but the number is low given  the level of police infiltration. One of the main problems with the inquiry is there are only about 20 identified spycops. This article on the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance (COPS) website lists 17. There are three more we can be sure of: Andy Davey, Christine Green and Dave Evans (aliases, not real names).

Here is a current list of non-state CPs: https://tinyurl.com/ycjuxc9d

The main reason the inquiry has dragged on longer than expected is the attitude of the Met and other police agencies who wanted most of it to be held in secret, excluding both the public and NSCPs. They claimed they had a longstanding policy called Neither Confirm Nor Deny (NCND), which meant nothing should be revealed about spycops or their operations. Undercover turned whistleblower Peter Francis says he was never told about NCND during his deployment. In other words it didn’t exist and was invented by the Met to obstruct those seeking the truth.

Pitchford’s ruling does not accept NCND as a basis for restriction orders – granting anonymity to the police.  (NCSPs are not asking for officer’s real names, just their cover identities. Otherwise how will those targeted know for sure and be able to participate in the inquiry?)

He says his starting point is open proceedings. Each case will then be judged on it merits according to a balancing exercise between the evidence in each application on the one hand and the interests of “protection of individuals from harm and/or effective policing ” on the other.

There were over 100 officers in the SDS alone, therefore deciding restriction orders on a case by case would be very time-consuming. However, most of those who were spied on are not aware of it and therein lies the conundrum: how does someone challenge police lies about them when they are not allowed to know even the identity of their accuser. It’s a classic Catch-22!

Update: June 2017

Sir John Mitting has been appointed to take over as chair of the public inquiry. Three months ago the current chair, Lord Pitchford, announced he had motor neurone disease and does not expect to be able to complete the inquiry. Mitting will work alongside Pitchford for the time being and will succeed him as chair at an appropriate time.

The group Police Spies Out of Lives has published a series of briefings and reports on the preliminary hearings which began in October 2015. https://policespiesoutoflives.org.uk/pitchfordinquiry/inquiry-briefings/

There are a series of reports on the main hearings and a progress report on the inquiry published in November 2016. https://policespiesoutoflives.org.uk/pitchfordinquiry/inquiry-reports/

The latest briefing was published on 27 June 2017: https://policespiesoutoflives.org.uk/uploads/2017/06/progressbriefing5public.pdf

Pitchford Inquiry website: https://www.ucpi.org.uk