Next week sees three days of Undercover Policing Public Inquiry hearings – the first to feature new chair John Mitting. He replaces original chair Lord Justice Pitchford, who died last month from motor neurone disease.
Whilst drawing a fair share of criticism for his handling of the inquiry, Pitchford was also associated with a commitment to relative openness and transparency. During opening comments at the inquiry in 2015, he stated, “The Inquiry’s priority is to discover the truth”. It is harder to imagine Mitting making such a statement of intent. A former chairman of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission – described as “Kafkaesque” – he is also vice president of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which addresses grievances against the intelligence services. The IPT is known for its secret hearings and a record of failure to uphold complaints.
The new chair’s CV does not bode well; nor have noises coming from the inquiry since his appointment. Next week will provide a more acid test, since we are promised “a statement on the future conduct of the inquiry” from Mitting himself. His words should offer the clearest indication so far on his approach and attitude. It is our hope that he will honour and respect the legacy left by his predecessor Lord Pitchford, who sought to ensure the Inquiry would remain true to its original remit of serving truth, justice, and the people.
Next week is also significant in marking the second anniversary of the historic apology made by the Metropolitan Police to 8 women deceived into intimate relationships by undercover police officers.
On 20th November 2015 Assistant Commissioner of the Met, Martin Hewitt, said those relationships were, “abusive, deceitful, manipulative and wrong… these relationships were a violation of the women’s human rights, an abuse of police power and caused significant trauma. I unreservedly apologise on behalf of the Metropolitan police service…relationships like these should never have happened. They were wrong and were a gross violation of personal dignity and integrity.”
Given that categorical admission of guilt and remorse, its anniversary is marked by dark irony. Almost 3 years in, and approaching the originally-proposed date of its final report, the Public Inquiry into undercover policing has not even yet begun. Next week’s hearings, like others before them, are only preparatory. Furthermore, this chronic delay is caused by deliberate and relentless foot-dragging by the same police who declared themselves so contrite only a couple of years ago. Their wilfully obstructive behaviour is at odds with the sentiments expressed back then, and raises big questions about the police’s commitment to real investigation or change.
Now is a crucial point, then, for those who care about this issue to show our determination for the truth. With this in mind a demonstration has been called at the inquiry hearing next Monday 20th November 9 – 10am outside the Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London WC2A 2LL. All are invited to stand with the core participants and share their demands for the cover names of undercover police officers to be released, and the files of those spied upon to be opened. We look forward to seeing some of you there.