The public inquiry into Britain’s political secret police – the Undercover Policing Inquiry, or UCPI – is finally beginning this summer. Here’s a bit about what we know and what to expect.
The Undercover Policing Inquiry is an independent, judge-led inquiry into undercover policing in England and Wales.
Its main focus is the activity of two undercover units who deployed long-term undercover officers into a variety of political groups: the Special Demonstration Squad (1968-2008) and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (1999-2011).
Officers from these units lived as activists for years at a time. More than 1,000 groups were spied on, though the Inquiry has only named 83. Activist researchers have produced a more complete list of those targeted.
Beyond collecting information personal details about people’s lives, officers often:
- stole the identities of dead children
- took key roles in the organisations they infiltrated
- encouraged and participated in illegal activity
- formed emotional relationships with children of people they spied on
- supplied personal information for illegal blacklists of politically active workers
- orchestrated wrongful convictions of activists
- deceived women they spied on into long-term intimate relationships
When was the Undercover Policing Inquiry set up?
On 6 March 2014, after more than three years of escalating revelations, the Home Secretary announced in Parliament that there would be a full-scale public inquiry under the terms of the Inquiries Act 2005.
The process began on 28 July 2015, with opening remarks on the purpose, remit and intent from the Chair, Lord Pitchford.
How will the Undercover Policing Inquiry organise its investigation?
The Inquiry’s investigations will be broken into three modules:
Module 1: Examination of the deployment of undercover officers in the past, their conduct, and the impact of their activities on themselves and others.
Module 2: Examination of the management and oversight of undercover officers, including their selection, training, supervision, care after deployments, and the legal and regulatory framework within which undercover policing was carried out.
- Module 2a will involve managers and administrators from within undercover policing units.
- Module 2b will involve senior managers higher in the chain of command as well as police personnel who handled intelligence provided by undercover police officers.
- Module 2c will involve other government bodies with a connection to undercover policing, including the Home Office.
Module 3: Examination of current undercover policing practices and of how undercover policing should be conducted in future.
To manage such a broad remit, the Inquiry has divided its work for Modules One and Two into the following six ‘tranches’:
- 1 – Special Demonstration Squad officers and managers and those affected by deployments (1968-1982)
- 2 – Special Demonstration Squad officers and managers and those affected by deployments (1983-1992)
- 3 – Special Demonstration Squad officers and managers and those affected by deployments (1993-2007)
- 4 – National Public Order Intelligence Unit officers and managers and those affected by deployments
- 5 – Other undercover policing officers and managers and those affected by deployments
- 6 – Management and oversight (including of intelligence dissemination) by mid and senior rank officers, other agencies and government departments
When will the Undercover Policing Inquiry begin?
The first hearings in Tranche 1 will take place between 1 and 19 June 2020.
Managers, and any evidence relevant to Tranche 1 not heard by then, will be heard between 1 and 18 September 2020.
Hearings will take place for up to four days a week.
The rest of the tranches have not had any dates set as yet.
Who will be giving evidence at the Undercover Policing Inquiry?
The witnesses will include officers and people that they spied on. The Inquiry will publish a draft list of witnesses giving evidence at least four weeks before the hearing.
In these first hearings, we’ll be hearing from officers deployed in the Special Demonstration Squad, their managers and some of the people they spied on, from the squad’s inception in 1968 until 1982.
We won’t get to see the files that are going to be cited and discussed in the hearings.
How much will the Undercover Policing Inquiry cost?
Up to the end of 2019, the Inquiry had already cost £23,767,400. This will increase substantially as time goes on.
How long will the Undercover Policing Inquiry last?
The Inquiry was originally expected to publish its final report in summer 2018.
After a huge amount of deliberate delay from the police, the schedule was drastically revised. In May 2018, the Inquiry announced an ‘ambitious’ timeline that planned to deliver the final report to the Home Secretary in late 2023. A redacted version would have been expected to be published some time in 2024.
The Inquiry has already fallen a year behind this schedule. When we’ll see the final report is anyone’s guess, but 2026 seems plausible.
Where will the Undercover Policing Inquiry hearings be held?
Preliminary hearings were held at the Royal Courts of Justice. This year’s evidential hearings are to be held at 18 Pocock St, London, SE1 0BW.
This is the venue also used by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (its hearings will not be affected).
Can anyone come to the Undercover Policing Inquiry hearings?
Yes – but only if there’s room. The main room holds 60 people, with an overflow room for 40 more that will have a live link to the main room.
This means there is space for fewer than half the people granted ‘core participant’ status at the Inquiry, let alone any additional interested members of the public.
If you want to attend a hearing, the Inquiry wants you to register your intention via the Inquiry website. This will deter victims of spycops, and others who have issues with privacy. Even then, registering does not guarantee a place – if it’s full when you arrive then you’ll be turned away. This undermines the point of having a booking system at all, and is a deterrent to those who have to travel from outside London and/or make arrangements in order to take a day off.
These details aren’t well publicised. The booking system and limited capacity are mentioned in one PDF on the Inquiry site, the dates are buried in another. They are further examples of the exclusionary attitude of what we’ve come to regard as the secret public inquiry.
Will the Undercover Policing Inquiry hearings be live streamed?
No. Despite similar procedures such as the Grenfell Inquiry having live streaming, the Undercover Policing Inquiry does not intend to provide anything similar. The Inquiry is wary of releasing anything that might breach secrecy rules or the privacy of those involved. However, they intend to upload audio files some time after the hearings.
At the preliminary hearings, the Inquiry published a transcript within a day or two. It’s been in weirdly formatted PDFs that are not that easy to read, but at least they’re there. It’s expected that the same will happen with the evidential hearings.
Where will I find out what’s going on?
We will be live tweeting, and publishing daily reports and weekly summaries on our blog, Facebook and email list.
We also expect coverage from our friends at Police Spies Out of Lives (who represent women deceived into relationships by spycops) and the Undercover Research Group, with incisive comment and analysis.
What can I do to help?
We will call a demonstration for the first day of the hearings. As things stand, this is likely to be Monday 1 June, but we’ll confirm that nearer the time.