Spycop inquiry preliminary hearing opens

Anger was rising as the Undercover Policing Inquiry began its preliminary hearing today, with spycop victims left incredulous over introductory notes by chair John Mitting which they said were effectively him “choosing to fail”.

Today’s hearing focused on the police use of convictions handed down against activist core participants, some now spent convictions, in an effort to suggest their staff are at risk if exposed.

Mitting’s opening statement for the hearing, which will last until Wednesday, offered few positive results for non state participants despite saying there was a “moral” imperative to provide justice for the survivors of abuse by Met police undercovers that:

In every case where it can be done without disproportionate damage to the public interest or harm to the individual concerned, the cover name of a deployed undercover officer will be published.

Problems emerged throughout the lengthy introduction to Mitting’s latest thinking, with Section 9 noting:

  • Where publication of the real or cover name of an undercover officer would give rise to a real risk to the life or safety of the officer at the hands of others, an appropriate restriction order will ordinarily be made.
  • Except in cases in which the conduct of an undercover officer has given rise to a moral right on the part of those with whom he or she has interacted during the deployment to to know the true identity, the real name of the undercover officer will generally not be published.
  • Factors personal to an undercover officer – health, well-being and a wish to maintain privacy will always be considered. They may sometimes be determinative. They are likely to carry more weight in the case of early deployments in the late 1960s and ’70s.

Effectively combining with a methodology which excludes input from non-state actors to make it difficult or impossible to discover whether such anonymity orders are on the level. As the legal debates got underway, with 11 lawyers representing various state actors against one lawyer for the non-state participants, criticism came quickly online with responses including:

How can we know what’s central until we hear from those they spied on – who can’t come forward until they’re told which of their comrades was an undercover cop?

and

It’s bizarre that perpetrators get all the funding and presumptions of honesty whilst their victims get one representative, spent convictions held against them and have to do the research and communications in their spare time.

The Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance added:

For the spycops inquiry to privately ask officers if they abused women and take their answer as gospel means believing trained liars and denying justice to the dozens, perhaps hundreds of deceived women whose officers are presently unknown. Choosing to fail.

In the court there were also angry scenes, with chants of “no justice, no peace” and a strong intervention from the public gallery by construction blacklist activist Dave Smith.

There were some crumbs of comfort, as Mitting appeared to take a dim view of Met police efforts to heavily redact documentation linked to the inquiry, saying:

In the view of the inquiry team the redactions sought were excessive … the inquiry may have to assume responsibility for making draft redactions and then invite the Metropolitan Police Service to accept them within a tight timescale.

Fourteen more decisions on whether to release cover names are to be handed down shortly after the hearing while 109 officers are still to be considered.


For a full rundown about this portion of the inquiry check out the COPS backgrounder

Pic: John Mitting (from gov.uk)