Freedom’s recently uncovered links to the scandal of Metropolitan Police officers infiltrating and manipulating peaceful radical groups are just part of a series of major revelations and events swirling around the Undercover Policing Inquiry over the last week.
The probe into police spying against over 1,000 organisations over a 40-year period has seen multiple new challenges, including an admission by police that undercover officers colluded with illegal blacklisting of trade unionists, a mass walkout of participants urging chairman John Mitting to quit and increasing pressure to expand the probe into Northern Ireland, which Freedom’s report yesterday will add to.
The inquiry has been a mess from the start, with original presiding judge Christopher Pitchford telling the Met to list its undercovers and give recommendations on whether to reveal their names by 2016 — but then allowing repeated extensions to the deadline after the force played a suite of dirty tricks.
When Pitchford fell ill and was replaced by Establishment man John Mitting in July 2017 hopes weren’t high for an improvement in the situation, and lo and behold, here we are in March 2018, a full two years after the original deadline, three after the “three year” inquiry was first established, and not only has the Met still not fully delivered but Mitting is pulling out ludicrous excuses to enable the ongoing coverup.
It’s little wonder then that there was a mass walkout on Wednesday by survivors, lawyers and their supporters in protest at the inquiry’s apparent stonewalling, with rights campaigner Doreen Lawrence, mother of Stephen, noting:
I am saddened that I and other victims of undercover policing had to walk out of the UCPI yesterday. This was a step I never expected to take when the inquiry was set up but it is one that I have been forced to take.
The reason why I did this is simple and it is down to the actions and decisions of the chair. Influenced by his own publicly stated ‘old fashioned’ and ‘naive’ views, he is turning what should be a transparent, accountable and public hearing into an inquiry cloaked in secrecy and anonymity.
I want to know the names of the police officers who spied on me, my family and our campaign for justice. The chair is not allowing that, in my view, for reasons which are completely unjustifiable and unreasonable. Theresa May, then Home Secretary and now Prime Minister promised me a truly thorough, transparent and accountable inquiry.
And survivors’ QC Phillippa Kaufmann saying her clients “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.”
Beyond English borders
But Mitting is not the only figure to have come under fire. In both Scotland and Northern Ireland, where undercover officers were active, including Roger Pearce as he used Freedom for an “in” to Belfast radical politics, there have been rising voices demanding that Theresa May’s government widen the inquiry beyond the English border.
Earlier this month Jason Kirkpatrick applied for a High Court review of the inquiry, saying that activity by disgraced spycop Mark Kennedy in Belfast in 2005 shows Northern Ireland must be included. That Kennedy’s deployment to the city mirrors Mark Jenner‘s visit and a similar tour by Pearce in the 1980s — a man who later ran the show himself at Special Branch — is a powerful indication the spies’ presence was not just incidental or an “act of madness.”
Questions over exactly where the Met’s nebulous excuse of “protect and serve” ends and political interference on behalf of the State begins are bound to be raised in these circumstances, particularly given the final part of a our trio of inquiry-related disasters.
Boys from the Blacklist
The sudden collapse of Met prevarication over whether its operatives were passing on information to the keepers of the infamous construction industry blacklist is possibly the most startling development so far.
The admission by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Richard Martin was in response to a complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission by the Blacklist Support Group and blows apart any remaining claim the Met has that it didn’t practice political policing. Martin said: “Material revealed a potentially improper flow of information from Special Branch to external organisations, which ultimately appeared on the blacklist.”
The top cop’s response follows a six-year campaign by unions to uncover the truth over a list which covered more than 3,200 people over a period of 40 years, including anarchists, some of whom didn’t even work in the industry but had merely shown solidarity with union activists.
General union Unite, which has already won upwards of £10 million in compensation from participating firms such as Carillion and Balfour Beatty, is now looking to sue the Met over its part in the scandal on the grounds of breach of privacy, defamation and Data Protection Act offences.
The case should act as a wake-up call for the increasingly embarrassing tenure of Mitting, which has been characterised by a seemingly wanton level of naivety about the motives and activities of the forces he is supposedly overseeing.
But he is not a naive man. As vice-president of secret government surveillance oversight committee the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, Mitting should be at least as well-versed in smoke and mirrors tactics as the activists who walked out on Wednesday. He is not a wet-behind-the-ears academic, but a top-floor judge dealing with high-sensitivity casework. So when he comes out with lines such as:
We have had examples of undercover male officers who have gone through more than one long-term permanent relationship, sometimes simultaneously. There are also officers who have reached a ripe old age who are still married to the same woman that they were married to as a very young man. The experience of life tells one that the latter person is less likely to have engaged in extramarital affairs than the former.
(transcript p77) there is justifiable skepticism that someone who regularly oversees surveillance at work is on the level. Particularly when his opaque “minded to” notes so regularly err on the side of gifting officers anonymity when their excuses seem to be nothing short of feeble.
Ultimately of course the anarchist view of these shenanigans tends to range from a sort of resigned sigh to anger, but not surprise.
That the dark State should seek to defend itself against the light of public view is axiomatic, and nobody who has a passing familiarity with both police and government tactics during events such as the miners’ strike will be shocked by information hand-offs to union-busting companies. Nor is it particularly out of the way for inquiries to be put in “safe hands” — those of men who are part of and indebted to the very Establishment whose employees they are supposedly overseeing. Such tactics have been pilloried in political satire since the dawn of democracy.
But for those with illusions that the system is there for us and justice will ultimately be done, the events of the last few months should give pause.
How is it that perfectly legal institutions of the size and social heft of trade unions are seeing their workplace representatives systematically undermined by the forces of law and order, simply for daring to organise in favour of better conditions in a notoriously rapacious industry?
Why was an inquiry of the horrifying dimensions of the Spycop scandal, where the defence force of the Establishment was being put under scrutiny over possible manipulation, entrapment and sexual abuse on a grand scale, given to not one but two sets of “safe hands” who promptly gave in to almost every demand the Met made?
Why, when a London force overstepped not just the bounds of the M25 but those of England itself to go chasing around in Belfast and Edinburgh, is this not being treated as a core part of the scandal?
The answer is obvious. The Establishment is a racket. It’s thugs’ malpractice is not aberrant, but systemic, and the tricks being played to string out any pursuit of justice are in the same mold as those used to try and time out every other investigation which has ever been launched into such tactics. Hillsborough, Orgreave, Spycops. All part of the same immune response to challenges against the right of the police to do just as they please in pursuit of the aims of State and Capital. London’s biggest gang.
Featured pic: New Scotland Yard, by Paul Farmer