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.