By Jenny Jones
When the inquiry into undercover policing re-opens today we should congratulate several strong women. First, there are the innocent women who had their lives torn apart by police officers who deceived their way into their beds and their family lives. These women pursued a brave civil action against the Metropolitan Police and after many years forced a much-delayed and reluctant apology. Secondly, there is Doreen Lawrence, the mother of Stephen Lawrence, whose equally dogged campaign for justice was subject to police spying. And thirdly we should congratulate Theresa May, the Home Secretary, who has made some very wise decisions about policing issues within the UK, since taking on the job.
The Met's apology is not only an important vindication of all these women’s hard work in identifying the officers, it exposes how it institutionally supported those officers and their behaviour for so many years. The Met financed the lies. It refused to confirm or deny the existence of these police officers. And it spent hundreds of thousands of pounds fighting the court case against the women. No disciplinary action has been taken against the senior officers who authorised this huge waste of public funds and police time and resources.
So will the Met continue to spin these acts as those of a few rogue officers who formed casual sexual relationships using their undercover identities? The truth is the taxpayer funded officers to form long term emotional bonds with these women as a deliberate tactic to gain access to the network of campaigners whom they wanted to spy upon.
I'm curious as to how the Met will try to justify their policy of Neither Confirm Nor Deny (NCND), as this was the brick wall which the women faced when they initially brought forward their allegations and it was this policy which forced them into taking a civil action. How could any of these women have faith in a police investigation into undercover officers where the Met wouldn’t even acknowledge that they exist?
My own questions to the Mayor of London on this highlighted this inconsistency. The Met has maintained a blanket policy and has defended that position in court, but they also claim to regularly carry out risk assessments about the danger faced should officers have their identities exposed. If it does revisit risk assessments on undercover operatives, do they always find the officers would be 'placed in significant danger as a result of their identities being revealed'? If that's the case, why bother doing the risk assessments in the first place?
One of the big things missing from this inquiry is what UK undercover officers were doing while working in continental Europe. This has already been raised in the German Parliament. We know that some of them operated abroad and the inquiry should assure itself that the rule- breaking which went on in the UK stopped at the English Channel. The refusal of the inquiry to look at this, despite my appeals to the Home Secretary, will leave an air of suspicion about what our police got up to on foreign soil.
The Met has maintained that the Special Demonstration Squad was an aberration, which functioned outside the normal channels of accountability within New Scotland Yard. But if it was an aberration, it was an aberration that was allowed to continue for 40 years. While I would support much of the Met’s undercover work which is short term and aimed at serious crime, it’s clear it sees spying on thousands of innocent people who are involved in perfectly legitimate campaigns as a regular part of their work.
I say this as someone who was labelled a domestic extremist and was on the Met database for 10 years. This was not only a waste of public funds, but damaging to the democratic process, especially when the Met Police are spying on people who are trying to hold them to account for their failures, as I was. It crosses a line to pry into the lives of campaigners who are taking court cases against them, or organising public meetings criticising their actions.
There may sometimes be legitimate reasons for the Met Police to do so, but they should have to justify every action, to ensure that it isn't simply about saving themselves from public embarrassment.
Baroness Jenny Jones is a Green Party peer and London Assembly member.
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