“Put yourself in the situation of a witness” – Pitchford asked to widen undertakings for the spied-upon

Today saw another preliminary hearing of the ‘Pitchford’ Inquiry, the public inquiry into undercover policing which is being chaired by Lord Pitchford.

There’s been a whole series of these preliminary hearings, where Pitchford hears from the different parties about how the inquiry itself should be conducted. What decisions Pitchford makes may have an enormous impact on the inquiry. Hanging in the balance is whether the inquiry will be a step on the journey to truth and justice, or whether it will just be a waste of time.

Today’s hearing was about ‘undertakings’, promises given to witnesses that their evidence to the inquiry may not be used to prosecute them. These promises – ‘undertakings’ – are not given directly by Pitchford; but rather he decides what undertakings he will request from the Attorney General. (See our undertakings briefing for an explanation of how it works and the background to today’s discussions.)

There’s a principle of non-self-incrimination already in place, and Pitchford emphasised at the start of the hearing that this is already one of the undertakings he will be requesting of the Attorney General:

From this point onwards, two groups of core participants in the inquiry diverge.
State Core Participants (the police, state agencies) want everyone – all the witnesses – to be treated the same. (If that sounds like a bid for equality, be careful, because it’s not. One side knew what was going on, and had massive budgets and the apparatus of the state at their disposal, which they used to disrupt and undermine political movements, and the lives of those involved in the political movements. The other side did not know what was going on, are still being kept in the dark and are trying to rebuild their lives, while the things they were politically active about – for example, racism and climate change, to name but two – rage on. Go figure.)

On the other hand, the Non-State Core Participants (NSCPs) are asking that two sets of witnesses – the police and those they spied upon – be treated differently:

The crucial difference being:

Or as it was formally put at the hearing:

The Undercover Policing Inquiry – to give it it’s official title – is exactly that. It’s not an inquiry into what social and environmental activist do or don’t get up to. So the NSCPs are asking that evidence given by a spied-upon witness be given an extended undertaking: that it won’t be used to prosecute others either. This would mean that a witness could give evidence without incriminating their friends and comrades and leading directly to their prosecution. Given how the modus operandi of undercover officers was to embed themselves deeply into the lives, social networks and families of those they were spying upon, this is crucial.

In many cases the deploying of undercover officers into political movements is a smear in itself; many of those spied upon were not even remotely in danger of breaking any laws, and even with those who were:

Because the police have been so secretive (and, it should be noted, still have access to their own documents – the units which succeeded the now defunct Special Demonstration Squad have not been shut down, and no officers have yet been prosecuted), the inquiry will need the witness evidence of those spied upon for it to be any kind of Inquiry at all. So the Inquiry needs to secure the trust of the police’s victims.

And why would any of them have reason to trust any part of the establishment, given what has happened? At the hearing today, the need to secure the trust of those who were spied on was emphasised:

(This comment was referencing what was being proposed by the State Core Participants.)

Pitchford will now consider his decisions. As the QC for the NSCPs said:

As with previous hearings, a transcript of today’s will shortly be available on the Inquiry website, where the finer detail of the further discussions will be clear.

Meanwhile, in less than a week we will find out Pitchford’s decisions about the other crucial question for the inquiry: how much secrecy the police will be allowed. Decision due on May 3.

Thanks to: @tombfowler, @AKA_KatieT and @conradlandin


I lived with an undercover officer – this BBC series gets it all wrong

Alison,’ one eight women who sued the police over being deceived into relationships with undercover cops, has spoken out in criticism of the BBC’s new drama series ‘Undercover.’ She had a relationship with ‘Mark Jenner’ an undercover cop she knew as Mark Cassidy (pictured).

Mark Jenner - former SDS undercover officer
Mark Jenner – former SDS undercover officer

She has written a piece in the Guardian, saying that despite advising the screenwriter Peter Moffat some years ago, she feels that the story he is portraying is misleading and inauthentic. It misrepresents “the deceitful individuals involved” and misunderstands “the power dynamics and sexual politics” that underpin the deployment of officers by these units.

‘Alison’ explains that “There is no precedent of officers having families with their targets then sustaining a happy marriage for two decades under the guise of their state-sponsored identity”. Instead, since 1996 all officers have been required to have wives and possibly children in their lives. Many officers cheated on, lied and exploited both their wives, and their activist lovers, with their dual domestic role.  ‘Alison’ feels that their “true stories… were sufficiently dramatic without requiring elaboration,” and that Undercover is a sensationalised misrepresentation of how the Met Special Demonstration Squad operated, and hopes that because of this it does not miss the opportunity to spark viewers to find out about the true stories of “abusive relationships condoned by the police in the name of law and order.”


The police under investigation: witness incrimination at the spycops inquiry.

A guide to the ‘undertakings’ hearing at the Pitchford Public Inquiry into Undercover Policing

On Wednesday 27 April, next week, another crucial hearing will take place in London, as part of the Public Inquiry into Undercover Policing. The one-day preliminary hearing is set to decide issues of ‘undertakings’ – what protections will be offered to witnesses giving evidence.

In advance of the hearing, different sets of Core Participants to the Inquiry have made submissions, setting out their legal arguments for the Chair’s consideration. These include the Metropolitan Police Service, Mark Kennedy, National Police Chief’s Council, Whistle blower Peter Francis, National Crime Agency and the Home Office.

A large group is the non-police non-state Core Participants (NSPCP) – that is, people who are part of the inquiry because they were affected by police infiltration.

For this crucial hearing, we believe strongly that every member of the public should have a chance to understand what is at stake. To that end, we have a produced this briefing.

All of the submissions can be found at the Inquiry website.


“Operation Black Antler” at Brighton Festival: our position

On 17 February this year, we received a number of concerned emails drawing our attention to advertising for a piece of immersive theatre on the topic of undercover police and their infiltration of political groups. Due to run as part of Brighton Festival in May, the piece was comissioned by the Festival and is to be one of the main pieces.

The advertising blurb mentioned that the piece would be based on real life deployments, in which officers had “even had relationships” with those on whom they spied, and promised a “thrilling” experience for ticket-holders, who would be invited to be in the shoes of these police officers.

This was a shocking and appalling piece of advertising, raising a large number of concerns, which were immediately communicated to both the theatre companies involved to the Festival itself, from several different quarters.

As a support group, we arranged to meet a representative of the two theatre companies involved, and a personal letter was passed on from one of the women affected by undercover relationships.

Since then, the theatre companies have changed the promotional material, withdrawn a video, and written a blog about the piece attempting to answer the concerns. These are all welcome steps. However, it remains deeply unfortunate that the programme for the festival, which contains the original blurb, including the problematic content above, could not be withdrawn as by that time it was already in circulation.

Following the meeting, we passed on suggestions to the two theatre companies about how they might incorporate material into the piece:
– to give voice to those affected;
– to emphasise where the police have admitted wrongdoing;
– to make the companion ethics debate accessible to all (since the issues of political police infiltration affect us all);
– and to enable participants to find out more about the ongoing campaign to make the police come clean.

We also strongly advised that the theatre companies make contact with other groups affected by police political spying, particularly those affected by police racism and spying. (The piece plans to depict right-wing groups; those who fight the racism of these groups were themselves targetted by police spies, making them doubly affected. To give just one high-profile example: as the Macpherson Inquiry established, the institutional racism of the police was at the root of failures in the investigation of Stephen Lawrence’s racist murder. We now know that the Lawrence family and justice campaign was then spied on by undercover police, who attempted to smear the family and witnesses, and who hid their role from the subsequent Inquiry.)

The two companies and Brighton Festival issued an apology that the original publicity gave a “misleading representation of the piece” and corrected their website blurb which can be found here: Brighton Festival – Operation Black Antler

Since then we left the theatre companies to it, as due to time constraints neither we nor the women we support would be able to give further input. At that point, the theatre piece was still being devised, giving opportunity to make a good, responsible, sensitive, thought-provoking piece which powerfully connects participants with the realities of those affected and the wider issues of democracy and human rights.

We encourage anyone wanting to create theatre or art about these events and issues to do so, but to fully consider the ethics as part of their creative process and their publicity. Are you are attempting to genuinely open up discussion, to educate, illuminate and empower? Or will your production merely entertain, sensationalise and exploit?

We also suggest that if a drama production wishes to have first-hand contact with any of the many groups affected (as they should, wherever possible), they learn from the experiences of these theatre companies that this takes time, and indeed may not be successful. Those affected are not only attempting to rebuild their lives but are also mired in uphill battles to bring the police to account; what happened to them still generates enormous demands on their lives. It may not be possible to play an advisory role to those wishing to make depictions about traumatic events. (In this case, it was blatantly obvious that to only attempt contact after the promotional blurb has been finalised and printed was far too late, and this is acknowledged by all concerned.)

Meanwhile, we will continue to campaign, and we hope members of the public will join us. We are attempting to get to the bottom of ongoing real-life events, in which police officers become actors, abuse the public they claim to serve, and refuse to divulge who wrote their lines. This isn’t a drama, it’s real life. And we’re all immersed in it – no ticket required.

Operation Black Antler is at the Brighton Festival 7-28 May 2016, with an Ethics Debate taking place on Monday 23 May at which there will be a presence from Police Spies Out of Lives (details tbc).


‘Undercover policing, democracy and human rights’ seminar

When: Thursday, 14 April 2016 from 5-7pm
Where: Lecture Theatre A, Roscoe Building, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL

The Undercover Policing Inquiry was appointed following revelations that undercover police officers kept lawful political campaigns under surveillance, assumed the identities of deceased children and deceived women into having sexual relationships.

This Manchester School of Law seminar, that is open to the public, will hear from three speakers who are directly involved:

Alison’ gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee on her experience of having been deceived into a five year relationship by undercover officer Mark Jenner.

Harriet Wistrich, Human Rights Lawyer of the Year 2014, represents numerous women (including Alison) who have successfully pursued civil claims and obtained an apology from the Metropolitan Police, and others that will be giving evidence to the Undercover Policing Inquiry.

Dr Eveline Lubbers is a member of the Undercover Research Group and has published research on the activities of undercover police officers. She is also the author of Secret Manoeuvres in the Dark: Corporate Spying on Activists and Battling Big Business: Countering Greenwash, Front Groups and Other Forms of Corporate Deception.

Core issues that will be raised before the Undercover Policing Inquiry, relating to lawful police surveillance, the right to privacy and family life, freedom of expression and the law on sexual offences, will also be discussed at the seminar.

NOTE: Entry is free but advance booking is required.


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