Not so much neither confirm nor deny as a case of denial
The Pitchford Inquiry’s confirmation of ‘Carlo Neri’ and ‘Marco Jacobs’ as undercovers police officers was welcomed by those whose lives they had invaded. Those affected had been facing police obstruction in their quest for answers.
However, on Friday, the National Police Chiefs Council, the leading body representing police across the country, released a statement saying they will continue to uphold the principle of Neither Confirm Nor Deny (NCND) for undercover police officers. They went so far as to say that they would continue to maintain it even for undercovers who have since died. This has left campaigners scratching their heads once again.
The ghost of this discredited policy seemed to have been properly buried when the police barrister, Jonathan Hall, effectively conceded the point before Justice Pitchford in a hearing earlier this year. If their application for NCND to be upheld had been successful, then the inquiry would effectively been taken place in secret. However, as key core participant Helen Steel argued before Pitchford , NCND was only ever a recently adopted tactic to avoid embarrassment. It was never the hard and fast policy the Metropolitan Police want everyone to think.
For example, whistleblower and former spycop Peter Francis stated as much in his submissions to the Inquiry; and when Mark Kennedy was first exposed in 2011, the Metropolitan Police readily admitted he had been an undercover. There are other examples.
Nevertheless, even when Jacobs was admitted by Pitchford, the NPCC told us that they were maintaining NCND , though it is not clear what was achieved by this. Those targeted for relationships have repeatedly made the point as how not knowing the truth about being spied upon only adds to their trauma.
However, in their statement, the NPCC state:
Any corrosion of the belief that organisations will attempt to protect the identities of officers by all means possible would in turn lead to the position where organisations could no longer credibly encourage officers to volunteer for this dangerous, difficult work on the basis that their identities and roles would be protected. Disclosure of one officer can also put other colleagues at risk or impact on ongoing investigations. Organised criminals and terrorists will go to great lengths to insulate themselves against action by law enforcement. Criminal and terrorist organisations have reacted with extreme violence against individuals who are alleged to have been human sources.
People were quick to point out on Twitter and elsewhere that this conflicts with several recent court cases featuring undercovers. A notable one is ‘Kamal ’, speaking out at a court case in Luton where he had infiltrated Islamists, pictures being provided to the press; likewise, ‘Muhamed ’ targeted claimed Islamic State supporters trying to reach Syria. Another is ‘John Sherwood ’ who set up a cafe targeting the Salford underworld.
It will be clear to those targeted by ‘Kamal’, ‘Muhamed’ and ‘John Sherwood’ just who those individuals were, for all that they testified behind screens. So this is clearly not NCND; if anything it is the very opposite – confirming that there had been an undercover. What this does is create the impression that when it suits the police, namely there is some glory in it, they are willing to admit to undercovers and even release sufficient detail that those who had encountered them could easily recognise them. But when it comes to reputation, then NCND is cast iron policy.
It is not as if the undercovers are particularly shy, even those supposed to have infiltrated the most dangerous of criminal gangs - several of them have come forward with books on their activities, the latest being Stephen Bentley ’s account of his time undercover in the 1970’s Operation Julie.
Another critique levelled against the statement is not so much what it said, as what it was missing. They say:
While we are doing everything we can to fully support and provide access to the Inquiry, we will make applications for anonymity wherever necessary and in line with the orders of the inquiry because it is essential that we do all we can to protect the identities of the officers who volunteer for this dangerous and psychologically challenging role.
Yet, there is no acknowledgement of the abuses carried out by undercovers, no sense that there is a legitimate need for accountability for the damage done. Campaigners who worked and lived alongside these undercovers were left feeling insulted by this statement. As core participant Merrick Badger told us:
In their scrabble to dodge accountability the NPCC seem to forget that this is a perpetrator and victim situation. It’s established and accepted by everyone that these officers abused citizens. The police talk up the supposed threat of reprisal from the people they targeted but they don’t mention the need for the public to know the truth. The names and pictures of many of the officers have been all over the media for years without anything untoward happening. We need to know who the rest are so that we can know what’s been done in our name and at our expense. It’s not the police that need protecting from their victims, it’s the public who need protecting from these officers.
The full statement from the NPCC can be found here.