Former spycop turned whistleblower Peter Francis has declared he won’t have anything more to do with the Undercover Policing Inquiry’s anonymity applications from his former colleagues.
Francis, who infiltrated anti-racist groups in the 1990s and spied on the loved ones of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, says the public inquiry is protecting the guilty and concealing the truth. Ahead of Wednesday’s hearing he said:
I know at least half of all Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) officers. Armed with such knowledge, I had hoped to assist the Inquiry to critically assess the applications being made by former undercover police officers to keep their cover names secret. But the level of redactions accepted by the Inquiry Team is so high, even I am often unable to decipher from whom the applications are made…
Even when a risk assessment concludes that risks faced by an individual are “low”, the Inquiry has refused to publish his or her cover name. In such circumstances, I cannot justify continuing to incur taxpayers’ money drafting written submissions or attending hearings which are clearly not going to change the approach adopted by the Chairman.
Francis was deployed by the SDS, a political secret police within the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch, from 1993-1998. He infiltrated Youth Against Racism in Europe, Movement for Justice and Militant (now the Socialist Party).
Francis was tasked to ‘find dirt’ with which to discredit the Lawrence family and Duwayne Brooks, Stephen’s friend and the main witness to the teenager’s murder.
Francis told a 2015 conference of police corruption and racism campaigners, via his lawyer Rosa Curling:
‘I have let every single one of you down, especially the Lawrence family, by by cowardice in not appearing before the original Macpherson public inquiry when I knew in my heart at the time that I should have done so. No matter what my senior police managers were saying to me at the time, I should have been there, I should have spoken out.
‘Just imagine how many things might have changed for political protesters, especially all the black justice campaigns, had I had the bottle to do it then.’
Francis initially came forward to tell his story, only identified as ‘Officer A’, to the Observer in March 2010. It was the first time many people had even heard of the SDS.
At the end of that year activists unmasked spycop Mark Kennedy, collapsing a number of cases which police had been atttempting to use to convict green activists, and Francis became a prime source of information for the Guardian’s detailed investigations into the unit, its remit and methods. This culminated in the Guardian journalists Rob Evans & Paul Lewis’ definitive book Undercover: The True Story of Britain’s Secret Police in 2013. At that time, Francis dropped his pseudonym and shared details of his personal deployment.
He was keen to talk to Operation Herne, the Met’s self-investigation into spycops, if the Met would withdraw their threat to prosecute him under the Official Secret Act for sharing secret information. This was superseded when the full-scale public inquiry was commissioned.
The secret public inquiry
Since the original Inquiry Chair, Lord Pitchford, resigned for health reasons in 2017, there has been growing concern about his replacement Sir John Mitting. His credulous approval of police demands for anonymity coupled with a penchant for secrecy have seen a groundswell of protest, all of which has been ignored. He oversees a slow, shambolic and secretive excuse for a public inquiry.
Matters exploded in the February hearing of the inquiry when it discussed officers known as HN23 and HN40. Victims’ lawyer Phillippa Kaufmann QC asked why we couldn’t even be told the reason these officers were being granted total anonymity, to which Mitting famously responded: “They are examples of deployments where you are going to meet a brick wall of silence.”
Francis’ lawyer Maya Sikand told the court that Francis knew who the officers were and that they “would have valuable evidence to give you about the violence that was permitted by Special Demonstration Squad managers to be used by Special Demonstration Squad officers.”
Francis broke protocol, rising to his feet to interject in person: “I have great, huge, concerns that these professional liars are spinning you, the Inquiry and definitely these poor solicitors they are working with here.”
Matters came to a head at the following hearing in March, where Kaufmann led her leal team and the victims they represent out of court, telling Mitting:
We are not prepared actively to participate in a process where the presence of our clients is pure window dressing, lacking all substance, lacking all meaning and which would achieve absolutely nothing other than lending this process the legitimacy that it doesn’t have and doesn’t deserve.
Francis stayed and made some forthright contributions, only to see Mitting ignore it all and grant anonymity to many officers as planned.
The Undercover Research Group analysed Mitting’s decisions so far, and they calculate that he is on course to grant full anonymity to around 25% of SDS officers.
Last week, Mitting turned his attention to the SDS’ successor unit, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, which ran from 1999-2011. His “minded-to” note shows intentions to grant anonymity to a much greater proportion of these officers.
It is inexcusable, unacceptable, and proof of what the victims have been saying for months; Mitting is wholly unfit to investigate and expose police wrongdoing.
It is into this atmosphere that we now hear Peter Francis’ withdrawal from the process of anonymity applications:
Three years ago, Stafford Scott (another Core Participant) said that walking into the Inquiry was like walking into a boxing ring, facing the Metropolitan Police with one hand tied behind your back and a blindfold covering your eyes. Sadly, his assessment has proved correct.
The approach adopted by the Inquiry to restriction orders has undermined its ability to uncover the truth about undercover policing in the UK. I had hoped my involvement in this process would in part remedy the unfair advantages identified by Mr Scott but this has not proved possible.
There is another preliminary hearing of the Inquiry this Wednesday, 9 May. It is another session on the anonymity of officers. We have no faith that Mitting has altered from his method of listening to the police, making up his mind, then having a pantomime hearing before approving his predetermined ruling. We will not waste our time on it.
Neither the victims nor Peter Francis are abandoning the inquiry, just the process of appraising applications for anonymity. We want to engage with the Inquiry, as long as it is intent on revealing the truth about Britain’s political secret police. Sir John Mitting is an obstacle to that and he cannot be left in charge.
There will be a protest before the hearing at 9am, Wednesday 9 May at the Royal Courts of Justice, Strand WC2A 2LL. Supporters of the victims are encouraged to attend.
This is a lightly edited version of an article which first appeared at the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance