Eight women taking legal action against police after being duped into long-term intimate relationships with undercover police officers say they can only give a cautious welcome to comments by Alex Marshall of the College of Policing , in which he declared that a “new training programme” would “explicitly” state “that sexual activity while undercover is not allowed”. The women say more consistency is needed, and that those affected by a 25-year pattern of abuse are still facing an unnecessarily bitter fight for justice.

They point out that Mr Marshall’s comments to the Home Affairs Select Committee represent just one of many contradictory statements from police sources. Bernard Hogan-Howe said last week that superior officers would “not condemn” past sexual conduct. Two weeks ago police lawyers claimed in court that parliament must have intended that sexual conduct by undercover officers could be authorised – a claim disputed by the women’s legal team.

Since June the women have been calling for ‘a clear and unambiguous statement that the abuse has ceased, and will never, in any circumstances, be permitted’; and ‘action and change to prevent these human rights abuses from ever happening again’. They say Mr Marshall’s statement about a new training programme represents just a small step.

A spokesperson on behalf of the support group for the legal action said: “It’s a welcome step but we must be cautious. We’re still not getting the consistency and action that the public is owed. We are talking about deep abuse of people’s lives, the violation of their human rights, that we know has taken place over the last 25 years. The abuses indicate a profound level of institutional sexism, and also institutional prejudice against members of the public who engage campaigning for social and environmental justice.

“There are still many questions which need answers: When does the new training start? What’s happening in the meantime? What about past transgressions? Are any officers facing disciplinary action – or are their superiors taking Hogan-Howe’s stance? Is there any protection for whistle-blowers? Will the police change their legal tactics – or are they going to continue to make their victims have to fight for justice?”

Additional links:

– A selection of contradictory police statements (part of HASC evidence February 2013)

Where We Stand – statement from the women and their supporters

Police Spies Out Of Lives – support group for women’s legal action

“More consistency needed” – women respond to College of Policing’s comments re new training programme