Judgment entered against police in undercover relationships case

On Friday 15th January 2016, the Metropolitan Police withdrew their defence in a case brought against them over undercover police relationships. In a significant development at the High Court, the police asked for judgment to be entered against them in respect of the claims for deceit, assault/battery, misfeasance in public office and negligence.

The claim had been brought by Kate Wilson, who was deceived into a 2-year relationship with undercover officer Mark Kennedy. The successful claim states that supervising officers had been negligent and had acted improperly in causing or allowing the relationship to happen.

The implication of this judgment is that the actions of Mark Kennedy “were undertaken with the express or tacit knowledge of other police officers employed by [the Metropolitan Police]”. Supervising and managing officers “knew that [Mark Kennedy] was abusing the power that he was given as an undercover police officer”, and their failure to act on this knowledge was “unlawful and in abuse of their own duties as supervisors and managers of [Mark Kennedy’s] undercover activities.”

Another implication of the judgment is that in circumstances where the police chose to use secret operations like these, they have a duty of care to the private individuals affected and are liable for any damage caused by their negligence. This may have important implications for future cases brought against them for their abusive undercover operations.

The judgment goes beyond even the historic apology issued by the Metropolitan Police in November to Kate Wilson’s fellow claimants, where the force acknowledged that undercover officers “had entered into long-term intimate sexual relationships with women which were abusive, deceitful, manipulative and wrong.”

However, despite this court victory for the women, concerns remain at the police’s lack of disclosure after a four-year court battle, raising further questions about their cooperation with the upcoming Public Inquiry Into Undercover Policing, and the power of that Inquiry to robustly uncover the truth.

Kate Wilson said:

“The police had already unequivocally accepted that the relationships were wrong. It is now clear that wrongdoing goes far beyond the individual undercover officers. Yet we are denied access to any information about the extent of the intrusion into our lives, who knew and how far up the hierarchy it went.

“The police’s decision not to defend the claim is clearly motivated by a determination to avoid disclosure of documents relating to the undercover operations, at any cost. Alongside recent revelations that they are unlawfully destroying files, it makes you wonder what further horrors they are really trying to hide.

“How many more women may have been affected by these abuses? How many more children may have been fathered by these undercover officers? It is clear the police are not going to come clean. The only way there can be real justice is if the Inquiry releases the cover names and opens the files so that these women can come forward themselves.”

Key background links:

1. The hearing on 15 January was a case management conference to clarify the timetable for disclosure and related matters. The common law claims arise from the deception of women into long-term intimate relationships by police officers who had infiltrated social and environmental justice campaigns.

2. The case was originally lodged in December 2011; previous hearings have sought to ensure the Met follows normal court procedure, including a battle over a ‘strike-out’ application, and a challenge to the Neither Confirm Nor Deny policy in which the women won a partial victory.

3. As part of an out-of-court settlement for seven out of the eight claims, the Met police issued a comprehensive apology in November 2015 – their first admission that the relationships had taken place and had caused significant damage. Other civil cases are being brought against the police over relationships by undercover officers and a public inquiry has also been launched into these and other concerns about the operations.

4. The eight women bringing this legal action are doing so to highlight and prevent the continuation of psychological, emotional and sexual abuse of campaigners and others by undercover police officers. ‘We come from different backgrounds and have a range of political beliefs and interests, and we are united in believing that every woman, and every person, has a right to participate in the struggle for social and environmental justice, without fear of persecution, objectification, or interference in their lives.’ – from ‘Where we stand’ Statement.

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Spycops past, spycops present

TODAY 15 January 2016 is the anniversary of dramatic events in Berlin, when people stormed the Stasi HQ to stop the destruction of files, and halted a cover-up of the secret police’s activities. Marking that day gives us an insight into present challenges: the ongoing secrecy and cover-up over UK ‘spycops’. These are the undercover police who infiltrated social and environmental justice groups for decades – and for all we know, are doing so still. They themselves knew that they might one day be called to account.

This afternoon sees the latest hearing in one of the ongoing cases against the Met police (and others) over the deception of women into long-term relationships. In these cases, the police have consistently flouted civil case procedure, attempting to issue their ‘Neither Confirm Nor Deny‘ policy to the courts instead of a proper defence, and stalling to avoid issuing a list of disclosure documents – a required step towards trial.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, an officer blew the whistle over the destruction of files compiled about Jenny Jones, who’s role includes holding the Met to account via the London Assembly. The Met issued a statement saying it didn’t think there was a problem. Everyone else said: that’s the problem.

And in a grassroots development worthy of the Berlin protesters of 1990, the Special Branch Files Project launched this week. A collaboration between several groups, the project publishes documents previously released under Freedom of Information requests but now witheld. Showing files on particular groups – peace, anti-apartheid, strikes – alongside details of how officers are treated, we gain an insight into why the police cannot now be trusted as guardians of their history.

And that’s not least because their history is our history. How can we trust that the public inquiry will force the Met to come clean? The Undercover Research Group called for the inquiry to take action to stop the destruction of the files, for the unit to be shut down and officers’ access blocked. If investigation cannot take place, how else will we understand the impact of spycops and their various abuses and corruptions? As the spycops attempt to politically police democracy to death, we’re fighting for our society’s right to understand the past – and to change the present.

In advance of today’s hearing there will be a solidarity picket outside the Royal Courts of Justice at 1pm.

VIDEO: Kate Wilson’s recent visit to the Stasi museum (with thanks to Spied Upon Film):

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Solidarity demo: Friday 15 January 2016, 1pm, High Court, London

Please share widely!
15jan2016-stasianniv

15th January 1990 – Stasi Secret Police
Smoke is seen rising from Stasi HQ in Berlin, as officers desperately try to burn the evidence of their abuses. People storm the complex to stop the destruction, and demand access to the files that had been compiled on them.

15th January 2016 – UK #spycops
Over a quarter of a century later, we are fighting for access to the truth about secret political policing in Britain. As a hearing is held in one of the ongoing cases against abuses by the Met’s undercover units, join us to demand that they…

Release the cover names & open the files!
Solidarity Demo – Fri 15 Jan 2016 – 1pm
Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand, London WC2 nearest tube: Holborn / Temple

For background info:
Release the names, Open the Files
Women issue statement on court hearing and Stasi anniversary
How the SDS saw the Stasi secret files events “This is going to happen to us one day”

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“This is going to happen to us one day” – UK #spycops and the Stasi anniversary

As a key court hearing falls on the anniversary of events in secret police history, it is not only campaigners who make the links between East Germany’s Stasi and the UK’s spycops – in fact, the SDS officers themselves were well aware of the parallels:

The events at the Stasi Berlin HQ on 15 January 1990 led to further developments, as a society attempted to come to terms with what had happened. In 1994, coverage of the process was broadcast in the UK – and was seen by those who were, themselves, involved in UK’s own secret police.

They were in their safe house, sitting on worn out sofas in the lounge.
A team of undercover officers had spent the evening drinking and chatting in the London apartment. It was late one night in 1994.
They turned on the television to catch a news report from Germany. Tens of thousands of Germans were trawling through secret files compiled on them before the Berlin Wall came down. There was a wave of revulsion at the scale of surveillance perpetrated by the Stasi, the East German secret police. [..] The TV report showed the distraught face of a woman in Berlin who had discovered the man she had loved for years was a spy.
There was silence in the lounge. Then one of the undercover police officers said what the others must have been thinking.
‘You do realise, this is going to happen to us one day,’ he said ‘we’re going to open a book and read all about what we’ve been up to.’
It was a chilling thought. The men lounging on the red sofas were members of the Special Demonstration Squad, a top-secret unit within London’s Metropolitan Police.

from Undercover: The True Story of Britain’s Secret Police, by Rob Evans and Paul Lewis (Faber and Faber, 2013)

As the women call for names to be released and files to be opened, a solidarity demo will take place in London on Friday 15 January 2016, and eight women who took legal action against the police have made a statement on the anniversary and upcoming court hearing.

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Women’s statement re Stasi anniversary and UK Spycops: “Release the names, open the files”

The eight women in this case have issued the following statement ahead of the coming court hearing and anniversary:

“Friday 15th January 2016 will see the first hearing in our legal case against undercover policing since the historic apology issued just over two months ago by the Metropolitan Police to seven of us who were deceived into long-term, intimate relationships with undercover police officers spying on political movements.

“January 15th is also the 26th anniversary of the occupation of the Stasi HQ in Berlin. Protestors outside the building saw smoke rising from fires as Stasi officers desperately tried to burn the evidence of their abuses and crimes. People massed outside the complex and stormed the gates in order to stop the destruction and demand access to the secret files held on them by the collapsing regime. Yet today, almost a quarter of a century after the East German people won their battle to expose the activities of the Stasi, we in Britain are still fighting for access to the truth about our undercover police.

“Despite the apology and very public settlement of seven of our eight claims, the police have so far refused to disclose any information to any of us about the files held on us, the extent of the intrusion into our lives, or the motivations behind the abusive police operations we were subjected to.

“Despite the launching of a Public Inquiry chaired by Lord Justice Pitchford into the activites of undercover units, it still remains unclear whether there will really be a robust and transparent process to uncover the truth. There are already grave concerns over the inquiry’s failure to include the activities of police officers outside of England and Wales, despite the fact that most of the exposed undercover operatives also worked in Scotland and/or abroad.

“The five years that have passed since the exposure of the first undercover officers have seen an avalanche of revelations about the abusive and sometimes illegal activities of Britain’s secret police; and this information, uncovered by activists, journalists and whistleblowers, is just the tip of the iceberg. Around 200 undercover officers are known to have been used to infiltrate political movements in Britain since 1968, affecting potentially thousands of groups and individuals who have no idea that their companions, friends, partners, or even fathers were, in fact, police spies.

“The lessons from Germany during the fall of the GDR are clear: legal processes, courts, and government inquiries alone cannot be trusted to uncover the truth. It took direct action and pressure from the grassroots to forcibly expose the abuses of the Stasi. Today, as the court decides how to proceed over the question of disclosure in this case, we remember the bravery and conviction of the people of the GDR; and to the police and the Pitchford inquiry we have this message: enough is enough, it is time to release the cover names and open the files.”

Additional statement from Kate Wilson:

Kate Wilson, the woman whose case is being heard on 15 January, had a two year relationship with Mark Kennedy of the NPOIU (cover name Mark Stone) between 2003 and 2005.

“The police claim they had no knowledge of my relationship with Mark, although he lived with me for more than a year of his undercover operation. I have yet to see any documents or authorisations that explain his intrusion into my life or the lives of my parents and friends. I don’t know if I was targetted for my political beliefs and they are lying and witholding the documentation to cover it up; or if I was simply so-called ‘collateral intrusion’ in a secret operation against political dissent, that sidelined my life, my family, my body and myself, and the police did not even consider it worthy of a mention in an operational authorisation. Either possibility is deeply disturbing.

“We have been fighting these court cases for years and the police have used every possible tool to avoid disclosure, from Neither Confirm Nor Deny to strikeout attempts; even settling out-of-court, which enables them to avoid the scrutiny of a public trial. The damage caused by the deception and abuses we were subjected to by the police is compounded by their refusal to give us any answers, and I hope that on Friday the court finally forces the police to follow the normal legal procedure and provide disclosure in this case.

“But beyond that, I am inspired by the coincidence of the date and by the people’s history from the former GDR. I would like to see the true nature of Britain’s political policing fully exposed, and I believe everyone affected by these abusive undercover units should be given free access to their files.”

A solidarity demonstration will take place outside the High Court at 1pm on Friday 15 January 2016.
For further background on the hearing see here and for how the SDS viewed the Stasi files events, see here.

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