[Updated 2 November evening: So the first day of the Undercover Policing Inquiry actually went ahead…despite problems with their livestream (the Inquiry has only costs £29million so far!). After much boring legal talk & sketching out of the broad yet secretive remit of the Inquiry to start, the UCPI got onto naming lists of campaign groups spied on in the period 1968-72, in particular around opposition to the Vietnam War – see this report by journalist Rob Evans. Live tweets by campaigners watching online provided useful information, and some ironic comments such as this from @tombfowler: “Report from #spycopsinquiry on the #WomensLiberationFront, including the dangerous literature from the group that was campaigning for an equal rate of pay in jobs, against divorce discrimination and more extremism. No wonder they sent the #spycops in..!” For daily live tweets follow Fowler and @CopsCampaign!]
Original article: Finally hearings begin…The Undercover Police Inquiry (UCPI) was announced in March 2014 by then Home Secretary Theresa May. It’s first Chair announced in April 2015, and it began work in June 2015. The UCPI Report was due to be delivered by July 2018. It wasn’t. A series of delays, largely down to police stonewalling, denial, lack of co-operation and outright obfuscation, and complex legal arguements…has meant that the UCPI hearings with ‘core participants’ are only starting on 2 November 2020. Coronavirus has delayed them for 5 months (not 5 years!), and also means they really will not be very public at all due to requirements around physical distancing & limited online streaming. The UCPI has already cost the public £29million. The UCPI is now scheduled to produce it’s report to the Home Secretary in 2023, with a ‘redacted’ public Report published in 2024, but estimates are that now won’t be until 2026.
To be absolutely clear, without the hard work of dedicated campaigners, many of whom had themselves been spied upon, sympathetic lawyers, a handful of decent policiticians, and a few honest journalists, the UCPI would never have been announced. It was a reaction by the state to an escalating shit show that was painting the police, and their political masters, in a very bad light. Government Inquiries, like History Commissions, really do kick the can down the road. A long way. Revelations regards spycops that began to emerge in 2009, and went on to confirm numerous previous suspicions over many decades – about this person and that, this event and that. Focused around the cases of a growing number of women who had been coerced into intimate relationships by undercover cops, secretly using the names of dead children; and on the exposures that anti-racist & justice campaigns such as the Stephen Lawrence Campaign had been infiltrated by cops posing as campaigners, the then Tory Govt ran for cover in the face of serious pressure, including from mainstream media (with some often lurid headlines). All the time, survivors and campaigners continued to expose ever more widespread undercover police activity, including of mainstream labour (see blacklisted workers), environmental & peace organisations, around the UK and in Bristol – see ‘Spycops Targets: a Who’s Who‘ – and the general sense that the police had either been out of control for some time….or were doing the bidding of their political & corporate masters. In the legal terminology of the UCPI, these campaigners who can participate are called (non-state) ‘core participants’. Spycops, their commanding officers, and other officials are also ‘core participants’, but their ID’s remain largely secret! In a Public Inquiry!
According to a useful explainer from the CopsCampaign:
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. (read their UCPI FAQ here)
So far much of the UCPI’s legal decisions have leaned heavily in favour of maintaining total secrecy about many of the undercover cops & their operations, denying both justice & truth to individuals and families. In most instances, exposing the truth remains the work of campaigners, not the justice system. There’s another problem too – the Inquiry only covers spycops upto 2011. As the Guardian investigative journalists Rob Evans & Paul Lewis, authors of the compelling book ‘Undercover‘ – review – published in June 2013, have noted last week:
Police chiefs are declining to say whether they are continuing to target political activists using the same undercover techniques. In a statement the National Police Chiefs Council said it was assisting the inquiry, adding: “it would be inappropriate to comment further”.
Indeed it appears likely that such activities have been moved under the control of probably both the MetPolice’s Counter Terrorism, and Special Branch (via regional offices)…which takes us conveniently back to where the Special Demonstration Squad began back in 1968, in Special Branch! Not that anyone is admitting this.
You can find out more via the links in this article, and from these resources: Police Spies Out Of Lives, Undercover Research Group, Spycops Timeline, Guardian Investigation
For news on the UCPI & Spycops generally, check these twitter handles: #spycops, @out_of_lives, @netpol, @copscampaign, @UndercoverNet, @INQUEST_ORG, @tombfowler, @copwatcher, @PaulLewis, @robevansgdn, @DaveBlacklist
On Monday 2 November there is a – Spycops Inquiry Demo, Online & Everywhere – do what you can where you can #SpyCopsInquiry. Remember the UCPI will run for years, although whether campaigners boycott it before it goes much further remains to be seen. There is also the coronavirus factor…whill the UCPI it continue during further lockdowns? We extend our solidarity with all those spied upon, stay strong!
Yet as these hearings begin, at the same time, the Tory Govt is rushing through Parliament as fast as it can the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill or CHIS Bill, with little opposition from the Labour Party Leadership, although it is being condemned and opposed by virtually every civil liberties, human rights & campaign group we can think of.
This is a dangerous Bill at a dangerous time, and as Police Spies Out Of Lives, the campaign group supporting individuals coerced into intimate relationships with spycops, state on their CHIS Bill campaign page:
“….The government’s new Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill will enshrine in law the very wrongdoing and criminality we have been fighting to legislate against.”
It’s not just the spycops out of control, but the Tory Govt too.
(Image credits – all images from campaign groups listed)