Undercover Policing Inquiry: Spycops unit should have been disbanded in the early 1970s, yet officers abused women for another 40 years.

  • Damning interim report of Undercover Policing Inquiry published today
  • Spycops unit had ‘perennial’ practice of undercover officers forming sexual relationships with women activists
  • Inquiry declares undercover operations unjustified
  • Women spied on call for ‘police to stop protecting themselves’, hand over the women’s files and demand the Inquiry fully identifies all officers involved

The Undercover Policing Inquiry has published its first report, which contains damning conclusions about the early years of the ‘spycops’ unit within the Metropolitan Police, the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS). The interim report, the first since the Inquiry’s inception in 2015, also documents a ‘perennial’ practice of undercover officers having sexual relationships with women they spied on.

The women who were spied on welcome the Inquiry’s findings, which show the undercover unit was ‘unjustified and undemocratic’. They now demand the Met hand over the files gathered on them, and urge the Inquiry to ‘stop protecting police’ and reveal the full identities of all undercover officers.

The SDS operated from 1968 to 2008 and was tasked to infiltrate political and activist groups, with the intention of gathering intelligence to assist in public order policing. The interim report of the Inquiry investigates the operations of the SDS between 1968-1982. Inquiry chair Sir John Mitting has concluded that most of the groups spied on, which included women’s liberation groups, posed limited risk to public order and no risk to the safety of the state. Sir John Mitting said ‘it is hard to credit that penetration of or even reporting on these groups could have been thought worthwhile.’ [1]

In the report, Sir John Mitting declares that the intelligence gathered did not ‘justify the means’, which involved developing long-term friendships with unsuspecting members of the public and trespassing in their homes. He said: ‘had the use of these means been publicly known at the time, the SDS would have been brought to a rapid end.” [2] Instead, it continued to operate in secret for another 40 years.

Sexual relationships

The Inquiry has found that, between 1968-1982, six undercover officers had sexual relationships with at least 13 women.

The report states that officers entering into sexual relationships with women was a ‘perennial feature of the SDS throughout the remainder of its history.’ [3] This was a feature that would remain throughout the unit’s operation, until its closure in 2008.

The report found that ‘the likely impact on any woman who might become involved in a sexual relationship with a male undercover officer acting in his cover identity was not considered’ by the police. [4]

One officer, Vincent Harvey, initially told the Inquiry he had four “one night stands” with four women. [5] It was later revealed that he in fact had a two-month relationship with one woman, known as Madeleine*, quoted below. Harvey admitted in his oral evidence to the Inquiry that if Madeleine had known he was an undercover police officer she would not have consented to sex with him. After his deployment, Harvey went on to become the Director of the National Criminal Intelligence Service.

In response to the Inquiry report, Madeleine* said: “Harvey lied, hoping it would never come out 40 years later. Unfortunately for him, I came forward, and the Chair believed me over this very senior police officer. How many lies have been told by other officers, whose victims were unnamed and unknown?”

The report details how ‘the occurrence of sexual relationships between some male undercover officers in their cover identity and women they encountered during their deployment was common knowledge among many of them.’ [6]

In her closing statement to the Inquiry in February 2023, Charlotte Kilroy KC, representing the women, said that the police’s abuse of women is “deeply rooted in two pervasive features of police culture: contempt for women and disregard for the law, problems so endemic and so dangerous to public safety and the public interest that root and branch reform of the police will be needed to eradicate it.” [7]

Ms Kilroy’s submissions to the Inquiry referenced a 1983 Police in Action report, which identified the Metropolitan Police Service was dominated by a ‘cult of masculinity’, and that police officers viewed female members of the public with contempt. [8]

The next set of Inquiry hearings, which will scrutinise the following 28 years of the unit, will take place in 2024. The Inquiry is yet to draw specific conclusions on the practice of officers forming sexual relationships with women.


Madeleine*, a committed socialist and woman who had a two-month sexual relationship with undercover officer Vince Harvey, whose evidence was heard in this part of the Inquiry, said: “Harvey lied, hoping it would never come out 40 years later. Unfortunately for him, I came forward, and the Chair believed me over this very senior police officer. How many lies have been told by other officers, whose victims were unnamed and unknown?”

Further information on Madeleine, including links to her statements to the inquiry, is in Notes for Editors.

Alison*, who was deceived into a five-year relationship with an undercover officer and now campaigns for justice with Police Spies Out Of Lives, said:  “We never should have met these men. They should not have been in our lives because these units should never have existed. These police operations were unjustified and undemocratic, and it’s time for the police to stop protecting themselves, to give us our files and identify all officers involved.”

Eleanor Fairbraida, who was spied on by an undercover police officer, said:  “These units have been spying on British citizens and undermining our democracy for nearly 50 years. All secrecy around this now has to stop. We need MI5 and the Police to release the files they have been keeping on thousands upon thousands of ordinary citizens campaigning for a better world.”

Diane Langford, a lifelong activist who was spied on by at least seven undercover police officers, whose evidence was heard in this part of the Inquiry said: “The production of an interim report is cruel while women are still waiting to see files written by those who messed with their bodies and minds. The Inquiry is pandering to the Met’s cynical delaying tactics. The Met has not changed since the 1960s in its attitudes to women, people of colour and queer people, yet the Inquiry goes out of its way to accommodate the excuses, lies and prevarications of former SDS officers.”

Further information on Diane, including links to her statements to the inquiry, is in Notes for Editors below.

Kate Thomas, solicitor at Birnberg Peirce, representing the women, said: “Since our clients first exposed these undercover policing units over twelve years ago, they have been fighting to uncover the truth of what happened and to ensure that the police never subject women to this abuse again. They continue to request urgent disclosure of all the files that have been kept on them to ensure that the full truth about these operations comes to light.”

Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice, who has been part of the women’s legal team for twelve years, said: “The women deceived into sexual relationships by undercover police officers blew the cover on a dark secret hidden even within the Met police. The Inquiry must now go on to shed further light on the origins of a misogynistic culture that pervades policing today, as exposed in the Baroness Casey review and the phenomenon of police-perpetrated abuse.”


[1] Undercover Policing Inquiry Tranche 1 Interim Report, page 34

[2] Undercover Policing Inquiry Tranche 1 Interim Report, page 93

[3] Undercover Policing Inquiry Tranche 1 Interim Report, page 48

[4] Undercover Policing Inquiry Tranche 1 Interim Report, page 57

[5] Undercover Policing Inquiry Tranche 1 Interim Report, page 79

[6] Undercover Policing Inquiry Tranche 1 Interim Report, page 58

[7] Cat H Participants, Written Closing Statement of Tranche 1, page 22

[8] Police in Action report, 1983

Notes to Editors:

The Undercover Policing Inquiry was launched in 2015. Its investigation is split into six tranches. This interim report concludes the first tranche (1968-1982). Tranche 2 (1983-1992) and 3 (1993-2007) will be covered between 2024 and 2026.

The full interim report for the Inquiry is available here: https://www.ucpi.org.uk/ucpi-interim-report-for-tranche-1/

The Inquiry encompasses all undercover policing in England and Wales since 1968. Special emphasis has been given to two historical policing units – the SDS, which operated from 1968 to 2008, and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), which operated from about 1999 to 2010. Both units were primarily tasked to infiltrate political and activist groups, with the intention of gathering intelligence to assist in public order policing.

Police Spies Out of Lives (PSOOL) is a campaign and support group set up by and for women who have had intimate sexual relationships with undercover officers. It was established by the eight women who brought a case in 2011 and who first exposed some of the officers who have become known as ‘spycops’. Their website is https://policespiesoutoflives.org.uk/

PSOOL’s summary of the report is available here: https://policespiesoutoflives.org.uk/summary-of-ucpi-interim-report-june-2023/

Further information on Madeleine:

Madeline is the first woman deceived into a relationship with an undercover officer to give evidence to the Inquiry. Inspired by her parents’ experience of extreme poverty and of war and their strong anti-fascism, Madeleine became politically active in her early teens. Her anti-war, anti-fascist and anti-capitalist beliefs, still held today, led to her joining the International Socialists, and later the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), in order to create a fairer and more equal society. As a bus conductor in her twenties she was a trade unionist in the Transport and General Workers Union, sitting on a regional women’s sub-committee. She has never been involved in any violence, was never arrested and never convicted for a criminal offence. In her mid twenties, she re-trained as an artist, teaching in schools and community groups.

In 1977, age 23, she met SDS officer, Vincent Harvey, who infiltrated her local SWP branch and became part of her close social network, recording personal information about her. In 1979 they entered into a sexual relationship which lasted around two months. Harvey’s deployment ended shortly after. The relationship had a deep emotional impact on Madeleine for some time. She has also been seriously affected by the discovery over 40 years later that he was in fact an undercover officer, paid by the state to spy on her.

Madeleine wrote and presented her first opening statement to the Inquiry.

Madeline’s first witness statement.

Madeleine’s second witness statement.

Madeleine’s closing statement.

Further information on Diane

Diane Langford was the only woman to give evidence relating to the very early years of the SDS operations. She moved to the UK from New Zealand in 1963. As a child she witnessed first-hand the unfairness and brutality of colonialism and racism towards Maori indigenous communities, and while her brothers were given a university education, as as a girl she was expected to leave school at 15 to work in a factory. These experiences shaped her political activism, which continues to this day. Following her arrival in London she volunteered at the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination until 1969, became a member of the print union NATSOPA in 1967, and joined the Britain-Vietnam Solidarity Front (BVSF) in 1968 to protest against the excesses of the Vietnam war. In 1970 she co-founded the Women’s Liberation Front (WLF), and also set up the Women’s Equal Rights campaign. She became involved in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) in 1970, and from 1974-1996 was Mother of the Chapel (shop steward) for the union the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades (SOGAT) at the Press Association. She has never been involved in any violence, was never arrested and never convicted of a criminal offence.

From 1968 to 1979, her private life was infiltrated by at least seven undercover officers. These officers regularly entered her home, attending private social gatherings and political meetings, and recording detailed information about her political views, family arrangements, marriage, and employment.

Diane wrote and delivered her first opening statement.

Diane’s first witness statement.

Diane’s second witness statement. Diane’s closing statement.

Interim Report of Public Inquiry – Press Release