In a double-whammy ruling Sir Christopher Pitchford has said his inquiry into misconduct by police undercovers will hear no formal evidence before the second half of 2019 — but exonerated the Met of using delaying tactics.
The news has astonished participants in the Inquiry, which was opened in 2014 with a projected four-year timeframe but has already dragged on for nearly three years with the Met failing to give up cover names related to the 168 former members of its disgraced Special Demonstration Squad (SDS).
Several members of that squad, most infamously Mark Kennedy, are known to have infiltrated peaceful organisations and started relationships with activists, in some cases having children with them, before disappearing.
The Met has gone to great lengths to maintain secrecy over the project, offering only “neither confirm nor deny” responses before the Pitchford Inquiry began even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Once the inquiry itself started, police lawyers spent a large proportion of the inquiry trying to make it a private hearing.
When this failed, they successfully argued that cover name releases should be “risk assessed” by the Met’s own team. The original deadline for the first tranche of names to be released was October 2016 — the Met has as of May 2017 made decisions about whether to apply for restriction orders in just 18 cases.
Writing last month, Pitchford Watcher explained that while the Inquiry had accepted Met operational “expertise” should be considered: “What happened was a farce: friends of undercovers were chosen as risk assessors and had to be dropped; others fell by the way for different reasons. The Inquiry itself had to intervene heavily in the process, including providing specific guidance on what an acceptable risk assessment amounted to.”
Pitchford, who has been clear that without cover names the inquiry can’t proceed, later noted: “The Metropolitan Police were not the experts in risk assessment they claimed to be.” Such a generous view of the Met’s behaviour being fuelled by incompetence, rather than being deliberate, appears to have underpinned the ruling, which also denied victims any direct input on the applications process.
In the release, Pitchford revealed that as of this month:
- Three applications have been made to restrict officers’ real identities.
- The Inquiry has “made contact” with 51 former officers, all of whom have said they want to be anonymous [par 58]
- 25 former SDS members are now deceased and three “seriously ill”
- 18 decisions have been made about the remaining 145 former unit members
- He is not expecting all anonymity applications to have arrived by the Inquiry’s new October 2017 deadline
Costs for the much-delayed inquiry have topped £5 million so far and had been projected to hit £15m by 2017/18. With evidence now unlikely to be heard before July 2019, and Pitchford continuing to give leeway to the Met’s requests for extensions, costs look set to spiral further.
The cost to “core participants” — the people whose lives were ruined by undercover police malpractice — will be measured in yet more years of stress, frustration and heartbreak.
Police Spies out of Lives has done a handy rundown of the ruling’s main takeaways here.
Powerbase maintains comprehensive background information from the Undercover Research Group on its wiki