Spycops victims forced to seek crowd funding for participation in Undercover Policing Inquiry
There are 200 core participants in the Undercover Policing Inquiry. These are all people who have been accepted by the Inquiry itself as having a significant interest in the outcome, or individuals who may be subject to criticism by it. Though it includes a number of undercover police, the vast majority of the core participants were political campaigners targeted by specialist police undercover units, not a few of them for sexual relationships. As more details of undercovers come to light, this number will undoubtedly grow.
However, there is a significant inequality of arms. The non-police, non-state core participants (NPSCPs) are allowed to use their own solicitors, , however, when it comes to making submissions they are greatly restricted. They are permitted only one barrister between approximately 190 of them, and the solicitors are not funded to actually attend the hearings. Likewise, the NPSCPs themselves receive no funding to attend the various meetings with their solicitors to discuss the issues they are to be represented on.
This has given rise to considerable anger among those spied upon and who want their voices heard properly. Indeed, during the protest at the opening of the hearing, one of the core participants, Dave Smith of the Blacklisting Support Group, made the point that the police and state had multiple barristers compared to one for the NPSCPs, all being paid, one way or another, by the state.
The matter has been raised multiple times with the Inquiry but consistently been knocked back. Apparently, the Inquiry is only interested in hearing from the legal representatives for the time being, and will only fund the non-state core participants actual participation later on in the process. The NPSCPs are not satisfied with this, saying that they have valuable input to be made to the issues including legal ones which affect them directly. Their detailed experience of it meaning that they are best placed to pick up on points even relating to the discussions, able to feed in context that the Inquiry to date is utterly lacking.
The point was made in a practical way at the last hearing. While the Inquiry Chair, Sir John Mitting was blithely making decisions about revealing the names of undercover officers, core participants present were able to come forward and point out new information concerning an undercover now discovered to have had multiple sexual relationships.
With their solicitors not being funded to attend hearings, the NSPCPs are feeling the pressure to take the time out of their lives to ensure they are present. Speaking to them, it is clear they feel they have much to input, but that voice is being systematically being ignored. As one told us:
This inquiry is about what happened to us, yet we are being silenced. Ours is the missing voice in all this.The police get all the resources we need, but the moment we ask to be heard, we are told there is no funding. How is that justice? All we are asking is that we are properly represented – hardly unreasonable given the abuses suffered and the systemic tearing up of our human rights. We need to be able to go to the hearings because they directly affect us.
However, for many, such attendance is financially prohibitive.
The NPSCPs do not believe their request for financial assistance from the Inquiry to be unreasonable, and it appears they have a point when put into context of the costs to date. A financial report released by the Inquiry noted its costs up to September 2017 was £8 million. On top of this, there is the huge financial outlay by the Metropolitan Police who are funding not only much of the police response to the Inquiry, but also Operation Herne. In 2015 it was arguing for an annual budget of around £4 million per year, just for investigating the Special Demonstration Squad.
More recently, the National Police Chiefs’ Council provided an annual budget of £1m per year for its response to the Inquiry, while the costs to regional police forces for investigating the national spycops unit was £3.2 m. Meanwhile, £750K of counter-terrorism funds are being redirected to meet redaction costs alone.
Even just at the recent hearing, there were barristers including QCs, from the Metropolitan Police, the Designated Lawyers Team representing the individual undercovers, Slater & Gordon, the National Police Chiefs Council, the Home Office. These each came with their cohort of juniors barristers and solicitors. A back of envelope calculation puts the legal fees for those two days as approaching £100K alone.
There is no doubt that the state is throwing serious resources to limit exposure of the undercover policing scandal. When you look at such figures, it is clear that the requests of the NPSCPs are just a drop in the ocean.
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