Campaigners concerned about change in direction of spycops inquiry
UPDATE (7th September): we contacted the Inquiry about this issue on 23rd September, several days ahead of publication on 26th August. On 5th September we received a response from the Inquiry stating: "The omission of the wording ... was merely an oversight. The terms of reference have not changed and this wording will reappear in any future background section of the Inquiry’s press notice."
Since the Inquiry began issuing press notices in 2016, it has appended to the notes this short briefing about the Inquiry:
The Inquiry will examine the contribution undercover policing has made to tackling crime, how it was and is supervised and regulated, and its effect on individuals involved, both police officers and others who came into contact with them.
The Inquiry ranges across the full scope of undercover policing work and will look at the work of the Special Demonstration Squad, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit and police forces in England and Wales. The Inquiry will also examine whether people may have been wrongly convicted in cases involving undercover police officers, and refer any such cases to a separate panel for consideration.
However, in the latest press release this last line has been deleted. Earlier this week we asked the Inquiry why, but have yet to receive a response.
Core Participant at the Inquiry, Martyn Lowe, a peace campaigner spied upon by Bob Lambert, picked up on this:
It really worries me this has been taken out. Our participation in the Inquiry is because we are looking for answers, for justice. If the Inquiry is not going to fully examine the systematic human rights abuses carried out by these units then what is its actual point? We were promised justice, but yet again the victims of spycop abuses are being treated as second class citizens, while the abusers, the police, continue to get protection from accountability.
From the beginning, campaigners have emphasised the need for justice for all those targeted, given this was not just a few officers, but two entire units that were deemed out of control and ‘had lost their moral compass’.
The above deletion appears to be part of a wider change in approach under the new chair, John Mitting, who replaced Christopher Pitchford earlier this year. There is already considerable concern that Mitting, whose background is in secret tribunals, is seeking to undo the work of his predecessor.
Pitchford, who stepped down earlier this year, had said openness was key to the success of the Inquiry. However, Mitting is placing much more emphasis on the Inquiry being able to meet its terms of reference without having to make the officers’ details public. He is also readily accepting police’s arguments around the Human Rights Convention on Article 8 (rights to privacy), which featured much less in Pitchford’s reasoning, including extending such considerations to family members.
This is not to say Pitchford would not have made the same rulings, as pointed out by one of our Twitter followers, but the reasoning being now presented gives scope for a much wider imposition of secrecy.
Given it is the unwarranted invasion of private life by undercover police that has led to the inquiry, this sense of one law for the police and one law for everyone else compounds the pain of those targeted for relationships further. When we spoke to several of those affected last week, their anger and sense of injustice was palpable. Removal of a commitment to root out wrongful convictions has only added to the fear that the Inquiry is being deliberately moved away from the reasons it was established.